Book Review: “Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual”

Self-Publishing Manual Cover Image

Dan Poynter is a very well-known self-publishing guru. Of course, the word guru is overused all of the time. Poynter has had much success as a self-publisher with his company Para Publishing and there is no denying he has a level of expertise in the field that not a lot of people have. This is why I picked up his Self-Publishing Manual, which has had several editions and numerous updates.

First, an overview. The book is laid out nicely and is extremely easy to read. It brings you through the process from conceiving of a book idea all the way up through production and distribution. Lots of imagery and examples are packed in here along with some quotes for good measure. Now onto the guts.

One of the falling points of most books that I have read or at least looked into in regards to self-publishing and/or marketing make the claim that these techniques are applicable to both fiction and non-fiction, but they are specifically written for non-fiction. That, of course, is a load of garbage. Marketing fiction has some major differences from marketing non-fiction. Fortunately, Poynter indicates up front that he is not an expert in the fiction market, which I appreciate. Being a fiction author myself, I will review this book mainly from that point of view.

The recommendations Poynter uses for researching and writing a book are pretty much geared toward non-fiction. There are a few items that may be of interest to a fiction author, but this is an area to skim. If you are a non-fiction author, this will probably work great for you as Poynter is obviously very organized and thorough. One technique any author can try, fiction or non-fiction, is to send query letters to agents and publishers, just to see if anyone thinks the book is viable. This is good, even if you plan to self-publish as their feedback could be quite valuable. Who knows, someone may end up offering you a huge advance that you didn’t expect.

Book production is a good section for any author to read who is planning on having an actual printed book. It gets highly technical but is good for you to know. Keep in mind, this edition is a few years old and was really written before the rise of print on demand (it’s getting less and less taboo, especially since some large publishers are planning on utilizing it in the wake of the eBook boom). He makes the assumption that you are going to have your own print runs, which you may do, but it will be costly. If you use a service like CreateSpace, even if you have your own publishing company, a lot of this is taken care of for you with an easy-to-use interface. Again, it is still probably a good idea for you to understand how the technical side works, just so you can understand industry standards and insure that your book looks and feels like a traditionally published book.

The marketing section is great for a non-fiction author but is only worth a skim for a fiction author. There are some marketing techniques that carry for all authors, but remember this book is specifically for non-fiction authors. Many of the techniques to rope media coverage are based off of expertise, which will not have the bearing on media for a fiction book as it does for non-fiction. Matter of fact, it’s the “expert author” angle that helps with a variety of marketing techniques for non-fiction. Readers of fiction, at least in what I have read and seen, don’t care what you’re an expert in. Matter of fact, Poynter indicates that it is, for the most part, easier to market non-fiction than fiction (ugh, too bad he’s right about that).

The section on reviews is quite thorough also. Again, there is some material specific to non-fiction but reviews are important for fiction also. Matter of fact, empirical research has been done on the effects of reviews on book sales and it does indeed have a huge impact. There is quite the extensive list of reviewers in here so have a look. Like any other book related to marketing or publishing, take opinions with a grain of salt. There are some points in here that I don’t necessarily agree with but others that I do. Actually, he specifically mentions avoiding paid reviews. In the last couple of years, paid reviews have been on the rise (within reason, see my posts on the mysterious review or getting reviews), especially since some of the big reviewers now charge money for their reviews (like Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly).

The biggest downfall of this book is simply that it needs another update. With the rapid changes in the industry, some of the viewpoints are a little old fashioned. You’ll probably be able to tell what those are. An example is distribution and booksellers. First, there are book selling chains listed that are not in existence anymore. Though Poynter does not overly harp on the importance of bookstores (even in 2007 he recognized the downfalls of brick and mortar bookstores), there is still a lot of information on getting into them, information you can probably skim if you are a fiction author (although if you’re curious on Barnes and Noble, see my earlier post on how I got my book carried by them).

Another issue here is one that is in most non-fiction. The viewpoint is skewed to what the author is trying to defend or is the main subject of the writing. That’s fine, just make sure you allow yourself to look at multiple viewpoints. A specific example is his opinion of the traditional publisher. He discusses an Indie author who ends up going traditional as “selling out” to a big publisher. Obviously, he’s an expert in self-publishing so that’s going to be his forte. There are ups and downs to each type of publishing and that includes traditional but there are plenty of people who have made a good living in the traditional world, as well as in the self-publishing world so don’t feel bad if you end up garnering the interest of a traditional publisher and going that route. Do what works for you, considering the argument over of traditional publishing vs. self publishing is not going to have a conclusive winner anytime soon.

There are supposedly some updates in the Self Publishing Manual Volume 2, which is a condensed book that goes side by side with this one. I haven’t reviewed it yet but I will and let you know. Regardless, this one still needs an update.

Conclusion: This book is worth picking up if you are self-published or are considering your publishing options, regardless of your genre and regardless of whether you are a fiction or non-fiction author. A non-fiction author will get more out of it but a fiction author will get a lot too. It gives you a look into the publishing world and provides some inside information that may help you in your decision. There is a ton of information and lots of examples you can use and it’s reasonably priced.

How To Get Into Barnes and Noble

There has been a lot of buzz going around about eBooks and the fall of the brick and mortar stores. While it is true that eBook sales have been skyrocketing, the store fronts are not dead yet. Even with the fall of Borders, Barnes and Noble, as well as other booksellers, are still going strong. But how do Indie authors or small press authors get titles on the shelves of these stores? It’s certainly not automatic, I don’t care what that marketing “professional” told you. Unless your publisher (or if you are self published, you) has a deal going, you’re going to have to earn that spot. That’s the big mystery. How do you do it? I’ll show you how I did it with my book, 7 Scorpions: Rebellion.

First, I wanted to call your attention to a fellow author and blogger, Elizabeth Kolodziej. She is actually the one I first learned this from before trying it on my own via her blog entry from last year that you can check out here. This will give you an additional perspective on how to be successful in doing this.

Alright, now to the nitty gritty. Barnes and Noble has a specific set of instructions via their small press division. Here is what you will need to submit in the overall package:

  1. A copy of the book (not a manuscript or printout, the actual printed book).
  2. Marketing/Promotional Materials (they don’t require this but it’s helpful so if you have pens, magnets, t-shirts, etc, send samples).
  3. Marketing Plan
  4. Trade Reviews
  5. Unique statement (basically, what makes your book unique and worthwhile to put on shelves)

Also keep in mind that your book must be “returnable”. If they can’t sell something, they don’t want it hanging around.

Copy of the Book

As mentioned, you need to send a copy of your book. This should be obvious. They want to see what’s actually going on the shelf. You can be sure that they will scrutinize the cover as well as the contents. They know what sells in their stores. If yours fits the bill, they’ll be interested. We all know people judge a book by its cover, so make sure it is good. Also, this is where they will see if you actually had an editor. Indie publishing is unfortunately plagued with works that are not edited.

Marketing/Promotional Materials

At the time I submitted, I had custom magnets and bookmarks so I sent in an example of each. Remember, they want to know what YOU are doing to promote your book. Don’t bother to ask them, they aren’t going to do anything to promote it short of putting it in their warehouse. The promotion is your responsibility.

Marketing Plan

I did this in bullet list format. They don’t seem to care to have some overly complicated and fluffy 10 page thing. They just want to know what you’ve done and what you are planning to do. I separated it with what was already done and what is planned. Keep in mind that this is from months ago, and my promotional plans have changed since then but this is what worked.

Click here for my marketing plan in PDF format.

Trade Reviews

This is another important one. Trade reviews are not just a few customers who went and posted a few sentences on Amazon or Goodreads. They are looking for “tear sheet” reviews from review sites, newspapers, magazines, and other such publications. Hell, if you have the recording of a TV interview, send it on DVD! I am linking to the ones I submitted below. Notice that a couple of them did indeed have some critiques. That’s fine. They are all 4 and 5 star reviews. You can believe they’ll be visiting Amazon and Goodreads to see what is posted there too.

Reader Views (I actually won an award from them)
Feathered Quill Book Reviews
Apex Reviews
Midwest Book Review
Bestsellersworld (this one is a press release that I printed and included)

Unique Statement

This is a statement of why your book is unique amongst others of its kind and why it will stand out in the veritable ocean of literature. To be honest, I hate the one I wrote for my own book, I like Liz’s much better but I must have done something right in their eyes.

You can check it out here.

Press Releases

I added a few press releases into the bunch too. One of them was the review for Midwest Book Review, which I linked to above. The next I thought was good because it was when my book made top seller on Amazon (it actually ended up getting better than 35 but that is what it was when the press release came out). You can check it out here. If you have other, creative press releases, you should definitely include that.

Putting it Together

Obviously, you’ll want to organize this beast. I printed everything on white resume paper so it was of high quality. I also placed the printouts in a professional report cover. Come to find out, the bigger publishers use loose pages in a glossy folder. You should probably do what they do, just in case your submission is reviewed by someone who is picky. If you want to jazz up your portfolio, one of our group members, Collin Beishir is an excellent designer and knows how the big publishers design these things. Feel free to contact him.

Now, this is all from my 2nd (that’s right, I didn’t get in the first time around) attempt. My cover letter, which I put at the top of the bundle is here. Next, I actually put the cover sheet I use in my press kit, which is here.

After assembling everything, I put it into a nice new box. That’s right, a clean one that did not have “Amazon” or “fragile” or anything else printed on it. Remember, presentation is key, including the box itself. I sent it priority mail for 2 reasons: 1) because I wanted them to see that I took this seriously and media mail is not an indicator of that and 2) I am still working on that whole patience thing.

A month later, I got a letter saying they were ordering 200 copies of my book to stock in the warehouse. At this point, they have changed the status of my book from print on demand to being warehoused, so the individual stores can now carry it. That’s the story.

Shameless promotion time. I mentioned earlier that I originally learned about this process from friend and fellow author Elizabeth Kolodziej. Definitely check out her books, Vampyre Kisses and Werewolf Descent.

B&N doesn’t, but Fictionwise does

I found out accidentally, through one of those addicted, obsessive web searches, that Storm Chaser is available for the Nook and most other e-book formats now that it’s being sold on Fictionwise:

Fictionwise was acquired by Barnes & Noble in 2009, and is reported to be one of the largest e-book sellers in North America, distributing about 1.5 million e-books a year. That makes Storm Chaser available not just for Kindle and Nook, but for just
about every device out there.

Although Whiskey Creek Press already has it for sale in PDF and HTML format, which can be transferred to most e-readers, some people prefer to skip the extra step!

>Down in the Dumps

>Sounds depressing, doesn’t it?

In this case, it’s not. The unfortunate term publishers, distributors and booksellers use for a floor display to showcase a novel is…a dump. Seriously.  Here are a couple of the dumps Berkley did for my novels:

So if you’re a book, a dump is indeed a very nice place to be.  And here are some other nice places for a book to be:

More good places to be seen…if you’re a book….