Using the new to exploit the old

Anna Lewis, Co-founder and COO, CompletelyNovel

At CompletelyNovel we bring together a number of parts of the publishing world that have typically been seen as incompatible. Those who believe that print is dead may raise an eyebrow at the fact that we are a digital platform but we provide printing services. Those in the publishing industry may question why, if we are promoting self-publishing, we cultivate relationships with publishers and other ‘traditional players’.  The answer lies in the fact that lots of the new technology emerging focuses on lowering barriers and improving choice. The way to take advantage of new opportunities is often by linking back into existing channels.

The last couple of years have seen a rocketing presence of social networking as a way in which we receive information and recommendations. Using social media as a marketing channel offers a great opportunity. Now, getting the word out about your book is not limited to high-cost advertising in papers or traditional media channels.  You can start with a network of people who are most likely to be interested (in some cases your friends/family, in others a society or group of hobbyists connected to your book’s topic) and build out from there.  

In fact, courting the mainstream ‘official’ channels such as newspapers may not be the best option for you anyway. The biggest influence on my book buying habits is not press reviews, it’s not the front table at my local chain bookshop, it’s my Mum and my sister. If they tell me that a book is great, I’ll definitely read it. If you can get people you know to recommend the book to people they know (very easy to do that instantly on social networks) then you can build up that word of mouth.

Yes, the fact is, books don’t sell themselves, even good ones. Someone has to get them in front of people. Blogging can be a great vehicle, if you have the passion and discipline to keep it up. The recent Author Blog Awards winner Emily Benet has used her blog not only to build up a readership, but also create opportunities for her book publishing career.

So, if the easiest way to market your book is through digital channels, shouldn’t the book be in a digital format too? And if so, why are printed books still important? It all comes back to the idea of choice. At CompletelyNovel, we offer our readers the opportunity to read the books in a digital format through our BookStreamer, which many people do prefer, but we recognise that printed books are still hugely popular. There may be reports heralding eReaders  or tablet computers such a the iPad as ‘the end of books as we know them’, but there are so many reasons, reflecting a spectrum of preferences, peeves and passions which mean that a printed book can still be the best solution for a particular person. We need to offer solutions for different people in a variety of situations.

Print-on-demand makes sense for the future, because you don’t have to commit yourself (or your customers) to a particular format by buying and warehousing hundreds or thousands of copies. It’s also easier to reach an increasingly global market. The original file for the book is digital, which means that it can be sent easily to any POD printer.  CompletelyNovel, for example, is building up a network of POD printers to so you can easily print and deliver in different countries too.  The POD industry is growing quickly – last year Lightning Source passed their 7 millionth book milestone and expect digital book printing will grow by 15 to 20 percent annually in volume within North America and Europe.

The growth in self-publishing is closely linked to the fact that social networking offers a writer more opportunities to reach their audience and that POD enables you to get physical books to your readers without needing piles of cash up front. From our perspective, it’s interesting to look at the parallels with the tech community, particularly people creating web-based businesses, in terms of lower barriers to entry. Of course, it helps to have business angels (or ‘dragons’ if you prefer) investing in you from an early stage, just as it is nice to have publishers behind you from the beginning of your book. But with many free tools now at your disposal, if you have a good product you can launch a web business without having to wait for external investment.

The same applies to publishing a book. By investing some of your time in learning some new skills and building up a network you can build up a customer base and have a group of people around you to whom you can turn for advice. This means that you can make things happen for yourself, instead of waiting on others to do it for you.

There is nothing to stop you going on to approach publishers once you have self-published. People sometimes think that being in favour of self-publishing must mean that you are anti-publishers. That’s not the case at all. Publishers have years of experience and can add a huge amount of value. If you have a great product, there is a point where having access to their specialist teams and marketing power will make the difference between a book selling well to going truly mainstream. What’s more, having a larger network and an idea of how the publishing game works will be a great asset for them as they will have a solid base on which they can build.

If you are a writer looking to find an audience, making the most of all the avenues open to you, whether new or firmly established, will mean that you are much more likely to get to where you want to be.

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