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.