Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Would You Let Me Cut Your Hair? Be Your Attorney? Fix Your Car?

In 2004, when I started my business helping people open their own micropublishing houses and publishing books, I had already assisted in the publishing of well over 150 books, audio books, and videos for trade distribution, corporate and non-profit publishers. To this day, 33 years into my publishing career, I strive to learn something new every day -- and my staff does as well.  Publishing changes daily, and there are many options -- one of which is right for a specific author and book. Today, we have advised, published or fixed hundreds and hundreds of books in a myriad of different ways.

Experience, continuous research, connections, respect for the industry and respect for the profession are important to me, and they should be important to you.  Experience and wisdom matter. 

Why am I concerned? I'm hearing and seeing more and more potential for trouble every day...
  • I read an article a while ago that contained publishing advice from one-time authors on how to publish. A library had the authors on a panel to talk to would-be authors. 
  • An illustrator who had never done anything other than illustrate a book stepped in to help a first time author.
  • I found a publishing blog where a first time author was dispensing advice on how to publish before their first book was even on the market. 
  • In a course catalog for a community college, I saw another first time author giving a whole class after uploading one poorly designed and edited ebook, offering it on Kindle's KDP Select free promo where they had 20,000 downloads -- and 500 scathing reviews as a result. 
  • I found another piece where a young professional and recent first-time author himself actually charged thousands of dollars posing as a publishing expert to publish another person's book (very poorly and with dangerous mistakes).  He was eventually sued by the author for incompetence.
The problem: None of these people had actually ever performed the massive number of tasks publishing requires -- they had all used a "self publishing company" or an author services company similar to my firm to get published.

It's like...
I get my hair cut and colored by a trained specialist. 
Doesn't mean I am going to open my own salon.

Or even...
I buy suits, dresses, slacks and tops at a department store. 
Doesn't mean I'm a fashion designer that could whip you up an outfit any time soon.

Or better yet...
I have contracts drawn up for me.
Doesn't mean I am qualified to open up my own law firm.

OK, one more...
I own a car, which I drive every day. 
Doesn't mean I'm qualified to overhaul your engine.

So, what should you do?
There are plenty of experts out there, folks. Do your due diligence when researching publishing and make sure the people you are listening to actually have first hand experience and real knowledge -- and that they have actually published more than just their own book through some POD house (and btw, make sure it is well edited and designed and doesn't look like it was done by their 19 year old first year design student).

And if you are an author dispensing advice, be aware that people may actually be spending real money -- actual hard-earned dollars -- based on what you tell them. Be honest with people and share your own story, but make sure they know that is just your own story and that you had assistance performing the actual publishing part.

Finally...Don't assume that "self publishing" means you have to do everything all by yourself. You don't.  You can hire experts for work you don't know how to do yourself (hint: owning design programs does not make you an expert in them, nor does it make you a designer).  Do your research, and be prepared to pay a fair price for the services. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Is Your SWOT Team Ready?

What are Your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in Your Publishing Venture?

Putting together a business plan can be daunting, especially for creative types (i.e.: authors). Authors are often perplexed as to the inner workings of a business plan. Over the next few blog posts, I'll explain a few things that can help you dig deeper into the business end, without causing too much pain and anguish.

Here are some examples of SWOT items you'll want to examine:

STRENGTHS (usually in your control): These are things that you currently have that give you a unique selling proposition (an edge over your competition) that you can focus your marketing efforts on. Knowing your strengths helps you deliver a product that your readers and buyers will love. 
  • Your knowledge of subject matter
  • Your platform
  • Ability to adjust timeliness to market
  • Features you are able to include
  • Financial resources
  • Time availability and presentation skills
  • Fans
  • Good distribution strategy

What else makes you and your book special and gives you an edge?

WEAKNESSES (usually in your control): These are things that you either need to overcome or accept. This isn't a job interview where you are going to say "My biggest weakness is that I care too much and work too hard."  Dig down deep to know what weaknesses you currently have in your platform, your marketing, your book, and your businesses. Then figure out what to do about them.
  • Limited resources (time and money)
  • A narrow window to get your book out
  • Limited knowledge (or unknown author)
  • Poor product development
  • Too many book printed or not enough
  • Poor distribution strategy

What do you need to improve to make you and your product or service more viable?

OPPORTUNITIES (usually out of your control): Here, we are looking at what else could possibly affect you. Is your book about a person who could end up in the news? Did you write about how astronomy works when they could discover a new planet? Could your once crazy idea of an adult coloring book suddenly have a new market because some psychologist said it calms people better than valium?
  • Unexpected news pickup for you, your book, or especially, your topic
  • A law change in your favor
  • A celebrity is seen using it
  • Changes in product environment
  • The subject of your book becomes news
  • Sudden market interest and ability to scale

Are you keeping an eye on the world outside of your window for these opportunities?

THREATS (usually out of your control): Finally, have you tied your boat to a moving dock? Can something outside of your control have a significant impact on your success? Is someone else coming out with another book at the same time for the same niche audience (Hint: this could also be an opportunity)? Will the distributor that you are counting on suddenly go out of business with all of your stock in their warehouse?  "Threats" is a hard one because you are testing the unknown, but it is valuable because it forces you to look outside of your own four walls.  Cast a wide net here.
  • Time (election cycle noise during your launch)
  • Disorganized delivery methods for scaling up or down
  • Legislative changes not in your topic's favor
  • Change in the product environment (e.g. a book about a website craze that unexpectedly decides to change platforms a month after your book's release)
  • Financial market catastrophe
  • An endorser commits a heinous crime

Are you building time bombs or other features into your book that may cause early obsolescence? Are outside forces a significant factor?
An entrepreneur should always look at this analysis in depth before going into business, as well as assessing each area continuously. This is a dynamic process, with ebbs and flows; what is a threat today could be gone tomorrow.  What is unseen today, could be an opportunity tomorrow.  

Besides, it's kind of fun.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Favorite Post Replay: Don't Overdirect the Hairdresser!

I am posting this again because it is so relevant now and always.  It originally posted in 2011, but is one of my most visited blogs every year....

Rinse. Repeat.  Don't overdirect the hairdresser.  When you hire a professional to assist you because you have never done something before, listen to them (you are paying them after all).  How do I know this is good advice?  The first time I decided to change my hair color, I sat down and told my stylist exactly what I thought she should do. She suggested otherwise, but I insisted. As she predicted, it looked awful.

Embarrassed, I went to another salon and said "Who's best at short hair techniques?"  They suggested Kimberly.  I told her "I'm hiring you to look at my face, coloring and overall image and do what you think will be best."  Then I trusted her to do it, and I continue to trust her to do what she thinks will look and work best for me, my image, changing hair color techniques, and my lifestyle.

The same holds true for hiring any expert...
Hire people you trust, validate them, and then trust them to do the job you hired them to do.  It's hard sometimes, and the control freak that gets all those other projects done every day may not know everything that is required to do the job at hand.

That is why you hired an expert to help you!

Originally published August 11, 2011

Friday, February 27, 2015

Flawless Event Planning - Part 2

Here are the essentials for booksignings and other events. 

Your event is right around the corner, but what do you need to have with you?  
  • Cart/Dolly
  • Table
  • Tablecloth
  • Poster or banner stand with a simple graphic (not a wall of text)
  • Easel (if bringing poster)
  • Books (be reasonable about the quantity)
  • Book stands
  • Cash box (with a "bank" based on how much you are charging. Set price so coins aren't needed.)
  • Credit card swiping device (Square, PayPal, etc.)
  • Any other collateral items you have, such as bookmarks, postcards, brochures, press kits
  • Reseller tax permit for the state you are selling in (in a folder is fine)
  • Optional: Original illustrations
  • Optional: Photos from the book
  • Tradeshow Kit*
*Tradeshow Kit: This is the holy grail. Here’s the scoop:

The tradeshow kit is a tackle box filled to the brim with what may seem like random items. Lisa, over her 30+ years of coordination and management of tradeshows, has compiled this list of items to put into a tradeshow kit. This kit includes the Things You’ll Need, the Things You Don’t Think You'll Need, and some Things You Don’t Even Know You’ll Need! These things interchange from show to show, but rest assured this kit should stay assembled and at the ready on a shelf or in your trunk, so you can grab and go for any event, planned or spontaneous! It has saved CMI many times, and it will save you – guaranteed!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Flawless Event Planning - Part 1

Your event is coming up quickly! Are you prepared?

It’s exciting to take your book to an event where you’ll engage customers and hopefully sell them your book. You want to make sure that you have an exciting display and all of the tools necessary to do business.

What do you bring? This question has plagued authors all across the country for years. Here’s Lisa’s list from doing over 350 national, regional and local shows from budgets of $250 to $90,000.  What she learned is to be prepared for the strangest things to happen! The items you bring along, and a little advance planning can make or break your show. 

  1. Know who is attending the show and how your product benefits them.
  2. Know if your fellow exhibitors are your REAL audience 
  3. Know how you are going to follow up on your leads BEFORE you even go to the show
  4. Have your spiel memorized, practiced, honed and perfected. And don’t change it from person to person!
  5. Keep your messages simple and to the point for the audience you are seeking. Don’t try to be all things to all people.
  6. Know how long it takes you to present your book to a prospective customer. (Learn how to stop talking and let them ask a question)
  7. Know your goals
  8. Know your budget and stick to it
  9. Know who is in charge of the show itself: their phone number and name (It doesn’t hurt to bring a pack of Thank You notes and a couple of little gifts just in case.)
  10. Don’t get hung up on little annoying distractions – be prepared with a Tradeshow Kit* so you don’t have to waste time hunting down minutiae.

Part 2 - Tune in next week for the essentials in packing for your events!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Agent Assisted Publishing v. Hybrid Publishing

I just read an article entitled "What is Hybrid Publishing" on the email newsletter.  I'm scratching my head as to how they could be so free and easy in distributing misinformation to those seeking their wisdom. In the article, the author's agent couldn't sell her book, so the agent charged the author to "self publish" it for her, calling it Hybrid Publishing. No. I have seen so many agents entering the market lately, I just have to speak!

What IS Hybrid Publishing? 

The term "Hybrid Publishing" has been around for a long, long time. Hybrid publishing is not DIY in your basement with a program you've never even heard of. It's not vanity. It's not subsidy. It's not POD. It's not just uploading it to Amazon. It's not having someone that worked in one area of traditional publishing helping you self publish. Hybrid publishing takes the best techniques and materials available for the given objective to build a better product and stronger platform. It requires professional publishing navigation, book shepherding, coaching, author services. Hybrid, just like in horticulture, is a selection process used for greater growth, a better yield, faster production, and protection from pests.  I think the correlation fits darn well.

My first exposure to it was in 1993 at Publishers Marketing Association (now called Independent Book Publishers Association and I highly recommend it - Publishing University -- and it seems that it was gaining respect and exposure even then. I didn't make it up, but that is what I call our publishing model here, and what should be done for every book -- that is publishing it in whatever manner is BEST for that book and that author.

Agent-Assisted Publishing is Dangerous

The traditional publishing model is no longer the norm, and underutilized (or unemployed) Agents are jumping on the bandwagon to assist authors who wish to publish their own work. Agent-assisted publishing is a scary thing and I keep seeing it pop up calling it Hybrid Publishing. I see lots of problems with this -- not the least of which agents don't usually know the sheer volume of tasks required because they have never done any of them. Just because they sold a title to Publisher A doesn't mean they have a clue how to actually publish a book. Just like when you buy a dress from a department store, the sales clerk has no idea how it was put together or what all went into it. Their job is sales. The agent's job is sales. They sell your intellectual property to a publisher, ideally. The agent doesn't do the editing, designing, setting up the publishing accounts, hiring an illustrator, finding an indexer, signing you up for distribution -- let alone setting up a book signing or publicizing. That's just not their job. Their job is to sell you to a publishing house domestically or beyond, or to a movie studio, or to some other type of entity.

Word of Wisdom:
Ask a lot of questions before entering into any agreement to publish with an Agent -- starting with have they done the process from A to Z more than that one time for their Grandma Edna's cookbook.  And to the sales clerks out there -- don't try to sell yourself as Diane Von Furstenberg just because you sold a wrap dress at Nordstroms.

End of Rant.  :)

Monday, November 17, 2014

An Attorney, an Accountant, and a Banker Walked into a Coffee Shop - A Business Story

Back in 2004, Eric and I decided to take the plunge into the small business world.  I wanted to work with the independent authors and publishers that I had fallen in love with throughout the 90s with my work with Jan and Terry Nathan and the #IBPA (then called Publishers Marketing Association), and we devised a plan.  I explained that I wanted to "get authors where they can't get themselves" -- My husband and business partner asked, "Like a hotel concierge?"  And thus, the light went off for Eric and it made sense to me, so WHY NOT Concierge Marketing Inc.?

At the time, "Concierge Marketing" was not a type of marketing -- that came several years later.  Now, "concierge" is often used with "marketing".  We captured the name that night in every possible variation.

Initially, we worked with artists and musicians too -- but I won't waste too much time on that, except to say that Seth Godin's "The Dip" helped me make the decision to focus solely on my authors and small publishers and refer the musicians and artists to other marketing experts.

My first client, Janie Peterson of Behaven Day Centers and Behave'n Kids Press, gave me extremely valuable advice. She said "Make friends with your attorney, your accountant and your banker. They are going to be close for a long time." So I went to the Small Business Administration's excellent full day seminar where I met one of each as they taught our class.  I still employ the same people that presented that day, and I do consider these people friends (business friends). Janie has always been a trusted friend, and also a valuable mentor. Thank you Janie (and Roger)!

After I took the #SBA classes and another full day #SCORE seminar on taxes, Eric and I decided to go for it.  The first official thing I did was to call the attorneys and start the process to incorporate.

The second official thing I did was to join the Omaha Chamber of Commerce on October 20, 2004. The educational and networking opportunities were fun, well run, and priceless. Worth every penny of membership and I highly recommend it to anyone opening a business in Omaha. I don't know about other cities, but our Chamber is top notch.  Heck, in 2012 when a group of thieves tried to steal our copper cable in the building and we were down for the count for 9 days, the Chamber let me use their conference room and phones, and even allowed me to have Fedex and UPS deliver my packages to their offices. Last March, 2013, Concierge Marketing was honored as the @OmahaChamber of Commerce's Small Business of the Month and then nominated for Small Business of the Year in 2013.

On April 2, 2005, I was standing at the Starbucks at the Mall waiting for a press conference to begin for the National Sleep Week festivities, with Janie's Sleep Fairy, and the Nebraska Sleep Fair I had organized. Well, if that date seems at all familiar, it was the day Pope John Paul II passed away. Needless to say, no press thought my Sleep Fair was more important than that. Hmmph. That's the day I met Sandra Wendel, owner of Write On Inc. who happened to strike up a conversation at that Starbucks. Not only is she the finest book editor without question, but she has also been a wonderful mentor and friend. Concierge Marketing would not have been able to do what we have done without her. Thank you so much, Sandy.

Bottom line, I could go on and on and on about the people who have been part of my life and my vision. It takes trust, support, courage, humility, faith in your idea and your skills, and a lot of people to make the dream of owning a small business a reality. It also takes a sense of humor, and I can tell you we have laughed a lot in the strangest of situations.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to do business with amazing, bright, smart, caring, thought-leading people who I admire and love -- as mentors, staff, friends, clients, and partners. I'm ready for the next ten years.

Lisa Pelto