Because I have been writing this column for the past nine years and because (for some dumb reason) about 7000 people in the industry seem to read it and like it (not my numbers... provided to me by so-called net marketing experts who have crystal balls to extrapolate these figures... I think they are full of crap... I don't believe more the 80 people on the planet reads my ramblings... and each one sends me a letter once a week!) I get asked by lots of people, not so much for advice, but to confirm what they already believe to be true.
Let me tell you this. I'm not so much concerned (or afraid) of what people don't know. People can learn. What scares the hell out of me are the ideas people steadfastly and absolutely in their hearts believe to be true... that are absolutely wrong!
Here are what I call the 'BIG MYTHS' of small publishing.
1. Covers and Design Don't Count - Take me to the small press section of any book show (including BEA) and I can point out every cover that was designed by either the author/publisher, or by a designer who had never done a book cover before. Publishers don't understand that covers are part of packaging which is part of marketing. They buy the myth that "you can't tell a book by its cover." What they fail to realize is that they WILL sell a book by its cover. So instead of paying someone like Mayapriya Long at Bookwrights Design or some other experienced book designer $3K to get a professional job, they do the inside design themselves and hire their nephew or sister-in-law who just finished a Photoshop or Pagemaker course at Podunk Community College to do their book. And they get something with clip art on a pink and green background as a cover and an inside looking like a college freshman's first term paper. On this "platform" they are going to spend another $10K on printing. And they wonder why their books are rejected by every buyer of every wholesaler, distributor, and retailer on the planet. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
2. I Love the Subject - Unsuccessful publishers suffer from the most acute case of myopic, egocentric, provincialism that I've ever seen. They print what they want. Well, that's fine... if they want to lose their shirts and go tits up. They think that because their subject or philosophy is important to them, that there are 5,000 others who just can't wait to snap up their printed ramblings. Every retired doctor seems to think that "they" have a story. Every ex-political hack think that they have the solution for the next utopian society. And maybe there are stories and solutions here. But WHO CARES? I'll tell you the answer. NO ONE! Do these publishers ever bother to pay a few non-friends and non-relatives a $20 reading fee and ask whether or not the book might have any market appeal (to say nothing about if the book is any good in the first place.) I'm telling you, there is more crap, junk, and nonsense published and as you might have guessed, most of it fails in the market place and becomes recycled into egg cartons and grocery bags.
3. The Media Can't Wait for My Story - Unsuccessful publishers have bought into the myth that getting publicity for their titles is easy. I mean, look at all the space, time, and electrons the media has to fill each day. Surely they will want to print press stuff about the titles these publishers kill trees for. What idiot publishers don't understand is that the media does not give a flying rats ass about books, events, news, or anything else. The only criteria the mass media applies to any story is "will it grab ears and eyeballs SO we can package it with more advertising." Stupid publishers wait and wait and wait for "their" story to come out... and of course it never does. And there is a reason...
4. My Press Release is Terrific - Unsuccessful publishers don't know the first thing about writing media copy, but they THINK they do. They believe the myth that who, where, why, etc. is all that is necessary. That's what was taught them in all the media-writing books they read and they believe it. Idiot publishers don't understand that people like Paul Krupin and other professional copywriters know the one single golden rule of media.. and how to apply it. The rule is simple. Every editor who looks at copy asks two questions. "Why me? Why now?" If those questions are answered in the editor's head, the ink will flow. But what happens to the press releases of so many stupid publishers? More grocery bags and egg cartons.
5. My Distributor Is Really Going to Work For Me - A great and happy day in the life of a naive, stupid publisher is the day they get the letter accepting their title into a distributor's "program." They read on and on about all the wonderful things the distributor is going to do for their title and they mentally make a down payment on that new Lexus. Unsuccessful publishers rely on their distributor for their ship to come in... and most often such publishers end up going down with it. Most distributors have hundreds and hundreds of publishers and maybe a thousand or so titles. And it cost them almost nothing (some of them make money) on taking a new publishers/title. And what they do is simple. They throw a tiny amount of money at the title, maybe a press release, or a larger mention in a catalog. If there is any ripple in the marketplace, they then go whole-hog on that title and neglect most of their others. If that title is yours, great. But if it isn't (and most often it won't be) you are going to end up buying the myth of the distributor "making it happen for you."
6. Sales and Volume Myth - Unsuccessful publishers believe that they can lose money on every sale but make it up in volume. Idiot publishers have no idea on how to determine a unit price so that they won't lose money on it. They see that Random House has a similar book on the subject for $10.95 so that's the price point selected. But Random gets better deals from their printer (and they are owned by a printer!) than you will ever get, I don't care if you offer your first born, your antique Ford Mustang, or your body! Most unsuccessful publishers take the first step to failure when the decide the price point of their title. (And most publishers don't take very good care of their bodies either!)
7. It's On My Desk Somewhere - Once a publisher gets past the newbie stage and are selling more than 1000 copies a year, there comes a need for an organized approach to running the business. There is no quicker way to fail then to try to run a growing business with the wrong tools. You can't do it with Excel and Word. Every publisher I've ever met who ended up dancing the Chapter 13 tango had a "going" operation, but just could not keep up with orders, returns, and most importantly, had no idea of what their cash flow was... until they realized that their large customers owed them big bucks... yet they had to pay their creditors (like printers, publicists, etc.). And they didn't even have a method to determine which customer owed them what, so had no idea on even who to send a late notice (or lawyer letter) to. There are lots of software packages out there (like JAYA123 ($15/mo), Publishers Assistant $500) , Acumen ($10,000), Cats ($7,000), Merlin $500)) that could have prevented many failures. But so many publishers believe "I don't need good software to run my business." You can bet that the bankruptcy court will use "good software" to dissolve it!
8. I Can Do It On One Book - This has got to be the biggest myth ever perpetrated on the newbie publisher community. You see this repeated over and over in the many (otherwise well done) how-to-publish books on the market. Sure there are one-book success stores. Lots of them. One of my JAYA123 customers published a (rather graphic) sex book. They have made a pile of money on this book And everyone knows about Bear Kamoroff and his "Small-Time Operator" book. But that's the myth. The reality is that for every one-booker that makes it, there are 100 other one-bookers that go deep six. I have spent years ranting and railing against PMA on all sorts of issues. But there is one thing that Jan Nathan and company have right.. and have always had right. She (they) tell everyone that you can't make it on one book. The key to success in this business is a back-list of books that sell several thousand (or even hundred) copies year after year after year. When I ask a publisher who has just come out with their first book, "Congratulations, now what is the next one going to be on?" and when I get a blank stare, I know I'm looking at a failure.
9. This Is An Easy Business - Man, Oh Manischewitz (April was a good month!) do I hear this a lot. Publishing is the hardest "easy" business you can get into. And if you do it "wrong" all you have done is that you have "bought" yourself a job.... and you would do much better to go out and get a real one. Those who make it in this business work hard at it. My perscription has always been to do 5 marketing things a day for each title you are selling.... media, phone calls, letters, e-mail, articles, press material, etc. Five a day for 300 days and you've done 1500 "things." Some of them will work and if your products are good and you catch a bit of luck, you can make a good living. But if you are lazy, fergetaboutit.
If you want to play in the publishing game (a little plug for Fern R.) you need to know which rules to follow and which myths to ignore. Don't take my word for it. Ask some of the experienced publishers that you get to know. You can find them on the Pub-Forum list (see http://www.pub-forum.net for sign-up info) where they will be glad to answer your questions. They will tell you the same thing.... believe half of what you see and none of what you hear... unless it comes from me ;-)
Copyright 2006 by A. Canton and Adams-Blake Company, Inc. This piece may be freely copied and published in any media with proper attribution to the author and including his company and URLs.