Thursday, August 05, 2010

Advice from Veteran Editor and Reviewer Jim Cox

This guest blog post is from Jim Cox's Midwest Review newsletter, which I highly recommend. It is printed with Cox’s permission. To subscribe go to http://www.midwestbookreview.com. He especially likes to review writing-related books and includes many of those reviews in his newsletter.


Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

I want to make a few observations and comments about why it is so difficult for self-published authors to successfully attract the attention of book reviewers, distributors, wholesalers, and retail booksellers. -- And then some suggestions on what to do about it.

As well as authors that set up their own publishing company to produce their books, I include in the category of self-published authors those that utilize POD companies like iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Trafford, Infinity, Booksurge, Outskirts, PublishAmerica, Lulu, Vantage, Tate, and the dozens of other companies who, for a price, will take any author's manuscript and turn it into a book.

It is very well known (or should be) that the Midwest Book Review has championed self-published authors from our very beginning in 1976 down to the present day. And will continue to do so for as long as I remain its editor-in-chief.

Our current book review publications for May 2010 feature reviews for 47 POD published titles and reviews for six books whose self-published authors didn't even bother to create a publishing company name for themselves and so were identified in the 'info block' that is a part of all our reviews as being 'Privately Published'.

There's about a half-dozen reviews for self-published books that didn't even have snail-mail addresses available for their 'info blocks' -- only e-mail ones.

Those self-published authors who did make up their own company names (complete with intact address contact information), the number of reviews runs to somewhere around a hundred or so.

Therefore my comments on why self-published authors tend to labor under a prejudice within the publishing industry are well-meant by a truly sympathetic observer.

Here they are:

1. Substandard covers which render a book to be uncompetitive on esthetic grounds to the casual bookstore browser. You can have pure literary gold inside, but if the outside screams 'amateur' or is otherwise repellent, it will get passed over as it's competition on the shelf proves more attractive in seducing the buyer's attention. This lack of competitive appeal also applies to reviewers, bookstore managers, and everyone else in the between the publisher and the reader, when consider to accept or reject a title.

2. Interior flaws that run the gamut from excessive typos, to grammatical errors, to exasperating font selection.

3. Content categories that are flooded in the marketplace with competition and/or have limited mainstream audience appeal. The market for poetry is minuscule. The demand for personal memoirs of overcoming medical, psychological, or flawed upbringing adversities is even smaller. Because of the ease of desk-top publishing, each year sees works of general fiction increasingly flooding a marketplace where each of those years sees a smaller percentage of people spending their leisure time reading general fiction.

4. Ignorance and/or naivety in dealing with the various elements of the publishing industry and therefore coming across as non-professionals. With respect to reviewers, this is often displayed by inadequate review copy submissions where the requirements were not met. With respect to booksellers it is very much the same.

5. When it comes to reviewers, the single most grievous thing a few (and in my experience, very few) self-published authors do to 'spoil it' for all other self-published authors is to harass a reviewer about the review process -- that is, persistent and frequent questioning as to when their book will be reviewed, why their book was not selected for review, taking personal offense with respect to the actual review when one is done. It only takes a handful of such experiences to sour a professional reviewer or a book review editor into not wanting to deal with someone who is not a seasoned, experienced, professional author. For wanting to avoid authors who are so emotionally and/or financially invested in their self-published book that they become rude, and even down right abusive.

And please believe me when I say that in the thirty-four years I've been doing this I've had these kinds of encounters more times that I can count.

So how can a self-published author overcome this publishing industry reluctance to get involved with a self-published book?

1. Appear and act as professionally and maturely as you possibly can in every aspect of your contacts with reviewers, booksellers, and everyone else in the publishing industry you encounter, solicit, or market to.

2. Insure that your book is flawless with respect to what's inside, and competitive in terms of its outside appearance.

3. If your book is in a category where the numbers of competing titles is enormous, concentrate on marketing your title as if it were something very special, identifying and capitalizing on something that would make it 'stand out in the crowd'. If your book is in a category of a minimal or a specialized readership, target your marketing efforts directly to that niche group.

4. Don't expect to make a profit, or even recoup your initial investment, in the short term. Be prepared to engage in a long-term effort, one in which the months will turn into years, and the years into decades -- with you plugging away in your marketing efforts throughout it all. And expect to learn new (and hone existing) publishing and book marketing tips, tricks and techniques throughout it all.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI, 53575

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books for writers, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. Her FRUGAL book for retailers is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about it:

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