Friday, 9 January 2009

Raymond Foster gives advice on how to self publish your own book.

Raymond E. Foster is a retired Lieutenant of the Los Angeles Police Department, author, and college lecturer. He is also one of the leading authorities in law enforcement technology, police research, and counter terrorism strategies. Raymond Foster's wiki profile will tell you much more.

I contacted Lieutenant Foster to ask him about his latest book Leadership - Texas Hold ‘em Style and its route to print. In this interview he outlines his advice to those looking to self-publish, tips of marketing your book and an insight into the workings of the publishing industry.

Tell us a bit about your latest book?

Both my co-author (Dr. Andrew Harvey) and I are retired law enforcement managers. Shortly after Dr. Harvey joined the University where we are both faculty, we were having a “get to know each other” chat in the break room. The subject of leadership and our experiences came up in the conversation. At some point, I said something like “in civil service, leadership has always been like a game of five card stud – you get handed resources, like your people, and you can’t get new ones. Those are the cards you were dealt and the hand you have to play.”

We both found the analogy interesting and began to follow the thread. In essence, for most of us, as line supervisors and middle managers we don’t get to make decisions about resource allocation, etc. We are seemingly trapped in a world of randomness and limited options. Card playing seems like that too. If card playing is all random chance, then winning would be random. Yet, year and year, the same champions emerge. As we explored further it was obvious that random chance was less important because it is random for everyone. Sure, sometimes you are handed a winning team or the right resources, or you are in the right place at the right time – but, who wants to count on that?

If, for both leaders and card players, random chance and the options for action are similar for all leaders (or players); and, the options for all leaders (or players) are also similar, then success is not about chance or options, but full understanding of the options and selecting the best option for the situation.

Some years ago, Dr. Harvey had written a leadership book and I had written a text book on another subject. We took his earlier leadership book as a starting point and began to deconstruct it, writing and re-writing a few chapters to see if the “poker-leadership” metaphor worked. As it turned out, it worked really well and after several months we had a draft of Leadership: Texas Hold ‘em Style.

It sounds as though you had all the ingredients for a best seller - what was the next step?

Thank you for the compliment! I think that a book is like a child. Conception is conception - you get the idea. The book is born with the final manuscript. Production is the toddling years - but, the really tough times are coming - the teenage years, or marketing and distribution. This is particularly true for those of us who ventured into self-publishing. We have a good start at the marketing and distribution. In our first year, the book sold just over 1400 copies. While a very good start for a self-publish, and would even be respectable for a small press, the book also has the potential for a long back shelf life. It has been adopted by several universities for courses in leadership and by a couple of law enforcement agencies for promotional study. So, over the few years these will be constant sellers.

For us, we are concentrating in a number of areas. First, we have a good internet presence and are continuing to build on that. Also, we have spent time developing different teaching tools to be used in the classroom, with the book. Our plan is to continue to promote the book to colleges, universities and organizations. It's a fairly slow process, with big bumps having here and there.
We have also developed a number of seminars and speaking themes to go with the book. We spent considerable time during the late summer and early fall travelling in the Midwest and Southwest on speaking engagements. So, we getting very good speaking fees, selling books and making contacts.

Tell me about the self publishing journey. Did you approach a traditional publisher first and then come to self publishing as a 'second best' choice?

I was strongly in favour of self-publish from the beginning, but we decided to go the traditional route, at first: As we neared the end of the final draft, we began the endless query letter -
proposal cycle. Both of us had published through traditional publishers, so we knew how this worked - as much as anyone can, I suppose. Andrew took responsibility for identifying publishers who would fit with the book. We sent out batches of 30 query letters. We did this twice, responding with full proposals to those that were interested. And, those were full -marketing plans, table of contents, sample chapters: simply very well done. We sold the book to a small press from the first batch of inquires.

We submitted the final draft and a received a great advance on the royalties. Then silence for nearly six months. When we contacted the publisher we began to receive small requests for re-writes. We complied. However, each request got more complex. About the eighth time he essentially requested a complete re-write. Well, we were taken aback - his acceptance letter was extraordinarily positive, etc. We discussed a re-write and had several telephone conversations with the publisher. We did a complete re-write on one chapter and he sent us an email stating that the writing was good, but that the idea in the chapter wasn't "ground breaking." Needless to say, we gave him the advance back and took our Rights back.

We discussed entering the query letter cycle again, but finally decided to explore self-publishing. I contacted just about every major company that does self-publishing. We picked one and went forward - now, the learning really begins. About 90 days after deciding on a provider we had a book.

However, we participated in the entire project and kept it moving along. As an example, we were very concerned that one of the things that kills self-published work is editing. So, we paid an editor (not from the provider) and had several people review for content. We were (particularly
Andrew) exacting on editing for both composition and exposition. Roughly speaking, we spent on production what the first publisher paid us in advance!

Now, once we had a book we sent it out to publishers with a note - "We own the Rights, are you interested?" We received several inquires and responded with the marketing portion of our original proposal. We sold it to a medium size publisher! We then began to negotiate. Our primary concern was that the publisher commit to marketing the book as strongly as we believed it deserved. We wanted written assurances on marketing and distribution - not just an advance. While they offered us a good advance, they just did not have the vision on the marketing. We weren't prepared to turn over a well-written, completely polished product if they weren't going to take it somewhere.

After my experience with traditional publishers and with the self-publishing industry, I formed my own hybrid self-publishing service. I had a good idea on what marketing stuff worked and what didn't, and how much it REALLY cost. So, I began to negotiate with a service provider based on what I coined as a "forced social network."

I come across many writers that are considering the self publication route. I always say the same thing - spend as much as you can on pre-production. I feel that a reader is often unaware of the publishing origins of a book, but they will always recognise quality craftsmanship. From what you have written it seems that this was your approach. However, if you could offer one piece of advice to a writer thing about self publishing what would it be?

I would give two pieces of advice 1) be mindful of upgrades and add-ons 2) don't try and re-invent the wheel. It is important to recognize that the companies who assist in self-publishing are a business. They stay in business by selling product. One of the products is marketing and advertising. As example, one author called me to discuss their self-publishing company offering to get their book reviewed in the NY Times - for $1500. My question to the author - will that reach your readers? Is that review going to reach enough people and motivate them to get your book. And, most importantly, if you spend the money, motivate the people do you have the book in book stores so they can get it? Do you have distribution in place? The answer to both questions was no. Marketing without distribution, well, enough said. If you are going to spend $1500 first - make sure at least online retailers have it - namely Amazon. Pay the $75 fee to have it listed. Next, consider a more localized campaign - send copies to reviewers in local papers; speak at Rotary clubs, libraries and have copies and your online outlet, via Amazon. Tie your marketing and distribution together.

Second, don't reinvent the wheel - get a copy of John Kremer's 1001 Ways to Market Your book. I send everyone of my authors a copy and I pay for it!

You can get a copy of Leadership - Texas Hold ‘em Style from Raymond Foster's website.