For Writers

Are there too many books?

Post written in response to Tanja Tuma’s piece on a Frankfurt Book Fair panel asking the same question This is a question I have tried to highlight at every publishing workshop I lead. Are there too many books published today? But every time we, as a group, or as publishers and authors individually, try to answer this question, we come up with wildly different responses—yes, the rate of publishing is eclipsing the rates of reading and buying; no, there could never be too many books in the world; yes, print runs are shrinking every year; no, readers are still struggling to find great books. These diverse responses, I believe, stem from an incomplete question.


Are we asking:

• Are there too many books published today for first-time, self-published authors to be profitable?

• Are there too many books published today for good books to be found by good, traditional publishers? 

• Are there too many books published today for small publishing houses to support even limited print runs?

• Are there too many books published today for readers to easily discover new books?

These are all pertinent questions. I’ll focus on the first question, as it is the most relevant to those who attend my publishing workshops and to our potential clients.

Are there too many books published today for first-time, self-published authors to be profitable.

I’ll say this much: it’s tough. Supply has outstripped demand. Tuma quotes author Gabriel Zaid, who observed “the reading of books is growing arithmetically; the writing of books is growing exponentially.”

Here’s how it breaks down:

Supply: There were 1 million published books in 2003 at the time of Zaid’s quote, and as of 2013 there are 28 million. The self-publishing industry alone has increased by over 436 percent since 2008, with 458,564 new titles in 2013 alone (and these numbers only account for those self-published books that actually acquired ISBN numbers, as tracked by Bowker).

In 2013 alone, there were 304,912 print books published by traditional publishing houses and just over 1 million print books produced in the non-traditional sector (print-on-demand, reprints, self-published books, etc.). Add to these figures e-books in both the traditional and non-traditional sectors of the market, and the figures are overwhelming.

Demand: American reading habits have declined over the last three decades. A Gallup poll in 1978 found that 42 percent of adults had read 11 books or more in the past year and that 13 percent had actually read more than 50 in the past year, but Pew’s report from 2014 shows that only 28 percent had read over 11 books in the last year, and nearly 25 percent hadn’t read a single book in the last year (contrasted to 8 percent reporting in 1978 that they hadn’t read a book in the past year).

The verdict: Both traditional authors and self-published authors are struggling to make a living off of writing. A survey presented at the 2014 Digital Book World Conference reported that 54 percent of traditionally published authors and almost 80 percent of self-published authors are earning less than $1,000 a year.

Is this a reason not to publish your book?


It is, however, a reason not to publish your book for the money. A small portion of traditionally published and self-published authors will earn enough from their writing to make a living, but the vast majority will need to have a separate—and steady—source of income to support their writing. There are dozens of other reasons to publish—to establish authority in your field, to share your personal history with family and friends, to celebrate a milestone or anniversary, to see your passion in print, etc.—but fame and riches should not rank in the top ten.

Pitching to Publishers: Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

Perhaps the most intimidating part of the publishing process for many authors is pitching to publishers, or more often, the agent/publisher quest—and rightfully so. Finding a suitable partner for your work who believes in you and your work and is willing to invest in it isn’t easy. Knowing where these potential partners even exist—or how to contact them—adds an entirely new layer of complexity. I regularly lead workshops on traditional book publishing vs. self-publishing, and there are several questions that come up again and again: how do I find an agent, how do I find a publisher, how do I put together my proposal? While there is no step-by-step list of advised actions—and fate, luck, and coincidence play frustratingly large roles in the process—I do have a few notes of advice for those pursuing a traditional publishing route.

1) Start by looking for an agent. If you are serious about being published by a larger house (most of which are located in New York), you will need to do the hard work of finding an appropriate agent first. Unsolicited manuscripts (unagented manuscripts) are often read by editorial assistants and interns at large houses, if they are read at all, and you are unlikely to make your way to the top of the slush pile without a seasoned and in-the-loop advocate. If you are hoping to work with a smaller, independent publisher, you may be able to forgo the agent (Orange Frazer Press, for example, seldom works with agents).

2) Proofread your email pitches, proofread your proposals, proofread your manuscript—proofread. I can’t describe how off-putting it is to receive an email pitch from an author (or even a follow-up question on a proposal) riddled with typos. Misspelling the name of our press is hardly the way to make an impression. Make people want to advocate for your work. Be kind, concise, and perfect in your communications with anyone in the industry.

3) Think about marketing. Publishing is a business, and you, as an author, are a potential investment. Your agent, and hopefully your publisher, will want to be confident in your ability to assist with marketing and promoting your book. Do you have a well-read blog, or a significant number of engaged Facebook followers, or a speaking tour in your region, or a reputation as a writer for reputable journals, magazines, and newspapers? Your “platform,” or your marketability, is important to an agent (because they want to make sure they can sell you to a publisher) and your potential publisher (because they want to make sure they will sell the books they produce). Make sure your proposal—if and when appropriate—reflects your marketing savvy and platform.

4) Become an industry insider. The biggest part of finding an agent is knowing who they are, what they represent, who they frequently sell manuscripts to, etc. Online resources like Publishers Weekly, Publishers Marketplace, and others will publicize deals as they happen, so that you can research potential partners for your own project (and have a realistic idea of how similar manuscripts are received and what level of investment they’re receiving in advance/print run).

5) Do your research. I often start my publishing workshops by clearly stating what we do and do not publish (because although it’s truly a 101 workshop dedicated to educating authors about the industry, it often draws writers with manuscripts that are currently looking for publishing partners). If I clearly state that we only publish Ohio non-fiction commercially, sending me your fiction manuscript several weeks later and referencing my workshop and your desire to be traditionally published makes me feel like I either didn’t reach you or you weren’t listening.

6) Proofread. Wait, did I already mention that one? It’s worth saying again. Do not take a casual approach to your manuscript, proposal, emails, letters, cover letters, etc. These make up the first impression of you, your work, and your potential. And, we make a living out of finding typos, so we will notice yours.

Do you have other questions about a traditional publishing path? We would be happy to answer them!

Author Turns to Indiegogo: Buy a Book. Save a Cat.

Last August, I had the opportunity to lead a book publishing workshop with Women Writing for a Change. WWf(a)C is a wonderful organization that provides writing workshops, community, and support to women writers. The publishing workshop was a blast, and I met some incredible people along the way--a group of aspiring authors with a variety of projects and ideas. One attendee of this workshop, Kristen Heimerl, has gone above and beyond in her publishing dream. She wrote a book inspired by her three Norwegian forest cats, crafting a fun, crime-fighting story with illustrations by Irene Bofill Garcia. She is using the book to raise money for homeless and in-need cats and has brought together a community of animal lovers and book lovers to back her cause. She is currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo: Buy a Book. Save a Cat.

Check out Kristen's project here and consider contributing to her cause! It's inspiring to see book lovers and aspiring authors like Kristen create fun and passionate communities, and to see books being used creatively as vehicles of story and goodwill.

And watch her video, below, to learn more about the inspiration behind the project!


Pitching to Media: A Brief List of Author Dos and Don'ts

As many of you probably know by now (I hope!), Orange Frazer has a young reader’s book release in March. We’ve been gearing up for this release for months, and as our resident do-er of publicity and marketing, that means I’ve spent the last several weeks working with Sarah to send out press releases, schedule interviews and appearances, and set up local book signings and author events. All of this involves a lot of pitching—pitching to journalists, to bloggers, to producers, to librarians, to booksellers. If you’re an author, this is either the most exciting portion of your book release publicity, or the most taxing, intimidating, and downright frustrating. While pitching to librarians and booksellers is often more intuitive (because you, as an author, are most likely a lover of books and reading and have probably been in a number of libraries and bookstores), pitching to journalists, reporters, and producers can feel foreign. Unless you spend your spare time chatting with TV producers and scheduling radio programs, you are probably less familiar with how media outlets work. This can make pitching to media intimidating and unsuccessful, but it doesn’t need to be.

A photo of John Paul (Morning Anchor on WHIO-TV) and me at the Cox Media Group office in Dayton, Ohio.

For this post, I thought I would offer just a brief glimpse into some of the dos and don’t of pitching to media. If you have others to offer up or add to this list, please let me know in the comments!

Do Pitch to the decision-maker. Don’t send a press release to the webmaster, copyeditor, or human resources director to get a feature article. Even if their contact info is readily available, it only shows you didn’t do your homework, and oftentimes, your release will get lost in the shuffle.

Don’t Spam five different reporters at the same outlet with your press release. Again, find the decision-maker, and don’t just send your elevator pitch to every email address on the “Contact Us” page.

Do Think about their audience and goals. No journalist/reporter/producer wants to know why it would benefit you to feature or review your book. Why would it benefit them? Does it speak to their audience, help them meet their goals? Know what they’re looking for, and deliver it.

Don’t Assume you are giving them the gift of your book. There is no bigger turn-off than a huge ego and an assumption that your book is the one thing every reporter has been waiting for. Make your pitch intelligent and assertive, but also make it graceful. No one likes to be bullied.

Do Follow up. Emails get lost, or mislabeled, or forgotten. Phone messages end up buried under a mountain of other immediate issues, and sometimes, your pitch will get lost in the mix. It’s okay to follow up once to make sure they received your materials.

Don’t Follow up ten times. If they haven’t responded after a single follow-up, it’s very likely that they are not interested. Move on, and if they get back to you in the future, great—perhaps it just wasn’t the right time.

Do Provide a free copy. Most outlets will want to actually see your book—even to just flip through it, check out the cover, etc. Make sure you’ve budgeted for complimentary copies.

Don’t Assume an Amazon link is enough. Pitching to a media outlet with a purchase link is unprofessional and unproductive. No one is going to spend money to help you get publicity. What do they gain from that? Why should they buy your book, if it might end up that it’s not a good fit for their publication/show?

Do Demonstrate local tie-in. Do you have a book signing in their area, a special event, a school visit? For local and regional publications/shows, these local tie-ins keep their audience engaged, and make your pitch that much more relevant.

Don’t Pitch to irrelevant media sources. Sure, you want to sing the news of your book release from mountaintops, but don’t pitch your Young Adult fantasy book to a trade publication for pre-natal yoga teachers.

Any others to add to the list? Let us know!

Promoting a Book: It’s a Lot More Like Writing Than You Think

Book publishing workshop at Milton-Union Public Library.
Book publishing workshop at Milton-Union Public Library.

As part of Orange Frazer’s educational outreach, I regularly conduct workshops and sessions on book publishing for aspiring authors. Not surprisingly, a number of their questions revolve around book marketing and promotion. Typically, authors will point out that they don’t enjoy marketing, and that they publish books because they enjoy writing. I can empathize with this. I love writing as well, and book promotion and marketing (after the emotional rollercoaster of writing, editing, and publishing a book) can seem that much more exhausting, intimidating, and frankly, boring. But the more I work to promote and market our own books at OFP, the more I recognize that book promotion is not so unlike writing as we often assume it is: the two are, actually, quite similar.

1. Tell a Story Promoting and marketing a book—like writing—is all about telling a story. People buy products because of compelling narratives. For those who watched the Super Bowl on Sunday, this is particularly poignant. Budweiser won our hearts not because it laid out the facts: Budweiser is a cheaper, more cost-effective beer that provides the same taste quality, value, and availability as its more expensive alternatives. I’d guess no one would be running out the door for a Budweiser after that bore of a message. Instead it told us a story: the story of a puppy and a Clydesdale, of friendship, loyalty, companionship, of the potential for dreams to become reality. They told us a story that we wanted to believe, that made us feel good, that appealed not to our needs, but to our wants.

2. Consumers buy based on wants, not needs This strikes at the second crucial part of book promotion and marketing: forget about what people need and start showing them what they want. Oftentimes, marketers will expound on the needs of consumers: show them why they need this product and then why your product is their best available option. This seems like it will be effective; we assume that our target audience makes logical, fact-based decisions about which products to buy. But think of yourself, and you realize that this is hardly ever the case. While we would like to think we buy based solely on need, we almost exclusively buy products based solely on our wants. Right now I need a new clothes iron, but instead, I bought a pair of overpriced yoga socks. Why? I liked the idea of yoga socks, I liked their bright colors (especially in a winter that seems neverending), and I liked how comfy they looked. An iron, while necessary, did not invoke any of these feelings, and so, I essentially forgot about it.

Similarly, people will not buy your book because they need it. They don’t need it. At all. Book buyers are a niche audience, and they are not reading voraciously because their life depends on it. They read books because they want to, because they want to be involved in your story, swept up in it, transformed by it.

So stop thinking about book promotion like a formula, where well-placed ad + reputable book review + in-store displays + radio interview = bestseller. Start thinking about book promotion like your own writing. Tell your readers a story. Will your book sing them to sleep, remind them of their first love, suspend them breathlessly from chapter to chapter, revolutionize their understanding of the past? Marketing, after all, is plot, with all of the characterization and emotional integrity of a well-written book.