Publishing is on the forefront of my mind now that I have two books under my belt: The Zen of Social Media Marketing, and now Momentum: how to propel your marketing + transform your brand in the digital age. Rohit Bhargava, author of “Non Obvious” and founder of IdeaPress Publishing met up with me to discuss what’s hot in the publishing world, marketing books, and more.
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Shama: Hey, guys! Shama here. I’m here with Rohit Bhargava, who’s author of the latest Non Obvious, and he’s also a publisher with IdeaPress. That’s your company, Rohit?
Rohit: That’s right.
Shama: We just thought we’d have a conversation with book authors. You guys know my book, Momentum. We thought we’d just talk about marketing books, and we’ve a lot of authors who watch the show and people who want to be authors. Marketing books these days, that is a tall drink of water.
Rohit: Yeah, it is.
Shama: Rohit, tell us everything you know. No, I’m kidding.
Rohit: Yeah, in 3 minutes or less.
Shama: What do you think is changed? Let me start with that, in terms of how the last 20-30 years and how the publishing world’s changed.
Rohit: The obvious way that it’s changed, I think, is that there’s a lot more books and a lot more people can write those books. The previous gate keepers we used to have on publishing so that only a few people can get published are gone. If you look at the number of registrations of ISBN numbers over the last 30 years, the chart literally goes like this. In the last 5 years, it’s just been off the chart in a totally new way. There’s a lot more books.
Shama: Yeah. Maybe because it’s easier than ever to be an author?
Rohit: Easier than ever. It’s one button publishing in some cases. You can make an eBook with almost zero.
Shama: Low barrier to entry now.
Rohit: Low barrier to entry. Yes. All those things.
Shama: No gate keepers.
Rohit: All of those things. I think that the bigger that it shifted more recently, and the reason why I started a publishing company in the first place, is because there’s an amazing talent in the publishing industry that is now available on a freelance basis. Some of the top editors, top writers, top freelancers, top designers, people who were previously working at some of these big publishing houses are now freelancers and available to work on books individually. One of the things I thought about when I was starting a publishing company was not what people usually think is … “Oh you started it because you wanted to be able to save money.” Actually I wanted better quality. That was my number one reason for starting Idea Press. I figured if I could get these amazing editors and all of these people working on Idea Press projects then we would be able to produce amazing books. That was my number 1 motivation, and I think that’s possible now. It would’ve been very difficult 5 years ago.
Shama: To do that. It seems like there’s 2 pieces to it now. We write the books and then marketing the books and getting the books out there because it’s not like you’ll write it and they will appear. Any other product or service, you’re really going to have to find your audience, if you will.
Rohit: Yeah, and I think that for a long time, book marketing has been approached very much like film marketing, and film marketing is all about opening weekends. In a film, it’s like you’re only screens for a limited amount of time. That’s basically how people are going to see it, unless you wait for getting the DVD out.
Shama: DVD or Netflix.
Rohit: Netflix or streaming, which are all more recent. It’s all about that opening weekend, driving enough revenue so that the theaters keep you in the theaters. Book stores and books were marketed very similarly for a long time, but I think when it comes to business books, which is what we focus on, the market for that is completely different. If you want to write a best seller and run a best seller campaign, yes, you have to sell a lot of copies within the first weeks. That is the way it’s measured, but Amazon measures sales hourly. If you want to be an Amazon best seller, you have to sell a lot of books in an hour, literally.
Shama: It could change hour to hour.
Rohit: Yeah. It changes hour to hour, which is why a lot of books can be number 1 in a certain category because they went out and had a hundred people buy it in one hour. That’ll propel to be number 1 in a category. There’s a lot of gaming of that system as well.
When it comes to the business of book publishing, a lot of business books, for example, are purchased in bulk for employees of an organization. A lot of business books are used as marketing collateral for individuals who are building speaking careers.
Shama: Funnily enough, both my books, Zen and Momentum, biggest orders were organizations that wanted to buy for employees or organizations that wanted to buy it for their members. Yeah. I would agree.
Rohit: If you think about the average publishing deal, an author will go and do all the work to sell thousands of copies in bulk for a business author who has a profile. Usually, that’s how it works. Then, they’ll make 15% of those sales or some minuscule number. At Idea Press, we really flipped that around. We say, “Look. We’re going to help you produce an amazing book, but then you’re going to keep most of the revenue from the book.” That’s what I would’ve wanted as an author. That’s what I created. I basically created the thing I wanted and then I opened it up for other authors.
Shama: What do you think in terms of marketing books these days? Your top 3 things or things that you’ve just noticed that you think help marketing books?
Rohit: I think that the books that tend to be the most successful are the ones that have a community that the author has built behind it. It’s people who are so invested in the author, as soon as the author releases something new, it’s like, “Now, we’re going to totally support you.”
Shama: It’s marketing really before the book is ever born. It’s funny because I think that way, I would totally agree that rather than creating demand for a book, I almost feel like its about fulfilling demand for a book. When I write a book, when I wrote Momentum, I felt like it was all the things that people were asking me and I just didn’t have a resource to say, “Ha! Here you go.” I did that with Zen. I wrote that with people who had questions about social media. I was like, “I can’t point them to a resource. There’s nothing that says this right now.”
Rohit: It was out of necessity.
Rohit: You wrote it.
Shama: It’s about you would start a business. Is there market demand? Now, I need to make a product or service to meet market demand.
Rohit: That’s sort of the intent of the publishing company. Yeah.
Shama: You’re writing the book for what people are looking for.
Rohit: The thing that took time with the publishing company wasn’t necessarily the model or thinking that through. The thing that took time was the details and logistics of being a real publishing company. What I didn’t want to do become like a vanity publisher or like some dude wants 20,000 of his own books so he just needs somebody to print them, but it’s a crap book. That’s now what I wanted to create. What took time was getting foreign rights representation, getting to full distribution into book stores. All of this.
Shama: Congratulations, by the way. That’s great.
Rohit: Thank you. Now, I can go to an author who has an audience, somebody who I would consider a peer of mine, somebody who’s released books before. I only half jokingly said my target audience for this new publishing company was the frustrated, second time best selling author, which there are many.
Shama: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s really cool. You’ve obviously fulfilled a need and started a business you saw to be missing in the marketplace. What do you think the future holds for authors. That number just keeps going up, right? Do you think at some point it caps out to … Do you think that we will plateau in how many books are out there or do you think that number will keep growing, but publishers, rather than being gate keepers, will be more sort of facilitators for the community we already built and that you want to cater to.
Rohit: If you think about the publishing business, the great publishers were always gate keepers in a good way. The great publishers, when they signed on and published a book, you kind of knew it was going to be a good book.
Shama: Right. Which is what the public depended on.
Rohit: They didn’t publish crap books. Now, the problem is that, of the big 6 publishers, half of them publish a lot of crap books. Now, they’re no better than anybody off the street creates books.
Shama: They’re just churning stuff out.
Rohit: Yeah, they’re just churning stuff out that an author just pays them, basically, to print for them. The top half has become thinner. I do think there’s huge value in a good publishing company publishing a book. I’ve actually gone to some of my authors and said, “Look. If you get a deal with one of these 3 guys and they give you an advance, you should go for that because they’re going to do a great job for you,” but those are so few and far between and there’s a whole second layer of authors who have brilliant books, who have amazing insights, who have an audience, but who aren’t going to get that type of deal because it just doesn’t fit that publisher’s model to do because they can only do a certain number of books.
Shama: Still a lot falls on the author, too, right? I feel like to drive the book … Honestly, I like my publisher. I’ve worked BenBella books now for both my books, but I think the reasons I like them is because I always understood that it’s my job to move the book. It’s not technically the publisher’s job to. It’s to facilitate. It’s to help, be an advocate. At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to move the book, and a lot of it begins with writing a good book.
Rohit: Yeah. Writing a good book and then having the right factors in place. I think BenBella’s a good example because they’re sort of in between. They take the best of the free, independent side and they mix it with some of the transitional publishing gravatas that you would want in terms of distribution and things like that. I think that what ends up happening is, for an author, ultimately, you should know that you’re going to do all the work, but you want a publisher that’s not going to actively stand in your way.
Shama: Take advantage of that.
Rohit: Or just not fulfill. I’ve had situations where I have sold a ton of books. I needed them to be in a certain place at a certain time, and a publisher doesn’t even fulfill that. You’re in a certain where you did all the work, you made all the sales, they’re making most of the money, and they can’t even deliver, which is the only thing you need them for, and they don’t even do that.
Shama: You’re right. It is about finding the perfect marriage of publisher and author. It’s such an interesting world, I think, we live in now as authors and moving books and interacting with communities. I guess the best is yet to come. We’ll see what the future holds for publishing and congratulations on all your success with Idea Press and with your new book, Non Obvious. Check it out, guys.