Thinking About Self Publishing?

February 2, 2010 6:17 pm in Concert, Drumset, Marching by mark wessels

I guess that most of you know that in addition to the work I do as the “Director of Internet Activities” (aka “web guy”) for Vic, I also own a publishing company.  Actually, that’s a high minded way of saying that I sell my own books.

I’ll have to say that it’s been pretty successful.  ”Mark Wessels Publications” currently has 5 titles (my 3 Fresh Approach books, plus the 5 Minute Theory books for band and Scott Johnson’s “Progression”).  Not much in the way of a catalog, but I sell over 40,000 books a year – and it’s a major part of my life.

Because of it’s relative success, I get asked often for pointers and recommendations for how to get started – most recently from Joe Arenberg – so rather than type Joe a letter that I’ve typed before, I thought I’d write it down in the Exchange and we could learn from each other’s experiences. Especially considering that not all circumstances are the same.  I’m going to focus on print – but most of the same info can be applied to a DVD.

HOW DO YOU GET STARTED?

First, the bad news.  An idea for a book is not a book. Jeff Queen and I constantly joke that 99.99% of people who SAY they are going to write a book – or have an idea for a book – will never finish it. As much work as it took you to learn to play or get a degree in music, writing a (good) book takes as much or more effort.

So, long story short, if you haven’t written the book yet – don’t worry about all the rest of this stuff. Finish the book first!!!   Then, make a few copies and show it to some trusted friends. Not the friends who will tell you how nice it is – but the kind that’ll tear you apart.   Then, rewrite your book.  Rinse, repeat (rinse, repeat).

I could go on and on about how many versions of my books I went through before they actually started looking good, but I won’t.  Maybe your’s will be completely perfect the first time!  Hat’s off to you! In which case, you’ll need to know…

HOW DO YOU GET IT TO LOOK GOOD?

Again, there’s no short cuts. Either you…

A) have a knack for design and know how to use all the appropriate programs to produce a great looking product

B) have little ability, but strong desire to figure it out (this is where I fit in)

C) have a friend who can do it, who will do it (I should say “soon-to-be-former-friend”)

D) have deep pockets to pay someone to do it

I fell into the B category because I’m incredibly cheap and had (before kids anyway) enough free time to learn.

WHERE DO YOU GO TO GET IT PRINTED?

I guess this one depends on your pockets and your confidence.  For me, it was a looong process.  From paying $6-8 bucks a book for 20 copies at Kinkos to 12,000 a year at the same printer Hudson Music uses.  For myself personally, my business and book success grew with each print run. Take it from me, you will never, NEVER find all the mistakes in your book until you’ve spent money and the book comes back from the printer.  And then all your customers will point them out for you.

Search around for printers. Luckily there are hundreds on the internet – and most will be happy to give you a quote (don’t be afraid to ask for quotes!). You should know a few facts about your product when asking.. like:

How many pages? This is internal page count front/back.  It doesn’t really matter until you get into higher volumes, but most printers like multiples of 4 or 8 because they print on very large sheets, fold and cut.

What size? 8.5 x 11 is cheapest – some printers won’t charge you more for 8.75 x 11 – but there is a pretty significant expense for 9 x 12 (and most printers won’t have the equipment to run that size unless they cut down 11 x 17 sheets).

What weight stock are you using? Obviously, heavier costs more money.  Take a sample book that you like by Kinkos and they’ll be happy to tell you what stock the cover and pages are.

What type of binding? Again, this is a cost decision. “Saddle Stitch” (fancy name for “stapled”) is the cheapest (and only works for books up to around 90 pages), “Lay Flat” (the kind that has sections of sheets glued together and then all the sections glued with a flat edge) – this is probably the most common for larger books, “Comb binding” (like the kind you see from most Kinkos) and “Spiral”.  We all love spiral, until you are a publisher who has to pay for it… in the neighborhood of $1.25 per book.  Definitely not cheap!

Quantity? Sounds like a no-brainer.  Know that most printers have a +/- 10% rule.  Meaning that if you order 100, you could get 90 or 110. You pay for what you get based on the quote price.

And they’ll need to know other details like is the cover 4 color (photographs) or are you using “spot color” (one or two colors – each running through the machine separately).  Used to be that 4 color covers were incredibly expensive, but it’s much lower costs now.

There’s a million other details about printing that I can answer if you’ll ask – I just can’t think of all of them.

I’VE GOT THE BOOKS IN MY GARAGE/ATTIC

- NOW HOW DO I MARKET THEM?

Well, if you’re the Director of Internet Activities for a major percussion manufacturer, then…   :0)

Seriously, short of spending thousands of dollars on advertising (which I have yet to do, believe it or not), there are hundreds of ways to get the word out.  EVERYTHING REQUIRES EFFORT!

It’s a sad fact that no matter how proud you are of your ground breaking, earth shattering new book, nobody will beat down your door to find you. You’ll be lucky if your friends will buy it from you. (Believe me, I know). You have to be patient and extremely persistent if you ever want to sell more than a handful of copies.

First: Have a website.

With good photos, great description and sample lessons (or video). You’ll probably want to sell online as well – and there are hundreds of ways to do this (ebay, amazon, etc) – but I think the PayPal method is the cheapest, most cost-effective and easiest.  Check out PayPal for how to get this option on your website.

Next: Write/Blog/Film/Clinic.

Obviously YouTube is the 21st century free marketing tool. But think before you film. Is what you’re presenting valuable enough to watch?  Or are you just doing a “buy my product” commercial? Notice what we do on vf.com – the lessons aren’t (usually) straight commercials for a product – they give value to the audience WHILE they market the product.  If what you’re giving isn’t valuable or interesting, nobody will buy it.  Did you know that Groove Essentials started out as a vf.com feature BEFORE it was a dvd / book / brand-in-and-of-itself?  That’s the power of sharing something that everyone wants.  Of course it helps if you play and teach as well as Tommy Igoe.  :0)

The same can be said for writing articles or blogging. An easy example is the article I did in the Exchange on “Learning Through Play“… Maybe it’s not obvious I’m not marketing my product (or maybe it is).  The point is, your name and the name of your book is getting attention.

The point of this is that unless you’re Tommy Igoe – or you have a TON of money for advertising, you’ll need to spend a LOT of free time working to get the word out. Just kidding about Tommy by the way – he (AND Vic for that matter) spent untold numbers of hours in the beginning marketing their product. If you’re not willing to do it, or think it’ll comes easy, forget having a successful product.

HOW DO YOU GET IT INTO MUSIC STORES?

This one is tough. The short answer is that unless people request it, forget that you’ll sell to a music store. They literally have thousands of products competing for space and will only stock what they reasonably know will sell. Even as successful as my books are, I have trouble getting most stores to stock ANY – they just place an order when a customer orders.

Consider visiting stores and offering a consignment deal (this is actually how I got my books in stores). You give them 5 copies, they pay you when they are sold and want to place another order. It’s usually the only way you can get shelf space.

One of the toughest decisions you’ll make is whether to try to sell direct to the customer or point them to a retailer. If they buy direct from you, it’s not sitting on a shelf for others to see – but you’re not making very much money on it (retailers usually ask for a 50% discount – meaning if you’re selling a $10 book, you have to sell it to the retailer for $5, so think carefully about your profit margin after printing costs are factored in). That’s probably worthy of a whole discussion in and of itself.

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SO, ARE YOU STILL WITH ME?

I usually can turn off all but the most persistent would-be authors the more that I get into the details. It really is mind numbing enough to make you want to go straight to a publisher with your manuscript and have them do all the work for you (but whether that’s a good decision is again, another article!).

Don’t be put off by the process! If you have a great idea – and lots (and lots and lots) of persistence, you can become a successful self publisher! It’s actually a fantastic experience and through the journey, you’ll meet lots of great people and learn a lot about the music industry.

Now, how about other’s experiences?  Successes? Failures?  Want any more specific advice?  We’re here to help where we can!