It's been said for years that if you're an author, you're always your book's biggest promoter. That's never been more true than today, with the conventional publishing industry in shambles. I've written over a dozen books over the last decade or so. The first three were published by McGraw-Hill; I've published the rest myself. This post deals with general publishing issues; the one that will follow deals with particulars.
If you're already a very famous author, an established publisher may spend some time and money helping promote your book. Andrés Duany told me that McGraw-Hill is doing some good promotion work on his new Smart Growth Manual. I've never been able to determine that they did any kind of promotion whatsoever on any of my three books with them. Nothing. They just put it up on Amazon and took orders. And in fairness, they have a big corporation to support, so it's essential that they spend their marketing dollars creating a few best-sellers. Major publishers are big-head creatures, not long-tail. That's simply the way their industry operates.
My last book with McGraw-Hill was Traditional Construction Patterns, published in 2004. Their royalty statements are vague, but as well as I can tell from the information provided, I make about $0.75 from each book sold. It's a $40 book. Put another way, if you divide all the money I've ever made in royalties by the amount of time I spent to write and produce the book, I'm not yet making minimum wage after all these years, and the book has spent almost the entire time in the top 10% of Amazon sellers. Much of that time, it's been in the top 2%, so it's sold well. It's just that McGraw-Hill got the lion's share.
My first major self-publishing venture was A Living Tradition [Architecture of the Bahamas], published at the end 2007. It's a $50 book. After paying Amazon their cut and paying the printing cost on the book, each book sold through Amazon nets a profit of just over $30. The last couple years have been tough on the architecture profession. Realistically, profits from A Living Tradition is what has kept our doors open these past two years. Is McGraw-Hill evil or something? Not at all. Those are the realities of their industry: cut the best possible deal you can with authors and hope for a few blockbusters. They have no choice... if they paid authors a substantially larger cut, they'd be out of business.
The flip side is the fact that you have to ante up a serious amount of cash to print the book. I had to cough up over $40,000 to do the first press run of the Original Green recently. In today's economic climate, that's a really scary proposition. I'm optimistic enough about the book that we swallowed hard and drained our credit line. That's the real test of whether you believe strongly enough in your book. We looked at Lulu and other print-on-demand services, but all of them would have charged $50 or more per copy because the book has color images on nearly every page. The Original Green retails for $29.95, so that obviously wouldn't work.
I wrote the Original Green over about 18 months. Much of the book was serialized as I was writing it on the Original Green Blog. I got tons of great feedback from many people over the course of writing the book, which was substantially improved by that feedback. I'd highly recommend this method to anyone thinking of writing a book. A blog dedicated to a book is known as a "blook." By building up interest and readership long before the book is published, you're building pent-up demand. This one went a bit further than typical blooks in that it wasn't just promoting the Original Green book; it essentially crowdsourced its authorship.
I began the Original Green cause on Facebook late in 2008, and the LinkedIn Original Green group and the Original Green Twitter stream shortly thereafter. Between the three, there are now over 12,000 people that have given me permission to speak to them about the Original Green. Last November, I was working on a design charrette in Hawaii. We'd had several days of hard work, and my back was in knots, so I scheduled a massage at the end of the last day in the resort where we were working. When I arrived, the masseuse looked at me funny and asked "are you like an eco architect or something?" I said "yes," and she said "I'm a member of the Original Green cause." 10,000 miles away, here was someone who had given me permission to speak to her. Today, there are Original Green cause members on every continent except Antarctica.
Note: the Causes people inexplicably made some changes that pretty much killed the vibrant interactions that once occurred when Causes were firmly embedded in Facebook. As a result, I created the Original Green Group, where we finally have discussion again!
For anything not specifically about the Original Green, I have the Useful Stuff blog (where this post was originally posted)... while much of my work is about the Original Green, there are other things about me, too. If you clog an issue-oriented blog with too many things not about that issue, you'll likely lose readership.
"You absolutely must hire an outside editor." Those were Andrés Duany's exact words when I was writing Traditional Construction Patterns. So I hired the one he recommended: Nancy Bruning. A "New Yorker to the core" by her own description, and an author of over 25 books herself, she's highly embedded with several aspects of publishing. She's edited numerous books for others, including some for Andrés. He was right. The book would have been an embarrassment without her. I'll never write a book again without Nancy.
I worked with her first on Traditional Construction Patterns. McGraw-Hill's editors had done little more than checking spelling and grammar. Again, that's par for the course with the tiny amount they can budget to the production of a book by a non-famous author. Nancy, on the other hand, spent several weeks looking at everything from the entire structure of the book to the nuance of the word.
With the Original Green book, I brought her to an Original Green Workshop in Chicago several years ago, as I was developing the idea. I discussed the overall structure of the book with her on a number of occasions. And as I began to write, I'd send her each chapter. Then, once the book was done, I brought her to Miami Beach for several weeks of intense editing. When you think you're ready to go to press, it might seem hard to delay for the editing, but it's essential. Andrés was right.
I created an Original Green Facebook Page leading up to the Launch Party described below. It's really kinda cool, because conversations start there that I would not have anticipate. It's an actual multi-thread conversation, rather than just me talking and other people (maybe) listening. I did some Facebook ads in the beginning, but am not certain they really did any good, so we've just let the page stand on its own merits. It has nearly 900 people who "Like" it as I write this.
We did a Launch Party at Books & Books on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. It worked out great... they have a cafe there, and catered the hors d'oeuvres and sold the books. We created a Facebook event, which was our primary online promotion spot for the party.
I wish I could hire someone like Irina Woelfle as my publicist, but as noted above, we drained our credit line to print the book, so there's no money left for hiring established publicists at the rates they deserve. But we've had a long and largely successful history of developing talent in-house. We began working with Ty Reid two years ago on other things, and quickly found that he was an exceptional connector, and can repeatedly do things others would consider impossible. So Ty has become our publicist. His site is PR-Ty.com. Currently, I'm his only client, but by the time you read this, there may be others in the People section. Having someone else promote you is always better than trying to promote yourself, IMO, because your publicist can speak glowingly about you in ways you could never do yourself. He lists Publications around which he may build events. Here's his Original Green book page, for example. Just as I crowdsourced the book, Ty is crowdsourcing the book tours by listing a number of tours he wants to produce, and then inviting everyone to help. He's found that a few key people in each region committed to the ideals of the Original Green can accomplish far more because they have connections there than he could ever do on his own.
You might consider putting an image of your book in your email signature, with a link to where it can be bought online. Here's how I created my 3D book icon.
I'm definitely going to produce an audiobook of the Original Green book. I've become a big fan of audiobooks since the iPhone came out, and hardly ever walk (or drive) anywhere without listening to a book. One thing I've noticed is that authors who happen to be great speakers get totally stifled and wooden when reading their own books. Having a professional reader do it isn't much better. So I'm going to try something different... I'm going to use the book as a general script, and a reminder of sorts, but I'm going to do it as a presentation so that it comes off like I'm speaking, rather than like I'm reading. Speaking is much more interesting and can carry far more passion, IMO. I've been talking to audible.com, and they indicate that they occasionally consider self-produced audiobooks. They want a sample, of course. I'll report back later how that goes.
I'm also going to produce an e-book. All my books are written in InDesign, which will export ePubs. I'm still researching the best ways of submitting them to Apple's iBookstore. Amazon's Kindle system is well-established and clear-cut, from what I can tell. There's one hurdle to get over, and that's the graphic appearance of the book. You have to give up your beautiful layout, and think of the book as a "digital soup of content" that's poured out differently into each eBook reader according to the user's preferences. For example, if you have an image at the beginning of each chapter, it'll put it there, but then put the rest of the images at the end of the chapter all together. To be meaningful, what I'm going to have to do is to completely reassemble the book content in InDesign so that each sub-chapter is broken out as a separate document in order that there's some semblance of connection with the images. A lot of work? Yes. But selling eBooks (bits) is much less expensive than selling paper books (atoms) once you get past that initial layout. Stay tuned on this…
Note: This was written before the release of Apple's iBooks Author, which finally delivered what e-books had always promised to be. Here's how to publish using iBooks Author, a program so intuitive that one blog post can cover all the essentials.