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Interview With Steve Weber

Interview with Steve Weber of Weber Books.

1) You have the best batting average of any self publisher with four or more titles that I know, essentially hitting 1000. How do you select the topics you write on?

It's a combination of my personal interests and what I think will sell. I couldn't motivate myself to write about something that I'm not obsessed with. The first book I wrote was about bookselling (selling used and collectible books over the Internet), which had been my full-time occupation for the previous five years. It was virtually the only thing I thought about. Everyone accused me (and rightfully so) of talking about nothing but bookselling, so eventually I decided it would be smart to write a book about it.

So I have to eat, sleep and breathe something to even start writing. However, I've had some book ideas that I dropped because I didn't think the book would sell. For example, I recently had the idea to write about expatriation -- how to relocate to a foreign country to work or retire. By chance, I heard a radio program about it and got excited about the topic. Dozens of people were calling into the show with all sorts of interesting questions. I had enough personal interest to write it, but when I looked at the existing books on the topic, I discovered they were horrible sellers. So it would have been an interesting book to write, but I don't write books for free.

I've also dropped book ideas because I realized I didn't have enough experience to write on the topic. For example, this year our family adopted a toddler from another country, and I got the idea to write about international adoption. After reading a few books on the topic, however, I realized I couldn't be credible. The existing books are by eminently qualified people with decades of experience in the field.

So I guess I need three essential ingredients write: an intense interest in the topic, the confidence that I can do it well, and an expectation that I'll make money at it. And of course, I'm talking about how-to books. Fiction is a whole other kettle of fish, and I leave that to the people with real talent.

2) Of all the techniques for online marketing you discuss in Plug Your Book, which is your favorite, in terms of both the doing and the results?

It's so hard to know exactly how people decide to buy your book. But if I was going to make a hunch about what has been most effective for my books, it would be asking people to review them. And I'm not talking about mailing out 1,000 review copies to a list of "book reviewers." I tried that and I know for sure that it didn't work. What I'm talking about is personally asking people to read and review a complimentary copy of your book, and to post an honest review on Amazon. Finding reviewers is a very tedious process, I don't enjoy it at all. You've got to figure out who might be interested, then approach them. But if the book is good, I think the effort pays off, so the results are enjoyable.

Like most authors, I wish that book marketing was a simple process -- that you could just place advertisements everywhere, then people would discover your book and buy it. But the ugly truth is that unless you're famous, advertising doesn't work, and if you don't do a good job of promoting your book, nobody else will.

3) Given your online presence and track record, I'm sure you get many requests to act as a publisher for other authors books. Have you ever been tempted?

Actually nobody has asked me to publish them. What happens all too frequently, though, is I get fiction manuscripts from a would-be novelists. They want me to critique their work and help them find a "real" publisher. Why on earth they think I'm qualified to do those things, I'll never know.

But I probably will try publishing some nonfiction written by others in the next couple of years. If someone dropped a good manuscript in my lap, I'd do it now. What I'll probably have to do, though, is identify a good idea myself and hire someone who can write it.

4) Given your success, if you haven't received an attractive trade offer to buy out your list as an imprint, I'm sure you could get one if you looked. Do you have an exit plan from self publishing, or do you plan to keep going for the indefinite future?

I haven't had any offers. I've had one nibble from a trade publisher, so I said "make me an offer" and that was the end of it. I'm either flying so far under the radar that nobody knows about me, or publishers don't bother because they know they can't offer me half the money I'm making already.

So I'm going to keep on doing exactly what I'm doing, just more of it. My only possible exits from self publishing are coronary disease or Alzheimer's.

7 comments:

Bryan Rosner of BioMed Publishing Group said...

Very helpful. I wish I would have read this before I took on publishing a new book that I don't think has a very big market.

Bryan Rosner

Morris Rosenthal said...

Bryan,

You see? I only interview helpful publishers:-)

Morris

Bryan Rosner of BioMed Publishing Group said...

I am realizing more and more the importance of evaluating opportunity cost. Often it is the least *obvious* factor in a decision, but the most important.

For example -- I am publishing a new book by a woman who has an excellent Lyme blog. I think there is a small but reasonably sized market for her book. This will be the 3rd book I've published for other authors.

At first glance it seems to make great sense. But looking a bit behind the scenes, what I am really realizing is that all the time and trouble involved in publishing it is keeping me from some very important, very profitable core projects, one of which is writing my next book on a topic which I believe has an explosive, growing market.

At first brush it seems her book was a good idea but if I stick to the demanding financial equations I learned in college, I can see that I think I made the wrong choice. Oh well, live and learn.

Bryan

Morris Rosenthal said...

Bryan,

I hope she doesn't read my blog:-)

But seriously, I have that problem is spades. I've done well enough the last few years to squander time on all sorts of non-productive projects, including this blog. But now, especially with the economy tanking, I wish I'd built up a bit more of a buffer, in the new business activity sense.

Morris

Bryan Rosner of BioMed Publishing Group said...

She can't be reading this blog or she would be asking me many, different questions, based on what she learns here. Hopefully she doesn't find your blog. Actually thats interesting--I have thought about telling my authors about your blog but then I thought, no way, that would be giving up one of the primary assets which allows me to BE a publishing company. :-)

Regarding your situation, yes, it does seem like you really do have to think a year or two ahead when it comes to "good times" and "bad times" in the biz. I think the consequences of either generally lag about 18 months, so if you are just now realizing you are in the "bad times," then it will take you approximately 18 months to dig out.

Since I am a pilot, this reminds me of flying certain types of aircraft. Small Cessnas respond very quickly, so you don't have to think ahead much. Big jets on the other hands, e.g. 737s, take about 5-10 seconds for power response, so you had better be thinking ahead--especially on landing! Same deal in publishing. Yikes.

Bryan

Ernie J. Zelinski said...

Hey Morris:

I am just a little curious about this:

You start the interview with Steve Weber of Weber Books by saying: "You have the best batting average of any self publisher with four or more titles that I know, essentially hitting 1000."

What do you mean by hitting 1000?

I have the greatest respect for Steve Weber (I read his blog all the time as I do yours and have just purchased Steve's Plug Your Book), but doesn't Dan Poynter have just of a good a track record or even better of a track record in self-publishing?

Who knows? Perhaps even I have hit 1000, although my track record is not anywhere near Dan Poynter's.

My book The Joy of Not Working was first self-published in 1991. It was finally taken over by Ten Speed Press in 1997 after it sold over 50,000 copies in Canada. To date the book has sold over 225,000 copies and has been published in 17 foreign languages (I maintain total control of the foreign rights sales of all my books, whether published or self-published and now have 94 books deals with publishers in 24 different countries. I even have had 3 books published by at least 3 foreign publishers even though neither of these books was published in English).

My second best-selling self-published work is How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, which was published in 2004. Even though the retirement book market is highly saturated with several new titles coming out every year (some by well-known authors such as Richard Bolles and some by well-known newspaper writers such as Glenn Ruffenach of the Wall Street Journal my book has now sold over 85,000 copies and has been published in 7 foreign languages. This is my favorite of all my books because it was turned down by over 35 American and British publishers and largely ignored by the media. Even Ten Speed Press turned down this book but luckily for me Ten Speed Press agreed to distribute it for me and even allowed me to place their imprint on it. This worked out great for me because I make at least 4 times as much money as if I was paid a typicial royalty.

Today if anyone types "retirement" into Amazon.com's search engine, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free comes in the number 1 position — out of over 175,000 books that Amazon puts in the retirement category.

I have a number of other successful self-published titles including two distributed by Ten Speed Press with the Ten Speed Press imprint on them.

Although there will likely be hundreds of retirement books come out in the next several years, I intend to sell over 500,000 copies of How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by using the techniques that Steve Weber, Dan Poynter, John Kremer, and you advocate.

Ernie Zelinski
Author of The Joy of Not Working
Featured at The Joy of Not Working Website
and
How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free
Featured at The Retirement Cafe

Morris Rosenthal said...

Ernie,

To hit 1000 is to succeed every time you come up to bat. I have no doubt that the total number of books sold by Dan Poynter is much higher, but you correctly identified that as a "track record" rather than as a batting average.

You have a very impressive record of bestsellers and we could talk about interviewing you for the blog if you're interested. As to whether or not your batting average is 1000, you'd have to answer that yourself. Have you ever written or published a book that didn't do well? I know that my first venture into self publishing left me around $10K in the hole, plus a couple thousands dollars spend on just giving the books away!

Morris