By William Curatolo
If you are like me, over the years you have often said, “With what I have seen, I should write a book!” Well, I finally wrote a novel against the background of the drug industry, and along the way I had to learn much that I never anticipated.
The first major issue was the writing itself. I had to unlearn (at least temporarily) the dry factual scientific writing style, and to learn to write action and dialogue. I also had to learn to loosen up on scientific accuracy. It’s a novel, not a thesis! I have expounded more extensively on these writing issues in a blog post on Applied Clinical Trials Online.
The second major issue is publishing. The traditional publishing companies are the gatekeepers who own the printing presses, the warehouses, and the distribution channels. It is very difficult to get a publishing contract because these large publishers need manuscripts that can justify large print runs and the expense of advertising and distribution. If you “do the math,” you very quickly realize how difficult it is for a publishing company to make money. The good news is that things have changed, and within just the last few years two technical advances have occurred in publishing that have been cataclysmic. The first is the advent of ebooks, which have removed some of the need for printing presses and warehouses (and bookstores for that matter). The less well-known second advance is just-in-time printing. Today a single copy of a paperback book, with its cover, can be printed at low cost. In addition, a significant business-process advancement is Internet book sales, evidenced by the unprecedented success of the company Amazon.
As a result of the advent of ebooks, just-in-time printing, and Internet bookstores, it is no longer necessary to have a large potential audience to publish a book. If your hobby is collecting the franking machines used to stamp letters sent by passengers on zeppelins, you can now publish a book on this subject for a small audience, without having to get through the traditional publishing company gatekeepers. You can format your book online and create a cover using a free service such as Createspace, owned by Amazon. Alternatively, there are other relatively inexpensive companies that will more actively help you for a fee. If you go the Createspace route, you can have your book seamlessly listed on Amazon, where you set your price and royalty for both paperback and eversions. The efficient Amazon online sales model permits the sale of books with small, even miniscule, markets, and thus the 25 people interested in zeppelin-based franking machines can easily order your nicely produced paperback book on the subject. If only one copy is ordered in a particular week, it doesn’t matter: that copy will be prepared using just-in-time printing.
The third major issue which I encountered is perhaps the most difficult: marketing. Here, it is critical to know who your audience is and how this audience can be contacted. If you write a book on zeppelin franking machines, you can simply announce it in emails to the people in the world who you know would be interested. If you write a treatise on some aspect of drug delivery, you might use your LinkedIn contact list to reach interested people. If you are looking for broader distribution, one approach is to use Google AdWords, a feature in which you have a brief three-line ad (with a link to your book sale page, if you wish), which appears when someone searches one of a series of keyword phrases that you have set. You only pay Google when someone clicks on your ad. The worlds of social media and blogging provide further opportunities and are constantly changing. The bottom line is that the marketing aspect of artisanal publishing is tough and requires creativity and financial investment if you want broad distribution. It is easy to understand why traditional publishers (and agents) are so selective. It is very difficult to succeed if your primary goal is to make money.
For more detailed information on how to artisanally publish, I highly recommend the book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, by Guy Kawasaki, formerly chief evangelist at Apple Inc. It is Kawasaki who coined the term “artisanal publishing”!
William Curatolo’s novel Campanilismo is set against the background of international biotech and involves broken clinical studies, illegal Internet pharmacies, and New Jersey hoods. A biophysicist by training, Curatolo, Ph.D., served on the staff at MIT and in the R&D division at Pfizer. He is the author of numerous scientific publications and holds 32 U.S. patents.