The Copywriting Classics Publishing Post-Mortem

Postmortem of a rack of public domain classics published on an assembly-line basis.
(photo: School of Veterinary Medicine)

Racking up a queue of public domain classics for publishing, does seem like an hygienic assembly line at times.

This post-mortem is a critique of what went well and could be improved on this latest batch of books.

Mission Creep

It started out with probably 6 or 7 books which were really the backbone to this study. I was studying copywriting, and soon found out that most people didn't have a clue what they were doing. The basics had been known since the 1920's and most of the "guru's" since then were simply working on trite third-hand formula's. The real "greats" of this industry had actually studied these old books and referred to them as their own mentors.

By the end of this cycle, I published a dozen books on marketing and three more of my own (two of which were ready to go and these copywriting books had set them aside. The third was a book on publishing public domain books - which study grew as I created this set.

As I edited and prepared these texts, I found I needed to include books on salesmanship, since the old adage held true, that: "Advertising is Salesmanship in Print."  I already had one great book, but went to find more - particularly Wheeler's works. Dale Carnegie's classic "How to Win Friends..." came up as particularly effective for salespeople. So I added it as well.

Two other books showed up - small fiction pieces, "Obvious Adams" and "Breezy" - as a form of giveaway, but also as illustration how the whole system fit together to get sales. 

In most cases, you won't get into this - as you are republishing classics based on their sales. However, when you are researching a new field, get your huge list of books set from the outgo.


This was also added to as I evolved my publishing methods as I went.

I resolved to get back into adding public domain books on Amazon, so this series was used as a test. In the middle of this, I found that both Kobo and Lulu were clamping down on public domain, so I would need to publish to iTunes and Nook directly. Adding these to Amazon seemed another logical extension. So my porting to distributors was a bit start-and-stop. Even today, I don't know if I go all the books everywhere, since more were added as I went.

By the time I got to Amazon, it seemed that binders (aka: collections, box sets, series) were a very sensible approach to getting books up and on Amazon. But the end result with that Godzilla was that if your book is primarily public domain content, you need to only take the 35% royalty. (Much as Kobo's mandatory 20%.)

Also binders on BitTorrent as promotion became very sensible, as they evolved this scene. I'm now collecting notes on my marketing, which will evolve into a third book on ebook self-publishing once it get more into the meat of this and flesh it out a bit more. (That is another story for another time.)

Assembly-line basics.

In my recently published "Publish. Profit. Independence." I cover getting your public-domain publishing sequences right.
  1. Select a series based on potential sales.
  2. Set up a folder for all the files needed for each book into an overall folder for that series. (You'll need some sort of shared folder to get them to the MAC for iTunes publishing.)
  3. Edit these individually into shape, taking care to verify each book as truly public domain (note the first-published date and date author died for each, probably best in Calibre - Amazon may want to know.)
  4. Get the covers done.
  5. Create the PDF files and publish hardcopy versions through Lulu for wide distribution through those channels. Get a proof copy of each and approve when you have any errors corrected.
  6. Ensure you have all the meta-data corrected and set up in Calibre, including both ISBN's for ebook and print book. Descriptions, BISAC codes, everything.

In porting to distributors, it seems simplest to just follow your series in Calibre for each of these books. Take one distributor and publish everything to that outlet. Then take the next outlet, etc. (Do as I say, not as I've done.)

Again: plan your work, work your plan.

Part of this plan is working out what will be the giveaway or intro books to this series. Another is what binders/collections you'll be creating. The key limit is how many print pages will result, as Lulu will only go up to about 800. You want the binder to link to the print book, as this gives you additional search engine mojo with several authors for each binder/collection. (Of course, fiction by a single author would be different. Still, some people look by title, so you have these in your description.)

Marketing starts once the publishing is done.

All of these distributors now allow pre-sales. Getting everything published complicates this a bit, but only to the degree you allow mission creep. Stick to a precise set of books and then add more later.

There is as much or more to do with marketing than there is in editing the book into shape.

And on the business end, this is where you would actually start with your SOHO publishing business. An organized individual can market faster and more effectively than any tradition-bound publishing house. And the remaining vanity presses don't market at all - they really only print you up a bunch and ship them wherever you want.

As I said above, I'll get into marketing as I get there. So this was completely omitted from the Copywriting Series, other than a single BitTorrent bundle, which has actually given me a little site traffic.

Which brings us to landing pages for each book.

You build these as you go along in your editing, especially when you have a cover, so they have a bit of age to them by the time you finish publishing everywhere.

The reason for this is to have somewhere for search engines to go when you need to give more data. GooglePlay is the best at this (and you can send them directly to your high-royalty Lulu checkout link from there as well.) Anything Google will just help you rank better.

What was fascinating here was to update my spreadsheet which generates ISBN-based links to every major distributor. Amazon uses an older version of this (10 digits instead of 13) for print versions, but obstinately only gives you an ASIN for digital ones - you can't search like everywhere else.

Having the print versions also opened the door for hardcopy affiliate sales, particularly Powell's and Indiebound. The rest either have some unique code you have to generate for every single book. Which can be done, but is a complete pain - a dozen books with almost as many distributors = 140 links to generate.

One spreadsheet with two dozen ISBNs (two per book) and you have all the links generated as you need them. Much simpler. (iTunes does give you a script to put at the footer of your page to convert any links to affiliate sales.)

The key income you are getting is from distributor sales, not personally generated affiliate sales, so it's not something to lose sleep over.

There are also substantial extra marketing you can do via iTunes, Amazon, and Nook - you can also set up specials via Google Play that run for a certain time. But I'll get into all this marketing later. Right now, building a huge backbench is my business plan. Between now and then, the stats continue to generate and tell me which are my bestsellers which deserve the marketing investment.

Practice makes Permanent

The more you do at this, the better and faster you can do it.

As I said (and cover in my Publish. Profit. Independence.) - I found I made more money publishing other people's works, even with no marketing - than I did on my own.

The more you publish, the easier it gets. I'm way over 150 by now, with some 400 iterations of various titles available on Lulu.)

This is all passive income, which is taxed the least and is the most profitable. The books I publish now will generate income from here on out (other than a massive solar flare wrecking the Internet for a short while.)

So I'm currently concentrating on getting an even deeper backbench built so this income can be leveraged with marketing as I go. While only a handful of books sell extremely well, others barely sell - but all sales are income, even the 99-cent specials.

As you get several batches done, the process gets much simpler. It becomes so easy to publish, it seems a drag to have to market at all. But that is just an attitude which is leaving money on the table.

Once I have a few of these mega-projects wrapped up (which should result in about 4-500 individual titles published on 6 distributors) then I'll be able to analyze the couple or three years of sales meanwhile to select which need to be marketed first - then simply work these up as an assembly line on their own.

This post is already too long, so we'll leave it at that. Backbench first, then improve discovery (increase eyeballs) and finally getting into the social signals via trustworthy marketing. Again, this is a cryptic note as the whole cycle will result in a final book for the SOHO publisher.


  • Plan your work, work your plan. 
  • Publish in batches.
  • Leverage everything you can.
  • KISS.

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