I had a real scare today. For a moment, I thought an ebook client was disappearing off the face of the planet, leaving my only recourse for full payment as self-publication.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to go that route, but through this process I came upon a realization – this is easy for me. I know exactly what I need to do in order to put an ebook on the market. Not everyone is so lucky.

I edited and formatted Stephen Smith’s book Work. Smarter! for Kindle and proofread Guy Kawasaki’s Reality Check on top of my experience working for MasterNewMedia.org as their English editor, and as Editor-in-Chief for a custom fitness publication (whose readership increased 1,000-fold under my lead). I know what it takes to self-publish and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty in that respect – from cover to cover, graphics to language, I have the skills to make sure the content itself is top-notch.

What I don’t know is everything that happens after. That’s why I contacted Jim Kukral of Author Marketing Club to ask him some questions and get a bit of perspective (you can also link up with him via Twitter @amcbooks, and if you’re interested in signing up you can thank me for the referral by using my affiliate link).

Even though my client hasn’t disappeared, there are plenty of people who need the kind of help I can offer – I need to make sure I go about it intelligently. So begins my quest – what makes a book sell these days?

Location, Location, Location

Mr. Kukral’s first bit of advice is a truism of just about any business. “When I got started I wish I knew that I should have started writing in genres that people actually buy books in. You can write great books, but if you don’t really have the readers who want them, you’re wasting your time.

So I asked how he could tell if a topic has buyers. He says you should “look at the top books in that genre and see if they’re selling. Use www.bookalyzer.com to check competing books and see how many copies they are selling.”

“Selling books is hard; you have to treat it like a business. Look at competitors” and then position yourself against them – or alongside them. Perhaps your work can function as a companion to a top-seller.

For example, my first foray into self-publishing was an ebook on training virtual assistants – I can’t offer a link because I only offered it to an exclusive group, and I’m re-writing it as we speak. I knew from the very beginning that I was positioning it as a hands-on guide elaborating on the concepts introduced by The 4-Hour Workweek and Getting Things Done.

I was positioning my book alongside these, as a focused guide on a particular aspect those books only introduced. All 100 downloads that I offered were exhausted inside the first day.

Word of Mouth is Key

The primary driver of purchasing decisions in the book market is no different from the primary driver of purchasing decisions anywhere – personal recommendations take the cake, by far. Next up, readers look to trusted groups, like book clubs, awards, and other reader reviews – in that order.

Goodreads did an excellent study comparing how their users discover, read, and share books. If you can’t see it here, follow this link.

The lesson here is don’t shy away from giving away free copies for reviews. The more people you can get with your book in their hands, the more people will talk about your book – and until you get that word of mouth train on those tracks, your book will not reach the best-seller list.

Bad Book, Good Book

So what makes a bad book, and what makes a good book? Are there any sure signs of failure?

I say, the only bad book is the one you didn’t enjoy writing. Chances are, if you don’t enjoy writing it, nobody will enjoy reading it. Next to that, a book should be useful to the reader. Even a fiction book should at least provide entertainment.

Mr. Kukral seems to agree. When I asked him if he knew of any red flags that a book was a failure, his response was simple – “Test. Test pricing, covers, categories” until you make sales.

That said, publishing in a digital space doesn’t just change how much paper we use. It changes everything.

Publishing in a Digital World

While there is no such thing as a bad book, there is certainly a defining line between a good book and a best-seller. That difference is how it engages the audience – and in this modern day, the rules of engagement are being written as we speak.

For example; craigmod writes:

Take a set of encyclopedias and ask, “How do I make this digital?” You get a Microsoft Encarta CD. Take the philosophy of encyclopedia-making and ask, “How does digital change our engagement with this?” You get Wikipedia.

When we think about digital’s effect on storytelling, we tend to grasp for the lowest hanging imaginative fruits. The common cliche is that digital will ‘bring stories to life.’ Words will move. Pictures become movies. Narratives will be choose-your-own-adventure. While digital does make all of this possible, these are the changes of least radical importance brought about by digitization of text. These are the answers to the question, “How do we change books to make them digital?” The essence of digital’s effect on publishing requires a subtle shift towards the query: “How does digital change books?”

Today, the marketing of a book does not begin when the book is done. Actually, a good portion of self-published books these days are the product of blogging for years – that blog becoming the platform for marketing the book, which is primarily just a summary of the previous blog posts.

All the while, the book’s audience was interacting with the book and didn’t even know it – but this is just one example of how digital publishing has changed publishing. This topic alone is quite the rabbit hole, but the nugget of truth is thus: the most fanatic readers are also co-authors.

In Conclusion

I think self-publication is easy, but I’m also taking a lot for granted – namely, my 17-year background in writing and marketing. Although I already know the keys to making anything successful online such as positioning, word-of-mouth development, and today’s demands for interactivity, this probably isn’t something most people think of as such a natural process.

I mean, I didn’t even finish writing this before a friend of mine asked for advice on publishing their book. So, if you’re looking for an Editor – I’m here to help.

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