It is our great pleasure today to feature an interview with Joel Friedlander who has over 30 years of experience in the publishing business. Joel operates a popular blog that offers advice on navigating through the brave new world of ebooks, indie publishing, book marketing and book designing. Joel is the author of The Self-Publisher’s Companion which we recently reviewed.
Joel, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Thanks Vikram. I grew up in a printing family as my father was a printer and later a teacher of printing. So graphic arts and teacher are both pretty natural to me.
Over the years I’ve working in the book publishing, advertising, graphic design fields. I’ve owned publishing, graphic design and book production companies. Currently I’m the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, where I design and produce books for publishers and authors who decide to publish their own books. Most of my time these days is spent writing, teaching and consulting with authors about the somewhat confusing process of getting their books into print.
I started self-publishing in 1986 and have enjoyed working with authors for many years.
Oh, also, I love to cook and I’m an avid baker. I live in Northern California with my family.
What does a book-designer do and why does an author need a book-designer?
In the shortest possible explanation for what we do, a book designer turns a manuscript into a book. Because books have a variety of aesthetic, typographic, bibliographic and technical requirements, there are a lot of skills and information needed to pull all of this together to produce a book the publisher can be proud of.
Notice I said “publisher.” Authors have no need of book designers until they reach the point that they want to become publishers as well. It’s the publisher, or the author in that role, who is responsible for creating the book as a consumer product, and for launching it into the marketplace.
If you are an author with a minuscule marketing budget, how can you ensure that your book is noticed at the time of the book launch?
Book launch is an exciting, terrifying and exhausting time for self-publishers. As an author you might have thought your work was done when the manuscript was finished, but the publisher knows the hard work is only starting.
Self-publishers are in a good position to market their books, regardless of the budget involved. You know your book better than anyone. You also know the people who are likely buyers of the book, and what other books deal with the same subject.
As you consider your book launch, think about two things:
- Who are the people who will benefit most from your book?
- How can you communicate those benefits most effectively to those people?
Curiously, many of the best communication methods we have cost nothing but an author’s time. Consider these:
- Writing articles for publication on article sites or in offline media
- Participating in discussions in online forums about your book’s subject
- Interacting with popular bloggers in your niche
- Curating content from other sources in your niche
- Creating content of your own on your subject for publication by bloggers in your field
- Setting up a mailing list for people interested in your work and using it to communicate real value
This list could go on and on. Notice that there is no financial cost to any of these activities. Each one will support your image as an expert in your field and put you in contact with networks of people interested in your subject.
At BookBuzzr we notice that many of authors do not know about the concept of branding. Your book offers some advice on personal branding for authors. What is branding and why is it important for authors?
Vikram, to me branding is reputation. It combines trust, habit, perception and loyalty all in one. For an author, their brand helps to establish what kind of writer they are, who their books will appeal to, what kind of expertise or entertainment they offer to readers.
For instance, the names J.K. Rowling, Edgar Allen Poe, and James Michener each evoke a powerful and popular brand. Readers of these authors know to expect young adult fantasy/witchcraft novels, short stories of suspense, and sweeping historical epics. The expectation built up in readers about these authors are the authors’ brands.
Branding for authors is a very powerful and often overlooked part of establishing your books in the market. For instance, the Dummies books are a very clear and focused brand. When people buy a Dummies book, they don’t even care who the author is, they are buying the brand that “makes things easy for people like me.”
If you can put your brand, the appeal to your readers that stretches over all the books you expect to write in a particular subject, into a simple value statement, you will be on your way to describing your brand.
What is the biggest mistake that authors make when it comes to marketing their books?
Oh, that’s an easy one, Vikram: They don’t start soon enough. Most authors concentrate on writing their book and then, when it’s about to come back from the printer, they start thinking about marketing.
If you’ve waited that long, you’ve done yourself and your book a real disservice. My advice to authors is always the same: No matter where you are on your publishing journey, start marketing now.
It takes time to build a readership, a following or a fan base. It takes time to learn the tools of social media, everyone has to learn them. Most self-publishers live on the long tail of the market, and that means that perseverance is critical to making your books a success. Try to imagine a line of related books, and work towards that.
Traditionally, the value of a publisher for a book author lay in the fact that the publisher had book distribution capabilities and relationships with retailers. Now the market is rapidly evolving and authors can simply choose to sell their books through Amazon, Apple, B&N and Google and cover nearly 80% of the market. What value does a publisher bring to the table these days for an author? In other words, if you are a popular author like Stephen King, with your own brand and platform, why do you still need a traditional publisher?
There are many books that are poor candidates for self-publishing, and that means each book has to be evaluated on its unique characteristics and the profile of its likely buyers.
I met with an author recently whose books were published by one of the major business-book publishers. I estimated the publisher was putting over $100,000 into the project just to get the book to market. No self-publisher can logically match those kinds of expenditures, nor can they get the kind of distribution that large publishers already have in place. I advised this author to make the best deal he could and find other ways to monetize his content, since the big publisher was the best place for his books.
Where do you see publishing headed in the next few years? What kind of trends are you seeing?
The move to disintermediation, where whole layers of the distribution channel are disappearing, will continue. The book distribution system in the United States is very limited, and mostly closed to self-publishers. This is another reason it’s so important to plan your second, third and subsequent books.
Although e-books will start to erode the market for paperbacks, I think printed books will remain strong.
One of the most interesting developments is the proliferation of authors and publishers taking advantage of the elasticity, connectivity and network effects of digital texts. We’re about to find out what the definition of a “book” is in the twenty-first century, and I can’t wait.