Monthly Archives: January 2018

News for the New Year: Upcoming Books, Talks, and More

I started the new year with some prioritizing so I could focus on one major project at a time.

What I’m working on

First I finished up the draft of my new fiction manuscript (working title: Intelligence), which will go to developmental editor Tanya Gold in March. I’m excited to get Tanya’s feedback on the manuscript, and also (from an editor perspective) to see the developmental editing process in action. Tanya reminded me to think about marketing Intelligence, even though it’s far from publication. It’s hard to know what’s going to change, but I’m hoping to stick with the title so I’m adopting the hashtag #IntelligenceBook for future use on Twitter.

Flyer that says, Is self-publishing right for you, May 20,, 2018 2 PM at the OC main libraryMy current priority is learning everything I can about today’s self-publishing, in preparation for a talk I scheduled at the Orange County Public Library (Hillsborough) on May 20 at 2 PM. Last year I wrote a booklet, published by the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), about “do-it-yourself self-publishing,” which is my area of expertise. However, even an author-publisher who wants to do the entire process herself can benefit from some of the services now available. So I have been taking webinars and reading about distribution, e-books, and more to broaden my knowledge of self-publishing. The EFA booklet is available as an e-book here, and I’ve been told a print version is coming.

New blog posts

a diagram showing various distribution paths for e-booksThese new posts are on my blog for authors, editors, and author-publishers:

Book Distribution for Self-Publishers
http://www.emilyeditorial.com/book-distribution-for-self-publishers/

How to Get the Most Out of AWP
http://www.emilyeditorial.com/how-to-get-the-most-out-of-awp/

Authentic Marketing
http://www.emilyeditorial.com/authentic-marketing/

A question during my last bread class caused me to investigate the difference (or lack of) between instant yeast and RapidRise yeast: What Is RapidRise Yeast?
http://foodchemblog.com/2018/01/what-is-rapidrise-yeast/

The second of my articles for The Kitchn has been posted: Debunking the 10 Myths of Sourdough
https://www.thekitchn.com/debunking-the-10-myths-of-sourdough-bread-250222

And finally, here is my blog post about my visit to the Folk School last fall: Back in Time at the Folk School, and Biltmore
https://blog.folkschool.org/2017/12/06/back-time-folk-school-biltmore/

Other news and upcoming events

I’ve written discussion questions for Somewhere and Nowhere. If your book club reads memoir or outdoor adventure, I’d love to join you for an informal chat about the book. Discussion questions and other information are posted here: http://www.twobluebooks.com/book-clubs/

The Modernist Breadcrumbs podcast is a series of podcasts about bread. I was interviewed for it, so there are clips of me talking (!) within some of the episodes (although I have not yet figured out which ones). You can hear the episodes here: http://heritageradionetwork.org/tag/bread/

The Asheville Bread Festival is scheduled for May 5-6, although a location and other information is not yet available. Save the date! http://www.ashevillebreadfestival.com

I’m teaching the Science of Bread at the Folk School in June. Learn more and register here: http://emilybuehler.com/classes-events-2/ (I’ll be teaching there again in January and May of 2019.)

three people on bicycles with bags, biking along the coast

Authentic Marketing

cartoon person sitting on book with sun overhead, she is thinkingWhen my first book, Bread Science, came out in 2006, I had a list of ideas on marketing from a guidebook I had read about self-publishing. I made a sell sheet, sent it to bookstores, and got no response. I tried to schedule readings at my local bookstores, also without much luck. But somehow the book started selling, and has sold steadily ever since. I attributed this to luck (meeting Peter Reinhart) and timing (artisan bakeries and home baking were about to blossom) and the fact that there is no other convenient place to get the information I included.

When my second book, Somewhere and Nowhere, came out last year, I did not expect it to sell like Bread Science. I had a revised list of ideas to try: scheduling events not in bookstores but in outdoor supply stores, maybe contact the local radio station. It was hard to follow through, and so I pushed the work aside.

A conversation last weekend led me to realize some things.

person on dirt bike jumping off small cliff

Not authentic: this is not my kind of biking!

My involvement in communities that relate to bread aids sales of Bread Science. I teach bread classes, attend science events with my bread table, and network with bakers. I participated in the (now defunct) #breadchat on Twitter. These methods of marketing came easily because they were authentic—I would have participated with or without a book to sell.

In contrast, I’m not part of communities that include target readers of a book about self-discovery on a cross-country bicycle trip. I’ve always preferred to ride solo, not in a pack. I’m not part of a travel company community; my riding partner and I actually rejected the idea of going with a company and were thankful we had. And self-improvement has always been something I work on alone or by talking with a friend (or, at times, a therapist).

I’ve refocused my marketing plan for Somewhere and Nowhere with these two ideas:

  1. I can authentically become part of communities or groups that contain potential readers.
  2. It’s okay if the book gains readers slowly.
three people on bicycles with bags, biking along the coast

Authentic: this is more like it!

This makes me feel a lot better because I’m more comfortable when I am being authentic. It removes the pressure of trying to sell the book, and makes me feel braver about approaching others with it. It also ties in with an idea I heard recently, that for self-publishers, building an author brand is the route to success, and sales build over time. I don’t need immediate promotion of one title, with a six-month cutoff for success, as is common in the traditional publishing industry.

My first idea is to write a list of discussion questions for the book and then approach the local library’s outdoor book club. I could attend the book club if they decide to read my book, and interact with the readers. I’m also going to follow up on my idea to approach bloggers who review books or discuss travel or bicycling. This was on my original marketing idea list, but I feel more comfortable about it now.

people onstage during a conference session

How to Get the Most Out of AWP (updated)

Note: A version of this post was originally posted in February 2017.

In early 2017, I attended the AWP (American Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Washington, DC. It was my first time at AWP, which was an overwhelming affair: six sessions each day with up to 35 choices, a monstrous book fair, evening meet-ups, and events throughout the city.

Day One: Sessions

view inside the convention center

Inside the mammoth DC convention center

The first day, I attended all six sessions, each of which included a panel of four or five experts. The morning sessions were filled with practical information about how to land an agent, what it’s like to have a book deal, what residencies are looking for in a writer, and how to give and receive feedback effectively. The afternoon sessions were less helpful: the panelists read essays they’d written or excerpts from their books, or told personal stories. This was less interesting to me, or maybe I was just exhausted from the day’s nonstop activity.

While I gathered lots of information, I didn’t speak to a single person all day. The conference format, with only 15 minutes between sessions, made it hard. After each session, people would line up to speak to the panelists, who often included published authors, agents, editors at presses, and bookstore owners. While I would have welcomed an interaction, I didn’t have anything to pitch or a clear goal, so I didn’t join these lines.

Day Two: Book Fair

view from the convention center

The view from my table in the book fair’s cafe area

The next morning, on my commute into the city, I met a writer on the metro who’d spent all of her conference time so far navigating the book fair, pitching her book to presses she had selected ahead of time. This surprised me; I’d thought the presses were only there to sell books. I resolved to spend more time in the book fair that day.

At first, it was hard: my natural aversion to talking to people, particularly people trying to sell me something, kicked in. Thankfully, I’d been tasked with bringing home pencils for my family, so I forced myself to talk to anyone who had pencils at the table. This led to some pleasant and interesting conversations.

I gradually came to understand the types of vendors in the book fair:

  • Small presses selling books and, apparently, looking for authors
  • Literary magazines selling subscriptions and looking for submissions
  • MFA programs, which include low-residency options
  • Residency programs, which include competitive programs that are sometimes free to attend, and programs that anyone can attend for a fee
  • Other: Groups for writers, groups of editors looking for writers, a service to help writers submit to literary magazines, and more
Emma Straub and Ann Patchett onstage during their event

Emma and Ann onstage with a moderator

Note that these vendors were not organized into sections, and there were hundreds of them. I walked up and down each aisle looking at all of them, but had I had a goal, targeting specific vendors ahead of time would have made sense.

I also attended “a conversation with Emma Straub and Ann Patchett,” which was delightful. Both women are successful writers, and they talked about their lives, how they became writers, and which 2017 books they are looking forward to.

Observations

The conference seemed very academic: some sessions had super-specific titles or focused on teaching writing, there was a definite trend toward writers attending formal programs, and the assumption seemed to be that we writers were all writing literary works. I had hoped to meet a romance novel publisher but didn’t see a single mention of romance!

I also noticed a dearth of information about self-publishing. This struck me because I’d heard panelists (including successfully published authors) talk about the disappointments of book deals, the number of good books that don’t get published, the luck involved in successfully publishing, and the inability to live off of one’s writing royalties, even as a successful author. On the third day, I encountered outright hostility toward self-publishers in one panel, where a bookstore owner who won’t work with self-publishers made the assumption that people self-publish only because they’ve failed to publish traditionally. I was happy to find some booths in the book fair, such as the Authors Guild, that supported self-publishing.

Takeaways

Attending the conference helped me see its possibilities, and I hope to go again. To get the most out of it, I will plan ahead: I’ll identify goals of attending and who I’d like to talk to. I might wait until I have a manuscript to pitch to presses, and then research the presses that are attending to find the ones that interest me. The book fair would be an invaluable resource if I were interested in attending a writing program or residency.

Recognizing how overwhelming the conference is, I’ll choose which sessions and speakers interest me (subject to change), but not try to attend every session, using the breaks to peruse the book fair. I’ll make sure I plan time to network at vendor booths. I’ll also try to find somewhere to stay that doesn’t include a long, exhausting commute. This might help me attend some of the after-hours activities.

And I will continue to hope that the AWP organizers will recognize the validity of self-publishing and begin providing resources to authors to help them self-publish effectively.

You can read about upcoming conferences here: https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/

tall shelves in warehouse

Book Distribution for Self-Publishers

What is distribution? For a self-publisher (or as they are now sometimes called, author-publisher), distribution can be the most confusing part of publishing. This is because the term has various meanings. In general, it refers to the means by which books go from the publisher to the retailer (e.g., a bookstore), who then sells them to readers.

Before self-publishing became so popular, the distribution system worked a certain way and was intertwined with publishing houses. Some publishing houses had their own distributors and some used outside distributors. Among these traditional distribution methods, some are now technically available to author-publishers, but a large part of the system is filled by publishing houses, which makes these methods in practice fairly unaccessible to author-publishers. There are new methods of reaching retailers that also fall under distribution and are accessible to author-publishers. There are also publishing services that include some form of distribution in their service packages, which further complicates the picture. The addition of e-books and e-book distribution makes the picture even more confusing.

As an author-publisher, I’ve sold print books directly to readers (i.e., no distributor) via my website and the Amazon Marketplace, and used a few e-book distribution methods. I’ve read about other methods available to author-publishers. I have no first-hand knowledge of the more traditional distribution methods but learned about them in a recent webinar presented by Angela Bole of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).

I’ve attempted to list the methods here. If you know of something I’ve left out, please share it in the comments.

Print Book Distribution

There are now three methods of printing books: offset printing, digital printing, and print-on-demand (POD). Offset printing is the long-standing method and makes sense for large print runs (~1000 books or more). Digital enables small print runs at reasonable prices. POD uses digital technology to print books one at a time, as they are ordered; note that with POD, books usually go directly from the printer to the reader. The diagram below includes the distribution methods that are most relevant to new author-publishers, with additional methods described in the text only.

flow chart attempting to show the distribution of print books

 

  • Distribution without a distributor (Author 3 in the diagram above): The author-publisher pays to print a bunch of books, either using offset or digital printing. She sells them from her website and mails books when orders come in. She might visit local or relevant bookshops and ask them to carry the book, offering a wholesale discount. If the book sells well, the bookseller might want to order more, but because there is no distributor, the book is not “in the system” to easily reorder; the author might have to check back to keep the bookstore ordering. The author can sell on Amazon (a retailer, not a distributor) using the Amazon Marketplace; again this involves the author mailing the books when orders arrive. With this method, the author keeps most or all of the profit.
  • Distribution with POD companies (Author 2 in the diagram): The author-publisher lists the book with one or more POD companies; the author sets a wholesale discount as if the POD company is a bookstore. When someone (a reader via an online retailer or a physical retail store) orders a book, the company prints and ships it; they take their cut, but there is no fee for acting as a distributor. The two biggest companies are CreateSpace and IngramSpark, and there are many articles comparing the two. As of 2017, best practice (because of the fees charged) was to use CreateSpace to list the book online at Amazon, and to use IngramSpark to list the book everywhere else.
  • Distribution with POD companies via a publishing service (Author 1 in the diagram): The publishing service takes care of getting the manuscript to the POD companies; usually an author would only use this route if he’s also buying additional services, such as design and editing. Start by searching “full-service publishing providers” online; read not only directories but also articles that rate and review the companies. There are good and bad publishing services out there; be sure to read reviews before signing up to work with one.
  • Traditional, passive distribution: The publisher uses a distributor (such as Ingram, the biggest, or Baker and Taylor) to handle billing and shipping, but there is no sales team pitching the book to retailers. The distributor simply lists the book as available and stores copies. The agreement should be nonexclusive—the publisher can sell the book elsewhere. There is an application process; the author-publisher must have significant sales and might be required to offer a certain discount, accept returns, pay a fee, and more. This only makes sense for books that are selling thousands of copies. The company is sometimes called a wholesaler rather than a distributor.
  • Traditional, passive distribution with Amazon (for sale on Amazon only): Amazon offers several distribution services that authors can pay to use, that do not seem to have much of an application process. However, the author pays fees, including storage fees with some services, so if the book does not sell, the process could be costly. Here is a summary of Amazon’s services: (1) With Amazon Advantage, Amazon is the seller, orders books when needed, and sets the price. They will drop your book if it does not sell. (2) With Fulfillment by Amazon, you are the seller but Amazon stores and ships books, which are eligible for Amazon customer services. (3) With the Amazon Marketplace, you are the seller and also ship the books as they sell. The professional account has a monthly fee, while the individual account has a fee per item sold. (This third service does not really count as distribution.)
  • Traditional, active distribution: The publisher has an exclusive agreement with a distributor, who is the only one who can sell the book to retailers. The distributor handles billing and shipping and also has a sales team that actively tries to sell the book. Many distributors will not work with author-publishers, although this is changing, but there must be several books and significant sales, as well as other qualities like the publisher’s perceived longevity and prominence in the marketplace.

Note that with a traditional distributor, the author and/or publisher only receives a small fraction of the sales price. Author-publishers should be clear about which type of distribution they are receiving—they often think there will be active selling when really they are working with a passive distributor. There is a list of distributors at the IBPA website, here: http://www.ibpa-online.org/page/distributors (these distributors have not been vetted).

Some of the traditional distribution companies mentioned above also handle e-books; if you work with one of those companies, make sure you understand the agreement and what is included (i.e., do you retain the e-book rights?).

E-book Distribution

The main decision of publishing an e-book is whether to work directly with each retailer (and keep more of the profit) or to use a distributor (and have less work, plus the ability to reach additional markets) or to use a mix of both. If you choose to work directly with retailers, remember that any change to your e-book will need to be made at each retailer; you might start with one and see how it goes before uploading to the rest. The methods listed below are the most common for an author-publisher.

  • Distribution without a distributor (Author 3 in the diagram below): The author creates e-book files and sells them directly to buyers. Note one complication with this situation: As the seller, the author could email the e-book to the buyer, but the files are often large and buyers expect to download an e-book as soon as they buy it. Creating a system where the buyer is taken to a webpage to download the e-book requires some technical know-how; there are also security issues to consider. Thus, it is easier to use an intermediary to deliver the book. These intermediaries are called “digital distributors” and they take a cut of the profit, but I still consider using them as “selling direct to buyers” and the cut is smaller than that taken elsewhere. I use Gumroad.
  • Distribution via single-channel distributors: Single-channel distributors enable an author to sell his book at one online retailer; for example, Kindle Direct Publishing enables e-book sales on Amazon. These distributors are “self-serve” and straightforward to use; simply follow the instructions for formatting and converting the document to an e-book and upload, and the e-book will appear for sale at the retailer’s site. Authors can access these distributors themselves (Authors 2 and 3 in the diagram below) or with a distribution service (Authors 1 and 2 in the diagram).
  • Distribution via a distribution service (Authors 1 and 2 in the diagram): A distribution service publishes an author’s e-book at whichever retailers she chooses, and takes a cut of the sales. Currently the most popular distribution services are Smashwords and Draft2Digital. There are many reviews comparing them, so I won’t get into that here. Distribution services usually have their own storefront, meaning that they’ll sell your e-book to readers and take a cut but there won’t be an additional cut taken by another retailer, like Amazon; however, sales from these storefronts are not typically large.

Another decision is whether to publish exclusively with Amazon KDP Select (which offers promotional advantages) or with as many retailers as possible. If your target readers are using Kindle Unlimited, publishing exclusively with Amazon makes sense. To find out, look at the top books in your category on Amazon and see if these books are available in Kindle Unlimited.

Note: Bookbaby is sometimes listed as a distributor. Bookbaby’s business model is different: authors pay up front for services, then keep all the money from sales. Bookbaby might more accurately be described as a publishing service provider.

flow chart attempting to show the distribution of ebooks

 

What’s going on with these e-book authors?

  1. Author 1 is taking the simple route: using a distribution service to handle all e-book sales. The service will convert the manuscript to an e-book and upload it at all the retailers’ websites. Either the service will cost money to use, or the service will take a cut of sales. The retailer (e.g., Amazon) will also take a cut.
  2. Author 2 is uploading the book directly to Amazon, the biggest e-book retailer. This way, only Amazon will take a cut of sales of e-books sold on Amazon. To reach the other numerous e-book retailers, the author uses a distribution service.
  3. Author 3 is selling e-books directly from her website. She is also selling them at Amazon and other select online retailers; unless she is so famous that people will seek out her e-book on her website, using other retailers is smart because many more readers will find the book. Author 3 might try to sell with all the other retailers, but there are many, and some do not accept e-books from author-publishers; she might use a distribution service to reach only those other retailers (this is not show on the diagram).

I hope this post clears up any confusion about book distribution. Of course, the situation is constantly changing, with new services appearing and old institutions gradually accepting the legitimacy of self-publishing. New paths might open for author-publishers any day!