Why Writers Should Join Author and Publisher Associations
Guest Post by Tyler R. Tichelaar
No matter what stage you are at in writing or publishing your book, an author or publisher association can be a great benefit to you. Maybe you only have an idea for a book but you don’t know how to get started. Maybe you’ve published half a dozen books but you still have trouble selling them. Maybe you have sold thousands of books but now you’re breaking into writing a different genre and need advice finding your new target audience. No matter how much or how little experience you have, an association can provide you with information and tools to meet your goals. Networking with fellow authors, sharing marketing ideas, receiving feedback on your writing, and learning the most cost-effective ways to self-publish your books are just a few of the many valuable opportunities to be gained from such associations.
Many different types of author and publisher associations exist. Some of the largest and best known include the Small Publishers Association of North America (SPAN) and the Publishers Marketing Association (PMA). There are also many regional associations such as the Great Lakes Booksellers Association and Florida Publishers Association. Genre specific associations include the Sisters in Crime for female mystery writers and Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. While larger associations such as SPAN are tremendously useful in helping a writer keep up with current trends in the publishing world, and the genre associations will keep you updated with news about your specific type of writing, many authors first get their feet wet by joining a smaller or local association. Many of the larger associations also have regional chapters that can fulfill this more local need.
As a resident of Upper Michigan, I am most familiar with the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association (UPPAA). Most of my discussion below is based upon my experiences and involvement with UPPAA, but most associations operate with similar goals for their members. The focus of most author and publisher associations, with some slight variations, is:
- Writing—helping their members to become better writers.
- Publishing—teaching members how to publish books of the highest quality in the most cost-effective manner.
- Marketing—how to sell and promote books in an affordable way to the widest audience possible.
- Networking—this is rarely a stated goal, but it is the entire purpose of an association. You meet other writers and through them you make contacts in the publishing world. In the publishing world, the six degrees of separation idea is closer to three degrees. And remember what book-marketing guru John Kremer says—networking is really just making friends.
In trying to find the right group, I suggest you start with your local association. The only way you’ll really know if the group is right for you is to get involved in it. Active members become happy members.
Before I go further, I want to acknowledge that most writers are introverts, and our shyness may make the thought of joining an association feel like torture. I know—I’ve been there. For years I was a closet novelist. Only a few family members and close friends knew I wrote novels. I never showed my writing to anyone. But after years of secretly mailing manuscripts to New York publishers who didn’t bother to read them, my desire to be a published writer burned so greatly that I set fear aside and self-published my first novel.
I bring up my shyness because I don’t want other writers to make the same mistakes I made just because they are afraid to talk to others about publishing their books. Had I taken time to join an author or publisher association and learn from others who had already gone through the publishing process, I could have saved myself time, money, and angst, and I would have broken even on my publishing costs much sooner. No, I did not fork over tens of thousands of dollars to publish my first novel—many first time authors do make that mistake, and had I that kind of money, I probably would have. Instead, I only had a few thousand dollars, so at the suggestion of one of the few friends I spoke to about my writing, I went online to find out the cheapest (far different than cost-effective) way to publish. This search led me to the mistake of publishing with a print-on-demand (POD) company—a mistake I still see thousands of authors making each year.
If you don’t know what print-on-demand means, that’s all the more reason why you need to join an association. In short, a print-on-demand company will layout your book, publish it, even get it listed on Amazon for you, and for a relatively small price—to publish my first novel cost me only about $800.00. The people I worked with at the print-on-demand company did wonderful work and could not have been nicer. The problem was that to purchase copies of my novel from the POD company so I could resell them, I had to order at least 100 copies to get a significant discount. The discount was equal to what most bookstores wanted to pay me as wholesale to resell my books. Not having done my research on bookstores, I had no idea that once the shipping of my books was included in the cost, the bookstore would make a significant profit, the POD company would make a significant profit, and I would lose eight cents for each book sold! Furthermore, the POD company charged so much for books that to get a discount of just 5% more on my books—resulting in just one dollar of profit per book sold—I would have to order 250 books, the total cost of which was far more money than I had.
My dream had turned into a financial loss. Most authors give up at this point rather than doing further research. But I was determined. I created a chant for myself: “I am a publishable, profitable, popular novelist.” I brainwashed myself into believing it, and I set out to make it happen.
The next step on my publishing adventure was joining the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. My shyness kicked back in so I really had to talk myself into going to that first meeting. I was afraid the other authors would not welcome me, that they would think my historical novel I had spent six years researching and writing would be considered inferior to theirs. I cannot tell you how wrong I was. I have never known such wonderful people as the friends I have made in the writing and publishing world, never known so many talented people who love what they do. Right away I decided to become involved with the association and I started asking questions of the seasoned members. I soon found out about self-publishing, working with printers, buying my own ISBN numbers, and dozens of ideas to help market my books. Had I joined UPPAA before I decided to publish my first book, I would have saved myself money, time, and frustration.
The Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association’s story is similar to that of most author and publisher associations. It was organized by a handful of writers in 1998 because they wanted to learn the best ways to self-publish. Today, the association has grown to eighty-five members, and believe it or not, I, the closet novelist, am currently honored to serve as its president.
I would have found little value in UPPAA, however, had I not decided to get involved. An association is only as strong as the dedication and involvement of its members. It is easy enough to join an association, and then sit at home waiting for the quarterly or monthly newsletter, and occasionally to attend the annual meeting. It only takes a bit more effort to participate. Again, I know for shy writers, participation can be difficult, but it can begin in small ways. Go to a meeting and make an effort to speak to just one other member during the day. Ask the person if he or she is writing a book and what it’s about. All authors want to have people interested in their books, and they will repay the favor by asking about your book. Soon you’ll be sharing ideas, and you will get excited. Trust me. Just by asking one person about his or her book, you’re off to a beautiful start. Then if the association has one, join the email discussion group or online forum. Read one of your fellow members books and post a review of it on Amazon. Ask the other member to do the same for you. Contact the editor of the association’s newsletter and offer to write an article. If you don’t know what to write about, ask the editor for suggestions and do a little research on the proposed topic—you’ll learn about publishing and marketing your own books in the process and the other members will start to see you as one of the experts. Volunteer to spend a couple hours selling books at the association’s table at a local festival—you might even sell some of your own books that way—but the best part is you get to sit there for three or four tedious hours disappointed that no one wants your books—I’m kidding. You get to spend that time talking to the other volunteer members and getting more ideas—and you’ll be bound to have people stop by to ask you about the organization because they also want to publish books. Soon you’ll have dozens of author friends who will be part of your bandwagon to help you sell your book, and you’ll return the favor to them. The rollercoaster ride of publishing will become faster and more joyful because your new association friends will help you smooth out some of the curves.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, here are just some of the advantages of joining an author or publisher association.
- Annual Conferences and Meetings—Most associations have conferences and meetings at least once a year. Depending on the association you join, this may be your only chance to meet fellow members in person. It’s well worth the cost and time to attend. I know networking is a scary word to shy writers—but networking is really nothing more than making friends. People get excited about books. They get excited hearing about your book and telling you about their books. Exchange business cards with them, recommend books to them, introduce them to writers you’ve already met. And then, attend the sessions at the conference. Many of these associations bring in big name speakers like Dan Poynter to do a keynote address. Usually multiple sessions are held—sessions that include experts in the field, and often member presentations. The UPPAA has had everyone from local librarians, newspaper reporters, publishing coaches, salespeople from major publishing houses, and website designers come in to talk about how to publish and sell books. Each session not only provides information, but the speakers are usually friendly enough to let you ask questions and even contact them after the conferences. UPPAA tends to break its sessions into three categories: publishing, marketing, and writing. Publishing has included sessions on self-publishing, editing, page layout, printing, and e-books. Writing has included sessions on writing fiction, non-fiction, workshopping your writing, and how to write an effective blog. Marketing has included sessions on how to get libraries to carry your book, how to get book reviews, how to get featured in a newspaper, and how to build an effective website.
- Newsletters—The association’s newsletter is a great way to stay up to date on the publishing world. It’s also another way to get to know your fellow members. Many of the smaller associations will print notices of members’ new books being released. And the newsletter editors are always looking for contributors. They will be happy to have you write an article for them, and you will learn all the more by contributing an article. Plus it’s another way to get your writing published and your name known as an author.
- Targeting Your Audience—As original as your book may be, there are other people who have written similar books in your genre, but that’s all right. Those people can tell you what worked and didn’t work for them in marketing their books. You can save countless hours of time by avoiding their mistakes. Finding your book’s niche, its core audience, requires a lot of research, and when your fellow authors have already done a lot of that research through personal experience, they can serve as a tremendous resource to you. Ignore what you hear about how hundreds of thousands of books are published each year and they are all in competition with your book. The truth is that your book is unique. For example, if you’ve written a mystery novel, you may only have to compete with ten thousand other mysteries published that year—that’s narrowed the playing field right there. Then if your mystery is set in Texas, the locals who love mysteries will want to read your book, and probably anyone who loves Texas will be interested in it—that could be thousands of book sales right in your own backyard. When I published my historical novels set in Upper Michigan, I had no idea until I joined UPPAA how many other writers lived in and wrote about Upper Michigan. But I quickly learned that those other authors were not my competition—they and their books were my greatest allies. If someone reads and loves one of their books set in Upper Michigan, that person will go looking for similar books and find mine. Networking—making friends with the other local authors and finding out how they reached their audience—is the surest way to help you figure out how to sell your books. Whenever a fellow author gives me an idea or helps me in selling some books, I guarantee I’m going to remember and want to repay the favor.
- Save Money—Joining an author and publishers association may cost you as little as $20 annually. Even the largest associations do not charge much more than $100. If you learn just one thing about publishing or marketing, that $100 will repay itself tenfold. I easily made up my membership fee in UPPAA the first year by finding out from fellow members about more cost-effective ways to publish my novels. I’ve saved thousands of dollars just by getting advice about where to publish and where not to waste my marketing dollars.
- Become an Expert—It won’t take long. If you become active, in a year or two, the new members will think you’re an expert. You can help new members learn the ropes of self-publishing, book marketing, or writing genre fiction. And they will be grateful for it, tell their friends about your books and build your word-of-mouth army of book promoters.
- Meet Printers, Publicists, Literary Agents and Others in the Know About Publishing—These people are often invited to speak at association conferences; they would love to sell you their products and services, but at a conference, their goal is to give you the information you need. You can ask them questions about what kind of paper to use to have your book printed on, how to write a cover letter that will convince a literary agent to promote your book, how to sell yourself rather than your book to get a feature story in a newspaper, or how to book a radio interview. This information is invaluable, and these people are usually happy to assist you with finding the right information and the best services to fit your book’s unique needs. People in the publishing world tend to be very open-hearted because they love what they do—they know that even if you do not use their services, you might refer someone to them who will. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
- Discounts—Many associations provide special discounts. Members of the UPPAA can join SPAN (UPPAA is a member itself) and get a reduced price. Larger associations like SPAN offer numerous discounts in such areas as publicity packages, co-op marketing, healthcare options, and subscriptions to Publishers Weekly.
- Special Events—Joining an association puts you in the know when it comes to special author events. For example, every year the UPPAA attends the Upper Peninsula History Conference. Having a book table at that event helps our historical fiction and non-fiction authors reach their audience. Other associations put together book fairs, have special booths at community events, or at national book associations like Book Expo America or the Baltimore Book Festival.
- Email Discussion Lists and Online Forums—Many associations have email discussion groups or online forums where you can post a question to the association members and get answers. Often, the information provided is more timely than what you would receive in a monthly or even quarterly newsletter. If you don’t join these lists, you will miss out on many opportunities.
- Website Listings—Many associations have online catalogues of all their members’ books on their websites with links back to the individual members websites. Individual members may also choose to exchange links with fellow members. On my own website www.MarquetteFiction.com I exchange links with any other authors who live in or write about Upper Michigan.
- Book Displays—Bring your book to the meetings. If there are display tables, then display your books at the conferences. (Never leave home without a copy of your book tucked under your arm). Often, associations will allow you to sell your books at the meetings to the other members. By viewing the other members’ books, you will learn what others are writing about and you can make contact with members who have goals similar to yours.
- Co-operative Marketing—Many associations sponsor ways to help their members advertise their books by pooling their resources. This could be by sharing space on websites, taking out ads in local newspapers, or sharing the cost of a table at a local craft or art show or a book festival.
Now that I’ve convinced you, you need to find that association you’re going to join. A good place to start is to inquire at your local library or bookstore. They may have contact information for local groups. Another good place is to look online. Simply do a search with the name of your state and “publishers” and “authors” in it, or visit the list of regional affiliates at the Independent Book Publishers Association’s website:
In conclusion, I want to repeat that author and publisher associations are only as strong as the members who get involved. Writers cannot sell books if they sit at home. They need to network with other authors and market their books. Join an association and get involved. Make friends and you will sell more books.
Tyler R. Tichelaar is editor and contributing author of Authors Access: 30 Secrets for Authors and Publishers, the regionally bestselling Marquette Trilogy and the newly published King Arthur’s Children: He is the Associate Editor of Reader Views and works as a freelance book editor, proofreader, and book reviewer with Superior Book Promotion.
Tyler is currently the president of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association