Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 4, 2012

Time to Get Personal (Skills) - Publishing Decisions, Part 4

Writers in the Storm welcomes Susan Spann, contributing guest for Part 4 of her Publishing Decisions series.

by Susan Spann

Thanks for joining me today as we continue our look at publishing paths and how smart authors choose between them.

Last month we talked about “getting busy” with writing goals and business plans– because authors should never forget that writing is a business as well as an avocation.

When deciding between traditional publication, independent publishing, and the increasingly-popular hybrid career, authors need to pay special attention to personal skills, particularly the ones that translate to platform, marketing and sales.

Audience and platform are critical to publishing success.

“Platform” refers to an author’s visibility, reach and authority within his or her chosen publishing sphere. Authors with wide reach and a reputation for expertise have a wide (or “visible”) platform, and authors with an established platform generally sell better than those without – regardless of the publishing path they pursue.

Nonfiction authors who choose traditional publication usually need a platform before an agent or publisher will show interest in their work. Fiction operates a little differently, in that many first-time novelists have no platform (or only a small one) beforehand – they develop a platform through or in connection with their novels.

Independent authors can either develop a platform in advance or build a following through their work, though as a general rule self-published authors may see more initial sales if they have a network and platform in place before a book launches. Without the support of an imprint or publisher book buyers recognize, the indie author depends heavily on blurbs, reviews, and the power of his or her name.

This doesn’t mean that authors with an audience should always self-publish, or that authors without a platform should despair. The rise of social media makes it easier than ever for authors to build a following – but the size and reach of existing platform is one factor writers should weigh when making decisions among the publishing paths.

Marketing and personal skills can help – or hurt – your writing career.

Authors must learn effective interpersonal and promotional skills, regardless of publishing path. The days of writing a novel and sending it off, unsupported, for the publisher to sell have passed away like the rotary phone and the once-beloved typewriter.

Successful 21st Century authors engage their readers on the page and off it.

Without a publisher to assist with sales and marketing efforts, the independent author has primary responsibility for spreading the word about his or her published work. Fortunately, self-published authors don’t have to walk this road alone – writers, bloggers, reviewers, and other contacts will gladly partner with independent authors to promote their works. Don’t have extensive contacts? Make some, using Twitter, blog comments and social media – and don’t forget to make connections in the real world too!

Traditionally published authors can’t sit on their publishing laurels when it comes to marketing, either. Most publishers won’t spend large sums of money promoting an author’s work.

Successful authors of every kind must develop a marketing plan and carry it out. This means studying marketing tactics, learning what works for your type of writing, and most of all … being personable, not pushy.

Remember: nobody likes a spammer. Marketing requires more than tweeting your title and Amazon link a hundred times a day. The best sales aren’t “made” or “closed” – they’re chosen by a buyer who thinks a product deserves attention. Readers are far more likely to buy your work – regardless of the publishing method – if they like you. Meeting and interacting with people, in person or online, does more for your sales than a thousand hollers of “BUY MY BOOK.” Promotion, like everything else, requires balance. It’s a learned skill – and it’s never too early to start the learning process.

Technical skills are important – but they don’t have to be yours!

Independent authors can either choose to typeset and format their works themselves or hire someone to handle the process for them. This can be either a publishing service or a professional specializing in file conversion, and the process can include editing or not, as the author chooses.

While technical skills are important to the self-published author who wants to keep costs as low as possible, they’re no longer a requirement for authors who choose an independent path. That said, an author should not “go indie” without investigating the process and evaluating the costs and technical skills involved in choosing that path.

Traditional authors don’t typeset and format their works for publication. The publisher handles that side of the business, making the “technical research” somewhat easier. In short: there isn’t any. This is a benefit of surrendering control to the publishing house – the traditional author’s business partner handles the technical details.

What you don’t do can be as important as what you do.

Up to now, we’ve focused on different factors authors should consider when making decisions about a publishing career. We’ve talked about goals and skills and business plans. Next month, we’ll step off the well-paved path and examine the thorny side of publishing decisions – the traps and pitfalls that often draw authors away from the right decision and into the one they later regret.

Have or questions about this entry or other issues of publishing business and law? Please hop into the comments – I love to hear from you!

Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author who practices in Sacramento, California. CLAWS OF THE CAT, the debut novel in her SHINOBI mystery series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori, will be published by Thomas Dunne Books in Spring 2013. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at http://www.SusanSpann.com

0 comments on “Time to Get Personal (Skills) - Publishing Decisions, Part 4”

  1. Thanks for the helpful post, Susan. Look forward to the next one. Publishing is a crazy world now, and authors need all the help they can get to navigate in this world.

    1. Thanks Marsha! Publishing is definitely changing in exciting ways, and it's great to be able to help authors of all kinds in whatever way I can.

    1. Thanks Fae. The good news is, it's not a cause for panic if an author doesn't have a platform before publishing, but it's definitely helpful to think about early in the process. Slow, steady growth is easier - and better - than trying to make a big splash at release!

    1. Thanks Tammy! From what I can tell, you're avoiding all the pitfalls beautifully - you're a great example of someone who's doing it right!

  2. Susan, I started Twitter because I felt like I had to. I followed people that would be interested in my books because I felt like I had to. But an amazing thing happened. I connected with those people, and they've become friends! We had something in common, after all, right? I sure hope they buy my book when it comes out, but in the meantime, I'm having lots of fun with my new Tweeps!

    1. Isn't that an amazing outcome! I had exactly the same experience with Twitter. I joined because I felt I "needed" to do it, and in a very short time I connected with authors, industry professionals and others (including some pre-existing clients!) who have quickly become friends, critique partners and a valuable part of my life. I'm so glad you posted this - it sounds like you're using Twitter EXACTLY the right way.

  3. Platform building is a lot of work, but it's mostly a pleasure to me. Meeting other writers in the trenches has really fueled my drive to succeed. I think a lot of writers feel this way (although plenty would prefer to be beaten with a thorny stick than keep up with a blog, etc.). I look forward to hearing about your advice on the pitfalls. Yikes!

    1. We'll have some fun with the pitfalls next time, for sure. The good news is, most of them are easily avoidable if you take a good, hard look at your goals and skills - which, of course, is why we led with them!

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