Small Publishers SHOULD Think Small

I've decided to separate my blogging about publishing into two streams, an Amazon related stream and a business/market stream. I'm keeping the business and marketing side of publishing here, and I'll continue obsessing about Amazon on my Rank Economy blog.

I've been having a lengthy correspondence recently with a new publisher whom I think got a little carried away with the big picture before selling his first book. That's alright, I did the same thing. In fact, I was so focused on how the big trades did things when I started out self publishing that I wasted the original subtitle of my first book on a branding effort. I was going to achieve fame and fortune through branding my blunt style of books as "The Unembellished Guide." I even had the perfect book cover design, I thought, a scan of a brown paper bag. Sales for that book picked up appreciably when I got rid of the branding subtitle and replaced it with something more descriptive.

Many a splendid public speaker has earned millions telling people that they need to think big. It's a positive message, easy to sell, just call anybody who doesn't agree a naysayer or afraid of success. The problem with thinking big is that by definition, it can only succeed for a very small proportion of businesses. There's only so much room for so many big success stories. In my humble experience, the only reason public speakers hit the road to talk about how they got rich by thinking big is that they found their original idea was a one trick pony, a show that could never be repeated, so the only asset they have left is the sales pitch.

If you take a careful look at the book market and put the Dummies and Idiots of the world out of your mind, you'll find that the most powerful branding in publishing is the author. Oddly enough, this is true for fiction as well as nonfiction, and there aren't that many general principles that cut both ways in publishing. Sure, there are Chilton's auto repair books and other branded series, but they have the brand as a result of publishing all of those books and getting them into auto parts stores, not the other way around.

If I could have a rule attributed to my name in the publishing business, it would be - "First, lose no money." Losing money publishing books is stupid if you're in business. There's no glory in giving it your best shot and failing if your best shot is throwing a lot of money at consultants and contractors to do work for you, and giving up when your spouse threatens divorce. If you start your publishing company on a shoestring and you don't blow cash on over-designing your "masterpiece" or buying advertising in the place of working at marketing you won't lose money. You may not get rich, but you can't lose what you don't spend. The successful small publishers I know, who are many, are all somewhat surprised by their success, myself included. That's because we all thought small, spent small, and with every incremental sale and title saw our bank accounts and tax burden grow.

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