4 Unexpected Lessons Foundr Learned From Publishing a Physical Book
In case you’ve missed it, we at Foundr are getting physical and producing our very first hardcover book. It’s called Foundr Version 1.0 and it contains all the best lessons and knowledge we’ve gathered during the past three years of interviewing some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs.
Up until this point, Foundr has been a purely digital media company. We had never produced a physical product before and honestly, we had no idea where to start.
And for one handsome young content crafter, this meant that it was time to roll up his sleeves and start doing some research.
See, the book industry has come a long way from the days when a handful of huge publishing houses held all the keys to the kingdom. Self-publishing and the small press have revolutionized how we create and distribute books, and the entrepreneurial space has been highly influential, with icons like Tim Ferriss changing the rules of who can make and market a bestseller. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy…
For our project to even begin, we had to figure out how we could bring this idea we had for the best book of all time on all things entrepreneurship out of our minds and into the physical world.
It took us the better part of a year, but it’s been a fascinating journey and here are just some of the things I learned along the way.
Print Media is Far From Dead
If Foundr was going to jump into this crazy venture of book publishing, my first job was to figure out whether or not this would even be a profitable enterprise. In an age where all the information you could ever want is at the touch of your fingertips, we weren’t totally sure that people would still be interested in what can seem like an antiquated form of media.
But contrary to what you might suspect, it turns out that the print industry is alive and booming. While it’s true that the world is becoming more and more digital, it turns out the greatest disruptor in today’s age of information may be the humble book.
Johannes Gutenberg is laughing from his 15th century grave
While Amazon is credited with the rise of e-books and the death of retail outlets like Borders, you might be surprised to learn that Amazon recently opened its first physical book store in Seattle, with plans to open more nationwide over the next few years.
UK retailer Waterstones stopped selling Kindles last year and replaced the shelf space with physical books and saw a 5% rise in profits. In fact, in the past five years, e-book sales have been slowly dwindling while physical book sales have been growing every year.
Courtesy of The Guardian
It became clear that producing a print book was definitely a good move for Foundr. But the question remained, for me at least, “Why do physical books have a persistent appeal?”
It turns out that print has more than a couple of things going for it that digital media never will.
For one, I’m sure that we can all agree that there’s just something different about reading from a print book compared to reading something through a screen. The fundamental reason behind that difference is that digital reading doesn’t offer that sense of touch that we get from flipping through the page of a book.
A study in 2009 took 20 participants and placed them in an MRI machine in order to study how their brains responded differently to print and digital media. Participants were given the exact same advertisements, with one shown on a screen and the other printed on a card.
The resulting scans found that the part of the brain associated with emotion, memory, and spatial awareness showed significantly more activity when holding the print version as opposed to its digital counterpart. That suggests that readers are more likely to develop a positive emotional connection, and retain the resulting information better, if that content is presented in a print format.
It it undeniable that the sense of touch is an essential factor when it comes to how we interact with and consume content. As convenient as our devices are, reading from a physical book seems to provide an experience that just cannot be replicated by its digital counterparts.
This especially appealed to us at Foundr, because we pride ourselves on providing information that goes a little deeper than a lot of content. We do our best to consistently deliver meaningful work that really connects with our community, not disposable bits of info. So the idea of giving our readers something they could hold and put on a shelf was irresistible.
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Publishing is More Complicated Than You Think
Once we established that printing a physical book wasn’t going to be a fool’s errand, it was time to start talking to the experts.
I am personally a big believer in the idea that it’s always best to go talk to people who can give you the wisdom of their own experience. Seeing as how Foundr had never done this before, we turned to everyone in our network to find out everything we could to make this process as smooth as possible.
That included people like David Jenyns, Dan Norris, and the Merry Maker Sisters. Each and every one of them offered a ton of incredibly valuable advice and helped us understand the process behind printing a book.
And what we quickly learned was that printing a book wasn’t going to be as straightforward a process as we originally thought.
If you’re planning on creating a digital book with no graphics, illustrations, or photos, then the costs of self-publishing can be quite cheap. For the average writer, producing a book of this type can fall anywhere between $200 to $300. In that sense, it’s truly easier than ever for anyone to self-publish.
However, our goal wasn’t to simply create a book. We wanted to create a coffee table-style business book that would look virtually indistinguishable in quality from a book produced by any of the major publishing houses. Doing so meant not only that not our costs would be significantly higher, but that the whole process would inevitably be much more complicated.
The typical lifecycle of a book at a major publishing house, starting from an idea in the author’s head to a completed print run, on average lasts nine months. It’s potentially longer depending on individual circumstances.
Courtesy of Publishing Trendsetter
What I quickly learned was that the publishing process can get out of hand very quickly if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s why I am so very thankful for having Linda Diggle on our team as she helped us manage our own publishing process.
For Foundr Version 1.0 our process looked like this:
- We received the first draft of the manuscript
- Editors and other collaborators went over it
- Sent it back for revision
- Contacted individuals featured within the book for permission
- Added in additional content
- Sent to editors and proofreaders
- Further revisions
- Sent finished manuscript to graphic designer
And because we were planning on funding the book through a Kickstarter campaign, that entire time we had to get the marketing machine going. Which meant getting as much press exposure as possible, forming a street team, and in general building up as much interest as we could. That’s right, we had to market our product even as we were finishing and then fine tuning it.
There was a lot to do.
It’s All About the Experience
Something you might be surprised to learn is that, for us at least, the writing part of the publishing process was actually the easiest. At Foundr, delivering great content is our bread and butter, and the key to delivering great content is to make sure that it has value for your audience.
That value can come in a variety of forms, whether it’s offering education, triggering an emotion, or even giving them a unique experience. When you’re producing a physical product though, that value has to shine through in every aspect. Not just the words on a page.
Usually when you pick up a book, the last thing you think about is the type of paper it uses, or what material the cover is made out of. And I’m willing to bet that you’ve never paid that much attention to what kind of stitching the book uses in its binding.
And yet, all of these details are of extreme importance when putting together a physical book.
Especially when a main selling point of a book lies in how it feels in someone’s hands, all these details need to be just right.
That focus on user experience is why we’re so big on great design here at Foundr. A large part of how you experience something is determined by how it looks. So making sure that we created a book that not only looked professional, but would have every owner feel proud to display it on their shelf or on their desk was a number one priority.
Did you know that there are thousands of different types of paper out there?
I, for one, was surprised to learn this, and that which one you use affects the reader’s experience. For example, a glossy paper is great if you want the pictures in your book to stand out more. But it’s not recommended if you plan on having lots of text, because the gloss can make it more difficult to read.
The first step in making sure that we got all of these details down right was to go to down to the local bookstore to find some inspiration. We started gathering up books ranging from cookbooks to books about horse racing, anything that looked like something we’d want Foundr Version 1.0 to be.
We went back and forth about what kind of paper we liked best, to what kind of material we wanted for the cover (again, there are many, many options).
We even had fierce debates about what size and weight we wanted for the book. Too small would feel like it was insignificant, too heavy and you wouldn’t be able to comfortably hold it one hand.
At one point, we actually had everyone in the office gathered in a circle holding a different book in each hand trying to figure out which size we preferred. While this might sound silly, and trust me it certainly felt like it at the time, you’d be surprised at how these seemingly minor details inform the reading experience.
As always, the devil is in the details.
Now Comes the Hard Part
As mentioned earlier, the actual writing of a book is just one part of the process. If you want to make sure that your book is successful, the real work lies in figuring out how you’re going to get that book into your reader’s hands.
And figuring that out was a logistical nightmare.
This is not an exaggeration. This was me the past several months
At first, it might seem like the most obvious way to distribute a book would be to get it into a bookstore, even better if you can get it into a retail chain like Barnes & Noble.
However, It turns out that only 1% of books published are actually stocked in physical book stores. Not to mention the fact that even if you do happen to have a literary agent, you can be waiting anywhere between six months to a couple years to get your book accepted.
The reality is that bookstores, like any other business, are out to make a profit. Even if you have the most amazing book in the world, if you don’t already have an established brand and readership, chances are they’re going to turn you down. Unless you can guarantee that your book is going to sell, most shops won’t be interested.
The next choice for the self-published author would be to sell it directly themselves. It seems simple enough, just set up a website where people can order the book and ship it off to them yourself.
It sounds simple, but delivering physical products is a whole different ballgame.
First you have to figure out how you’re going to print your book in the first place. Which isn’t easy, since not all printers are the same and you need to find one that matches your needs. It gets even more difficult if you choose to print in a different country (we’re headquartered in Melbourne, but spread across multiple countries, as is our readership), because now you have to factor in the cost of shipping that print run to you in the first place.
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Another option is that you can always hire a distribution company like Shipwire to handle the logistics for you. This becomes pretty much a necessity, because most printers don’t also handle distribution. Then you have to figure out a way to coordinate between the two companies. But the problem with that is, now you have to factor in the costs of using a distribution service on top of the cost of shipping the products.
Now I don’t know about you, but trying to figure all of that out pretty much turned my brain into mush.
As you’ve probably suspected by now, publishing a physical book can be an incredibly expensive process. If you’re not careful, you can end up finding yourself in a financial black hole, continuously throwing money at every new problem that arises.
Fortunately, the advent of crowdfunding has been a total game-changer for self-publishing. Now I’m not saying that the process of crowdfunding is necessarily easier, in fact in many ways it’s a lot more difficult. You need to be even more cautious about your expenses when you’re directly backed by your audience. But now, authors have an alternative to raise the necessary funds to produce a high-quality book.
This is why we’ve turned to Kickstarter and our own awesome community to help us produce Foundr Version 1.0. Without their help we never would have been able to bring this project to life.
I don’t hash out all of these challenging hurdles to discourage folks from pursuing making their own book. Quite the contrary, as making Founder Version 1.0 has ultimately been one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences we’ve ever been through.
The Foundr team is incredibly proud of what we ultimately put together, and the way we did it in our own scrappy, DIY way. For all we didn’t know when we first got into the publishing game, we’ve created something really special, a book that I think any full-time author, editor, or publisher is going to admire and even envy.
At the end of the day, it’s going to be so gratifying to see the fruits of Foundr’s first three years distilled into something sitting on my own bookshelf. Not to mention knowing that our Foundr family will be able to own something that represents the years of interviewing, writing, designing, and researching about entrepreneurship that we’ve gone through together.
Yes, it was a big challenge, but like all fired up entrepreneurs, we dove in, figured it out, and carved out our own path to success. We hope you love the final product!
Are you thinking of publishing a book, either an e-book, or a print copy? How are you going about it? Anything else we can help with? Let us know below!