This was first published in 2008, when indie publishing was unheard of as a legitimate career, and the royalty-paying e-publishers were flourishing. The questions this article asks, though, are still relevant. Substitute “indie author” for “e-author”, and most of these roles still apply. – t.
Success in e-publishing isn’t simply a matter of writing a dazzling novel and selling it.
For many print authors, writing and selling is all they need, and if they have a great agent, they can devote themselves to writing. Bigger traditional publishers have an army of experts to call on. Even the smaller publishers reserve budget dollars for packaging and promoting your book.
This is very rarely the case for e-publishers. Success, however you define it, requires that you be that army of experts:
First you have to find the e-publishers, winnow out the ones that don’t match you as a writer and submit your work. Your market research will involve contract comparison, and when you sell, you’ll have a little bit of room to negotiate, so you’d better know what to bargain for, and how!
Then, if you’re truly a modern e-author, you’ll spend time marketing all your other rights — print, audio, big print, film. There are over one hundred possible subsidiary rights, and marketing them could keep you busy a while….
You’ll need your manager’s hat for making such career decisions as: E-publishing only, or do you venture into print-on-demand? And print? And which one first? All with one publisher? Or do you want to spread your income sources around?
You’ll also need to know something about small business management in your country, because you’ll soon reach a point where you need to set up a company to process your income and expenses.
When you’re inspecting your contract, it will pay you to know what some of the more exotic clauses mean (do you truly understand the full implications of the moral rights clause, for instance?).
You might one day also need your lawyer’s hat for <gulp> conciliation and arbitration of contract disputes.
Lots of e-publishers prefer that you write the back cover blurb for your book. And you won’t have a book packager to help you with your bio. You’ll often be consulted on the cover art — and asked to make suggestions. Less often, but not unheard of, you may be brought into discussions on pricing, discount deals, and more.
Not all e-publishers line-edit their books, and some may not edit, either. You need to fill in the gaps. Too, with submissions increasing incrementally, publishers will become highly selective. If your book is already well edited, they will be more inclined to buy it.
Then there’s galleys (page proofs). You may be fortunate enough to check printed galleys, but you might be asked to line-edit on screen — and this is truly an acquired skill.
How are you going to promote yourself? The publicist looks at the overall picture. What’s your public image like? Do you need to work on presentation skills, public speaking? You’ll need to constantly monitor your own performance.
What sort of publicity campaign are you going to design? What sort of promotion is the most effective?
You’ll also have to learn how to build and manage your own network of useful contacts. Your media contacts will come in handy here.
A critical but often overlooked communication skill: Writing the killer press release. It’s a subtle art.
You’ll also need to reply to fan letters, email, requests for signed nude pictures (no, I’m not kidding!).
There’s a whole realm of supporting documentation you’ll need to learn how to write effectively, including grant applications, bios, resumes, back cover blurbs, website content, non-fiction articles, and on-line interviews.
It’s hard to do any serious promotion without a website. You’ll have to build the site, manage the contents, keep abreast of trends in websites and coding, and keep track of stats. If your site becomes popular you’ll have to consider finding a host server to house your site under your own domain name. Dealing with the behemoth Internic is another acquired skill.
Marketing is more than promotion and PR. It’s also advertising, publicity gimmicks, and more. A guru would know what works for your book. He’d keep up with trends in e-publishing promotion, and select the best of them for your book, rather than trying everything just to see if it works.
This is the donkey work of promotion and publicity — search engine submissions, book review submissions, approaching other sites for link exchanges, all the bread-and-butter tasks that form the backbone of your continuing promotion efforts. Someone’s got to do it.
Some judicious paid advertising is not only inevitable, but unavoidable. For instance, many magazines and websites insist on a paid advertisement in exchange for reviewing your book. On the upside, you may have to manage paid advertising on your site — when your traffic climbs you’ll become a good location for appropriate advertisers to whom you must find and sell exposure.
Tax records, taxes, tax relief and shelters, royalty statements, advances, expenses, acquired assets, copyright registration, small business administration, business bank accounts, foreign rights revenue, interest, inventory control (yes, the five disks of your book you buy from your publisher is legitimate inventory). By law you have to keep all this stuff recorded and correct.
To successfully promote your book you must a) teach the public about e-books, b) convert them to your side. It requires the zeal of a missionary to win them over if they’ve never heard of e-books before. You’ll learn patience.
E-publishing is still clawing its way to legitimate commercial status. In the meantime you’ll have to make like Henry Kissinger, because people can often be rudely ignorant about the industry. (“They’re all rejects from the slush pule, anyway!” … “We don’t support/review/deal with those e-book things.”) You have to give them reasons to reconsider, and it takes enormous tact.
Independantly wealthy heir to the throne
Not an essential role, but it certainly helps! You’ll have to face — alone — the costs for: nick-nacks, do-dads, giveaways & other freebies, conferences, workshops, advertising, freebie promotional copies of your book, review copies, and often printed ARC copies. You’ll also want to consider printed postcards and (maybe) signed photographs (which will need a professional photo shoot). You’ll definitely have to pay for postage for mail-outs & letter campaigns.
And the good news is…?
Frightened, yet? You should be. That’s an enormous, overwhelming list of essential roles you’ll have to fill if you venture into e-publishing. Even as a print author, your career will be better served if you can monitor the paid expert’s work and perhaps supplement it.
There is good news, though: The longer marketing period (often a year or more) for e-books means you can start from where you are and build from there. It’s a steep learning curve, but well worth the investment in time and effort.
Aim to learn a little about all these roles — that makes it a manageable proposition. Remember that there are successful e-authors out there. If one person can do it, so can one more person. Why not you?
Having to do it all is at once a blessing and a curse — The blessing is the enormous amount of freedom and control over your own destiny as an e-author. You can make yourself into whatever you want to be.
Isn’t that great?