Are You an Author? How to Survive the Book Business Today

The author and book business is changing rapidly, and the news is not good for a lot of the players.  Fortunately, they can take a note from the music business and change their modus operandi to survive.  So what’s going on? 

Established publishers struggle to get attention for their books through traditional channels, and haven’t learned yet how to use the new social media channels well.  As a result, they take fewer and fewer chances on new ideas, books, and people, instead clinging to established blockbuster names and hoping that those will carry the firm.  And they put fewer and fewer resources into the books they do publish.  Gone are the author tours, the marketing blitzes, the ad placements in glossy magazines.  Authors who want that kind of exposure have to buy it from specialist PR firms or do it themselves. 

The new electronic markets are simultaneously limitless and fragmentary, making it hard to get the word out to people about your new work.  And the pressure is enormous to make your work free to all.  Never mind that you spent years developing your intellectual capital – the world expects you to give it away online. 

These trends make it harder and harder for new authors to get established, and make an honest living.  Some self-publish, and learn hard lessons about marketing and distribution.  Others work for years on brilliant books only to see them vanish without a trace in a huge, impatient marketplace.  Some books are remaindered the week after publication based on slow early sales reports.  How can a little-known author or an unheralded gem of a book get attention? 

The happy faces at the moment are on writers who have well-established followings already.  It’s a winner-take-all book world today.  If you’re a Seth Godin or a Stephen King, this is a good time for you.  You can play traditional publishers off various forms of electronic and self-publishing and keep more of the total book spend.  And you have a wide array of social media at your disposal to announce your latest to a waiting world. 

But what about the rest of the author world?  What can a consultant with a great new book, or an academic author with a wonderful idea, or a novelist with a heartbreakingly beautiful story do to get in print, and sell a few books? 

Authors today need to take a lesson from the music business.  It went through similar ructions beginning roughly a decade ago, and a new model has evolved that makes sense for authors too.  It’s not an easy way to go, but it does mean that you get to keep playing. 

Bands today have learned that they have to do three things simultaneously to survive and prosper.  First of all, they tour regularly.  That’s where most of them make their money.  And that’s where they establish strong bonds with their audience.  Then, they sell music and merchandise at gigs, online, and wherever else there is a market.  And finally, they make time for the recording studio. 

Authors need to do the same.  They need to become speakers, going on tour with their stories and ideas the same way a band does.  They need to sell their books at gigs, online, and in traditional bookstores where they can.  And they need to make time to write new stuff. 

To accomplish this new multitasking prestidigitation, authors will need to learn how to create a platform via social media, as well as whatever traditional media approaches they can afford.  And they’ll have to learn the speaking business, which is highly competitive and intolerant of amateurs.  And with all this new work, they’re going to have to keep doing what makes them unique – writing the stories and capturing the ideas only they can wrest from the chaos.  It’s a tough new world, but at least the rock and rollers have shown the way. 

Are you one of the new authors making a living this way?  What have you learned?  What are the tricks of the trade?  How well is it working for you?  Share your news here. 

Comments

  1. says

    About 10 years ago, I decided that I did not want to work with the traditional publishing industry, due to matters of creative control and profit splits. I recently released my first ebook, ‘How to Be a Horrible Boss in 23 Easy Lessons.’ By leveraging my social media channels, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how well sales have taken off. Surely this was in large part to iTunes featuring the ebook in their humor section, which has kept it floating around the humor top 20 for over a month.
    I make my living as a copywriter and digital strategist, so I’m lucky to be aware of most of the things I need to do to successfully market a product. I also have several projects lined up to follow this one. However, I don’t know much if anything about how to break into the speaking side of the business. Any tips of where to start with that?

  2. says

    Hi, Doug —
    Thanks for the comment and the story. I’ve blogged a great deal on how to get started in the speaking biz — if you check my blog archives, category #8 — the business of public speaking — you’ll find lots of information about that. Be warned that it’s a highly competitive world and will demand your best.
    Good luck!

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