You're both a publisher and a trade author. What led you to take the self publishing approach with your Complete Guide to Online High Schools?
There were several reasons. After having published three books with a mid-size publisher and getting very little money for a great deal of work, I decided I needed to have greater control of the process. I think this is one of the things that surprise people. Most people have this notion that, if your books are published by a large company, you most certainly will make money. It has been my experience that earning significant cash for your publishing efforts is outside the norm. Most writers have a day job.
I should mention that by year’s end, I will have made more money from this one book than I have with the other three combined. However, when I describe my success below, I should mention that it was these three books that gave me a national platform from which to work and publish. That, for me, was the one advantage of publishing with a large company; it gives a sense of credibility.
Books relating to education and home schooling are often sold through special channels. Have you targeted non-traditional sales (ex-Amazon, ex-bookstores)?
In terms of sales, I drive all of my traffic to Amazon. The two books that I have used, Aiming at Amazon and your own Print-on-Demand Publishing, are what drive my publishing efforts these days. Yes, I have read the biggies, Poynter’s The Self-Publishing Manual and Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Market Your Books and there are valuable things to learn from both books. However, the first two I have mentioned represent a new publishing model. The idea of printing 2000 copies of a book and hoping to sell them sounds like a good way to end up with a garage full of books.
I have no interest in being in bookstores. The amount of effort versus the number of books that end up being returned makes it not worth it for me. This is one of the things that I learned from my first three books. Twice a year I get computer print-outs showing how many books were sold and how many were returned. No, thank you. Particularly when you are using your own money to publish, you need to make reasonable decisions.
What I have done is go in a different direction and create a resource that I knew would attract homeschoolers and others interested in education. My BestOnlineHighSchools.com is the largest website on the Internet devoted solely to online high schools. In the past, people found online high schools almost by accident. Given that it also has a blog and a forum, this encourages folks to come back. I am now working on a major upgrade for the summer.
So why am I talking about websites when I should be talking about special channels and publishing? Simple. I decided that I would get my customers to come to me. My special channel is to create the one site that people come to when they think about (or Google) my subject area. Nothing happens in a vacuum, though. People come to that site through Google searches, but also because I write articles on the topic for various sites (About.com, eLearners.com, etc.) that include a link to that site.
You've publicly shared your publishing journey through The Small Press Blog over the past year. Have you received any benefits from blogging, other than the joys of giving?
It has been interesting the sort of attention I have received. I have been interviewed for a few publications (including ForeWord Magazine) and I have been approached by any number of companies to tout their products. Part of that came as the result of blogging the SPAN Conference where people realized I existed. When I had time to do interviews for the blog (and I hope to get back to that again), I learned just as much as my readers. I have been fortunate to get most of the big names in our industry to submit to an interview. I have also interviewed many independent publishers to see what has made them successful.
One benefit has been that having to put down in words what I am doing in my publishing creates an atmosphere that requires me to solve issues in my business as well giving me ideas for different ways to succeed. For me, the process has taught me a great deal, but I have also been able to provide a resource for the self publishing community. With me, it’s always about the relationships.
Are you planning any new online education titles, and what sort of market research do you undertake before writing a new book?
As it happens, I am planning on a second edition of Complete Guide to Online High Schools in 2008. There are enough new schools now after only one year that I feel justified in creating a second edition. One advantage to having the largest online high schools site is that I can do market research on myself. Is the number of people coming to the site growing and does that growth correlate with book sales? Since the answers to both of those questions is a decided ‘yes,’ I have some sense of the market.
I do also look at:
• growth in the number of online high schools
• growth in the number of homeschooling and alternative education students.
I am also coming out with a short directory-information-only version called Best Online High Schools Directory. It is the same data with the updated schools. Yes, this is very much a Dan Poynter sort of thing where you use the same data for multiple efforts. If you have a product where this works, this is the way to do it.
I am a big fan of market research, though. This is why I will never publish a book on distance learning options at the college level. Yes, that is an area that is growing by leaps and bounds, but the competition is incredible. Many books are already on the market and nothing new to add to the conversation. This is one of the reasons I chose this niche within a niche.
Thomas Nixon is the author most recently of Complete Guide to Online High Schools: Distance learning options for teens & adults and is the proprietor of BestOnlineHighSchools.com, the largest source for information about online high schools. In his spare time, he writes the Small Press Blog that details his own publishing efforts.