Fern Reiss, Publishing Guru, Interviewed

When did your passion for writing books on publishing begin? What inspired you to write these books and what keeps you going?


I never planned to write books on publishing. At the time I started “The Publishing Game” series, I had three books in print one traditionally-published, two self-published, on three completely different topics. What I noticed was that when I was on book tours at bookstores and libraries promoting “The Infertility Diet: Get Pregnant and Prevent Miscarriage” and “Terrorism and Kids: Comforting Your Child,” and I arrived at the question/answer part of the talk, the first or second question was always, “How did you get the book published?” The minute I said, “Well, actually, I set up a publishing house and self-published,” it didn’t matter whether people had come to listen to me speak on infertility or terrorism–all they wanted to hear, for the rest of the question/answer session, was how to get published!

So I did a series of three books, one on how to find a literary agent and publish traditionally, one on how to self-publish, and one on how to do successful book promotion. This next year there will be two more books in the Publishing Game series–on how to syndicate newspaper and online columns, and how to create audio products. Hopefully that’s it!

What keeps me going is that the need for information on how to get published is greater than ever. More and more people are interested in publishing their books. The industry is continually changing–so the tricks on how you nab the literary agent, how you get into bookstores, are continually changing, too, which keeps it interesting. Unfortunately, traditional publishers today do less and less book promotion–so there’s a real need for authors, even traditionally published authors, to learn how to successfully promote their books if they want to succeed as an author today.


As there does not seem to be any authoritative standards that exist for authors pertaining to books on publishing, how do you know that a book on publishing is up to par? How do you check out the authorial competence?


That’s actually a problem, because everyone seems to write one book, and then their second book is about how other people should write and publish their books!

I guess I’d say that before you purchase a book on publishing, do a little research: Google them online and see what their website looks like, whether you agree with and like their articles and their advice. (For example, I do a monthly column on writing, publishing, and book promotion by the time most people find my books, they already know they like me from the articles.)

Check the authors out on Amazon and see how many books they’ve written. (Many of the people writing on publishing have only written one book–in general, the people with the best advice have written more books, and are drawing from those experiences.)

If you’re interested in a book on how to find a literary agent and big publisher, make sure the author has gone this route if you’re interested in self-publishing, make sure the author’s been successful at it. If you’re looking for a book on book promotion, and when you Google the author their name doesn’t pop up much, they haven’t been too successful at it! If you really don’t want to do the research, check back on my website next month, I’m in the process of compiling a massive list of all the writing/publishing books that are out there, and how they compare.


Many writers want to be published, but not everyone is cut out for a writer’s life. What are some signs that perhaps someone is not cut out to be a writer and should try to do something else for a living?


I actually spend more time trying to counsel authors on whether traditional publishing or self-publishing would be a better fit for them, and trying to discourage (most of) them from POD/subsidy. By the time people get to me, they pretty much know whether they’re an author or not. These days, though, the one thing I would caution authors is that they need to be willing and ready to go out and market their own books. Even the traditional publishers aren’t doing much in the way of publicity these days, and books that aren’t marketed aggressively have an average shelf life of about four months.


In the last year or so have you seen any changes in the way publishers publish and/or distribute books? Are there any emerging trends developing?


The changes have been coming so fast and furious that there’s barely time to register them. And simultaneously, the traditional publishers are, for the most part, mired in modes of operation that may not make as much sense anymore, though in other ways, they’re being quite revolutionary.

So here are some of the changes:

Shelf life is way, way shorter than it used to be. Amazon has partnered with both Mobipocket and BookSurge, both developments to watch.

The whole issue of Google making content and books available without holding the copyrights is going to be big, and have ramifications for years to come.

All the major publishing houses have acquired stock in cell phone companies, and Japan is already putting books onto cellphones, so that’s definitely something to watch in the next few years.

Random House is promoting their author appearances via a speakers’ bureau, and HarperCollins started its own speakers bureau.

Amazon has announced Amazon Connect, where (right now, selected) authors can blog on their books and life Barnes and Noble have an online book club that involves author/reader interaction.

And blogging and podcasting are going to affect the way information is delivered, which will ultimately affect the way we publish and use books.

In terms of how all this affects authors, one major thing I’m advising my clients to do is keep a careful eye on the terms of their contracts in terms of intellectual property rights. It’s impossible to know how all this is going to play out in the next few years, and the winners may well be those who’ve retained the best intellectual property rights.


How have you used the Internet to boost your writing career?


I was actually just quoted in USA Today as saying that until now, society’s intelligentsia has been the most intellectual, but that in the next generation, it’s going to be those who are best at search-engine optimization.

That’s really become true, to a large extent: Search engine optimization is going to affect how successful every business is and becomes. So that’s probably the biggest way to use the internet to boost a writing career learn the skills necessary to become eminently ‘google-able.’ (Try googling ‘find a literary agent’ or ‘get a literary agent’ and you’ll see what I mean: PublishingGame.com pops up before all the literary agencies.)

As more and more authors compete for less and less shelf space–look at Barnes and Noble, for example, which is printing its own books these days from public domain content, and that will be as much as 10% of B&N stores–whether you can find an author and a topic online, unfortunately, is going to become the hallmark of their success. The smart reviewers are adding online venues–but the smartest authors are also learning search engine optimization skills.


Are there any unique ways you market your books that is different from how others authors market their books?


I could talk about this one all day! First of all, I really work print publications: In the past six months, I’ve been featured, and my books mentioned in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, USA Today, Glamour, Family Circle, Redbook, and over 100 other publications.

In fact, this spawned a whole other business for me — Expertizing.com, which offers workshops and consulting on how to get more media attention for your business.

(Expertizing looks like it will finally also be emerging as a traditionally-published book soon, or at least that’s what my literary agent tells me.) But I think there are literally hundreds of things that you can do to market a book, and I’ve done most of them, either for my own books or for the few clients I take each year.

Just this week I got one client into CNN, Woman’s Day, Forbes, and the National Enquirer! It’s not rocket science, but it does involve some expertise. If your readers would like to learn more about this, I have a plethora of articles on my PublishingGame.com website about book marketing, and I write a new one every month for the real inside scoop, they can look it up on my site.


How important is it for aspiring writers to go to conferences and/or workshops? How do you know that a conference and/or workshop are worth your time and money?


I think it’s important for writers to go to conferences, I know that I’ve been writing and publishing for years, and I still get a lot out of the conferences I attend, though these days I mostly go as a speaker. Talk to past participants, though, to find out whether it’s worth going–some of these conferences are better than others, and some get a higher caliber of attendee than others.


Do you recommend other writers find a niche or specialty? What have been the rewards for you?


You know it’s funny, I do recommend that writers try to zero in on a niche because that makes the marketing easier, but in fact, I don’t pay much attention to my own advice on this one. I tend to write what I feel like. Yes, it’s helpful to stick to an area so that you can cross-promote, but in the end, you need to write what you’re passionate about at the moment, because that passion is more important than anything else. So if you can, stick to your niche, but if you can’t, don’t spend too much time worrying about it. I call myself entrepreneurially ADD, and I think there’s more than a little truth to that, but I do think it’s important to follow, and write, your passion.


What has your experience been like with self publishing? Do you recommend it over traditional publishers?


I’ve had a wonderful experience self-publishing, but it’s not for everyone. It means you get to be in charge, you get to market earlier, you stay on bookstore shelves longer, and if you’re doing it right, you get more money. On the other hand, there’s still that elusive cachet factor, and you lose that with self-publishing.

I’m speaking at the American Society for Journalists and Authors Conference again this year, for example, but although I speak there every year, I’m still not a member, because until Expertizing comes out, I’ve only traditionally published one book, and they require two. Never mind that three of my books were Writer’s Digest Book Club bestsellers, never mind that one was a Ben Franklin Book of the Year Finalist, never mind that another won a BookSense Selection, and that all of them have been reviewed in Publishers Weekly or Library Journal or Booklist—the fact that they’re self-published still carries a stigma.

Also, self-publishing only works if you’re good at, and enjoy business. And I hope I’ve stressed that these days, whether you’re self-published or traditionally-published, you *must* do your own marketing, and you must do it well if you want to succeed. But I think there’s a place for both self-publishing and traditional publishing. There’s even a place for POD/subsidy publishing–if you want to do a book for a small niche audience, if you want books just to sell back of the room, if you’re under-capitalized and you only need a few books.

I recommend POD/subsidy for some of my Expertizing.com clients who need a book as a showcase. But the trade reviews such as Publishers Weekly does not review POD/subsidy books–and bookstores mostly don’t carry them, so don’t POD if you’re hoping to be in bookstores. The POD/subsidy companies are throwing around a lot of money to obfuscate that point, but it’s important to know.


Could you tell our readers something about your Publishing Game Series and your forthcoming book, Expertizing Position Yourself as a Name Brand.

Fern: Happily :*)

There are currently three books in the Publishing Game series: “The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days” (on traditional publishing) “The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days” (on self-publishing) and “The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days” (on book promotion.) There are two more in the series coming out this year: “The Publishing Game: Syndicate a Column in 30 Days” (on online and newspaper syndication of articles) and “The Publishing Game: Create Audio Products in 30 Days” (which covers everything from teleseminars to CDs and MP3s to podcasting.) You can find out more about the Publishing Game by clicking HERE

“Expertizing: Position Yourself as a Name Brand” is a book on how to get more media attention for yourself and your business. I should have more information on the publication details of that one within the next few weeks. I’m having fun with that book (and the accompanying workshops which I run at the Ritz in NYC and Boston) because it’s not just of interest to authors I get small businesses, large businesses (such as the Hilton Hotel chain) and nonprofits, such as the United Methodist Church and the Heifer Foundation. You can find out more about it by clicking Here


Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?


Two things: If people want to learn more about how to get better media attention for their books or business, I do a complimentary monthly email newsletter, and there’s a signup at the Publishinggame.com Finally, I just want to say that if you’re thinking about writing, or are writing but aren’t sure how you’ll get published, to hang in there: Writing is, I think, among the tougher professions, but it’s ultimately incredibly rewarding. Don’t give up, because if you keep at it, eventually you’ll break through.

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