Director’s Desk: Why and How to Make Your Books Stand Out

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December 2014
by Angela Bole

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These days, we all know it’s easier than ever to make books available for readers to purchase. The technological barriers are so low, in fact, that the number of self-published titles rose to 458,564 in 2013, an increase of 16.5% over 2012, according to a Bowker report issued in October. And according to a story in the October 8 issue of Publishers Weekly by IBPA board member Jim Milliot, “The increase was due entirely to the release of new print books, which rose 28.8% to 302,622, offsetting a decline in self-published e-books, which fell 1.6% to 155,942.”

If that wasn’t enough, consider that these totals reflect only self-published titles that had ISBNs registered with Bowker as of August 6, 2014. Many e-books don’t carry an official ISBN at all. As Michael Cader pointed out at Publishers Marketplace, “Only a modest portion (at best) of the over 500,000 Kindle exclusive ebooks also carry [an] ISBN, and Nook Press e-books that only carry the BN identifier are not counted [in the Bowker totals] either. Also missing is a large portion of Blurb titles, as well as non-ISBN carrying titles from Lulu and other providers.”

There’s a lot of noise out there—not only from the huge universe of self-published authors, but from established publishing houses as well. So, how do you help readers choose your books as opposed to all the others? What can you do to make your content stand out from the crowd?

The McKain Method

First, please believe me when I say there is no silver bullet. As the futurist Joel Barker has said, “The past guarantees you nothing in the future if the rules change.” Since the opportunities available to your publishing business are constantly changing, anyone who says they’re selling a guaranteed path to success is really selling snake oil.

A few “musts” are necessary to set the foundation, of course—including high quality, professionally produced content—but successfully standing out from the crowd also requires that creative mix of marketing techniques and author platform that takes effort and talent to hone, as well as something even greater: the ability to create distinction.

CreateDistinction_ScottMckainEvery month, the pages of this magazine are filled with practical tips on marketing and platform development. I won’t belabor their points. Instead, let’s consider the ways to make a business distinctive that Scott McKain explains in his book Create Distinction: What to Do When “Great” Isn’t Enough to Grow Your Business.

I was fortunate enough to hear Scott speak during the Greenleaf Author Summit™ in Austin, Texas, a couple of months ago, and I was taken with his message. Among other things, Scott asked the crowd to consider the following:

  • If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re going to receive less than you have in the past. Your competition is tougher, and the marketplace is changing.
  • To be distinct, you must deliver not only what you promise. You must deliver more than you promise.
  • Be so distinctive at what you do that your customers will want to repeat their experience—and tell their friends, so they will do business with you too.

Obviously, it’s necessary that we do our research and learn from the success of our peers. Once we’re educated, however, it’s just as important to step outside the box and consider the points on which we can pivot. Clearly, the warnings about our industry’s over-saturation are stronger than ever before, and it’s easy for all the books to appear more and more alike; not to mention the tweets and cover images and catalog entries propagating the messages from these books.

The question is: if people see your content as nothing more than a carbon copy of the competition, how can you expect to attract particular attention?

You can’t.

And, McKain proposes, it even goes a step further. It’s not just about differentiating your content. It’s about differentiating the way you interact with your readers, as well. What value-add are you offering to ensure that your readers want to come back for more? How easy do you make it for them to access your content across multiple platforms? Can you map the ways in which the messages you send into the universe about your books (and your business as a whole) meet McKain’s Four Cornerstones of Distinction? In brief, they are:

  1.  Clarity
  2.  Creativity
  3.  Communication
  4.  Customer Experience Focus

I’d be very interested in knowing how you’ve chosen to create distinction for your publishing business. Please email me at angela@ibpa-online.org; we may be able use your story in a future IBPA blog post.


About the Author:

Bole,Angela(HeadShot1)Just before Angela Bole became IBPA’s Executive Director, she was Deputy Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG), which fosters conversation and consensus across all sectors of the book business. Before that, Angela served for two years as BISG’s Associate Director and two years as its Marketing and Communications Manager. Angela also serves as Treasurer on the Board of Directors of IDPF, the International Digital Publishing Forum.

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