An Interview with Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer

This month’s Featured Author in our continuing interview series is Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) from, a popular blog on book design, book marketing and the future of the book. If you haven’t spent any time on his site, I highly recommend checking it out. But I will warn you… Set a timer! Otherwise, you’ll find you’ve spent hours reading all of his great material and advice, without even knowing it.

Joel Friedlander - The Book DesignerSo, let me tell you a little bit about Joel. While I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him yet, it’s clear that he knows his stuff! He is an award-winning book designer, a blogger, the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish and the recently published The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide.

Joel has been launching the careers of self-publishers since 1994. He is also the founder of the online training course, The Self-Publishing Roadmap and provides pre-designed book templates and other tools for authors at BookDesignTemplates.

With all of that experience, you’re in for a real treat as he shares his knowledge and insights into the publishing (and marketing) world.

Tara: What motivated you to write a book?

Joel: My last two books were written to share my expertise with the growing number of writers who are exploring the possibility of publishing their own books. Having worked in the book publishing industry and having owned my own publishing company, I was keenly aware of the difficulties that writers would encounter when they tried to enter the world of book publishing.

The first of these, A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish, was conceived as a response to the many “how-to” books that were appearing on this subject. Instead, I wanted to offer writers a “why-to” about independent publishing and how it works today. Although there’s no specific instructional material in the book, it has been popular since it was published because it fills a need for writers who want a look at what self-publishing might entail.

Tara: What publishing options did you consider?

Joel: I began self-publishing in the 1980s when I had written a book that I knew would be of little interest to traditional publishers. The reason I knew this was because I was working in the publishing industry at the time.

In those days publishing your own book was more expensive and riskier than it is today. But because I worked as a book designer and production manager, I knew exactly what went into making a book, and I knew the vendors I would need to produce a truly professional-looking book.

I never considered other options because I had all the tools and resources I needed to publish the book myself, and that allowed me to keep control of the entire project, to create the marketing campaign I would need, and to profit fully from all sales. This has paid off well for me since the book is still in print and selling today, 29 years after it was first published.

More recently, for the two books I’ve published in the last few years, I’ve relied on my own experience and the many contacts I have in the publishing world to produce my books. As an “expert” in independent publishing, it’s the only option I really considered.

Tara: How easy was it to get your book done?

Joel: Well, the writing part is the most challenging, isn’t it? Because my “day job” is designing and producing books for authors, the parts of the book creation process that most writers find daunting are fairly easy for me.

For example, I’ve got ISBNs from my own publishing venture in the 1990s that I still use today, and I’ve written extensively about ISBN, copyright, permissions and other parts of the publishing process that most writers are only learning about now.

Since I’m a book designer, I’ve always designed and typeset my own books, and will continue to do so. Sometimes I hire cover designers when I feel they will produce a better cover than I would myself, because I know just how important your book cover is to the overall success of a book.

A lot of the challenge right now in producing books is getting the ebook version to resemble the print book version, and although the tools we use to create ebooks are getting better, this is still problematic for nonfiction authors like me.

I’ve been assisted by the great team I’ve put together to handle many of the tasks involved in publishing, and I strongly advise other authors to do the same. These contacts will be valuable as you continue to expand your publications.

Tara: How did you distribute the book after publication?

Joel: I’ve used different strategies for print book and ebook distribution. For the print books, I use both CreateSpace and Ingram’s Lightning Source. CreateSpace fulfills all Amazon orders, and Ingram deals with the rest of the book world. Ingram also distributes widely around the world, and I participate in their international distribution through them, including their UK division.

For ebooks, distribution also relies on two branches. We upload directly to Amazon through their Kindle Direct Publishing portal, which gives us total control over the ebook at Amazon. Then we used Smashwords to distribute to the rest of the ebook retailing universe.

I don’t find it very rewarding to manage a dozen or more retailer accounts, and I’m happy to let Smashwords do that work in exchange for the very small percentage they take.

Between print and ebooks, these strategies have made my books available widely, and that’s really what you’re looking for in distribution.

Tara: How are you marketing and promoting your book?

Joel: For the recent launch of my new book The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide, coauthored with Betty Sargent, we used a variety of marketing and promotion strategies. Here are some highlights:
  • Prepublication testimonials from industry leaders like Mark Coker, Michael Hyatt and many others were gathered to give an initial “push” to our marketing, to let people know about this great new resource.
  • We placed numerous articles and interviews on high-traffic sites where I knew my readers liked to congregate, including both Joanna Penn’s blog, The Creative Pen, and Jane Friedman’s site, Writing and Publishing in the Digital Age.
  • Since I make regular appearances at industry events, I included a promotional “pitch” during these events for the new book.
  • To generate reviews on Amazon and other retail sites, I offered the ebook version free to anyone on my email list who promised to review the book. We gave away over 500 copies, garnering over 130 reviews on Amazon alone.
  • During the initial launch, I also offered a “risk reversal” coupon for use on my ecommerce site to any buyer. This allowed people to buy the ebook for $7.99 and get a $15 coupon in exchange, and we gave away hundreds of them.

Tara: What’s working best for you to generate sales? Are there things you’d recommend avoiding?

Joel: The key to generating sales is keeping the book—and what it has to offer—in front of people as long as possible. Don’t let up, there are many readers who would be thrilled to find out about a book that can help them.

Personally, I avoid paying for book reviews. Although this is a much more common practice now than it was in the past, and may fulfill a useful function for many authors, I’ve always found that there are plenty of free reviews you can get if you work at it.

Tara: Which social network do you use the most and why?

Joel: Twitter is and has been for years my favorite social network. I realized early in my blogging career that I was getting a lot of traffic from posts there, so I concentrated my efforts on growing my Twitter following.

I love the immediacy of Twitter and the ability it gives me to meet and interact with people who might otherwise be difficult to contact, and journalists and other media types are certainly among them.

Tara: If you had one piece of advice for someone thinking about writing a book, what would it be?

Joel: Do it! We are in a golden age for writers of all kinds. The tools we have available to help us write, publish and market our books are unprecedented, and the opportunities are virtually endless.

I would also encourage writers to “think outside the book” for other ways to present, distribute and profit from their content. This is only limited by your imagination. From blogs to workshops to training courses to webinars to whatever you can dream up, there’s an audience just waiting for you. Don’t keep them waiting too long.

[Tweet “When it comes to #book marketing, “think outside the book” according to @JFBookman.”]

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