Why Self-Published Books Fail in the Marketplace
I am an advocate of self-publishing. Traditional publishers have turned up their noses at some pretty good writing, but with the rise of technology, authors can still reach the book buying public. It used to be “freedom of the press belongs only to those who own one,” but today anyone can print and distribute their work. That is democracy in full bloom!
A free exchange of religious ideas is just as important as a free exchange of any other kind of ideas. Mainline Christian publishers are no longer the gatekeepers of what is available to readers. This is especially important since the largest religious publishers are owned by big corporations. An independent Christian press is essential to getting the message out.
I appreciate many of the books published by Zondervan, for example, but I think it a little scary that it is owned by HarperCollins books, which is a division of NewsCorp, the same people who bring us Fox News. It is wonderful that Time Warner has a Christian book publishing division, but it is not reassuring to me that they entered the business because they saw it as a profit center, not because of a commitment to the faith. Thomas Nelson (also owned by NewsCorp) has been innovative in Christian publishing, but it is a concern that they have branched out into the non-Christian market.
It is more important than ever that we have an independent Christian publishing voice, and that voice is found in self-publishers and smaller independent Christian publishing houses. Unfortunately, most self-published books fail in the marketplace, and Christian books are no different in that regard. I would like to suggest three main reasons why most self-published Christian books fail to gain readership, and some solutions that will allow them to compete in the marketplace.
Most Christian writers have a vision to write a book, but they often jump into a project without a plan
Writing a book is one thing, publishing it is another. Writing a book is a creative process, publishing it is all about business. If you are going to become a self-publisher, you need to focus on making a profit because it is a proven method of measuring the success of your work.
Too many Christian writers have altruistic motives and “just want to get the book out there.” They think God will magically transform their trash into a literary treasure, but it does not work that way.
If you spend time writing a book that no one will read, then God is not honored in the process. Just as you need an outline for writing your book, you need a business plan for selling it. If you don’t have a marketing plan, it is almost guaranteed your self-published book will fail in the marketplace.
Self-published books fail is because too many Christian writers suffer from literary myopia
They write something they think is good. They write something they think is God inspired. They write something and believe it is perfect, and that any changes will ruin it. That’s self-serving, pious hogwash. Self-published books by Christian authors fail every day because they have not been professionally edited.
Manuscripts should be revised and polished. After that, they need to be sent to a professional editor. Sadly, most novice writers equate editing and proofreading, but there is a world of difference between the two. There are people who bill themselves as “editor- proofreaders,” but if you encounter such people, my advice is to run for the hills. It is like someone saying they are a “chef-busboy.” Both deal with plates of food, but in very different ways.
An editor deals with overall issues of clarity as part of the line editing process, and has the potential to change lead into gold. Any editor worth his salt does not proofread documents.
The function of a proofreader is to check for consistency in capitalization and punctuation, to make sure page numbers and references are correct, and things of that sort. Proofreaders perform a valuable function because they are the last person to go over the manuscript before it goes to press. However, it is inappropriate to allow a proofreader make editorial changes. If a proofreader raises questions about content, it should be referred back to the editor.
The quality of a self-published book is diminished without proper editing, or editing done by unqualified people, or proofreaders who want to be editors. If self-publishers do not have the money to pay for professional editing, or the humility of spirit to accept suggested changes, then they are better off not releasing their book. Lack of professional editing is often the difference between a successful book and one that is a failure.
Many self-published books fail is because little attention is given to the design of the cover and interior of the book
I have helped many self-publishers, and it never ceases to amaze me how many of them want to put a picture of one of their relatives on the front cover. People have ideas about the look of their book, but they are totally incongruent with marketing realities.
The same goes for interior design— many people think they can save money by doing typesetting with Microsoft Word, but the finished product is inferior by any professional standard.
The reading public has handled enough books that they know what one looks like; when they see one with the amateurish cover and unprofessional interior layout and typography, the book looks as phony as a three dollar bill, and people automatically discount the credibility of the content.
Most people do not have a sense of good graphic design, nor do they have knowledge of the kinds of book covers and interiors that sell books. Most are like a client I once had— he felt strongly that he had a good artistic sense, but the problem was that he thought plaids and stripes looked great together. He was definite about what he liked, but he had no taste. Self-publishers need to invest in a cover design and interior layout done by a seasoned professional who has both an artistic sense and marketing savvy. If your self-published book doesn’t look right, it will fail in the marketplace.
There are many Christian companies these days that pretend to take the marketing and book manufacturing process off your shoulders. They include such names as Xulon, Westbow or Winepress. These companies will charge you an arm and a leg for services that you can do on your own or with the help of a consultant. These companies actually do little more than the old-time vanity presses; you have to think twice about what that will do to your credibility as a writer. And, if you use profitability as a measure of your ability to gain readership, then these companies will not help you. They take such a big chunk of money for their editorial and design services that they leave nothing on the table for you.
These are important reasons why self-published books fail in the marketplace. To succeed as a self-publisher, you need to have a business plan for marketing your book. You need to polish your manuscript, and then turn it over to a professional editor. Have the cover and interior designed by a professional who understands both art and marketing. Start with a small press run— get a few dozen copies into the hands of readers and reviewers. Discover how to profit from using the POD (Print of Demand) business model, so you never have to pay for thousands of copies. That is the way to self-publishing success.