The publishing industry is packed with bad advice that spreads from author to author like a virus. Bad advice wastes your time, money, and energy.
Consider this article a big bottle of hand sanitizer that will keep your publishing career from getting sick.
Where do publishing superstitions come from?
Superstitions develop when causes and effects get mismatched.
If you walk under a ladder on your way to work and then get fired, you might wrongly assume your missteps under the ladder caused you to get fired. You make a mental note to never walk under a ladder again, and then you tell all your friends how they can avoid the same vocational misfortune.
The problem with superstitions is that once we believe we have satisfactorily answered our question, we tend to stop looking for the answer. Instead of evaluating our job performance, we content ourselves with believing it was an unlucky thing that happened because of that blasted ladder.
This kind of thinking is an ancient fallacy called “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc” translated: “After this therefore because of this.” Or in modern vernacular, “Correlation does not equal causation.”
In publishing, there are a lot of superstitions that spread from person to person.
Sometimes superstitions are useful. For example, the ancients believed landmasses above and below the equator were equal. So medieval maps included Antarctica even though no one had ever seen Antarctica.
Over time, scientists discovered landmasses were not equal, but that there really is a continent at the bottom of the globe just like those old maps supposed.
Myths, on the other hand, sometimes start with a grain of truth inside the pearl of a story. But as those stories are retold, truth mutates into error.
Other myths develop when the reason behind a certain custom or practice is forgotten. For example, most people cut down an evergreen tree at Christmastime, but they also don’t know why they do it. Do you know why we started putting up Christmas trees? If not, here is a link to the Wikipedia article on the topic.
Publishing customs morph into myths in the same way.
Myth #1: The Best Day to Launch a Book is on Tuesday
This is the strangest superstition in the list, and one most publishers still believe in 2020. Even record companies release new CDs on Tuesdays.
One person on Quora claimed it was because the New York Times counted Tuesday as the first day of the week when calculating sales for their bestseller list. I could not confirm this anywhere. According to Vox, the New York Times list calculates sales weeks starting on Monday. All the other lists (USA Today, Wall Street Journal, etc.) start the week on either Sunday or Monday. I couldn’t find a single bestseller list that starts the week on Tuesday.
I suspect there may have been a reason to launch books on Tuesdays, but that reason is long gone.
Think of the superstition that spilling salt was bad luck. Back when people were paid in salt, spilling salt was as dreadful as watching your $100 bill blow away in the wind. The superstition persists despite the fact that salt is so cheap we dump it on the ground to keep roads and sidewalks from icing over in the winter.
Amazon has done a lot to undermine whatever rationale previously supported the practice of releasing on Tuesdays. They tend to list a book as “for sale” as soon as they get it in stock. Some brick-and-mortar bookstores do the same. Just-In-Time manufacturing means there is little or no backroom for storing products. Walmart, for instance, tries to have books taken from the truck directly to the store shelves whenever possible.
What to do Instead
Since the whole industry publishes books on Tuesday, I recommend you choose any other day to publish your book. You will have less competition and will be more likely to rank as an Amazon bestseller or #1 New Release if you launch on a different day.
Monday seems to be the best day to launch a book if you want to hit one of the newspaper bestseller lists. This gives you a full launch week of sales instead of only six days like you would get launching on Tuesday.
If everyone around you zigs, have the courage to zag.
Myth #2: Publishers Don’t Do Marketing
This common myth says publishers won’t lift a finger for you on marketing. While this is true for small publishers (and the reason I recommend you avoid them), publishers do spend a lot of money on marketing.
Publishers spend money, to the tune of six or seven digits, marketing their top authors. But they don’t spend a penny for their bottom authors.
As the marketing director for a publishing company, I had to decide where to spend marketing money. I saw firsthand that you get a better return on your marketing-dollar investment by spending the budget on the best selling books. As Jesus once said, “To him who has, more will be given. To him who does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.”
What to do Instead
Don’t sign with a publisher who offers a small advance. A small advance indicates the publisher doesn’t believe your book will sell well. If they don’t believe your book will sell well, they won’t invest in marketing.
Don’t sign with a publisher who won’t promise (in your contract) to produce an audiobook. It’s a sure sign the publisher lacks confidence in the popularity of your book.
It is better to publish your book independently and have access to the book sales and marketing data than to publish with a publisher who isn’t invested in your book.
Even if your publisher is spending a fortune on marketing, you still need to participate in the marketing efforts. Even President Obama had to go on a media tour to promote his book.
Myth #3: Book Signings Attract New Readers
This myth is finally starting to go away, but it still persists in some parts of the industry. The primary reason a publisher sends an author across the state to sign books is to strengthen their relationship with the bookstore owner. A book signing doesn’t necessarily help you sell more books, and it certainly doesn’t help you gain new readers.
Famous authors and unknown authors work from different playbooks. Famous authors seek to keep their fans happy. Unknown authors are still gathering their first fans. Different goals require different strategies. Just because a famous author has a long line of readers waiting for an autograph doesn’t mean a debut author will get the same attention.
It is awkward and unlikely that a reader will approach an author she doesn’t know who wrote a book she’s never heard of. Even if the author is a born salesperson, the meager sales don’t justify the time and gas spent on the book-signing promotion.
Once you write your second New York Times bestseller, you’ll be ready to open the “celebrity playbook” and start doing book signings to keep your readers happy.
What to do Instead
Speak! You can sign and sell more books in five minutes after a speech than you will in five hours of sitting in a Barnes and Noble. Spend your time booking speaking events and improving your public speaking. Delivering a speech is much easier than cold-calling customers who are browsing in a bookstore.
Myth #4: Posting to Social Media Will Build Your Platform
To be fair, this used to work a little bit. Back when the world was young (circa 2008), nonfiction authors could build a name for themselves by regularly posting content to social media. They would grow a following and use that “platform” to secure a book contract.
Most of the time, these contracted books sold poorly, and publishers became wary of authors who were only “social media famous.” They discovered that authors need to have fans in the real world if they want to sell books.
Social media has existed for almost two decades, and people already follow hundreds and sometimes thousands of celebrities on social media. It is hard for anyone to break through the noise on a good day.
Social networks have now inserted themselves between brands and fans. If you want to talk to all your fans on Facebook, you have to pay.
These days, social media is a tool for connecting with the fans you already have. It is not a good strategy for turning strangers into fans. Strangers become fans when you connect with them at real-life events, such as speaking engagements or through rich media like podcasts and video.
What to do Instead
The strategy here depends on what you write.
If you are a novelist, get off the social media hamster wheel and spend your time writing more books. Authors who write more books sell more books.
If you write nonfiction, create more substantive pieces of content like blog posts, podcast episodes, podcast guest interviews, or videos.
Myth #5: Brand Assets Must Match
For large corporations, this myth is true some of the time. This myth is mostly propagated by designers who make their money by developing a “visual brand” for you.
You are not a corporation like Nike or Apple. You have a different set of tools to work with. It takes millions of dollars of brand advertising to form an emotional connection between a consumer and a logo.
You don’t have millions of dollars, but you do have something better.
You are a human being. And human readers can easily connect with a human author.
Your logo is your face. Tom Cruise doesn’t have a logo. He has his face. Steven King doesn’t have a logo either. Humans connect to other humans more readily than they connect to faceless institutions like brands. You don’t need to spend millions of dollars to make people feel something about you.
What to do Instead
It is more important for the book’s visual assets to match the story rather than matching abstract author-brand guidelines. Use the design vocabulary of your book’s cover to tie it to the other books in your series and genre.
Aiming for visual author-brand consistency on your book’s visual assets can be detrimental if it causes you to be out of sync with your genre or series.
Myth #6: Author Websites Don’t Matter Anymore
When James L Rubart and I started the Novel Marketing podcast, this myth was worded, “The only thing an author needs is a good Facebook author page.” No one believes that particular version anymore, but it has morphed. Now people say, “All you need is a strong Amazon presence.”
Don’t believe it.
You can’t sharecrop your way to success by renting your internet “real estate” from social media networks or corporations who won’t talk to you on the phone. The owner of the digital land has the power to keep your crop of new followers, or they can keep you from growing a following at all.
You need to own your “real estate” on the internet. You need an author website.
With an author website, you can:
- Build your email list
- Communicate your message without arbitrary filtering or algorithmic censorship
- Stay connected with real-life readers you met offline
What to do Instead
Build your website using WordPress.org. Listen to episode 245 – How to Build an Author Website in a Day. I also have a free course on how to build a website. You can enroll here.
Myth #7: Book Awards Boost Book Sales
Many authors believe that winning a book award will increase their book sales.
Award committees and readers look for very different things. Award committee members tend to be jaded, tired, and skeptical. They are often industry insiders who read more for work than they do for pleasure. They are desperate for something different.
Readers are eager, excited, and hungry for the familiar. The kind of book that performs well in award competitions will likely sell poorly in the market. Don’t believe me? Look up your favorite award and then compare it to the bestseller list for that genre.
Some award contests are money-grabs by opportunistic financial predators. Even reputable award competitions require you (or your publisher) to pay an entry fee.
Very few awards spend money to make readers aware of the award. Most readers can’t name a single book award except for maybe the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, which are famous for reasons outside of their literature entries. The reason people have heard of the Academy Awards is that they spend millions of dollars promoting the Oscars and airing the ceremony live on TV.
What to do Instead
Write for your readers, not for award committees. If you win awards, great. But don’t make that your goal.
Don’t stress if you don’t win awards. If winning awards helps you feel better about yourself and your writing, go ahead and submit, but don’t put much stock in them. Realize the money you pay to win awards is not a good investment from a financial perspective.
Myth #8: Blog Tours Sell Books
Blog tours are easy, and many companies host them. Typically, you pay a few hundred dollars to appear on a few dozen blogs.
Blogs that participate in blog tours do not get much traffic. Some people say blog tours help build your brand. But if no one reads those blog-tour blogs, it does not build your brand. It’s like giving a speech to an empty room.
What to do Instead
Your article published on one popular blog will get more visitors than 1,000 blog-tour type blogs. Use Alexa Site Info to determine which blogs are popular. Then pitch guest blog articles for the popular blogs.
Pursue podcast interviews. There are far fewer podcasts than blogs, and the average podcast usually reaches more people than the average blog. Podcasts also connect with people in a deeper, more powerful way because listeners can connect with a human voice.
Myth #9: Book Trailers Boost Book Sales
Movie trailers sell movie tickets, so you would think a book trailer would do the same for books. But they don’t.
Book trailers are too different from books. Book trailers are short and audiovisual. Books are long and made of text. Most video book trailers are boring digital slideshows with stock music playing in the background. The book trailer does not match the quiet book-reading experience where your imagination supplies the audiovisual effects.
The book trailer for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is one of a few good book trailers. It probably cost more than $10,000 to create, and it also borrowed from a popular movie (which was possible because the movie was based on a public-domain work)
What to do Instead
Write short stories and give them away for free. It is a much smaller step for a reader to go from reading an author’s short story to reading a full-length book by that same author. Short stories also help you improve your writing craft faster.
Many novelists struggle because they failed to practice by writing short stories.
If your book is made into a movie, the studio will pay to have your story turned into a trailer. Buy a book on screenwriting (Affiliate Link), and learn how to write a story that would make a good movie. Then apply what you learn when you write your next novel.
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