I have a new book out today. It’s called The New American Dream: A Blueprint for a New Path to Success. You will notice that the link goes to Hyperink. They are an independent publisher.
I sold this same book, two years ago, to a mainstream publisher.
I have been reporting on research about on how to be happy for almost a decade. It’s important to me that everyone learn what I learned, which is if you want to have a good life, you shouldn’t focus on happiness, but rather, on making your life interesting. That’s what makes us feel fulfilled. Searching for happiness is making us crazy. And creating an interesting life is actually intuitive to most of us, it’s just that we feel like somehow we are doing something wrong. This book explains why you are probably on the right track, and all that stuff you hear about the pursuit of happiness is from another time. A time of ignorance, when we knew a lot less about what makes us human.
So I sold my book to a mainstream publisher and they sucked. I am going to go into extreme detail about how much they sucked, so I’m not going to tell you the name of the publisher because I got a lot of money from them. I’m just going to tell you that the mainstream publisher is huge, and if you have any respect left for print publishing, you respect this publisher. But you will not at the end of this post.
To be clear, I wrote my book, and they paid me my advance, in full. Three months before the publication date, the PR department called me up to “coordinate our efforts.” But really, their call was just about giving me a list of what I was going to do to publicize the book. I asked them what they were going to do. They had no idea. Seriously. They did not have a written plan, or any list, and when I pushed one of the people on this first call to give me examples of what the publishers would do to promote my book, she said “newsgroups.”
I assumed I was misunderstanding. I said, “You mean like newsgroups from the early 90s? Those newsgroups? USENET?”
“Who is part of newsgroups anymore?”
“We actually have really good lists because we have been working with them for so long.”
“People in newsgroups buy books? You are marketing my book through newsgroups?”
I’m not going to go through the whole conversation, okay? Because the person was taken off my book before the next phone call.
At the next phone call, I asked again about how they were going to publicize my book. I told them that I’m happy to do it on my blog, but I already know I can sell tons of books by writing about my book on my blog. So they need to tell me how they are going to sell tons of books.
“What? Where are you selling books on LinkedIn?”
“One of the things we do is build buzz on our fan page.”
I went ballistic. There is no publishing industry fan page that is good enough to sell books. No one goes to fan pages for publishers because publishers are not household brand names. The authors are. That’s how publishing works.
“You know what your problem is?” I said, “Marketing online requires that you have a brand name and a following, and the book industry doesn’t build it’s own brand. But I have my own brand. So I’m better at marketing books than you are. I have a voice online and you don’t.”
I scheduled a phone call with my editor’s boss’s boss to tell him that. I told him his business is online marketing and his team has no idea how to do it, and he should hire me.
He told me, “With all due respect [which, I find, is always a euphemism for I hate your guts] we have been profitable every year that I’ve run this division and I don’t think we have a problem.”
Then he told me he really needs me to work well together with the marketing and publicity team, so they flew me to their office to have a meeting. There were five people in the meeting.
Here’s what I learned at the marketing meeting, where I sat through an interminable set of PowerPoint slides on the book industry.
Print publishers have no idea who is buying their books.
More than 85% of books sales are online, mostly at Amazon. It used to be that a print publisher could look at the data about which stores are selling the book and which are not, and then they’d have a good handle on who is buying the book. Suburban people or city people. Northern people or Southern people. Business book stores or gay and lesbian bookstores. It was decent demographic data. But Amazon tells the publishers nothing. So the publishers have no idea who is buying their books. Amazon, meanwhile, is getting great at understanding who is buying which book. The person who has the relationship with the customer is the one who owns the business.
When I pointed this out to my publisher, they told me that for my book, they expected to sell more than 50% of the books in independent bookstores. And then they showed me slides on how they market to people offline. They did not realize that I ran an independent bookstore while I was growing up. It was the family business. I ran numbers for them to show them that if they sold 50% of the sales they estimated for my book, they would single-handedly change the metrics of independent booksellers. That’s how preposterous their estimates were.
Print publishers have no idea how to market online.
The old ways that publishers promote books, like TV spots and back-of-book blurbs are over. They don’t sell books in an online world. Those offline marketing tactics have no accountability, whereas online marketing is a metrics game. If you tell people to buy something, you have very good data on what caused them to buy. You know the marketing message that drove them. You know the community you were talking to, you know how many sales happened. Print publishers have been too arrogant to learn how to run a grassroots, metrics-based publicity campaign online. They cannot tell which of their online efforts works and which doesn’t because they can’t track sales. They don’t know how many people they reach.
The profit margins in mainstream publishing are so low they are almost nonexistent.
It takes a print publisher about a year to publish a book, after it is written. It’s unclear what the publishers are doing during this time. For example, in the age of the Internet, where most books are selling online, the cover needs to be very simple so that it works as a small image on Amazon. It’s hard to imagine going through months of design iterations for a cover that is going to be seen by most potential buyers as a photo on Amazon. Book aficionados might argue that there are essential things being done with books over the course of that year. What I will tell you is that newspaper people said the same thing. Right before they all got laid off. The most breathtaking example, I think, of how terrible margins are, is that if I sell my own book with a link to my publisher, I make a little less than $1 per book. If I sell Guy Kawasaki’s book on Amazon, I get a little more than $1 per book in their affiliate program. So it’s more profitable to me to use my blog to sell someone else’s book than to sell the book I published with a mainstream publisher.
In the middle of the meeting, the high-up guy who had come in to make peace got so fed up he said, “If you don’t stop berating our publicity department we are not going to publish your book.”
I said, “Great. Because I think you are incompetent. And also, you have already paid me. It’s a great deal for me.”
That’s how the meeting ended.
Then I did six months of research to learn about the future of the publishing industry.
Here are the new rules for book publishing:
1. Self-published books are the new business card. It’s a way to remember someone and also know what’s interesting about them.
2. Nonfiction writers write books to get something else—speaking gigs, consulting gigs, a steady flow of job offers. Books are good for a lot of things, but direct sales from a book are rarely a way to support a life.
3. Book sales are about community. If you have a community of people who listen to you via blog posts, then you have a community of people who will be interested to know how you put a bigger idea together in a book.
4. Book sales are about search engine marketing. The only markets that exist on the Internet are search terms. If no one searches for xyz, no one will land on a page that sells xyz. You can only sell what people are looking for.
5. The only reason to have a print book is to be in Barnes & Noble. You can achieve just about every goal you might have for book publishing by publishing it electronically. An electronic book serves a lot of purposes: you can talk about bigger ideas than a blog post allows for. You give people an easy way to know you for your ideas. You can create a secondary revenue stream for yourself. A print book is mostly about vanity. It’s about being able to go into Barnes & Noble, when you are there for the magazines and the free Wi-Fi, and stroke your ego by holding your own book.
I also did a lot of research about self-publishing. I had lots of offers. Freelance editors, book designers, turnkey solutions, almost-turnkey solutions. What I realized is that I want to be a person known for ideas. I love love love my blog. And the result of loving my blog is that I develop ideas that are bigger than a blog. Those are good for books. And I need a book editor to help me put them into a book.
After six months of research, I decided to use Hyperink. Their focus is helping people take blog content and turn it into books. They have an incredible editorial team that helps bloggers move from single, blog-post ideas, to larger, big-picture ideas. My editor was Theresa Noll, and I have to give her a shoutout because every experience I’ve had in the book industry was awful. But I loved working with her. I was blown away with how competent Hyperink is. They knew exactly how to make a book cover that looks good as a thumbnail and in a blog post photo. They understood that the idea mattered way more to me than the proofreading. They are great at SEO and they know more about marketing books online than I do.
Finally. I figured out how to do book publishing in a way that works for me.