David Wogahn is the president and founder of Author Imprints and author of five books. David has a 40-year career managing and implementing technology systems, most frequently as they relate to media businesses and publishing.
David has held C-level positions with a college student website portal and a VC-backed college sports media company known today as the CBS College Sports Network. Earlier in his career, David was the VP of multimedia at the Times Mirror and managed technology for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. David is very active in the independent book publisher community and has a wealth of knowledge on successfully publishing and marketing books. Excerpts from David’s interview on the Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast are included below (listen to the full interview on your favorite podcast streaming platform).
James Morehead: Before we talk about what you’ve created with AuthorImprints, share what you learned from your personal experience of writing and publishing your first book.
David Wogahn: “My very first book was an e-book back in the late 80s, early 90s. My experience was that nothing matters more than distribution. I had this great ebook, and I’m dating myself now, on a 3.5 inch floppy disk, and I thought how do you sell this? That was a very early learning experience for me, that distribution matters more than anything else.”
James: Publishing books is surprisingly complex, requires a lot of patience and is generally intimidating. What triggered your interest in the publishing industry?
David: “I have been interested in publishing and media since I was a kid, starting with delivering newspapers. As a teenager I wrote an op-ed once for a newspaper that got published. It was the first thing I ever wrote and that was published and I was, frankly, shocked. I always had a love for publishing and I think what I do now is really the ultimate manifestation of that, managing the whole process which wasn’t possible until eight or ten years ago.”
James: You’ve worked with many first-time authors. What are the key pitfalls you warn about?
David: “The key pitfall is not anticipating or having an appreciation for what happens after the book is released. I did a survey in 2013 of about 300 self-publishers and that marketing was the number-one thing. No one really fully understood that until after the book was done. I thought the cover was hard, or I thought writing was hard, or I thought getting the production of the book was hard, but that just pales in comparison. I often smile at the focus on, maybe, how the page looks on the PDF and, frankly, none of that stuff really matters to readers. You can have the most beautiful book in the world and if you’re not planning how to get it out to people then it’s just going to sit there as this beautiful artifact and not do anything.”
James: Products and books, especially, don’t sell themselves. One piece of advice you shared with me that really resonated was that for a first book focus on building readers, not revenue. Expand on that thought.
David: “The question I ask every new author is what is your goal? What’s your expectation? It could be you want to make money, people will tend to think that. It could be posterity or to help other people spread the message. When you look at all the different reasons for publishing, more often than not, it’s not to make income. That would be nice, but it’s these other reasons. It’s to be read. And so if you want to be read then you really need to be thinking about how do I get the book to as many people as possible? Money really matters to people and especially with a new author if something is expensive, people aren’t going to be taking a chance. That’s why I say readers over revenue. If you can, give the book away, because that’s a way to get people really interested.
“We all love ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and part of the reason is because it fell out of copyright. It’s shown widely on television which builds up huge awareness and it becomes more popular. The same with music. You see this across a lot of different content types. There’s a lot more people out there than you realize, and the more that you can get your book into their hands, the greater the chance of longer term success. I’ve seen that repeatedly with other clients. Those who release their ebook at $10, what I’d consider a high price, sell a few copies to people they know. And that might feel good in terms of the margin on it, but the people that price their ebook at 99 cents or free usually, if they stay at it a year later they have a hundred or two hundred reviews, and now they can start raising the price and make money.
“A book launch is a soft launch. It’s a marathon. If it’s a second or third book and you’ve been successful in the first one, that’s a different kind of launch, and a different kind of approach. But for people that are doing first book launches, it needs to be viewed as soft launch. You don’t want to fool around for those 30 days and need to be planning multiple things because you never know what’s going to stick.”
James: Self-published books can be treated as second class citizens to traditionally published books. Is that criticism fair? What advice do you have to ensure a self-published book has the same quality of a traditionally published book?
David: “I think that that’s changing. It depends on the category of book that you’re competing in. If you’re writing something mainstream, literary quality level books, and you’re expecting to compete, you’re probably going to be disappointed. But if you’re doing genre fiction or narrow categories that are solving specific problems, I think self-publishing is completely acceptable.
“I saw research yesterday in one of the newsletters about cozy mysteries, which is a really hot category in ‘MTS’ (mystery, thriller, suspense), that 70% of the top-selling cozy mystery books in the top 50 are self-published. There was a quote by Carolyn Reidy from a few years ago, she was President of Simon & Schuster, and she said that the publishing industry lost an entire genre (romance) to self-publishing.
“So it depends on what you’re writing and in some cases self publishers are much stronger than traditionally published authors. I do think that self-publishing is gaining legitimacy depending on the category.
“To your second part, how do you ensure that your book is at the same standard? Will ya Goodbye by the powers that be so to speak? One element is what I call a category-specific cover. Does your cover compete? Is it on par with other covers that are on top selling books? That’s really important. Number two is, what’s the reading experience, the presentation? How does it read? Is it a good story? If it’s nonfiction, is it solving a problem? If it’s a history book, is it bringing something new to light?
“I think the big advantage of traditionally published books is that you’re going to work with an editor who really knows that genre or subject matter, otherwise they wouldn’t have bought your book. You’re going to work with them. They are filtering and saying, okay, here’s a voice or an approach to a topic that we haven’t heard before and we’re going to publish it. The editor is going to help the author shape that book into something really outstanding.
“At my company and others we have what’s called a developmental editor who will help you shape the content into a more commercially viable product. That comes from really knowing your category. Will your book be competitive to other books in the category? Readers of a category are discerning, hopefully you’re going to get a great review. If you’re not writing to market correctly, then that review is going to reflect that.
“The quality of the book from positioning in the category, to the cover, all the way to the writing of the book and how it’s presented, all make a huge difference.”
James: Another area you’ve written about, and that I found very helpful, ties back to the initial focus on readers, not revenue. How should an author excited to see their book in print think about planning a book launch? What are some of the key steps needed to help ensure a book reaches its target audience, in particular the importance of building a base of reviews?
David: “Here again it depends on your author journey. For first-time book authors you divide the reviews into two buckets. One bucket is editorial reviews, a review by some sort of subject matter expert that would review or provide commentary blurbs about your book. The second bucket is customer reviews.
“Taking editorial reviews first. Those are things that you can set up prior to your book’s release by getting a copy of your book to subject matter experts. There’s paid expertise, you can purchase reviews by companies that write them, like Kirkus, one of the biggest names in the business, and then there’s other smaller ones. The challenge is does your reader really care? Does your perspective reader care or know who that organization is that’s making that comment? That’s debatable. Another group within that bucket is other authors or, for nonfiction, a person that works for an organization that has some relevance to your books subject matter. In that case, either that person’s name or their organization would be important and including their blurb on your cover or in the back of the book, or online, is really helpful. I do caution people that they’re only effective to a point and I wouldn’t overspend my time there.
“Customer reviews are, in a sense, a lot harder to get because it gets back to my very first point in the interview. Get your book out to people to read because it’s a numbers game. You might have to get your book to 20 people or 50 people to get one review, that may mean pricing your book lower, however you can get people to read the book. Amazon reviews are the gold star, and that’s going to range from one to five gold stars. That’s your social proof and having people give those gold stars is arguably more important than the editorial reviews. Editorial reviews get you to a certain point, people may consider your book, but customer reviews provide social proof.
“We’ve all seen books with a thousand reviews and you go wow, okay, that’s good enough for me. I’ll grab a copy of that book, it’s pretty popular, it’s kind of a no-brainer. For people with 10, 20, 30 reviews it’s a struggle. The more that you can get, the better, and the way that you get reviews is usually by having a network of people. It could be a mailing list, people you know, perhaps through social media, it’s less effective than mailing lists. It’s pricing it right and getting people to read the book, and encouraging them to head over to Amazon and leave a review.”
James: Finally, share a bit about the books you’ve written and the services you provide through AuthorImprints? AuthorImprints provided very helpful consulting for my debut book, which is why I invited you to appear on The Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast.
David: “Thanks. Years ago, when distribution was constrained, vanity presses played an important role because it was the only way to get your book prepared and into the wholesale distribution system, or in the early days, even to be listed on Amazon.
“When Amazon implemented the Kindle Direct Publishing, which allowed anyone to go directly to Amazon and other stores in order to sell their books, you didn’t need vanity presses anymore. The business of AuthorImprints is really about the brand of the author, as publisher, and my point to people is that you do not need to go through any intermediaries in order to get your book into the online stores, which is the only place that’s going to sell anyway.
“What we do is manage the entire process and create as professional a book as you will find anywhere, and get it directly into these online stores. You don’t need to have a vanity press and you can do this yourself. I make no secret that you can do DIY and go direct. We understand how to create a quality book and all the technical details, the front matter, the back matter. People who have the budget will hire us to do that for them, even manage the book after the launch.”
You can hear the entire interview with David Wogahn on the Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast.