Common Publishing Myths

Many aspiring authors believe things they’ve heard about the publishing business that are outdated or patently false. Dispensing with these myths will help avoid some common mistakes, and save you time and energy. The following apply primarily to books of non-fiction: how-to’s, educational and informational books. Fiction has its own set of myths, which I’ll address at another time.

open book

Once my book gets published the money will start rolling in.

moneyI hate to break the news, but making a fortune on a book is an unrealistic dream—and that is an understatement. Only a small percentage of books actually bring in bucks, mostly those by big-name writers. Writing a book is no get-rich-quick scheme–but a book can lead to money if it’s connected to a product or service. Think of the book as a calling card or a marketing tool that supports your core business, or promotes you as an expert in your field. That’s where the money comes from.

I’ve done my part, I wrote the book, I don’t have to do anything else.

Gone are the days of the solitary hermetic writer who pounds out words on a typewriter and sends them off to be dealt with by a vast army of editors, publishers, and publicity agents. Nowadays an author is lucky if a book is  competently edited in-house, rather than by independent editor hired by the author. If you want to sell your book, and, incidentally, drum up business, you’ll have to create and carry out your own publicity.

An author should create advance buzz on the book before it’s even published.

In my opinion, you risk losing credibility when you tell people you’re going to do something before you’ve actually done it. Additionally, you can dissipate your energy talking about the book rather than actually writing it. On the other hand, business coach and book packager Alicia Dunams is gung-ho for marketing before you’ve written a word (see interview with Alicia where she addresses this issue). Reasonable people, I guess, can disagree.

Self-publishing is for losers.

Do you mean losers like Mark Twain? Edgar Allan Poe? Deepak Chopra? New writers tend to look down on self-publishing, but such snobbery is unwarranted. Yes, fifty years ago the best and most popular literary works came out of Random House or Simon & Schuster, but with the advent of new techniques such as desktop publishing, print on demand (POD), and e-publishing, things have changed dramatically. Also, it isn’t unheard of for self-published books to be picked up by big houses. Some contemporary self-published books:  The Celestine Prophecy, The Joy of Cooking, What Color is Your Parachute? Chicken Soup for the Soul, Spartacus. Losers, huh?

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Maybe not – but you will attract more potential buyers with an eye-catching cover than with one that’s boring or aesthetically unappealing. A great cover does not have to cost a fortune, but whatever you pay here is worth the investment. On the other hand, it is not true that…

The inside of a book should be interestingly designed. rainbow album

Some people, accustomed to the flashiness of websites, think that books should have lots of illustrations, color, and formatting—but a book is not a website, and all those bells and whistles cost money. A good book sells; a fancy book just prolongs the manufacturing process, delaying revenue. Spend your money on marketing instead.

My publisher will send me touring around the country for book signings and local radio and tv shows.

book signingYou might go on a book tour, but then again, you must be realistic. Publishers rarely pay for book tours these days, so your travel expenses will probably be your responsibility. You might also have to do all the leg work, including setting up your  itinerary, and the returns aren’t that great: signings don’t sell all that many books. The locals who attend don’t come to shop, but to be entertained. You can sell more books sitting in your PJ’s in front of your computer, creating online demand through blogs, viral video, and social networking venues. This doesn’t mean you should not do a book tour. If you have the time, money, and stamina, by all means, go: a tour is publicity, can be fun, will sell some books, and every author should probably experience it at least once.

A book has to be on television to get anywhere.

OprahGetting onto Oprah’s show is the hottest ticket in book selling – but that’s because it’s Oprah, not television. When she likes a book, she pushes it, and she has a huge audience of dedicated readers who value her opinion. Other than that, though, TV is dead air when it comes to book-selling. You can sell more on Twitter than during the last hour of the Today show. Period.

Respectable, successful books are only sold in bookstores.

In recent years there’s been a paradigm shift in the publishing world, partly because of increased volume. Over 400,000 books are published each year, far too many for Ye Olde Book Shoppe to accommodate. Unless you’re John Grisham or Danielle Steele, or your publisher pays for front-store placement (hah!), a few copies of your book will be quietly shelved in the back of the store. So where do books sell? Online. In specialty shops (cookbooks in Williams & Sonoma; lawn care books at Home Depot, etc.). Out of the back of the author’s van…and anywhere else you can think of to sell them.

A good book always finds its audience.

book with legsPure magical thinking. Books don’t walk around all by themselves tracking down readers. In fact, these days publishers look for books that already have a built-in audience. It’s up to you to identify your audience and gear your book towards them. If you have a clear idea of your target audience, you’ve gone a long way towards building an effective PR campaign.

Like rich cream, a good book will always rise to the top.

As my grandma used to say, “From your mouth to God’s ear.” Sad to say, the literary world is not a meritocracy. I’d bet the farm that quite a few extraordinary books are at this very moment languishing in their authors’ files, and will die with their creators. This has always been true, but it’s even truer now, since most publishers care less about quality than about hot topics and personable authors good at selling them. Perhaps even sadder, many readers seek useful information from books more than they do a great reading experience. If your book, for instance, is about a new method of knitting, which is currently enjoying a huge resurgence, it’s more likely to do better than an amazingly written book on an obscure topic. Creating what people want and tapping into the market is the best chance a book has of rising to the top.

Hire an expensive PR agent.

Trying to pass the publicity buck isn’t going to work. The irrefutable fact is, you are it. The traditional, formulaic marketing processes still relied upon in the industry are antiquated and mostly ineffective. Sending out a few review copies and hoping they’ll lead to an appearance on The Today show is no longer the only – or the best – way to sell books. These days every author, self-published or not, has to take the marketing end of the business into his or her own hands, create a marketing strategy, and network like crazy– primarily online.

In order to sell, a book has to be really great, and get rave reviews.

Again, a non-fiction book is a calling card – and selling it isn’t about content, but marketing. When it comes to selling, marketing is almost more important than the book itself – so it makes sense to put a lot of time, energy, and resources into this area.

I am the only person who can possibly write my book.

Maybe you’re the only person who has your exact information, but a good editor can whip that information into shape. If you want to take it even further, a ghostwriter can write the whole thing from introduction to index. We ghostwriters know how to pick your brain, read your ideas, and transform it all into clear, concise, readable prose. If writing isn’t your forte, you should definitely consider this route. It is well worth the investment, and remember – you get what you pay for.


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One Response to Common Publishing Myths

  1. says:

    Interesting post! You’ve clearly substantiated the vital process and the essence of self-publishing. I’m sure self-published authors will be able to appreciate and learn form your post. keep on posting!

    Sincerely, | You have the book…We have the Marketing Resources.

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