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What Would You Do Differently?

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A few months ago, I queried the PMA chat group participants about what they did differently in publishing their subsequent titles that helped them to become better publishers. It’s an old concept . . . learning from previous mistakes.

Many people shared the many things they wished they could have avoided in their first go-around with publishing. These ideas were so helpful that I thought it would be good to make them known to others out there who may either be publishing their first book, contemplating publishing their initial book, or may still be making mistakes and learning.

One responder referenced new technology:

“I’ve published six books. With each title, I learn more and more. Each title presents a different challenge and different problems to solve. Right now, I’m in the process of learning QuarkXpress, Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.

“I used to typeset and design my books with Ventura. But when my 286 Epson got outdated and Ventura became unrecognizable, I made the decision to get a Mac and learn QuarkXpress, etc. I just completed my first catalog in Quark and will send it on disk to the printer. I am finalizing details, getting an 800 number and credit card access. I’m also in the process of putting up a website. Sometimes this is all very overwhelming, but after six books, I am committed to making the leap into a larger arena. I believe that I can expand my business and I want to expand my technology as well. This is a time of learning, but it is also a time of putting in new foundations.”

Another commented on timing and professionalism:

“Our first book was written by the owners of our small educational consulting company. We turned our workshop material into a student self-study book. We could not find a publisher willing to publish it without us paying up front, so we decided to self-publish. We shopped around for printers and went to the bookstores to shop the competition to price our book.

“The mistakes we made with our first book were in editing mostly. We had a tight budget and used our workshop instructors (all teachers and some English teachers) as proofreaders/editors. As a result, we had typos and mistakes. We corrected them at each printing at the price of $7 per page and $11 per cover page. It was worth the money to us to have the corrections made. We have sold over 40,000 copies of this title since August 1993. In August of 1996, after publishing two more titles, we had a new team of authors write an all-new version of the first book. It has been very successful. But even with the ability to now pay for professional proofreaders and editors, there were errors in the book. Smaller errors, but I detest them, and they cost $7 per page to correct.

“I think the scheduling of all the phases of getting a book done—the writing, typesetting, editing and printing—is the most difficult. I have yet to have a book or product come out on schedule. There is always something that holds it up. I have learned to hold off on my pre-sale promotions until I am sure the book is ready to go to the printer. Customers are unforgiving when the book is late.”

Other responses that were echoed by many included:


  • Spending an enormous amount of time, energy, and money in getting their book cover designed and in developing the editorial material so that when the book finally arrived from the printer there was nothing left for the marketing of the title. 
  • Not having any sort of a plan of where their first title would be sold. In subsequent titles, they engaged in a vast amount of pre-pub research to see if the book they wanted to publish would stand a chance in the competitive marketplace. Most admitted that even if there was a slight chance, they opted to publish, although a few indicated that after they finished this research, they decided to move onto another project and scrapped the book or redesigned it to better meet the marketplace’s needs.
  • Getting professional help on all aspects of the book and not believing that they could be everything—the writer, designer, editor, marketer, etc.
  • Learning to print in reasonable quantities. Many indicated they had overprinted the first time around, trying to obtain a lower cost per unit, but finding out that this was not always the best way to approach the project. 
  • Identifying professionals to work with them. Many had gone to printers who were not book printers and ended up paying double or triple for a book and had difficulty in marketing the book with the discounts required.


And my all-time favorite came from the person who stated, “After I published my first book and almost didn’t live (financially) to publish my second, I read all I could about the industry and how to approach it and found it to be just like many other businesses. When I first published, I never thought about the business of book publishing . . . I just thought about the ‘fun’. While it’s still fun (more than my former career ever was), it’s definitely a business!”

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor June, 1997, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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