3 Things Successful Self-Pubs Do Well — Why Not Get Mentored by the Pros?

by Carla Douglas

Welcome to the first post in a new series about how to publish a good book.

One of our goals at Beyond Paper is to help you see your book through an editor’s eyes—to point you toward the things that leap off the page and either make us cry, “eek!” or say, “yes, nicely done.”

What are these things that can make or break a book? They vary, depending on genre, purpose for writing, audience, and so on, but things like tone, originality, usefulness, and design would be on most lists. They may reveal themselves early on during a manuscript evaluation, or after a book has been published, when it’s being reviewed. Some of these are big topics, others warrant just a mention. Most are difficult to explain or describe in isolation.

In a recent post on the Smashwords blog, Mark Coker says, “The most successful indie authors are mentoring the next generation of authors. Indie authors act like a vast publishing collective of writers helping writers.”

It’s true. Successful indies are stepping up and showing others the way. And what better way to learn how to do this right than to watch those who are not just doing it right, but doing it exceptionally well? If it’s true that you learn to write by reading (and I think it is), then it’s also true that you can learn good publishing techniques by keeping one eye on those self-published authors who are at the top of their game.

So, why not look to the pros for mentorship and guidance?

That’s what I’d like to do in this new series—look at a variety of recent books by the pros, and point out three things they’ve done really well. This doesn’t mean, of course, that they’ve only done three things well—these just happen to be the things I’ve fastened on.

First up: Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book: For Authors by an Author, First Edition

In the world of self-publishing, this book is not exactly “new”—it was released in July 2013. But it covers some of the most current information available to help authors in this most difficult area of self-publishing. You’ll find it on any list of recommended titles for showing self-pubs the ropes of marketing.

So, what is Ms. Penn doing right?

1. Visual Presentation

She makes it easy for readers to move quickly through her content and find the key information they’re seeking.

For 21st century readers, especially readers of non-fiction, you will do them an enormous favour by improving your book’s readability. When reading information-based non-fiction, readers are not hanging on your every word (sorry!). Rather, they’re looking for content, answers and solutions, springboarding from section to section, picking up a fact here and a keyword there.

You can help readers navigate your book more easily by including effective visual elements: boldface print, headings, subheadings and ample white space.

Here’s an example:

Ebooks—with variable fonts, text sizes and other options—allow readers to customize their reading experience. Adding visual features improves the reading experience even further by letting readers quickly pick up the key points and move on. Choose any page at random from this book, and you’ll find you can move through the material with remarkable ease.

2. Tone

Tone is usually defined as the writer’s attitude toward both the reader and the subject, and it can often be expressed in a single adjective: serious, direct and authoritative are three examples. Tone also positions a writer in relation to his audience—he might appear formal, distant, or even patronizing.

In How to Market a Book, Penn masterfully achieves a tone that is direct (no mincing words, here), but also pleasant and sincere, with a frequent touch of dry humour thrown in. Example: “Don’t use a painting that your child did or that you did yourself” for your cover.

Joel Friedlander sums up Joanna Penn’s tone best in his front-of-book blurb: “charming and well-informed.”

Why does this matter? The right tone allows readers to fully engage—to trust both the writer and the information she’s imparting. The wrong tone, on the other hand, can make a reader put down a book before she’s reached chapter one.

3. Generosity

This is more an impression than a category, and it has to do with tone, integrity of content and sincerity of purpose. It’s exemplified in How to Market a Book by Penn’s many references to community and her willingness to share—not just her own recommendations and advice gained through experience, but also the readiness with which she points readers toward her many expert colleagues in the self-publishing field.

It says, “I know something about this, but if you want the real goods, read what my colleagues have to say.”

In other words, it’s cooperative rather than competitive—and who doesn’t appreciate that?

Nicely done, Joanna.

Image: Flikr: TheCreativePenn’s Photostream

Related Posts

How to Write a Quality Book Fast
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How to Make Your Writing More Readable
What Tone Are You Aiming For?

2 thoughts on “3 Things Successful Self-Pubs Do Well — Why Not Get Mentored by the Pros?

  1. As a fairly successful writer, and self-publisher since 1989 (my books have sold over 800,000 copies worldwide), I chuckle to myself about things like, “it’s cooperative rather than competitive.”

    I prefer competitive. My favorite motto is, “Look at what everyone else is doing; then do the opposite.” This has worked very well for me. I can likely list somewhere between 40 and 100 unique things that I have done to market my books, things that the so-called “book experts” wouldn’t ever come up with, simply because they don’t have the creative thinking skills to do so. Why would I want to share (particularly for free) my great, innovative, proven ideas on how to market my books with people who are going to bring out books that compete with my bestselling titles?

    Incidentally, most of the so-called “book experts” are frauds, particularly those who claim to be best-selling authors, when their books have sold fewer than 1,000 copies, and in many cases fewer than 500 copies, or even 100 copies. I can name many, by the way, because I subscribe to the book industry reporting system (normally, an annual cost of $2,000) that tells me how many copies of an author’s book have sold through normal book channels.

    I prefer to study the truly competitive, those authors who have at least one book that has sold over 100,000 copies (a true bestseller) and particularly those who have books that have sold 500,000 copies or, even better, 1,000,000 copies. I learn a lot from these authors.

    In short, competition is good for me. Surprisingly, it is very spiritual, too! Richard Bach in his spiritual guide (and true bestseller) “Illusions”, said it best: “You learn most when you play against an opponent who can beat you.” Indeed, I learn most from people who are much better than me. What’s more, these successful people motivate me to try and outdo them. In several cases, I have been successful at this.

    One example: I have negotiated over 111 book deals with foreign publishers for my self-published books in English, all without using a North American foreign rights agent. My books have now been published in 29 countries in 22 languages. I have succeeded at this, not because other self-published authors have been cooperative with me. On the contrary, I have succeeded at this because I am creative and competitive, and because I have come up with unique techniques for accomplishing this, that over 99 percent of authors wouldn’t have the creativity and motivation to pull off.

    Keep this great quotation in mind:

    “The great creative individual . . . is capable of more wisdom and virtue than collective man ever can be.”
    — John Stuart Mill

    Acknowledge its wisdom and it will serve you well.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

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