The Rapidly Changing Marketplace for Political Books

Bob Woodward, Donald Trump Jr., and RealClearPolitics make headlines in the 2020 Election Book Season

by Naren Aryal

 

As the November election approaches, we are in the heart of the political book season. And just like the election itself, the battle for readership is unlike anything we’ve witnessed before. There are a slew of titles from the large publishing houses that cycle in and out of the news, with the most recent entry being Rage by Bob Woodward.

Here’s what’s new and notable in the political book arena:

From the “Big Five” traditional publishing houses:
Rage by Bob Woodward revealed that President Donald Trump concealed the threat of the coronavirus from the American people, Live Free or Die by Sean Hannity argued against leftwing radicalism, and The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton accused Trump of colluding with Chinese officials to secure re-election. Each of them managed to secure media attention surrounding their publication date in an attempt to claim readers’ attention.


A recent self-published title:
Donald Trump Jr.’s new book Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and The Democrats’ Defense of The Indefensible is markedly different from its contemporaries. Trump Jr. self-published Liberal Privilege on Tuesday, September 1 and, at the time of writing, was ranked #12 on Amazon and #30 in the Kindle Store. It claimed the #1 spot in the following Politics and Government categories: “Ideologies & Doctrines,” “Political Conservatism & Liberalism,” and “Nationalism.”


From the latest entrant into publishing, hybrid publishing:
RealClear Publishing, a new imprint of Amplify Publishing in partnership with RealClearPolitics and Gotham Ghostwriters, also has several political titles in the mix. Its hybrid model allows for a variety of authors to join the national political conversation while retaining creative control and an advantageous royalties split. Contract to Unite America: Ten Reforms to Reclaim Our Republic by Neal Simon prescribes ways to bring America back from the frenzy of political partisanship. From longtime advocate of basic income, Steve Shafarman, comes Our Future: The Basic Income Plan for Peace, Justice, Liberty, Democracy, and Personal Dignity, a book that discusses a potential plan for Universal Basic Income (UBI), a prominent policy that has taken center stage in the 2020 election. Andrew Yang, former Democratic presidential candidate and proponent of UBI, writes the foreword. And Bob Worsley, former Arizona state senator, in The Horseshoe Virus: How the Anti-Immigration Movement Spread from Left-Wing to Right-Wing America traces the origins of anti-immigration sentiment in the United States and urges for a return from extremism.


The Rise of Alternative Publishing
After hitting a home run with his first book, why would Trump Jr., or other respected authors, choose a non-traditional pathway to publishing this time around? Some reasons include:

Speed to market. With the November presidential election looming, the time is ripe for political books. Trump Jr. turned his book around from draft to printed book in a matter of months, whereas traditional publishing usually takes at least a year.

Creative control. Self-publishing means Trump Jr. can produce his book the way he wants it, without editorial or design interference. He’s beholden only to himself, and that means he can write anything (including typos on his book cover) and has total creative liberty.

Potentially greater financial upside. Trump Jr. reportedly turned down the advance Hachette offered for Liberal Privilege. However, if he’s able to leverage his audience, he’ll do just fine with this second book and will receive a much high royalty percentage than he would have otherwise.


Access to readers is key for self-publishing and hybrid publishing success and has long been the biggest obstacle to self-publishing in the past. Author platforms don’t get bigger than Trump Jr.’s 5.5 million Twitter followers (not to mention his father’s 85.7 million). Trump Jr. has access to his readers and the counter-establishment mindset to reach them. RealClear Publishing’s platform taps into RealClearPolitics’s political news audience to make waves with its titles.

Of course, the appeal of traditional publishing has been high editorial quality, access to bookstores, and robust marketing support. But ever since Amazon came onto the scene in the early 2000s and rocked the publishing world, no longer is the only legitimate way to get an author’s book read by going traditional (and dealing with literary agents, acquisition editors, and bookstore buyers). Now anyone can upload a PDF to their CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing services and create a sellable book.

The rules are different now, and Trump Jr. is just the latest in a long string of authors finding publishing success by pursuing alternative routes.

Here are a few others:
-Alex Berenson, former New York Times reporter, self-published Unreported Truths About COVID-19 and Lockdowns in June which hit #1 on Kindle.
-Marc Reklau self-published 30 Days: Change Your Habits, Change Your Life which became the #1 bestseller on Amazon.
-Andy Weir’s The Martian was originally self-published on his blog and then sold on Amazon for $0.99 before debuting at #12 on the New York Times Fiction Bestseller list.


But it’s important to draw a clear distinction between Trump Jr.’s approach to self-publishing versus the average self-published author. Trump Jr. likely retained experts to help him throughout the editorial, design, and printing steps of the publishing process, essentially opting into the hybrid publishing model. These are some critical book production tasks many self-published authors either neglect or don’t have the resources to do well.

The hybrid publishing model offers high editorial quality, premium book packaging, and widespread marketing and distribution, while keeping the advantages offered by self-publishing, such as copyright ownership. RealClear Publishing follows the hybrid model to give authors the combination of creative control and publishing industry knowledge. Typically, the hybrid model works best with authors who (1) are authorities in their field but want the advice of book experts, (2) ready to leverage their own emerging or established platforms for success, and (3) ready to be part of a collaborative experience.

To break away from the pack, authors used to have to chase traditional publishers for a book deal. Now, with alternate respected publishing pathways, there are new ways to remain prominent in the 2020 election discussion.






As the CEO at Amplify Publishing and Mascot Books, Naren Aryal is a recognized publishing industry expert. Naren advises authors, thought leaders, and various organizations on the opportunities and challenges that exist in the evolving publishing world. He’s guided the company’s growth from a single children’s book in 2003 to becoming one of the fastest growing and most respected hybrid publishing companies in the world. Today, Mascot Books publishes hundreds of books a year across all genres, and Amplify Publishing is a leading nonfiction imprint specializing in “big ideas” from some of the most reputable names in business and politics. 


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 University of Denver.

 

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The Art and Science of Subtitles

If titles are hard to write, subtitles can be even harder. They are the meat of the title by telling the reader exactly what your book is about. While titles are short and creative, subtitles are longer and more literal. For example, the Amplify book The Age of Intent by P.V. Kannan has a title that is bold, attractive, and attention-grabbing. But what is the book actually about? You don’t know until its subtitle: Using Artificial Intelligence to Deliver a Superior Customer Experience. Now it becomes clear it’s a book about artificial intelligence and companies’ use of AI.

Subtitles establish a contact between the author and the reader. As an author, you’re promising a reader (or potential reader) that if they invest in you, they will increase their knowledge about a given subject matter, and by doing so, they will be better informed and will be able to achieve takeaways that will interest or benefit them. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, for example, offers three things to the reader: a better work schedule, freedom of movement, and wealth. Subtitles are nothing short of a promise, so crafting a good subtitle is crucial for your book’s success.


Tips for a Good Subtitle

  1. Speak directly to your target market
  2. Differentiate your book by revealing its niche or specialty in the book marketplace. Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert Kiyosaki uses its subtitle to pinpoint its reader. Someone who is poor or middle class and wants to learn about the rich people’s financial philosophy is going to pick up his book. Remember, in order to speak to your target market, you have to have a clear understanding of who that is.

  1. Keep Google and Amazon in mind 
Thinking of the keywords and web searches readers will use to find your book and including those in your subtitle will maximize discoverability (a process called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO). Comparison titles can also be instructive in how to target your audience. Keep Amazon genres and subgenres in mind, too. For instance, Game Changer: The Story of Pictionary and How I Turned a Simple Idea into the Bestselling Board Game in the World
  1. by Rob Angel fits into the Amazon subgenres “Board Games,” “Entrepreneurship,” and “Actor & Entertainer Biographies.” His subtitle addresses each of those categories to increase hits.

  1. Escalate in value
    If your subtitle is going to say something like “How to Turn Unreasonable Expectations Into Lasting Relationships” (as does the subtitle for Marketing to the Entitled Consumer by Nick Worth and Dave Frankland), make sure it escalates in value. You want to start with something less valuable that the reader wants to lose—“unreasonable expectations”—and end with gaining something attractive—“lasting relationships”. Ensure you’re tapping into the reader’s desire to achieve something great.

    Pay attention to rhythm
    A no-brainer, but critical. Subtitles should complement their titles. The famous title Freakonomics slides right into A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Read your title and subtitle out loud together. Does it roll off the tongue? It should—if not, get back to the drawing board.

    Whatever you choose for your subtitle, remember a good subtitle markets your book and enters into a contract with the reader. Craft them thoughtfully and they can yield great returns.




    As the CEO at
    Amplify Publishing and Mascot Books, Naren Aryal is a recognized publishing industry expert. Naren advises authors, thought leaders, and various organizations on the opportunities and challenges that exist in the evolving publishing world. He’s guided the company’s growth from a single children’s book in 2003 to becoming one of the fastest growing and most respected hybrid publishing companies in the world. Today, Mascot Books publishes hundreds of books a year across all genres, and Amplify Publishing is a leading nonfiction imprint specializing in “big ideas” from some of the most reputable names in business and politics. 


    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 University of Denver.

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    Traditional, Hybrid, and Self-Publishing: Pros, Cons, and Choosing Your Path

    By Naren Aryal

    Last week, I presented to a group of authors at the National Writers Union in New York City and had a great conversation with a group of motivated writers about the ever-changing market and the various publishing paths available to content creators. I’ve given this presentation many times and love giving it, so I thought it would be appropriate to share parts of my presentation here on the Amplify blog.

    At a high-level, there are three paths to publishing: traditional publishing, self-publishing, and where we reside at Amplify—hybrid publishing. This post provides a brief overview of each path, including the pros and cons of each approach.

    Traditional Publishing

    Up until the early 2000s, traditional publishing was virtually the only way to get your book into the market. This approach requires securing a literary agent who shops your manuscript to large publishing houses, typically in New York. If your manuscript is sold to a large publishing house, congratulations—you’ve beaten the odds!

    Agents and large houses generally look for authors offering (a) compelling content, (b) massive author marketing platforms, and (c) a track record of selling books. I’ve met plenty of authors that have amazing content, but just don’t have the requisite platform or sales track record to be a good candidate for a traditional deal.

    Traditionally published books typically have high production quality (editorial, cover and interior design, premium book printing) and have access to large distribution channels. For authors, the upside of this model is the publisher bears all the up-front production costs—the publishing house assumes the financial risk. Some (not all) authors also collect advances against future royalties.

    Potential downsides that come with traditional publishing include loss of creative control and intellectual property rights (including ancillary rights, like merchandising, film, etc.), an agonizingly long time to market (18-24 months on average), and smaller royalty percentages on sales (which may be offset by an advance, meaning you don’t collect any royalties until the house recoups its investment in your content).

    Regarding marketing, there seems to be a misconception that all traditionally published authors enjoy overwhelming levels of marketing support. This is true if you’re an A lister that’s authored a book with runaway bestseller potential. For rank and file authors, however, meaningful marketing support only kicks in if sales meet or exceed projections. Authors have to be fully-engaged in book-related marketing efforts—and this is true regardless of the pathway to publishing.

    I have simple advice for authors considering this route: if you get a solid traditional publishing deal with a reasonable advance (and this definition differs from project-to-project and author-to-author)—take it!


    Self-Publishing

    Many of the elements that make self-publishing attractive to some are exactly what makes other authors refuse to consider it. First, the barrier to entry is low (or non-existent, depending on the platform). You can become a published author today by simply uploading your content onto to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform—you and everyone else that fancies themselves an author—placing you among the masses clambering to stand out and get their content noticed.

    On the flip side, you’ll have complete editorial control and will have final say concerning your book’s physical specifications, including its cover and interior design—a great thing if you know what you’re doing, but something that can easily become overwhelming. If you have no experience producing a book, you could end up with a book that’s riddled with typos and has a cover that “looks self-published,” a criticism you hear often in the publishing industry. If you do go the self-publishing route, and you’re intending your book to have an audience beyond your friends and family, invest in hiring an experienced editor and designer—it will be money well spent.

    Distribution can be a challenge for self-published books, and even more so for self-published print-on-demand titles. Retailers work almost exclusively with their preferred distributors, such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and a few others that service specific account types—grocery stores, warehouse clubs, airport vendors, big box retailers, museum gift shops, hospitals, museums, gift stores, etc. Procuring inventory from these channels allows them to get inventory per industry terms, namely standard wholesale discounts, full returnability rights, lengthy payment periods, shipping and freight agreements, chargebacks to publishers, and any number of other terms, most of which are highly favorable for distributors and retailers, but not so much for authors and publishers. Most retailers won’t even consider POD and self-published titles for their shelves.

    Self-publishing also places all the responsibility for the marketing and promotion of the book squarely on the author. While all authors should engage in marketing their book, self-published authors have a heavier burden. There are plenty of resources online, but it can be difficult to know what’s worth the investment, making increasing awareness of your book a challenge.


    Hybrid Publishing

    So what is hybrid publishing? Up until February 2018, there really wasn’t a universal answer. That’s when the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) attempted to clear-up lingering confusion by issuing their Hybrid Publisher Criteria, which is definitely worth a read.

    The high-level takeaway is that a true hybrid publisher maintains the highest industry and ethical standards and produces books that are on par with traditional houses. Hybrid publishers have a vetting process for content, provide access to meaningful distribution channels, and offer book marketing services. In other words, there’s a commitment to creating high-quality books and emphasis on helping get those books into readers’ hands through distribution and marketing. Other benefits include speed-to-market (the average timeline is about half that of traditional—sometimes even less), creative control, and ownership of all intellectual property rights.

    Unlike traditional publishing, there are production-related costs, and therefore the financial risk falls largely on the author.  To make up for these up-front expenses, the author often receives a much higher royalty rate per sale than traditionally published authors. At Amplify, we pay our authors 85% of sales, and provide distribution and marketing services designed to maximize visibility and sales potential.


    Every writer’s publishing goals are unique and there are benefits and disadvantages to each pathway to publication. I encourage you to investigate each opportunity available to you before deciding which path to choose. Do your research. Ask questions. Compare your options and then confidently pursue the publishing path that’s right for you.


    Naren Aryal is the co-founder and publisher of Mascot Books and Amplify Publishing. After starting his career as a Washington lawyer, Naren launched Mascot Books in 2003 with the publication of his first book. As an author himself (How to Sell a Crapload of Books: 10 Secrets of a Killer Author Marketing Platform), Naren appreciates the opportunities and challenges facing storytellers. As a publisher, he’s well-versed in the market factors that determine a project’s ultimate level of success. Naren’s more than fifteen years of publishing experience have made him an expert in the editorial, production, distribution, and marketing arenas. He’s passionate about staying up-to-date on industry technology and trends and is a respected commentator on anything publishing-related.

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