New York Publishers and Doing Lunch

I received a number of invitations this year to do exactly the sorts of things I don’t like doing, public speaking, traveling, eating with strangers, the very things I feel an author shouldn’t have to do to get by. Fortunately, I’m earning a decent living self-publishing, so I was able to turn them all down. Thinking back on the year, I got some unexpected publicity through a brief collaboration on Amazon Longtail Analysis, through a DRM problem on one of my e-books, and through this blog. However, the most interesting proposal I got this year was to have dinner in New York with the Vice President of Sales for one of the top five trade publishers in the world.

I turned the proposal down without even thinking about it thanks to two of reasons I listed above: travel and eating. The funny thing that occurred to me this morning as I was thinking about restarting the blog is that I’d made the right decision for the wrong reasons. I came to this conclusion when I started trying to think of how the meeting could have benefited my publishing business and kept on drawing blanks. I suppose "doing lunch" (even when it’s dinner) in NYC with a publisher might have made a nice anecdote if I ever write another book about publishing. But, having already been published as an author by a top trade, I can truthfully say that there’s nothing I want from them at the moment.

Then the flash bulb went off! Is it possible that they wanted something from me? A big New York publisher with over a billion dollars in sales wanting to chat with a self-publisher who has yet to break $100K? Since I’m single and the VP in question is a woman, I suppose it might have been some elaborate setup for a blind date by friends or family with my best interests at heart, but I kind of doubt it. I think she was interested in picking my brain a little about Internet book marketing, which has become a sort of a public crusade with me. Having spoken to several editors at this publisher’s over the years, it was clear that they took the institutional view that Internet book marketing doesn’t work. A paraphrase from an acquisitions editor I spoke to back in the mid 90’s was "We tried that and it didn’t work."

I finally got to wondering what exactly they tried. Did they pick some title they’d been unable to give away on paper, much less sell, put the whole thing online, and then nod their heads sagely when nobody bought it? Did they take press-ready PDF’s (complete with crop marks) and bury them in some hidden corner of their website, accessed only by a small text link from a "New technology" page? Did they spend a lot of money and time setting up a whole website with access by registration only, and no way of knowing what the site contained until you signed up? I’m willing to bet that whatever traffic they got they tried to sell the book(s) at full retail plus shipping and handling, with some clunky form-driven process required to process the order that frequently made the browser lock-up.

Maybe it was some combination of all of the above, but the one thing that’s become clear to me, listening to big New York publishers talk about Internet marketing, is that they are all convinced that it’s some complicated new game. They’re all wrong. There’s nothing simpler than marketing non-fiction books on the web. All it requires is patience, large excerpts and a quality book. Patience is required because it takes time for web pages to earn traffic from the search engines based on how they are linked by other sites. Large excerpts are required, in standard HTML (i.e., web page format) because nobody is going to link to an advertisement. Finally, a quality book is required because the people who read the large excerpts aren’t going to be motivated to tell other people about it through linking if they don’t think that it’s good.

That may sound like a tall order to a NYC publisher, but it’s as close to child’s play as it gets for a self publisher. You don’t even need to master a basic HTML editor to post the excerpts, you can do it with a free blogging tool, like the one I used from to publish this. The one thing I left out above because it doesn’t apply to large publishers who already have established websites is that you need to get a couple initial links so that search engines can start finding your site. You can get them by posting informative comments to the types of discussion groups or blogs that welcome the practice, you can spend a few dollars on a PRweb or a similar service, you can submit to directories (though I wouldn’t waste too much time), or you can beg friends and co-workers. The most important thing you can do, and the advantage you have over the large publishers, is to start the web marketing process before you finish writing the book.

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