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Top Publishing Lessons Life has Taught Me

Posted on May 24, 2017 by Sophie O'Neill

From a talk I gave at the brilliant Writing on the Wall Festival in Liverpool last weekend. 

1. You can judge a book by its cover
That’s what book jackets are there for. Readers need signposts, the visual signpost of a jacket is the most immediate hook you have to engage with a potential buyer. Publishers who ignore this essential part of their book production do so at their peril.
2. Sales is not a dirty word
If you are putting all that effort into writing or editing or designing something to the best of your ability it has value and should be shared with people!
Publishing is a commercial art form, if you hope to publish more you need to sell the books you have.
The best independent publishers manage to bridge the gap between integrity and breaking even.
3. Metadata rules
Not the most glamorous of subject matters, but definitely the most important. Statistics show that the more detail and visuals you attach to ISBNs, the better the sales. Get the metadata right initially and the sales and publicity will follow.
4. You don't need to invest all your cash in stock
Digital printing, short run printing and print on demand have transformed publishing. The old days of having to pay upfront for a print run with no idea of how many books might actually sell are over. Independent publishers are capitalising on this, these days a new publisher doesn’t even need to print a single stock copy, they can just print to demand. (Although some stock does help Inpress!)
5. You can be a global sales and distribution network from the minute your book is published
Companies like Ingram Lightning Source can be your worldwide distribution network. Share your book files with them, and their network of printers will ensure your title is orderable through online and bricks and mortar retailers worldwide.
6. Writers, no matter how obscure your potential bestseller, there is a publisher out there for you

The PA, Publishers Association, the biggest body representing publishers, who lobby government and put on major conferences has approximately 1200 members.
The IPG Independent Publishers Guild has approximately 600+ members
Inpress has 45 members
And there is a huge amount more out there, Inpress is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to smaller independent publishers
You can look them up – the Writers and Artists Yearbook 2017 with over 4,000 entries of who to contact where across marketing and the media
Mslexia publish list of literary independent publishers which includes 250 small indie presses and 200 literary magazines.

I have no idea how many publishers there are out there, but will find out and update this blog!

7. People won’t buy books if they've never heard of them
One of the perks of big commercial publishers is that they have departments dedicated to sales, marketing, publicity, online communities. That doesn’t mean small indie publishers can’t achieve as good results as the big ones, they have the advantage of knowing their market intimately. Poetry publishers have nurtured their communities way before the advent of social media.
8. There are more people writing poetry than buying it
This point is based on no empirical evidence, just a feeling….
I had no idea until I started at Inpress how many small indie publishers there were. I had no idea how many poetry publishers there were out there producing not only books but pamphlets and chap books. And I certainly had no idea how many people out there are writing poetry!
9. Don't let your mum phone your managing director
Or, don’t go on a work trip to the Middle East a few days before the US invades Afghanistan. Staff insurance policies were discussed, I’m reliably informed.
10. Print or Ebooks, they all have a place in the modern publishing eco-system
Yes, ebook sales are declining, but that is just all the many formats finding their place in the market. I like reading physical books in the main, but I do enjoy a Georgette Heyer on my phone, so many people I know now love audiobooks, it’s an ever changing confusion of delights.
11. Biggest is not necessarily best
What are smaller independent publishers doing?
Shaking things up
Publishing from passion
Being commercial with integrity
Being supported by ACE
Not being supported by ACE
Working together
Working alone
Working online
Publishing print only
Publishing digital only
Publishing hand-stitched-letterpress-printed-only
Doing what they want

I am constantly amazed at the ingenuity, agility and doggedness of independent publishers and publishing. I’ve said it before elsewhere, so apologies for repetition, but what they lack in resource they make up in resourcefulness. Long live the independent publisher!

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