As the years tick by, publishing a book becomes steadily more competitive.
And although indie publishing is easier than ever, it doesn’t mean that the process of getting attention for your book has become any less challenging, in fact it’s harder than ever.
But what makes it so hard, generally, has to do with the book itself – and hence the motivation for this post.
Books that have poorly designed covers, books that aren’t formatted properly or books that really don’t have a focused reader market, all these things can really impact how well your book does or how quickly it fails. So whether you’re publishing a book for the first time in the New Year, or your fiftieth, these tips are worth adhering to.
Have a Defined Readership and Genre
I know this feels like a “duh” moment, but you’d be surprised how many authors have tried publishing a book that doesn’t have a defined reader market.
By the same token, lots of authors I’ve spoken to aren’t keyed into any particular genre, or don’t know their genre at all, which is a bit like working backwards.
It’s important to know where you belong, and by “belong” I mean where your book will sit on the virtual shelf. One of the biggest mistakes I see authors making is what I call genre-straddling or not assuming they can just show up and create their own genre.
Yes, this happens a lot, which is equally as challenging, if not more so.
If you’re reading this thinking, “I have a unique book that’s never been done before,” you may want to ask yourself why.
There’s a reason publishers often say there are no new ideas, which is only partially true.
For example, twenty years ago you’d never find a book on social media, but now there are hundreds. So there are new ideas as long as pop culture and society and specific industries continue to evolve.
Generally though, it’s good to make sure that you have a readership ready and waiting for books like yours, because publishing a book that has to push a new idea to an audience that isn’t ready for it, or hasn’t heard of it – is very difficult.
Model Traditional Publishing
You may never aspire to get a traditional publisher, which is fine, we’re huge fans of indie publishing for a variety of reasons, but when it comes to publishing a book as an indie author, you should still let their retail examples be your guide.
Things to consider are color palates that match your particular reader market, cover styles, book layouts and all-around book presentation.
Following style guidelines is important, not just to your reader market because they expect to find books based on visual appeal, but to your brand’s longevity as well.
And speaking of your overall brand, thinking about where you want to be long-term can really help you to create a book that’s not just something your reader will gravitate to, but can begin to lay the groundwork for your future books as well.
For example, let’s say that you have a book series planned – you may want to consider creating mockups of covers for the entire series (even if you haven’t finalized future book titles). And while this may sound like a lot of extra work, for authors who know they have a series planned, it’s a really good way of visualizing what the entire series will look like which can help with your website design, too.
If you aren’t sure what your publishing future will look like, it’s still good to consider some long-term goals or benefits that publishing a book can offer you.
For example, if you’ve written non-fiction, maybe you want to publish a workbook, a companion piece to the book you’re publishing. Or maybe the book will help launch your speaking career.
Why would knowing if you want to do speaking make a difference when publishing a book? Well, you can include that at the end of your last chapter, perhaps some speaker topics, etc. It’s easier to do that earlier, rather than pulling the book and doing post-publication day!
Be Aware of Formatting Standards
I’ve seen authors do really odd things with their book. Like picking odd book sizes, or doing “unique” things with their interior formatting.
Books that are oddly sized make it difficult to get them stocked and shipped – they can also cost a lot more money to print and often you can’t print them via traditional channels, either.
Book interiors are equally important.
Book formatting can be tricky to understand, but interiors matter, so self-designing these is always a mistake. This is a common place for authors to cut corners, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Some of the most common problems I see are too much white space on a page, or having pixelated images, which are a turn-off your reader.
Consider Brand Marketing and Start Early
Book marketing and brand marketing are different, and understanding how they differ and complement each other is important when preparing for publishing a book.
Brand marketing starts before you have a book, and can really help give you a head start on the book marketing process.
Think of brand marketing is networking, with a twist.
So you’re on social media not promoting your book, but pushing your brand. Testing out language and messaging in social updates, different themes for content, narrowing down your best hashtags, getting to know influencers, bloggers and other people you may want to pitch your book to once it launches.
The best time to network is when you have nothing to sell. You’ll be more authentic and thoughtful, and less stressed about defining what’s actually moving the needle, when in fact, just being “out there” is early is as important as the work you do once the book releases.
Don’t Rush the Process
This time of year, especially as we get to the last few weeks of December, we get a lot of authors coming to us saying they want to release their book in 2022.
But my advice to you is wait, publish a great book in the new year, with a well thought out plan that isn’t rushed and doesn’t have you playing catch up.
Now keep in mind, this doesn’t mean there’s a perfect time to release a book – because I also get asked that a lot and there is no perfect time – but rushing to publish a book always brings with it challenges, mistakes, and often, unrealistic expectations.
And those are the hardest hurdles to overcome!
Publishing is easy, publishing a book the right way is much harder.
Remember: everything is your resume, and your book is no different.
Publish something that can stand on the shelf next to any well-known author’s title, because it is possible – you just have to prepare, plan and continue to educate yourself along the way.
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This is genius! I must share.
Oh my gosh thank you so much!
I absolutely agree that an author needs a defined market to write for. And I appreciate being reminded of that fact. What I don’t understand is how to define readers of literary fiction.
Thanks for your writing this year. This year was my first attempt at publishing a book and with the advice from your columns (along with the help of a wonderful illustrator and book designer) it has largely been successful. (I reached 11,600 on the Amazon rankings in just 8 weeks).
With that said, my book really was one of those genre bending ones that was hard to find the right fit. My book teaches chess to kids, but it does it through a story that can also stand alone without the chess instruction. The story demonstrates for kids what it is like to persevere against overwhelming odds, how to reach out for help and how to find fulfillment in friendships and teamwork in addition to pursuing your individual goals. (The story is about a pawn on the chessboard who must face an entire opposing army to reach her goal of crossing the battlefield so she can promote to a queen).
In the end, I identified four different (but partially overlapping) target audiences for my book, and I have developed different marketing strategies for reaching each. The audience that I have made the most traction with is the chess audience – people looking specifically for a resource to introduce their kids to chess. But I have also gained traction with the other three – 1. Parents wanting educational books for their kids (the book introduces critical thinking and logical reasoning concepts), 2. Parents wanting social emotional learning books for their kids (it demonstrates self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, social awareness and relationship skills); and 3. Parents looking for a book that is simply entertaining and inspirational – something that will engage their kids that does not involve additional screen time.
Jonathan sounds like you did great this year – congrats! You should be proud!
She sounds like me. My book “The Crud Box…an Inventors Supply Kit”. It is for kids but it is not a picture, or craft book.