Being a NY Times bestselling author and having a backlist of 40 titles helped, but there is more to his success - he's emphatic about that.
In the latest in a series of articles about the future of publishing (Mick McCann, Aaron Wise, Kevin Duffy) Pulp Pusher talked to Bob about how he views the changing landscape.
PULP PUSHER: You’ve had an interesting experience with eBooks since dipping your toe in the murky waters in Jan 2011 … What do you put this success down to?
BOB MAYER: I have to be honest and say having the rights to over 40 titles from my backlist gave me a huge advantage. But the real key was making a commitment. Making the 100% leap from traditional to indie publishing. It was a gamble.
Also, it was key to form a team. I think it’s very hard to make it on your own. Between Jen Talty and me we had the expertise in both publishing and the digital world to succeed. We’ve written The ShelfLess Book: The Complete Digital Author chronicling our experiences going from selling 347 eBooks in January 2011 to almost half a million for the year.
Can anyone emulate those results?
As noted, over 40 titles of backlist traditionally published makes it hard to emulate if you don’t have that. But there are certainly people who’ve started from scratch and been very successful. The things I see that are key are consistency and focusing on content rather than promotion. Realizing it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
That sounds contrary to many eBook author’s tactics … do you think some authors are over-selling themselves?
Definitely. The focus should be on building community, not marketing. Especially for new authors. I get a dozen or so “check out my books” emails from Goodreads every day and it’s numbing. People are getting overwhelmed with writers promoting themselves. You have to be different. You have to find a niche and then establish yourself there by contributing, not by marketing.
You run a publishing venture called WHO DARES WINS … tell us about that?
The first thing is that we’re changing the name. We’ve grown so quickly and changed so much, that we feel that’s a bit too military. We’re changing over to Cool Gus Publishing (Gus being my yellow lab). We’ve got eight authors. Right now we’re looking for authors who were traditionally published and have backlist and for nonfiction authors who have a solid platform.
We’re a real publisher, not a service, meaning that money flows from us to our authors. So we’re also very selective on how we contract with.
Tell us about some of the titles on your lists?
We have Colin Falconer, a bestselling author in Australia whose agent was never able to get him a deal with one of the Big 6 here in the US. Jen Talty’s romances along with Mary Reed McCall’s romances sell well.
Our biggest sellers are my Area 51 and Atlantis series. My Black Ops thrillers also sell well along with my Green Beret series.
How did you come by your authors?
Most came to us. I find that authors, overall, are very afraid of the digital world. I’ve had some authors shy away and I feel like they missed out on a great opportunity. Fear rules a lot of the industry and the rewards go to those who are willing to take risks. We give the highest royalty rates in publishing and we’re very responsive. We can get a backlist title up and selling usually within a month.
Are you looking for anything in particular in terms of genre or content?
As mentioned—no new fiction. Backlist and nonfiction with platform.
You’re not exclusively selling eBooks, some are paper titles …
We do print on demand, which is great because we can order as few as one book if need be. However 99% of our fiction sales are eBooks. For nonfiction we handsell quite a bit at conferences of the ShelfLess Book; Write It Forward and The Novel Writers’ Toolkit.
Do you see the importance of paper publishing diminishing?
Yes. Shelf space will diminish. But there will always be a demand for print books. Especially in nonfiction where people tend to want the actual product in hand.
In general, how do you see the publishing landscape in the future, short and long term?
I believe it’s going to go digital much faster than most expect. The distance and time between author and reader is wifi and almost instantly. Distribution is no longer king, discoverability is.
Traditional paper publishers aren’t doing so well at the moment, are they doing something wrong?
They’re actually doing all right because digital sales are making up for their losses in paper sales. They’re changing over and will survive, but they will be leaner and more efficient. They are going to have to change the way they treat authors. Before their focus was on distribution. Now their focus has to be on facilitating author-reader relationships.
If you were to give the Big 6 some advice/tips about facilitating author-reader relationships, what would it be?
Pay attention to backlist. Consider erasing advances that haven’t earned out and do profit sharing with authors, otherwise your authors have no incentive to promote. Actually they have a disincentive to promote in the vain hope of getting their rights back. Or do reverse royalties, giving the rights back to authors and then having them pay you a percentage.
No one walks into a bookstore and says “I want the next Random House” yet publishers act that way. Readers want the next book from their favorite author or in their favorite genre.
Consider doing aggregates for similar authors.
Bottom line: consider your midlist authors as important parts and realize that distribution is no longer key. Discoverability is.
It’s a time of massive change for readers, writers and publishers … is it a good time to be any of the above?
It’s the best time ever to be a writer. You are no longer constrained by distribution and the gatekeepers. The field is very crowded, but if you have determination and focus on building content (writing) and building community (instead of promotion), you can succeed.
:: Find out more about Bob at his website http://www.bobmayer.org/