The Self-Pubber’s Earnings

Originally sent to the Listener Insider Mailing List on August 11, 2016.
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I’ve interviewed over 70 authors for the WROTE podcast.  I’ve self-published. AND… I’m a production editor for a small, non-fiction press… plus I’m connected to a larger publisher.  This places me in a unique position to answer any questions you may have about the business of being an author. I reached out to a group of professional writers, asking what areas confused them at the start of their careers, and received some GREAT starting questions.  Here’s the next:

Answers for Authors

Vance, last week’s newsletter was informative for traditionally pubbed authors, but I’m self-published. Why don’t I earn much per unit per sale? What can I do to boost my earnings?

I’ll answer this with the clear understanding that each and every case is unique. You are a beautiful cloud, and your books are stunning snowflakes! I’m going to present steps and tactics self-published authors can steal from traditional publishers – but I need to keep them general. So if you have specific questions email me!

Answer from Vance:
First question, short answer:  Print-On-Demand (POD for short) services have a high startup and operational cost overhead. Someone had to pay for the giant book printing and binding equipment, for the gigantic rolls of paper sitting around waiting to be used, and for employees to be present to run the equipment when an order comes in. That someone also has to pay to ship the lone copy of a POD book that was just ordered.  So printing on a book for book basis becomes a pricey gamble to set up. Printers recoup that cost by keeping a larger share of the sale per unit than they would if you ordered a traditional print run of, say, 5,000 or 10,000 books.

As for the second question… We have all seen six thousand articles about the myriad benefits of self-publishing (Yay! I’m in control! Yay! Anyone can do it! Etc.)  We’ve also seen seven thousand articles about the pitfalls of self-publishing (OMG – What do all these instructions mean?  OMG – Where did all these other authors come from? Why the hell is it blinking???? Etc.)

This is NOT one of those articles.

Just so I can be my own damned unique little snowflake, I’m going to provide some action steps.  Here are actual techniques that traditional publishers use – steps that YOU can use with a bit of planning:

  1. I’ve said it before, and I will continue to say it, you need to start building momentum 6 to 8 months before your book’s release date. Organize yourself by finding a Book Marketing Timeline that grooves to your own personal beat.  Some samples include Independent Book Publisher’s Association http://www.ibpa-online.org/article/a-book-marketing-timeline/ and All Indie Writer’s http://allindiewriters.com/book-marketing-timeline-from-pre-launch-to-post-launch/ .  Clever use of a search engine will uncover many more.
  2. Print Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs). Write clear warnings on the cover and interior that say the final may be different from the ARC. All of the parts of writing and publishing are your business and this is how the marketing end of the business goes. Media outlets, bloggers, and people who write endorsement blurbs will all seek some form of ARC. Some accept digital (PDF, Kindle, ePub), but a great many of them want a paper copy.  The publisher where I work has done a search of ARC printers, and we’ve found http://www.bookprintondemand.com to be the best price and great quality.
  3. Get your book listed for pre-orders in retail outlets and on social book sites as soon as they will allow.  Each is different, of course. I mean, we wouldn’t dareexpect Amazon and Barnes & Noble to play by the same rules, would we? I mean, how gauche!  But… being set up for pre-orders is a brilliant way to…
  4. Get early reviews posted from pre-readers, reviewers, bloggers, blurbers, endorsers, industry friends, and so on. It’s actually a two-fist-bump win.  First, a blogger who agrees to write an article about your book is going to want to point their readers to something. The pre-order page is pure digital gold. And second, having those early reviews gives YOU quotes YOU can use when announcing your new book.
  5. Reach out to media agencies where your readers gather their news. This should be a no-brainer, but it’s actually pretty tough to figure out sometimes. If you are wracking your brain and still don’t really know where that might be, you could always 1) Ask a seemingly random question on Social Media – “Where’s a good place to get news about XYZ?”  Then pay attention to the answers. 2) Pay for a little market research. I’ve used both http://www.marketresearch.com/ and https://www.sba.gov/starting-business/how-start-business/understand-your-market in the past for various targeted questions.
  6. Reach out locally. Local media is struggling to be heard in the sea of noise the global internet has tidal-waved into our lives. They need feel good, successful author stories to balance against the flood of national and international events. Even if you don’t think there are a lot of potential readers in your area – keep something in mind: huge news outlets scan local news outlets for stories. Start the ripples close to home and get your voice out there.* For options #5 and #6 above – always write your inquiry letter by showing how you can help them reach their audience.** Both #5 & #6 will likely ask for an ARC when they reply to your query. You’ll be glad you have some available!*** This is the other reason for starting months early – a lot of media sources have time slots filled weeks or months in advance. You want to be sure you get a date as close to your release as possible.
  7. Leverage the power of the recommendation. I asked the panel on this week’s podcast what “things” made them consider buying a book. Each of them had a variation of “on so-and-so’s recommendation.”  Whether the trusted source was a friend, family member, book reviewer, or blogger – the power of the recommendation should not be ignored. Offer favors (or just be an awesome contributor) to your social media tribe, and then ask them if they’re willing to recommend your book. Be gracious if they cannot, but be ecstatic if they can. Seriously, like Happy Dance ecstatic. Traditional publishers work hard to build relationships with experts and known voices who can recommend books. You’ll do well if you follow that example.

These are a great way to start formulating your marketing plan. Any one of these can help boost your earnings. Used together, they’re a powerful set of actions for showing the world what you’ve written.

You can do it!


If YOU have a question you want answered from inside the biz, send it my way and I’ll pose it to the professionals!