Thinking Like a Publisher

Janet Syas Nitsick and I did a video on how to think like a publisher.  Below I’ll put in the highlights from the video.

The purpose of this this post is to help authors think like a publisher in order to maximize their chance for making money.  Also, this is for fiction writers.

Disclaimer: I’ve been self-publishing ebooks since 2009.  What I’ve learned in this business is that sales are never a guarantee.  Sales have always seemed like a rollercoaster to me, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what book will sell well.  You may make the same as you did last year, you could make more than last year, or you could make less than last year.  For example, my income increased all the years up to 2015.  In 2015, I made the same as I did in 2014.  Already in 2016, I have seen a 60% drop in income compared to the last two years at this time.  This is despite being engaged with readers online, running ads, and have perma-free for first book in the series, and (of course) having three new books out since January 1.

This video is to help maximize your chances of making money.  There are no guarantees.

So here are our tips:

Write a compelling story – It all starts with the story.  Yes, I know, this is common sense, but it’s still worth pointing out.  If your story doesn’t hook readers, then no amount of editing and formatting is going to keep them reading.

Pick Appropriate Categories – Don’t try to write a book for everyone.  You can’t write the book that will appeal to all adults of every age.  It’s impossible.  People have difference interests.  There are no one-size-fits-all book out there.  So tune into a couple main things and hit that specific audience.  A publisher’s goal is to make money, so the publisher will go for the book that has the largest potential for reaching the most people possible within that audience.  Our recommendation is to search out the bestsellers in the genre you write and pick out key plot points they use.  For example, in historical western romance, mail-order brides, arranged marriages, and marriages of convenience are popular.  So a romance writer might want to focus in on this particular niche.

Edit – Definitely have another pair of eyes looking at your book.  No matter how good you are, you will have a lot more trouble picking up on errors than another person will.  We recommend hiring out or bartering with someone who does a good job editing books.  This doesn’t mean the person has to have a degree in it, but they do have to have a proven track record.  Ask other authors who they use or get a sample of the editor’s work.  I see no reason why an editor wouldn’t be willing to edit the first chapter for free in order to let you get an idea of their work.

Format – Keep it clean and easy to read.  You will want a Table of Contents at the beginning of your book.   Why?  Because of this post by David Gaughran.  You will also want to make sure your paragraphs aren’t acting wonky (meaning, it’ll be unindented in one place and indented in another).  When you do the preview check during the upload of your book, make sure everything looks clean and neat.

Book Covers – Some authors can make professional looking covers.  I’m not one of them.  Back in 2009-2012/3, you could get by with a simple stock photo image and slap a title and author name on it and be okay.  This is because the price low strategy and free were super effective.  Today, things are a lot different.  And yes, my older covers reflect how a cover looks when a self-published author does her own covers without having the skill for it.  I’m going back and having a cover artist redo them, but it’s a very slow process since my cover artist is super busy.

Paperbacks – Janet sells paperbacks, and the feedback she receives is that white paper with black text and larger font size (say 14) is optimal, especially as more and more people get older.  I know there’s a debate over whether white or cream paper is best, but let’s just boil this down to one thing: ease of reading.  If it’s easy on the eyes, all is good.



  1. Jill James says:

    This was great. All things we should know, but pulled together in a nice presentation.

  2. Ron Fritsch says:

    Thanks for this information, Ruth Ann and Janet, I’m sorry to hear about the drop in sales in 2016. The book market doesn’t always seem explicable to me, but who I am to say? As for paperbacks, I like the advice to go with white paper, black text and larger font size.

    1. I’m not surprised by the drop in income. (That doesn’t mean it still doesn’t sting, but I did see it coming.) Other authors have been reporting it over the last year. There are many factors at play, one being the slow growth market for ebooks in the US. I know international sites are expanding, but they’re a very small fraction of the US market, so it’s not enough of a boost to compensate for things. Other factors play a part in it, too, but I think that’s one of the biggest ones. The real question is how to adapt. 🙂

      I like the white paper, black text and larger font size, too. My eyes aren’t as good as they used to be, and that type of paperback is a lot easier for me to read. About two years ago there was a heated debate on a forum over white vs. cream paper, and the largest argument for cream was to be “professional”. I don’t care about professional. I want something that makes reading as easy as possible.

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