It’s all about the readers.
Or at least it should be.
This self-publishing business, it’s a lark, isn’t it? There we were, just a few, short years ago, either paying out horrendous amounts of money per unit printed by using Print on Demand, or paying less per unit by shelling out a small fortune for a large volume of books printed at once, only to finish up with a ceiling warping amount of unsold novels insulating the attic.
The biggest problem for self-publishers, before Amazon revolutionised publishing with the Kindle, was distribution. Unless you were inherited rich, that is. And even then you would have had a hard time convincing Gardners to distribute your book, never mind persuading the major bookstores to stock it.
But then, along came the Kindle. Good old, cuddly Amazon, friend of self-publishers everywhere, they solved our distribution problems and gave us a forever bookshelf on which to display our lovingly crafted works of art, along with an instantaneous delivery system. Now, if Jeff Bezos could only come up with a way of persuading those pesky readers to part with some cash, and actually buy that book that you poured your heart and soul into, that would be something.
No, wait, am I missing something here? Oh yeah, that’s right, Amazon didn’t devise the Kindle for the benefit of self-publishers, or even authors. No, I think, by gosh, Amazon conceived the Kindle for…readers!
Let’s think about this for a moment. The customer (in our case an avid reader) sees the Kindle and thinks, ‘Ooh, nice and shiny and all gadgety. Me like, me want,’ and buys one. Customer now wants to read books on Kindle. Customer now locked into buying books from Amazon for as long as he has a Kindle.
See what Amazon did there? Amazon targeted the customer. Amazon thought about what the customer wanted, and absolutely did their very best to provide them with that, so that they would keep coming back and spending more money. At Amazon.
Amazon did not produce the Kindle so thousands of wannabee authors could quickly and cheaply publish their poorly written, shoddily formatted novels. No, Amazon produced the Kindle so that readers could quickly and cheaply buy books from Amazon.
That’s the kind of business model that self-publishers should be adopting. If you want to write a memoir for close friends and family, or stories for your children and grandchildren, and you are not interested in selling your books to a target audience, then feel free to ignore the rest of this post. But if what you want to do is sell books, then your primary focus needs to be the reader. In other words, your potential customers.
That means several things, and none of them are pretty.
1. You need to learn the craft of telling a story, and everything that involves, including (amongst other things) creating a compelling plot, believable characters, and a narrative with enough forward momentum your reader won’t want to put your book down until he has reached the end. Unless, of course, your target audience’s only interest is 20,000 words of unpunctuated porn.
2. But it doesn’t stop there, because you’ll need to rewrite it (as many times as that takes until you feel you’ve got it as good as you can), then test it out on your beta readers and then rewrite again.
3. Now you need to start parting with some cash of your own (and it probably won’t be the last time) by paying for editorial services. That manuscript of yours will be riddled with errors, so you will need the services of a good copy editor at the very least.
4. You’re almost there, but you need a cover, right? So, you’ll probably need a graphic designer. Sure, you could do it yourself, but unless you have at the very least a basic understanding of graphic design, and the tools to realise your vision for your book cover, I’d suggest buying the services of a professional.
5. And don’t forget the meat of your book, the content. That needs formatting according to established industry standards, so that it is a pleasure to read, and not visual torture. Again, you can do it yourself, or pay to have it done. There are many people out there who will do this for a one off fee.
6. Then you can start on the hard work of marketing and selling.
Only by producing books of a high standard, both in terms of readability and appearance, can we even begin reaching those sales figures we dream of. Charging at the lowest price point possible isn’t going to work forever, as the book buying public is already beginning to equate the 99c price bracket with poor quality writing and formatting. If self-publishing is going to continue to gain respectability in the broader world, then we (self-publishers unite!) need to work hard at making our books indistinguishable from the big publishing houses. And that’s not only going to cost money, but, more importantly, time and effort too.
So, do you think it should be all about the readers? Are you a self-published author? If so, how does your book compare to a book from one of the big publishing houses?
One last question, particularly for fellow self-published authors. How many self-published books do you buy, and how many do you actually read and enjoy?