In Chapter 10 of my new book, “Sell Your Book Like Wildfire,” I interview several industry experts from all different parts of publishing. One of my favorites is Joe Wikert who manages the sales and editorial groups and also co-chairs the O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference for publishers (TOC). Joe has provided insight about the publishing industry on his Publishing 2020 blog since 2005. Prior to joining O’Reilly he was Vice President and Executive Publisher at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., in their P/T division. Here’s a snippet from my interview with Joe:
You’ve witnessed a lot of changes in the publishing industry, especially in the area of technology. What changes have had the biggest impact on your role as a publisher?
It’s hard to pinpoint one technology in general other than saying “the web/internet.” There are so many elements of the web that have both enabled knowledge while also disrupting the publishing ecosystem. I tend to believe this is all for the best, despite the fact that it has led to a lot of painful change for many people and organizations. The fact that Google or Bing can so quickly provide you with free answers to questions that you used to have to pay for is incredible. In fact, I often say that my biggest competitor is Google, not another publisher.
In your experience, how has the process of marketing books transformed over the past five years?
Today, publishers rely much more on authors with large followings or platforms. In the past, it was all about whether you’re the expert or have an interesting story to tell. That’s still very important. But, another question that’s asked almost immediately about taking on a new book is, “How large is the author’s platform?” The reason for this is that large author platforms often mean more for sales and success than any sort of publisher channel promotion from the past, such as endcap displays in bookstores, front-of-store placement, etc.
Skeptics have pointed to this change as yet another reason why authors don’t need a publisher. In some cases, that’s true. In other words, if you’ve got an enormous platform, you could probably self-publish and make more money. However, most authors don’t have such a large platform, so it’s important to work with a publisher who can help you build one.
As more and more people read ebooks, how does that affect the marketing plan for a publisher or author?
These days marketing an ebook is similar to marketing a print book. But, that’s largely because most e-books are simply quick-and-dirty conversions from the print edition. When we get to a much richer ebook experience, I think there will be many more ways to market other content. For example, what if your last book could suddenly offer readers a special, one-day-only discount on the new book you’re releasing tomorrow? Again, today’s ebooks don’t lend themselves to this feature yet. But, as we see more content in EPUB3 and HTML5 format, I expect to see more and more new and exciting marketing techniques.
What are the best steps you think an author should take to grow his or her platform?
It may sound lame, but “be yourself.” Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t try to spin what you have to say just because someone with a larger platform does it that way. Also, know that you probably won’t build a significant audience overnight. I’ve been blogging for 6 years (jwikert.typepad.com), and it’s taken me a while to build my own platform. I’m not reaching millions of people, but I am read by thousands every day. That’s a pretty significant number for the publishing industry, but I didn’t get there overnight.
Many people consider you a publishing futurist. What excites you most about the next 5 – 10 years in the book industry?
I’m thrilled that we’re in the midst of such radical change. It wasn’t that long ago that the so-called pundits were saying ebooks would never take off. That was before the Kindle, of course. What disappoints me most, though, is that we haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s possible with digital content. We’re all just making some money off those quick conversions from print, and nobody has a sense for where this is all leading.
I like to say we’re at the same stage the TV industry was in the early days. Back then, the first TV shows were nothing more than radio programs in front of a camera. That’s what today’s ebooks are – digital renderings of the print product. Compare those early TV shows to what you can see today, not only on television but in the theaters. We’ve got a long way to go and all sorts of fun experimentation ahead of us. That’s what gets me excited about this industry!
For more of my interview with Joe and several other industry experts, get a copy of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire.