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 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 land masses above and below the equator were equal. So medieval maps included Antarctica even though no one had ever seen Antarctica.
Over time, scientists discovered land masses were not equal, and did not need to be, but that there really is a continent at the bottom of the globe just like those old maps supposed.
Myths, on the other hand, often start with a grain of truth but as they are retold, truth mutates into error. Other myths develop when the reason behind a certain custom or practice is forgotten.
Most people cut down an evergreen tree at Christmas time, but they also don’t know why they do it. Do you know why we started putting up Christmas trees? (Keep reading.)
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 and one that most publishers still follow in 2020. Even record companies release new CDs and DVDs 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 is Monday through Sunday. All the other lists (USA Today, Wall Street Journal, etc.) start the week on either Sunday or Monday.
I suspect there may have been a reason at one time 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 this practice. They list a book as “for sale” as soon as they get it in stock. Some brick and mortar bookstores do this as well. Just -In-Time manufacturing means there is little or no “back room storage” for products . Wal-Mart, for instance, has almost no “back room.” Merchandise is taken from the truck directly to the store shelves whenever possible.
What to Do Instead
Since the whole industry publishes books on Tuesday, my advice for you is to pick 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.
If everyone around you zigs, have the courage to zag.
Myth #2: Publishers Don’t Do Marketing
The common myth is that publishers won’t lift a finger for you on marketing. While this is true for small publishers (and the I recommend you avoid small publishers), publishers do spend a lot of money on marketing.
Publishers spend a lot of money, to the tune of six or seven digits, marketing their top authors. But they don’t spend a penny for their bottom authors. If you bet on horse racing, you probably wager your money on the horse with the winning record.
To him who has, more will be given. To him who does not have, what he thinks he has will be taken away.
I have worked with many authors whose publishers spend significant sums on their marketing.
I have also been the marketing director for a publishing company and have had to decide where the marketing money is spent. I saw firsthand that you get a better return on your marketing-dollar investment by spending the marketing budget on the best selling books.
What to Do Instead
Don’t sign with a publisher who offers a small advance. A small advance means 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 audio book. 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 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. 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 persists in some parts of the industry. The primary reason your publisher is sending you across the state to sign books is so the publisher can 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 books she’s never head of. Even if the author is a born salesperson, the meager sales don’t justify the time and gas spent on the promotion.
Once you write your second New York Times bestseller, you’ll be ready to open the “celebrity playbook” and start doing book signings.
What to do Instead
Speak! You can sign and sell more books in the 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 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 only had “social media” fans. They discovered authors must have fans in the real world if they wanted 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 celebrities and fans. If you want to talk to 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.
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.
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 that the visual assets of a book match the story rather than some abstract author-brand guidelines. Use the design vocabulary of your book’s cover to tie it to the other books in you series and genre.
Aiming for brand-consistency can actually hurt you if it causes you to be out of sync with your genre or series.
Myth #6: Author Websites Don’t Matter Anymore
When we started this 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. The owner of the digital land has the power to keep your crop of new followers or 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 filtering or algorithmic censorship
- Stay connected with real-life readers you met offline
What to Do
Build your own website using wordpress.org. Learn how by listening to episode 245 – How to Build an Author Website in a Day.
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 does well in award competitions will likely do poorly in the market. Don’t believe me? Look up your favorite award and then compare it to the bestseller list for that genre.
Many 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 making readers aware of the award. Most readers can’t name a single book award except for the Pulitzer prize and Nobel prize, which have entries for literature.
What to Do
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.
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.
The kinds of blogs that participate in blog tours generally do not have much traffic. Your article on one popular blog’s will get more visitors than 1,000 blog-tour type blogs.
What to do Instead
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 should reach more people than the average blog. Podcasts also connect with people in a deeper more powerful way.
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.
Myth #9: Book Trailers Boost Book Sales
Movie trailers sell movie tickets, so you would think they could do the same for books. But they don’t, at least not in a profitable way.
Book trailers are too different from books. Book trailers are short and audio-visual. Books are long and made of text. Most video book trailers are boring slideshows with stock music playing in the background.
The book trailer for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is one of the few good book trailers. It probably cost more than $10,000 to create, and it also borrowed from the popularity of 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 a short story by an author to reading a full-length book by that same author. Short stories also help you improve your writing craft faster.
If your book is made into a movie, the movie studio will pay to have your story turned into a trailer. Buy a book on screenwriting (Affiliate Link), and learn how to write the kind of story that would make a good movie.
Would you like me to personally help you hit your publishing goals? I have worked with thousands of authors from beginners to New York Times bestsellers, and I can help you go further faster in your career. You can get personalized, interactive training and encouragement from me and a small group of other masterminds. Once you join an Author Media Mastermind Group, you get access to the private Mastermind Slack Channel and the monthly mastermind video coaching session.
With breathtaking imagery and captivating storytelling, Remarkable Advent will prepare your heart to celebrate God’s greatest gift. Rediscover the wonder of the first Christmas in this Advent devotional.
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Christmas Tree Origin
Modern Christmas trees have been related to the “tree of paradise” of medieval mystery plays that were given on 24 December for Adam and Eve’s naming day. In such plays, a tree decorated with apples (to represent the forbidden fruit) and wafers (to represent the Eucharist and redemption).
The Paradise tree was later placed in homes. The apples were replaced by round objects such as shiny red balls. Chances are, if you put up a tree on December 24th it would still be up on December 25. So, the tree became associated with Christmas in addition to Adam and Eve. Eventually, we forgot the Adam and Eve connection, and the paradise tree became a Christmas tree.
It was mostly a German custom until 1800 when several German royal spouses helped popularize the custom in England during the height of the British empire. In the 1800s, if Queen Victoria did it, everyone wanted to do it, and the rest is history.
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