Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Think Like a Publisher

This is the fourth post in an ongoing series about 5 Secrets Every Indie Author Should Know.  The first three parts of this series are:
You wrote a book. You published it yourself by loading it to at least one vendor. You are now, officially, a publisher. That also means you are now a business and the CEO of your own company.  But what does that mean? What is the difference between thinking like a publisher and thinking like an author?

Product, not Art – Publishers think of books/stories as products to sell—not art, not necessarily even unique creative works. Publishers make decisions on which books to acquire, or to feature, or to put at the front of the list based on market research and what is most likely to sell. This is probably the most difficult part of thinking like a publisher instead of an author. Most authors have an intimate relationship with their book. They’ve worked long hours, struggled with their characters, and often feel as if the people and the story they created is close to real.

Though publishers love when a book makes readers feel and crave to know what happens next. Publishers think of it only as a sales technique to make more profit. There is no emotional attachment to a particular book. All books are equal until one appears to be more equal because it is selling better or hits a trend. Then investment goes to that book without thought of attachment or it “deserving” to have investment.

Publisher Platform – A publisher has a platform designed to feature multiple books and the relationship between them. This platform may also have a theme (e.g., romance publishing, thriller publishing) or it may be multiple genre.  The platform is focused on selling books more than featuring authors.  An author is featured only if it means it will sell more books. The platform it is optimized to show books in a variety of ways that entice readers to buy more. It is focused on ease-of-use and the quickest way to get a reader from look at a book to a purchase.

Authors often focus their websites or personal efforts on making friends with readers, sharing their lives, engaging in social media to become a “friend” or to gain “fans.” Publishers only use those techniques if it gains sales. That is not to say that an author needs to sell, sell, sell all the time. But with your publisher hat it does mean that everything revolves around the best way to get product out the door and sold.

Focus on Follow-on Content – Publishers think about what the follow-up is going to be to each product they publish. This is why publishers want authors to write series, to never change genres, to be prolific. With your publisher hat on, you need to ask yourself the same questions. If you are dithering between writing another romance with the characters of your last novel or starting that mystery series you’ve been dying to get to, your publisher-self would say write another romance.

You can certainly do more than one genre. But your publisher-self would say that means you have to write more faster. You can’t do one book a year and have a romance one year and a mystery the next year and expect to sell product regularly. There is too much competition for reader dollars. There is too much expectation to see more than one book a year by an author. And if it is only one book a year, then it better be similar to or related to the book of last year.

Reuse, Recycle, Repackage – A publisher wants to maximize the intellectual property it owns. That means if you can reuse the same words in other packges then you should do so and quickly. Can you get a short story out of your novel and send it to a magazine or make it a free or 99 cent entry into your novel world? Can you take three short stories and put them into a trio in one book and resell that? Can you take your entire trilogy and package it together to get even more eyes on those books? Can you do a themed anthology or a collection of your works as a package, or partner with other writers in your genre to do a package deal? 

All of these opportunities are the way a publisher would think of content. A book is simply a collection of content. In the technological world, breaking part or adding to that content is easy. The more ways you can sell the same content, the more money you make out of that property.

Target Markets – Publishers do not put books into the world and simply hope for the best. They study markets, they plan releases, they target advertising to specific demographics of people that have proven to like those types of books. Publishers are constantly keeping on top of markets, demographics, trends, news, and events that will impact their sales. When you think like a publisher you have to do this too.

Know Your Business Vision and Mission – A publisher would never consider putting a product up for sale without having a business plan. That business plan includes determining where that title fits in the publisher’s vision and mission. What money should be put behind that title. What kind of marketing or PR effort is worthy of that title. And how will this title build on previous titles or jump start new titles.

Not all titles are created equal in the publisher mindset. Not all titles get the same push, the same budget, or the same effort. Can you do that with your books?

Make Objective Decisions About Next Steps – A publisher is always measuring the effort, expense, and returns for every product it produces. New things might be tried (e.g., an FB ad campaign instead of a blog tour, or a virtual book launch instead of a physical book launch). Every thing is evaluated and studied in order to make decisions moving forward.

In order to think like a publisher, you must have at least an annual plan for title development and preferably a three to five year plan. Every six months to a year you will evaluate how each of those titles did, as well as related titles. What you learn in that evaluation should inform what you will do in the next year. Will you release more titles or less? Will you spend more or less money on advertising or marketing? Will you write shorter books or longer books? What does the objective analysis suggest?


There are several business classes for the career author offered through All WriterWorkshops. These classes step you through thinking like a publisher and taking better control of your writing and your career. Check these out.

A great resource book to help you put on your Publisher hat and execute your business plan is by Dean Wesley Smith, multi-published and bestselling author as well as an owner of several previous small press publishing ventures.

Think Like a Publisher: A step-by-step guide by Dean Wesley Smith

This book takes you through every step from getting a business license, to basic accounting and tax preparation, deciding what kind of publisher you want to be, and then stepping into that world. It is short (about 112 pages) but full of important information you won’t find anywhere else.

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