Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and president of BookBaby, a distributor of ebooks and print books. He started his writing career at age 13 and worked for several major newspapers after graduating from university.
Steven got a job as a sportswriter when he was 13. His journalistic heroes were Walter Cronkite and Howard Cosell.
He did that for a little while and then went back to the family business, where he learned direct marketing. Steven’s family had a food catalog they grew to be one of the largest in the United States. Through that experience, he really learned about direct marketing, and bringing the right products and services to the right people at the right time.
That’s what Steven has done with most of his career. He’s worked for Mattel and Hasbro Collectibles. About 15 years ago, Steven became interested in the music business. His parent company, CDBaby, still manufactures custom-made CDs and DVDs. Yes, there’s still a market for that! They also work in digital music.
BookBaby started seven years ago. BookBaby’s mission is to help authors get their work out into the marketplace. The BookBaby motto is “We make the little guy look big.”
Steven is using his talent for writing and his knowledge of direct marketing to help indie authors be successful in the marketplace.
In this interview, we talked about the factors every indie author needs to consider, how BookBaby can help you achieve your goals, how the marketplace has changed in the last eight years, and the benefits of using BookBaby to help launch you onto the world stage.
Starting Up BookBaby
BookBaby grew out of CDBaby, which still sends a lot of music to iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.
Through these existing partnership, Steven had a great opportunity: when Apple created the iPad, they were looking for companies that could make ebooks. They knew CDBaby already created music files for them, so Apple asked if they could make ebooks. The people at CDBaby had to quickly learn how to make ebook files that would work on the iPad.
Since then, the business has exploded. They added ebook distribution to Amazon, and now they’re in 59 other digital retail stores around the world.
BookBaby quickly realized that if authors were going to succeed, they would need to give their readers the book in the format the reader wanted. That’s why they started offering print distribution.
They began by partnering with a printer they knew. Two years ago, they started printing some books in house as a test, and now they print all their books in house.
At this point, BookBaby is a one-stop shop for everything an indie author needs. They provide:
- Ebook production
- Cover design
- Book formatting
- Print distribution
- Electronic distribution
“Our goal has been to help authors not have to make many decisions. Authors need to spend time writing, and then hand over all the details about their books to experts. You used to have to go to many different places to get all of the services authors really need; now you can just come to BookBaby.”
– Steven Spatz
Five Things You Need to Consider as an Indie Author
BookBaby offers a simple five-step guide to self-publishing.
There are five decisions you need to make before you publish your book.
1. You have to decide the book is finished.
You have to decide that you’re happy with your finished product, and that the book is the best you can make it right now.
Understand that even though your book is as good as you can make it, it’s not going to be perfect. No book is perfect. You have to decide when it’s time to let go.
Steven still talks to authors every month who have been working on their books for years. It’s important to do the best job you can with your book, and then get it out there.
2. You have to have your book edited.
BookBaby runs an ad in industry magazines that says, “The only page that doesn’t need editing is blank.” It’s true. Even the best authors need a good editor.
You put yourself at a real disadvantage if you don’t have a professional editor. (Hint: a pro editor does not mean your English teacher, or your mother-in-law who thinks she knows a few things about commas and semicolons.)
3. You have to decide what kind of physical product you’re going to introduce to your readers.
Yes, books are a product—and that means you have to decide what formats and products matter to you and your readers.
- Are you going to produce an ebook?
- Are you going to produce only an ebook?
- Do you need help formatting the book?
- Are you going to format the ebook yourself or do you want help doing that?
- Are you going to produce printed books as well?
- What size and color will your book be?
- What is the trim size of the book going to be?
4. You have to decide what kind of distribution you need.
Your book needs to get into readers’ hands—and that involves some knowledge of where they shop, and what benefits you can gain from being in different marketplaces.
- Are you happy just putting your book on Amazon?
- Do you want a Print on Demand book?
- Do you want to distribute to other countries?
Amazon isn’t dominant everywhere. Amazon is big in the United States and England. In Europe, they’re the second or third biggest distributor. In Asia, Amazon is almost nonexistent as a competitor.
Thinking outside the Amazon ecosystem is important for indie authors, especially if they want to reach their maximum audience.
5. You need to decide how to market your book.
Marketing is an activity a lot of authors don’t like to do. But it’s one activity that no one else is going to do for you. There are millions of books available on Amazon and other online retailers. You have to decide how you’re going to make your book stand out in the marketplace.
Book Marketing Help
There are several services you can pay for that may help your book break through the noise. But there are no guarantees when it comes to advertising.
There are also services you can pay for where you learn how to do the marketing process yourself.
You should use every marketing strategy as best you can.
- Use social media to get the word out about your book.
- Get as many Amazon reviews as you can.
- Use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to maximize your Amazon ranking.
If you follow that script in order, that’s a good starting point for any indie author.
How BookBaby Handles Distribution
Getting your book into readers’ hands requires a different approach for different channels and formats.
If you just want to be on Amazon, it’s relatively easy to upload the book yourself and go to CreateSpace for your print book. That’s what Steven recommends for those folks who only want Amazon exposure.
If you want to reach fans all over the world, you can go to BookBaby and they will help you format your book so that it works on every single e-reading device in the world. They create both epub files and Mobi files.
It’s entirely possible for you to create your own epub and Mobi files, but sometimes you just want a professional hand to make sure that everything looks and works the way it’s supposed to.
After the conversion process is complete, BookBaby asks you where you want to be distributed. If you go for full worldwide distribution, BookBaby will distribute your book through several channels, including:
- Apple iBooks
- Google Play
- Hoopla – a new player in the ebook industry which has exploded in the last few months
- Versa – a company that puts your book in a lot of European and Asian stores
If you go with BookBaby, your book can be purchased in 60 stores all around the world. What really sets BookBaby worldwide distribution apart is that your book is distributed through all of the local bookselling powerhouses in their respective countries. You’re not just limited to Amazon outlets in foreign countries.
Plus, when BookBaby adds a new store, they ask you if you’d like to be distributed there. If you opt in to being distributed to that store, expanding your distribution is effortless on your part.
BookBaby collects their money through fees charged up front. That means you keep 100% of the royalties you earn by being distributed worldwide.
For example, on average, Amazon pays authors about 90 days after their book is sold. If you go through BookBaby, you’ll get your royalty check about one week after they receive it from the online bookstore.
For Print Books
Distributing print books is where BookBaby gives indie authors some real advantages:
- Your book is guaranteed to be in stock 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. BookBaby can do that because they’re the printer.
Over the Christmas holiday, quite a few Print on Demand books on Amazon were out of stock. BookBaby experienced that problem to a much lesser degree, but they were able to solve the problem faster because they own the printing machines.
- When you distribute your print book through BookBaby, it’s available to all brick and mortar bookstores through their normal distribution channels.
- BookBaby offers a direct-to-reader website for print distribution that doesn’t cost the author anything to set up.
- BookBaby pays a 50% commission for every print book you sell through your BookBaby website. On top of that, you get paid much faster than with other online retailers. If somebody buys a book from your BookBaby storefront on Wednesday, you’ll get paid the following Monday, because it’s baked into BookBaby’s payment engine.
How Print-on-Demand Works at BookBaby
The nice thing about print-on-demand (POD) at BookBaby is you don’t have to have an inventory of books available.
BookBaby charges an up-front POD fee to have your file available on their press. They’ll print a few test copies to make sure everything looks right. After that, it’s all done automatically as orders come in.
Here’s how the ordering process works:
- Your customer orders a print version of your book from Amazon (or your BookBaby storefront.
- The order goes directly to BookBaby.
- They print the book.
- They package the book.
- They ship the book.
After uploading the file to BookBaby, there’s nothing the author needs to do, except look at his or her account a week later and see that money is available from the sale of that book.
Whether a customer orders one book or 1,000, the process is the same. Digital printing presses produce the same quality product every time. BookBaby has the capacity to handle book orders of any size.
Three Major Printing Differences with BookBaby
Why choose BookBaby over another printer? There are several advantages for an indie author:
- They offer a large variety of trim sizes (the finished size of the book, like 6×9 inches).
- They offer easy color printing. Some POD services will only do black and white or greyscale printing.
- BookBaby will also produce a hardcover book if you want. They are currently one of only a small handful of companies that offer print-on-demand hardcover books.
How BookBaby Competes with Amazon
The potential self-publishing marketplace is huge. There’s room for everyone to compete.
And there are a lot of very good companies out there. Who you choose to work with depends on what you need as an author.
BookBaby serves a wide range of customers. They work with people who don’t know much about self-publishing and need a lot of hand-holding. They also work with authors who prefer the convenience of having one distribution account that handles everything.
The last thing Amazon wants to do is a lot of handholding of its authors. Amazon’s business model is all about producing a large inventory of self-published work that its customers can buy.
BookBaby sends a lot of its content to Amazon. So in that way, the two companies are allies.
But they also offer authors other ways to make their books available all over the world and to keep more control over the process, while getting the help they need.
BookBaby’s Most Popular Service
The complete self-publishing package is BookBaby’s best-selling offer by far. The package costs $1,600, and for that you get:
- eBook files that work on every e-reader in the world.
- Worldwide ebook distribution. (By default, they enroll you in KDP Select for one 90-day period. They recommend that for first time authors, as there are some real marketing advantages to being in the KDP Select program for 90 days.)
- Cover design.
- Worldwide print distribution of your books, and a 50% commission on all print book sales.
- A BookBaby storefront where you can sell books directly to readers.
They take as much confusion and technical worry out of the process of self-publishing as they can.
Differences between Musicians and Authors
In Steven’s experience, authors and musicians are quite different.
Musicians are happy to release their music into the world. They release their art early and often.
Authors are often reluctant to release their manuscript. It’s much harder to convince an author that the book is ready to be released than a musician.
Authors and musicians have the same creative drive and the same ambitions, but by and large, their temperaments are quite different.
The indie music scene has been around for 20 to 25 years. The indie author scene has been around for about eight years, so it’s a much less mature marketplace.
On the music side of things, there are only a few decisions to make. On the book side, you have a lot more options in terms of packaging and distribution.
The Biggest Changes in the Self-Publishing Industry in the Last Eight Years
A lot has happened in the self-publishing world in the few years it’s been around in its modern form. Here are some of the biggest changes Steven has noticed:
Expectations have changed tremendously in the last eight years. Authors used to be content to have their book available on Amazon. Now authors want to be the bestseller in their genre.
The awareness of professionalism is important. When BookBaby first started its editing program, 2 out of 10 books that were distributed through BookBaby were professionally edited. Now the number is more like 7 out of 10.
Authors realize that in order to be competitive, you really have to put out a quality product.
The importance of having an author platform has increased as the marketplace has gotten more competitive. Building an author platform is not an easy thing to do, but it’s essential today.
It’s not enough to simply go on Twitter and shout for the world to buy your book. You have to take a more systematic approach to building your author platform.
One of the most important things you can do is to create your metadata deliberately. Metadata is the data that Amazon and Google use to index your book on their websites.
Metadata is found:
- On your product page.
- On your Amazon author page.
You want to make sure that you put some thought behind your Amazon keywords. These are the keywords you tell Amazon your book is about. These keywords help Amazon customers find your book.
Overall, indie authors are becoming more professional in their expectations of and their willingness to do the work it takes to be successful.
Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin: A Case Study
Carl is a Swedish psychologist. He called BookBaby six years ago and told them he wanted to publish a book in English. He translated his children’s book into English himself, and then BookBaby helped him publish The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep: A New Way of Getting Children to Sleep. He had great hopes for it.
At first, the book didn’t go anywhere. Carl called their office every month asking what he could do to make his books sell better.
The first thing they did was change the category the book was in. He put it into a children’s category when the book was really about parenting. After they changed the book’s category, it did a little bit better in sales.
Then they suggested that he have the book translated into more languages. It is a short children’s book, and that meant the translation costs were low. When they released the book in six more languages, the book did a little bit better. But sales still weren’t meeting his expectations.
The folks at BookBaby suggested Carl write more books so he would have more inventory to attract more readers. He didn’t want to do that, because he believed in his book.
Finally, they suggested that he start giving away his book for free on his website and through social media. That’s when they saw downloads of his book really start to tick up. He was getting up to 1,500 downloads per week. People were really starting to take notice.
That’s when the book found its way into the hands of the editor of a prominent British newspaper, The Guardian. Apparently, the editor had a child who wouldn’t go to sleep, so he read the book to his child and like magic, the child went to sleep.
The editor was so thrilled that he wrote an article for The Guardian that was syndicated to more than 600 newspapers. From that point on, sales of Carl’s book exploded. Starting in August 2015, his royalty checks went from four figures, to five figures, to six figures a month, month after month.
Carl was the first self-published author to have his book be number one on Amazon and on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.
He got a seven-figure book deal to publish two books with a traditional publisher after the success of his first book.
Carl recently contacted BookBaby to say he was going to use them for his next series of books because he enjoyed the process of self-publishing more than the traditional publishing process.
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Interview
Call BookBaby at 866-707-0024 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday, to get free advice on how to move forward with your self-publishing project. They won’t read your book, but they will give you free advice about the next steps you might want to take.