So You Have Written a Book and You Want to Start Your Own Publishing Company, Now What? (Part 4)

“The only place success comes before hard work is in the dictionary.” –Vince Lombardi

As a book club we are often contacted by authors for advice about the book business. In the hopes of providing useful, helpful, practical and accurate information as a reference guide, we’ve decided to offer a series of Open Mic pieces where we go straight to the “horse’s mouth,” so to speak. For this fourth guide, we’ve reached out to a few authors with their own publishing companies for their tips and advice to those looking to do the same or for those looking to be published by such companies. Collectively, this group has published over 50 titles with years of experience, and a wealth of knowledge.

Each was simply asked one question - What advice or tips would you give to someone looking to start their own publishing company and/or have their book published by an independent publisher?

School is in session…

Brian Smith: There is so much to learn about publishing, but for the sake of brevity I'll focus on the following areas:

1. When I started Hollygrove Publishing seven years ago, I was fixated on finding the best authors around. What I ended up with was a few very talented authors who couldn't sell cotton candy to a group of five-year-olds. A publisher should seek to sign talented authors; however, it's equally important to remember the sales component. During the interview process it’s important to find out the following things about an author: is the author articulate; charismatic; can the author travel; is the author assertive; does the author appear appreciative of the opportunity; etc. Being a successful author in this current economic climate requires more than just the ability to formulate a sentence. An author must be willing to embrace the sales component of the business. Otherwise, the independent publisher could potentially lose thousands of dollars.

2. Independent publishers should never do print runs of more than 500 copies for a debut author. Most people can move 100-150 books to family and friends. Once the easy sales are over, that’s when you find out what the author is made of. Use the remaining 350 copies to gauge your author’s sales ability. Once you identify the author’s sales capabilities, you can adjust the size of your print runs of that author’s books as needed. This approach reduces the probability of having hundreds of books you can't sell.

3. My business mantra is: If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense. Therefore, I believe that book release parties for debut authors are a complete waste of money! The cost associated with having a book release party (renting a venue, catering, etc.) can easily exceed five hundred dollars. If you do the math, a debut author would have to sell 50 books at the party just to break even. More often than not, fewer than that show up. Now the author’s project is even further in the "red." In my opinion, book release parties should be reserved for established authors who have the readership to support it. If the author wants to come up with the money to sponsor a party, then let the author pay for it. An independent publisher should avoid sponsoring them because that money could be better used on things that offer a better return on investment (e.g., palm cards, booth fees, etc.).

I believe that authors looking to have their manuscript published by an independent publisher should do the following:

Make sure you have a unique story - one that hasn't been told a million times already.
Complete the manuscript and have it edited. Why? Because editing can cost hundreds of dollars. Having your manuscript already edited could prove to be the tiebreaker between your manuscript and some other manuscript that's being considered.

Upload the manuscript to Amazon and sell it as an e-book for at least six months before you approach the independent publisher. Why? Because it will enable you to establish a sales track record. That sales info (and the book reviews) can be used to prove the level of interest readers have in your novel. Independent publishers have limited budgets - you can make yourself more attractive if you can show proof that you have a book that's sellable.

Work on your "elevator speech" before you approach the independent publisher. For those who don't know, the "elevator speech" is the sales pitch you would give any customer if you were in an elevator with the person. In the time it takes to travel from the seventh floor to the first floor in an elevator, you should be able to effectively summarize the book in less than one minute - no stuttering or babbling. Why is this important? Because if you can’t pitch your book within one minute to anyone who asks about it, you won't be able to convince the publisher that he/she won't be stuck with a ton of books they can't sell.

These are my thoughts. I hope you find them helpful for your research.

Brian W. Smith is the author of 12 novels and the owner of Hollygrove Publishing. The company has published 22 novels in seven years. Brian is also the co-host of the popular internet radio show, "On the Air w/Trice and Brian." Brian is an Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing. Brian's educational background includes Bachelor Degrees in Business Administration and Criminal Justice; Master of Business Administration (MBA).

Elissa Gabrielle: Starting your own publishing company, just as starting any new business venture, takes time, patience, and an absolute big picture mentality. You need to understand that the dream and vision in your heart has to be larger and more powerful than any obstacles that can and will present themselves along the way. Throughout the journey of becoming a publisher, you will stumble and fall, but you must learn from each and every mistake. The best way to shield from heartbreak, and it also serves as a great way to get started, is simply to research. Research the industry, design your OWN blueprint and not someone else's because it’s already taken. Outline goals and make your expectations reasonable. Possessing a slow and steady wins the race mentality is the route I've chosen to take as a publisher, with the keen understanding that nothing good happens overnight. Research, dream, big picture mentality, slow and steady, do it because you love it, reasonable expectations, and a will so strong that nothing or no on will stop you. To me, these are the key ingredients to starting a publishing venture.

For authors looking for a publisher - Talk to authors. Get first hand information from the authors themselves, and utilize your spirit of discernment to know what's really useful in the answers you're being given. If an author is happy with their publisher, rest assured it’s for a reason. And, if they aren't, it could be because of several underlying factors. Research the company; buy some of their books to see the quality in the work they produce. Take a look at their web site. See the verbiage and the type of communication that is presented to the public. Watch the publisher's persona and their attitude and treatment of their authors. Are authors returning with books two and more? Do the authors speak highly of their publisher?

The most crucial benefit a good publisher can provide is honesty and good communication. A great publisher will clearly define their role and the role of the author. This way everyone is on the same page. Keeping it authentic allows no room for miscommunication which leaves time, energy and effort to be spent on the important things which are writing, producing and marketing a fine work to deliver to the masses.

I'm proud of the treatment the Peace In The Storm Publishing authors receive and encourage people to talk to them.

In life, when we're happy, we show it, and there's no escaping the writings on the wall.
Elissa Gabrielle is the author of two poetry books, Stand and Be Counted and Peace in the Storm, as well as the novels Good to the Last Drop, Point of No Return, and A Whisper to a Scream. As a Literary Entrepreneur, Elissa is the founder of the greeting card line, Greetings from the Soul: The Elissa Gabrielle Collection, collaborator and creator of The Triumph of My Soul, and publisher of Peace In The Storm Publishing Company. Mrs. Gabrielle is a graduate of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. She holds a degree in Communications, a certificate in Business from Tulane University.

George Sherman Hudson: If you are thinking about starting your own publishing company, make sure you do your homework and learn the business. You will be wearing numerous hats and overseeing other authors’ projects who are putting their trust in you to make their dream a reality, furthermore looking to make a living off of their craft. Make sure your finances are sufficient enough to deal with all the hidden expenses that pop up periodically. Most importantly, get ready to market and promote because without the proper marketing and promotion your bestseller will never get read.

My advice for the author looking to get published, always follow submission instructions when submitting your manuscript. Upon getting signed, order your promo material and start spreading the word about your book via social media marketing and out in person. DON'T think just because you’re signed you are guaranteed sales; you have to work hard and keep promoting. Your publisher is only partially responsible for your promotion and marketing. The bulk of it is up to you. Basically the key to it all is getting signed, and then hustle hard. If you have a good book and promote hard you will see success. Don’t stop with one book...the more books you have the more checks you get and an author with numerous good books is very appealing to a publisher looking for talent.

Born and raised in Atlanta, George Sherman Hudson is CEO/Founder of G Street Chronicles and author of “Drama,” “Family Ties,” “Blocked In,” “Gangsta Girl” series, “Silk,” and “City Lights.”

Rose Jackson Beavers: Making a decision to become a publisher requires research about the different types of publishers such as independent, self-publisher, etc. What kind of publisher will you be and what kind of support will you give your authors? If you decide on independent publishing, will you pay an advance against royalties? Will you set up budgets for marketing, set up tours, etc.?

Before you publish anyone’s work understand what these terms mean: royalty payments, print on demand, distribution. How will you get your authors’ books on book store shelves?

If you're publishing your book through a publisher who charges a fee for producing your book (i.e. editing, ISBN, cover design, printing, etc.) you aren't the publisher, the company is. Your book will have that company's name on the cover as the publisher; it will be assigned an ISBN Number which belongs to that company and the company will receive a percentage of your book sale profits for their time and effort.

If you paid someone to publish your book, you are not self-published. Companies that charge you to publish your work are usually called “vanity publishers.” You are paying someone to publish your work.

Have your work edited before submitting to a publishing company. If not edited, it will be rejected. I’ve rejected manuscripts based strictly on poorly written query letters. As a publisher with so many responsibilities, we just don’t have time to guess what you’re saying.

Never search for a publisher’s home phone number, call and tell them they will regret not publishing your book because it’s the best ever written.

Rose Jackson-Beavers is the CEO of Prioritybooks Publications. She has published work in numerous publications as a freelance writer and columnist. Rose has published six books through her publishing company; two which she co-authored with Edward Booker. She has also published the works of twenty-four authors. She received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Illinois State and Southern Illinois University. A frequently requested public speaker, her newest release is A Sinner's Cry and Full Figured 5 with Brenda Hampton which will be released in late August 2012.

*bell rings*

Class is over. See you in two weeks with the next Open Mic!

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