When I signed my first publishing contract with Health Communications over a decade ago, I was a bit of an anomaly. I didn't have any experience in the field I wrote about. I had no platform and I made every mistake in the book. But I was persistent. I took advice to heart. I found co-authors with the writing chops and expertise I lacked. And my kooky idea of a book on transforming anger through "Anger-obics" and laughter became a reality.
In one way, publishing hasn't changed that much. Writers lament that it's "impossible" to get a book deal unless you're a celebrity. Others complain that you can't land an agent unless you know the right people. Don't listen to them. You can still get published. I work with first time authors all the time and many of them are still landing book deals. Others are self-publishing for a variety of reasons--and successfully publishing award-winning books.
Yet, publishing has undergone an enormous change--and the savvy author will take advantage of this huge transformation of the industry. Here's what's changed and your savvy strategies to benefit:
Trend 1: Fierce Competition: If you're looking to traditionally publish, competition has heightened, since fewer books are published by the top publishers.
Target a large, hungry market: When thinking about the market for your book, if you have several options, think about a group that is focused and easy to reach.
Get a Bestselling Author for Your Foreword: This is a big plus to agents and publishers (hint: put it on the cover page of your proposal) since customers on Amazon will find your book, along with these bestsellers, when searching for your bestselling co-hort.
Grow your platform as an author, since a large, loyal platform often translates into book sales.
Trend 2: Cost Cutting: Certainly many quality books are still being published. However, there is a trend towards cost-cutting. This may result in less attention and fewer resources for editing, promoting, designing and printing your book. I recently bought a writing book published by a respected publisher. The paper was newsprint quality and the design of the book did nothing to "woo" me as a reader or make the reading experience more inviting and satisfying.
Consider Self Publishing: I recently received a self-published book that was well-edited, beautifully designed and printed on quality paper. Although the subject was not something I'd generally pick up, I immediately opened and read it. One of the advantages of print books over digital is that they offer a fuller sensory experience--a tactile experience of the paper, the dimensionality, even the smell. It's a shame for printing to stoop to the lowest common denominator. Which brings us to one of the biggest shifts in publishing:
Find an Agent who shares your vision and is willing to bat for you: An agent carries more weight than an author, particularly a first time author, and may be able to insure that sufficient resources are spent on your book, including quality design and printing.
Trend 3: Digitality: Ebooks offer many advantages--from zero printing costs to no need to stock inventory or pay for shipping. In addition, technology adds texture and functionality.
Be engaging: How can your readers interact with your book? Perhaps your book can send readers to a quiz on your website. Or embed a video. Can you invite readers to share their experiences on your blog and interact with each other as a community?
Be colorful: With print books, color costs big bucks. With ebooks, you can use full-color images without impacting price. How else can technology support creative design?
Be resourceful: Link to resources--on your own site and elsewhere--for readers who want more. Referenced sites may even support your book promotion.
Trend 4: You Publish:
Self-publishing gives you control. You can call the shots and bring your vision to life. You can even publish your book more quickly.
Update Your Book: If you use publishing on demand technology, you can update your book regularly--when a reader reports typos or innovations occur in your field, for instance.
Go for Quality: Research quality editors, designers and printers. Your book represents your brand. Get it right.
Trend 5: Amazonation: Whatever your sentiments about Amazon, readers buy more books there than anywhere else.
Get a foreword from a bestselling author in your field: When readers search for this author, your book will show up in their search.
Find a publisher that Amazon doesn't punish with availability delays: Amazon rewards authors who self publish with CreateSpace. For other publishers, Amazon may list their book as temporarily out of stock, or delay shipping. Research availability for titles under the publishers you are considering.
Become a bestseller: I don't like suggesting you play games. However, many authors benefit from becoming the bestseller of the hour in a particular niche on Amazon. A number of online marketers offer to help you do this. Get references and be wary if the marketer promises that bestselling authors will promote your book. It's possible, but many authors have been burned when their "partners" do not fulfill. The best partners are people you know, like and trust, people you've helped--and who care about you.
Be keyword-rich: What keywords do your target audience enter when searching Amazon? Use these keywords when listing your book on Amazon. Make sure your publisher is Amazon-savvy.
Trend 6: A Crowded Market. With so many books, authors, blogs, tweets, posts and updates, how can you get discovered and shared by your potential readers?
Go big: Many of my clients have started blogging for their own blog and later pitched to national news sources and blogs like the Huffington Post, Psychology Today and the Financial Times. Some pitch themselves and others hire a publicist. This strategy has positioned many of them to get 5- and 6-figure book deals.
Be yourself: Don't try to imitate someone else's writing voice. Discover your own authentic voice. It's fine to experiment with your voice at first. And your voice may vary a bit depending on your audience. Do read aloud to see if it truly sounds like you. You'll know in your gut.
Start today: Developing community takes time. The sooner you start, the easier it will be to gain a loyal following that translates into book sales.