HOW TO AVOID THE THREE "U"s
by Betsy Lampe
When self-publishing or
starting a small press, many authors make basic mistakes that are
easily avoidable, and are often unprofessional, unrealistic or
unprepared despite their best efforts. It's hardly a surprise,
since most authors come to publishing from other vocations, and
they must endure a very steep learning curve over a relatively
short period of time.
Hopefully, this article
will help you avoid any of the Three "U"s.
Some authors come from
the workplace -- one in which they were not the boss but an employee.
They are unfamiliar with corporate or business identity and don't
know how they should "appear" as a publisher. A publisher,
whether a self-publisher, a small press or a major publisher, should
offer a professional business appearance. This includes creating
a logo that reflects the corporate theme or mission, having printed
professional stationery and business cards (all displaying the
logo) and having an office that is set up to do business.
Logos should not be homespun
or created by a novice. This means that it should not be created
by your nephew (after all, he received high marks in art) or by
an amateur (they're so much cheaper). Seek an artist or designer
who is schooled in creating a corporate image. You get what you
pay for. If you choose a novice to save money, your company will
look less than professional. Use your logo on everything you create
or have created for your business.
Insist that a professional
typesetter prepares the camera ready work for your business stationery.
On it, be sure to list memberships in those professional or trade
organizations to which you belong (National Association of Independent
Publishers, PMA, Florida Publishers Association, Inc.). Be sure
to use your logo consistently on the letterhead, envelopes and
business cards. Make sure you have included all of your contact
information, and do not assume that the typesetter will proof your
work. Make sure everything is correct before approving a printing.
Most self-publishing companies
and small presses are home-based businesses. Do not operate
a business from your kitchen table. Make a room for your business
in your home, even if it's only a walk-in closet. Keep it away
from the distractions of your daily life so you can concentrate.
Make sure you have the basic office equipment and contact resources,
including email (do your homework and pick one to stick with so
you won't have to reprint or correct your letterhead), a separate
phone and fax line (which you can also use for your computer line
if you don't have cable) and a computer, scanner and printer (or
an all-in-one machine). If you're a technophobe, you'll have to
change your ways and enter into the 21st Century. Learn to work
your equipment and make sure, for emergency situations, that someone
else is familiar with what you're doing and how you're doing it.
Almost everyone, without
exception, comes to publishing with incorrect preconceived ideas
about publishing, which is understandable since most laypeople
hear about only high-profile authors and publishers. The pie in
the sky that is propagated by the media to the layperson results
in new publishers who fail to understand that publishing is an
industry (that some folks get graduate degrees to master), that
writing is a business (not an artform) and that you're in business
to make money (with very few exceptions).
Take some time to learn
about the publishing industry. Many fine books are available on
the topic, and they can provide you with a primer on publishing.
Understand, right from the beginning, the kinds of costs to expect,
the amount of time you'll need to devote and the patience you'll
need to muster.
You are entering foreign
territory and will be assimilating a massive amount of information.
Don't neglect any area. Before you begin to produce your book you
should feel at least conversationally familiar with all aspects
of the publishing industry.
Don't allow yourself to
be unpleasantly surprised after the book is published simply because
you didn't take the time to do your homework before it went into
production. A poorly written (very very few authors write well),
edited (almost all authors need editing), produced (don't get your
cousin Vinny to typeset your book on MS Word) or marketed (don't
depend solely on bookstores) book is a waste of both your time
and money. Understand that you will need to lean on the expertise
of others and that you will need to delegate some tasks to those
who are better prepared to execute them (professionals).
Learn what you need to
understand to price your book competitively while still allowing
for a profit margin. Know that the first print run might breakeven
and that you're going to lose about 55% of the cost of books to
wholesalers and others. Remember shipping and other costs. Think
free PR before spending a dime on advertising. If your former profession
didn't require you to have business savvy, attend adult education
courses or seek the help of your local SBDC.
with almost no exceptions, all want to be on Oprah! And for good
reason. Books mentioned and authors seen on her show sell well.
In fact, most publishers who wish their books would be mentioned
on Oprah! could not financially handle what would happen if their
books were featured on the show. Imagine having to suddenly come
up with the cash to do a 50,000-copy reprint. Can you come up with
that much cash on short notice? Can your current manufacturer handle
a printing that large? Would shipping by truck be cheaper than
UPS? Can you get quick help in the office if you are deluged with
If you are approached by
other authors (even as a self-publisher) to do publishing work,
are you prepared to take it on? Do you have an author contract?
Do you have an author contract between yourself and your own company?
Do you know how to find an intern to get good, cheap help in the
office? Have you sought the help of agencies to help sell the subrights
on your title(s)? A good place to get prepared is LiteraryMarketPlace.com,
which offers a free, simple subscription to the most basic information
the site offers.
Finally, if you understand
nothing else, please know that, to sell books, you must create
demand for them. To create demand for your books, you must look,
feel and taste like a "real" publisher. You are a real
publisher. You may look like Bartholomew wearing 500 hats, but
you're a publisher nonetheless. Do your very best to make sure
that your book has every opportunity to be exposed to the public
wearing its best face. Make sure your company has on its best face
when it meets the industry. Make sure you are professional, realistic
and prepared to do business.
(c) 2003 Betsy Lampe
Betsy Lampe sits on the
board of directors for the Publishers Association of the South.
She also holds the positions of president and editorial director
of Rainbow Books, Inc., an independent publisher of Self-Help and
How-To nonfiction, as well as Mystery novels. A former President
of the Florida Publishers Association, Betsy currently works as
its association executive, where she edits its FPA Sell More Books!
Newsletter. She also serves as the executive director of the National
Association of Independent Publishers (NAIP) and writes its email-only
newsletter, Publisher's Report. Reach her at NAIP@aol.com or
at (863) 648-4420.
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