I briefly mentioned Authors on the Net in this post back in January but I thought it would be useful to interview Philip Davis, founder of both Authors on the Net and ZDocs. Here's what he had to say about both businesses:
JW: Let's start by talking a bit about ZDocs. What's the core mission of ZDocs and how do you differentiate your services from others out there?
PD: The core mission of ZDocs is to provide both corporate and independent publishers the most cost-effective way to produce professional books. There are many ways to print books, for example:
- One-off on-demand printing
- Short-run on-demand printing
- Long-run offset printing
- Long-run webpress printing.
ZDocs offers companies and individuals short-run on-demand printing, but if a customer will be better served by another type of production, we help guide them to make the right decision for their business, even if that means the customer may use another vendor.
For independent authors, deciding on the right quantity is really up to the marketing plan the author has created. While one-off on-demand printing, what POD publishers specialize in, works for many authors, I personally think if an author is serious about building a business around his or her book, then the author should print at least 250 books. Authors, especially non-fiction authors, will find they need to give quite a few books away as part of their initial promotional efforts.
JW: Your other operation, Authors on the Net, is one a lot of readers are likely to be very interested in. The subject of author platform is a popular one on my blog. How does Authors on the Net help an author with their platform?
PD: We help authors take a structured approach to building their platform online. When I started writing my book, Fast & Furious Book Promotion: A system for promoting books online, I was going to focus on blogging and social networking as the way to build a platform and rise above the crowd to either build a successful self-publishing business or get picked up by a publisher.
But as I spoke with authors printing with ZDocs, I soon realized that many authors were using Myspace and blogs and websites and they were building email lists etc., but not one of the authors we worked with had a cohesive plan. They were just throwing pebbles into the ocean hoping something would happen. I can’t tell you how many authors told me they had made four blog posts yet no reader had left them a comment or bought their book. Building a platform takes time and that is one of the key messages in my book.
So I decided to focus on a system authors could follow to build a plan that will help them build their platform. I call this the DRILL system, which is:
- Develop your goals
- Research your target audience
- Invent your strategy
- Layout your tactical plan
- Leverage your assets
The foundation of Authors On The Net is built on the DRILL concept. We want authors to learn how to use the Internet to build their platform, and we want them to move fast and furiously, but we also want them to commit at least three years to their promotional efforts, keeping in mind that even if their current book does not sell too well, the platform they've built can be used for their next project.
JW: The Authors on the Net website talks about helping authors create marketing plans for a retailer like Barnes & Noble. How hard is this and can a typical author really influence the marketing plans of a major brick-and-mortar chain?
PD: We have three tools authors can use to build their plans: a PowerPoint model, a Word model and a simple spreadsheet. Since no author I’ve worked with could show me a plan for their book, I decided to keep the planning tools as simple as possible. I believe many people think a marketing plan is a complicated document that requires an MBA.
When an author follows the DRILL system, he/she will have a simple, yet powerful plan in place. Just knowing your goals and target audience will put an author ahead of the pack. A plan we just created for a book How To Become a Total Failure, generated a phone call from Barnes & Noble. We’re not sure what this means yet, but getting Barnes & Noble to express interest was a nice validation of the effectiveness of these plans. I’m pretty sure that without our plan, we would have received a polite rejection letter.
Whether a typical author can influence the marketing plans of a brick-and-mortar chain depends on the book. Some books are just too niche to merit significant effort on the part of the bookstores, but other books that appeal to a large audience could have an impact. The point I’d stress, however, is an author will not be considered at all if he or she does not have a solid plan supporting his or her book.
JW: Virtual book tours and trailers are getting a lot of buzz these days and I see Authors on the Net also offers guidance there as well. What are some of the more effective strategies you've seen authors implement with either of these tools?
PD: I just did a virtual book tour for Fast & Furious Book Promotion. We had over 20 people on the call and I could only get through about 10 questions. I didn’t sell a book, but I did get over 40 new people into my platform. But for me, the best value I got out of the call were the questions. We ran an "askphildavis.com" campaign and collected many good questions. These questions are leading me to a new product, which is a tool to help authors run a book campaign much like Barack Obama and other politicians are running their political campaigns.
I liked the feedback so much, I decided to leave the askphildavis link on the site so we can continually receive questions from authors. A virtual book tour for me is valuable to get market intelligence. While it would be great to sell books, it’s not the most important result for me. A fiction writer, on the other hand, can use the same tool and structure the call completely different. The fiction writer could have three people help her read different sections form her book. The point is that once an author becomes comfortable with a new tactic, he or she can then "invent" a way to use that tactic to meet his or her needs.
Regarding book trailers, I think they are a great promotional tool. If you put a video on YouTube and 1,000 people watch it, well, that's 1,000 more people who now know your book exists. I like the marketing concept of "hooks in the whale." To catch a whale, you have to put many hooks in it. To catch a customer or a reader, you also have to have many hooks out there. A book trailer is a cost-effect way to create one such hook.
JW: I see you have a one-stop product coming next month called Self-Publishing in a Box. This whole sector seems to be in a constant state of flux as new technologies and service providers arise. What solutions can authors expect to find in this product and what are your plans to keep the content fresh down the road?
PD: Yes, the book led to the website and the website then led to Self-Publishing in a Box. What we learned during the soft-launch of Authors On The Net is that authors needed even more structure. So we created a seventeen week program that walks authors through the process of getting a professional book published and a strong online presence built.
The idea is that all authors need to do certain things, like getting listed in Baker & Taylor, writing a promotional plan, using a professional editor and designer, listing their book all over the place, building a platform, using press releases and what could become the most important tactic of all, using social networks like Facebook to run a book campaign.
While most authors understand what it means to get published by a traditional publishing house, some authors struggle with the difference between publishing with a POD or Vanity press and truly self-publishing. One of the biggest differences is when you self-publish you start your own publishing company. Two other key differences are that you buy your own ISBN and you do not share royalties with anyone. The kit helps authors make these critical decisions.
I’m not against POD publishing and I think for many authors that form of publishing is the right choice. My interest lies in helping authors choose the right way to publish based on their goals and overall plan.
Regarding change, I don't see the concepts in the kit changing too much, but as we will be printing on demand, when significant changes take place, we can make those changes. What will change at a Fast & Furious rate are the online tactics. How to use Amazon will change, how to social network will change, new tools will emerge and so on. This is why the website is so critical. We can let people know about new tools on our blog, in our categories and sections and even more importantly, we can learn from other authors in the forums.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that one of the hardest parts of my business plan for Authors On The Net is that we are not trying to help people become New York Times best selling authors or millionaires from their books. It can be hard to attract people without the hype. But we've added over 200 authors, both published and self-published, to the site during our three-month soft launch, so I'm encouraged.
What we want to do is help authors find their readers and sell profitably to those readers. Whether a book becomes a best seller depends on so many factors outside the control of most authors. Self-Publishing in a Box and the website Authors On The Net is all about building a solid platform authors can use to take their current book to the next level or possibly use for their next book.
Promoting and selling books is a daunting and sometimes overwhelming task. Self-Publishing in a Box and Authors On The Net was built to ease the process for both published and self-published authors.