I was chatting with someone yesterday who told me that during a recent meeting she attended, just about everyone (a group of professionals) told her they were writing books on one topic or another. This doesn’t surprise me; I encounter people every day who are working on manuscripts with the hope of being published.
So much for the notion that publishing is dead.
When so many people still long to publish a book and so many people still enjoy reading, whether in print or digital, publishing is nowhere near death. It’s changing, no doubt. But dying? Not so much.
I’ve oft been accused of being too much a Pollyanna, but the statistics are there to back me up on this:
- Bowker reports that 304,912 new print titles published in 2013, which “points to a relatively stable market for print works despite competition from ebooks.”
- Revenue growth in books (print and digital) is expected to grow for at least the next few years. PWC, for example, reports that “global total books revenue is set to rise to US$128.34bn in 2019, from US$120.13bn in 2014.” Growth is expected in consumer books, educational books, and electronic books alike.
- People continue to buy books, and bookstores are benefiting. Publishers Weekly reports that “For many bricks-and-mortar bookstores, 2014 was a banner year, helped by the overall improvement in the sale of print books.”
People are writing and publishing and selling books, and readers are buying and reading them. Oh, there are all sorts of statistics out there that point in the opposite direction. Doomsayers who want to find all the faults (and only the faults) in the world of book publishing will latch on to those statistics as proof that books are going the way of the dodo bird. Haters gonna hate.
But from where I sit, a lot of people still want to write and still want to share their message (and a lot of people still want to read what those people write). For many people, though, spreading the word 140 characters at a time isn’t enough. A blog post a week isn’t enough. A 300-word “article” on Huffington Post isn’t enough. For these people, only a book will do. And for many of these people, the book remains the perfect medium by which to do so.
One of the challenges facing would-be authors is by what means and through which method to publish these books of theirs. Traditional publishing? Self-publishing? Hybrid publishing? In a world where so many people claim that publishing is dead, there sure are a lot of options by which writers can publish their books.
The key is for would-be authors to carefully explore these options, all of which continue to grow. Traditional publishers are still churning out hundreds of thousands of new titles every year. More than 450,000 self-published titles were issued in 2013. Hybrid publishers are growing in quantity and quality. The options for publishing are out there, yours for the taking.
Of course, not all books sell. For instance, Forbes reports that, when it comes to self-published titles, “On average, they sell less than 250 copies each.” Furthermore, The New York Times notes that, “of 1,000 business books released [in 2009], only 62 sold more than 5,000 copies.” In addition, by some measures, a book has a less than 1% chance of being stocked in a bookstore.
Such obstacles aside, today’s potential authors have myriad routes by which they can publish their work in book format, print or digital, fiction or nonfiction. That sounds like good news to me—provided these would-be authors go about it the right way.
Whether you hope to publish with a traditional house, plan to go all DIY and publish fully on your own, or decide to use a hybrid approach, there are some key things you must do if you hope to have any chance at a successful book release:
- Treat Your Book As Your Business. Regardless of publishing method or format, the most successful authors treat their book as a business venture. Your book is, after all, a calling card. Your name is on it, and your book speaks to your reputation as a writer. Whether you publish with a traditional house, a self-publishing outfit, or a hybrid publisher, it’s best to consider these as partners who will help you in your publishing efforts—not do all the work for you. That means you have to make sure that your book is the best it can be. Your manuscript has to be well written, well edited, and well proofread. It has to have a killer cover, jacket, and interior design. It has to be expertly marketed and publicized by professionals who understand the world of books and bookstores and libraries and publishing. Depending on which publishing route you take, this might well mean that you could incur some substantial out-of-pocket expenses. Only you can decide whether these costs are worth it, but I can tell you that the authors who are most successful are those who are willing to put their money where their mouths are.
- Make a Name for Yourself. Few agents, editors, or publishers have the time, money, or other resources to nurture a debut author, help develop writing skills, or propel them to authorship stardom. Rather, they’re looking for would-be authors who are already recognized as established writers and/or as subject-matter experts. Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, today’s authors must have built solid reputations for themselves, nurtured communities of followers and fans, and established the kind of platform that will help sell books. No matter how you go about getting published, it’s crucial to make a name for yourself—before your book comes out. Your book is your business, and your readers are your customers. They can’t buy from you or read your work if they’ve never heard about you. It’s crucial to market yourself, promote your message, and establish your brand if you want to sell your book.
- Go Out There Fully Baked. If you have any desire whatsoever that your book will actually sell some copies, you can’t just publish it, sit back, and hope for the best. You have to drive the effort to make your book the best it can be, you have to do whatever you can to make a name for yourself, you have to make sure that all the Ts have been crossed and all the Is dotted. You might like to think that your agent, editor, and/or self-publishing team are going to take care of all those details for you, but they are not. No one is going to make you and your book a priority but you. That means you have to strategize your individual publishing plan from beginning to end. Don’t leave anything to chance. Don’t assume that someone else is handling any aspect of the publication and promotion of your book unless you have been specifically told as much. Consider hiring a publishing consultant to help guide you through the process. Devise a list of questions to ask your publishing team about every step, every stage, every detail of developing the manuscript, the production process, the marketing plan, and so on. Schedule regular calls and meetings with your publishing partners. It’s crucial to take an active role in the publication and promotion of your book. You can’t half-ass it and hope for the best.
At a time when so many people long to publish books and so many publishing options are available, book publishing is—as far as I can see—alive and well. Hundreds of thousands of new titles are being published every year, in both print and digital. How well you and your book do is largely up to you, regardless of whether you publish with a traditional house, a self-publishing outfit, or a hybrid firm. Treat your book as a business, make a name for yourself, and go out there fully baked, and you’ll be on the right path to making your book a success—despite the challenges that make so many proclaim that publishing is dead.
Long live publishing!
June 19, 2015