Help from Publishing Experts Online

There are probably a thousand online discussion groups dedicated to self publishers around the world, and I must have come across a dozen unaffiliated groups with hundreds of members. By "unaffiliated" I mean groups that you can join online, without being a member of a traditional, dues paying organization with a magazine and an alleged bargain on health insurance. I started one such list myself a few years back for print on demand publishers which is currently around 500 members. There are also some broader lists that include small trades, but I've never seen a post from a publisher whose name I recognized on any of the general purpose lists.

If you join a half dozen lists, you'll quickly cotton to the fact that the same experts appear on multiple lists offering their help with publishing questions ranging from book design to marketing and legal issues. Their e-mail signature contains the equivalent of a business card, letting you how to contact them to retain their professional services. I don't have any objection to professionals plying their trade on discussion lists, as long as they give real help and not an endless series of teasers. Well, actually I do have one other objection, though it shouldn't really be required in a caveat emptor environment. If you ask a simple question and you get an answer that implies you NEED expert help, take it with a shaker of salt.

I've made up a little checklist to help you quickly determine when publishing advice you are getting is suspect.

1) Any advice that tells you the tools (software) you are using will mark you as an amateur. It's like saying the best musician in the room is the one with the most expensive instrument.

2) Help that doesn't include a personal experience. Some people hate anecdotes, but if somebody tells you the XYZ mailing list is the way to go without telling you exactly how many books it sold for them, they don't know any more about it than you do.

3) "I've got twenty years (or more) of experience so I'm right." The business world in general and the publishing world in particular is full of dinosaurs. Ten years ago Amazon didn't exist, now they sell as many books as the big chains, which in turn, drove the independent bookstores under the ground. Don't be impressed by a ten page resume, find out what they've done lately. With that big head start, it better be pretty impressive.

4) If somebody is offering you help self publishing, do their own books sell? Don't just ask them, check Amazon and Ingram. The discussion lists are cluttered with experts who make their living selling publishing help as opposed to selling books.

My bottom line advice is that even free help can cost you if it sends you off in the wrong direction, so trust your gut and don't change what you're doing unless the logic strikes you as sound. If you become convinced that you need professional help, get recent references from the expert and follow up! Call the publishers they've worked with and don't be shy about asking what it cost them. If it was a design job, buy the books and make sure you like the way they came out. If the job was book promotion, check out their sales and make sure you find out exactly what the expert did for them, because it may not be applicable to your title. Don't forget the old saw that applies to marketers as well as carpenters - "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

No comments: