Thursday, July 14, 2016

Is the Traditional Book Publishing Route a 1-Way Street?

by Carl Weiss

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When it comes to writing books, authors will spend untold amounts of time and money polishing their prose.  When it comes to marketing their books however, many authors still harbor the notion that a literary agent is going to provide them with the ticket to fame and fortune.  But when you factor in the reality that there are a limited number of literary agents in the US and that in 2015 there were more than 300,000 books published in this country, then the odds of your landing representation is like hitting the lottery.

These Agents Have a License to Thrill

With an average of 5,000 query letters per agent per year, agents can choose to be picky.  Many are like doctors in that they specialize in specific genres.  Some are so swamped that they refuse to take on new clients. Others only accept author submissions that have been referred by other agents or well-established authors.  With that kind of literary firewall, is it any wonder that many fledgling authors throw in the towel after receiving nothing back from agents except rejection letters? Before you decide to deep six your writing career, let me clue you into a little secret: You don't need an agent to get published.

You heard me right.  There are a number of bestselling authors who decided to pursue a different route to publishing success after being rejected by traditional agents and publishers.  Some even went onto sell more than a million books.  While their marketing techniques are varied, all of them haved several things in common.

  1. They all paid to have their books professionally edited.  Nothing kills a book's chances of being sold faster than grammatical errors, typos and poor sentence structure.  If you want to make it to the big leagues you can't start off with amateur hour prose.  (Killer cover art doesn't hurt either.)
  2. They didn't have a Field of Dreams outlook.  This isn't a "build it and they will come" kind of world.  If you really want to make it as a self-published author, you need to be willing to either roll up your sleeves and start rolling out press releases, guest blogs, and social posts galore, or you need to hire somebody to do it for you.  When you realize the average number of books sold per author on amazon is around 250, expect to spend both time and money promoting every book you write.  (John Locke, the first self-published author to crack the million book sales figure on Amazon spent more than $25,000 before his eBooks achieved success.)
  3. They didn't overprice their books.  The real secret to publishing success is to build a loyal following that will buy every book you write.  To get started, you don't want to price your first book out of most people's reach.  If you think your novel is going to sell like hotcakes for $14.95, think again.  There are thousands of books out there for sale for a dollar or less.  John Locke's first 5 eBooks sold for 99 cents apiece.  But he sold more than a million copies in 5 short months.  Now his eBooks retail for $2.95, but he has a huge fan base and emailing list to back up his publishing efforts.
  4. They didn't make excuses. Barbara Freethy, the Kindle bestselling author of all time (4.5 million books sold) wasn't afraid to roll up her sleeves and work hard to build her audience. She began her writing career while working full-time and raising two children.  She also took the time to establish a substantial social media following.  
  5. They recognized that this was a marathon, not a sprint.  Once you initially release your book, you need to have a plan that not only has a chance of getting you to the top of the charts, you need to sustain the effort over the long haul.  That means continuing to generate reviews and interviews even after the bloom is off the rose.  Network, network, network.
  6. They all had a thick skin.  Bear in mind that not everyone who reads your book is going to sing your praises.  A quote from John Locke's book, "How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months" sums it up nicely, "I sent my Saving Rachel manuscript to a writer and an editor to get their take on it.  The author told me it might be the worst book ever written.  The editor said it would never sell.  I published it anyway.  In September, Saving Rachel sold 16 copies.  Since then it has sold more than 300,000,  It was highlighted in the Wall Street Journal and it made to the New York Times Best Seller list."
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More importantly, John Locke and many other authors have a written marketing plan that they use to make sure their books don't get lost in the shuffle.  They also make sure that they offer incentives to their readers so that they will stay top of mind when it comes to buying subsequent books.  This means doing things like blogging and emailing newsletters to readers you register.  Nothing like building reader loyalty to help the bottom line.  You need to treat your books like a business if you hope to derive an income from it.  Those that do have a much higher probability of success.  

Speaking of success, in How I sold 1 Million eBooks, Mr. Locke also intimates how he was approached by a literary agent after his story had made the press.  John went onto explain that he turned them down since he didn't need to cut anybody in on his publishing endeavor, since it turned a nice profit.  He also didn't want to give up creative freedom.  In short, he didn't need a leg up in order to be a publishing success.  He was already there.

So my advice to those of you still trying to find your way down the long and winding road of publishing success is to point out that the worst way to drive is to head the wrong way down a 1-way street.

Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, an online marketing agency in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also publisher and host of GoodBooks.Online, an online portal and radio show for authors.  


  1. Great list, including reasons to hire help, expect to put in huge amounts of time, or probably fail. Writing a book is one thing, but selling it is a business - you either need to spend extraordinary amounts of time doing it all yourself (and you are probably not good enough at "it all"), or you need to pay others to do it for you. Either way, it is very tough - but success usually is!

  2. Great read! I want to write a book and this had some awesome information in it that I had not thought of, thanks for sharing....

  3. No matter how good an idea for a book is, it's not likely to catch on without an effective marketing plan.

  4. Every Author needs to read this article. It would be even better if they read it before they tried to publish their first book.