John T. Reed, Self-Publisher, at BAIPA

by Joel Friedlander on August 17, 2010 · 12 comments

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There are different kinds of self-publishers, maybe as many different kinds as there are people publishing their own books. But there’s one type of self-publisher that I would call folk-art publishers.

What I mean is that folk artists are primitives in the sense that they are self-taught—they draw from the materials around them to devise solutions. They use trial-and-error to refine their methods, and each individual finds an idiosyncratic way to solve their problem.

In self-publishing, Dan Poynter is a good example of a folk-art self-publisher who, at his own admission, didn’t even realize he was a publisher until he’d been doing it for several years.

He also shares some other qualities of the folk-art self-publisher:

  • Extreme pragmatism
  • Selling information products
  • Insistence on self-reliance
  • Rational frugality

Poynter, of course, adapted when he came in contact with publishing, and helped launch thousands of self-publishers by outlining the way he had adapted his home-grown techniques to the realities of the publishing world.

John T. Reed

This past weekend we had as a speaker at our monthly Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) meeting John T. Reed, a folk-art self-publisher of great accomplishment.

Reed has spent his career in real estate-related fields and publishes mostly real-estate related books. He first published with Harcort-Brace Jovanovich, but seems to have had an unfortunate experience with their editorial staff, which we learned about in some detail.

We also learned about Reed’s own idiosyncratic solutions to information-book publishing. Over the years he’s published 33 books on real estate investing, sports coaching, economics and recently a book on self-publishing.

Reed started his presentation by taking the microphone and barking “Do I need this?” and although he probably didn’t need it, used the mic anyway.

Reed is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and Harvard Business School. He is a former Army Officer and a prolific writer with a website overflowing with content, articles, ratings and reviews, books for sale, and single pages that might contain a 125-page article. All by John T. Reed.

All John T. Reed books are published by John T. Reed Publishing and are available only from John T. Reed. Reed made a point of emphasizing his belief that self-publishing is really secondary to self-distribution. Reed asserted that he would not sell his books to any wholesalers whatsoever. He only deals with end users and his books are available only on his website.

Reed In History

For many years Reed was distributed to the trade by Publishers Group West until he was “fired,” in his words. Reed says that taking his book out of the bookstores has resulted in a 257% increase in his profits.

Reed feels that the moment you wholesale your book you turn it into a commodity. If you keep it retail-only, you have a branded product. Branded products can command a premium price, while commodities are bought at the lowest price.

In Reed’s case, he can sell his 8-1/2″ x 11″ books for $34.95. He prints offset, and pays $3.00 for printing and shipping per book, leaving him almost $32 profit on each sale.

Here’s Reed’s explanation of the publishing process, and why he said that most of the questions he had listened to people ask during the earlier parts of the meeting were “barking up the wrong tree.”

  • You write the book. Reed apparantly writes his book in Adobe InDesign, in effect writing and laying out his book at the same time.
  • You make a PDF.
  • You send the PDF with other details about your book to several short-run book printers requesting quotes.
  • You pick a printer and send him the PDF
  • Three weeks later a truck pulls up with pallets full of your books. End of story.

The No-Frills Approach

Here’s Reed’s marketing plan for his books, according to his presentation:

  • You have to write a good book, and Reed emphasized this. You have to give people real value.
  • While the book is at the printer he sets up a page for the book on his website. On the page he posts the following information:
    • The table of contents
    • The complete index
    • The complete frontmatter
    • Reader comments
    • Press Release
    • Articles. Reed posts numerous articles to the web site about the subject of the book.
  • When the books come, you start filling orders. He says you will have orders within a few hours of posting your website.

More on John T. Reed’s Approach

One thing I found interesting is that Reed has abandoned the use of ISBNs for his book. This makes sense for him because no one else is involved in his book transactions besides he and his customers. Reed dismissed R.R. Bowker along with Amazon, Ingram, Publishers Group West and pretty much everyone else in the publishing industry.

Screw amazon, screw the bookstores, screw the distributors, do it yourself.—John T. Reed

By the same token he doesn’t print the price on his books, leaving him free to adjust prices any time he wants. He held up several of his book and showed us that they were blank on the back. He explained since they were only sold on the internet, where you only see a thumbnail of the front cover, putting anythng on the back was simply a waste of time.

Marketing, Sales, Fulfillment

How exactly does Reed market, sell and fulfill his books? The website is crucial to his marketing efforts. He’s been online for many years, and has over 700 pages of content indexed in search engines.

People find his books by searching online. He ranks high on Google’s search results for many search terms common to real estate investing, a very competitive niche. Reed feels that it’s his articles that are the key to getting search traffic, and he has written over 5,000 articles on real estate over the years.

All his books are how-to books. The material he posts, like the index and contents, help to establish the keywords used in the book on his website. Like the rest of his publishing system, Reed seems to have come to this organic SEO largely by accident.

He sells using Yahoo’s shopping cart and his wife does all the fulfillment.

It’s also notable that Reed has been publishing a very successful real estate investing newsletter for over twenty years, a list that would be very valuable to any self-publisher. Along with the quality of his books and the accumulated authority of his website, he is able to draw traffic and convert people looking for information into buyers. Although he claims to not know how many books he’s sold, he estimated it to be between 250,000-300,000 over the years.

John T. Reed: American Self-Publisher

I would have to say I was left pretty ambivalent about Reed. I studied his website for several hours before the presentation, and virtually everything he said was word for word from what he has written there.

On one hand I really admire his story of self-made success. Reed has many admirable qualities, he’s intelligent, incredibly prolific, dedicated, often quite funny.

John T. Reed self-publishingIt was touching when he answered a question about how much money he had made from publishing by describing, instead, how rewarding it had been to be at home while his sons were growing up.

I learned some pretty interesting things from Reed, and agreed with him on lots of points. His enthusiasm and “kick in the pants” approach were invigorating and inspirational.

On the other hand, Reed wasted no time working in a couple of comments about the people in Marin being into spirituality and similar interests, while people from his side of the bay are pragmatic and no-nonsense.

He made a point to mention to what he undoubtedly thought would be a “liberal” audience that his wife loved to watch Fox while doing fulfillment.

Reed claims that all publishing is vanity publishing—except the way he does it. He says selling through Amazon is vanity distribution, since he feels you pay too much for fulfillment, and that could only be because your vanity wants to see your book for sale on Amazon.

But a lot of his information didn’t seem very up to date, and he has called self-publishers who want to get distribution for their books “psychiatrically sick” although I doubt he thought that during the 20 years he was with PGW.

Although Reed seems to feel that his way is the only way, it’s obviously the perfect way for John T. Reed. Without his mailing list, authority on the web, prodigious output, and decades-long eminence in his field, would Reed’s method work for you? Would people just start buying books within hours of their being posted online? Color me skeptical.

I’m glad there’s so much diversity in self-publishing. While John T. Reed has been turning out all those books, I’ve met hundreds of self-publishers over the years with every kind of book you can imagine. Everyone has an idea of how they want to do it, and I celebrate every one of them.

I don’t think everyone has to do it the same way. In fact, I think the ability to do it any darn way you want to—just like John T. Reed has done—is one of the great attractions of self-publishing, and one of the reasons there’s so much vitality in the self-publishing world today.

What do you think? Is John T. Reed right?

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    { 11 comments… read them below or add one }

    Thomas J. Lucier October 9, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    For a number of very valid reasons, I flat out refuse to recommend any real estate investment or property management books written by John T. Reed, lest he garners any more free publicity than he already has, by using my good name and stellar reputation as a real estate investment book author, to attract unsuspecting visitors to his rather poorly designed “Website.” Reed has unilaterally appointed himself to the unofficial position of “professional real estate critic and watchdog!” Yet he proudly employs a marketing strategy that’s based solely on writing negative “reviews,” many of which are patently false, about his competitors in the real estate information and advice business, while he holds himself out to the public as being some sort of real estate savant. Well, he isn’t.

    The fact of the matter is that Reed makes a good part of his living by peddling overpriced real estate books, that are poorly written and riddled with grammatical, spelling and typographical errors, and are best suited for wrapping garbage in, or lining the bottoms of bird cages! But worst of all, from a reader’s standpoint, Reed’s over-hyped books fail to live up to their titles. They contain mostly generic information that’s pretty superficial and lacks the kind of nitty-gritty details that readers need to know about, in order to implement what’s been written in a how-to book.

    Quite frankly, I don’t understand why a highly educated Harvard MBA, like John T. Reed, would resort to name calling, character assassinations and other petty tactics to make himself appear superior to his competitors, his books should do that for him! Fact is, if this guy was the brilliant real estate investment writer and book author that he claims to be, he’d be well known and celebrated for his real estate investment and property management knowledge and expertise, instead of having a well earned reputation for being extremely bitter and uncivil towards more successful writers and authors.

    Reply

    Mike Lipsey August 18, 2010 at 12:48 am

    Joel, Thanks for taking the time to report on what must have been an interesting meeting. Seems to me Mr. Reed deserves kudos for his originality. Not many people come up with an original approach in business, most just choose between the existing alternatives. There is a lot to be said for a home business staffed by family. How many people in the self-publishing world put together a decent living from it? Not many, I would guess.

    I don’t see why anyone should be troubled by his mildly conservative politics. Who cares? But Mr. Reed is naive to think that everyone in Marin is spiritual and liberal. Most of my neighbors here in San Rafael certainly aren’t.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 18, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Mike, those were my thoughts as well. Reed has re-imagined self-publishing to meet his own ideas on the subject, and done it successfully. And as far as stereotyping is concerned, it’s both inaccurate and off-putting regardless of who it’s aimed at. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus August 17, 2010 at 10:53 am

    John…

    I’m an expert at being condescending. I do it a lot on my own blog.

    However, I was not being condescending to you. I tried to be helpful and had know way of knowing what you know about CS or LS.

    Many self-pubbers allow Amazon to keep a 55% discount. Many others use Amazon Advantage–where the Advantage is all Amazon’s.

    Maybe you have a chip on your shoulder and considered my honest advice to be an insult.

    It’s just as well that you don’t buy my book, since you are so secure in what you already know.

    Reply

    John Sundman August 17, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Michael,

    You seem as much a know-it-all as Mr. Reed.

    I’ve been self-publishing for ten years. I’m always willing to learn, and certainly I’ve learned a few things on this site in the few months I’ve been following it. I’ve made lots of mistakes in my self-publishing career. But I’m certainly aware of the trade-offs one makes in choosing between POD and offset. The calculus gets a little more complicated when you sell books through your website and in-person appearances. And besides, POD technology has improved a lot in recent years; when I chose to print my first books offset, it was because POD books were all crap–I don’t mean the content, I mean the manufactured items.

    Your comment about CreateSpace isn’t helpful, in other words, since it doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. And your condescending tone just chased away a potential customer for your book.

    Kind regards,

    jrs

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus August 17, 2010 at 9:22 am

    John Sundman said, “Amazon does indeed take a hefty chunk. Plus, I have to pay to ship books to them.”

    You’re doing something wrong–for books that don’t need offset quality.

    If your books are printed on demand, either by CreateSpace or LightningSource, Amazon will accept as little as 20%. The printer ships directly to Amazon’s customer–at no charge to you.

    You may have wasted a lot of money, and invested in inventory that can be damaged or become obsolete and costs money to transport.

    Michael N. Marcus
    Author of “Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company” — due about 9/1/10. http://silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing/selfpubcompanybook.html

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 17, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Michael, as a print on demand publisher you may not be aware that many of the books sold on Amazon are printed offset and supplied by the publisher in exactly the same way publishers have always sold to retailers.

    It’s likely that many more books on Amazon are sold that way than from PoD suppliers, so John’s situation is likely the rule rather than the exception.

    Not every book is suitable to print on demand or to digital printing, and I don’t consider the printing, publishing, shipping and selling of these books to be a “waste of money” at all.

    And (unfortunately) I happen to know a bit about storing books for years. If they are packed properly (shrink wrapped in bundles is the best solution I’ve found) they will still look brand new when the packages are opened. Since John is a novelist, I don’t think obsolescence is much of a concern. Thanks for commenting.

    Reply

    John Sundman August 17, 2010 at 8:50 am

    I think your comments about John T. Reed are fair-minded; generous even.

    I write novels and novellas, some of them illustrated, so I think it’s natural that my business model (marketing, distribution, printing, etc) differ from Reed’s. As you say, there are lots and lots of different ways of doing this.

    I have printed all three of my books using offset printing. I’m thinking of switching to print-on-demand for reprints of the first two, but the third book is a lavishly illustrated “art” book that can’t really be done right using POD.

    Were I to switch to POD using, say, CreateSpace, I suppose I could get out of the distribution business altogether. As things are now, I have three main distribution channels: Amazon, my website, and in-person sales. In all three cases, I have to physically handle the books. I do make a lot more profit per book on sales through my website than I do selling through Amazon; Amazon does indeed take a hefty chunk. Plus, I have to pay to ship books to them. On the other hand I have sold thousands of copies through Amazon, at a profit. I prefer selling a book at a profit to keeping it around the house waiting to sell it at a bigger profit.

    Lately sales of kindle and other ebook versions of my book have been outnumbering sales of paper copies by about ten to one. I’m not sure what the implications of this are. It’s an exciting time to be a self-publisher, but a scary time too.

    Thanks for your site. It’s gotten me thinking.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 17, 2010 at 11:08 am

    John,

    Thanks for your comments. I’ve been impressed with the advances being made in digital printing of illustrated books. Of course, they have a long way to go, and the coarse screens used in digital printing can’t compare with the output of an offset press—yet.

    I think your distribution makes a lot of sense because you’ve diversified your channels, which always seems like a good idea to me. I have to say that the convenience of print on demand distribution is really attractive because I’ve done the “pick pack and ship” dance enough to not want to go there again, but the payment you make for the convenience can be substantial in both unit cost and print quality.

    Amazing figures about your ebook sales. I know several visual artists who are preparing to get into ebooks, partly because of the display properties of the iPad, and I find that pretty exciting stuff.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus August 17, 2010 at 3:41 am

    First comment had a formatting problem. Please delete it.

    “Is John T. Reed right?”

    Yeah, far-right, and probably wrong. (Is John in the Tea Party? Does he have guns and food stashed in a shelter anticipating WW3?)

    In the 21st century it makes no sense to invest in stacks of books that may become mildew-ridden mouse food and never sell. It makes no sense for the author or author’s family to have to operate a shipping department.

    Most of all, it makes no sense to depend on search engines to drive sales, instead of having books on the websites of Amazon, B&N, etc. where people expect to find and buy books.

    Allegedly the young Abe Lincoln wrote his homework with a lump of coal on the back of a shovel because he did not own a pencil and notebook. It may have worked. But in the 21st century, it makes more sense to do homework on a computer, and let the booksellers sell books.

    “Reed feels that the moment you wholesale your book you turn it into a commodity. If you keep it retail-only, you have a branded product.”

    That’s meaningless mumbo-jumbo. A book that travels from publisher to wholesaler to retailer doesn’t lose its “brandedness.” If a book is unique and has value, it doesn’t lose uniqueness and value because of the path it travels to the reader.

    Independence, a large skill-set, and self-reliance are admirable qualities–but they can lead to inefficiency, egomania and wasted resources.

    “Rational frugality”

    Or irrational.

    John’s $29.95 book about self-publishing includes a chapter on “why you should NOT sell to book stores including on-line book stores”

    I have about ten books being sold by online booksellers. I’m glad to let them do the work for me. I own zero inventory and never touch the books, and money comes in every month.

    “He prints offset, and pays $3.00 for printing and shipping per book,”

    The books must be _very_ thin, or his numbers are _very_ wrong.

    His book about self-publishing has 190 8.5×11-inch pages (95 leaves). That would weigh about one pound. The price for sending it via low-cost Media Mail is $2.38. That leaves 62 cents for printing and binding and transportation from the printer to John’s home. Not likely.

    I just got a quick quote from a book printer to compare to John’s numbers. Printing 500 books like his would cost $2913 (with uncoated cover and without freight). The books in cartons would probably weigh about 550 pounds, and could easily cost $100 to ship. Add $100 to $2913 and divide by 500 and we get a cost for each delivered book of about $6.

    If we increase the print quantity to a highly optimistic 10,000, printing will cost $24,390. Add an estimated (probably low) $500 for freight and we get $24,890. Divide by 10,000 and the per-book cost is about $2.50–which allows just 50 cents for sending to a customer. It can’t be done.

    The numbers may make sense with a print quantity of 100,000, but I would not want 100,000 books (of one title) stacked up in my garage or dining room.

    One of John’s books has just 62 pages (31 leaves) and sells for $29.95! The Media Mail cost to send it is also $2.38–again leaving 62 cents to print, bind and ship. Not likely.

    John says, “Self-DISTRIBUTION is more important than self-PUBLISHING.”

    Self-distribution is a wase of time, money and space. No thank you.

    Michael N. Marcus
    Author of “Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company” — due about 9/1/10. http://silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing/selfpubcompanybook.html

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 17, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Michael, I guess I didn’t communicate this clearly enough.

    I have no reason to doubt Reed’s figures. He is also an expert on hyperinflation and buys a 3-year supply of books when he does his offset run to protect against sudden or extreme distortions in the price he pays for his books.

    His figure of $3.00 per book was the cost of printing and the cost of freight to ship the books to his home. That sounds about right. When he makes a sale, he also charges shipping, so the outbound shipping costs are covered by customers.

    Your figures on the 10,000 copy printing are probably pretty accurate, and I don’t doubt he can sell 3,000 copies a year.

    Pricing for information products follows no rule that I know of other than “whatever the market will bear.” A 64 page book for $29.95 isn’t that impressive when you consider the many many ebooks being sold right now on the internet, where a 50-page ebook can go for $47 and sell like crazy. It’s the buyers who get to decide if the price is right.

    Thanks for visiting!

    Hope that clears up the confusion.

    Reply

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