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by Judith Appelbaum, Editor, IBPA Independent

Judith Appelbaum

Search for “how-to” in the trove of Independent articles available on the IBPA site and you’ll get 2,221 results, with an implicit message screaming, “Refine your search!” How you refine it will obviously vary, depending on what publishing activity you want help with at any particular time. And judging by a recent survey, members are keenly aware of the Independent as a resource to keep tapping for particular purposes. Most chose “insightful” and “unique” to describe its content and noted that they save back issues, which they could consult again and again.

Now that I’ve decided to eliminate editing this magazine from my schedule, I’ve taken a look back at my own favorites among the thousands of articles published since I became editor in 2001. Faced with space limitations, I’ve selected just five from each of the past three years to represent all those you might want to read or reread whenever they sync with your needs.

Clearly, there’s no way 15 selections can “cover” the entire publishing process. In my mind’s eye, though, that process is a vector connecting a writer with the right readers via a publisher (who may or may not be the writer), and since the process requires strategies and tactics involving content and context as well as marketing, these pieces represent that range of categories.

To Tap at Opportune Times

Committed: How Independent Publishers Craft and Refine Mission, by Deb Vanasse (July 2015)
A publisher’s mission informs and guides acquisitions, development, sales, and marketing while serving as a rallying point for the publishing venture and uniting the people who work to achieve its goals. “Committed” provides first-hand testimony from several different publishers about creating and profiting from clearly articulated missions.

A Book Marketing Timeline, by Tanya Hall (December 2013)
Countless books, articles, blog posts, and conference speakers pile task after task on book-launch to-do lists. Using this timeline lets you prioritize and organize the many moving parts of a marketing campaign and build a schedule around the major milestones that you need to plan for.

Success by Meaningful Measures, by Rudy Shur, Walter Cummins, Michael Mullin, Carolyn Threadgill, Stacy M. Johnson, Kevin Wayne Williams, Taneeka Bourgeois-daSilva, Patricia Fry, Melinda Thompson, Carol McCloud, Joy Rains, Karl Albrecht, Kip Cosson, Devorah Fox, Charles Johnston, Sanjay Nambiar, Sherry L. Meinberg, Christina Tarabochia, and Thierry Bogliolo (July and August, 2015)
Nobody is better than independent publishers when it comes to connecting writers with the right readers, and nobody is more generous about sharing lessons they learned while working to identify and access target markets, whether those markets yielded hundreds of sales or millions. As you reach out to your targeted readers, the knowledge shared here should help you.

How New Media Make Money, by Joseph J. Esposito (March 2013)
Of course, it’s not your grandfather’s mix of markets anymore. And investment in digital media, no matter how cool, is apt to be just one more cost item because new media require new markets. Look here to learn about additive markets that lead to growth in a fast-changing world.

Covers That Work Well Online, by Cathi Stevenson (January 2013)
A cover’s power to sell a book can be severely diminished online. The good news, though, is that you have ways to make sure your cover will reproduce well enough at thumbnail size to spur sales.

Marketing Whatever You Have to Market, by Linda Carlson (March–September 2015)
Whether you’re marketing a print book, an e-book, an audiobook, an app, or anything else in (or outside of) the book business, it’s smart to brainstorm with the basic “four Ps” of marketing: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. They’re all explained and exemplified in this series.

Headlines That Make Blog Posts Go Viral, by Jon Morrow (August 2015)
How you phrase your message makes it fruitful—or not. While the advice here is geared to blog posts, it can help you master the all-important skill of copywriting for every piece of promotional material you ever write.

Get Your Books to the Global Market, by Janice Schnell Butler (April 2014)
Being small doesn’t mean thinking small. Even micropublishers can now sell both digital and physical books all around the world. In a nutshell, here’s how.

Selling to the National Book Wholesalers, by Jeff Palicki (April 2015)
With readers still keen on physical books, it pays to know what information our industry’s major wholesalers want, when and why they want it, and what useful information you can find in their databases.

Underrated Tools for Driving Traffic and Improving Discoverability, by Deltina Hay (July 2014)
Even savvy smaller publishers need help keeping up with social media. This article is one of many Deltina Hay has written for the Independent to provide that kind of help.

A Social Media Pep Talk with Pointers, by Mary A. Shafer (November 2014)
Designed for publishers who aren’t yet savvy users of social media but would like to be, the pep talk provided here explains what you can realistically expect these media to do for you and your business efforts.

Bulk Sales Bring More Revenue, by Theodore P. Savas (May 2013)
So-called “nontraditional” sales have traditionally—in fact, always—been important for smaller publishers. Here’s what a relatively large small publisher did to generate them.

The Delectable Data Diet, by Christopher Robbins (February 2014)
What’s working? What do you need to do differently? This look at performance metrics shows you how to manage for best results by identifying the results that you want, measuring to see where you are in relation to those results, and then changing behavior if and as necessary.

Data Analysis Alert: A Case Study of What Not to Do, by Sunita Darnell (May 2014)
For sure and as noted above, numbers can be powerful tools for positive change. On the other hand, as Benjamin Disraeli purportedly said, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. When you use data analysis, keep this case study in mind as a stellar example of mistakes to avoid.

Independent Publisher Power, by Kelly Gallagher (February 2013)
Drawing on the latest figures available when he wrote, Kelly Gallagher reported that publishers with annual net sales between $500,000 and $5 million grew unit sales by double the industry growth rate from 2008 to 2011, and publishers with less than $500,000 in annual net sales also far exceeded the industry average. Revenue growth was even more impressive, with publishers netting $500,000 to $5 million a year growing at five times the industry average, while publishers netting less than $500,000 a year grew at four times that average.

In other words, it pays to follow the independent publisher playbook. And as you do that, Independent articles can continue to provide specific guidance about specific moves.

Making It All Work

No matter how many or how few books a publisher releases, and no matter how wide or how narrow a book’s markets are, every publisher has to operate as a business that adheres to professional standards in order to succeed. Valuable advice on how to do that is woven into countless Independent articles and highlighted in a 2007 column by Jan Nathan, IBPA’s long-term and much-loved first executive director, which Florrie Binford Kichler, then IBPA’s invaluable president, provided within a new framework in 2011.

Read on for this essential overarching advice, mentally adding mentions of new technology and tactics if you’re so inclined while remembering that the checklist will help you be a better, more successful publisher no matter what changes have happened since it first appeared or what changes come next.

What Makes You a Publisher?

(by Jan Nathan, former IBPA executive director)

As publishers, we are the bearers and the repositories of information. We have responsibilities to our investors, our authors, our suppliers, our customers, our readers, and to ourselves as prudent business people. We also have a strong commitment to uphold rigorous publishing standards—those required to produce quality books—and working toward these standards is our goal.

Publishers put book projects together, from start to finish, an endeavor that includes many different responsibilities. . . .

Defining a Publisher: A Ten-Point Checklist

  1. Acquisition: A publisher acquires property either through purchase of manuscripts or personal development of a manuscript or manuscripts. Depending on the size of the company, the publisher pays authors advances against future royalties as designated by contract, or makes specified payments in a designated period after production.
  2. Financial: A publisher or the publisher’s publishing company is financially responsible for the production and promotion of books under the company imprint. A publisher provides or arranges funding for the company’s publishing program; develops a budget for each book acquired, looking carefully at the costs of production and the costs of promotion and publicity; makes longer-range plans for keeping the book on the active list; and allots funds for those tasks.
  3. Planning: A publisher develops a business plan, including a budget and a timeline for each publication from acquisition through production. A publisher also develops and implements a sales, marketing, and production plan for each book.
  4. Author/manuscript development: A publishing company works with its authors to develop a manuscript so that it will be in optimum condition for production and publication. In self-publishing, the author and publisher are synonymous. A publisher oversees, or has someone within the company oversee, the editing of each manuscript prior to publication, as well as all the exterior and interior design elements, to produce an attractive and marketable product.
  5. Obligations to authors: A publisher issues an author contract that recognizes the author’s contribution to the enterprise and outlines the responsibilities of both the author and the publisher. Terms and expectations for royalties and other payments should be clearly stated.
  6. Production: A publisher stays up to date on the newest printing and production technologies to ensure that a finished book will be competitive in the current marketplace. A publisher fulfills all technical elements (ISBN, cataloging, advance book announcements, and so on) in a timely fashion.
  7. Standards: A publisher stays abreast of industry standards and adheres to them. Today, a publisher understands how and when to use the new ISBN-13 standard as well as how to deal with standards such as LCC numbers issued by the Library of Congress.
  8. Vendor interaction: A publisher deals fairly with vendors, and aims to establish long-term, rewarding relationships within an industry. A publisher states clearly what is expected of a vendor and enters into contractual agreements with stated goals and objectives that will be adhered to by both parties.
  9. Product development: A publisher produces a well-edited, well-designed product that can compete with similar products, and develops a marketing and promotion plan for distribution to both trade and consumer markets through wholesalers, distributors, and/or the Internet.
  10. Administration: A publisher bears total responsibility for everything from the selection and acquisition of books to be published under the house imprint through their production, promotion, and marketing.

Judith Appelbaum, the outgoing editor of the Independent, is the managing director of Sensible Solutions, Inc., a consulting company that serves publishers and authors. Formerly the managing editor of Publishers Weekly and a columnist for the New York Times Book Review, she is the author of How to Get Happily Published, which has sold well over half a million copies. To learn more: happilypublished.com; judith@happilypublished.com.

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