If you're starting absolutely from scratch, no experience marketing, no platform to market from, no experience in book production, it's not going to be that useful to look at sales from a successful self publisher and assume you can get there your first year or two. I self published my first book in the mid-90's, and it went so badly I sold out to the trades. However, I never stopped working on my old website and started this site around six years ago for another self published book that was also a commercial failure. When I got finally going with the new approach to self publishing in 2002, I had the experience of a couple failures under my belt, plus two healthy websites. Every book I've published started life on the web, and with the last three books, I didn't make the decision to publish until I was literally getting e-mails asking when the book would be available.
Timetables are problematic for all publishers, but self publishers in particular. If you set goals and you don't achieve them, are you going to walk away? Don't laugh, I know publishers who have done just that, but I also know publishers who didn't see any significant sales for their new title until six months or longer after it was released. If you write a good book that doesn't go out of date overnight, there's plenty of time for word-of-mouth and the wisdom of crowds to begin lifting your sales. The work you have to do at the start to sell one book may translate into ten books sold just a year or two later. And that's why I recommend that you take your time and learn how to market your books.
If you try to take a shortcut, you may end up with expensive and meaningless sales. Aggressive promotion can sell some people anything, but if you're paying a marketing expert to force your book about fine woodwork down the throats of pensioners who can't hold a chisel, how likely do you really think it is they'll be recommending that book to their friends? Sales to people who don't really want your book and won't read and enjoy it can be bought and paid for, but you'd be better off spending the money giving away free copies to people who might really enjoy it.
As to setting a timetable for success, I'm on the record saying that self publishing as an act of financial desperation is a bad idea. It's a tough business, it takes most self publishers years to figure it out, and some never do. The only thing you can count on is that some of your assumptions will be wrong and others will be based on facts that change long before your business timeline runs its course. Planning is important, but preparation is more important, and the best preparation for self publishers is building a platform: a reputation, a recognized expertise that will help you sell books.
The main problem with this is that I can't make changes to my template. If I make a change that causes Blogger to reproduce all of the blog posts from it's own image of the universe, all of the old posts will recover all of their old errors. This is particularly irksome if you're publishing a book of blog excerpts and would like to include a mention of it on the blog!
On the bright side, I had my editor and proofreader go through all of the blog before I started cutting the thing down to book size. This means I have a Word file with an even cleaner version of the 170 odd posts. My goal, over the next few weeks, is to start updated all of the archived posts that Blogger has saved with the best versions, check all of the links, and then republish the blog in one fell swoop. My main worry at this point is over file naming conventions, since I messed up early n and originally published posts with ".htm" rather than ".html" extensions.
I figure it's one of those things that are worth doing so I can really experiment with the Blogger template, see if I can get something I like better than the current layout. I've noticed it doesn't adapt that well to screen size differences, and the code Blogger publishes isn't real pretty.
For starters, I wanted to get the word count down to a manageable number so that the final book, complete with TOC and Index would come out under 300 pages. To that end, I already cut 26 of 164 blog posts, and I'm still at 94,000 words. I don't want to go to a bigger page size or a smaller font, but I'm not crazy about continuing to cut at random. What I just did was to print a numbered list of all the remaining posts, and I'm going to double check that those with similar titles aren't too repetitive. If that doesn't get the word count down under 80,000, I'll have to consider less reader-friendly design.
While I was fooling around in Word layout just trying to estimate the page count by formatting the standard page with the same margins and fonts I used in my last book, I got that horrible "forgot about that" feeling in my fingers. Just changing from ragged right to full justification forces the book designer to go through every page making sure that bulleted points and lists aren't stretched across the page. Then there's the whole learning curve for Office 2007, which doesn't look a bit like my old favorite, Office 97. After the basic text is wrestled into the final style and format, I'll have to decide whether to put the blog titles in the header. Under the old system, that would require well over 100 section breaks, which I'm not going to do, so maybe I'll go with the "Title - Subtitle" on facing pages.
I can't get over how bad my memory is! For some reason, I was thinking that it might be fun to knock out a book and get it printed for readers who want to save an inkjet cartridge. Now I'm too far into the process to quit, but I'll have to add it to the list of considerations of whether or not to publish a blog as a book. Publishing a blog as a book because the text is already written is about as dumb as going into the publishing business because you've written a book you can't get published. It's just too much work.
Whether you call Ingram a book wholesaler or a book distributor often depends on whether you are a publisher or a bookstore, but nobody (that I'm aware of) calls them a full service distributor. Note that Ingram does offer many of the same services as a full service book distributor, but for additional fees. On the other hand, Ingram generally expects a 55% discount from publishers (they pay the publisher 45% of the cover price) while full service book distributors typically expect a discount in the 65% to 75% range (they pay the publisher from 25% to 35% of the cover price). Note that shipping costs make a big difference in the math, and some distributors pay for shipping.
Full service book distributors usually demand an exclusive relationship. There are some logical reasons for this relating to returns and to ordering confusion, but the one reason I don't accept is that they are investing heavily in the publishers titles. Spending some money listing your titles in their catalog and getting them into stores is their business, it's what you're giving them the big discount for, so they aren't doing you a favor. If you are looking to get your books into a specific market, like specialty retailers rather than bookstores, you should look for a boutique wholesaler in that area, rather than a full service book distributor. For example, a specialty wholesaler who works with pet stores will do a better job getting your titles on their shelves, won't ask for an exclusive relationship with the book trade, and may even pay a better price for your books.
I think that the main confusion that comes in with full service book distributors is over marketing. Many self-publishers believe that they have done everything right, except marketing, and figure that a distributor can do that for them. Unfortunately, that's not the distributors job. A book distributor has a sales force to get your titles into bookstores, not to market them to consumers. Getting your books on bookstore shelves or chain warehouses beats having them sitting in the garage, but without marketing, they are probably going to end up right back in the garage, somewhat worse for the wear. Some distributors, through their catalogs, may have success selling your books in very specific markets, such as academia, where librarians and professors may look at their catalog and order books based on their descriptions. If your titles have academic potential and the full service distributor you are considering at has a strong academic catalog, it may be good match.
The reason Lighting Source's POD distribution deal works so well for me is I never targeted bookstore shelves. My marketing steers customers to Amazon or to special ordering through their local bookstore, and it allows me to offer low cover prices, set a short discount for distribution, and earn a good living. If I move from POD back to offset printing in the future, I'll have to redesign my books for bookstore shelves, re-price them to absorb the distribution discount and returns risk. The decision I would have to make at that point would be whether to go direct with Barnes&Noble, Borders, Amazon, et al at that point, or sign with a full service book distributor to offload all of the warehousing and billing work. Whether a distributor would get my books onto the shelves at the chains any better than I could remains a question mark, but it certainly makes no difference at online bookstores.
The first chance to get the catalog description for your book correct is when you enter the ISBN information on the Bowkerlink site. It really does pay to get the Bowkerlink info correct the first time because the software is balky and doesn't allow some fields to be changed without manual intervention from a Bowker employee. On top of that, some retailers and distributors regularly update their catalog info from Bowker, so if you get one of these downstream catalogs to fix a mistake, it may go back to being wrong the next time they do an update. The best way to get it right the first time is to type all of the information in a wordprocessor, spell check it, have a friend read it, and then cut and paste the info into Bowkerlink fields.
Amazon is the most important online retailer and perhaps the most important book catalog in the world. Amazon allows the publisher to send them changes and corrections directly, but again, those corrections may revert to the initial errors if Amazon updates their catalog from an upstream source, like Bowkerlink or Ingram. I corrected an error on Amazon a couple of times for one of my titles, only to have it reappear, I believe from the Bowkerlink listing where I never got around to making them correct it. Amazon does not automatically pick up the Publisher Marketing blurb from Ingram. The book description Amazon does show is sometimes called an annotation on Ingram. The annoying thing about the Amazon catalog is they often double list the book description, calling the second copy a download description, if the title was ever available as an ebook.
I've been thing about the book description for the non-book I'll be publishing, a printed collection from this blog. I think I'll start it off "Don't buy this book unless you're a reader of the self publishing blog at www.fonerbooks.com/cornered.htm and want to catch up on old posts without burning through an inkjet cartridge." Heck, I may even leave it at that since it pretty much says it all. Or, maybe I'll throw in something about the limited printing being made possible by print-on-demand, and readers interested in that subject should buy my Print-on-Demand Book Publishing title instead. Would it be derivative to work "Don't Buy This Book" into the cover design?
I used to be happy to pick up the phone and call anybody who wanted to talk about publishing (cheap phone service) but I've found it's easier to filter out loons through e-mail. Speaking of loons, it drives me nuts to get involved in helping a would-be publisher who's looking for emotional support. That's not my bag, I'm not going to give you the answer you want to hear if you ask the question enough different ways, I'm just going to give up on you.
The interesting part of accepting questions from aspiring publishers is seeing just how many of them are related to paid marketing. It's well over half, it may be as high as three quarters. Most authors rush through the initial phases of self publishing, skipping all research, writing a book and getting it printed. Then, when a month goes by and the book doesn't sell, the authors who don't sink into depression start looking for help.
The authors who write me about advice for paid publicity and canned marketing campaigns must think I'm pretty grumpy. An innocent question about benifit of adding options A, B and C to marketing plan Z will usually draw a response like, "Never mind about putting mayonnaise on it, you shouldn't be buying plan Z to start with." Too many authors make the assumption that a nicely packaged promotion campaign may be a little overpriced, but they're willing to take their lumps while they learn the ropes. There aren't any ropes to learn, they're primarily designed to separate you from your money.
Book marketing is hard work and the main job of the self publisher. Sure, it gets easier as you go along and build an infrastructure and a network of contacts, but it's never something you can throw money at and expect a positive return. A friend of mine recently joked he was going to set up a publicity agency where he'll charge authors $1000 to promote their book and give them back $500. He thought his plan would give them the best deal their marketing buck available. My own take was if he would keep the whole $1000, but spend $500 buying the book through various retail outlets, authors would beat a path to his door.
Don't get taken in by get sales quick schemes.
The book starts out by describing the current book publicity landscape and how the Internet has changed the nature of word-of-mouth. Weber rightly points out that modern book promotion is more author centric than ever, with many publishers functioning as little more than printers and intellectual rights holders. Success and failure online is more dependent on the wisdom of crowds than the proclamations of self appointed gurus and critics. The online publishing environment could be described as a level playing field, but one on a mesa, a broad, flat mountain top. You have to do some climbing to get to the playing field, but once you reach it, you can compete on fairly equal terms with the biggest NYC publishers.
Just as the Amazon is at the heart of the rain forest ecosystem in South America, Amazon.com is the center of the online publishing ecosystem. In addition to functioning as a retail store, Amazon created a social network where readers and buyers influence the way Amazon displays the merchandise. Some of collaborative filters used by Amazon are strictly dependent on sales, others are open to input from readers and publishers. Weber discusses some of the approaches that work, and some that are questionable in terms both of ethics and efficacy. As an expert on running a home-based bookstore, he also offers insights into the retail side of selling books online.
Social networking is the new face of the Internet, with sites like MySpace and FaceBook regularly making the news for events both good and for bad. I'm not a social networker myself, beyond the extent to which my own website is part of a social network of publishers, but I'd have to be blind not to see that social networking may one day compete with Google in terms of routing traffic around the Internet. While there are plenty of titles out that discuss MySpace and other social networking sites from the standpoint of usability or safety, Weber's book focuses on the features most applicable to book publicity.
Book reviews are another topic recontexted in the new social networking landscape with amateur book reviews taking center stage. Book reviews are a sensitive subject for many authors who read them through the eyes of a child looking at a report card. A lack of reviews is seen by some authors as a greater insult than bad reviews, while the slightest criticism has other authors climbing a tower with a rifle. The online publishing community has yet to develop an ethical code of conduct for reviews, and some of the methods discussed may someday be seen as grey hat at best, but it's all important information for today's author to be aware of.
Another important social networking tool in the author's kit is blogging. Blogging is an effective way for authors to quickly get online and build a following without any technical prowess required. It's important to differentiate between the blogging approach advocated in the book which is blogging and the true sense of the word, and using a blog as a content management system, as I do here. Strategies for fitting into the blogosphere are examined, along with approaches for getting started and common pitfalls to avoid. Developments in the blogosphere are discussed, including tagging and blog tours, along with the pros and cons of RSS feeds and syndication.
Of course, search remains the killer application of the hypertext web, and successful search algorithms all employ community based filtering at some level or another. While most authors will never become experts at search engine optimization, it's not really necessary, and they would be well served to steer clear of quick-fix experts who may actually hurt their site with black hat optimization techniques. While the book doesn't tackle SEO in any great depth, I'm convinced writers are better off focusing their efforts on human readers than trying to please computer algorithms.
The book winds up with a survey of the newest developments in web based publishing, including the recent ebook efforts of Amazon and Google. The final topic addressed is the ethics of online marketing. Unfortunately, the Golden Rule doesn't prevail on the Internet, and all authors who pay attention to the online marketplace will sooner or later be confronted by competition using questionable, if not outright dishonest methods. The hardest decision you may have to make in your online publicity efforts is when you complain about black hat methods to peers who tell you "Get onboard, everybody is doing it." Consult your conscious. A successful book a good reason to celebrate, but a poor reason to end up in Hell.
When I was a teenager, you had to know somebody to get a job at a supermarket. The job market was tight, now they have hiring booths by the entrance in supermarkets and they practically beg retired people to come in and work a few days a week. For some reason, I have fond memories of the old system, even though I never knew anybody with enough pull to get me a supermarket job. Maybe that's why I've spent so much time trying to put people together with jobs, or maybe I'm just a busy body. In either case, the only "industry" where nepotism really bothers me is in government. State government in particular. Massachusetts to be specific:-)
Getting back to the publishing industry, the latest thing (going back more than 20 years) in knowing somebody or outright nepotism is agents. As the major trades have consolidated and eliminated readers, agents are responsible for an ever growing percentage of the unsolicited manuscripts that are given real consideration by trades. This is especially true in fiction, where the writer's professional qualifications can't be used as a first screening for the slush pile. Many fiction publishers rely on agents to function as an outsourced acquisitions department, and some of those agents have been very successful in obtaining six figure trade contacts, for their spouses!
Like all other form of nepotism, outside of the government monopoly, there are natural limits. If an agent continually promotes inferior manuscripts from family or friends over better manuscripts that are in circulation, the agent will slowly lose currency with acquisitions editors, unless they too are related. So, while it certainly helps to have a low friend in a high place, the system hasn't approached the point where outsiders are simply locked out.
I might also point out that there's not really that much difference between "knowing somebody" and being "in the know." Being in the know means that you don't waste time approaching agents who don't work in your genre, that you package and pitch your manuscript properly for the publishers and agents you approach, that you don't spend your time trying to explain to everybody why they're wrong about your book. It's like the old supermarket job I never broke into, you have to play their game. If you didn't show up in a suit and tie to apply for a job as a bagger, you didn't stand much of a chance back then. Playing the part of a professional writer is just as important in the publishing business today as it was in the bagging business twenty-five years ago.
It looks like I may reverse myself on publishing my blog as a book. I wouldn't publish the whole thing, I repeat myself too much, but I copied all the posts into Word yesterday and it came out to over 100,000 words. If a sculptor can look at a block of stone and find the lawn ornament within, I ought to be able to find a book inside a 150+ post blog. I'll print up the posts, start sorting them into piles (ie, chapters) and see what I get.
I don't see publishing my blog as a business model for anything. The only motivation anybody would have to buy an edited down version of a blog that can be read online for free is to get it on paper. Since it's not a big production job and I'm not going to put a value on time that I would have spent anyway, I'll price it below $10 and it will be cheaper than an inkjet cartridge. How's this for a title:
The Self Publishing Blog Printed - Compiled Posts from http://www.fonerbooks.com/cornered.htm
That's my idea of truth in advertising. Another motivation for publishing the blog would be to that 90's concept of closure, or as a friend of mine is fond of saying, "Put a fork in it, it's done." It's taking me longer and longer to write these short posts as I try to say something on the subject of self publishing without merely reporting current events or doing free PR for authors. I enjoy the conversational style of writing, but after three months of posting most weekdays, I'm just winding down again and ready for another break.
What I'm thinking of doing this time is putting a "Best Of" collection of posts on the main page of the blog, rather than going with the last three posts I happen to write. I'd just jam them into the template with Wordpad rather than using the Blogger software, and take a few months off. The more I write about it, the better it sounds! The only question is what I'll do to fill the time. I could catch up with my Amazon blog, but frankly, I could use a break from publishing altogether. That's the best part of a dream job, I can take time off anytime I want.
Maybe I'll go on to form a Bloggers Anonymous chapter.
159 - Procrastination In Book Production
Procrastination - Sung to the tune of Carly Simon's "Anticipation"
Well, we all know that a book can't write itself
But we all hope it does just that anyway, yay
When it's written, the real job's just getting started
And the marketing campaign is underway.
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' my book waitin' …
The corrections are sitting in my inbox,
And the new Beta Office is installed,
But I wasted the whole day on idle emails,
And took a welcome break when my lawyer called.
Is makin' me late
Is keepin' my book waitin' …
I'll admit it's no way to run a business;
Where's the profit in sitting on my thumb?
So I'll get tough and set a one month deadline
But all this tracking changes makes me numb.
(Track changes makes me numb)
And maintain a back-up 'cause track changes makes me numb
(Track changes makes me numb)
(Track changes makes me numb)
The editor going through my blog posts for collection into a book had a comment about my hiding a poem in a computer book by McGraw-Hill. She says I've now figured out how to hide a memoir in a book of blog posts! I don't think of it that way myself, though I'm a diehard advocate of anecdote in how-to and self help books. I need to see references to personal experience for me to count an author as credible. I'm not interested in authors telling me how to do something that they've never attempted themselves, unless they have some clearly related experience.
There are memoirists working away even as you read this, recording every meal and bowel movement for posterity, in the belief that they are creating an invaluable historical record. Invaluable, unvaluable, amazing the difference a little vowel can make. If you're writing a memoir that you hope to sell, the simple story of your life as you lived isn't going to cut it, unless you happen to be famous, infamous, or the first memoirist of some famous events. If you're writing for yourself or your kids, do what you want, but if your goal is to publish a memoir you can sell, think about disguising it as self help.
The only book about health I've ever taken seriously was a book about running injuries written by a doctor who was an avid runner. I'm embarrassed to admit I can't remember the title and can't check because it's down at my folks’ house, but he included anecdotes about his own running injuries and those of his patients. The one thing I never remember him advising was to quit running. Maybe he didn't write much about his childhood, maybe he didn't mention who he voted for in the 1960 presidential election, but he wrote a very useful book that left you with a feeling for who the man was and how he lived.
My great-grandmother published a Hebrew memoir of her childhood over a century ago that's very interesting to me for its description of life in a little town in Latvia in the 1860's. It survives in the corpus of research library memoir because it was one of the first written by a woman in Hebrew, giving it a place in literary history. But it wouldn't have been very interesting in the 1860's, or the 1890's for that reason. Memoir about everyday life requires a much longer maturation period than wine to develop character, and if you publish a memoir today in hopes it will be read in a hundred years you'll probably be disappointed in your grave.
But who has lived a life, or even half a life, without learning anything? If you can write, and if you believe you understand something better for having lived through it, you can write a book the may help other people cope with the same issues. Many of the books published about surviving an illness or dealing with a tragedy are essentially memoirs that have been cast into self help books for people who find themselves in similar situations. Take advantage of hindsight and make sure that even when you write about confusion, the writing itself isn't confusing.
You don't need to have suffered some horrible loss to write a self-help memoir. I'd be interested in reading the memoirs of a successful self publisher myself if it were titled "My Life in Self Publishing" by Jon Doe, rather than, "My Life" by Jon Doe. If I'd read some engineering memoirs as a young man, it may have saved me six years of higher education! Now that I think of it, I don't recall ever seeing any engineering memoirs, outside of historical accounts of famous engineering projects. That's how to publish a memoir, make it a historical account of something people are interested in reading about, and hide your childhood in the introductory chapters as "background."
Microsoft Word has always been the best word processor to use for index creation because it deals so well with large file sizes. I don't know many people who buy Word a stand-alone product anymore, most people get it through the Microsoft Office bundle. If you aren't currently running Office and you want to try it out, the Beta copy for Office 2007 can be downloaded from the Microsoft Site for $1.50.
As I wrote in my article about book contracts, some trade publishers will include a clause where they charge the author for index creation, often at a rate of several dollars per page. My advice in this case is to do your best to get rid of that clause, or it will cost you a good chunk of royalties. Another option which is common with many academic publishers is to give the author the option to create the index, under some time pressure, after the book is typeset. Now that I think about it, I did the index for my first McGraw-Hill book since the contract gave an either/or option, either I’d do it or they’d charge me to have a professional indexer do it.
I've helped a couple friends in academia create indexes for their books in Word, even though the publisher only supplied a text file and a printed galley. It turns out to be a simple process once you get the hang of it. Just paste the text file into Word, and set the page size to be larger than the page size in the printed book. Then, page by page, manually insert page breaks (you can use the pull-down menu or CTRL-Enter) in the Word file to force the page lengths to be the same as the printing supplied by the publisher. If you aren't a fast skim reader, just use the Search function to find the last couple words on the end of each page. It might take a couple hours, but it's well worth the time.
Once you have the complete text in the Word file with the proper page breaks, you can start marking words for inclusion in the Index. The pull-down menus for Word from Office 97, Office 2003 and Office 2007 are all different, but the key combination to mark a selected word (highlight with the mouse) for the index is ALT-Shift-X. The pop-up indexing dialog box is shown below:
This dialog box has remained essentially unchanged through all the Office versions because they got it right the first time! Note that the dialog box remains open so you don't have to keep hitting ALT-Shift-X for every new entry. You just highlight a new word for the index, then click in the dialog box to return the focus there. Once you've marked all the index entries you want, you just use the Insert Index command from the pull-down menu, and a full index is dropped in place. If you need to change the page layout at a later date, the entries remain marked, and a new index can be generated with one click that will reflect the correct page numbers, just like creating a new Table of Contents in Word.
It's also worth experimenting with the indexing options to see how they work before you index an entire book. I would exercise caution using the "Mark All" button, which does a universal search on the word you have highlighted and adds all occurrences of the word to your index. That may be fine with proper names if you want every instance in the index, but it can create a real mess with common nouns or names that are used multiple times on a single page. Word even lets you create a subentry if you have a good memory for what other related items you've indexed.
The title of this post is self explanatory. I stopped in my local Barnes & Noble yesterday to check the stocking of some big trade titles, and was shocked to see my POD printed book of diagnostic flowcharts on the shelf! My guess is that somebody must have special ordered it and then never returned to pick it up, but it's beyond me why Barnes & Noble didn't just send it back, since the book is returnable. The reason they would never order a copy for stock on their own initiative is that it's a $14.95 book with a short discount of 25%. Not enough profit for any bricks-n-mortar store to stock.
I expect some of the shoppers browsing through the computer books at that Barnes & Noble must do a double take. The cover looks like an amateur spent 15 minutes designing it in PowerPoint, probably because an amateur DID spend 15 minutes designing the cover in PowerPoint. I never intended for the book to be sold in stores and designed it accordingly. It's really just a collection of flowcharts with some explanatory text, and the first sentence of the book is, "This book was not designed to be read from cover to cover." It's also printed in the large 8.25" x 11.0" Lightning Source POD format for the sake of making the flowcharts readable, which resulted in a very thin book, about a quarter of an inch.
Interestingly, B&N.com now shows the book as in stock and shipping in 24 hours. The vast majority of titles printed by Lightning Source are listed as being available for shipping 2-3 days at BN.com, even if they are physically in stock at Ingram. I don't know if this means that the Barnes & Noble warehouse actually has a copy in stock, or if their computer system is tracking all books on all shelves at all stores and in case of a sale, would instruct the local Barnes & Noble staff to pack it up and ship it. I do know Barnes & Noble store computers have access to the stocking information at other regional stores and can always tell you the closest location of a store with a book in stock.
It strikes me as very funny that I spend so much time blogging about a POD business model that bypasses bookstore stocking, yet the local Barnes & Noble currently has one of my titles in stock. I was really there to see if the book I write for McGraw-Hill was in stock because I'm waiting to see if they are going to take it out-of-print or try to get me to do a new edition, which would be the fifth. It also gets me thinking along those dangerous lines of publishing books that are intended to be stocked on store shelves. The little devil sitting on my shoulder is whispering, "If you can get a POD book onto the shelf in at least one Barnes & Noble without even trying, imagine what you could do if you went back to offset printing and offering the trade discount."
I could go broke is what I could do.
This morning I thought I noticed a surge in the number of titles Ingram is listing as Greenlight in their online catalog. I tried to Google up some current information on the Greenlight program, but all I could find were some references from the late 1990's and a single PDF document on the Ingram Book site that mentioned Greenlight on a form. Back in the mid-90's when we were publishing on offset and trying to get our books included in the Ingram catalog, it seems to me that Greenlight was an option we looked at and didn't sign up for, but that may just be my imperfect memory. Ingram was trying to grow their catalog at the time so they could become a one-stop source for bookstores and online resellers, and the Greenlight program was supposed to handle low demand titles.
Some titles from LSI (Lightning Source Inc.), the sister company of Ingram Book that serves as the main POD (print-on-demand) printer for the industry, are now listed as Greenlight in the Ingram catalog. It looks to me like one of the factors affecting whether LSI POD titles are listed Greenlight is the distribution discount. A friend recently changed the discount on several of his LSI titles from 25% to 50%, and they were all changed to the Greenlight program. I notice that a lot of slower selling Wiley titles, including some Dummies books, are also in that Ingram program, and Wiley does mention on their site that their POD books are not returnable.
Since Ingram stopped showing the LSI graphic on POD books a couple months ago, I'm not sure whether having titles listed as "Greenlight" in the Ingram catalog is a good thing or a bad thing for the publishers. For example, some of the Wiley titles listed as Greenlight at Ingram are heavily discounted in the Amazon catalog, but others carry no discount at all. A heavy discount at Amazon can be a positive thing, especially if Amazon is weighting search results and Also Bought sorts with a discount factor. A quick search of the Ingram catalog shows that many titles from all the major trades (McGraw-Hill, Random House, St. Martin, Tor, Bantam, every publisher I checked at random) are listed as Greenlight, and since some Audio books are included, it's clearly not limited to LSI POD.
Since this morning is the first time I ever looked to see how widely the Greenlight designation was being used in the Ingram catalog, I don't know if this is a recent event. As I look into it further (I'm writing this post in real-time) it becomes obvious that returnability isn't a factor asmany Greenlight titles are listed as "returnable." Some even have the old green warning "Backorder now from DC Pairs" which is the kiss of death for impulse sales. It seems like the only way to determine from an information only Ingram account whether or not a title is printed by LSI is the virtual stocking number in the TN warehouse, either exactly 100 or 100 plus a few copies that are physically in stock. It also means there's no causal tie between LSI and Greenlight. I can't even find a correlation between Greenlight books printed by LSI and the Amazon discount, though that may be due to Amazon having existing stock of these titles.
I bought a four-pack of
Some publishers seem to find comfort in surrounded themselves with boxes of their own books. I suppose that might be nice if you have a lot of money to dispose of and don't like a lot of empty space in your life, but unless you're using the boxes as office furniture, it's hard to see how they're doing your business any good. The option is not to print books until you have customers, and the most efficient way to do that is with print-on-demand. The economics of print-on-demand dictate that it be used for titles with modest expectations. It would make no sense to use print-on-demand for a title with an initial print run of 10,000 books, but it only costs a few dollars a year to keep a title in a digital library ready for printing. To sell 10,000 books over three to five years with short discount print-on-demand does make more sense than to sell 10,000 books over the same time period with offset printing, trade discounts and warehousing. In this instance, more sense also means more money.
Estimating the demand for a potential title is obviously a first step for any publisher, but new publishers tend to do a horrible job of it. The most common mistake is starting with a demographic and working backwards. I've heard too many publishers trying to justify a large initial print run with logic that starts with the population of the U.S. It goes like this: "There are around 300 million people in the U.S. and at least 10% have thought of moving to California, and at least 10% of them would be willing to buy a book about it. That's 3 million people, and in the worst case, if we only sell to 1% of them it's still 30,000 books!"
Am I supposed to say, "Gee, I checked your math and you're right"? It's fun to throw around big numbers to get an acquisitions editor's attention if you're an author, but it's the wrong way to go about managing a publishing business. The way to estimate demand for a book is to look at competing books and try to figure out how well they are selling. If there aren't any directly competing books, find something similar, and if you can't find anything similar, talk to some friends and family for a sanity check.
Amazon is a great place to find competing titles due to their Power Search functionality and category bestseller lists. Once you make up a list of competing titles, you'll want to keep a record of their daily sales ranks for a month to see how consistently they sell and to get an estimate of the absolute sales. However, Amazon isn't the whole book market, and it's not even representative for some genres. You can get the last two years worth of sales data from Ingram, the largest book distributor in the U.S., but those numbers are highly dependent on whether the publisher in question uses Ingram at all, or if they only use Ingram for servicing smaller accounts.
You can make the most of this fragmentary information if you back it up with a lot of field research. Visit the chain stores to see if they stock the competing titles, especially Barnes & Noble and Borders, and take note if they model (stock) more than one copy. If they have a whole pile of them, it's more likely a co-op advertising deal (the publisher paying for stocking) than modeling. If your proposed title is in a genre that is carried at specialty chain stores, check their stocking as well. I wouldn't spend too much time trying to assess stocking at independent bookstores because they will either reflect the chain stocking or they'll be all over the place.
Finally, find a local library with access to a good regional or national cataloging service to see how well a title is stocked in libraries. You can also get some great information online from worldcatlibraries.org. With all of these methods, keep in mind that the market focus of the competing publishers will have a lot to do with where the book does well, and their focus might be quite different from yours. However, you may find that none of the competing titles are doing particularly well. It doesn't mean they are all badly written or marketed. It means the glass is half empty and if you go with offset printing you'll probably get stuck with many unsold boxes of books.