Another 17 or so things I've learned about self-publishing a bestselling coffee table book
Hello there! Hope you had a great weekend? Well, I can't quite believe it, but on Friday, my bestselling book How to Style Your Brand will go into its second print run - just a month after release. How cool is that? Seriously, I am so, so grateful to each and every one of you that has bought, shared, reviewed and recommended the book. You have made something that's been a lifelong ambition of mine a fabulous reality. Thank you so, so much. I've talked before about the things I've learned self-publishing a book and even though this is now my second book, the lessons just keep on coming. Self-publishing a coffee table book is a huge undertaking and a very steep learning curve and I thought it was probably timely to share some more of the lessons I've learned with you.
In praise of self publishing
1. Self publishing opens up possibilities for books that simply don't fit into the traditional publishing mould. Those of you that already own How to Style Your Brand will understand that it's a special sort of business book. Sure, it's very process driven and it's game changing, but it's also beautiful. Business books are almost always black and white (maybe one or two extra colours). I've never seen one illustrated with the sorts of beautiful examples in this book. Coffee table books are beautiful, lots of gorgeous styling and entertaining text, but they don't take you on a journey in quite the same way How to Style Your Brand does. And therein lies the problem. Business book publishers don't do illustrated books, illustrated book publishers don't do business books. The only way to create something as unique as my latest book was to self publish.
2. Self publishing doesn't need to have the stigma it used to. When I published my first book, Exhibit, anyone and everyone was dashing out self-published business books which frankly gave the market a deservedly bad reputation. Cheerily packed with typos, with downmarket covers featuring dodgy stock photos and colours that just shouldn't be put together, inconsistent designs and poor quality printing, it's not surprising self publishers gained a bad name. These days the industry has moved on. By and large you often can't tell the difference between a self published and professionally published book. As long as you have the right people on your side (thank you Jo Copestick and Matt Pereira) and an army of proofreaders there's no reason why your book can't look as impactful as any other.
3. You don't need a publisher to give you credibility. I've lost count of the number of well meaning friends who have recommended I get a publisher. For the reasons listed above, How to Style Your Brand was never going to be picked up and published by one of the big publishing houses - not if I wanted it to be the book that it is. Self publishing is scary. It's a steep learning curve, it takes an eye watering investment and inner confidence and energy to make it happen (oh and a supportive family and rafts of friends to keep you going) but the reward for seeing your vision come together is immense. My book is number one on Amazon; it has five star rated reviews from people I've never met (i.e. these people aren't just being nice to me!!); I've had lovely emails from people and I see the results it's having. I can finally let go of the 'publisher giving me credibility' thing!
4. Self-published books can be bestsellers without needing to sell your granny. One of my concerns about writing and launching my book so soon after my sabbatical was that before I knew it, my lovely work-life balance would be swept aside in an overwhelming need to create blog post after blog post and spend all day on social media at the expense of the children. Apart from January when I was using every hour that God sent to design the book (and then February when I was working incredibly hard on my consultancy to pay for the print run) I can honestly say that I've kept things in balance. I haven't gone 'all out' in the marketing; my blog readership and newsletter subscriptions are growing steadily and happily but I haven't gone nuts. Hurrah! So if you're worried that social media needs to take over your life to create a bestseller then don't be. More on that further down...
5. Self-publishing can throw you curve balls. My biggest fear when launching this book was that it wouldn't sell. I was confident that I'd done my best with the words/ design/ incredible projects featured. I knew it would do what it promised. But I worried that I just didn't have enough of a 'platform' (urgh, I hate that word) to regain our investment quickly enough. I was worried that my crazy idea would be a folly and that our hard-earned savings would just be money down the pan. My ridiculously ambitious target was to sell 500 books by the end of launch week and 1000 by the end of the year (December 2015). Well, I've currently sold around 1250 in just a month and am already about to order another 3000. Hurrah! Let's not dwell on the stressful bits. I'll just mention a few words and you can piece together the rest. Amazon. Unpredictable fees. Lost stock. Inconsistent service. Sleepless nights. Gaskets blown. Enough said? Let's move on.
Things I've learned about working with Amazon
Let's be honest. Amazon is pretty brilliant. If it weren't for Amazon I'm not certain self publishing would even be an option for me. How else could I reach and distribute to a global marketplace? How else could I tap into my market beyond my immediate network and their network? So putting aside my personal gripes about their tax practices and what the giant has done to the local bookshop market; in general, Amazon is a Good Thing for the self publisher. Here's what I've learned about working with them.
6. Allow time for your stock to be processed. Remember that stock doesn't get added to their inventory the day it is signed for at their warehouse. It can take a week or longer (sometimes waaaaay longer if they lose your stock) to be added to your inventory. Planning ahead and trying to anticipate demand is key.
7. Amazon will lose your stock but they are good about reimbursing you. I still find this stressful because it means that there are supply problems when there don't need to be. But the truth is that there isn't another book like it on the market, so I have to remind myself that hopefully I'm not losing too many long term sales and secondly that I am hopefully not out of pocket.
8. Amazon Marketplace is the best option for self-publishers. I did a lot of research online before I launched How to Style Your Brand and the advice is generally to sell on Amazon Advantage until your book is a bestseller and then switch to Amazon Marketplace from there onwards. Next time I'll stick to Amazon Marketplace all the way through. Amazon Advantage take 60% of the RSP - so for every book I sell on that programme they pay me £8. Out of that £8 I have to pay for all the production costs of the book, storage and distribution to the warehouse as well as the courier to Amazon. Not only that, but their payment terms are 60 days from month end which means I'm paying for my second run of books from our savings (again) because I won't be paid on May's sales until July. Conversely, Amazon Marketplace only take 15% sales commission and sales still seem to count towards bestseller status. I honestly can't see why I would do things any differently. I know the shopping experience is slightly easier on Advantage, and I know it's nice to get a bargain, but the truth is that the book is worth £20. It also has the benefit of making the book just as attractive in the independent bookshops too.
8. Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is the best way to sell overseas. I wrestled with this one a lot. We started selling on Advantage in the USA as well but can you imagine the hideous shipping costs (that I'm responsible for) out of my £8? Actually in the States they only take 55%, but by the time you've dealt with the 20% tax they take off and the currency conversion I was worried that I might actually be losing money on books sold abroad. A folly indeed! Thankfully by switching to FBA I can bulk-ship books for storage in the USA, they take care of shipping and handling and I pay a slightly higher storage and handling fee but it still works out ok. There isn't much information online about this sort of thing so if you're considering how to sell abroad then I have done the worry for you - it's working out relatively well for me (apart from the loss of stock - but as I say, I've been reimbursed...).
9. Amazon reviews help a lot. I've been totally blown away by the Amazon reviews - especially from unexpected sources and people I've never met. They are a massive confidence boost to me and of course, also help buyers make good choices about whether to buy the book or not. If you've bought How to Style Your Brand I would love it if you'd leave a review. Here's the UK page and here's the one in the USA.
Marketing a bestselling book
I'm no stranger to marketing. I enjoy building a tribe, sharing content and creating success stories. Goodness, it's what I do for a living so I felt fairly comfortable about marketing in general, but marketing a bestselling book? That was new territory! Territory that scared me a little, that had high stakes - my professional reputation and family savings were on the line. And whilst I never for a million years expected to have a bestseller in the UK never mind the USA I am overwhelmingly thrilled that I have.
The internet is full of advice from people on how to create a bestselling book. Some of it I took on board, lots of it I didn't. Here's what I learned.
10. Be yourself. I'm not one for tricks, cynical building of 'platforms' (although I totally get the importance and ethos behind this) or 'clever' campaigns. I do have a very clear understanding of who my audience is, what their challenges are and how my skills and experience can help them with their business. I think that really helps and it's really guided my approach which has been to not worry about what everyone else is doing; not worry about posting schedules or whether I've gained enough twitter followers this week and focus on creating useful content.
11. Get known for creating useful content and everything else will follow. This really hit home to me when I read this Amazon review from Kathleen Murphy "I knew based on Fiona's blog that the book would be good. WOW!! It is better than good." Kathleen and I have never met (at least I don't think we have) but she had confidence in the quality of my book because of the blog. That, combined with just being me I think is really important and a good takeaway whatever you're trying to market - be it a book or a consultancy service or workshop.
12. Create meaningful downloads that help you build your list. I put loads of time (about three days) into creating my Planning Workbook but I'm so glad I did. As a standalone download it gives the reader value, which is important to me. If you've shared your email address with me I want to give you meaningful value in return; not just a transparent sales ploy to join my list and buy my book! Which leads me nicely on to...
13. Tim Grahl, The Book Marketing Guy is amazing! His website is packed full of free resources, downloads, worksheets and video tutorials to help you create a bestselling book. I've only done a handful of the things he recommended and it's worked! Definitely worth joining his site if you are launching or revitalising a book. Find out more at Tim Grahl.com
14. When your network start marketing the book is when the magic happens. I've been so lucky to work with some truly incredible people, both in my book and also for the blog tour and reviews. Lovely people like Allison Sadler who wrote the loveliest review I think any author could ever wish for; Ashley from Braizen whose review made me cry; the fabulous Shauna Haider whose gorgeous work is featured in the book, Rona Wheeldon of Flowerona who interviewed me on film and Create who did a fab Q&A. And of course, not forgetting the super-lovely people at Hiscox who hosted a five part series on the absolute essentials of styling a brand.
15. Readers blogging about the book make a huge difference. The truth is that you can't do it all on your own. Having people spread the word and share their thoughts is invaluable and has made an enormous difference to the success of How to Style Your Brand. Like the lovely Laura Putnam who reviewed the book on her blog. And if that sounds like a hint, it's meant to! If you do blog about the book please do send me a link so that I can feature it in a future post and do also share how you've styled your brand - I'll be sharing my favourites!
16. When you have confidence in the book you'll inspire others. I don't want the points above to make it sound like I've used marketing 'tricks' to climb the bestseller list. The truth is that no amount of clever marketing will help a badly written or badly thought through book sell. But if you have a great product and you just need to get the word out, then understanding what works and what doesn't really helps. I've found that a large helping of excitement and inspiration goes a long way ;-)
17. Hosting a launch party isn't really about marketing. Every blog post I read advised against putting on a launch party to sell books, and I get that. Launch parties are hugely expensive and if you go into it expecting a direct return on your investment you'll be disappointed. But I'm a girl that loves a party. I love to plan parties, I love to host parties and I love to go to parties. So of course I was going to have a launch party! But it was very much about celebrating with friends old and new and saying thank you to the people who helped make the book happen. Did you see the pictures? We had a ball!
18. People are beyond generous. I am lucky to work with a host of amazing people. I've already mentioned the lovely book tour hosts. And I said thank you to a lot of people in my book launch post too. Don't underestimate the importance of having team of people around you - even if you work from home at your kitchen table (as I do much of the time). Mollie Makes described How to Style Your Brand as "the book we've been waiting for" and it's all thanks to the lovely Liz Owen of Little Shop of Brands that Mollie Makes even got to hear about the book. Doing my own PR is Way. Too. Scary. Thank you Lizzie!
I'm already hatching a plan for book three - the challenge right now is to work out when I'm actually going to find the time to write it! Fingers crossed it'll be ready in the next 12-18 months. I'll keep you posted... If you've stumbled upon this post because you're looking to create your own bestselling book then I hope you've found it useful. And if you're a Brand Stylist regular then I hope that you've enjoyed discovering a little more behind the scenes about #thebrandstylistbook!