Are You Using Publishing Industry Standards?

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” ~Stephen Hawking

Standards. Every industry is governed by standards. These are a set of criteria within an industry that defines the standard functioning and carrying out of operations.

The publishing industry has standards. Anyone involved in publishing and selling books should be aware of these standards.

Sadly, many independent authors don’t take the time to educate themselves on publishing industry standards. This lack of knowledge often becomes apparent when these authors interact with others in the industry. Then, these authors’ ignorance reflects poorly on themselves and their books.

One place where I frequently see a lack of knowledge on industry standards with independently published authors is the ISBN. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. This is a unique number assigned to a book that identifies the book within the industry. All industry players use the ISBN number to identify a book, much like the government uses a social security number to identify an individual.

The ISBN is a 13-digit number, not a 10-digit number. Yes, Amazon lists both a 10-digit ISBN and a 13-digit ISBN. Yes, Amazon lists the 10-digit ISBN first. This does not mean that it is the industry standard. The industry standard is a 13-digit ISBN.

Go to a bookstore. Pick up any book in that bookstore and look at the barcode on the back. You will see a 13-digit ISBN, not a 10-digit ISBN.

The publishing industry switched from 10-digit ISBNs to 13-digit ISBNs back in January 2007. That almost 12 years ago folks. The only reason that Amazon provides both the 10-digit and 13-digit ISBNs is because they want to be repository for every book published. As a result, they house many books that were published prior to the change to the 13-digit ISBN. Therefore, these books host a 10-digit ISBN. So, Amazon provides both so that any book can be located in their system.

I am surprised by how many independent authors list the 10-digit ISBN when nominating their book for the Christian Indie Awards. The awards do not specify whether to give the 10-digit or the 13-digit number because the 13-digit is industry standard. Since only authors and publishers are allowed to nominate titles, every person nominating a book should know that the 13-digit ISBN is industry standard. Yet, they don’t.

If you are going to publish and market a book, do yourself a favor and take the time to become familiar with industry standards. Read some books or join a publishing association like Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA). Don’t let your lack of knowledge become a stumbling block that hinders your ability to secure publicity in any form.

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Christian Small Publishers Association Gets a New Name

This month, Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) celebrates its 15th anniversary and embraces a new name. The organization has changed its name to better reflect the current publishing landscape and the authors and publishers it serves. The association is now known as Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA).

Over the past 15 years, the publishing industry has undergone tremendous changes. According to R.R. Bowker, the official U.S. ISBN agency, the number of independently published books has grown by 156% over the past six years. Since CSPA’s membership is comprised of both small publishers and independently published authors, the name change was instituted to better reflect who is being served.

The mission and focus of the organization stays the same: To provide information, tools and resources to strengthen small publishers and independent authors, and to continue to represent this group to the larger Christian book industry.

Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA) offers the same great benefits as CSPA, with new benefits being added for 2019. Membership benefits include:

  • A monthly e-newsletter packed with marketing tips and industry updates.
  • Cooperative advertising opportunities including a print catalog, magazine ads, and eblasts.
  • Quick reference guides and on-demand seminars on publishing and marketing.
  • List of radio and podcast media actively interviewing authors.
  • Book Launch Marketing Checklist.
  • Tradeshow representation.
  • A book review program.
  • Free title setup and revisions with IngramSpark.
  • Free title setup with Lightning Source.
  • Discount when ordering ISBN.
  • Discount on Publishers Weekly subscription.

Membership in Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA) is just $90 for the calendar year. You can join today at www.christianpublishers.net.

Christian Indie Publishing Association (CIPA) will continue to sponsor the Christian Indie Awards for Christian books by small publishers and independent authors. Voting for the 2019 Awards opens February 1, 2019. Watch for the announcement.

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Selling Books is Challenging!

Industry statistics show that, while print book sales have been slowly growing over the past few years (about 2% to 3% per year), sales of fiction books have declined. According to 2017 estimates by the Association of American Publishers, sales of adult fiction fell 16% between 2013 and 2017.

Selling books is challenging. On any given day, more nonfiction than fiction books are sold in the United States. While there are numerous best-selling novels, year after year Americans still buy more nonfiction books than fiction. In fact, one recent report reveals that, in the United Kingdom, nonfiction outsells fiction by a two to one margin.

Why this decline in sales?

The most commonly shared view is that reading for pleasure is declining and it has become extremely difficult to generate exposure for novels.

As fiction sales decline, so do the vehicles that authors have available at their disposal to promote their books. Over the fifteen years that I have been involved in the Christian book industry, the number and breadth of vehicles that authors can use to reach readers has steadily declined.

The latest vehicle to fall by the wayside is Book Fun Magazine. Citing a drop in readership as well as a drop in revenue, Book Fun Magazine recently announced that their final issue will be released in December 2018.

With fewer avenues available for marketing and advertising both fiction and nonfiction books, authors need to become more creative at reaching readers directly.

1. Developing Your Audience Is More Important than Ever

Instead of relying on publications and other historically industry-standard venues to reach readers, authors now have to become more creative in their marketing efforts. Knowing your target audience and where they hang out and get their information has become more important than ever. More and more authors need to engage their target audience through avenues like professional organizations, online interest groups, church leaders, partnering with parachurch organizations, and speaking engagements.

Targeting your audience effectively is not enough. It takes seven to twelve exposures to a product before a consumer decides to make a purchase. Your goal in developing an audience is to offer a free lead magnet to hook your target audience into giving you their email. Then, you develop this audience by building trust with these people through providing them ongoing content that meets a need they have and enriches their lives in some way.

2. Format for Quick Reading Is Becoming More Important

We now create more data in one year than in the 5,000 that came before. Information overload is present in almost every area of our life. Numerous studies reveal that people’s attention spans are getting shorter. Long-form reading is on the decline.

People no longer want to read dense passages of prose. Instead, we want the facts and we want them in an easily digestible format. Authors need to make it easy for readers to consume the next line and keep going. This means that the interior layout of books is becoming more and more important in attracting and keeping readers.

In essence, authors need to make their words as visually appealing as possible. This means using more space and separators in your chapters. For nonfiction books, include bolding, italics, underlining, and pull quotes to attract the eye. In fiction books, keep your chapters shorter with cliff-hanging hooks at the end of each one.

As times change, are ways of doing things also need to change so that our books remain relevant. Selling books is not an easy task. The growing number of distractions in our society that pull people away from long-form reading is only going to continue.

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Photo courtesy of PatheMathos.

Are You Paying Attention to Details?

“The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.” ~Charles R. Swindoll

Attention to detail is important. Some people are better at details than others. Yet, Charles Swindoll nails it with this statement. If you want to have a great book, you must pay attention to the details.

I find that many independent authors don’t pay enough attention to details. Over the past few months, numerous books published by independent authors have poured into Christian Small Publishers Association’s (CSPA) office as nominations for the Christian Indie Awards were made.

What has caught my eye repeatedly, is the number of books whose back covers do not look industry standard. The front covers are generally well designed, but the design and informational elements on the back cover are lacking.

Now, I know that over half of all books are purchased online. I understand that when browsing online people do not pull a book off the shelf and look at the back cover—which, by the way, is one of the first few things a reader looks at when viewing a physical copy of a book. But, as an author, you will still have times where you are showcasing your book in person. Therefore, it is extremely important that attention to detail is given to both the front and back covers of your book.

A number of independently published books nominated for the Christian Indie Awards show up with just a few paragraphs of text on the back cover of the book along with an EAN barcode. Yes, this is acceptable, but it is a minimalist approach and does not mirror industry standard for books.

The failure of these authors to pay attention to details has resulted in their books lacking four important back cover design elements.

1. Sales Copy Designed to Attract the Eye

Simply having blocks of text on the back of a book is not good sales copy. People skim back covers instead of reading them. With no text or quotes that are designed to stand out or attract the eye, your book is less likely to sell itself.

2. Testimonial or Endorsement Quote

Books that lack testimonial or endorsements quotes on their back cover also fail to sell a reader on the book with one of the most powerful selling techniques—social proof. Social proof is simply the positive influence that is created when people find out that others are doing something or finding something worthwhile.

3. About the Author

While an “About the Author” is not necessary on the back cover of a book, it is another industry standard and helps sell a book.

4. BISAC Subject Headings

BISAC Subject Headings are put out by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). These headings are industry standard for informing industry professionals (booksellers, librarians, distributors, etc.) and readers what category your book falls into. In other words, no one needs to wonder whether your story is fiction or nonfiction. The subject headings tell them. Industry standard books tote a BISAC Subject Heading on their back covers.

If you want a great book, you must pay attention to details. You don’t want someone to walk away from your book because they couldn’t get what it is about at a glance.

If you are unsure about what details you need to pay attention to, Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) has help for you. Our Members have access to the on-demand seminar, Create a Professional-Looking Book, as well as a downloadable Checklist for Publishing a Professional-Looking Book that includes everything you should include on your book’s front and back cover. Remember, your attention to detail will make the difference between your book being good or great.

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Photo courtesy of marcomagrini.

Five Christian Book Publishing Trends for 2019

With a new year around the corner, I thought that I would share five trends I see for those involved in writing and publishing Christian books.

These are not predictions. They are trends that I have been a witness to. Trends tell us where we need to adjust our behaviors to stay effective.

Christian book publishing trends 2019

1. Christian brick-and-mortar bookstores will continue to shrink in number and size.

In 2017, after declaring bankruptcy, Family Christian Stores closed all 240 of their brick-and-mortar locations. This closure affected the whole book publishing industry. Publishers and distributors lost thousands and thousands of dollars, causing a few to shutter their doors and others to consolidate.

Fifteen of these Family Christian locations were purchased by the CEO of Harrison House. The stores were renamed Empowered Life Christian Books & Gifts. After one year of business, all 15 of these stores were closed this year (2018). Unable to make enough profit to sustain operation, millions of invested dollars were lost.

The decline of Christian bookstores continues. CBA, the Association for Christian Retail, has also been struggling. In an effort to keep their international retail show open, CBA partnered with investor Ed Roush, who poured one million dollars into the summer trade show. After the show, Roush cleaned house at CBA to save money, leaving only a skeletal crew. Since summer, CBA has been very quiet and has not released any new issues of their monthly Christian MARKET magazine of their Christian MARKET Weekly e-newsletter.

In response to these upsets in the Christian book-selling industry, Munce, a marketing service group for independent Christian retailers, recently formed a new trade association, Christian Retail Association. In addition, they are restructuring their Christian Product Expo (CPE) into a national and international show.

Brick-and-mortar retail across America is struggling. Business Insider reports that retailers are filing for bankruptcy at record-high rates this year. These retailer stores include Toys R Us, Claire’s, and Sears. No winds of revitalization appear to be blowing for Christian bookstores. Thus, the trend for shrinking numbers of Christian bookstores will continue.

2. Independent publishing of Christian books will continue to grow.

According to Bowker, the ISBN agency, the number of self-published titles has grown by 156% over the past five years to just over one million books self-published in 2017. There are no signs of this trend slowing. Amazon is publishing the lion’s share of these books, having published over 750,000 titles through CreateSpace in 2017. And if you are not already aware, CreateSpace is being folded into Amazon Direct Kindle Publishing.

For authors and publishers, the increasing numbers of books published each year means increased competition for readers’ time and money. As the competition continues to grow, the effort it will take to convince readers that your book is the one to spend their money on will continue to become more difficult.

After all, research shows that having too many choices has a negative effect on customer satisfaction. People become stressed out when presented with too many choices. They can also become paralyzed and simply not be able to make a decision. In her book, The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar recounts a study that discovered that when offered a small assortment of jams (6) to choose from, 30% of customers who tasted a sample made a purchase. However, when presented with a large assortment of jams (24), only 3% of customers who sampled the purchased a jar. While choice is appealing, too many choices can be debilitating, which means that more persuasion will be needed to sell your books.

Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA)

As the competition for readers’ attention increases, the importance of belonging to a publishing association like Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) grows. Associations provide cutting-edge information and resources to help you be successful. Those authors and publishers who stay abreast of trends and changes in both publishing and marketing will be the most effective and successful.

3. There will continue to be a glut of poorly written, edited, and designed books.

For years, self-publishing has had a bad rap. Readers have complained about the poor writing, grammar, and spelling errors in self-published books. While the quality of self-published books has improved overall, there are still those authors who just want to publish, that they don’t take the time to have their books properly edited and designed. These bad apples threaten to ruin the whole batch.

The number of self-publishing services that have cropped up to take advantage of authors wanting to be published has not helped this issue. Many of these self-publishing services are just after the money they can earn for publishing the book. They get their money up front from the author to produce the book. As a result, they don’t care about the quality of the book or how many copies the book sells.

As it has now become affordable for just about anyone to publish a book, I can guarantee that there will continue to be a glut of poorly written, edited, and designed self-published books. One of the best ways that you can help your book stand out above the competition is to ensure that your writing is compelling, your book has been professionally edited, and the cover and interior are professionally designed. Doing these three things will greatly improve your ability to sell your book.

reading trends4. The external competition for readers’ time and money will continue to increase.

The reading rates in American have not increased since 2012. One recent study by the National Endowment for Arts found that reading for pleasure actually fell slightly between 2012 and 2017.  With so much competing for people’s time and attention, reading seems to fall by the wayside.

In addition to all the things that compete for our attention in our time-strapped lives—television, moves, YouTube videos, social media, and numerous other activities—concentrating on long form reading is becoming a problem. Professor Gloria Mark of the Department of Informatics at the University of California says email, social media, notifications and countless other digital distractions are eroding our ability to concentrate on individual tasks in the 21st Century. I have heard personally had numerous individuals tell me that they have lost their ability to concentrate to read books.

Due to this increased competition, authors will be forced to spend more time building a platform and cultivating readers for their books. Today, with so many reading choices, there is no guarantee that people will read a book just because it exists. Instead, authors must now develop trust with a reading audience so that they can sell their books.

5. The sales of audiobooks will continue to grow.

Audiobook sales have grown steadily over the past couple years. This trend will continue to grow. With Smartphones, the growth of digitally downloaded audiobooks is booming. Downloadable audiobook sales grew about 30% from 2016 to 2017. That was the fifth straight year of double-digit growth for downloadable audiobooks.

This trend shows no signs of slowing. As more competes for our attention, people are turning to audiobooks for entertainment and self-improvement. With audiobooks, individuals can multi-task—workout and listen, drive and listen, clean house and listen, etc.

While a couple services help independent authors produce audiobooks at a reasonable price—ACX and Findaway Voices—it is important to note that currently, audiobooks only make up 4% of all book sales (including print and ebooks). Audiobooks are going to continue to grow. However, simply producing an audiobook will not guarantee more sales. Unless your book is already selling well in print or ebook format, I suggest you not take the plunge.

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