A month ago, I sent an email request to PMA members. In it I related a story about how, when I was growing up, we could always ask for a do-over when we made a mistake, and our family and friends usually let us have it. What a joy it would be to have that same do-over opportunity in our business life.
So I asked members what they’d like to be able to do over if they had the chance. What follows may be the best education anyone will ever get about independent book publishing. In fact, so many of you had wonderful stories to share that this will be a two-part column, to be continued next month.
I thank you all for sharing and grant you an instantaneous do-over when and if another problem occurs!
Get the Facts Right
Probably #1, I wish I had another chance to realize how important it is to put the correct publishing date on the book; and #2, I’d like an editing do-over. Don’t underestimate the importance.
Bella Int., Ltd.
Deal Better with Vendors
I was approached by a company that offered to pitch my book to “big box” retailers in the golf and general retail industries. There were a few options on how to pay for this service. One was to pay a modest fee and owe them a fairly hefty commission on sales that they helped arrange. The second option (the one that dummy Dr. Divot chose) was to pay them up front and not owe them any commission on sales.
I chose this option because I wanted to avoid a bookkeeping nightmare trying to figure out what I would owe them. I was sure that my book would be gobbled up by Costco, Sports Authority, etc. Well, I had unrealistic expectations about how quickly my book would catch on.
To make a long story short, I paid them a lot of money (I’m too ashamed to say just how much) and got nothing back.
My second do-over involves a company I hired to publicize my book. They proposed a very sweeping campaign to get the book reviewed in various golf magazines. Well, after a year, I don’t think that this company had set a single review in motion. Instead, I have had to do it myself (and have enjoyed dozens of terrific reviews as a result of my own networking, phone calls, etc.).
My “sage” advice is this:
- Don’t let your enthusiasm get the best of you (and don’t get greedy, either).
- If you want it done right, do it yourself.
Larry Foster, M.D.
Dr. Divot Publishing Company
I would work with a printer who speaks my language. Unfortunately we were involved with a very good printer whose primary language was Spanish. We ran into many delays and obstacles on our first book because he misunderstood what we wanted. He was referred to us by a friend, and that friend became our interpreter, but it was a trying process
The Gattorno Foundation
I have had lousy dealings with printers on all four of my books. Never has any of the three printers I have dealt with printed a book without problems. Methinks finding a fabulous printer is like finding a fabulous lawyer. I am still looking.
Aries Rising Press
I would have shopped more carefully for a marketing/consulting firm. I spent $18K for marketing of my book on trust. This is not smart business, and I know better. I should/would have received more than just two references and demanded follow-up every week on contacts made and progress.
I have to take responsibility for my decision. It was not good business.
Maximum Potential, Inc.
The biggest do-over for us would be not going with a printer we don’t know or have personal references for. We went for price, and what on the surface looked fine re their products. It was a nightmare from start to finish and definitely a learning experience. Looking back, there were warning signs that we should have paid attention to: way too much talk about their customer service; they were assigning us their best person; the president was personally overseeing our work; etc. Plus late delivery on examples of their work and more.
Hanson Park Press
Though you have to do your homework and research, there will be times when you just have to follow your instincts! Initially I was looking into hiring someone else to help publish my book, but from the very first conversation I had with this person, I knew that something was not right. As the weeks and months progressed, my instincts proved right, and I ended up canceling the contract and losing a couple hundred dollars that I could have used more wisely. But I would have lost a lot more money if I hadn’t canceled the contract when I did.
When selecting a vendor– contractor, printer, editor, designer or anyone else performing a service or providing a product–always get references from reliable sources and make sure the fees are clearly defined. Then step back and make sure it feels right before making any final decisions.
Sleepless Warrior Publishing
I would say to take your time publishing your book no matter how many books you have published. Do not be in a hurry to get it out there. Make your publication date way in advance so you have time to do things right. An example is my new book, Those Oldies but Goodies. I really enjoyed writing this book. I wanted it to get out there fast so my fans would have another one of my books to read. That is what I did; I had it edited, was in a hurry to do my rewrites, twice, and got it published. I ordered 3,000 books and had a party when I received them. Everyone at my party got a free book, and it was nice.
However, the very next day someone in the family called me. She said she loved my book; she could not put it down; it was a page turner. Then she told me there were a few mistakes. In reality there were a lot! Really a lot! Those 3,000 books were garbage!
Dream House Press
I would give myself more time. I would allow six months for editing and layout. After printing I would give myself a far-off pub date, perhaps up to 12 months ahead, to better prepare for reviews and gather advertising/promotion materials and interview lists.
Red Barn Press
As a longstanding publishing company, we’ve always done our trend research and believe we have kept ourselves in tune with what consumers want in creativity-inspiring products. But in the past several years, we do wish we had done the research and then acted on several opportunities. We feel we missed a good niche because of overanalysis. And we all know that timing is everything!
Clapper Communications Companies
I would have done more research on the pricing level of our particular book and would not have had price imprinted within the ISBN label. This would have allowed for more publisher flexibility and easier use of pressure-sensitive labels for different venues.
After publishing my first book, I started working on the second book too soon, instead of devoting my time to marketing the first. I believe that Dan Poynter warned against this in his book on self-publishing.
Edgewood Publishing Company
The main thing I would do over is research awards that pertain to my book very early. I missed deadlines and potentially high exposure in the marketplace. The Internet is a great place to find these awards. Create a list and act on it as early as possible to maximize exposure in your market.
Bunny Express Press
I wish I had several do-overs, but the most important would involve covers. Bick’s first covers were designed and printed locally by art and printing friends. Since I now firmly believe that the cover is the first and most important piece of advertising a book has, I thank the goddess that PMA helped me find professionals to handle the job–McNaughton & Gunn to print, and through our distributor, BookWorld Services (also recommended in a PMA list), our brilliant cover designer, Greg Sammons.
Bick Publishing House
Without a doubt, I would have paid a seasoned pro to design the best cover possible from the very first. The money I saved by initially using an amateur is the most costly discount I ever pocketed.
Three Story Press
My one huge do-over would be to spend the extra money for a professional, experienced editor, and not rely on other authors and friends to edit my work. I did do this, but only after I had ordered the first thousand copies.
Don’t Order Too Many Copies
Passing up a book that goes on to be a good seller or taking on a book that turns out to be a bomb are common mistakes.
For us, the one decision we wish we could redo would be overprinting. This past fall, we had a book we thought would sell well. It did, but not as well as we had hoped, and we have a lot of books left. The problem may have been that the market for the book was saturated, and the two authors–both well-known radio personalities in the Philadelphia area–did not want to make as many bookstore appearances as we had hoped.
Had we known this going in, we could have cut our print run, which would have helped make the book more profitable than it was.
Middle Atlantic Press
After we had signed with a new distributor, they convinced us that they were going to make a special marketing effort on our backlist as we came out with new printings. Based on their input, we printed 15,000 instead of 5,000. It took five or six years to sell those books, and we had to remainder some. With a do-over, we would have needed a new printing of 5,000 books.
The first decision I had to make was whether to publish it myself. I sought the advice of some author friends who have been very successful. They said: Self-publish. Their reasoning was that I would become frustrated with publisher delays and would lose control of the book. That was wise advice. I followed it but was too overconfident and did too large a print run (6,000). Everything went well, but a smaller book run would have given me a chance to come out fairly soon after the first print run with a second printing and a revised cover incorporating comments from favorable reviews.
I would have been better prepared from the beginning. I know I thought I was so ready. I did research for years, thinking I knew just about all there was to know to start a small publishing company. But now I realize the errors I made. Errors that cost not only time but money could have been avoided by digging deeper and looking harder before taking the plunge.
Blooming Tree Press
I wish I hadn’t contacted PMA. You people cost me a few thousand dollars for nothing and when I inquired as to what was going on, all I received was a document that said I should not have published in the first place. Knowing what my situation was ahead of time, there was simply only one reason not to inform me ahead of time and that is you were going to get my money anyway. I bet you won’t be publishing this in your newsletter.
Global Justice Publishing
I would have joined PMA before I started my first book–if I had known about it!
Smart Choice Publishing
The Agony of the Agent
Wasting a couple of years trying to get an agent, which I now know results in 99 percent rejections. Especially offensive, as I later learned, was that the rejecters were recent college graduates with liberal arts degrees who would’ve probably rejected Gone With the Wind and at least one version of the Holy Bible.
Connor & James Book Publishers
Plan Well for Print Coverage
On the first book we published, we would have been much more aggressive about getting testimonials and seeking reviews.
Robert T. Roberts
My do-over would be the $750 I paid a reviewer, who talked a good game, to review my book, only to discover that his review proved that he either hadn’t read the book or didn’t get it. To top it off, the review generated no–I mean no–sales.
Just Be Publishing, Inc.
I wish I had known that you were supposed to inform journals, magazines, etc., about your new book a few months before it was actually published, so that a “new release” article could be written about it.
Craig Amshel, M.D.
Better Than Going with a Big Publisher
Our only “do over” would be to have not spent a whole year working with a large publisher only to have the project canceled–which led us to self-publishing.
We were initially thrilled that first-time authors like us were being swooped up by a large publisher from our first set of query letters–and a publisher that is well known in our target market. We had passed all the hurdles–competitive analysis, marketing, financial, distribution, story development/voice, and probably many more we didn’t know about. Our editor was great; she had the contract on her desk, and suddenly, something changed. We still don’t know what, but the deal was off. The reason they gave didn’t make sense, but there was no going back. So we published ourselves.
What a wonderful day that was for us! A short nine months later, after a lot of hard work marketing and publicizing Live Your Road Trip Dream, we are back to the printer for 4,000 more copies.
We are so glad that our big deal fell through. We’re having a great time and making more money than would ever have been possible with a traditional publisher and royalty arrangement, and we have total control of our destiny.
Phil and Carol White
Manage Minor and Major Change
I wish we had done one last spell check! As we approached the end of the end, just before we hit the press, I made a small change on the dedication page and did a command p to print. It didn’t print, so I did a command p again, printed it, and handed it to Bang Printing in Brainerd, MN. Well, my first p wound up as part of our book . . . “daughters,p.”
One other thing. This was the fourth edition of our book, Cartooning Basics, and we made huge changes and additions. It was almost like a new (way better) book. But we loved the cover of the first book and kept it the same except for a starburst that said “New, Enlarged and Revised.” That was a big mistake. People–especially Amazon and other sellers–are confusing the new book with the old. We should have redone the front cover so it would definitely not be confused with the first. We learned our lesson, big-time, for the next printing!
Cartoon Connections Press
Test the Waters
I wish I had been more conservative in buying magazine and newspaper ads. I was familiar with a magazine about the state where my first book takes place, and I was overly optimistic in buying advertising in three monthly issues, leading up to and including the Christmas issue. The business generated didn’t recoup my costs; I would have broken even with one ad in the December issue only. Same thing with three newspapers, each published for an active adult community. I should have tested the waters with one ad in one paper, not in three papers. Now I am smarter when placing ads in a medium for the first time.
George Smith Publishing
Hire Help and Help the Ones You Hire
I would hire staff sooner. I can do everything, but I do not like to do some things. It is better to concentrate on tasks that are fun.
And I would spend more time managing staff. To make people productive, you need to give them constant attention/leadership.
Editors Make a Difference
The most unforeseen challenge we have encountered so far is final proofing and mechanical editing. Publishing is about perfection. One or two mistakes on the final print equal that number times the number of books printed! It’s a big deal, and catching everything takes several editors who are really good. With Making the Right Choices for a Great Life, we needed the efforts of five different editors along with the author to get it right.
After going through this exercise, I spoke with other publishers and found it’s always a challenge to make it perfect for them too. Unfortunately, we did not anticipate the time and resources required. So my advice is, plan in advance, make sure you have qualified editors in place, and keep everyone on a schedule that is realistic.
Truth in Life Publications, Inc.
Don’t Let Your Ego Get in the Way
My do-over list is longer than I would like it to be.
The biggest and most important do-over would be taking a class or reading more about sales. Closing the deal is so important to any independent publisher. We have this sometimes naive perception that people care about our topic and will pay money to read about it. They will, but only if you can make the case well enough to move them to take action now! When they walk away, you have lost them.
A do-over that may be unique to my situation is about galleys. When my book was in the galley stage, a business wanted to buy from me and put their cover on it. Unfortunately, it was my first book, and pride of ownership caused me to balk, which resulted in a garage full of books, most of which are still sitting there.
Lastly, I was so excited to get my book to market that I didn’t spend enough time learning about the publishing industry and organizations like PMA. These resources can help you save time, money, and energy by avoiding mistakes. Attending PMA University is a great way to start.
Baker Street Publications
Business Planning = Success and Longevity
Do-over #1: Establish, maintain, and revisit an organizational, financial, and marketing plan that allows for efficient expansion of the organization. After a few years in business, it is alarming to realize that some good habits of conducting business have been put aside in favor of short-term solutions. Over time, these solutions develop a life of their own, restrict good business habits, and become conditions that are financially difficult to overcome.
Do-over #2: Work with a distributor that has both market reach and financial security. At the end of the day, sales are important. Getting paid for those sales (on time) can be more important. We have survived two bankrupt distributors, both of which promised to increase our sales (and they did). The only trouble was that their organizational, financial, and marketing plans were insufficient to protect them from the swings in the market (see Do-over #1).
Do-over #3: Don’t obtain outside financing unless you have and can maintain a sound organizational, financial, and marketing plan. A line of credit can be very helpful to a publishing company. However, it takes a solid “plan” (see Do-over #1) to make certain that paying down the line doesn’t become the primary objective of the company when money is due.
So take those three-ring binders off the shelf and update them! Make sure you have a current organizational plan and job descriptions that make sense; work and rework the financial plan to keep cash flow positive; ensure your marketing plan’s successes and failures; and do it every autumn for the year coming.
YMAA Publication Center, Inc.
Although we stand behind all the content of every one of our titles, we now understand completely the importance of good editing, up-to-date formatting, complete indexing, and a great cover that leaves nothing about the contents of the book to guesswork.
In retrospect, our first couple of titles would have been more readily accepted if we had subcontracted some of the work. For it is only through experience in any area of life that we grow and mature, thereby presenting a wisdom and an appealing presence that is pleasing and comfortable to the majority of readers.
Eileen Renders N.D.
Renders Wellness Publishing
Answer the Most Important Questions
I wrote and published two books without asking myself the ever-crucial questions: Who is going to buy this book? Where are they going to buy it? And how am I going to get it into those stores? Had I answered those questions honestly, I would have a lot more cash in the bank and space in my warehouse.
Money, Money, Money
My do-over would get more money to back my publishing company, to be at least able to draw a salary. It was a lot of stress putting out our first, underfunded book. But I am delighted with our prize-winning results and the international impact it is creating. This I wouldn’t change, and this is why I did it . . .
It Pays to Organize
I would be more organized, especially with regard to the considerable research I did for my book The Feder Guide to Where to Park Your Car in Manhattan (and Where Not to Park It!)–Downtown Edition.
What I should have done is try to figure out exactly what I would need for my book (sounds obvious now). What I did was research everything possible when only two-thirds of what I researched was necessary. Had I taken a little more time to evaluate what I would be using, I could have trimmed weeks off the time I spent doing research that’ll never appear in my books.
Live and learn . . .
A Different Route
Instead of writing decent, wholesome material, I would just go straight to porn. My sales would go through the roof, and even though I would be despised, Oprah couldn’t wait to have me on her show to talk about my spirituality or what I think of Julia Roberts’s babies, and people wouldn’t be able to get enough of me dishing my stuff on Larry King. Instead, I chose the long, boring, thankless route!
Bare Your Soul; Take That Risk
Looking back over 25 years with my publishing company, I would have taken a few more chances. Don’t be afraid. Take the risk. That’s how you learn. That’s how you grow. Go with another cover artist. Try a new printer. Don’t always play it so close to the vest.