Thursday, 24 March 2016

Failing at book publishing

It's just over a year since I published my first book, We Have Never Been Neoliberal, and so it seems as good a time as any to navel-gaze about my publishing experience.

As you are no doubt aware, from the blog post's title if nothing else, I did not set the world alight with my ideas, despite their obvious profundity. I’ve not suddenly turned into the next Naomi Klein. My book has, by and large, and this is somewhat dispiriting to admit, sunk without much trace. I have the figures to really demonstrate that fact as well, since Zer0 Books (the publisher) give their authors access to that information.



Luckily, there are now plenty of other ways an author can unpack how well their books are doing – well, maybe not plenty, but at least one important one. And thankfully, we can now rank ourselves against every other author on the planet with it – I mean, of course, Amazon, the blessed sales platform that it is! I think my book now comes somewhere down in the medium millions with this one (at least the US version). Last year I dimly remember breaking into single figures, of thousands that is (and not in the US to be clear), but sinking pretty quickly as the glow of book reviews quickly faded.

In light of access to all this information, then, I thought it might be interesting to share some of my experiences with the process.

What I did:

  • Chose to publish with a ‘popular’ rather than ‘academic’ publisher; I thought I’d experiment with writing for a different audience. I found this to be a pretty useful exercise, although in hindsight I think I would have gone for a publisher with a proper marketing department.
  • Authors at Zer0 are left to do the marketing themselves, which is all part of the publisher’s business model. It could work, if an author has a significant amount of free time, but I don’t, which is why I think my sales have been rather s/low.
  • Zer0 advises authors to create a social media profile early on in the process (i.e. before publication), in order to build interest. This was actually very helpful advice, even if it hasn’t helped that much (I’m guessing here, maybe even fewer people would have bought it if I hadn’t plugged it on Twitter).
  • I started using my Twitter account in 2013 and have since built that up into a useful resource for both finding information and disseminating my work; that being said, Twitter takes a lot of effort and time, especially to begin with.
  • I also wrote articles/excerpts/etc. for websites – well, for those that would publish me, which wasn’t that many – see here for some examples. A lot of these I wrote before the book was published, or even written in some cases. It was meant to lay the ground for the eventual release.
  • Being forced to write for non-academic outlets a helpful process in itself, since I had to learn a whole new way of writing. Often this meant endless redrafting and reworking of text, probably to the frustration of various editors sick of academics foisting their turgid prose on them. A heartfelt thank you to those editors who persisted with me and made my work more readable!
  • Writing the book was actually quite enjoyable and something I managed to do relatively quickly – it also wasn’t a long book which helped (50k words I think).
  • Finally, I pestered people a little, sought out good endorsers, etc., etc. Again, I have no idea whether this has actually done much to spread word about my book, but probably didn’t hurt…
  • I realize now (as should have been obvious then) that book reviews are critical - after a book review my sales would spike, and since I really only got two of them (that I know about) my book sales only had a couple of spikes.
What I would do differently:
  • Since they don't have reviewers or editors at Zer0, I could write whatever I liked; good on the one hand (i.e. no academic censorship), but bad on the other (i.e. no academic censorship). I’d probably guess that I wouldn’t have got my book past reviewers at many other presses, since I was essentially saying that a lot of existing work was wrong or inaccurate, so in some ways it was a good thing to choose a publisher like Zer0.
  • That being said, I think if I did it again I would find a publisher who does marketing; I'm simply not a marketer and never will be, nor do I have the time to become one. I tried but couldn't keep it up alongside a day job. I also think that I needed to target the book more at an academic audience, and that hasn’t happened.
  • I would definitely work more on getting people to review my book in a range of places; online reviews are as good as others, so that's probably a good place to start.
  • If I think of anything else, I’ll add it here…

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