This week’s question comes from Jason Kraus. He asks …
What is the most challenging part of dealing with the publishing industry (besides actually getting published)?
Shawn: I’ve got a question here Steve. It’s from Jason Kraus. “What is the most challenging part of with the publishing industry besides actually getting published? So what is the thing that is most frustrating for you as a professional writer who gets published by the major houses book after book after book? Is there one thing that you just say ‘oh my gosh, I just can’t handle this’?”
Steve: I have an answer to that. It goes back to the famous meeting you and I had at Crown. I think for me, it’s that the publishing houses don’t support the book and don’t really have a marketing plan or any way of kind of beating the bushes. It’s like in the old time model from maybe 15 or 20 years ago was based on book reviews. Back in the days when the NY Times and every paper in the country had book reviews. And that was how you got the word out that your book even existed.
I was reading an article by Michael Connelly, the novelist. He wrote an op-ed piece and he listed all of the newspapers across the country that have stopped having book reviews, and it made your blood run cold because it was like a list of every big newspaper in the country; the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning-Herald, the Atlanta Journal Constitution. And it just went down the list; boom, boom, boom. There are none of those anymore.
And the publishing industry has just not picked up the slack. Part of the reason why we started this blog was just as a way of kind of an attempt at least of getting the word out about stuff that we’re trying to do. So it is very frustrating. My most recent book The Profession, they spent a lot of money getting that book, and when it was released it just went out and sank without a trace. The only tour of use it got from the Washington Post and the LA Times came out three months after the book was out, and the publisher didn’t really do anything about it. In fact, I was on a book tour for that. I had to pay for it. I had to book the whole tour myself. So that’s the big frustrating thing. What would you say, Shawn? What’s your…
Shawn: Yea, that’s. I think it’s a lack, I don’t think this is just in publishing industries, and I think Seth Godin speaks about this a lot. When you get so large and you’re such a being of mass and the big five publishers have so many imprints, they have so many editors, they have so many production people, the higher levels that you get, the more difficult it is to spin on a dime.
To think of something new and to try something new is much, much more difficult than it is for Steve and Shawn to throw something at the wall and see what happens because they’re turning this huge ship and there’s ramifications like for instance, say I’m the CEO of Random House, and one of my publishers comes to me and says “Look, I want to try this thing where I’m going to do my own blog and I’m going to collect as many people who are interested in book publishing as I can and answer their questions. What do you think about that?” well the CEO is going to be like “I’m not really sure if that’s a good idea because you are representing not only your imprint, but you’re representing all the other imprints in my organization, so I really don’t think that’s a good idea”.
So innovations and things that are, I hate to say outside the box, but these are the things that the big organizations have a really difficult time with, and it’s the David and Goliath element that Malcolm Gladwell writes about. Everybody thinks it’s really terrible to be on your own, and if I only had that really great middle manager job at Exxon, everything would be okay. But the truth is, is that you’re so free to be so creative when you are as you say, betting on yourself, Steve.
Steve: Yea, and here’s an example that we went through, Shawn, which was we have a little book called the Warrior Ethos that I wrote and we brought out maybe two years ago or something like that. And we originally, well it’s kind of a long story, but sort of the bottom line of it was, was we printed up 18,000 copies of this book at our own expense and we gave them away for free to the troops and Marines and Special Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and here in the states. And that’s the kind of a thing that a mainstream publisher would never, never in a million years do. We tried with one particular publisher to give away eBooks that don’t even cost any money, just as a way of getting the word out that a book exists, and they wouldn’t do that because they have this sort of scarcity model in their mind which is that every book that we give away is a book that we don’t sell. So they won’t let you do that.
So the nimbleness of being a small independent or just being your own self-publisher is that you can do things like that. You can give away. And we wound up, it cost us I think about $14,000 all in, including shipping and all that sort of stuff. And I think it took us maybe two years to break even, but we finally did break even and finally did get into the black on this, and it worked.
Shawn: It did work.
Steve: Giving something away is something that a mainstream publisher will never do, but if you’re on your own, you can do that. And there are a million other examples like that.
Good stuff. As always.
ONE OF THE OTHER MILLION EXAMPLES: I believe this same mind set of a publisher can fall into the same category of Network Marketing as far as going outside of “the box” which is considered “the norm” of doing business within MLM that I experience. VERY FRUSTRATING…BUT the difference for me is it is “the dedicated MLM ers” that have done it the same old way for years and are stuck “in fear” of any change so it’s like I have leprosy when I suggest anything. What is different, too, is it is NOT the company’s I am with they are actually OPEN to “change” BUT, when I cannot bring people on board because of “their tunnel vision” of this [pyramid] concept about what Network Marketing/MLM/Direct Sales is all about…For me and what I “promote” is turning the pyramid upside down. But the potential consumer/customer/Associate do not “open their eyes” and do not get “the vision” in this way and “close their ears” with anything I have to “present” [of which] is actually a “gift” of Health and Wealth that I want TO GIVE..
Thanks for giving us ongoing access to Black Irish’s evolution. The Goliath that is traditional publishing is not going to truly acknowledge its short-sightedness until it is on the ground and can’t get up again.
You promoted The Warrior Ethos by going after a niche and doing it well.
That is exactly where your investment in the book is huge compared to what the publisher’s is – and where you could do what it needed.
I have no hope of competing with Big Pub in general – but I’m working out what my strategy might be for finding – and filling – the niche I know I’m aiming at.
Thanks for the pointers – they are virtual learning at its best.
Hi. Regarding reviews: While it is true that the number of print reviews has gone down, reviews can now be found on many on-line sources, often smaller and genre-based (romance, mystery, etc). The on-line folks want to read e-galleys. This info might help someone who wants to get the word out about their work: try the on-line indies in your genre.
Hi Steve and Shawn
I’m a new recruit to your world. Your The War of Art was a godsend. I bought it and gave it to my son and now I have to buy another copy. Thank you for making Going Pro available for free (the link was shared by a friend) And this blog is certainly a happy place to visit.
As well as these thanks, I wanted to mention that the music ‘industry’ underwent the same dismantling, albeit a few years earlier than publishing. When my first CD came out 12 years ago, I was being distributed by a so called “boutique label” a small label under the umbrella of an international one. When we found my music was being purchased all over Europe, the label offered intellectual support, but i had to pay my own way and tour alone (couldn’t afford to bring my band) etc etc, to connect with and build new fans. Anyways, my point is, the music business began to shore up its losses by building these goliath limits to artist development when they saw a decrease in CD sales, and the result is, now they are effectively irrelevant. People find their music on their own, and real music fans support the artists they love directly. The music industry now is really those small labels who love and nurture their artists, and independent artists who connect directly with their fans. The good news for publishing is, the same thing is happening, and clearly, what you’re in the process of creating here. I’m looking forward to more learning and inspiration. Thanks again.
We live in an exciting time, don’t we? I love the fact that we can strike out on our own with minimal cost. Sure, we may not become millionaires but, we have control. And I would pay $1 million for control.
Steven, will any of your novels ever be available through Black Irish Press?
Oops, I mean Black Irish Books. Sorry!
I’m enjoying all the “Ask Me Anything” podcasts (though I’m having some technical difficulty getting them from the computer to the iPhone). Insightful, as always.
This last one was both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging, because it confirms there are no shortcuts, but hard work and confidence (and a great support team) always gives one a chance. Discouraging because if one of Steven’s novels ran into the Big 5 wall…yet as paradigms shift and possibilities emerge, surely there will be more connectivity.
It’s so encouraging to read posts like this. Being a new writer on the battlefield can be an intimidating thing when you look solely at the business of publishing, though “betting on yourself” seems like a great way to discard much of the stress and crutches that can come with publishing through big companies. Thanks for this one, guys! Super encouraging.
Thanks for this post and the comment trail. I recently listened to an interview with Hugh Howey discussing his model for self-publishing and how he originally gave away his book Wool for free via Amazon before being ultimately picked up and published by Random House. He discusses the journey of his self-published book and his views on where the publishing industry is now. Great interview..
This was an excellent discussion and I love the references to Gladwell and Godin.
James Altucher’s ‘Choose Yourself’ was an awesome introduction into this new world. He also did a post on TechCrunch on self-publishing that everyone on here should check out!
Great content on here Steve!