Creating and Selling

Getting your book done and getting it published: that was Caroline Pover’s subject when she spoke to JAT’s TIP (translator-initiated publishing) SIG meeting on December 9, 2013.

Pover herself has a solid record of achievement, starting with her 2001 Being A Broad In Japan and continuing thorough her 2009 Guide to International Schools in Japan, her 2010 Ask Caroline, and on to the latest, 2012’s Love with a Western Woman: A Guide for Japanese Men.

 

She started by putting up a list of essentials – things you will have to think about and be prepared for –and then taking the group through them:

Developing written material
Editors and proofreaders
Illustrators and photographers
Contacting publishers
Layout and design
Covers
Printing
Marketing
Distribution
Storage
Financing

Developing written material
There are many motivations – many reasons for wanting to publish. Some authors simply have something they want to tell everyone about. Others want to establish their credentials in a particular field. And still others might have other motivations. Yet whatever your motivation, it is important to ask yourself: can you write? There is no such thing as writer’s block. There is only writer’s inertia. Force yourself to write. Blogging is good practice. Daily. This demands discipline. It demands determination. Whether you are doing fiction or non-fiction, write, write, and write. Get it on the page. Then go back and polish it. It is not going to spring from your head fully formed. It will come out rough. But get it out. And then, later, push it into shape.

Editors and proofreaders
Feedback is essential. Not from everyone but from a few people who have good text sense and whom you trust to tell you the truth. These are your first editors, but you should also have professional help. If you go with a traditional publisher, the publisher will likely supply an editor. If not, it is up to you to find them and get their advice. Your editors will need to know in advance how much input you want. Do you just want fact-checking, or are you open to major rewriting suggestions? Establish the realms of responsibility before you start, remembering that the author-editor relationship should not be adversarial. You also need proofreaders. And note that editing and proofreading are different processes demanding different skills. There are exceptions, but it is unusual for the same person to be good at both. If you plan to self-publish, you will have to find these people yourself. Ask around. Get recommendations. Check them. Hire professionals, and expect to pay them.

Illustrators and photographers
Again, hire people. Get recommendations and outsource this. If you cannot get recommendations, look online for people and graphics. There is a lot of stock artwork on the net. Look around. Odesk.com, for example, is a good place to find people who want work. However you find what you want, remember the importance of credits and captions.

Contacting publishers
Almost all publishers work with agents. Unless you are going to publish independently, you should have an agent. It is possible to go through an established author if you know one well, but odds are that person will introduce you not to the publisher but to an agent, and you will then have to sell your work and yourself to that agent. In selling the work to an agent, you should send a summary that both describes the work and demonstrates your marketing savvy (who the target readership is and why they will buy this book), your biodata (including any special qualifications you might have), and the first three chapters. It is important the agent be active in your field and have field-specific credibility with publishers.

Layout and design
If you are going to self-publish, Adobe’s InDesign has everything you need. But it will not simply give you a design. It is an implementation tool. You have to figure out for yourself what you want the product to look like. To decide on your target design, look at books you think are well designed and steal. Paper and digital, however, are different and demand different design specifications. You can/should do both. Colors are part of design. Two-color design (which means black-and-white plus one other color) is less expensive than full/four-color design and can be just as effective (except for photography books or other very graphic works) if you remember that “one other color” includes all the hues of that color.

Covers
The purpose of the front cover is to get attention in the bookstore and online. It has to vividly tell potential readers what the book is about and get them to pick it up. It has to compete with everything else that is out there, including at the thumbnail scale. The back cover is your sales pitch. It is your billboard, so you should write it last. Endorsements can go inside. You can and should ask for overruns (extra printings) of the cover and use them in your publicity.

Printing
If you are using a traditional publisher, they will take care of the printing. If you are self-publishing, you can use either a regular printer or print-on-demand. Pover uses Lightning Source, which has good shipping to Japan. There are, however, alternatives, including Create Space and more. That said, print-on-demand is not always the best quality. Get recommendations. Whoever you use, you will need to know their format requirements because you will have to format the book yourself and send them a digital file including everything. That “everything” should include the ISBN. If you supply the ISBN, you are the publisher of record. If the print-on-demand printer supplies it, they are the publisher of record. Either way, you need an ISBN if you want to get into bookstores and catalogs. The printer can, however, generate and supply the bar code. As for how many to print, 500 is good sales for a first book and 1,000 is wildly optimistic. This is not a major issue if you use print-on-demand, but even with publish-on-demand, you will want some to distribute in connection with your marketing.

Marketing
If you cannot spend time on marketing, you should not self-publish. You have to promote your book and your self. You have to be in the public eye for the book to sell. If you are not comfortable with this, you should not sign up for it by self-publishing. Because publicity is so important, you will need a good photo of yourself and your book, a persuasive summary of the book and a “the story behind the book,” and a biography of yourself that explains your qualifications and gives both you and the book credibility. You need stand-out business cards and all of the other I’m-an-entrepreneur trappings. Most of all, you need to spend time and effort building a community around the work. This will mean events, book signings, media interviews, press releases, and more. All to get people interested and thinking maybe they should read it. There is, however, no need to send copies to friends. Tell them about it. If they are friends, they will buy their own copies. Of course, you have to do marketing even if you use a traditional publisher, but the demands are quantum-leap greater when you do not have a back-up team from a publisher.

Distribution
Plan to distribute online, in bookstores, and anywhere else you can. For example, is there a coffee shop you frequent that would be willing to make a few copies available? Online, Amazon is the biggest outlet and is accessible, but there is very little if any support available. In bookstores? On-demand printers can get access, but that assumes there is demand, which you have to generate yourself. And of course, you can lay in a supply and sell directly to readers – assuming you build the postage, packaging, and other costs into the price. Note that bookstores and other standard retail outlets will demand steep discounts, which means you have to price the book to make money even at that steeply discounted price. And if you do sell direct, remember that packaging is important. This is not an area where you want to skimp. People want their copies to arrive in mint condition.

Storage
If you decide to sell direct, or even if you just want to have a hundred copies on hand for signings and other publicity events, you need to think about storage. How much space is that going to take? How much do these boxes of books weigh? Where are you going to put them? Do you need to rent space? Be realistic.

Financing
Once you have all of this figured out, you still need to finance it. All of those professionals need to be paid. You need to eat while you are writing. Where is that money going to come from? And how are you going to get it back once the book is out? Again, be realistic. Do not assume your first book is going to be a mega-hit. In addition to the standard options (e.g., your savings and your parents), it is now possible to fund-raise online by, in effect, pre-selling the book and offering special perks to people who put money up. If you can sell the project to a major publisher, you might get an advance to cover some of your expenses, but self-publishing is essentially self-financing. You need to have a business plan that is at least as strong as your book plan. Otherwise it is just a hobby.

 

(write-up by Fred Uleman)