Book Business

Would You Buy Your Own Book?

While teaching about writing and publishing I have, on occasion, asked the question, “Would you buy your own book if you saw it on a shelf but didn’t know who you were?” I’m met with a variety of reactions. Laughter. Pensiveness. Surprise. And even a few scowls.

The question is meant to provoke you into describing why your book idea is unique. Why it will stand out among the noise of the competition.

It is unfair to ask the author this question, of course. I assume you would buy your own book. There is no one who knows your book better than you. But that isn’t what I’m asking.

It is not a question of whether your book is important or valuable or even well written. Don’t hear it that way. It is actually a question of commercial viability.

The greatest problem of today’s writer is obscurity. The industry uses the word discoverability to describe how a book can be discovered. You may have heard that ebook piracy can be a problem for writers. But if no one knows about your book no one will steal it–and no one will buy it either!

This is why the competitive analysis portion of your book proposal is so important. Help the agent help the publisher create space on the physical or virtual shelf. Help them position your book, so it rises from obscurity into viability. With thousands of new books appearing online every day, there must be something that makes yours interesting.

Imagine you are standing in a physical bookstore. (I know it’s hard to imagine, but play along.) Go to your favorite section of the store. Now lightly run your finger along the spine of the various books shelved there. What makes you stop and pull that one down to look at it. The author? The title? The color? The binding? What magic is in that moment for you as the consumer. Then ask, “Why did I just do that?”

Would you buy your book if it wasn’t written by you?

This can be as “simple” as a dynamite title. Or it could be a strong platform that stands out in the crowd. Or the skill in the writing is so amazing that the book creates word-of-mouth buzz that spreads throughout the world.

You know the question is coming, so prepare your answer. Would you buy your own book if it was on the “shelf” next to an über-famous author on the same topic or in the same genre?

 

[An earlier version of this post ran in November 2011.]

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That Conference Appointment

You snagged one of those valuable 15 minute appointments with an agent or an editor at the writers conference. Now what? What do you say? How do you say it? And what does that scowling person on the other side of the table want? What if you blow it?

Many excellent posts have been written on this topic (see Rachelle Gardner and Kate Schafer Testerman for example) but thought I would add my perspective as well.

What advice would you give to a beginning writer about attending a writers conference and meeting with an editor or an agent?

Go in with realistic expectations.

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Who Gets Paid in Publishing?

With all the talk about Independent publishing vs. Traditional publishing and the talk about how writers can get rich if they follow a certain plan…I got to thinking. Maybe we should do a quick look at the Economics of Publishing to see if anyone is making off like a bandit. Sorry for you non-numbers people, but it is critical to understand the infrastructure (i.e. the lifeblood) that keeps your ideas in print.

The detective in the movie says “Follow the money,” so we shall. But first a disclaimer. These models are estimates based on years of reading contracts, profit and loss sheets, spreadsheets, and royalty statements. Your mileage may vary.

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Checked Your Copyright Lately?

Have you checked your copyright lately? I mean, have you actually gone to the US Copyright Office web site and searched for your registration? You might be surprised at what you won’t find. Here is the link to start your search.

Most publishing contracts have a clause that requires the publisher to register the copyright, in the name of the author, with the US Copyright Office. This is supposed to be done as part of the in-house paperwork process.

If you do not find your book, don’t panic.

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Rumbles in CBA

News broke late last week that key staff people in CBA (aka Christian Booksellers Association) are no longer working for the association. In what appears to be a purge, Curtis Riskey, president for 11 years, is no longer working there. Other key people are either no longer with the organization …

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Many Happy (?) Returns!

by Steve Laube

Every first-time author is confronted by the reality of “Reserves Against Returns” as part of publishing economics. It is usually a shock and elicits a phone call to their agent crying “What happened to my money?”

Did you realize that book publishing is the only “hard goods” industry where the product sold by the supplier to a vendor can be returned? This does not happen with electronics, clothing, shoes, handbags, cars, tires…you name it. If it is a durable good the vendor who buys it, owns it (which is why there are Outlet Malls – to sell the remaining inventory). Except for books. Somewhere along the line the publishers agreed to allow stores to return unsold inventory for credit. In one sense, publishers are selling their books on consignment. Bargain books are actually resold by the publisher (after getting returns or to reduce overprinted inventory) to a new specialty bargain bookseller or division of a chain (which buys the bargain books non-returnable).

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New Author Acronyms for The Oxford English Dictionary

Last week the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) added a bunch of new words to their august tome. What made news is that four of the words aren’t words at all but acronyms that have crept into our everyday communication via the Internet. “Words” like LOL, OMG, BFF, and IMHO.

In honor of this auspicious occasion I thought it would be fun to see if we can find other acronyms that should become part of our language, if for no other reason, because of their frequent use.

IHMM (I Hate My Manuscript) – A common cry of every writer while in the midst of the creative process. Self-doubt and lack of confidence create this acronym.

INMT (I Need More Time) – Deadlines should be carved in stone, but are often sketched in pencil. Ask any editor what frustrates them the most and missed deadlines will be in their top five.

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Amazon Rank Obsession

Admit it. You’ve checked your Amazon.com sales ranking at least once since your book was published. You feel the need to have some outside confirmation of the sales of your book. And Amazon’s ranking are free to look at.

I’ve even seen book  proposals where the author has gone to great lengths to include the Amazon ranking for each title that is competitive with the one the author is proposing. A prodigious amount of wasted effort.

Publishers rarely pay attention to Amazon rankings unless yours gets below 1,000 or if you get in the top 100.

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Create Magic with Words

Years ago, I took my five-year-old daughter to Toys R Us to meet “Barbie.” “Barbie” turned out to be a cute and charming teenager who, yes, looked like the classic blonde image of the doll. She wore a pretty pink gown. I expected a lot more fanfare around this event. …

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