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President’s Post: Five Habits of Powerful Publishers

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by Florrie Binford Kichler, Executive Director, Independent Book Publishers Association —

Florrie Binford Kichler

Florrie Binford Kichler

If I asked 10 publishers to describe their biggest challenge in the industry today, I would bet my last digital file that 10 out of 10 would say it is keeping up with the relentless pace of change. Change is unceasing, and we all want to know what’s going to happen in the future—which nowadays isn’t measured in years but in months, weeks, days, and even hours.

There seem to be as many opinions about the future of publishing as there are people breathing. Print will never go away; print is dead. Bookstores are irrelevant; bookstores are critical to the culture. And I could go on.

So how does a publisher cope in an unstable environment where the only constant is that today’s rules often land in tomorrow’s recycle bin?

From my own experience both as a publisher and as president of IBPA, I’ve learned that five basic habits will help you survive and thrive in this crazy industry no matter what the future brings.

Powerful Publisher Habit #1: Do What You Love

I know each of you has a different story about your publishing journey, but I bet it would be hard to find anybody who says their primary motive for becoming a publisher was to make lots of money. My guess is that you began publishing because you were passionate about an issue or a topic or a story, and you felt compelled to communicate a message or a narrative that would resonate with readers.

Of course we all need money to fuel our businesses and our lives—that’s a given. But if you don’t love what you do, the money, the message or story, and your own motivation will suffer. Readers are smart—they’ll recognize instantly if your heart’s not in it, which is why your heart needs to be at the core of everything you publish.

A key requirement for success is passion for your product. But passion alone will get you nowhere without . . .

Powerful Publisher Habit #2: Prepare

Before POD, short-run digital printing, and e-books came on the scene, the IBPA office often received phone calls that went something like this:

“Good morning, IBPA. How may I help you?”

“I’m a brand-new publisher, and I was wondering if I could ask you a question.”

“Of course, that’s what we’re here for. What’s your question?”

“I have 2,000 books in my garage. Now what do I do?”

Whether it’s 2,000 books in your garage, a POD file at a printer, or an e-book file on your hard drive, waiting to create and implement a marketing plan for a book until it’s available for sale will always mean starting way too late.

Now that so little upfront investment is required to make a book available in print or in digital formats, the temptation to worry about that business/marketing plan and budget later is almost irresistible.

Resist it.

Whether you upload a Word file to Smashwords, submit your properly formatted manuscript to Kindle Direct Publishing, choose a digital printer to supply your book via print-on-demand, place a print order for thousands of copies, or do some combination of those things, you must have:

  • a business plan with a road map detailing how you intend to grow and where the money will come from to fund that growth
  • a marketing plan that spells out how your targeted readers will discover and purchase your book

Powerful Publisher Habit #3: Manage Metadata

“Metadata” sounds scary and geeky, but it is nothing more than the information that travels with your book wherever it is, online and off—at a minimum, the ISBN, title, author, page count, binding, publisher, and publication date.

Pretty basic facts, but if any of them are incorrect, the consequences will be negative both for the discoverability of your title online and for your book’s sales (see “Metadata Really Helps,” April). Check your metadata at the major online retailers at least once a month. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found errors in the information about my company’s books—incorrect ISBNs, the wrong cover showing up for a title, or no cover showing up at all.

Powerful Publisher Habit #4: Learn

I don’t mean just go to an occasional IBPA Webinar or attend Publishing University once a year, although Webinars, in-person conferences, and trade shows are invaluable learning opportunities. Given the speed of change, learning has to mean staying up to date on industry trends and happenings, and that means read, read, read.

These are a few of the musts on my Read list:

  • IBPA Independent (ibpa-online.org)
  • Shelf Awareness (shelfawareness.com)
  • Publishers Weekly, print, and PW Daily (publishersweekly.com)
  • ForeWord Reviews (forewordreviews.com)
  • Publishers Lunch, free and paid editions (lunch.publishersmarketplace.com)
  • Bookselling This Week, news from indie bookstores (news.bookweb.org)
  • The Shatzkin Files, by Mike Shatzkin (idealog.com)
  • Seth’s Blog, by Seth Godin (sethgodin.typepad.com)
  • Amazon press release feed (amazon.com; scroll down and click on “Press Releases”)
  • LinkedIn groups and Facebook pages about the publishing industry (linkedin.com and facebook.com)
  • Digital Book World newsletter (digitalbookworld.com)
  • Tools of Change newsletter (toc.oreilly.com)
  • Publishing Perspectives (publishingperspectives.com)
  • Publishing Business Today newsletter (bookbusinessmag.com)

Learning also means looking ahead—and by that I mean continually educating yourself about what’s new and what’s next.

But in looking ahead don’t overlook what you need to be doing now, which is producing the best nonfiction or fiction that you are capable of and getting it out to those readers who are hungry for information and entertainment.

Which brings me to:

Powerful Publisher Habit #5: Remember the Reader

Whether or not book industry change continues to accelerate in the years to come is anybody’s guess. But I suggest to you that something will stay constant in the foreseeable future—readers. Regardless of whether they read online or offline, in a book or on a screen, readers will always be looking for a good story, a useful piece of advice, or inspiration to make their lives better and their corners of the world better places.

As you go through your daily tasks, trying to figure out file conversions or your next Twitter post or how to promote your book on Pinterest, never forget that the “market” you’re trying to reach is made up of real people—readers. Reach them successfully and provide them with outstanding content, and you will build an enduring publishing program.

In my opinion, there’s never been a better time to be an independent publisher. Our strength lies in our creativity, our innovation, and our passion. Add the five Powerful Publisher Habits to the mix, and there will be no stopping you in your publishing journey.

Follow Florrie and IBPA on Twitter at twitter.com/ibpa, and on IBPA’s blog at ibpablog.wordpress.com. Join Independent Book Publishers Association–IBPA group on LinkedIn (linkedin.com).

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