This week, I’m particularly pleased to post an interview with (my description) self-publishing guru, Carol White. After retiring from a high-tech company a few years ago, Carol self-published a travel book, “Live Your Road Trip Dream: Travel for a Year for the Cost of Staying Home.” She was so successful that she started her own consulting gig. I urge you to check out her website. Her insights into what works and what doesn’t in publishing are fascinating and, I think, spot-on.
Writer’s Bloc: So you left your career with a high-tech company and then found yourself as a publishing consultant?
Carol White: Well, the path wasn’t exactly that straight of a line. I retired when I left high-tech, took a few years off, traveled around the U.S. for a year, wrote a book that has done very well – “Live Your Road Trip Dream” – then when it won an award for Best Marketed Book of the Year (from Publisher’s Marketing Association –now IBPA), people started asking me for help marketing their books and it just grew from there.
WB: And with several printings of your book behind you, have you gotten interest from traditional publishers?
White: Actually, no. Before I turned to independent publishing, I had a major publisher who was going to publish it – but after nine months of jumping through all their hoops – editorial, financial, marketing, etc., they changed their mind. At that point, I didn’t want to be another year down the road, so I decided to learn how to do it myself. I did have the good fortune to find a great book shepherd to help me.
I have approached a couple of the major travel publishers subsequently – but their feeling is that I have “skimmed” the sales [meaning she's tapped the major markets for the book already; more proof that traditional publishers are "out to lunch"].
WB: And with the success you’ve generated, is it safe to say you will remain independent as an author?
White: Probably. I suppose if a publisher made me a good offer, I would consider it. I think what traditional publishers do well is distribution, and I believe that with better distribution could come better sales again as more boomers retire. The other market for this book has been mid-life sabbatical takers and homeschoolers who are taking their kids on the road.
WB: The writers you now work with as a consultant … is it a combination of publishing novices and experienced authors who need help with marketing?
White: Yes, it is mostly first-time authors, but I’m also picking up traditionally published clients whose publisher has turned the marketing over to them –and most of them don’t have a clue what to do either, since their traditional publisher has always done it for them. Traditional publishing is really at a crossroads and is having a tough time figuring out what their market really is, unfortunately.
WB: Shel Horowitz has said that in self-publishing, there are a lot of bad books, but there is also quality. What is your opinion on the future for quality self-publishing?
White: I believe that true self-publishing (form your own company), which I like to call independent publishing, has a bright future. What the industry has to get a handle on is these “self-publishing companies” – that is where most of the dreck is coming from. Those of us who have invested in our books and take pride in the quality, are being painted with the same brush as those who do it for under $100 and get no quality. Unfortunately, many “authors” just want to “be published” with no concern for the quality of their products. I think e-books makes this even worse.
WB: What are the pros and cons of e-books?
White: Everyone thinks doing an e-book is so much simpler, when in realty, it takes more steps than doing a p-book. I heard Dominque Raccah [of Sourcebooks] speak a few months ago, and she said they had to add something like 40 steps to their publishing process when e-books started becoming popular. You have to do all the same steps as a p-book, plus a few more. The only step you eliminate is printing. You still have to edit, design a cover and interior, write marketing copy, write back cover copy, and so on – all the publishing steps except printing.
As to the reasons to do e-books – it is a fast growing market – from 0-15 percent of the market in just 3-4 years. There is perceived value in being able not to kill trees to read books, easier delivery, easier storage and portability. The downside would be maybe just the old-fashioned notion of what is a book. But the e-book revolution will give us some things we never dreamed of – audio clips of the person actually talking in a biography, video clips of a disaster talked about in a book, character games in children’s books and much more. I actually have done a fair amount of speaking on this topic, and I have to update my presentation each time.
WB: Publishing nuts and bolts aside for a minute, we all know that marketing is crucial for a book’s success. As you coach an author, what particular elements of marketing do you most emphasize?
White: I try to always start with the author’s goals for their project – a memoir from someone who isn’t famous and hopes to sell 500 copies is far different in marketing scope from someone whose goal it is to sell 50,000 copies the first year. I’ve had both of these clients recently. The next thing I try to do is to align the author’s expectations with their financial ability, their skill level and their time. Once we have their goals aligned in a reasonable way, then I work on the “4 P’s” of marketing: the product, the price, the place (distribution) and the promotion. Each of these gets drilled-down on in some depth, depending on the project’s goals.
WB: I assume you are getting up-to-speed on social media, like any good publisher/consultant?
White: I try to get clients to do it – but not overdo it. Social media can consume your entire day and life! I say pick a few that are appropriate for your project and do them well. I have two Twitter accounts (one for the book and one for consulting), and I am active on LinkedIn in several forums, as well as a Yahoo publishing group. I use Facebook – but mostly for personal use; I have made a conscious choice not to embark on that right now.
WB: And you advocate doing great market research first, then work on a book proposal, correct? I find that most authors score poorly in market research.
White: Yes, there has to be a market for the book, and so many authors totally skip that step. They also need to know how it differs from the competition – another step that is often skipped. I have a Book Marketing Checklist that I use before I meet with a client (those types of questions are included); if that part comes back blank, it is a good clue that the author has totally skipped that part of the process, and I need to look at the book itself closely. Those who know their target markets and how to reach them have usually written a good book.
WB: How many authors do you work with at a given time?
White: It used to be 1-2, but I’ve now hired two interns to help me with the research, and that allows me to work with 5-8 at a time now. It is getting a little crazy!
WB: Carol, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to give writers some great input.
White: You’re welcome. Thank you!