The Business Rusch: When The Old Ways Work (Discoverability Part 13)

Business Rusch On Writing

Business Rusch logo webYeah, yeah, I was pretty disparaging of the old ways to promote books back fifteen weeks ago, when I was just digging into this series. And there’s a good reason to disparage the way Things Have Always Been Done.

But here’s the catch: The old ways work.



When done right.

They usually aren’t done right. In fact, most places—including traditional publishers—use all the old methods because that’s what they’ve always done, not because it’s good business.

What are the old ways?

Reviews in major publications. Prominent placement in catalogs. Advertising. Display advertising (risers, book dumps). Billboards or signage in subways or on buses. Banner ads, Bestseller lists. Library placement. Paid placement in bookstores. Interviews with major publications, websites, and radio personalities.

All of those things cost time and money. All of those things are things you as a small publisher—an indie publisher—can do, given the time, the planning, and the willingness to work hard on your publishing business.

These things do not work if you’re ebook only. Nor do they work if you’re one-person publishing house. You’ll need a receptionist/secretary/assistant, just for starters. And you’ll need an actual publishing company, with a different name from yours, real ISBNs (as opposed to those that say CreateSpace), a different address for the business, a different phone number, and different e-mail addresses. A website for the business itself, with a good design.

In other words, you’ll need to be running at least two businesses if you want to use the old ways—your writing business and your publishing business. You’ll need contracts between your writing business and your publishing business. You’ll need different bank accounts. You’ll need to think like a publisher when you’ve got your publishing hat on and like a writer when you’re creating.

It’s a lot of work.

Why in heaven’s name would I tell you to do all this? Because having a publishing company pays huge dividends in the long run. If you’re successful, having a company other than your writing business allows you to spread out your pre-tax dollars (you Americans), gives you the opportunity to participate in things that are for publishers only, and gives you the legitimacy your writer-owned business will never achieve.

But it will take time to set up properly, it will take some business savvy (which you can learn. If I did, anyone can), and it will take a willingness to take the long view of your work, rather than a short-term I want it now! view.

Because if you take the long view, you’ll make more money, you’ll have two solid businesses, and you’ll have something that will definitely live beyond you—particularly if you set up your estate properly.

Okay, that’s all a very short way of dealing with a huge topic. If you want to run a business like a publishing company, here are some books I would recommend: My Freelancer’s Survival Guide covers everything you need to think about to run a small business (it also applies to writing alone). Dean Wesley Smith’s Think Like a Publisher. The Copyright Handbook from Nolo Press, so that you understand exactly what you’re marketing and why. (I’m picking up a few other books to see if I can recommend them, but right now, these are the ones I’m sure of.)

Business-focused books, not writing-focused books, will help you the most.

But that’s not the point of this blog post. The point? You’ll need a real publishing company to do this.

I’ve started two publishing companies, and advised several others. It’s not as hard as it sounds. It is more work than you might think, however. And the learning curve is always there, because the industry is changing.

Why would you want to do all that work?

Depending on who you listen to and which statistics you believe, ebooks are now 20 to 30% of all book purchases in the United States.

What that means is this: 70 to 80% of all book purchases are still in paper.

This is where traditional publishing gets its hooks into indie writers, by telling them that their books can’t reach bookstores without a traditional publisher’s imprint. And that’s just not true. Dean has done a very important post on this very topic this week. Please read it, and definitely read it before you comment on this post here.

As I mention below in the assumptions below, if you price your books correctly, they will get into bookstores without you contacting the stores at all. But the books might not be noticed.

And this series is about discoverability.

How do bookstores “discover” books?

Using the old ways.

Sure, booksellers look online. Booksellers have their favorite writers too, and booksellers keep up on what those writers are doing. Not all of those favorite writers are bestsellers. Many are midlist writers the bookseller discovered on their own and/or writers whose work the bookseller encountered in other ways.

All of those discovery tools we talked about in the previous posts work with booksellers. But the best way, the very best way, to get a bookseller interested in your book is to use the old methods.

Yes, booksellers order books when a customer requests them.

But you want the bookseller to order your book as soon as the book sees print. The only way to do that is using the old methods.

What can you do?

First, let me tell you what not to do. Don’t contact the bookseller directly unless the bookseller is a friend.

Because of the way that publishing has worked over the last fifty years, the only writers who contacted booksellers directly were vanity press writers and clueless newbies. You want to know why booksellers ignore you when you come into the store, offering to “let” the bookseller carry your book?

Because 99% of the writers who asked this before you—from about 1960 onward—were total blithering idiots who couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag. Seriously. And they were the kind of idiot who never took no for an answer.

You want to put yourself in a box with those people, be my guest. But if you really want to be taken seriously as a writer, then stop going to bookstores with your cartons of books and begging the bookseller to carry a few copies.

Here’s what you actually do—after (and only after) you set up a real traditional publishing company of your own.

First, you pick a publication date. It must be at least five months away from the actual date the book is completed. Why? Because you’ll need reviews—and reviews in the big venues, not on a blogging site.

You will need to produce an advance reading copy (ARC) —in paper, because many review publications still want paper copies. That advance reading copy had better look like one produced out of New York. That means you’ll need to find some advance reading copies and look at them. How do you find some?

If you know reviewers, get them to show you a few recent advanced reading copies. If you are friends with booksellers, have them share some with you.

If you lack those connections, go to eBay. Even though ARCs are marked Not For Sale, booksellers and reviewers sell them all the time. (Traditional publishers cut them off if they get caught selling the ARC before the book comes out. That still doesn’t stop people.) Put Advance Reading Copy in the search engine, and you’ll be surprised at what you find. Buy a few that are from 2013/2014, so you can see how it’s done. Then copy that format on your own ARC. Make sure you understand the jargon of the ARC, what kind of promotions are listed and what the jargon words mean, before you say that you will be doing such things.

Write a cover letter to go with the ARC that is all sales material. Reviewers will crib off that letter, so make sure the letter is positive and accurate. Have your assistant sign the letter, not you.

The letter needs to come from your publishing company—you need a street address on it, a publisher e-mail, and a publisher phone number. Some traditional review sites will call those numbers, so make certain that your traditional publishing company has a professional voice mail and a trained person answering the phone.

Follow the rules that each publication has for review copies. If you don’t follow the rules, all your money and time will be wasted. They will toss out your ARC.

Some places want paper ARCs. Some want e-ARCs. Some want paper ARCs for certain genres, and e-ARCs for other genres. Follow the rules to the letter.

Particularly pay attention to the rules governing how far in advance the publication needs the ARC. RT Book Reviews needs its copy six months ahead. Publisher’s Weekly needs its copy a little over four months ahead. Other publications have different rules.

Just because you send an ARC doesn’t mean your book will be reviewed. And just because you send an ARC doesn’t mean your book will get a good review. Take your writer hat off, and put your publisher hat on. You’re doing the reviews in traditional publications to let booksellers know that the book exists. Most booksellers don’t care if the book got a starred review from Booklist. Booksellers are notoriously opinionated people, like most readers, and will make up their own minds. However, they will use the reviews to figure out which books to order for the storefront, not just to have on their website.

Three other caveats. First, if you’re going to all the trouble to send out ARCs, then make sure your publisher website lists all your books. Make sure that the publisher website also has dealer discounts for booksellers. Look at WMG Publishing’s dealer discounts to give you an idea what I mean.

The booksellers will probably never order direct from your publisher, but they want the option. Besides, they’ll also want to know that the publisher is legit—and to them, the publisher is not legit unless it offers booksellers a way to order direct.

The second caveat deals with the traditional sites themselves. RT will review books, provided the publisher takes out an ad in the magazine at least once per year. This has been RT’s policy for more than thirty years, and is one reason the publication still exists. An ad does not guarantee a review, nor does it guarantee a good review. But you have no hope of getting a review at all without buying an ad.

(I told you this week would cost you money.)

Buy a publisher’s ad, not a writer ad, with them. Because…you’ve got a publishing company, remember?

If you’ve set up a traditional publishing company, don’t send your ARCs or e-ARCs to Publisher’s Weekly Select or the other review sites that traditional review publications have set up for e-books.

Why? Well, you’re trying to get into bookstores with your paper books. Booksellers don’t read Select and those other publications because they’re not for paper books. (And they’ve got a whiff of that vanity press thing. Booksellers are very snobby about that.)

So if you’re trying for booksellers, spend your advertising/discovery dollars where the booksellers actually look to discover books.

The final caveat is this: there are services like NetGalley that will, for a large fee, make your e-ARC available to people who are a “reviewer, blogger, journalist, librarian, bookseller, educator, or in the media.” Traditional publishers use NetGalley (and other services like it) but never on the books they really want reviewed or covered.  This is a place that traditional publishers use as an afterthought. If you see an ARC from a traditional publisher and it says “ARCs available through NetGalley,” it usually means that’s all the promotion the traditional publisher is doing on that title.

Do what the Big Boys do. Go direct.

Review and review copies are the cheapest thing I’m going to mention in this post. The other things are expensive and only available to traditional publishers.

One of those other things is the American Booksellers Association.

To join the ABA as a “publishing partner,” your publishing company needs to have “at least five titles currently in print [in paper] and readily available for booksellers to order either direct [from the publisher] or from wholesalers [like Ingrams or Baker & Taylor].”

If you meet those qualifications, then you must pay the $350 annual fee (with a $25 handling fee) to join. What do you get if you join?

Lots of direct opportunity to contact ABA member bookstores. Here’s the link. I suggest you look at it, and think about the direct mail opportunities presented here.

Let me give you two examples, though. The Red Box (which is actually a white box with a red sticker) goes to 1100 member bookstores. Publishers can include catalogs, notifications of special books, flyers, posters, all kinds of promotional material for a particular book—except the ARC. To include these items costs an additional fee, and you have to follow certain rules. But the ABA sends out 12 of these boxes every year, and booksellers do comb through them.

The White Box goes to 750 select bookstores (following ABA rules) and includes galleys, ARCs, and finished paper copies of a book. It costs anywhere from $1.50 to $2.50 per item to be included (minimum 450 items) so it can cost you as little as $675 or as much as $1875 (not counting your production cost for each book).

Booksellers do read the books or at least look at them. If your book is badly produced—or if you send a romance novel to a noir mystery store—then the bookseller will give the book away or toss it.

Just like everyone does with advertising. We only look at the stuff we’re interested in.

There are other great advertising programs through the ABA. The best part about these? They’re legitimate, unlike schlepping your books to a store and having the owner think you’re an idiot for even trying. You get to reach booksellers the way that writers/publishers always have, using direct methods.

Here’s the secret, folks. If you set up a traditional publishing company, you can do everything that the Big Five can do. Everything. What does it take? Money and know-how.

You can buy ads in book-oriented publications like The New York Times Book Review or The Los Angeles Times Book Section. (Booksellers read those.) You can send your employees to trade shows like Book Expo in New York or the dozens of local book-oriented trade shows across the country. (There are huge trade shows worldwide: you can send your employees to those too, if you have money to burn.)

You, the writer, should never man that table because you’re “the talent.” (Although you can be on panels.) Like anything else to do with discoverability at this level, just because you spent the money doesn’t mean you’ll get a good return. You can give away hundreds of free copies at the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association meeting next fall, but that doesn’t mean the booksellers who get the copies will read them or order them for their stores.

It’s a risk. Like all advertising is. Next week, we’ll talk about how to think about what you’re doing, but right now, I’m just giving you options that will put you in front of paper book buyers—and booksellers.

The ABA isn’t the only group that will put you directly in front of a bookseller or librarian. Baker & Taylor will as well. They have huge publisher participation programs, with an entire downloadable flyer that explains all of their services—kinda. Many of these promotion services start at $10,000 and go up from there. Big publishers use these things all the time.

I suggest you thumb through the offerings, just to see what kind of things are available. Some of the things are things you’ll never see in a catalog like this. You’ll have to talk to a rep directly—and even then, after you’ve spent some time and money.

These programs exist on all levels of retail. How do you think certain products get placed up front in a grocery store? The supplier pays for that position.

When you’re dealing with books, book distributors, and bookstores, you’re dealing in good old-fashioned retail. And retail has a lot of paid-for positions that are advertising positions.

Do you want your book on a bestseller list? Many of those lists are purchased positions. You have to work with a distributor’s ad rep (usually) to buy—say—the #10 position for books in the Safeway grocery store chain. (No, I have no idea how much that costs. But it’s in the tens of thousands.)

Are you offended that bestseller lists like that are bought? Think it through. Bestseller list positions are always bought. Even indie writers buy their place on a list, often by reducing the price or restricting distribution to one outlet only.

To get on any paper bestseller list, a book must be widely distributed at minimum. Most of those lists (even the in-house B&N list) are paid for by the publisher. To get on the non-paid-for list, like The New York Times, takes a knowledge of velocity, the ability to distribute (and promote) the book widely, and sometimes a sideways bit of know-how. Every year or two, some reporter discovers that someone bought a place on a reputable bestseller list. This year, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg of The Wall Street Journal found a company that put at least two books on bestseller lists by gaming the system.

All that articles like this prove is that with enough money and know-how, everything in publishing can be done—with or without the Big Five.

I don’t expect you to hire a company that claims it can make your book a success. In fact, I would hope you stay away from them. Too many writers get scammed on this one thing alone. Marketing scams are the biggest business scams in existence. Don’t fall for them.

However, you can pay to have your product—a book—placed at the checkout stand of some non-bookstore like a grocery store or a discount retailer. Book publishers do that all the time. It takes money. Will that payment translate into sales? Sometimes. But not always.

The way you can tell a marketing scammer, by the way, is that they will guarantee sales. None of these other programs do. They will gladly take your money in exchange for product placement. That’s all. It’s up to the product to sell itself.

So…really, what it takes to get all of the benefits that a traditional publisher can bring you and more, in all aspects of publishing, is that you start a traditional publishing company of your own. I know. It’s easy to say, and hard to do. But all of those things that you the writer want a traditional company to do are the things your company can do for you.

Think I’m spinning you a line? Think no one has tried it? People have done this from the beginning of publishing. Dean and I did it with Pulphouse Publishing before ebooks existed.

Ten years ago, author Helen A. Rich, one of the heirs to the Wrigley fortune, decided to start Medallion Publishing. It caused quite a kerfuffle in the industry. People claimed she was starting a large vanity press, that she was only doing this because she was rich. Medallion did things that big publishers did—buying the cover of Publishers Weekly to advertise books, buying expo space at BEA, and so on.

More importantly, Medallion didn’t go away.  It’s still around, has a rather large staff, and has published a lot of writers. I’ve heard good and bad things about the company. I’ve never worked with them, so I have no idea how good they are to their authors (and honestly, I don’t want to know—that’s not the point of this piece).

Medallion is now a “media group” that has its fingers in publishing, music, and movies. I will tell you one thing about people and their money: they don’t keep throwing good money after bad if the experiment doesn’t work. Financially, then, Medallion is working.

Medallion is just one such publishing company that started from one person’s vision and has grown larger. Sourcebooks is another. Dominique Raccah made a $17,000 investment 17 years ago, and has grown Sourcebooks into a major player in a variety of genres.

Both of these companies, and many much smaller companies, do the advertising things I’ve mentioned, and do all the work that the Big Five publishers do to attract booksellers. These two publishers have played with the Big Boys from the beginning.

Anyone can do this, with some savvy and a willingness to spend on the right project.

You don’t have to do all of it. If you want to attract booksellers, really, you only need to do a little of it. But you need to plan how you’re going to go after this much larger world.

And that’s the topic for next week.

One thing that should be clear from all of these discoverability posts is that time is money. If you have the money, you can probably get someone else to spend the time to do things. Or if you don’t have the money, then you have to figure out how to do the things yourself. Or if these things are worthwhile.

Writing this blog takes time from my week. Sometimes, when I’m in the middle of a big project, I resent the time. Then I hear from you folks, and realize just how much I’m learning and how much I have to share.

Still, time is money, and I’m struggling to find time to complete several projects right now. So if you’re getting some value from this blog, please hit the donation button.

Thanks so much!

Click here to go to PayPal

“The Business Rusch: When The Old Ways Work” copyright 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

 Please Read These Assumptions Before Commenting:

I’m going to make some assumptions in the next group of blog posts, and I’ll repeat those assumptions each week until I’m done.

Assumption #1: I’m going to assume you’ve read the previous posts, which you can find here.  

Assumption #2: With only a few exceptions, we will be talking about fiction here. There are promotion techniques that work for nonfiction—even on the first book—that do not work for fiction. I don’t want to muddy the waters here. We’re discussing fiction in these posts.

Assumption #3: You have learned your craft well enough to intrigue readers. You know how to tell a good story, you have grammar, spelling, and punctuation under control, you create interesting characters, and you write what you love.

Assumption #4: If you have indie published your work, then your work has a good blurb, a great cover, and a well-designed interior. Your work is available in ebook and trade paper formats. (I also hope you have audio books, but for our purposes here, I’m not going to assume it.)

Assumption #5: If you have indie published your work, your ebooks are available in every ebook venue you can find. Your paper novels are in extended distribution on CreateSpace or Lightning Source. In other words,  if a bookseller whom you don’t know and never will know wants to order your paper book, that bookseller can call up a catalogue from a major distributor (Baker & Taylor, Ingrams) and order your book at a bookseller’s discount.

Assumption #6: If you are traditionally published, your books are with a company that makes the books available in e-book and paper formats, and your books are still in print. (If they aren’t, ask for those rights back and then publish the books yourself.)

Assumption #7: You have at least a minimal web presence. You have a website that readers can easily find. You have a list of your published books somewhere, also findable. You have some passive marketing in place. (A mailing list, a social media presence, or a contact button on your website. Something.)

Assumption #8: You have published more than one book. Most of what I tell you won’t work on one novel. You’ll need several—or at least a novel and some short stories. If you’re haven’t published much, make sure you’ve done 2-7, and write the next book.

Assumption #9: You will finish this discoverability series before you decide which of the things I mention is for you. Because one of the last posts I’m going to write is how to measure success. That should have been one of the first posts I wrote, but of course, I write out of order, and so it’ll go at the end. [VBG]

Those are the assumptions.

Now, I have one big WARNING:

Everything I say here, everything, MUST take place after you’ve finished writing your story/book/novel. Do NOT take ANY of this advice into your writing office. None of it. Be an artist: write what you love. When you’re done, then worry about marketing it. This new world of publishing allows us to write whatever we want and publish it. Please take advantage of that. When you write, be an artist, be a great storyteller, not a marketer or a salesperson.

I know, I know. Lots of warnings and assumptions. But I had to be clear, because these points are extremely important. I won’t get to everything this week or even the next week. So…you need to be on the page that I’m on to understand what I’m talking about.

52 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: When The Old Ways Work (Discoverability Part 13)

  1. I found this post very helpful when it was first posted, but now I have a question. What is your opinion of organizations other than ABA, such as Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA)? Since the price is less than ABA, I’m trying it out, and sending a copy of my latest book for their booth at the BookExpo trade show in May. At the very least I consider it educational for how small publishers operate.

    1. I’m not affiliated in anyway with the IBPA, although every time I look at their site or their recommendations, I see very out-dated information. Plus they do a lot of business with restrictive companies (that require the writer to deal only with that company, and no other). I’m not all that impressed, so I haven’t researched further. But your mileage may vary. The trade show might be worthwhile. I have never attended. Please report back!

  2. I think it’s important to emphasize that you wouldn’t do this for each book. You pick and choose your special baby for this kind of treatment. If you write enough books, losing a few months of income on one of them while you’re sending ARC’s out is not a big deal, because the other ones are bringing in the bacon. Maybe Special Baby is, too, in preorders on Kobo and Smashwords.

    Meanwhile, you get your websites in order, gather up your good quotes, and release Special Baby to great acclaim. At least, that’s the idea.

    It’s working for my latest medical mystery, Terminally Ill, right now. Just shot to Kobo’s Top 50 (actually, #27!). So I think it’s important not to dismiss this technique out of hand, just realize how much work it is and figure out when you want to play this card.

    I also think it’s interesting that people made fun of Medallion because it wasn’t a “real” publishing company. Hello. How do you think publishing companies get started? With capital, and one day at a time. It reminded me of how people talk about indie publishing, like it’s not legitimate. And how it’s better not to worry about what other people think.

  3. Hi, Kris,

    I tried to send a small donation, but the “Donate” button took me to the normal Paypal sign-in page and there was nothing about your site, no email, or anything.


  4. As a former independent bookstore owner, I’d like to make some suggestions. When you send an ARC to bookstores, do include a professional-looking letter as Kris suggests. Keep the blurb on your book concise and the letter to one page, or if two, then on the back of the letter (stapled pages are too easily separated). The bookstore owner and/or buyer may give the ARC to a staff person who reads your genre, and keep the letter with the blurb for ordering purposes [BTW, I agree with Jamie–no one expects ARCs to be error-free]. Yes, mention your website, but have ordering info in the letter, thus saving an extra step for the book buyer. In other words, make it easy for the store to order your book by mentioning distributors.

    I will disagree with Kris on one point. In the over twelve years I owned my store, I didn’t mind when local authors brought in their book for me and/or my buyer to see—as long as they were dropping it off and not doing a hard-sell and insisting on an answer. And, if you don’t have ARCs, but instead a professionally printed 5 x 7 inch promo card on the book, then that is usually welcomed. I am speaking of independent, small bookstores, not chains, whose buyers are not on-site.

    As a side note, occasionally, we would take a few copies on consignment, but that isn’t something you can count on. Yes, local author may have vanity-published their book, but more likely it was a small print run of something of local interest.

    And, many thanks for all the time and information you’re sharing, Kris. I’m now on the other side of the counter and hope to start publishing my novels in the near future. Your website and Dean’s have been extremely helpful.

  5. “Depending on who you listen to and which statistics you believe, ebooks are now 20 to 30% of all book purchases in the United States.

    What that means is this: 70 to 80% of all book purchases are still in paper.”

    I brought this up on Dean’s blog, but I’m not sure I did a good job of it, so I’ll try again.

    I hate seeing this stat thrown around, and here’s why. Even if that 70% number is accurate (and it likely is not because it doesn’t count a number of big outlets and, oh I dunno, Indies) it’s useless for a fiction writer. Because that 70% is for ALL books sold, right? I don’t care about all books sales. I care about FICTION sales because that’s what I’m in to. And more in particular, genre fiction sales. What’s the statistic for that? The whole world wonders, apparently. But if the data Hugh Howey and his data guy have mined is even close to accurate (the jury’s out on that, but we’ll see how well they really did as time goes on), the ebook % for fiction in general and genre fiction in particular is WAY more than 20-30%.

    That’s not to say one shouldn’t put one’s books into print and do what one can to get those books into stores. There are myriad great reasons to do so. But saying that fiction writers should do it because of the above statistic is, IMHO, simply not helpful, and can lead to them making decisions (or spending a bunch of money) based on data that doesn’t apply to their particular business.

    As always, thanks for your time and effort here, Kris. 🙂 Always a pleasure.

    1. Michael, from the data I’ve seen, it depends on genre. Mystery sells mostly in paper (more than 70%–about 90% or higher). Romance is closer to 60% paper. I know you want to believe e-books will take over the world, but they’re not going to. If you look at the statistics about how teens read–future generations of book buyers–they actually read more paper than people who are retired. Kids prefer paper. They’ll read online and on their phones, but they want the object. Why deny them the object? And why limit yourself?

      Those numbers are for fiction mostly, by the way. If you look at non-fiction, it resembles mystery. 90% in paper. Textbooks are even higher because they don’t translate well–yet–to the e-book format. I suspect that will change over time, but we’re not dealing with textbooks here. We’re dealing with patterns.

      Patterns show that e-books are here to stay, yes, but are not on track to take over all of publishing.

      1. “Why deny them the object? And why limit yourself?”

        I have no intention of denying them the object, Kris. 🙂 I have most of my longer works in paper form (working on the shorter ones) and I’m starting work on audiobooks, too. I was just objecting to a statistic that seemed fishy is all. 🙂

        1. Whenever you see a “fishy” statistic, Michael, find data to disprove it and link it here. Because I reference every fact I put in these things–not always in this blog, but in the series itself. So, it’s always nice to have more information.

  6. You’ll need contracts between your writing business and your publishing business.

    Okay, but what if you’re like me (or most indie presses, for that matter) and publish only your own books?

    I just recently started my own publishing company (so that I can eventually get into bookstores, like you and Dean have said) and only plan to publish my own books. Because Writer-Me and Publisher-Me are basically the same, just with different jobs, I don’t see any reason I should make a contract between myself and my publishing company. I could understand doing it if I was planning to publish the works of other writers, but I don’t. So forgive me if I think this sounds like a lot of unnecessary work for an indie-publisher in my situation.

    Sorry if I sounded a bit caustic. I really like your blog and find everything you write so interesting and helpful. It’s just that I’m curious as to why I should basically make a contract with myself if I am planning only to publish my own books and not anyone else’s. That’s all.


    1. There are a lot of good legal reasons for doing this. Particularly as you age. If you want, say, to hire someone else to run the publishing side, make sure you have a contract so you can pull your work out of the publishing house if need be. There are estate reasons, tax reasons, a million reasons to make certain that your businesses run like businesses–and not like a hobby.

      1. Ah, I see. Thanks for clarifying.

        Only thing is, I don’t know how to write a contract. Can you give me some advice or point me toward some resources on the subject that explain how to do it?


  7. Thanks for taking the time to post this, Kris. You’ve answered a lot of my questions.

    The best thing in learning about discoverability and metatags and SEO algorithms is that you can experiment and see what happens. It’s fun.

    The traditional publishing industry, the way you’ve described it, is very interesting. And the amount of work involved… Wow. Respect to you and Dean for all that you do.


  8. This is an eye-opening post – much of which I’d already learned in the promotions workshop which got me started and going in the right direction (publishing website, for example).

    I know everyone’s workload is different and the availability of money as well – but given that this is a long-term approach to publishing – would you say that five years is a reasonable time frame for (non-prior trad pubbed authors) getting most of these things up and running (publishing company, website, arc production set up and in place, ABA membership, etc.)?

    I’ve got the website all ready (but don’t need the separate accounting because I’m in Germany – at least not yet) and still have to register it (and probably jump through some other hoops) here with the local officials in order to get my own ISBNs. This can happen pretty quickly I’m hoping.

    So one tough question is – since I used the CS IBSNs on the books I’ve put out so far – do I need to put out new trade pb versions with different ISBNs at some point?

    I also don’t quite know when the right time is to start offering books from the new website. And would like to know how many books would you suggest are necessary (or desirable) before said publishing company ‘opens its doors’ 5 or 10 or more (Dean mentioned in his post that quantity is important)?

    In your opinion, is it worth trying to contact Con dealers to make a deal with them to represent said publishing company and handsell at conferences (so that the author isn’t standing behind the table)?

    I appreciate your help on this. And I enjoyed this post – it gave me a renewed kick in the virtual cahones to keep going with this.

    1. Thanks, Sharon. I think timeline is up to you. It depends on how fast a writer you are, how much product you’ll have, and how much capital you’ll have.

      As for the CSISBNs, yes, you’ll need ISBNs for your publisher. Don’t have the publisher be listed as CreateSpace. Offer your books on the website the moment the site is done and you have books finished–even if you only have one. The more advertising you do, the better.

      And good question about con dealers. Yes, contact them either ahead of time or bring them books they can sell on commission while you’re there. (Some cons allow the latter move and others don’t.) You can only do that if you’ll be a speaker at the conference, however.

      And you’re welcome. I appreciate the kind words.

  9. Kris, I have tremendous admiration for what you and Dean did with Pulphouse and are doing with WMG Publishing. I really do. I do not mean to be disrespectful in any way, but surely you realize that kind of post is accurate for a very low percentage of self-published authors?

    Besides, I think you did not draw the whole picture, there. If self-publishers want to be strong with paper, they have to sell paper books which are in the strongholds of paper (and see how the meaning of this word is reinforced if you separate it in two: strong hold): religious books, children books, artwork books, all kind of non fiction books. Because fiction books are now mainly ebooks, and sell as ebooks.

    Also, you have to inquire with booksellers about the products they sell which are not books, and try to sell them to them.

    Why? Because as Mike Shatzin noticed not long ago, bookshelves are shrinking (and you noticed that with Barnes & Noble, too). Not only there are less bookstores, but the bookstores that stay carry less books. They sell other products instead.

    So, you are asking us (in this blog post, at least) to sacrifice the instant publishing feature which is one of the major changes in the revolution of ebooks, to do a fantastic amount of effort to penetrate a shrinking market, a market best suited for books which are not fiction books?

    Sorry, but it doesn’t make sense for me.

    1. This is a long series, Alan, and I’m covering all of discoverability. As I’ve said before, you make your own choices. You don’t have to do all of this. And as I said in this post, I’ll tell you how to use some of this in a directed way next week.

      As I said here–DO NOT CONTACT BOOKSELLERS DIRECTLY. DO NOT GO INTO THEIR STORES AND TALK TO THEM. They all have websites. Check out what they sell on your own.

      If you’re following Shatzkin, you’re following someone who is deep within the traditional publishing industry. His perspective is even less useful to an indie than this particular post is. He’s trying to figure out how things change for the Big Five. From their perspective, bookshelf space is shrinking. If you look at the numbers–and if you read Dean’s post as I requested–you’ll see that independent bookstores are growing. (I mentioned this last year as well.) So actually bookshelf space is growing. Bookstores have just changed how they order, which has a huge impact on the Big Guys and offers great opportunities for the small ones. Please follow the link and read Dean’s article.

      And for the record, I’m not asking you to do anything. I’m showing you your options. That’s all.

  10. Kris, I know that DWS updates his Sacred Cows posts as time, facts, industry, and opinions change. Have you found this true on these Discoverability posts since you are now on post 13?


  11. I think it’s incredibly short-sighted not to think about expanded distribution in the future. With the global market opening up, not trying to penetrate that market seems self-limiting. I can’t do everything Kris says all at once, but I can plan for the future. The most daunting step to me is the ARC’s because of the long lead times. I’d have to have a production lag. Anyway, this segment has been most timely for me because I’ve grown convinced that being a hybrid is the best opportunity to sell books. I’ve been looking at small publishers, but honestly it seems like they want the same kind of contol as the big guys. I had already decided to publish under my own publishing company, I just hadn’t taken it to the next level, conceptually. Thank you, Kris, for showing the way.

  12. Thank you so much for continuing this series Kris. It is invaluable.

    For me, my publishing house (Knotted Road Press – KRP) isn’t ready to do ARCs yet. Not in 2014. But I’m already looking ahead, to a new fantasy trilogy that’s scheduled for May 2015, and I may push that out more and do ARCs for it.

    To give some perspective…This year? I’m in the process of revamping my publishing web site ( That will be finished by the end of March.

    Starting in April, according to my publishing schedule, KRP will putting out something new twice a month–sometimes merely a short story, but most of the times a collection or novel.

    By the end of 2014, KRP will be publishing four authors.

    And it’s possible that I *still* won’t be ready to do this type of advertising until 2016.

    1. Same here. It’s all a slow-burn, long-term-plan type thing. I may never get to ARCs and such – because it depends on the genres I end up writing the most. If I stay happy with my m/m romance publisher, I may not have enough other-genre inventory to make this fly as fast as I’d like. Patience, grasshopper…

  13. I’ve seen this many times over: “Send out ARCs six months in advance.” I personally wouldn’t send out an ARC unless the book had been edited and potentially proofed (even though some mistakes are anticipated at this point) because anything less than polished work is going to get a bad review. So here’s my heartache: I have a hard time holding back a finished product and missing out on six months of sales for the slim chance of scoring a review (and with an unknown press, it’s a VERY slim chance).

    My question to you is this: would it be acceptable to introduce an ebook first and hold off on a paperback release to the public for six months, with the initial paperbacks going to the reviewers first as a semi-ARC?

    Or, is this an all or nothing proposition?

    I can’t help but think that the “six months in advance” model needs to change in this era of instant publishing.

    1. This is all or nothing, Monica. If you’re going to go into the old system–which is what this post is about–then you have to follow the rules, as I said in my piece. The rules are that the book is unpublished until the publication date you set, five to six months out.

      Let me repeat this: you’re trying to work in the existing system. They’re not going to change for you, especially since the Big Boys still play by these rules. So 80% of all published books go through this system. Why would they change it for a handful of self-published writers? Remember what this post is about. It’s about getting into bookstores, the way that traditional publishers do.

      And all ARCs are sent out without copy edits or proofs. They say that they are unproofed on them.

    2. Speaking from the other side, Monica, I assure you that you will not be harshly judged by typos in an ARC. I work for a newspaper. When our last book reviewer took the buyout, a lot of ARCs were tossed in a bin. One reporter discovered the bin, and everyone, even the copyeditors, made a lemming-to-the-sea dash for them. One copyeditor specifically said, “so there’s nothing wrong with these books, right? These are just before the final proofing? Okay then.” And she took her haul back to her desk with her.

      ARCs are an industry-standard concept; if you’re dealing with people who know what they are then they “get” the idea that the final proofing has not been done yet. All ARCs had emblazoned on the cover (in all caps) “Advance Uncorrected Proofs — Not For Sale.”

      Not all of the ARCs even had the final version of the cover; some used a damask pattern or similar in lieu of cover art. As I type this I’m using an ARC as a placemat for my trackball mouse. On the back it has two white boxes on the bottom where one ISBN number would go. The box on the left has the title, genre, trim size, number of pages, and the fact that it’s not for sale. The box on the right lists the publication date, ISBN number (yes, you’ll need that), price, and a PR contact’s name and number. Inside is a PR letter.

      Look up a company called Baen, they do e-Arcs of their books and sell them to readers. The readers seem to love them. I haven’t bought any yet, so I can’t describe what they look like, but I imagine the principle is the same.

      By the way, I have review (for-sale version, not ARC) copies of the first two Diving Universe books. I bought them at our charity book sale. They have a PR letter from Pyr, the original publisher. I was using the letter as a bookmark 🙂 I’ve been planning to use these letters and ARCs as templates further down the road.

      Just relax, you can’t hurt yourself following the advice here 🙂 It may not be standard for you, but it is for the industry, and *not* following these procedures really will seem odd.

      1. I won a pre-release copy of William Gibson’s last book in a contest. It was identical to what came out, just had the letter from the publisher in it. I ended up selling it to a used book store, who was waffling on whether or not to take the copy (it was out by then), but that letter made him decide he could get an extra price for it. Good thing I’d been using it as a bookmark like Jamie did and didn’t lose it! 🙂

    3. Many of the ARCs I have seen or acquired (she said, with shifty eyes) have absolutely plain covers.

      Just colored (or even white) card stock with the title, author, publisher logo and obligatory info. These are from the Big 5. They’re provided “as-is”, with the disclaimer that they haven’t been proofed for typos and that things may change. Maps and other fancy graphics like chapter headings and wingdings aren’t there. Some of them have final cover art and layout, but still the disclaimer and a note from the publisher in it. But even the “plain brown wrapper” ones have been through at least one edit, and of course the text was supplied by the writer all spell-checked and pretty.

      They’re usually trade paper nowadays, even if the book is going to come out hardbound. Publishers aren’t going to waste money on fancy ARCs, because that’s not the purpose of an ARC. They aren’t supposed to be perfect. You just need to get the content out there. If you’re not a big 5, having cover art would maybe help.

      I am speaking here as just a reader, although I do have writer friends and go to cons where you can get ARCs through means either legal (the publisher pays to give a copy to everyone at the con — I’m certain “Red Rising” is doing so well because of this) or buying them from people who have a bunch piling up in their back room of books that have already been in stores for ages. (“Here’s an ARC of Big Name Author’s book that’s out in hardback. No artwork. I’ll let you have it for five bucks.” I say “Gosh, I couldn’t afford the $28.00 hardback, and who knows when the $8 MMPC will come out. It’s a deal!”)

  14. Regarding NetGallery: Broad Universe has set up a service for its members allowing them to post one book on NetGallery for $25/month. I’m trying it this summer. I don’t know if any other writers’ organization offer something like this, however.

    1. Many other writers organizations and writers coops have done this. I’ve heard from many writers about this, and none of them will do it a second time. However, $25 is a good price for NetGalley, so give it a shot and report back on how well it works.

  15. I do have my publishing company VJKBooks but I don’t ever fore see it becoming a traditional like company complete with staff. Some days it would be nice to have anassistant but I don’t see that happening either.
    Interesting post never the less.

  16. Because one of the last posts I’m going to write is how to measure success.

    Hmm. I’m getting very interested now in that post on measuring success.

    Because my initial reaction to “You’ll need a receptionist/secretary/assistant… And you’ll need…a different address for the business, a different phone number, and different e-mail addresses,” is: I don’t want to do that.

    I have a publishing DBA (Wild Unicorn Books) and “real ISBNs (as opposed to those that say CreateSpace)…” and a website for Wild Unicorn.

    But, at this moment, I don’t want to go farther than that. Can I be successful at my current level?

      1. Kris, I knew you were going to say that 🙂

        Clarity about what you really want and what you’re willing to do for it makes all the difference. Sometimes less is more.
        Looking forward to next week… now off to see if Dean has put up any new cat pictures 🙂

  17. This is an interesting article, but I don’t understand the need for a second business, second set of accounts, receptionist etc if I’m not planning to publish anyone else. Surely low overheads are one of the advantages of self-publishing – there seems little point in pushing them up unless there’s going to be some real gains as a result. I’ve got reviews in mainstream publications for my latest novel without doing any of those things as well as print sales to bookshops via the distributor I use. And, judging by my experience of placing print ads for another business I run, most publications will take relevant ads from anyone willing to pay (whether they have a receptionist or not). However, I’m in the UK and maybe things are different in the US.

    1. Things aren’t different, Diana. I’m talking about doing all of the things traditional publishers do, not just ads. Next week, I’ll discuss how you plan this stuff. You are right, however. Most places will take print ads from anyone. Will bookstores let you purchase retail space for your novel on their in-house bestseller list? No. So you weigh the options for you and your business.

  18. We’re working to establish ourselves as an indie publishing house, and we’ve been following the “Discoverability” series avidly. Our first book (A Damaged Mirror) is already on Amazon, both in Kindle and trade-paperback format (the latter through CreateSpace). We’ve also established an account with Lightning Source, and are investigating local printers to supply our “home” market in Israel.

    I’m now starting to work on getting reviews for ADM – beginning with Jewish-oriented publications, as that’s the most obvious niche market for this book. (Of course, we hope it crosses over to the wider market.) I’ve got a question regarding ARC’s for this purpose:

    Your discussion of ARC’s seems to be based largely on a traditional publishing model – that is, where ARC’s are produced as a separate product, before final corrections, formatting, and large-scale offset-printing production, and where there is a formal publication date. How would this change for a print-on-demand system, where there isn’t a massive “launch” and the book is already edited, proofed (of course, you never find the final typo in a 400-page book!), formatted, and available for purchase? Should we just assume that the “normal” bound book is usable as an ARC? Can we use the paperback version for reviews, or should we use the Lightning Source hardbound version (based on the same interior PDF) once it exists?

    Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on this. Trying to straddle radically different generations of technology is a confusing business!

    1. You do an arc that is not for sale through any of the channels on CreateSpace. You don’t off-set it. You need to have the formal publication date, and you need to do a launch for this. Remember, I’m talking about using the old ways to promote your work. So you do all of the old things–and you have to wait. Use CreateSpace for most things. The more I look into LightningSource, the more I worry about some of its policies. All of this is my opinion, of course. (ARCs are generally trade papers.)

      1. So does this mean that if we’ve already got the ebook and the CreateSpace trade paperback up for sale on Amazon, we’re sunk as far as getting reviewed goes? If the ARC has to be something that isn’t for sale, what exactly should it be?

        And just out of curiosity, what are the Lightning Source policies that worried you? Was it the one about shooting a puppy if we don’t use their InDesign template for the dust-jacket?

        1. You’re sunk when it comes to traditional review sites like the ones I listed above. Bloggers will still look at books and so will some of the genre-oriented small magazines.

          I don’t understand your question about what an ARC should be. It’s something designed for promotion only. Does that answer you?

          Could you read the Lightning Source TOS? Because I have a lot of experience reading legal documents, and it makes no sense to me. I never agree to anything I don’t understand. I’m getting close to using them for some projects, and I’m hiring help to understand the TOS before I do anything with them.

  19. Wouldn’t just having one name/author under a publishing company make the company look much less legitimate even if the author was very prolific?

    If you just planned to publish your own work would you recommend using different pen names to make your company look bigger than it really is?

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