5 things I thought you knew (but I guess you don’t)

What did you learn recently about the book publishing industry that made you say, “I had no idea! I wish I had learned that sooner!“?

I’ve seen a lot of those types of observations in online book marketing groups recently. More often than not, they’re commenting on facts that I take for granted to the point where it doesn’t even occur to me that you might not know that.

That’s partly because I’ve been connected to book publishing for a looooong time — my first tour around what is now Book Expo America happened in the 1980s, and my first book was published by Kensington in 1995.

So many of today’s authors are new to book publishing, though — and they’re new to both traditional publishing and self publishing. There’s a lot they don’t know yet, but there’s also a lot the veterans don’t realize, too, because the industry is constantly evolving now.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve paid more attention to “I didn’t know that!” observations that have surprised me because I thought everybody knew that.

Of course they don’t! How could they?

With that in mind, here are five things you want to know now. They’re things I thought you knew, but I’ve discovered you probably don’t.

1. A traditional book publishing contract isn’t an option for most authors-to-be.

It is harder and harder for a professional writer, even, to get a publishing contract for a great idea. In the past, if you were a solid writer with an interesting idea, you had a shot at getting a deal that would pay an advance against royalties with a publisher that assumed all publishing costs.

That has changed. Now, that solid professional writer needs a platform — a built-in audience waiting to buy the book — in addition to a great idea and might even have to collaborate with a content expert.

So . . . if you are completely new to the writing world and your question is “Should I try to get a publisher or should I self publish?,” the answer is probably, “Self publish.

2. Readers don’t care when your book was published.

Fiction readers want a good story that’s well-written. It doesn’t matter if it came out three months or three years ago. They just want to be entertained.

Nonfiction readers want useful, relevant information they can trust. The publication date for nonfiction matters only when the industry has changed enough that a book written five years ago, for example, is out of date.

Obviously, a book about a technology topic has a shorter shelf life than the biography of a historical figure, but readers don’t lose interest in that tech book in three months.

You should be promoting your book as long as it’s available for purchase.

3. Even authors with traditional publishing contracts have to promote their books.

The most common author comment related to this is, “I thought my publisher was going to do more to support my book.

I don’t know who’s responsible for managing author expectations about what publishers will and won’t do to promote any author’s book. Maybe it’s the agent. Or the editor. Or the in-house publicist.

In any case, even if you’ve received an advance to write a book, you’re expected to contribute to the marketing. That’s why the marketing section of a proposal is so important.

4. If your book looks and reads like a traditionally published book, nobody will know it’s self-published.

If you’re self publishing, you have two goals:

  1. To write a book that is so good that readers recommend it to others.
  2. To package that excellent content so that it looks just like any other book in its genre in a bricks and mortar bookstore.

The reasons for this are probably obvious, but here’s one you might overlook: Many media outlets say they only review traditionally published books. That’s because those books have been vetted. An editor has acquired the book and worked with the writer and a team of publishing pros to improve and polish it.

As a result, the book reviewer working for a magazine or newspaper knows that he’ll be reading a book that has been through a quality control process. It’s a safe bet that it’s decent.

Self-published books don’t come with quality assurances. But, if you use the same processes and resources as the big-time publishers, nobody will know that it’s self-published.

Pro tip: Create a publishing company and get your book’s ISBN through that company so it’s listed as the publisher. Be creative enough with your publishing company name that it’s not obvious that you’re the publisher.

5. People will disappoint you.

things I thought you knewHere’s the deal: Not everybody in your world wants to read what you write.

That’s hard to accept, I know. But it’s a fact. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to put your energy into finding and reaching the people who really will want to read your book.

Oh, sure, let your friends and family know you’ve just published a book. Enlist their help getting the word out. But don’t expect all of them — or even most of them — to buy and read your book, because they won’t.

It’s not personal. It’s just that people have different tastes. You might not like the types of books I write; I might not like the types of books you write. It has nothing to do with either one of us as a person or our relationship.

It’s just that we’re all different. So manage your expectations and you’ll be a happier author.

What have you learned about book publishing or marketing that you wish you had learned a lot sooner? 

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  1. “The reasons for this are probably obvious, but here’s one you might overlook: Many media outlets say they only review traditionally published books. That’s because those books have been vetted. An editor has acquired the book and worked with the writer and a team of publishing pros to improve and polish it.”

    Um … not so much. I recently encountered a Random House book with so many typos that it almost rivaled the worst indie novel I’ve ever read. The media outlets need to review their expectations.

    Your tip about creating a publishing company piqued my interest.

    Good post, Sandra, as usual.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. It’s a safe bet that the book you’re referring to was the exception, not the norm. In most cases, while you’ll still find a few typos in traditionally published books, you’ll find far more in the “typical” self-pubbed book. Many self-pubbed authors do work with editors, etc., to improve a book and proofreaders to find those inevitable errors, etc., but most don’t because they either don’t know they should or they don’t want to spend the money. Those authors tend to be hobbyists rather than career writers.


      1. I’m coming more and more to the conclusion that traditional publishing’s standards are slipping 🙁

        Not just typos, but I’ve found factual errors in non-fiction books. I’m not saying that self-publishing is better, just that I wish the traditional publishers would live up to their claim of producing good quality content.

        1. Russell, it’s the author’s responsibility to provide facts, not the publisher’s. Imagine the army required to fact check every detail in a book. Blame the author, not the industry. And yeah, the publisher gave that author a contract, but that author could also be a master of smoke and mirrors.


          1. My frustration is the mismatch between claim and reality. If you can’t guarantee a good product, don’t claim that you can. It’s common for traditional publishers and others to claim that buying a traditionally published book guarantees a minimum level of quality. Lately, I’m finding that to be a false claim, and it’s a real shame.

  2. #3. The book marketing. Wow, Sandra. I’m amazed at how much of my life has been consumed by marketing in the past year since I signed with a publisher. First off, my publisher is a small press and has been absolutely wonderful. However, they have almost no time to market my book. I don’t know what I would have done without you and Build Book Buzz and a couple others I follow. I’m two months past book launch and very pleased with sales (for a first-time, unknown author…not getting rich here LOL). Because I spent months building social media relationships before my book released, people have requested my book at several Barnes & Nobles in the St. Louis area. Three of them put my book on the shelf, and one of the B&N hosted a book signing for me Saturday! It was scheduled from noon to 4 PM, but we sold out at 2:00! (A lot of FB promo for the event.) I want to emphasize ONE thing here. I never, not a single time, asked anyone to request my book at B&N, even though I know that’s often a suggested strategy. I just couldn’t make myself do it (because I still feel like an imposter…not a real author). LOL But because I had been able to establish “relationships” with my social media friends and blog followers, they led the charge…and didn’t even realize what they were doing when they “assumed” my book would be in bookstores and asked for it when they couldn’t find it. (Did I mention I am a nobody author with a small press publisher?!) I still can’t believe…cannot believe…I had a book signing at B&N. But it only happened because of book marketing.

    1. Karen, you have worked really, really hard to get where you are! I am thrilled that you sold out at your book signing (but shame on the store for not ordering more books)! Congratulations! (Pro tip: Keep a case of books in your car for this kind of thing.)

      Your experience with a small press is typical of what you’d find with a larger press, too. The support you can expect is proportionate with the size of your advance. I’m coaching an author with a 6-figure advance; he can be pretty certain that there will be marketing muscle behind his book around release date. Another author I’m working with who got a four-figure advance? She’ll probably get an announcement press release sent with review copies and rotation into the social media system.

      I’m so happy for you!


      1. I read your newsletter here in Australia, Sandra, where I’m a non-fiction author. Congratulations to Karen for all her hard work and the success of her book signing, and I absolutely agree with the marketing effort=advance amount equation. Having worked with publishers large and small, I’m of the same mind that it is not the size of the publisher that matters with marketing but the size of the advance; i.e. the amount that the publisher is willing to invest in the author. In other words, the publisher’s marketing commitment is pretty much equal to their financial commitment. Best wishes for your book, Karen!

        1. Absolutely, Chrystopher! Thanks for sharing your experience with that. It’s interesting that you see the same approach on the other side of the world, eh?


  3. Great article! I have been very hurt and offended when friends and relatives don’t buy my book. It was a test of their love and loyalty to me. Your article helped me put it all in perspective. I’ll keep looking for people who are interested in the topics in my novel.

    1. Idelle, your reaction is common. It’s hard to let this one go, but it’s your only healthy option. (Voice of experience talking here….)


  4. Thanks for this helpful advice! I didn’t know about Number 2, that readers don’t care when your book was published. I had no idea. Thanks to you, I’ll get back to marketing my memoir published in 2010. And thanks, too, for your pro tip about ISBN numbers and creating a publishing company with the right kind of name. Thank you, thank you!

  5. Extremely well-written post, Sandra. I am a hybrid author and have worked with large and small publishers as well as self-publishing my latest title. I think that most authors like the idea of traditional publishing because they think it comes with a complete team. But when they realize that they themselves are the key component of the PR and marketing team for their book, they then realize that things have indeed changed, and there is no going back.

    My biggest challenge is distribution. I’ve heard of Ingram, but would be interested in a future post on how we independent authors can more effectively get our books distributed to the world at large, or at least across Canada and the US.

    1. Doreen, believe it or not, even authors with commercial publishers would like to know the answer to the distribution question and so would be interested in a future post about that.

      1. Well, then, I guess I’ll have to work on that post since you’re both asking for it! Demand is a big piece of it. That’s why a quality book supported with publicity (news media attention) are so important. You need bookstores aware of it, and you need readers asking for it.


  6. I wrote a book (my second on the subject) on how to take a wild horse and within six days have it shod, ridden and in work.

    The book includes several chapters on correct riding styles, how to give your horse lessons, shoeing etc etc.

    The book has chapters that would be of use for most riders, not just those handling young horses.

    I have been marketing through Facebook and have over 4000 FB friends.

    BUT only a few of these friends (potential customers) ever get to see my posts because of the FB algorathims

    I post regular paragraphs from my book, every day including pics.

    And I should be selling a LOT more books.

    I just want a bit of advice and help. I am considering using Twitter to notify all my friends that I am about to post an article but I know Twitter has the same algorathims.

    How can I reach all my friends NOW??

    Yours sincerely

    Tony Sandall

    1. Tony, contrary to what many authors think, you need more than Facebook to market a book. You mention the number of Facebook friends — are these your profile friends, or is that the number of “likes” for your author Page? And have you done anything with Facebook ads? Also, I’d recommend using more variety in your posts. The answer to how you can reach all of your friends now is email marketing — but I suspect you don’t have an email list.

      Let me know if you’d like to schedule a phone consultation — https://buildbookbuzz.com/speaking-coaching/.


  7. Thanks for the tips, even though I knew them..we all need these ‘reminders’ especially in self-publishing. Especially #5: Half my friends expect a free book, and I only give a book (free) to someone who has helped me advance. Just because ‘we are friends’ doesn’t mean I’m obligated to give them a freebie.

    1. Debby, looks like you’ve flipped #5 — you’re disappointing them, not the other way around!


      1. I absolutely agree with you that not everyone will want to read my book, even friends & family. No problem there at all. I believe that if they are interested they would want to buy it to support my effort. It’s the price of a lunch.
        If they don’t want the book, I surely understand and I am not disappointed by them. Different strokes for different folks.
        If you write, publish, and market your book, the author should not always count on family and friends, and afford to give away books.
        It’s a business.

  8. All SO true! I knew all these things going in. My issue was that I let these facts scare me away from ever publishing my work. I’m so glad I finally worked through that anxiety and started getting my work out for the world to see (whether they like it or not!). I’m a much happier person for it. Great post!

  9. Pro tip: “Create a publishing company and get your book’s ISBN through that company so it’s listed as the publisher. Be creative enough with your publishing company name that it’s not obvious that you’re the publisher”. Now this just made my day! Because i already did it with all my 3 books i have self published here in Kampala-Uganda. Thank You Sandra.

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