Bob Baker's Full-Time Author Blog

How to 'Fix' the Book Industry

There are many reasons for authors and publishers to get frustrated by the book industry. Lack of access to many mainstream retail and distribution outlets. Newspapers and radio stations that don't seem to support new authors. Publishing houses that are mostly concerned with safe, least-common-denominator hits.

When these factors rip at an author's heart, there are often two results:

  1. The writer feels like throwing up his hands, walking away from books, and spending the rest of his days as a Buddhist monk in isolation.

  2. The writer rages against the system, gets angry about the way things are, insists that things need to change, then becomes a frustrated book reviewer. (Disclaimer: That was a little joke; not a stab at all book reviewers.)
Well, if you're truly passionate about writing a book, walking away from it should not even be an option. And if you're one of those creative types who wants to cure all the ills of "the industry," here are some thoughts for you ...

Changing the book industry is not unlike trying to change where and when the sun rises every morning. You can expend all the anger and energy you can muster, but the sun is still going to do its thing -- blissfully unaware that you're unhappy with it.

Stop trying to fix everything and change everybody else. Your focus on frustration just creates more of it. The best way to make an impact in areas that need improvement is to take Gandhi's advice:

"Be the change you want to see in the world."

Unless you're Dan Brown or Stephen King, you won't be able to influence the industry at large anyway. You can't control what happens to the overall book business, but there is something you can control directly: How you conduct yourself and your own place in publishing. Focus on pursuing your book and its topic on your own terms -- not terms imposed by the industry.

The more successful you are living by your own set of standards, the more energy and attention you'll create. And if other authors are likewise successful operating outside the traditional lines, that influence will grow stronger.

Rosa Parks didn't set out to change the entire civil rights system. She simply did what see thought was right and sat down where she felt she was entitled. That simple act of conviction created a social tidal wave that's still being felt today.

Use that same philosophy as you work toward publishing your next book. Be the change you want to see in the book world. Steer away from people who don't support your values. Find victories where you can. Build on them.

Through your positive example, people will take notice and ... the book industry may be slightly altered forever. And that's the best way to truly "fix" the book business.

To your publishing success!


Traditional vs Self-Publishing Smackdown

A couple of months ago, author Lee Silber and I were interviewed together and asked to reveal our views on the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. Lee represented the traditional angle while I discussed ... well, I think you know where this is going.

The program we appeared on was Growing Your Business, an online radio show hosted by Fred Hueston and Lyna Farkas. You can listen to the show on this page, or download the MP3 directly using this link.

Lee is the author of Self-Promotion for the Creative Person, Organizing from the Right Side of the Brain and other books published by Three Rivers Press and St. Martin's Griffin.

This is a good program to listen to if you're trying to decide which route to take with your own forthcoming book. There are many differences between the paths ... and a surprising number of similarities. Download it and hear for yourself.


Do You Know 'The Secret'?

Several months ago I watched an independently produced movie that few people had heard of at the time. The content of the film was amazingly powerful. But this wasn't an action-adventure, drama or comedy. It was a movie called The Secret, which revealed the secret to success and living a vibrant life.

The buzz about this movie has been building steadily, but it took a mammoth leap yesterday when Oprah Winfrey aired an entire one-hour show about it. The little movie that could is now the #1 DVD on Amazon.

The "secret" is not really a secret at all. It's wisdom that has been passed down through the ages based on a principle you've probably heard before. But most people spend their lives disconnected from the principle and, therefore, struggle. I've been aware of this secret (or law) for many years and regularly incorporate it into my writings (and my life).

But of all the books and resources that address this topic, The Secret DVD does perhaps the best job of presenting it and driving home the message.

What does this have to do with publishing books? Everything.

The reason so many authors struggle and complain is because they don't understand the "secret" and the effect it has on their careers and lives. Most successful, content authors have tapped into some aspect of this simple universal principle and apply it on a regular basis. In fact, this is exactly what I attribute my own publishing success and full-time author status to.

And here's the rub: This secret law directs the events and circumstances of your life ... whether you know about it or believe it or not.

I'll stop typing now and let you discover it on your own. There is a summary transcript of yesterday's show on the Oprah site here. Check out the movie on Amazon, where you can also watch a two-minute clip.

As Mike Dooley says, "Thoughts become things ... choose the good ones."


Making Money With Your Books

Here's a followup to my Should You Give Away Free eBooks? post ...

I'm a big fan of Chris Anderson and his Long Tail blog. Earlier this week he wrote about the benefits and drawbacks of giving away free ebooks and even spoken-word audio downloads of books. Within the post were these three sentences:

Of the nearly 200,000 books published last year, only about 2,000 (1%) made any money for anyone. The rest of them were published for other reasons, which range from marketing consulting services to simple expression. Outside of a relative handful of celebrity authors and self-help peddlers, almost nobody writes books for a living.

The hair on the back of my neck sprung to attention like a welterweight boxer who had just been insulted. Here's the comment I left on Anderson's blog:

Chris, while I agree that most authors don't make much money from their books, saying "almost nobody writes books for a living" is a bit of a simplistic statement. I'm one of those rare authors who does make a good living from the sales of my self-published books, so I have a different perspective. In fact, I consider myself a living example of Long Tail abundance economics in action.

Regarding giving away free ebooks to sell print books, I've been using a different model to promote my identity as a source of indie music marketing and artist empowerment advice. For about 12 years I've been giving away lots of free tips through my ezine and free articles. In more recent years, I've added a blog, a podcast and video content.

Like you, I don't give away full versions of my books online, but I do freely distribute writings on my topic. This demonstrates what I offer and leads to exposure and name recognition, in the same way new bands create buzz with free downloads, etc.

Once you have engaged a growing audience with an abundance of your writing samples, it's a lot easier to sell them on your more in-depth, for-sale products. Stay at it long enough and you can make a living doing it.

With audiobooks, the same approach applies. Give away spoken-word samples, perhaps in the form of short podcasts (as I do). Then sell the full-length audio version to those who want more.

As with most aspects of life, you have to give to get.

Here's the thing: I agree that most authors write books for reasons other than money. In fact, if you aren't compelled to share what you have to say in the absence of cash flow, you're doing it for the wrong reason.

However, at the same time, I refuse to buy into the "starving artist" and "struggling writer" mentality. Just because most don't generate a profit doesn't mean you are destined to poverty as an author or self-publisher.

You can bet I'll be writing more on this topic in the weeks and months ahead :-)


Should You Give Away Free eBooks?

Cory Doctorow is a successful science fiction author and co-editor of the popular Boing Boing blog. In his online bio, he writes about his habit of giving away ebook versions of his books and how he benefits from it.

I write science fiction novels -- three published to date ... These novels sell well, win awards, and are published by Tor Books (novels) and Avalon Books (collection). They're also given away for free on the Internet as Creative Commons-licensed downloads. They can be freely shared, and in some cases, remixed or translated and sold in developing countries.

I believe that we live in an era where anything that can be expressed as bits will be. I believe that bits exist to be copied. Therefore, I believe that any business model that depends on your bits not being copied is just dumb, and that lawmakers who try to prop these up are like governments that sink fortunes into protecting people who insist on living on the sides of active volcanoes.

Me, I'm looking to find ways to use copying to make more money and it's working: enlisting my readers as evangelists for my work and giving them free ebooks to distribute sells more books. As Tim O'Reilly says, my problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity. Best of all, giving away ebooks gives me lots of key insights into how to make money without restricting the copying of bits. It's a win-win situation.

The quote I especially like is: "My problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity." In fact, that whole third paragraph holds a lot of wisdom. In so many ways, you have to give to get.

I don't completely adopt Cory's approach for my own full-time author business model, but I agree in principle with his mindset. I'll write more about this topic in my next blog post.

In the meantime, what do you think?


Book Publishing Dirty Little Secrets

Wow. I've had a lot of great feedback on my recent Attack of the Self-Publishing Naysayers post. Check out the comments section (where John Kremer even left a short note) and you'll find a gem from author Hamish MacDonald. Here's a portion of it:

An important consideration is why you want to self-publish, too. The people who dismiss indie publishing quickly tend to have bought into the same mass-culture obsessions that make people think The Da Vinci Code must be a good book because it's sold a majillion copies. If you can't sell a majillion yourself, the thinking goes, why publish?

Um, because it's art. Because you've been moved by something inside you to create an original work from the stuff of your imagination. If you focus on outcome ("I want to be rich and famous") when writing, people will smell it and stay away -- and they should stay away.

What's been beautifully liberating this past year, what's buoyed my spirits, is connecting my work with actual readers, putting my focus on them instead of publishers. No more bitterness, no more frustration, just lots and lots of things to learn and do.

Too much of our focus is on reaching countless strangers and yearning after status that's supposed to be some sort of salvation. Reaching real readers, people you can see and meet -- I think that's a far better beginning for an author than playing a numbers game and trying to reverse-engineer existing work, seeking success instead of substance.

Richard Hoy of BookLocker added his two cents to the comments and a longer response on his own blog. I particularly appreciated a couple of things he pointed out:

  1. There's a traditional belief that isn't true, Richard writes. "Namely, that a book has to be 'stocked' in a bookstore to be a commercial success. That is just not true. Most traditionally published books aren't stocked in bookstores."

  2. "Here is the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about -- the traditional publishing process sucks. Many manuscripts go unpublished every year, not because they are bad, but because traditional publishers don't know how to find the book's market in a cost-effective manner. That is where POD publishers like BookLocker can provide a real service, as long as the return on investment is good. And the return on investment is good if, and only if, the upfront costs to get into the market are kept low."

Bottom line
: Don't accept the first piece of advice you hear about "book publishing realities." Of course, that also goes for any advice I dish out :-)