In a self-publishing project, who, exactly, is the publisher? While you may be working with a 'publishing house' that provides comprehensive support for authors, with a range of services, from editing, through design and production to marketing, publicity and distribution, the truth is you are the publisher. That's right, you, the author!
How did the tables get turned? It all has to do with the assumption of risk. In the old publishing business model, the house who took you on also shouldered the risk of editing, printing, publicizing and distributing your book. The company even paid an advance which, no matter what the book achieved in the marketplace, never had to be given back. If the book was well-received, everybody won, but if it took a swan dive, your publisher took a beating, not to mention the fact that she could have chosen a different project (the opportunity cost represented by your snoozer of a novel).
In the self-publishing business model, you take the risk. You pay the publisher a fee for her services. As long as your check doesn't bounce, she makes a profit. Although you might want to rely on your publisher's advice regarding aspects of your project, it is important to remember that the guidance you receive is provided to a customer, not a business partner. The intensity (accuracy, completeness) of her response just isn't going to be there, because she doesn't have that much skin in the game.
Given the treatment they may have received from traditional publishing houses, many authors don't feel like partners. Well, maybe junior or silent partners would be a good way to put it. This handling reflects the imbalance in the risk taken on and in the knowledge of and access to the market. Writers are used to taking more of a passive role in relation to the downstream phases of the publishing process, waiting while others made the important decisions.
But, you argue, what about my reputation? I'm risking ME! Isn't that a lot of risk? And I spent years writing and rewriting my novel, when I could have been freelancing for $$. Isn't that risk? Yes, but here's the thing --until somebody pays you for the manuscript, it has no value (except to you and your mother, of course). When a publisher gives you an advance, voila, the project takes on value, but the publisher has to keep on spending until the book is released, and spending even more for promotion and distribution. In a business relationship, the partner who invests the most capital and has the know how to complete the product development cycle, calls the shots. In the self-publisher relationship, the printing house has invested in assuring a steady flow of clients, not bestsellers.
In view of this profound difference in the author's role vis-a-vis the book project, it is crucial that we authors transform our thinking and behavior. A passive attitude toward the project plan, the production process, the book and author positioning, and the promotion will result in failure. We must become the CEOs of our enterprise. Okay, it is a very small enterprise with only one product -- our debut book, but remember, many grand conglomerates started in garages.
I have always wanted to be a successful author, but, truth is, I really don't know that much about the business of publishing. The bad news is that in the modern business model, all of us are going to have to learn about every aspect of the book trade. The good news is that we can learn this stuff and the resources now exist online for us to educate ourselves. We just have to do what successful CEOs have always done. Recognize what we don't know and seek expert sources to advance along the learning curve. CEOs conduct R & D, hire skilled consultants, employees or contractors, monitor performance and kill initiatives that aren't working. The guy who runs Merck doesn't know how to operate the capsule filling machine, and the guy who runs Ford, would probably be a disaster running the crash test operation. Chances are you already have contracted for resources you don't have the skills to produce yourself. Your book cover is a good example. Professional editorial services are another.
What steps should you take in becoming the CEO of your project?
1. Define the project. What kind of book did you write? If it is a cozy, go online and find five similar cozies. Collect and compare every metric you can about these competitors. Assess their rankings. Check out author web pages and blogs. Read reviews. Then write a succinct paragraph about your specific market niche.
2. Define your 'corporate identity.' Write a paragraph about how you, the author of the above cozy, should appear to her public. If this is your market, I doubt you want to post a picture of yourself in dominatrix leather on your web page.
3. Establish goals. Based on the market demand for similar books, set a realistic sales goal. Consider setting goals for other important milestones in market penetration. For example, when would it be realistic to see your first reviews appear?
4. Assess resources. Assess your own skills and knowledge and conduct outreach to fill in the gaps. Are mentors available to you? What blogs and publications address your needs? How much money can you devote to this project? Although platforms are more closely associated with nonfiction authors, fiction authors often have good platforms. Example: Your murder mystery is set at a dog show. You breed prize-winning dachshunds.
5. Conduct research. Write down questions you have about various publishing approaches. Research the answers on the web. Do the same for book marketing and distribution. Deepen your understanding by making a list of pros and cons for the choices you are going to be making.
6. Write a project plan. Put your entire plan on paper. Break down all the activities listed to the implementation task level. An example would be: Get book reviews. Identify appropriate reviewers. Craft contact email. Send emails. Mail book copies. Follow up. Collect reviews. Ask for permission to use quotes. Decide how you will measure the impact of the activities on your list. Ask yourself whether all of your planned actions are directed at your stated goals. Make sure you aren't wasting your time on outmoded or low-return activities.
7. Make a timeline. Determine the implementation times for the activities in your plan and lay them out on a timeline or calendar. Note important conference dates and contest mailing deadlines. Some activities will overlap. Note any important deadlines and any potential conflicts. Remember, you are the worker bee as well as the chief executive. Know your limitations.
8. Make an operating budget. Make a budget for expenses AND expenditures of your time. If you have a job, particularly a full time job, be realistic about what you can accomplish. Be sure to account for family commitments. Create a separate bank account for your book project.
9. Implement and monitor. Implement your plan. Don't put it in a drawer. Refer to it frequently. Monitor your progress. Are your actions producing the expected results?
10. Make course corrections. Some of the initiatives you implemented may not be effective. Have the discipline to cut your losses, substitute better activities or concentrate on the things that are working well.