18 Aug Q&A With Julie Schoerke, Founder of BooksFluent
Envisioning a world in which readers have access to larger and more diverse literary offerings, Julie Schoerke founded JKS Communications in 2000, specializing in developing winning book publicity campaigns for authors and publishers. This year marks the launch of Books Fluent and Books Forward, to companies dedicated to connecting authors to new readers.
Today, she shares her vision and practical advice for independent authors based on her 20+ years of experience promoting books.
How has publishing changed for self-published authors in the last few years?
Today, there are many more book publishing options that allow authors to own their rights and maintain control over their projects. However, with millions of self-published books available for sale, savvy authors in every genre need to make their book stand out in a crowd. Successful self-published authors include a professional editor and a book cover designer on their team.
A few years ago, the odds were stacked against indie authors hoping to break into the mainstream book market. Previously, few authors going it alone paid for the right expertise, and media outlets disregarded their books. A book reviewer receiving a manuscript riddled with errors or an unprofessional book jacket immediately knew that book was self-published. With media outlets receiving hundreds of books to review each day, poor packaging ensured many of these books went straight to the recycling bin.
Things have changed. The industry now recognizes that there are marketable self-published books that deserve to be reviewed and introduced to avid readers. Countless indie authors have found success on their own, and many more have connected with readers in partnership with professionals.
Over the past 10 years, print quality for Print on Demand (POD) books has increased, and publishers of all sizes now rely on POD printing to make their books more accessible to readers. This is excellent for indie authors because POD is also a low-cost entry point into publishing. Higher quality printing means self-publishing authors can leverage professional design and editing services to create books virtually indistinguishable from traditionally published ones.
What does “industry standard” mean for publishing?
Readers are a discerning group. Quality in terms of storyline, writing, editing, and the look and feel of a book all go into making a reader’s experience the best it can be. Just as you would want to buy a well-made jacket rather than something shoddy, readers are the same.
You’ve seen those books that look just a little bit “off” but you’re not sure why? It’s because they aren’t to industry standard. Many self-published books are created without taking into account how book buyers consume reading materials. Our covers reflect design trends from books releasing within the next year and in the same genre. We call this “finding a spot on the bookshelf.” For example, a mystery novel featuring a teenage amateur sleuth released in 2020 would look ridiculous if it looked like a Nancy Drew novel from the 1960s.
Also, authors are often too close to the story to be objective about cover design. Book jackets need to communicate genre and intrigue a reader enough to read the synopsis. At Books Fluent, we use book cover designers with many years of professional experience designing book covers. We have an expert on staff that has overseen book cover marketability with one of the biggest book companies in the world.
Industry-standard doesn’t just mean attractive design; it also speaks to a book’s readability. You can tell when you open a book and see a layout or typeface that is difficult to read. We are all about making the reader’s experience as pleasant as possible. As an author, you want the focus to be on your story, not on the typography. It’s not boring to go with what works! We want your book to be as pleasurable to read as one produced by a major publishing house, and we have the experts with the experience to do exactly that.
Finally, editing is the big one! Our editors are book editors! Librarians, teachers, journalists, and aspiring writers all have much to offer as you develop your manuscript. But a book editor knows how a book goes together. Great editing is invisible to readers when the best stories are smooth as butter to binge read. Book editors know how to put stories in the right order, how storylines are created, and how to grab the reader’s attention. That’s why we use only professional book editors at Books Fluent. Your book should flow just as well or better than any published in New York.
What do self-publishing authors need to know before they get started?
It is one thing to write a book and quite another to take on the business of becoming your own publisher. It’s like starting a business after you’ve done the hard work of getting the words on the page. Many authors dislike this part, and most lack the resources to be as successful as traditional publishers. However, there’s hope. Like painting a house, you will get better with each project. We want to help authors avoid common mistakes in bringing the book to market.
Also, understand that when hiring professionals, we have your best interest at heart. We want to guide you to success. With Books Fluent, you own the rights to your book and are an integral part of the business. We work with you to publish books that inspire pride and have an entry point into the marketplace. That means we make recommendations and offer advice on how to best use your investment.
Also, publishers who release traditional books have distribution channels. Some self-published books are sunk before they release since no one knows about them, or they are difficult to order. We have experts on staff that can optimize your title for discovery on Amazon and beyond. Our industry relationships allow us to position your book to capture booksellers’ and librarians’ attention, particularly in conjunction with book publicity from our sister company, Books Forward.
What is the value of working with Books Fluent and Books Forward?
In 20 years, we’ve seen it all. In 2000, the few book publicity firms that existed would promote only traditionally published books. Then, the 2008 financial crisis hit, and publishers weren’t releasing as many books. They also weren’t taking as many chances on new authors. We believe that we were among the very first U.S. book publicity firms to promote both self-published and traditionally published books. From the beginning, we saw the difference in how the market and tastemakers reacted to these two types of books. We wondered, “Why couldn’t a self-published book be as good as a traditionally published book?”
We’ve had publicity clients use high-priced self-publishing services to create books that failed to thrive. We had a client years ago that came to us under those circumstances. We loved the author, and we thought the book “had legs,” but after further investigation, we realized they had overpaid and given too much of their royalty split to an author services company. The result meant she, as the author, would lose $1 for every book sold. Clearly, we could not represent the book in good conscience.
Over the years, we’ve found many authors, with excellent books, who were spending money on publicity services for books that did not meet industry standards. As publicists, we wanted to help authors use their resources wisely and publish books that had their best chance with media outlets. In response to what we saw as industry needs for quality and integrity in self-publishing, we created Books Fluent.
We have strong ethics around everything we do. It is who we are. Integrity is the cornerstone of our team. We understand that this may be your first experience in publishing a book. But, we want to build a relationship that grows with your career. We hope you are so happy with Books Fluent that when it comes time to publish your next book, you’ll want to team up with us again. And, the next time it gets easier for you. Together we work to build up an author’s career and elevate their voice.