The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Self-Publishing a Book

Questions to Ask Before Self Publishing

But first, the publishing news worth reading this week:

The Hilarious Art of Book Design (TED Talk by Chip Kidd, famed Knopf cover designer): Since we’re on the topic of book design and production this week, I thought it was worth resurrecting this classic (and truly hilarious) talk by Chip Kidd. Even if design isn’t your thing, you’ll get a kick out of Chip.

How Do I Write My Book and Build My Platform at the Same Time? (Chad R. Allen): “Many of us want to get our books into the world, but we also understand the power and importance of a significant platform. We understand that if we write a book without a platform, we will have difficulty reaching an audience. We not only want to write a book, we want some people to read it!”

Local Flavors: Cookbooks Spotlight Fall 2016 (Clare Swanson for Publisher’s Weekly): “From Iron Chef to MasterChef to Top Chef, there’s no shortage of national media attention for kitchen rock stars and those clamoring for the title. Food Network personalities, big-time bloggers, and now YouTubers continue to dominate the cookbook bestseller list. But cookbooks by regional chefs from across the country are also climbing the charts and winning awards along the way. We spoke with publishers about how they put hometown culinary heroes on the map.”

The Ultimate Literary Ten-Course Meal (Evan Hanczor for Lit Hub): “…we’re consistently amazed by the power—creative, nostalgic, emotional—of translating text into food. If you’ve never cooked and eaten a dish from a favorite book, do it. Nearly any great book has moments of food in it, not just because characters have to eat, but because our relationship with food exposes so much about our identities, cultures, time, and place. What author forsakes a tool that can explore all that?”

The 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Self-Publishing

A few weeks ago I mentioned how Jarrett and I are notorious for taking on more than we should…but I haven’t even told you the half of it.

We decided—in the midst of planning every detail of a DIY wedding sans professional planner PLUS crazy busy work schedules—that we should write, photograph, edit, design, and print our own cookbook as a wedding favor.

Actually, it was Jarrett’s awful idea. (This is how marriage works, right? Blame your partner for all the bad ideas?)

But really, I’m the one who should have known better. I’ve walked dozens of cookbook authors through the publishing process, and I know it’s no stroll in the park. It’s more like a two-year slog up a mountain, with a full team to help you reach the peak of quality you have in mind.

But I (very stupidly) thought: Hey, it’s only 10 recipes. Only 32 pages. Only a bit of design work. We can do this. And it’s better than cheesy “Maria & Jarrett Forever” koozies.

Oh, boy, am I a sucker.

Creating a book is a tremendous amount of work, especially if you’re trying to hack it out on your own. No matter how many books you’ve read yourself (and in my case, edited or agented myself), you’ll still be surprised at the level of detail that goes into creating an exceptional book.

Although we survived the process, got it done, and—dare I say—honed our teamwork superpowers, it could have been a much smoother process if I had wrapped my head around a few important considerations before jumping into self-publishing a book.

So now I want to be sure you don’t make the same silly mistakes I did! Whether you’re contemplating a self-published novel, an ebook bonus giveaway, or a four-color print book, there are a few key questions you should ask yourself before you even think about Step #1 of the process.

And don’t worry–I’ll give you all a look at the cookbook, so you can judge for yourself! Scroll down to the bottom of this post to take a peek at our Eat, Drink, and Be Married cookbook.

I do want to say: I’m proud of the final book. I am glad we did it. It did serve its purpose of being a special and personal wedding favor for all the wonderful people who traveled from near and far for our wedding. And I do know it will be a keepsake in our home for many, many years. It’s a book that fully serves its purpose as a personal item, if not a commercial one.

So here are the 3 questions you should ask yourself before jumping headfirst into producing your own book:

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A Zen Method to Cope With Rejection

Literary agent rejections

The publishing stories worth reading this week: 

Publishing a Cookbook: Editors and Closing Day (Rachel and Polly of Thriving Home): This is a fun one for you! My authors, Polly and Rachel, give a great behind-the-scenes look at what really happens when we’re selling a book at auction. If you’ve ever wondered how a cookbook deal gets made and what happens when many publishers are interested, this is the perfect read for you.

The Effortless Effort of Creativity: Jane Hirshfield on Storytelling, the Art of Concentration, and Difficulty as a Consecrating Force of Creative Attention (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): “In the wholeheartedness of concentration, world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.”

Can Serialized Fiction Convert Binge Watchers Into Binge Readers? (Lynn Neary for NPR): I love this idea of tapping into the popularity of binge watching and bringing it to books, but I’m not sold on the idea that a book = an episode. Actually, I think a chapter = an episode. People are already binge-reading when they can’t put down a book and race through it quickly. If anything, serializing a book (chunking it into sections and releasing them one-by-one) is the opposite of binge-reading, which requires you to have back-to-back access to the whole book/series.

A Key to Writing Books that Sell and Sell and Sell (Chad R. Allen): I’m often asked what the correct balance should be between storytelling and practical information in a nonfiction book–here’s a great explainer on this from Chad Allen!

Collards And Canoodling: How Helen Gurley Brown Promoted Premarital Cooking (Nina Martyris for NPR): “The Single Girl’s Cookbook sold close to 150,000 copies. But how did an editor who couldn’t cook and who described herself as a ‘grown-up anorexic’ end up writing a cookbook? She didn’t. The recipes were ghost written by cookbook author Margot Reiman. Gurley Brown simply added the garnish.”

 

A Zen Method to Handle Rejection

Literary agent rejections

Do you know the one thing I hate about my job? I hate writing rejections. I hate it, hate it, hate it. Please have me do anything else, including contract review, as long as I don’t have to say “no” to someone’s hard work.

The very thought of writing rejections makes me miserable. Because I know how hard some people take them—I see it with my own authors. I see the self-doubt and blame that springs up around a “no, thank you,” and I hate the very thought of afflicting that on someone else.

But I do it. And I do it because I believe in one thing: the best yes. Every time I say no to something that’s near-perfect for me, I’m saving room on my list for that project that’s 100% perfect for me. And I’m protecting my time for my authors, who deserve to have me there for everything they need.

That’s also how editors see it. That’s how sales, publicity, marketing, and everyone else who weighs in on an acquisitions decision sees it. We can only make magic when the very thought of a book makes us come alive. Otherwise, we’re doing a disservice to the author and the reading public by putting something out into the world that we’re only somewhat excited about.

And here’s a secret: Everyone in this industry gets rejected. It’s not just writers, I promise! An editor can have a book she loves rejected by her team. A marketing manager can have her new ad campaign denied from on high. A publicist can get hundreds of rejections (usually in the form of silence) from a press mailing. Agents and authors can get rejected by editors, and editors can get rejected by agents and authors.

There are thousands of things that can go wrong or get blocked by anyone along the entire acquisitions chain. Rejection is in the undercurrent of any media industry, and it’s the cardinal rule for anyone who creates and shares their work: you will get rejected. You’ll get stomped on; you’ll get battered; you’ll get tough.

Yet too many people let these disappointments destroy them. So let me say it now: I’m not going to let that happen to you. I’ve coached dozens of authors through rejections, and I know that how they handle it is what separates the career writers from the hobbyists.

If you’re serious about your work, you know there’s no Plan B to fall back on, no other career that will be good enough. The only way onward is through the wilderness of rejection. Here’s how I would coach you through each step along the way:

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How to Get a Traditional Book Deal if You’ve Self-Published

how to get a traditional book deal if you've already self published

I hope you all had a chance to catch a few lessons from the Profitable Blogging Summit last week! I was following along from the beach in Punta Cana while working on new and experimental kinds of sun poisoning. (Seriously. My skin hates me right now. And yes, yes, I should know better. I have already given myself many demerits.)

I love answering questions at summits and conferences, but the difficult part is that I have to answer questions in 30-60 second spurts. And anyone who knows me knows that I do not excel at brevity. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything but a 6-part answer to a question.

But it’s not because I like to hear myself talk! (I actually very much think my voice sounds ridiculous when recorded.) It’s that publishing is very complex and has so many facets, exceptions, and tangents that there’s no way to provide an honest, hard-and-fast rule about anything.

So today I wanted to give you guys the long, 4-part answer to one of the questions Kirsten asked me: What does it take for a self-published author to get a traditional book deal?

When we chatted about this on camera, I grabbed my copy of The Joy of Less to illustrate a shining example of one author who successfully went from self-published to traditionally published.

The Joy of Less had sold 70,000 copies in just over 4 years by the time I took it on, so clearly Francine had created an incredibly successful and powerful book on her own. But she was ready to see her book in bookstores both nationwide and worldwide. And luckily, we were able to place the book with Chronicle, a wonderful publisher, as well as sell foreign rights in 17 countries.

And because I love ya, I’m going to be giving away 2 free copies of the book to 2 lucky readers today!

The joy of less francine jay book deal

The new edition is gorgeously redesigned, streamlined, and a great example of how a self-published book can live a whole new life with the help of a traditional publisher. I think you’ll love holding it, reading it, and sharing it with other clutterbugs in your life!

To enter to win a free copy of The Joy of Less, scroll down to the bottom of this post!

In the meantime, let me take a big breath and better explain how the self-pubbed to traditional-pubbed process works:

As we all know, the job of an agent or acquiring editor is to make an educated guess about how a book will perform in the marketplace. We all have our own hunches about how marketable a concept is, how well an author’s platform will translate into sales, and how much readers, reviewers, and the press will like the book.

That’s what our jobs come down to: making bets based on hunches. If we make good bets and take on good projects, we do well. If an editor signs a breakout author, she can start getting promoted up the ladder as she works on the author’s next (hopefully as successful!) books. If an agent signs a breakout author, she can negotiate an even better deal for the author’s second book, and then her third and fourth book after that. That’s the part that thrills us to our cores: building lasting careers for authors we admire.

But any agent and editor will also tell you that it’s nearly impossible to predict with total accuracy whether a book will do well in the marketplace. With one big exception: self-published books.

Because self-published books have already had their debut in the marketplace, editors and agents will know exactly what to expect, and they’ll have many more data points when they run their P&Ls.

This can be a great thing if you have a highly successful self-published book, because you’ll be able to show editors and agents that investing time and resources in you will be fairly low risk. But it can also make self-published books with middling sales look like an especially high risk.

So the very first thing I ask myself when assessing a self-published book is:

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A Can’t-Miss Blogging Conference to Watch at Home

profitable blogging summit maria ribas literary agent

I know I’m supposed to be on vacation (whoops), but I wanted to pop in and let you all know about a great summit I’m speaking at this week. The Profitable Blogging Summit is perfect for writers, bloggers, small business owners, and anyone else who wants to get more readers for their work. It’s also perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to drag themselves to a frigid, horrendously decorated hotel ballroom to get the conference experience. I call it the couch-conference circuit.

The fabulous Kirsten Oliphant has pulled together a great list of experts to cover all the blogging questions you’ve ever had. And yes, it’s free!

Here’s what you can learn if you tune in this week:

Monday

  • Creating an Effective Pinterest Strategy – Jennifer Fishkind
  • Going from 0-3 Million Pageviews – Becky Mansfield
  • Growing Your YouTube Channel in 2016 – Amy Schmittauer
  • Building an Email List from the Start – Matt Ragland
  • Becoming a Profitable Blogger – Kirsten Oliphant

Tuesday

  • Writing & Optimizing Viral Posts – Paula Rollo
  • Designing Profitable Online Courses – Melyssa Griffin
  • Building a Simple Sales Funnel – Caressa Lenae
  • Creating an Effective Visual Brand – Andrea Beltrami
  • Diving Deep into SEO – Zach Doty
  • Writing Killer Sponsored Content – David Ulrich

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