by Jeremy Gotwals, Founder at Holon Publishing
So, what does it take to successfully publish a book? This is perhaps the most relevant question we could possible ask on our web site/blog/etc.
his was definitely the most relevant question yesterday, when I ran into my old friend Gagan Singh, who I had last seen exactly a year prior on the same day, after nearly two-years of having graduated from Indiana University Kelley School of Business with his MBA. Gagan now lives in San Francisco with his newly wed wife, where he works at PayPal.
"Suppose I wanted to translate various Sikh writings into english and publish them as a book, what would I need to do?" Gagan inquired.
llow me to preface by telling you a little about Gagan (Pronounced sort-of like 'Guh-gun" ... think 'HUG - in' but 'GUHG-in').
ot only is Gagan a tech-savvy, highly knowledge, Product Manager at PayPal, who graduated from IU with his MBA... he's also is a spiritual brother of mine who practices the art of meditation and the spiritual disciplines of Yoga. He was known, during his time at Indiana University, as the "Urban Turban Guy," because he could always be seen sporting his bright-yellow turban (particularly at the Starbucks that all of us frequented on Indiana Avenue).
agan is also a trail-blazing Social Media expert. One who I definitely look up to in his areas of tech and web expertise. Gagan and I originally met at that Coffee Shop on Indiana Avenue, during his time in Bloomington. Outside of that beautiful coffee-shop, we spontaneously connected over music. We both chanted Sanskrit Mantras together while he played the harmonium and I played guitar. memory I hold close. I was only 20 then, and striving to find the next-step in my professional as well as personal/spiritual career.
So when Gagan asked me yesterday, what he should do about publishing his book of Sikh literature, my most immediate response was "Well, I think that you should crowd-fund the costs of publication, you-know? Like, throw a Kickstarter or something."
e ruminated on the topic for a moment while his wonderful wife listened intently outside of the Sample Gates, in Bloomington.
The main reason I mentioned crowd-funding to Gagan as the most direct means of publishing his work has to do with his already thorough command of his audience through Social Media.
He asked "But beyond that, what does that actually take?"
k, so let's talk about that answer.
"Well printing is actually not that expensive," I said to Gagan. The unit cost of most basic, perfect-bound, paperback books is less than $4. hipping can make things hairy sometimes. Hugely epic 400+ page books can be expensive to print. Full-color books can also be expensive.
"If you have a concept for a brand and/or niche, an image, a look and feel of your title, then getting it out there is not that difficult." I continued to explain. "If 100 people 'pre-ordered' your book for $15 then you would have a enough funding for each of them o have a copy of your book, plus a little bit more left over, to invest in the book's production." I also forgot to mention to him that, then, the book would be published, and available for Print on Demand and could be purchased through Amazon or directly through whomever was handling the publishing - including himself.
Gagan also asked "What would make someone want to order, buy, or invest my book if they don't know how good I am as a translator, or how skilled of a writer I am?"
told him that thus far, I was assuming that his network already had faith in his knowledge and abilities as a Punjabi/English translator, as well as a Sikh practitioner.
oreover, he's already spent years cultivating friendships, acquaintances and an internet following that was already interested in what he has to say. Which is necessary for every author today. The bottom line, if you yourself are not taking your message, your words, your story, or your creative works, to your audience, then you can't expect to sell books.
A lot of what I'm expressing here can also be found in Guy Kawasaki's book "Ape: How to Publish a Book", where he divulges the guts of what it means to truly take control of publishing your work today.
None of this necessarily accounts for editing, book-formatting, or graphic design. However, those are all human resources. Which is where an imprint or a physical publisher can come into play and be very useful. Otherwise, one can attempt those things themselves, or rope their friends into those tasks, but from experience - I would not recommend that. Unless you know what you're doing or your friends are professionals. Lest your book run the risk of winding up on one of those sites of lousy book covers.
Bringing all of these pieces together can take time and work. Furthermore, you want to make sure that you're releasing a finished product. Beyond good editing, branding is absolutely essential. o one will purchase a book that has a horrible cover. Besides this aspect of branding, retailers who could sell your book will ALWAYS want to know "Who published this book?" They will often turn you down if you tell them that it's self-published. Which is why this aspect of the publishing process should be handled artfully. Which is why we're not just a "self-publisher" at Holon. We're also partially playing the role of a traditional publisher, striving to create a brand that resonates with the same artistry and style that traditional publishers did in the 20th century. With new flavors and a new edge never seen before.
Let's say you want to "get-your-book-pubished," by someone else, by a third party, by a traditional publisher - who is paying for your book to be published.
First of all, the age of the literary agent is becoming obsolete. One no longer needs to be "shopped around" in this way to get ahead. Social media means that you can bring your book to the world directly. Moreover, traditional publishing fundamentally isn't what it used to be. It has its purpose, it has its place. You can acquire a deal, if that's your goal. However, control will not be yours. You might make 15% of royalties, if you're lucky. Ultimately, you, the author, will often know your audience better than your publisher - especially through Social Media. Which begs the question: why would you want a traditional publisher?
The biggest reason you probably shouldn't vie for a traditional publisher is simply that: you will be doing the same amount of work, either way. Only, one option leads to lesser control. If your burning desire is to get that call from your magical, far-away literary agent, in some New York or Seattle tower, who says... "Billy (or Sally), daw'ling! We have an offer from Random House! Fifteen-Thou' for your advance! They want us to fly to Manhattan right away!" I mean... it can happen. I also hear so many people who say "But, I want the rejection, so that one day, when I'm published, it will all be rewarding!" Which is also a fruitless attitude. Primarily because it doesn't involve any work in the "here and now." It implies that there's some far and distant realm of success that is detached from the work you're doing at this time, to actually get "there." Wherever "there" is.
The attitude should be "How can I share my work and ideas with the world?"
This is a beautiful attitude that will guide you towards success. This is the attitude that assists you in cultivating the best work possible, instead of searching for instant gratification. This is the attitude that will eliminate the distractions of fame and fortune, because publishing books is not about that.
If you get out there, if you keep up the pace, keep connecting with people, whatever your means - you will find great editors, great designers and people who will want to read your work. That is, if you are willing to put your ideas out there for them to try.
In reflection, I also want to tie it all together by mentioning my brief encounter with Gagan a-year-ago-yesterday. He walked into the coffee-shop by his lonesome. I hadn't seen him since 2010. I was just standing to get a refill of my coffee. We caught up on everything and I told him about Holon. What Gagan had to say was fundamentally one of the most important things that he could have possibly said at that time, which was something to the effect of:
"You can make a company about anything, but what you fundamentally want to share with people or market to the world are ideas. Ideas are what drive people. Ideas are what build great businesses."
This is also one of the most important facets of striving to be an author.
he sharing of ideas. Or experiences, as the case may be.
r perhaps just a really great story.
What does it take to successfully publish a book today?
atience, diligence, information. But also a willingness to leave your comfort zone and find the people that A) you want to work with and B) whom you want to read your work.