At the end of February I went to the London Author Fair. This was for authors of all flavours, not just those interested in self-publishing, despite the heavy presence of Createspace, KDP, Kobo and Nook. And Blurb, which I hadn’t met before, mainly because they specialise in illustrative books. There were a series of seminars running throughout the day, and more interactive workshops in three streams alongside.
In the usual way of things, two of the workshops I would have liked to attend were scheduled against each other and a potentially useful seminar, but I made my decision and went to whichever seemed most likely to meet my goals. Amazing! I had set some goals for this event!
- determine what it means to be my own publisher
- find a solution for UK distribution of my books (probably one that did not involve using Createspace)
- learn more about the process of book publishing
I was in the right place to achieve all three. The first seminar I went to was about the Business of Publishing. This gave me some useful insights – obvious things to some, but things that gave me food for thought – like my second goal, is perfectly achievable, but how do I want to juggle different platforms? Is it a one-size-fits-all approach, or more likely, do I want to multiplatform. A phrase that came up later was “sitting on the shoulders of giants” – finding the right large companies to utilise for the key things that as an author, you don’t want to do yourself. Distribution, for instance – getting physical copies of books to people who want them. OK, some authors are happy to do that. The possibility of having my own online store alongside the biggies also exists – but for that to be worthwhile I need online presence.
If you could buy my book from here, would you do so? As in, you don’t even have to click through to Amazon or Createspace or Smashwords – you do the transaction on my webspace. As long as the distribution was reliable, and the price not significantly different, I think I would do that. As someone pointed out – Amazon does free delivery, which gives every other bookseller a headache. If I want to do this, I may need to consider buying my own ISBNs. The ISBN is the key to being included in the Nielsen data, which in turn is key to booksellers being able to order it. And now I know how to do that.
There were some interesting statistics about best-selling authors. Like, most of them have been around for a very long time, and produce a book a year at the same time each year, regular as clockwork. There were also some insights into non-fiction bestsellers. For example, to hit the top 5,000 in the categories they mentioned (which included personal improvement), you only need double-digit sales. To be in the top ten you only need a few thousand. I think Mark Coker of Smashwords has some nice graphs of that for fiction books – the principle is the same, but the numbers are different. But I know that one sale of my book makes a huge difference to its ranking. The tail of those books selling none a month is very long indeed.
I also went to a seminar on Distribution, which enlarged on some of those areas, with a particularly useful presentation by Ingram. Kobo mentioned an interesting thought on different language versions to address different markets. I picked up some useful alternative approaches for Print on Demand, as well as being tipped off in a discussion about some new author-publisher products being launched in June/July time that could be very interesting. We were reminded about being clear about what we want to achieve. How to create the best customer reader experience. At the end of the day Amazon has the best global reach for all supported book formats.
My conclusion from those seminars was to think of all my books, now and future ones, and think about what I want as the publisher of them. Is there one solution that fits all of them, or will different products have different solutions? There is no problem in having different solutions, as long as I manage them well.
The penultimate session I went to was on Discoverability and Connecting with Readers. Most of the notes I made were from the Goodreads speaker. I found this enormously helpful – particularly the information about using the data that is available to Goodreads authors about where their readers take breaks, pause or (worst case) abandon their books! It’s in the detailed statistics on author pages. We were also given some great tips about advertising (if you say your book is like X, then all people who have read X will be shown your ad). You can also work your themes to get to fans of those themes. We don’t tag well enough, apparently. I asked about video trailers, and he advised not to spend money of them – most YouTube trailers were decidedly homemade and they worked just as well – especially if it included the author talking about the book or reading from it. I came home and made a trailer of me reading. It’s longer than it should be, but I’ll work on it.
The final session was brainstorming where we want to be in 2020 and how to get there. I wasn’t convinced we could know where we want to be then, but it brought some interesting ideas out. Fans being your most important weapon. The idea that by 2020 there will be more authors than readers was suggested. Or all readers being authors. Social networking was, as you might expect, essential – but it’s about talking to fans, not just promoting the books. It seems to be about the author, not the book. I should be thinking more about Jemima’s Facebook author page than the Princelings of the East FB page. And special things the author can give readers – my illustrations as giveaways being a case in point – nobody has those except the people I’ve sent them to (and most of them have different ones).
There were lots of other ideas, but some are for thinking about, others are for planning and still others for acting upon. All in all, I got far more out of the day than I expected to.
Now to put it into practice.