My guest on today’s episode is Joel Friedlander of Marin Bookworks. Joel is a blogger and book designer who was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 10 people to follow in book publishing. On today’s program we discuss the power of self publishing a book including:
Listen to the Podcast here:
The Power of a Self Published Book to Build Your Brand
The following is an edited transcript of this podcast. Since how we talk and how write is often very different, this transcript may contain uses of the English language (including grammar) that are not 100% correct. We are counting on your understanding in advance.
Karen Leland Branding Expert: Hi, everyone. This is Karen. I want to welcome you to the Branding Blowout Podcast. In today’s show, we’re going to talk about the power of a self published book to build your brand. I’m very pleased to have as my guest Joel Friedlander. He is the CEO of Marin Bookworks. He’s also a self-published author himself, many times over. He’s a blogger and a book designer. He runs the website thebookdesigner.com. Joel, it is so nice to have you on the podcast.
Thanks so much for inviting me, Karen. It’s great to be here.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure. We’ve known each other a long time, and we’ve worked together on and off over many years. I have so much respect for the work you do. I thought you’d be a perfect person for this audience.
I’m ready to go, Karen. Let’s dive in.
Consider the power of a self published book and the work involved in it’s creation before you decide to go that route versus the traditional publishing route.
Great. The first thing I want to do is I want to ask you, what are the most important things that you think people need to know about the power of a self published book, as opposed to traditional publishing, where they go to a publisher and they get paid in advance, etc.? What are those most important things people need to know about self-publishing?
That’s a great question, because we have so many authors now who are really getting interested in self-publishing and a lot of traditionally published authors who have started to publish themselves as well. We call them hybrid authors.
When you start to think about publishing your own books, you really have to take a self-inventory, I think. Being a self-publisher means that you are actually running a publishing business. You may only have one book, but you’re still a book publisher. That’s a really different thing from being an author.
Authors are used to writing books and then turning them over to somebody else who does the whole publishing process and markets the books. The self-publisher is responsible at least for overseeing all of those processes. Besides the fact that you’re going to have to pay for the development of your books, so you need a budget, you’re also going to have to educate yourself about how books are made and sold.
When thinking about getting into self-publishing, you have to ask yourself if you’re someone who would really enjoy that process. A lot of authors really do. They think it’s fantastic. You have complete control of your product, and you also have complete control of the profits. That’s a good thing.
On the other hand, there are many people who don’t want to learn that stuff. They don’t want to spend the time studying book publishing or buying ISBNs. It’s really good to know whether you are someone who would be suitable for self-publishing or not.
I think that’s such an important point, because what I’ve discovered is so many people want to write a book. They write it and then, as you said, they don’t know what to do with it. Then they’re confused or they’re upset or they do it badly, and the book doesn’t turn out to be what they wanted. I think that’s one of the issues.
I also personally think one of the problems with self-publishing is you have a certain group of people out there, you’re one of them, there are other people I know, who are very effective at helping people get their books published, walk them through the process, or do it for them.
There’re also a lot of people out there charging huge amounts of money claiming to know how to do that and either overcharging people or not really doing a good job. That’s one of the things that I run into that I really object to just on a moral basis.
I run into that a lot too. I’ve been in book publishing a long time, longer than I’m going to admit to you today. I’ve been doing this a long time. What I’ve found is it’s not always that people are trying to scam you. There are scammers out there who are outright lying to you or trying to sell you basically a pig with lipstick on it. But really, the problem I find is the enthusiast.
A writer writes a book, and then they think, “Wow, this is great. I could publish it myself.” They learn how to do that. They publish that book. Then they set themselves up as an expert, and they’re going to help every other author publish their books, but their total experience in book publishing is one book. That really doesn’t give you a lot of confidence.
A lot of the advice that people are getting is shot through with misinformation and assumptions that may not be valid anymore because publishing has changed quite rapidly over the last 5 or 10 years. It’s really been a rollercoaster of a ride.
I think that’s a really good point. I wasn’t implying that people were trying to scam people. I think you clarified it really much more accurately. But you have a lot of people who really don’t have an expertise hanging up a shingle, promoting themselves like experts. You’re right. It comes a lot from, they’ve done one thing, and they think they’re an expert.
I think, in the world of publishing, just like in the world of branding and in the world of marketing that I’m in, things change really fast and you want someone who’s going to stay on top of all of those changes. Not someone who’s just done it once or twice.
Also, I consult with authors quite a bit, as you do, Karen. Frequently, I get asked these questions like, “Should I learn how to be a graphic designer to lay out my book?” The fact of the matter is, if your pipes broke in your house, you wouldn’t go buy a book on plumbing, would you? You would call the plumber, because the plumber is the guy who deals with that stuff all day, every day. That’s what publishing professionals do.
I think one of the great things about today’s self-publishing environment is that there is so much help available for people. Some publishers have downsized. We have a lot of freelance editors, developmental editors, copy editors, marketers, designers, cover designers. Any author who wants to could tap into those resources to create a really fantastic self-published book.
I think that is such an important point, because you really do have a plethora of opportunities to get help with your book today. You have so many people with expertise who can help you.
Joel, for the people who are not really familiar with the distinctions, can you talk a little bit about the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing? I’ll just say for me, for example, I just came out with my ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy.
Thank you. It’s traditionally published. Entrepreneur did it, the people who do Entrepreneur Magazine, Entrepreneur Press. I’ve had nine books, but my books have all been traditionally published. I’ve actually personally never dipped my toe in the water of self-publishing. I understand the difference, of course, between the two, but I’d love to hear from your perspective what you think the main differences are between the powers of a self published book and then the power of traditional publishing.
That’s a great question, Karen. There is a certain amount of confusion about this. We have a lot of authors who are intrigued by self-publishing, and many of them are traditionally published authors. We have a lot of people now who have books published both ways. We call them hybrid authors. I like to make this decision based on the individual book. Does the book need to be traditionally published? If not, self-publishing might be better.
Basically, the difference is that in book publishing, a traditional publisher will pay to acquire the rights to publish your book that you wrote. They will pay you money. They will then use their staff of professional people to create the book, edit the book, position the book, market the book, and try to sell it and make a profit. That’s their business. They’re in the business to make money selling books to readers.
A self-publisher takes over the role of the publisher. As a self-publisher, we have to pay to for the complete production of the book. On the other hand, we don’t have to split the profits with anyone. We get to control the project. Of course, we have to pay for the project. We have to learn how to produce a book, which the publishers already know. At the end, the payoff can be really, really good, because your cut of the profits is going to be much higher.
What the traditionally published author gets from their publisher are two really key factors in addition to the expertise that goes into making and marketing the book. The first one is they get book distribution. In other words, the publisher can put that book in perhaps thousands of bookstores. Self-published authors have a pretty hard time getting any kind of distribution like that, so they sell their books by other means.
Of course, traditionally published authors also will have access to media through their media operations, their publicity operation. Self-published authors have to create that for themselves. That’s a little bit of an outline of the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing. I hope that helps.
The thing that I think I find is that with traditional publishing, you have oversight. You have someone looking to see the quality of the writing, the quality of the book. The bar is high. It’s not easy to get a book traditionally published today.
The power of a self published book is that anyone can write one, but do they know how to produce a high quality book?
With self-publishing, anyone can write a book. I personally find that there’re some really amazing, fantastic self-published books, but there’re also a lot of poorly written, poorly executed self-published books. I think that, in a way, drags the entire self-publishing field down. I’d love to know your feeling or opinion about that.
That’s really interesting. We’ve been going back and forth on this question for years, of course. I actually have a different opinion. Most of the authors I deal with are trying to produce a very high-quality book. They’re trying to produce a book that could stand on the shelf next to the books from any traditional publisher in the world: Entrepreneur Press or Alfred Knopf or Random House. They’re going to attempt to produce a book of the same quality. That’s mostly the people I deal with every day.
There are a lot of really, really bad self-published books out there. But even though I’m in this business, I look at this stuff every day, I very rarely run into them. People used to talk about this tsunami of crummy self-published books, but where is it? I don’t see them. I think that they’re really not that visible. People publish them, but nobody ever looks at them. Nobody reads them, and so they disappear without a trace.
I think that’s a good point. The market squares itself off because the ones that are really good stay around, and the ones that aren’t just disappear.
Yeah, absolutely. I’m really a proponent of people publishing their books. I want to make sure I’m clear about this, Karen, because you and I both know what a professional book looks like and how it’s created, because we’ve produced them and we’ve been in this industry. However, there are a lot of books that could be written and published that aren’t commercial but that would actually have a beneficial impact on our culture.
I think that the stories that people have—the memoirs, the history, the family history, the ideas people have—I would love to see all of those books published. I am an out-and-out advocate for that kind of publishing. The difference is that the author has to understand: That’s not a commercial book. That’s fine. If you want to publish that and put it out there, maybe only 12 people will read it, but you know what? You might make 12 people insanely happy.
I think that’s a successful publication, personally. I really encourage people to publish those books. It’s just different if you’re going to do it and you expect to make money doing it.
That is such a great distinction. It’s one, I have to say, I’ve actually never made in quite the way you just said, which is that there are books that are very valuable to have published. They’re just not commercial properties. Know that.
It’s funny because I ran into somebody the other day, and they said they were writing a book. I asked what it was about. They said it was the story of their life, blah, blah, blah. I said, “Are you planning on marketing it?” They said, “No, I really just wrote it for my grandkids and my family.” I thought, “That is such a cool idea,” that they did it for that. I think that’s one of the ways that book publishing can really be used. I’m not sure it’s being fully used to that capacity, Joel.
Absolutely. Also, Karen, you have to realize, most of those books, we will never see. We’re not going to see those books. They’re out there; they’re almost like private publications, many of them. I’ve participated in a lot of publications like that over the years, helping authors get those books out. I love that kind of publishing. I don’t see anything the matter with it.
I often think that my dad, to be honest with you, my dad was a printer, and he was a highly skilled person. He went into management eventually, but he had just amazing skills. When he passed away, all of his knowledge, all of his skills, all the stories he used to tell me, they went with him. I think about that. I think it’s great that people can publish this stuff and capture these very meaningful stories, moments, idea, opinions, whatever it is, and actually put them down on paper so other people can experience them too.
I think that’s a really good point. I want to just switch tracks for a minute. Obviously, I do branding and marketing strategy and implementation with people, so I’m constantly working with clients on what their content marketing strategy is going to be. Very frequently, that is either a traditionally published book or an eBook, or a book that could be printed out, but generally it’s an eBook.
Power of a self published book meets the power of a self published eBook.
I find that one of the great advantages of a book like that is that it helps build that executive, entrepreneur, CEO, or start-up founder’s brand. I’m very big on using self-publishing, particularly eBooks, as a way to build a personal or a business brand. I’d love to know your feeling or take on that, the power of a self published book that is an eBook.
Absolutely. We’ve always been publishing books for professionals. If you have somebody who is a subject matter expert or they are starting their own business or they want to really advance their career, being the author of a book on your subject is one of the most powerful things you could do for yourself.
There’s no question about it. I think people get challenged then in terms of, How do they get the book out there? When I do work with authors on book marketing, and when I do my own book marketing, what I tell people is that it’s really become a marathon, not a sprint. It used to be, in the old days, that a book came out, you had a month. If you didn’t get it done in a month, the publisher was like, “That’s it. That was our window.”
It’s funny, I was just talking to my publisher this morning, and she said, “No, this is a marathon. We’re in this for the long haul.” I think she understands, even as a traditional publisher, and I understand, and I hope authors understand, that it really is a marathon. If it’s for business, I say my book is an expensive business card. You use it to generate knowledge about who you are, knowledge about what you do.
You use it to generate that way of getting out there in the world is probably the way I’d say it. That exposure, you use a book for that. I think that’s probably one of the best uses of self-publishing, because not everyone is going to get a deal with a publisher. There’s a pretty high bar, to get that today.
I think those are great books to publish. These are books, obviously, where you’re not going to be able to get a book deal from a traditional publisher because they’re just simply not commercial books. They’re not books that are going to sell enough copies that a traditional publisher can make a profit. That does not mean they’re not worth publishing. They could be incredibly valuable.
There was a survey years and years ago—geez, Karen, I think it was about 10 or 12 years ago—that said simply by publishing a book, any nonfiction author who was in business could expect to increase their income by over $100,000 over the course of their working life. I expect that’s probably a lot higher now, to be honest with you.
Because if you’re a subject matter expert, if you’re somebody who really knows a lot about a certain field, having a book that acts as an introduction for you in business meetings, with your peers and colleagues, at speaking engagements, it’s just incredibly powerful that you are the author of that book. That’s going to cause you to stand out from your peers instantly, because you’re the guy who wrote the book.
I agree with that. I think where I disagree a little bit is, and maybe I see it a little differently than you do because of what I do for a living, I still see a lot of businesspeople who will hand me a book and go, “This is my book.” It’s badly designed; it’s badly laid out; the cover isn’t professional. When I look at the writing, the writing isn’t professional; the writing isn’t up to standard. I think in traditional publishing, when you hand someone a traditionally published book, it’s met that criteria. I think with self-publishing, you really, really have to work hard to make sure that your book meets that expectation.
I couldn’t agree more. Everything I’m saying is predicated on the basis that you have actually set yourself the goal of publishing a book that’s every bit as good as a book from a traditional publisher. We can do that now. The skills are available. It does take discipline and a commitment, but you can do it.
I had a book recently from a world-famous photography teacher and photographer. This guy draws people from all over the world to come to his workshops, where he works one on one with people in small groups. He had produced a little book. He had somebody help him do it to give to all his workshop attendees and to distill his wisdom of all these years.
Karen, the book looked very pretty, but it was done by somebody who had no idea what a book was supposed to look like. Just as an example, I’ll tell you that all of the page numbers were in the wrong places. In other words, all the right-hand pages had even page numbers and all the left-hand pages had odd page numbers. That’s really a bad thing.
That’s a failure in a sense, in a way, because if I put that book in the hands of anybody who knows anything about books, they include book reviewers, book buyers, chain-store buyers, they’re going to look at that book and know instantly that that was produced by an amateur. That doesn’t give you a lot of confidence about the person handing you the book, does it?
On the other hand, at the other end of the scheme of things in the self-publishing world, two years ago I did a book for a psychiatrist on psychiatric practice. That book won the best book of the year award from the British Medical Association. They consider both the formatting and the design as well as the content when they give these awards. If you looked at the list of award winners, you would find that this fellow’s book won and beat out books from Wiley, from McGraw-Hill, from every big medical book publisher in the world.
I would assume it’s because the content was there, the quality of the content was there, the quality of the layout was there, and the quality of the overall design was there.
One hundred percent. The actual positioning of the book, the way the book was manufactured, the writing, the editing, everything was top quality.
That’s a really important point. You said it at the top of this podcast, that when people are self-publishing, they’re not just writing a book. It’s not just the writing of the book; it’s a product you’re actually producing. That book is a product, and it has a content quality piece, it has a visual quality piece, it has a layout quality piece, it has a positioning quality piece. Assuming you do all that right, self-publishing can be a really rich way to build your brand and build your business.
Absolutely. Even more than a product, if you think about it, every book is almost like a little start-up, Karen. It’s got a brand of its own, it’s got a position of its own, it’s got a target market of its own. You are now running a little start-up business when you launch your book.
The power of a self published book can be diminished when things like font and where the pages numbers go aren’t considered.
That’s a really, really great way to talk about it. The other thing, and this is a huge pet peeve of mine, and I’m sure I’m going to get at least a few angry emails about this, but I’ll risk it, is I can’t tell you how tired I am of going to conferences and sitting down and talking to someone and saying, “What do you do?” They tell me and then they say, “I wrote a book.” I say, “Oh, that’s great. What was the book on?” Almost the first words out of their mouths are, “I’m a bestselling author.” I say, “Really? Where are you bestselling?” They’ll go, “Well, on Amazon.” I say, “Really? Like, the top 100 of all books on Amazon?” “No.”
Of course what I find out is, it was one subcategory for one hour on Amazon. Within one category, it was a subcategory, and they sold three books, and they’re calling themselves a bestselling author. I personally have a huge problem with this.
I have a huge problem with that in a slightly different way. I totally get that. As you may know, Karen, on my blog, I run a cover design competition for eBooks every month. We get hundreds of covers. One of my pet peeves is when people actually print on their cover “bestselling author.” That’s it. They just print “bestselling author.” They don’t say “New York Times bestselling author,” just “bestselling author.” That is so meaningless; I don’t even know why they put it on the book. When I see the little book, I know instantly that that’s a book produced by somebody who has no idea what they’re doing.
A lot of my clients, and a lot of people I talk to, talk about using on-demand print publishing. In other words, they’re doing an eBook, and it’s got the capacity to be published as a hard book. They’re not, for example, doing what people used to do, which is printing a thousand of them and keeping them in their garage until 10 years later, when they’re all sold or gotten rid of. Talk a little bit, if you can, about on-demand print publishing.
Print on demand is a really cool development. Print on demand, Karen, is really what led to the self-publishing revolution. Even before the Kindle was developed, when Lightning Source, basically an Ingram company, and they’re a big book distributor, opened up their print-on-demand facility, that’s what started to drive authors to self-publish, because print on demand eliminates most of the financial risk in book publishing.
Before print on demand, you had to, as you said, go to a printer and buy X thousands of books. Believe me, you couldn’t really do book publishing with under 1,000 to 3,000 copies of a book, because the individual copies would just be too expensive. What did that mean? That we had to invest in the books, thousands of dollars to print the books. The printers won’t ship the books without your money. You have to warehouse the books, you have to fulfill them. It’s just a lot of work dealing with all of those big, heavy book cartons.
Print on demand allows us to get rid of all of that. We don’t have to pay for any books up front, and we don’t have to store any books. They’re printed as they’re ordered. That’s a beautiful system. The problem is that the books from print-on-demand vendors are much more expensive than they are from offset vendors, offset printing, which is the way most books are printed from large publishers. That really restricts the kind of distribution and pricing you can do with your books.
I love print on demand. I use it for all my own books because it’s just a perfect method for publishing books without risking a lot of your own money or having to warehouse books. All of the print-on-demand books have really improved in recent years. I would say right now, for most people, they’re indistinguishable from offset printed books, for the vast majority of buyers. It’s a great way to get to print without committing a lot of money, time, or storage space to doing so.
That’s an excellent point, because it is more expensive when you do one at a time or one-off versus if you print a thousand books.
It’s about double in most cases. My test book is usually a 200-page, 6×9 paperback. That’s about $3.50 unit cost in print on demand. It would be under $2 from an offset printer.
Actually, that brings up a question. I know if I do a traditionally published book for a publisher, it’s at least 50,000 words, and that’s a short book. It’s at least 50,000. I’ve read some studies and statistics lately that people actually prefer shorter books. What do you think is too short for a book today, and what do you think is too long? At what point is it just a white paper versus actually an eBook?
That’s pretty controversial, actually, Karen, because people are selling articles in the Kindle store as Kindle books. They’re really articles. They have to be labeled properly; otherwise Amazon gets a little upset about that.
I don’t know where the lower limit is. It keeps floating down. In fact, I thought this was restricted to eBooks because, after all, what is an eBook? It’s hard to tell the difference between a 50-page eBook and a 500-page eBook. They kind of look the same. This is also happening in print books. I don’t know if you’ve seen these, but I’m getting more and more requests from people for small books, 5×7 books, 4×6 books.
Booklets, I call them.
Sixty pages of them, eighty pages. Is that a book? Is it a booklet? Is it a novella? I don’t really know. I found that there is an increasing appetite for small, short books. Maybe that’s due to our attention span; I don’t know. I think that the average size of books has been coming down. On the other hand, in the eBook world, there’s been some really interesting research, most of it done by Mark Coker at Smashwords. He publishes this research on his blog. He’s found that longer eBooks tend to sell better.
When you say longer, can you tell us what you mean by longer?
I would say over 50,000 words.
Interesting. Even if they’re self-published, not traditionally published?
Doesn’t matter. At Smashwords, all of his information is about self-published books because that’s the only books they deal with there. On the other hand, he has a very big sample size because he’s got over 100,000 authors publishing books through his company.
Longer eBooks tend to sell better.
That’s one of the other things I want to talk to you about. I met the CEO of Greenleaf the other day. I really liked her. I have several clients who’ve done books with them. I know people who have just done straight self-publishing, where they’ve done it themselves. There’re a lot of hybrids out there today. I want to know where you think the hybrids fit in and if you can maybe talk a little bit about what some of the hybrids are.
There are a lot ways to publish a book these days. You could go up a scale. You could start off, “I’m a self-publisher; I’m going to do everything myself.” I don’t really recommend that because a lot of the parts that you’re going to do, you’re not really professionally trained in. You can hire end people. Maybe I know how to do the layout myself, but I’m going to hire a cover designer, an editor, and a publicist. You could put together a professional team.
Another way is to use a company. We have a lot of companies now called assisted self-publishers. That’s probably the best option for people who are looking for a lot of help. The assisted self-publisher will offer you a package of services. You could choose from different packages. Included in the packages would be various amounts of editing time, cover design, and formatting. It’s all sold as a package of services.
There are two very important criteria to consider and be really aware of when looking at these companies. One, who is the publisher? In the assisted self-publishing company, the author is the publisher. They’re going to set you up with your own publishing imprint and ISBN. That’s an International Standard Book Number you need for your book. You will be the publisher. For instance, I publish under the name Marin Bookworks. Those are my books.
The next step up is the subsidy publisher. The subsidy publisher charges you a fee, and then they become the publisher. That’s our first important criteria when evaluating these companies. Who is the publisher? Is it the author or it is the company who’s publishing your book? In subsidy publishing, the company that publishes the book is the publisher.
Sometimes that could be a good thing. Sometimes it’s a bad thing. The difference is, in self-publishing, we know that we’re paying the freight. We’re paying for all of these fees. If we go to an assisted self-publisher, we’re going to pay for their package. If we go to a subsidy publisher, we’re also going to buy some packages or services.
Here’s my second important criteria: Who controls the retail price of the book? If you find yourself in a situation where you’re looking for help, and somebody is making you a really great offer, and all you have to do is turn over the manuscript and they’re going to do everything else, if you’re paying and you can’t control the retail price, my advice is to leave. Go elsewhere. It will not end well for you, most likely.
I’ve had many, many clients over the years who got trapped in these subsidy publishing deals, and they needed a lawyer to get out of them. There are a lot of bad practices in the subsidy publishing field. I’m not going to go into them. That’s really a bad situation.
On the other hand, if you’re paying, like with an assisted self-publishing company, but you get to control what the book looks like, the retail price, and who the publisher is, that’s fine. You’re just hiring help. I think that’s the best way to go for people who need a lot of help and don’t want to do it all themselves or end up hiring a lot of people, don’t feel competent picking vendors. Look, it’s not that easy, Karen.
I think one of the hardest things for people is picking vendors. I get calls every day where people are upset because they hired someone and they weren’t happy. This is across the board, for all services. I’ve said this on other podcasts, but I think it bears saying again: The internet is a great equalizer. Anyone can hang up a shingle and say they’re anything.
I think consumers, including book authors, really have to get much better educated, because people end up using people who really aren’t sufficient for what they need. As you said, most people aren’t intentionally trying to rip people off. That’s a very, very, very small percentage, people who are doing that.
A lot of people may have the best intentions, but it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily competent at what they do. I think it’s really on authors to educate themselves about what are the standards for a book, and is this vendor an appropriate vendor, and why.
I know that you’re a blogger, but you’re also a book designer. By the way, I just want to say, people can go to Joel’s website, which is thebookdesigner.com. As a book designer, I want to ask you, what are some of the worst, most common mistakes you see people making in book design, and what are some of the best elements to consider in book design?
I really appreciate that question, Karen.
I am a book designer. I did mention one of them, the thing about getting the page numbers on the wrong side of the book, that’s pretty bad. Another one is when you open a book, and there’s a right-hand page, and it’s completely blank. You don’t want that in your book; trust me. You just don’t want to do it. It’s fine to have a blank left-hand page, but it’s not fine to have a blank right-hand page.
Another thing that many people do, and this often happens when people try to format their own books, is they’ll leave blank pages in the book, but the blank pages have a running head on them or a page number on the page and nothing else. That’s a really glaring error. You just don’t want to do that, ever.
Another one would be, for instance, doing a serious nonfiction book and not justifying the type. The left side of the type column is straight and the right side is all over the place. If you start taking books off your shelf, you’re going to find that 99 out of 100 books on your shelf don’t look that way. You don’t want your book to look that way.
The basic idea here is, with book design, and particularly the interior of the book, it’s fine to design it, but we don’t want readers noticing the design. We want to remove all the obstacles between the author and the reader and get out of that way of the author communicating whatever it is. Her story, her ideas, whatever it is. We want to make sure that the book is readable, there’s room to hold it, and it’s easy to look at. We just get out of the way.
The way a page looks to the reader is where the power of a self published book, or any book, lies. | Image via Joel’s article on setting up a book page layout.
Those are some really good points. What about book cover design, in terms of how the cover looks?
Covers are really very important for most book sales.
There important, and I think they’re hard. I think even in traditional publishing, I think book covers are hard.
It’s really hard. Look at a 6×9 book. A 6×9 book has 54 square inches. That’s not a lot of room. That cover has to do a lot of different jobs. Right away, it becomes the brand of the book. People do a book cover, and then they do whole websites to match the branding of the book cover. That branding is really important.
It’s very important that you really understand what is happening in the genre, category, or niche in which you’re publishing. You have to be super familiar with the books that do well in your field. Look at those books. Go and look at the top 100 books in your category on one of these big retailer sites. These are the books that have already shown that they are successful. People bought them. That’s the end result that we want to get.
The cover has to communicate what’s in the book. It might have to tell a little bit about the tone of the book. That’s really important for fiction. In nonfiction, we want to explain and show graphically what the scope of the book is and what does it cover, who is it for? Frequently with nonfiction books, we put a lot of copy on the cover itself. We don’t do that in fiction books. That copy can be crucial.
There are a lot of elements that go into a successful book cover. It has to be attention grabbing. It has to really hook the reader or the browser. Look, you only have maybe one or two seconds to actually grab people’s attention, if it’s the kind of book they’re looking for, anyway.
If your book is boring, dull, has nothing of interest, it’s too dark to read, you can’t make out the images, or the designer has put the 12 most important scenes on the book on the cover, making them all ridiculously small and insignificant, none of that will help you. You need something clean and clear that really communicates quickly with the reader.
I think those are all excellent points. Again, these are the small things people don’t think of. I think what happens is, people go, “I’m going to write a book. It’s going to help me build my brand,” which is true. But what they don’t realize is there’s this entire process. It’s not just the writing. Even the writing itself can be quite an undertaking. Do you ever feel that writing a book is damaging to someone’s brand?
Well, I guess if they wrote a bad book and their brand had some kind of quality in it, that would be bad. If there was something objectionable in the book. I don’t think I’ve ever run into that. I think if you put out a book that’s substandard, if you put out a book that looks bad, has lots of errors in it, you could really damage your brand that way.
Let’s talk a little bit about what happens after a book is published. You know as an author, and I know as an author, and we both know from working with authors that the book is done, but then you have this whole world of having to get it out there. Tell us a little bit about what happens after the book comes out and is ready and is on the shelf or in your hot hands.
As much as possible, in self-publishing, we try to plan for that way before we even publish the book. Particularly for nonfiction authors, it’s really important to bake the marketing of the book into the book itself when you’re planning the book, writing the book, editing the book, producing the book, all of that time you’re going to spend. That could be a year, let’s say. That should all be timed with what happens after the book is published, that it is being planned and all that promotion is being set up.
We often do book launches where we try to gather a lot of our promotional activity together into a short period of time. You were saying a month for traditional publishers. I’ve always found that that could be extended even father. For instance, I’ve run book review campaigns for a year after the book has been published.
No. What I said was in the old days, you only had a month. Today, you can be doing book launches for a year.
The Book Launch Toolkit
Keep going. Why not? You can always be discovering new audiences who don’t know about you yet. That’s exciting. I put together something called the Book Launch Toolkit a couple years ago to help authors get the book out in front of a lot of people.
The biggest obstacle for most new authors is obscurity. Anything you can do to overcome obscurity. You’ve published a book, but nobody knows about it? That’s going to go into your launch plan. It involves getting book reviews. It involves maybe getting interviews. Online, we do a lot of guest articles for blogs in our niche.
If I write a book on typesetting, I’m going to go to my other buddies who write typesetting blogs and say, “Hey, I want to tell people about my new book. Can I write an article for you, come over to your blog, give away 10 copies . . .”
Wait, Joel. I have to stop you. There are typesetting blogs?
There aren’t many.
Are there really?
It’s a niche subject.
Like any other niche subject. There are a number of typography blogs. Some of them have huge readerships too.
Karen, look at my blog, The Book Designer. I started out basically writing about book design and production. That’s a pretty niche topic. I’ve got, today on my blog, 5,000 to 6,000 people a day.
The thing that’s interesting to me about there being a blog on typesetting is that I could understand that, but it’s like, how much is there to say about it? It really shows you. That’s just because I’m not in that world. I’m sure there’s a lot to say about it; it’s just I’m not in that world. From outside that world, I go, “How much could you really say about it?”
I think what that shows us is that there is a niche market for almost anything today. If you’re looking to build a brand in a niche market or you’re looking to be a thought leader in a niche market, writing a really highly targeted book for that market is one of the ways to do that.
Absolutely. It’s been true for a long time, and it’s still true today. You can self-publish books now; it’s not such a big deal. It still works. It’s unbelievable.
It’s very interesting. I want to ask you two questions I ask everyone when they come on to the podcast. The first one is, who is someone in your life who had a negative influence on you, and what did you learn from it or how did you handle it? I don’t want you to say the person’s name, obviously. I just want you to think of who they are.
I can think of someone who had a negative influence on me. You want to know what was the good that came from them?
Yeah. What did you learn from it, or how did you grow from it, or how did you handle it?
When I was younger and I had a young family, I was taken advantage of by a landlord. I got pretty angry about that and ended up going to court and winning. At first I was just terrified. I was a young guy with a young baby and a wife. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought, “My life is over. I’m going to get sent to jail or something. Who knows?” You just dream up all this stuff.
When I actually went to court and stood there and talked to the judge, I found that I was much calmer than I thought I would be. What I discovered, Karen, was that I had all the resources I needed to deal with that situation quickly and efficiently, and it ended up being a very positive thing. I had a whole new level of self-respect because I realized I could do that.
That’s great. The second part of the question is, who’s someone in your life who’s made a positive difference, and what have you learned from them or gained from them? How have they contributed to you? If you want to say that person’s name, of course, that you’re welcome to do.
That’s great. So many people have helped me over my lifetime. I always go back to my dad because I’m in a business that’s pretty similar to his. He was a printer. He was an apprentice. I used to love to watch him as he worked. His fingers, he seemed to have printer’s ink in his blood. His name is Roy, and he’s not with us any longer. What I learned from him was that if you stopped at the beginning of any project and really thought through what you were doing, you were much more likely to have a successful outcome.
The Self Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide by Joel Friedlander
That’s sounds so simple, but so many problems are caused by not doing that very simple thing.
All you have to do is stop and think for a minute. Unbelievable.
Hysterical. Joel, again, tell people, what’s the name of your most recent book, or the book you’d like people to know about?
I have a great book out right now that’s directly related to this subject we’re talking about. I coauthored it with Betty Sargent. It’s called The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide. It’s a compete introduction to self-publishing written by experts in the field with almost a thousand resource links to editors, cover designers, translators, publishers—anything you could need if you were a self-publisher. That’s The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide.
Terrific. Joel, thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you about the power of a self published book. I really appreciate your being on the podcast.
Thanks for having me, Karen. It’s really been interesting talking about publishing. I hope this helps all your fans.
About Joel Friedlander
Joel Friedlander is an award-winning book designer, blogger, and writer. He speaks regularly at industry events and is the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion, and the coauthor of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide. The blogger behind TheBookDesigner, Joel is a columnist for Publishers Weekly, and was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 10 people to follow in book publishing. Joel also operates BookDesignTemplates.com, where he provides predesigned interior book templates for Word and InDesign; AuthorToolkits.com, where authors find digital products to help in their marketing and business activities; and BookPlanner.com, the only project planning tool specifically designed for indie authors.
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