I was pondering this over the weekend so thought I’d post it for no other reason than it may help someone. Here, for what it’s worth, are some tips for brand new book publishers or booksellers, either online or bricks and mortar (this could also stretch to self-publishers as well, as long as you remember to look at the publishing side of things as a business):
- Ignore most advice you get given. Presumably you want to start a publishing company/bookstore because you’ve got an idea that’s different. It makes sense that existing businesses or just simple naysayers won’t be able to advise you very well. Listen, take what’s useful, and discard what isn’t. This applies to my next few points.
- Put yourself into the shoes of others. What will your target readers/customers think of the submission/book you’re reading? Would you pick the book up in a store? Would the cover draw you in? I’ve heard so many readers recently stating they hate an endless list of reviews on the back cover of a book instead of the blurb – yet the big 5 still insist on doing this with their big sellers because clearly they don’t listen. Don’t add yourself to that list!
- Make planning a large part of your business’s structure. Most people get into publishing/bookselling because they love books, and charge full steam ahead without thinking of all the ins and outs. For example, don’t focus on building your list as a publisher before you’ve even considered where to potentially sell them. As a bookseller, look into various places to source your stock (direct from small publishers or self-published authors) to build relationships and contacts. You need to develop your company’s infrastructure from the start.
- Use technology to your absolute advantage. From learning how to utilise software such as the Adobe suite, to using social media to engage direct with retailers and readers, small businesses can operate on similar levels to the bigger players out there with only half the staff and improved workflow. Unsure how to use Photoshop or Indesign, or how to navigate ISBN registration? Make it your mission to learn.
- Use your background to your advantage. It can be your USP – use it to your full advantage. I worked as a book editor for over fourteen years as well as being a published author, so Scorpius Books’ advantage is knowing the industry from both sides of the fence, allowing us to connect with our authors and readers a hell of a lot more than other companies. Maybe you have a strong retail background, or worked in social media. Use what you know.
- Realise that you can judge a book by its cover. The one thing a reader doesn’t know at the point of sale (if it’s a book they haven’t read before, of course) is the quality of the writing. Design is therefore crucial and a big clue as to whether your book was professionally created (take note, self-publishers). There are more than 100,000 new titles published a year. How do you make yours stand out? Well it has to look like it belongs in it’s genre. That will reassure the bookstores that you know what you’re doing, and once the book is in the stores it has a chance of selling. Readers rely (albeit often subconsciously) on visual cues to place a book in its genre. If the title is blocky or distressed, and there is a moody looking picture of an alley, chances are the book is a crime thriller. It’s highly unlikely to be a regency romance. Use visual clues to place your book in its genre.
- Don’t isolate yourself in your office/shop. Visit the places where you hope to sell your wares (or your competitors) – the bookstores. Watch and listen to people as they browse. Join reader groups or follow reviewers on social media and see what people are saying about certain genres/covers/pet hates, etc. Customer research can cost thousands, but it can also be free if you’re clever.
- Make sure you can weather the storm. The cash flow cycle in publishing is pretty brutal – distributors and wholesalers often pay in 90 day cycles, so sales are not always instant (unless you sell direct via a website). Make sure, therefore, you have enough cash to fund the first couple of years. Don’t assume it will all work out. You might hit a slow selling period or the economy might plummet and people stop buying luxuries like books. Factor these things into your business plan and make sure you have enough in the bank to weather unseen storms.
- Enjoy yourself. There’s no point in setting up any business unless it fits with your personal values – no one wants to work themselves into the ground and be miserable, especially when they’re their own boss. If you want to be happy and proud of what you’re doing, make sure all your decisions stand a chance of leading to this. Don’t produce books you hate just because you think they’ll make a quick buck. Take pride in building a solid business that fits your personal goals and you’ll stand a greater chance of happiness.