Ready to Publish a Book?
Hear how from Naren Aryal of Amplify Publishing Group
In this episode of On Record PR, Gina Rubel goes on record with Naren Aryal, CEO of Amplify Publishing Group.
As CEO of Amplify Publishing Group, Naren Aryal advises authors, thought leaders, and organizations on the opportunities and challenges that exist in the evolving world of publishing. He’s guided the company’s growth from a single title in 2003 to becoming one of the fastest growing and most respected hybrid publishing companies in the world. Today, Amplify Publishing Group is home to six imprints, including our flagship imprint Amplify Publishing, which specializes in “big ideas” from business and political leaders; Mascot Books, which publishes hundreds of books across all genres; and RealClear Publishing, a joint venture with RealClearPolitics that redefines the political book marketplace by magnifying the voices of politicians, policymakers, and commentators seeking to influence timely national conversations.
Prior to entering the world of books, Naren worked as a lawyer, advising technology companies in the Washington, D.C., area. He holds a B.S. in Finance from Virginia Tech and Juris Doctor from the University of Denver. Naren frequently speaks at publishing and business events about the importance of developing compelling content and a robust author platform. He is also the author of “How to Sell a Crapload of Books: 10 Secrets of a Killer Author Marketing Platform.”
Prior to entering the world of books, Naren worked as a lawyer, advising technology companies in the Washington, D.C. area. He holds a B.S. in Finance from Virginia Tech and Juris Doctor from the University of Denver.
What is hybrid publishing? What makes it different from traditional or self-publishing?
Let’s start with traditional publishing. Traditional publishing is what you think of when you think of a big publishing house in New York. The process to get a book published by one of these traditional houses is quite involved. It involves writing a book proposal, sending it to a literary agent, who then tries to sell it to one of the large houses. What’s happened over the years is the number of traditional large traditional houses has shrunk. There used to be the big eight, the big six, now it’s the big four. That channel has shrunk, and the opportunities available for publishing under the traditional model have shrunk as well.
Self-publishing has always been around, but when Amazon came on the scene in a big way with their platform, they really launched a revolution in self-publishing. Amazon really made it easy. You could write content and you could be published that evening.
Where we fall on the spectrum is somewhere in the middle. We are a hybrid publishing company. What that means is there’s some benefits. There’s pros and cons from both sides of the spectrum in what we do in a hybrid publishing business arrangement. The biggest thing to note is the royalty structure is inverted. In a traditional publishing royalty structure, the house assumes all the costs of production, and in exchange, they get the lion’s share of the revenues. Typically, 85%, 90%, leaving the author with a small percentage. Under our model, the hybrid publishing model, authors get 85% on sales, but they’re also contributing to the production related costs. Those are the high-level differences. There are some nuances that we can dive into.
Gina Rubel: As one who has self-published in the past, it’s a lot of work.
Naren Aryal: It is a lot of work. I’m a big fan of self-publishing today more than ever. There are a lot of very successful authors that self-publish. There are fewer and fewer authors publishing through traditional means. What that means is since the floodgates have been opened, there’s also just more content out there, more books out there, and so it’s harder to get noticed today than it was when Amazon started ramping up. I’m here to tell everybody that there’s no right answer across the board. It depends on the project; it depends on the author’s goals. The good news is there is a pathway to publishing for just about anybody.
Gina Rubel: I agree. My first book was self-published. My second book, Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers, 2nd Edition was published with a publishing house, Attorney at Work, through the traditional model.
Why are more authors choosing the non-traditional publishing routes?
The traditional route is not as available as it was before, simply because there are fewer publishers, number one, and they’re looking for a couple things. They want an author who has a track record of selling thousands of books. They want an author who has a massive platform, and we can talk about platform later, but it’s what you might think it means. Followers and social media numbers and blog numbers and video counts. The numbers that they’re looking for are quite astronomical. No matter how good your content is, you may not be a good fit for traditional publishing. That leaves self-publishing or hybrid publishing, where we reside.
The other reason is we work with a lot of authors that have published traditionally in the past that have decided it’s just not for them. Those reasons could be things like they didn’t like the timeline involved to get to market. Traditional publishers are notoriously slow. They didn’t like the fact that they’re not owning intellectual property or their rights to their book. Or it could be editorial interference. We’re seeing a lot of authors that have gotten traditional deals, could get traditional deals, but for one of those reasons, have ended up going with us or pursuing self-publishing.
When you go through this process as an author, you must ask some critical questions. What would you recommend people ask to vet potential publishing partners?
You must go into it understanding what the partner’s going to do. We’ll start off with self-publishing. Obviously, you’re on your own. You do everything. As long as you know that is the case going into it, you’re going to be better off. When I say you do everything, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do everything, but you have to align yourself with service providers that can help you with various steps. If you’re self-publishing, hire an editor. Getting a book that’s riddled with grammatical and spelling mistakes is off-putting and it undermines the goals and objectives of just about any project. Hire an editor, hire a project manager, hire a designer. And most of all, understand that you, as the author, are going to have to be engaged in the marketing and fulfillment of the book.
As a self-published author, you’ve got to put some books in envelopes, stamps on envelopes, and mail them out to people that want to buy your books. That’s self-publishing.
In the hybrid model, consider us as a general contractor for a book. We’ve built hundreds of books. I use the house analogy. General contractors build hundreds of thousands of houses. They know how to build a house. We’ve developed and produced hundreds, actually thousands, of books. We know how to build a book, everything from editorial to design to printing to publishing in e-book, audiobook, physical book format. We also know the ins and outs of distribution, which are quite nuanced and can be aggravating if you haven’t done it before. That’s our value proposition for anyone that just doesn’t want to take on that responsibility themselves.
What are key characteristics of a reliable publishing partner?
The big thing is if you’re looking to make an impact in the market, really understand the marketing and distribution that is available to you with any given publishing partner. It’s one thing to be able to create an editorially sound book and a beautifully designed book. That’s half the battle, as your listeners have probably heard. The next piece of it is getting it out there into the world, getting it read, having feedback come in because people have read your book. There are a lot of strategies that go into distribution and marketing. Not all strategies work for each book project. You just must know, given the content, how to market a book. that’s one of the things that we do well. The tricky part of it is it’s not a one size fits all marketing approach.
What are some of the common mistakes authors make?
I’ll start on the editorial side first. many times, I’ll hear that there’s a manuscript and everyone’s going to love the book. I laugh when I hear that, because if you think everyone’s going to love the book, that means nobody’s going to love the book. You don’t know your target market. That is one thing that’s really critical on the front end. Really understand who you’re writing for and what’s going to appeal to that person.
Then on the marketing end, the author must be engaged. Unless you’re an A+ lister and you’re published by one of the big four houses in New York, publishing houses aren’t going to do all the marketing for you. Nobody’s going to be able to market your or your book as effectively as you, the author. Publishers will have best practices. Publishers will have Rolodexes, if those exist anymore, and be able to get your content and your story out to the people that need to see them. But just know that it’s not a hands-off effort in terms of marketing for the author.
Gina Rubel: One of the things I would add that you mentioned earlier is they don’t think they need it to be edited or proofread. As one who has written two books and authored chapters in others, there’s always mistakes. Or your tense changes. There are people who do editing and proofreading for a living for a reason. I say that specifically because you and I have come out of the legal space, and everybody thinks their writing is perfect off the bat. Even right down to writing in a gender-neutral way in business books. Think about all those types of things and the benefit of having a partner that is going to help bring the best of the best to the table to do those things.
Naren Aryal: Editing is critical. If you pick up a book and it’s riddled with errors, again, it undermines what you set out to do to show off your thought leadership in whatever space.
What are the things that when you work with an author that they didn’t realize? Like, oh, I didn’t realize that that was something I had to do.
The big one there is review drafts. We get drafts, we do the editing, we send it back to our authors, and then they have to go and read their manuscript again and look at the red lines that we propose. Sometimes I’ll hear, “I’m just tired of this manuscript. I can’t read it one more time.” We’ve all been there. Every time we edit something, we send it back. It means you’re going to have to read it one more time just to make sure.
The other thing is, I’m really focused on marketing. It’s got to be a collaborative effort. If it’s not, it won’t achieve what you’re hoping you would achieve in the marketplace.
I’m curious about audio books. Do most of your authors read them themselves or do you hire readers for those authors?
I have a general rule of thumb. It’s always better to have the author read their own book because it’s more personal, and your personality comes across if it’s your voice. It’s not easy to get in the studio and read a book, be in the studio for eight hours. People say, “Hey, this is no problem. I can do this.” And then many times, I hear from an author after two hours, and they’ll say, “I can’t believe I’m agreeing to do this. There’s no way I can get through this.” It’s not easy, but you must dedicate the time and you must be patient. At the end of the day, if you can read it, that’s a better solution, it’s a less expensive solution. It’s a more personal product at that point. But there are narrators, good narrators, but that will cost you.
What does the future of Amplify Publishing look like?
For us, the future holds a lot of specialization in terms of imprints. Now, we’ve got an imprint where we focus on what we call business, politics, and big ideas, which is Amplify. We got a fiction imprint called Subplot. We have a partnership with Real Clear Politics where we publish political titles called Real Clear Publishing. We want to continue to specialize in areas like health and wellness, lifestyle, sports. That is one of the big initiatives in 2022.
Would you share the story you shared with me when we first met about how this all came about?
As you mentioned earlier on, I was a lawyer. I was working with venture funded technology companies in Northern Virginia. This was right around the ’98, ’99, 2000 timeframe. I was with three different ones that were well funded, and they didn’t have customers and revenue, so they all died. I was between jobs and just for fun, I wanted to put together a children’s book starring my alma mater’s mascot. I went to Virginia Tech. My family put this book together for my daughter, and we didn’t know anything about the world of publishing at the time. It was quite an experience. 5,000 books showed up at our door one day. It was an exciting moment, which your authors can attest to when they get their books. It was also a frightening day because I didn’t know anything about marketing or distributing books. Learned on the fly we found a nice little business opportunity for children’s books and teams.
We took that simple business idea and did the same thing for other universities, professional sports teams. The name of the company was Mascot Books initially, and that’s how we got our start. Shortly thereafter, people started coming to us and asking for help with their book projects, and that’s how we pivoted to the hybrid publishing model. We’re one of the trailblazers in the hybrid publishing model world. It all started with a simple book that we did for our daughter who was three at the time, who has now graduated from college. Here we are today with a 30-person shop in Northern Virginia where we’re working on some really amazing projects with some truly amazing authors.
Are there any types of topics you would love to get some potential book authors coming to you with right now? Do you have any holes in your content?
I don’t know that we have holes, but I personally really enjoy works of thought leadership. We work with a lot of public speakers, we work with consultants, we work with CEOs. Those are the ones that I find truly fascinating, and I’ll tell you why. Because there’s some expertise that they can share with the world, and behind that expertise, there’s always a personal story about how it came to be. Those I find fascinating. And everyone is different. So more of those titles is in our future. We will also continue to do fun projects like children’s books and cookbooks and memoirs. It’s a good variety.
The funny thing is I often ask many of our guests on On Record PR, what’s one book you would recommend to our audience? I’m going to guess that it just might happen to be How to Sell a Crapload of Books. But if it weren’t How to Sell a Crapload of Books, what would it be?
Just a quick comment about How to Sell a Crapload of Books. Cover and title are important, and so we leaned into that teaching in that book. It really gets across and it grabs your attention. In terms of specific books, we did a book about AI, artificial intelligence, a couple years ago called The Age of Intent. Thomas L. Friedman did the forward to the book, and he wrote a column about the book as well. That was a real thrill. If you’re interested in technology and business and the intersection between technology and business, as I am, that’s one is must read.
We’re also working on some fun projects with some professional sports figures, social media influencers. So that’s one of the things I love about what we do, it’s just a wide variety of content with some really interesting folks.
What’s one thing you would like to tell our listeners that will inspire them to sit down and write that book they’ve always wanted to write?
That’s a great question. A lot of times, people just don’t know how to start. What I tell people is start with what I call a one pager. A one pager is simply a document that includes five or six sentences about what the book is. Just a synopsis. If you have a potential title and subtitle, great. Include it. If you’ve got an idea of who the target market is, great. Include it. And, there’s no form whatsoever. Just put those three or four things down on paper. And then once you have that, you can share that with somebody, and that somebody can ask you questions. And then that can turn into a more robust synopsis or an outline, that can turn into a table of contents, that can turn into chapters. But you must start somewhere, and the one pager is just a really effective tool to get that going.
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