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Fast Means You Go Hungry

It's Kol Nidre this evening, so I'm looking forward to the fast. Being a bad Jew, it's the only fast I do religiously, I don't even notice when the other ones come up unless my sister calls to remind me. I enjoy fasting and have always looked forward to Yom Kippur as a chance to stroll up and down memory lane. I think I've found a lesson in the fasting which I can share with everybody. When it comes to your publishing business plans, the only thing fast about the fast lane is the speed at which your bank balance will go down. Fast means you go hungry.

There really aren't two popular camps when it comes to building a career in self publishing. Pretty much everybody hangs out in the break-through camp, where they talk about pushing the ball to the top of the hill and then letting it roll down, gathering momentum and sales. It's all about the big push, mortgaging the house and quitting your day job. It's about radio and TV, publicity firms and viral marketing. It's about telling millions of people about your book and getting them into a buying frenzy, and who cares if they read it.

I hate that approach to publishing for more reasons than I can list, but the #1 reason is because I have to hear about it from correspondents making one of the dumbest mistakes of their lives. When an author pushes a book over the top of the hill through deft use of their money and personality, any success they achieve isn't about the book, it's about the author. They can't tell you how to duplicate their path. Becoming somebody else is not a practical business plan you can follow, especially since there's a big helping of luck involved in becoming a minor celebrity. Even worse, the momentum for most titles is illusory. When the pushing stops the sales stop.

The slow approach to building a career in self publishing doesn't guarantee success any more than the fast approach, but it does remove luck from the equation. If you build your publishing business one customer at a time, you'll have built a career and an asset that will survive the day that the media loses interest in you and moves on to the next fashionable thing. I've heard from enough authors who have achieved minor celebrity status to have learned a couple things from their experiences. However entertaining an author is, people won't buy the book unless they have a reason. Even more importantly, most of those buyers aren't married to the idea, so they'll only buy the book if they come across it on display within a short period of time. That's why the trade industry functions the way it does, with storefront displays and super-sized print runs.

I finished filling out the rough framework for my online book about building a publishing career with a website. It needs a lot more work that I probably won't put in, because I'm convinced that most writers are addicted to the fast track approaches which run counter to everything I've written. I'd hate to be looking back on 2007/2008 from next Yom Kippur and saying, "What did you publish that book for when you knew nobody would read it?" Or maybe all it needs is a good title:-)

12 comments:

David said...

Morris -

Tell me you are just fishing for feedback with that last comment ...

Your book concept - the author platform - is very important. I has had my wheels turning for the past two weeks. I think you are on to something very big with it. You are walking your talk and I'm in for the ride.

I have been in publishing since 1980, first as a writer, then a magazine editor and then a publisher. I make my living now on the Web as a marketing manager. I share that only to say that I have been wathing the evolution of publishing for almost 30 years, and I am fascinated by the Internet, and how it seems to be systematically blowing to bits every established physical channel of distribution in the western world. Any market where there is a middleman between the producer and the consumer has either been taken out or soon will be. Read "Blown to Bits" if you haven't already done so. It remains the seminal book on the disruption the Internet is bringing to established industries.

Stay with this, Morris. I think you will make a significant contribution to the revolution of publishing with this book. You are going to help a lot of people, including me.

Thank you very much for your work.

Morris Rosenthal said...

David,

Thank you for the kind words, I just don't like ending on a down-note, I'm depressing enough as is:-)

I'm very serious about the problem such a book would face - no audience. The people who could most benefit from the book are unpublished writers, but they don't know it and I have limited means to tell them. I'm almost less interested in authors as an audience than entrepreneurs in general, those who are capable of producing good web content and who take a long view of the process.

The idea of content based websites is not revolutionary, even though I've been at it a long time. Originally, ALL websites were content based. The glitz came later. The reason content websites have fallen out of fashion is that they require a lot of work on spec. There are much quicker and easier ways to get a burst of publicity, and that's what most writers I talk to are convinced they need.

Ironically, my own marketing model is ill suited to promoting such a book because the general subject, building websites, is super competitive. Writers looking for information on the subject aren't savvy enough do the more specialized searches that would bring them to my pages.

Morris

Hood Press said...

"Writers looking for information on the subject aren't savvy enough do the more specialized searches that would bring them to my pages."

I agree in some respects, but the comment comes off as a bit elitist. It might be better to comment on the relative obscurity of the idea of creating a platform in a day where content is almost an afterthought. I think authors are savvy, they just might not understand entrpreneriral/publishing jargon--I know that your website was the first one I came along that mentioned the concept of a platform (granted, I'm a novice in most respects of the publishing world--everything's new to me).

From what I gather, a platform is the same as, say, the word-of-mouth that so-and-so is a great shoe repairer. He repaired Mom's high-heel, Uncle Joe's sandals, and Mrs. Babcock's penny loafers. Hence, I'm gonna take my shoes to him for fixin'.

Morris Rosenthal said...

Hood,

Hmm, it wasn't meant to be elitist but to point out the practical problem I face as a publisher if I should publish a book on the subject. But that doesn't mean I buy your idea that authors are savvy any more than any other group. I've corresponded with way too many authors to give you a pass there. Authors are people who've written books, that's all.

My publishing approach is based on providing people with information they are looking for on particular subjects. If they aren't looking for the information in some way we mutually recognize, they aren't going to find it on my site and learn about my books.

I agree that platform is a problematic term, and one I'll probably drop from all of the titles and most of the prose if I continue. As I mentioned in one chapter, I ran a test with Adwords and nobody searches on "author platform".

It's also a term people don't agree on. An agent was recently telling me that I have it wrong, that a platform is an author's professional credentials. You offer the word of mouth analogy. I look at it from the publisher perspective, that a platform, to be of value to a publisher, is a thing that can sell books.

I've never seen books sell because the author is professionally qualified to write them. And while word-of-mouth is great for sales, it doesn't belong to the author, it belongs to the mouths. But among the roles a platform can fill are to serve as a professional qualification and to create word of mouth.

Morris

JCurley said...

I have been following the book draft also. Not only unpublished authors, but small niche publishers could benefit from the ideas of the book. A small publisher hopes his authors have a platform,but it is useful for the publisher has to have one too-that is if the books being published have common thread or niche that can provide content which people interested in that niche would want. I think this is especially true in the beginning years.

Oh yes, I love the section on blogging. It is addictive and probably not too effective. But we do it anyway.

I hope you continue with it.

Morris Rosenthal said...

J,

I was commenting to a friend today that if I took the online draft and relevant posts from the nearing 300 published on this blog, all I'd have to do to complete the book is add more examples and edit, edit, edit.

But without a viable marketing plan or a sizable market, I don't see the point. It's a book I started because I was angry about all the misconceptions I encountered at a conference, but I'm not going to spend my life going from conference to conference trying to hawk the thing. I'll give it some time and see if the online draft garners any links and readers, other than those who already read the blog.

Morris

Jon said...

Hi Morris,

Good luck with the book! As for a title, I think you've already found one -- "What Did You Publish That Book For When You Knew Nobody Would Read It?"

Morris Rosenthal said...

Jon,

I can see the cover art, a guy slapping his forehead with the heel of his palm.

Morris

Hood Press said...

Morris,

I hope I didn't come off as critical with the elitist remark. I would have not even known what a publishing platform is (other than the oft-supercilious platform of political personalities) if I hadn't read about it here. I think you definitely have defined your own platform and it attracts the people who share a common goal with you--but not necessarily desperate authors. That's really the problem with industry jargon--it's hard to understand it if you're on the outside--and that includes search engine keywords.

I really appreciate this blog--your ramblings hit the mark (for my needs, at least) more often than miss, Morris.

Jason Sipe

JCurley said...

Okay, so I get it. If the market (i.e. internet hits-new, not from your regular readers) shows there is a market for the book, you can go ahead.

tyrone said...

I'll read that book, dammit! Please polish it. Of course my writer friends are even worse than the fast trackers in that they don't finish anything because they are convinced the fast track will never have them, even to fail. They give up before the first draft is complete and start something new, only to talk themselves out again. I link them to you most weeks and yet they shrug. In the case of one aspirant, he was diagnosed with Aspergers, so I'm letting him reconnoiter- for the rest, your sermons are exactly what they need to read, especially in complete form. So please Mr. R, finish that project. Lives are at stake.

Morris Rosenthal said...

JC,

Yes, traffic and links are my measure of how much interest I'm getting for any subject. When I've ignored the numbers and gone with my gut, I've lost quite a bit of money.

Tyrone,

I probably will finish it in some form at some point. If I don't give my editor some work this winter she's likely to find a real job. However, I'm thinking seriously about making it a book for generic content based websites for home entrepreneurs and small businesses, and dumping the author platform focus. It wouldn't change the content a whole lot (beyond who writes the content), but I'd stop talking about authors all the time.

Morris