The Only 2 Things Authors Ought to be Doing

Part of running this blog is answering questions.

Many of these come from authors who’ve decided to dive into the waters of indie publishing. Spurred on by reading Joe Konrath‘s blog or by stories in the press about the contracts signed by e-book superstars, they are ready to take the leap.

(As an aside, this is already a pretty amazing paragraph I just wrote. Compared to the secrecy, dissembling, misinformation and prejudice that surrounded self-publishing during most of my career in the book trades, the turnaround is as startling as it has been rapid. Okay, back to the story.)

 

Now, authors are a lot like everyone else. Some are more technically-minded, others less so.

Some notice and appreciate typography, cover design, fine artwork and a beautiful page. Others either don’t notice or just don’t care about that stuff.

As my first boss, Harry Sandler, used to tell me, “That’s what makes horse races,” and I suppose he was right about that.

But There’s a Problem

When authors decide to self-publish, they naturally try to educate themselves, and that’s a very good thing.

They read blogs, buy books on self-publishing, download lots of free information on the topic, maybe take an online course.

Once they start to focus on actually creating a book, they get wrapped up in page margins, which fonts to use, who is the best print on demand vendor for their project, and myriad other details in the process.

Here’s my message for authors who think they have a book that will actually sell: don’t do it.

The Lure of the Process

Maybe it’s because much of the work of traditional publishers takes place behind a wall. It’s kind of the electrical and plumbing of book publishing.

Editors cut and shape manuscripts, designers create one version after another of the book’s cover until it’s right. Coders and typesetters and printers and binders work on creating the physical product that the book becomes.

Who knew what dark arts were being used to turn lumpy, awkward typescripts into beautiful, readable and enjoyable books?

In the belief that they now have to replace every one of the departments at the publishing house on their own, authors get stuck in the swamps of tutorials, courses, e-learning programs, webinars and action plans. How is anyone supposed to make sense of all this?

Of course no one person can be expert in all these fields. Even if you tried, you would be a novice in several fields at once. You know, the first books I designed didn’t look all that good. After all, they were the efforts of a novice, and we all know how those go, don’t we?

Where To Put Your Energy

Okay, here’s the follow-through. After talking to hundreds of authors, helping launch scores of indie books, sitting on panels and writing for several years on these topics, I’ve come to the conclusion that:

There are only 2 things authors ought to be doing: writing, and marketing that writing.

That sounds a lot like advice you might get if you’re a traditionally-published author, doesn’t it? But with a difference.

Just as the head of a traditional publishing house probably isn’t writing the press releases or setting up his blog syndication, you should focus where your work will have the biggest impact.

That means, unless you want to start a side career as a publicist or a blog technician, you should probably outsource all of that work. Everything. Why?

Because self-publishing does not mean “do-it-yourself publishing.” Self-publishing is not about:

  • picking fonts,
  • creating covers in Photoshop, or
  • learning Adobe InDesign.

No. Self-publishing is about controlling the process and the end result, it’s not about doing it all yourself.

Certainly you need to understand what an ISBN is and how to use it, but you might not need to get much more technical than that.

As long as you have a roadmap, you understand the process and where your books fit, and you have the ability to track and control your costs, you can run your publishing company by hiring the “technical” help you need.

This leaves you to write and market what you write. From everything I know, that’s going to give you the best chance for success. 

 

 

This is a reprint from Joel Friedlander‘s The Book Designer.

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