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.