Top Ten Tips • 4 September 2006 • The SnowBlog
Top Ten Tips
I had to write this for another website but I thought I'd post it here too. Here, for what it's worth, are my top ten tips for brand new trade publishers.
1. Ignore most advice. You're starting a publishing company because, presumably, you've got an idea that is different from the norm. It stands to reason that existing players won't be able to advise you very well. Listen, take what's useful, and discard what isn't. This applies to the next nine points.
2.Put yourself into others' shoes. This is the single most useful thing that you can do and it applies at every stage of the publishing process. For example, when you are making editorial decisions, it really doesn't matter what you think about the books: what will your target readers think? Similarly when you approach retail buyers, try to think about things from their point of view. They are exceptionally busy people with stressful sales targets and a limited budget to buy stock. Do something that will help them achieve their goals and your books stand a much better chance of being listed.
3. Make planning the most important aspect of your company. Don't focus entirely on the first stage of the publishing process - developing your list - and end up with a garage full of books before you've thought about how to sell them. You need to develop your company's infrastructure from the start, including distribution, IT, and sales. Think through your processes and scheduling before you start.
4. Stick to the industry timescales. It helps enormously if you allow enough time for other people to do their jobs easily. Magazines work four months in advance; retail chains and wholesalers buy between three and six months in advance. Bear in mind point 1 - there are always exceptions - but sticking to these timescales is much less stressful.
5. Use IT. One of the reasons that you are able to start a publishing company is because of the cheap, robust IT that exists today. The Adobe suite of software (including Photoshop, InDesign and Acrobat) allows seamless pdf workflow. If you don't know what that means, look it up and learn about this stuff. Use databases to manage your bibliographic data - extremely cheap ones exist from companies like www.anko.ie that allow you to ftp your ONIX compliant bibliographic data direct to Nielsen. Again, if this makes no sense, make it your mission to understand.
6. Use your background to best effect. Your background will turn out to be your company's compelling USP. Your approach will be determined by what you know and understand best. I used to be a retail buyer, so Snowbooks' core strength is that we understand how retail works. Other companies have strong journalistic backgrounds and use that to great advantage in PR. Use what you know.
7. Understand that you can sell a book by its cover. The one thing a reader cannot judge a book on at the point of sale is the quality of the writing: they haven't read it yet. Design and packaging is thus crucial. There are more than 100,000 new titles published a year. How do you make yours stand out? Make it blend in first so that it looks like it belongs in the category. It will reassure the retail buyer that you know what you're doing, and once the book is in the stores it has a chance of selling. Readers have to rely on visual cues to place the book in its genre. If the author name is blocky and foiled, and there is a moody looking picture of an alley, chances are the book is a crime thriller - and readers understand this shorthand. Use visual clues to place your book in its genre.
8. Go shopping. Don't isolate yourself in your office. Visit the places where you hope to sell your wares - the bookstores. Watch and listen to people as they browse. See if you can identify what they're after. Talk to them. Customer research can cost thousands of pounds, but it can also be free if you are clever.
9. Cut your cloth accordingly. The cash flow cycle in publishing is quite brutal and the entire publishing process can take up to 18 months, so ensure you have enough cash to fund the first couple of years. If you're not adequately capitalised to achieve your business plan, revisit your plan or your funding, but don't assume it will all work out. You might want to consider your exit strategy too, and factor that in to your Day One fundraising.
10. Enjoy it. There's no point in doing all this unless it fits with your personal values - so if you want to be happy and proud of what you're doing, make sure all your decisions stand a chance of leading to this state. Don't produce books that you think will turn a fast buck if you're going to be embarrassed by them. Conversely, don't publish a book that you know no one will buy just because you love it - it won't sell, you'll lose money and you'll go bust. Take as much pride in building a solid business as you do in building a solid list and you'll stand a greater chance of happiness.