Publishing Lessons Part 2

Back in October, I wrote about the first part of the publishing project for Gorgito’s Ice Rink. At that point, I’d only brought out the ebook. Now, two months on, I have a paperback edition as well. I’ve been reflecting on the second part of this project, and as always, this is written from the point of view of a small business owner—with the adjective attached to ‘business’ rather than ‘owner’—rather than as an author. 

Print Options: These days, many people swear by Print on Demand (POD) as the way to produce physical books. For the author, there’s no upfront cost and no storage issues, no unwanted copies to get rid of if sales are disappointing. Sales are managed by someone else and all you have to do is wait for the cheque to arrive each month. On the other hand, the postage is high, often doubling the cost if you want to purchase copies to sell directly or give away. Added to which, there is no personal element to the sale, something I find quite frustrating.

For all my previous books, I have used a local printer to produce a short run. This time, I used both options. I have copies at home, ready for face to face sales, book fairs, local book shops etc. but it is also available on Amazon. I put it on there for a couple of reasons: apparently, for readers who have never heard of you, credibility is enhanced by having both paperback and ebook formats available. This is one of the points made by Peter Jones during his workshops on independent publishing at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School—and, let’s face it, we indies need all the help we can get in building our credibility. And secondly, it’s easier to service overseas sales this way, especially for a larger book—this one is more than 300 pages long. I used Create Space to prepare the manuscript, with templates for formatting that I found very useful and easy to work with. 

Post Options: For all my previous books, I have sold copies directly via my website—and any posting was done via Royal Mail and the Post Office.  Now I have three options, and like any good business owner, I realised that different options worked best for different situations. On the assumption that all three delivered on time and security of packages, it became purely a cost issue. For one or two copies, the Post Office provided the best solution—especially at the moment when it is offering reduced prices for small packages. However, for one, wonderful purchaser of 12 copies, I was able to more than halve the postage costs by using the courier myHermes—it’s amazing the tips one picks up at a craft fair on a cold day in August, where the stallholders outweigh the customers, and we are all buying each other cups of hot tea and swapping notes. For the Goodreads Giveaways (see later), I placed orders via Create Space and had them delivered directly to the various countries.

For non-UK readers of this article, the examples given won’t have meaning, but the principle is the same wherever you are: check out all the options and be prepared to chop and change, depending on the circumstances.

Timing: I touched on this in Publishing Lessons Part 1. I found yet again that timing was important—more specifically that I was doing things rather later than I should have. I launched the books in October/November in order to hit the Christmas buying period. On reflection, this might have been too late. Several of my readers have come back to me and purchased additional copies as Christmas presents. But many have yet to read their own copies and therefore are not ready to take a risk on buying an unsuitable present for Auntie Mabel. Next time, I would pull the launch forward by at least a month.

Launching a book at the same time as attempting NaNoWriMo was probably a little foolhardy—although I did finish and now have 50K+ words towards novel #2.

Bookshops have Christmas events planned months in advance, often with the authors from traditional publishers. I found it impossible to get any signing set up this side of Christmas. On the other hand, a couple have offered me events in the spring and with an independently-published book, there is less of a feeling that the window of opportunity is open for a short time only. I’m also leaving my press release campaigns until the New Year, as the media is so crowded with events and promotions at this time of the year that it is easy to get lost.

Goodreads Giveaways: I owe this one to another Swanwick buddy, Daniela Norris; she advised me to look into running a Giveaway in the weeks running up to the launch. I set it up for six weeks, with 10 copies on offer and a world-wide eligibility. The winners came from North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. I have yet to find out whether this exercise will yield additional reviews and I will never know whether it results in additional sales, but from a visibility point of view, more than 1600 readers entered the draw and more than 700 put the book on their bookshelves ‘to be read’. The Giveaway can only be run with physical books; ebooks are not eligible. And if, like me, you find Goodreads impossibly difficult to understand at first sight, I would highly recommend Goodreads for Authors by Michelle Campbell-Scott. It was the best £1.84 I’ve spent in a long time!

Launch Party: In Part 1, I talked about the virtual launch party we held in October. Six weeks later, we booked a room in our local Town Hall, bought a couple of bottles of vodka, some blinis and sour cream, scattered Russian souvenirs around the room—and invited all our friends to join us for the evening. We had no idea how many people would turn up, and I pessimistically thought we might be launching with just a few people, but it was standing room only. I talked a little bit about working in Russia, did a couple of short readings, and there was music from our local shanty singers who learned The Volga Boatmen especially for the event. At the last minute, I realised I needed someone else to run the book sales, leaving me free to chat and sign copies. It was great fun and definitely something I would do again. In fact, I seem to remember inviting people back for the launch of novel #2 ‘same time, next year’! (Which considering this one took seven years, might be a tad optimistic!)

Have Copies With You—Always: This is a tip I picked up from the inspirational Hope Clark: I have a box of books in the car at all times and if I’m walking, I will always have at least one copy in my bag. You never know when someone’s going to say: ‘by the way, I need another copy sometime for Auntie Mabel’ and a confirmed sale is better than a vague request any day. 

So there you have it: part 2 of reflections on my latest publishing project. I will post part 3 in a few months time when the rest of the promotional activities are under way. 

If you found this article useful, you might like to check out my ebook series on The Business of Writing. After all, you are not just a writer, you are a business person too.
By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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