Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Sweat Equity in Book Publishing

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FIRST: The winner of the signed copy of  Beth Revis's A Million Suns is ...
Ciara Knight (author of  the Battle for Souls series)!
Thanks to everyone who shared their favorite author crush!
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Sweat Equity: Not Just For Houses

You put a ton of time into writing your novel. You and/or your publisher put up-front money into turning it into a publishable book. Your publisher may (or may not) put money into marketing your book. But what about the sweat equity of time you have to put into marketing? How is that different for the various publishing paths (self-pub vs. small pub vs. trad-pub)?

(This question was posed by commenter J.S. Schley in my How Many Book Sales Equals "Success"? post)

Traditional Publishing
This extensive article from Saundra Mitchell details what a traditionally published author can do in the marketing department:

  • Build a website
  • Get on FB&Twitter and start blogging (if you haven't already)
  • Build a mailing list with independent booksellers, libraries, high schools/middle schools
  • Build a press kit
  • Hire a designer to create bookmarks, postcards
  • Hand write postcards to aforementioned mailing lists
  • Contact book bloggers about interviews, reviews, giveaways
  • Send your publisher-supplied ARCs to your mailing list, plus a couple for giveaways
  • Write a Press Release and send it out
  • Do interviews, guest blogs, launch party (if you want to have one)
Interestingly, she notes that 3 months after launch you should expect your book to be pulled from the shelves, unless you're a bestseller. At that point, she suggests mailing out another round of books to booksellers, but this time it will be at the author's cost, so be prudent about that.

Self-Publishing (or Small Press)
For ease of comparison, I've highlighted the ones that are the same as above. Also see my post on Five Ways to Market Indie Books.
  • Build a website
  • Get on FB&Twitter and start blogging (if you haven't already)
  • Build an e-mail list with friends and fans
  • Build a press kit
  • Hire a designer to create bookmarks, postcards (or create your own)
  • Contact book bloggers about interviews, reviews, giveaways
  • Send your ARCs to book bloggers, reviewers, giveaways
  • Write a Press Release and send it out
  • Do interviews, guest blogs, launch party (if you want to have one)
  • Look into paid advertisements on places like Kindle Nation Daily and Pixel of Ink
  • Have a presence on Goodreads and use their giveaways for the first 6 mos
I'm scratching my head and looking for the major difference between these lists. I believe there are two main areas where they differ:

1) Number, type and cost of ARCs
Traditionally published authors are generally supplied with ARCs, but these are limited in number - maybe the limit is 5, maybe 500 (it's all in your contract) - but it's a finite number of paper books. It's unclear to me how many ebook ARCs publishers give away, but generally I haven't seen many traditionally published e-book giveaways. Once the publisher-supplied ARCs are gone, the author will have to pay for additional ones themselves. Self-published authors pay for every paper ARC, but are unlimited in how many e-book ARCs they can give away. 

The net effect for this, I think, is that traditional authors have less flexibility in giving away books. As a self-published author, I've given away LOTS of ebooks on Book Blogs and other contests/giveaways. It's easy to give away ebooks (there's no cost) and its a great way to get your book into people's hands. I've done a limited number of paper giveaways (because of cost), including Goodreads and select blog giveaways.

2) Where ARCs Go
Traditionally published authors are generally sending their ARCs to booksellers - their "customer" is the bookstore, who they are trying to get to stock their books (either initially, or after the 3 month period when their books may start getting pulled). Self-published authors are generally giving away ARCs to readers, who they hope will love the book, write reviews, and spread word-of-mouth. Likewise, the mailing lists for traditionally published and self-published authors target differently (booksellers vs. readers). For my small-press publisher, they followed the ARC model of larger publishers (smaller, limited quantity of ARCs), and that limited how many giveaways I could do when marketing the book (without paying for it on my own; they didn't do ebook giveaways).

Sweat Equity

Let's leave aside, for the moment, a discussion about why targeting booksellers, as opposed to readers, is not the best strategy for an industry where readers are the customers (see Kristen Lamb's excellent post about keeping your eye on the ball).

Even though traditionally published authors target booksellers vs. self-published authors targeting readers, I don't think the time (or sweat equity) involved in each is substantially different. On either side, I think the time/sweat equity put into marketing can be scaled up or down, depending on the amount the author wants to invest. Depending on what is in the contract, a publisher may put substantial money into marketing as well, in which case, I suspect the author will have to put MORE time/sweat equity into things like book tours and appearances. If you are already a bestseller (or you negotiate a wicked awesome contract), the publisher may arrange for a publicist (or have one in-house) that arranges things like distribution of ARCs and blog tours. But whatever money the publisher is investing in marketing is money they hope to make back on your book sales (i.e. your sell-through will likely be higher). Hopefully, those things will be worth the investment all around. 

If a traditional author chooses to put zero (or minimal) sweat equity into marketing, relying on the publisher's salesforce to sell the book to booksellers, they may still have great sales. Or they may not. For a self-published author, it is also possible to just put your book on Amazon (the main distribution channel for indie publishing) and see what happens. There are successful self-published authors who DO NOT blog/twitter/facebook or do book blog tours (this is counter-intuitive to the mantra that social networking is vitally important to indie authors, but it is still true; the appeal of the book and the power of Amazon's marketing machine have a lot of influence on sales). This is true for trad-pub authors as well (again, the appeal of the book and the power of the paper distribution system can have a big impact on sales).

Balancing Marketing and Writing
Whether you indie or trad-pub, you CAN choose not to put sweat equity into marketing, but I think the prudent author, who wants to give their book the best chance of success, will at least attempt some of these things. There is always the balance between marketing and writing that every author should strive to seek. I think the pressure is greater on self-published authors, partly because they are unlimited in how many books they can put out. Traditionally published authors are often limited in how fast they can publish (that non-compete agreement or just a schedule that the publisher has laid out for the release of the books). Indie authors can publish on whatever time-schedule they wish, which means that any time not spent writing delays the release of the next book. 

No pressure. :)

(And yes, as soon as I finish this blog post, I'm diving into my manuscript again, to meet my daily target.)

For me, I get up every morning and make the donuts. I try to be savvy about the marketing side, and probably spend too much time trying to track my sales. But I'm in this for the long-haul, which means the marketing has to be balanced with a heavy dose of what I love to do most: write.

20 comments:

  1. I have to say many aspects of markets are similar. Authors still have to put in the time no matter how they publish.

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  2. Oh man. I don't know that I could ever be organized enough for all this. Still, great post, just in case. Thanks, Susan!

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  3. Very good points, Susan. No matter how they reach the market, authors need to do the same things, more or less. I always get my writing target done before doing any marketing - it's the only way that works for me!

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  4. I think that although the publishers probably target the bookstores more than the readers, I know of at least some traditionally published authors who definitely focus on their readers and make a point to connect to them via their blog or Twitter and do giveaways with both ARCs and copies after the publication date. It would seem to me (although I could be wrong, here) that while publishers focus on selling to bookstores, authors in general oftentimes try to connect with their readers.

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    1. Ava, you're absolutely right that trad-pub authors focus on readers as well (esp through social media, which is up there). I was pointing up the differences and I think that's a point where they differ (self-pub authors generally aren't trying to get into bookstores) - and it struck me in Saundra's article (also Elana's later) that there was as much emphasis on pitching directly to booksellers for trad-pub authors. In fact, Beth Revis (my author crush) clearly is one of those trad-pub authors that does a great job of connecting with readers directly (via her blog and twitter).

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  5. see, that part to me about the three months is just ridonkulous. I mean, three months is no time. But I guess that means you have to do all your legwork beforehand and then hit the ground running.

    I get your point, though! Every form has its challenges. Great post, as always~ <3

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  6. Very informative and well thought out post. I am also fighting for that copy of A Million Suns!

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  7. The savviest self-publishing authors realize that self-pubbing is like running your own business. Which can be benefit or a drawback, depending on the person. You totally get it and are an inspiration for aspiring self-pubbers. Congratulations!

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  8. It's amazing how much work goes into writing that isn't writing.

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  9. Before getting into the blogosphere, I wondered about the marketing side of writing. I didn't do a lot legwork to find out more until I entered the blogosphere and saw the impact it can have for some authors. Although I know not every author has to do these various things, it's good to know of these options.

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  10. For some reason your posts always make me hungry.

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  11. Thanks for this post, Susan!

    How do you feel about your ROI on your time investment?

    As for e-ARCs, they've actually hugely changed the pre-release reach of trade publishing. For instance, Random House now offers eARCs of almost their entire catalog to booksellers. And NetGalley is becoming quite the force for large and small houses to get their books in front of bloggers, reviewers, and readers.

    It's something I expect to see continually expanding.

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    1. I hope so! That's just good business, and I'm glad they're starting to see that! Although, sending eARCs to booksellers isn't the same as sending to book bloggers (again targeting bookstores, not readers). I've not seen many eARC giveaways from big publishers on the book blogger circuit. One recent call for reviewers (of a trad pub novel that shall remain nameless) required me to apply for a limited number of paper arcs, and a slightly less limited number of eARCs, with a small essay explaining why my blog was worthy of "winning" an arc for review (when I know very well the eARCs involve no cost whatsoever). I decided not to apply, even though my blog would have been a great place to promote this book (it was MG), because it was the kind of thing I would never require of book bloggers reviewing my book.

      As for ROI, it's always hard to measure that on marketing. But just in the last couple days, I've had three reviews on book bloggers (two with giveaways) go live, and seen a spike in sales that's directly attributable to them. I requested those reviews 2-4 months ago, but they only landed now. And yet, the effect is real.

      As I've said before, I couldn't be happier with my indie experience - of course, not everyone will have the same experience. YMMV. But, like any small business, you directly reap the benefits of the time/sweat equity you put into it.

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  12. I've been up all night writing, so I hope this comment is lucid because I'm not. :)

    My publicist at Tor has a very long list of book reviewers, bloggers, online magazines, etc that she sends to me before the release of each of my books. I check it over to make sure nothing is missing and once I approve it, she starts mailing out books.

    After THE FIRST DAYS came out, I was approached by a lot of book review bloggers requesting review copies of the novel. I forwarded their information to my publicist and she sent them a book and added their names to the list.

    When FIGHTING TO SURVIVE came out, the list was even longer (with a lot of the names I added). She asked me if she had every one on the list I wanted to send an ARC to and I made a few additions.

    My third book in my zombie trilogy, SIEGE, comes out in April. The ARCs were sent out in early January. Again, my publicist is the one who handles mailing the books out. My editor at Tor writes the cover letter that goes out with the books.

    I receive a dozen ARCs for my own personal use. I can keep them, have a giveaway, hand them out to friends and family members, etc. I usually end up giving half of them away in giveaways.

    Tor also hosts giveaways on goodreads.com where they have given away around 25 copies of each book to readers.

    Now, I can't say this is the norm, but this is how it has worked for me. Observing how Tor handles promotion of the books has helped me learn more about promoting my Indie published works.

    I really, really appreciate my publicist at Tor and all her hard work. It's a huge relief not to have to send out such a massive amount of books before each release. This is definitely a part of the traditional publishing world I absolutely LOVE.

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    1. Thanks so much for leaving a VERY lucid comment, Rhiannon! And for adding your experience! Tor sounds like they're doing it right, and I can totally understand loving that part! I don't know if it's the norm (I have heard other trad pub author friends where this isn't the case), but I think it should be! I think publishers that hold back on ARCS (especially eARCS, because there's minimal cost) are hurting the book's chances. Tor gets it, and I can see why you're continuing to publish with them!!

      Thanks again for your comment!

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    2. Tor also sends out eARCs, which I was very, very happy about. Tor has a very good reputation and I can definitely see why. I do enjoy being one of their writers.

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    3. For those who don't know, Tor is an independent ScienceFiction/Fantasy house that has a long and storied past. Being forward thinking is just the kind of thing I would expect from them (yay Tor!).

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    4. Tor is part of the Macmillan empire, but functions independently. They are well-known for doing well when other publishers are cutting editors, costs and authors. That is one of the reasons I felt safe signing with them.

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    5. They're part of Macmillan now, but they were on their own for a long time, yes? At least that reputation continues!

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  13. Great comparison/analysis, Susan! Pretty good nuts & bolts of the idea of what you're getting into (in either case). New follower and fan!

    EJ

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