medill

The “Fiction” About Book Publishing

This week I’ll have the privilege of speaking at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. I always consider it an honor when I am asked to share what I’ve learned with students. The course is called, “The Art and Craft of Writing Nonfiction Books.” My topic is “Blogging Your Way to the Bestseller List.”
My hope is that the students will teach me more than I can teach them. Why? Because the publishing model has changed dramatically in just the last five years. Social media and online communications such as blogs, Internet-only publications, Facebook and Twitter have burned away so much of the “paper-only” system of publishing. The students I’ll meet will have known about the effectiveness of on-line communications the entire time they have been working on their laptops. My hope is to share the essential skills of book marketing and public relations that transcends a medium’s technology.

Publishing used to be controlled, by…publishers. A group of companies that sometimes were refereed to as “printers with distribution.” They had the inside track with places like Borders and Barnes & Noble. Then they had the fastest connection to places like amazon.com. However, it was amazon.com that ultimately made way for new preferred way to published books through self-publishing, and now elentronically with amazon.com’s kindle 2.

All information, including traditional novels are available in a virtual space without the limitation of how many books will fit on a store’s shelf. Just as respected blogs have become citizen journalists that sometimes have more value that places like the New York Times, self-published books are finding audiences that value them.

Time Magazine recently featured an article titled, Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature. It talks about how self-publishing is a “respectable” business. I remember when I first starting handling public relations for books, if someone asked me to promote their self-published title, I would often say “no” even before they asked. That’s because of two reasons:

1. Those book were often was not properly edited

2. The writers were often full of themselves and used their own money in order to say to friends and family, “I am important and an author of a book.” (Little did the friends and family know that the authors’ garages were full of books nobody would buy.)

However, two things changed to overcome my and the world’s dislike for self-published books:

1. Blogs and social networks help authors develop their books and get enough feedback to make them worth publishing.

2. For less that $1,000, authors can get their books published with a print-on-demand publisher and not invest several thousand dollars to print hundreds of books that were not first tested in the marketplace.

I think the Time Magazine article mentioned earlier captures these ideas when it says:

Self-publishing has gone from being the last resort of the desperate and talentless to something more like out-of-town tryouts for theater or the farm system in baseball. It’s he last ripple of the Web 2.0 vibe finally washing up on publishing’s remote shores. After YouTube and Wikipedia, the idea of user-generated content just isn’t that freaky anymore.”

What’s the PR laugh? The laugh is on first-time authors who still want to go the old route of getting published. These writers are going to spend so much time, money and effort trying to use a system that seldom promotes new authors, but rather puts their money on proven writers.

The new authors who will laugh last are the ones who embrace the power of marketing and public relations that comes from social networking, blogging, and building readerships with readers that you can build on with for many books to come.