Jump Start Your Book Sales

Chapter 1: Step on the Gas for Revved-Up Profits

Marketing does not mean going to the grocery store.

It means getting behind your books with publicity, promotion, and creative sales activity. It means you start before the manuscript is even written (if you’re an author) and as soon as you receive a viable proposal (if you’re a publisher). And though it starts early, it never ends. Older books, called "backlist" titles, actually are your most profitable because the costs of developing the book are long past. With ongoing publicity, these products can continue to garner exposure and sales year after year.

"But I hate marketing," you lament. You are not alone. Of all the hats an author wears, the marketing fedora itches the worst. Authors like to write. Stoop to crass commercialism? Never! Okay then, forget about your book being a success. Scratch the idea of making your living as a writer.

Does that make you feel as nervous as an acrobat on a high wire during a hurricane? Never fear. You can develop the mind set and skills to make your book a winner. And you can do it without forfeiting your good taste or embarrassing your mother. You can actually become as excited and eager about the marketing process as a hunting dog on a hot scent. As we stand on the edge of the millennium, this is an incredible time in the publishing industry.

Each book has enormous competition. The copyright office estimates there are 63,000 new titles released each year. The August 1997 edition of Books in Print listed 1,350,000 titles currently in print and available.

As long ago as March 1, 1988, The Wall Street Journal reported, "Best-selling books are made, not born. Authors are starting to grasp this simple fact. Now, as publishers increasingly invest most of their promotion budgets in a few big books, many authors are paying large sums to hire personal publicists."

Must you do this? No. Must you do something? Yes. What you lack in money, you can make up for in moxie.

Letty Cotton Pogrebin, president of the Authors Guild and author of eight books herself, was interviewed on NPR’s "Talk of the Nation" recently. When asked her opinion of the new trend to place more marketing responsibility on the author, she observed, "It isn’t just the case for new authors. It’s also the case for established authors."

She told of a conversation with Gore Vidal who had spent his own money to buy advertising and haul himself around to do speaking dates because his publisher had not delivered for him. "Publishers simply take the book, take the manuscript, don’t necessarily edit it, don’t necessarily copy edit it, and certainly don’t promote it in all too many cases," Letty said.

An industry in transition

The way books are born, promoted, bought, and sold is changing. This trend is transforming the face of publishing. With Bertelsmann’s purchase of Random House and other companies being bought and sold like baseball cards, power is now concentrated in the hands of four behemoth publishers: Random House/Bantam Doubleday Dell (30%), Simon & Schuster (14%), Penguin Putnam (10%), and HarperCollins (7%).

Today the attitude of New York publishers is, they only want household names and sure-fire books. So-called "midlist authors," an industry label for writers whose books sell modestly and whose names lack marquee value, are getting short shrift from Publishers Row. Small to mid-sized publishers, however, are much more likely to nurture these authors and their books.

In the wake of mammoth mergers, small publishing is also growing. The R. R. Bowker Company, which assigns ISBN publisher prefixes, told us that more than 7,000 new publishers start up every year. Though there is naturally some attrition, estimates place the number of total publishers at more than 50,000.

In 1994 Barnes & Noble reported that books from the 10 largest publishers accounted for three-quarters of their purchases. By 1997, these 10 leaders accounted for less than half of the books bought. Thus independent publishers, self-publishers, and university presses are now generating more than their share of bookstore revenue.

Independent bookstores that were thriving a decade ago now feel the effect of chains that offer huge discounts on bestsellers. And the Internet will continue to have an ever-growing impact on how books are sold as it gobbles up more market share.

We can either think of all these changes in the book industry as a death knell-or as a rally cry for erasing old boundaries and rejuvenating how things are done. We can-as authors-groan that our publishers are ignoring our books. Or we can be proactive and create a positive stir on our own behalf. We can-as publishers-bemoan heavy returns and too many books being published. Or we can find fresh ways to sell books and publicize our titles more innovatively to put our promotional and sales campaigns into overdrive. We can all stop breathing our own exhaust.

What you get in these pages

If you create a quality product and approach the chains and independents wisely, you can penetrate the bookstore market. Getting books on the shelves, however, is only the beginning. It’s your job to drive buyers into the bookstore, to create demand so consumers will come in and buy your book. Throughout these pages we show you how to do just that, how to pluck the very marrow out of the bones of book marketing.

But be aware that the majority of books-53%-are not sold in bookstores. (The sad fact is 37% of all Americans have never been in a bookstore.) Fortunately, there are many other venues for merchandising books. For smaller publishers these often make more sense than forcing the issue with booksellers. We’ll reveal what these venues are and coach you on strategies for succeeding with them.

You really can turn yourself into a marketing master and make tens of thousands of extra dollars with the concepts in this one-of-a-kind resource. This is a book about ideas and substance rather than flash. You’ll discover how to get your book into catalogs, rack up lucrative bulk premium sales, and do radio interviews and author signings that get outrageous results. And you’ll find the secret to generating lots of free publicity, then master how to capitalize on it.

Add to this the insider information on how to make the Internet a fabulous sales generator, how to penetrate libraries, sell to book clubs, get your titles onto QVC and Home Shopping Network-and you can see why this guide has been called a wealth-building bonanza!

Another unique feature only found here is a section after each chapter called Web Sites, Wisdom, and Whimsey. Here you’ll find relevant URLs, miscellaneous tidbits of advice, and quips to tickle your funny bone.

Who should read this book?

Authors: Unless your name is Stephen King, Danielle Steel, or Tom Peters, your passion and involvement will mean life or death to your book. This resource takes you by the hand and shows you how to effectively breathe new sales life into your masterpiece.

Expectant authors: Are you about to have a book? Then read fast and furiously. Now is the time to begin making your book a success. Good prenatal care ensures the birth of a healthy baby. You wouldn’t have a baby, then ignore it. Don’t do that to your book either.

Self-publishers: You’ve elected to take control of your destiny. But if you’re so preoccupied with the writing and production of your book that you ignore pre-publication publicity (not to mention all the ongoing possibilities), you’re flushing money down a toilet. You’ll likely have 3,000 books sitting in your garage for a very long time. We’ll explain how to avoid that dilemma.

Small presses: Those with a few books in print stand on the edge of exciting growth. If this describes you, allow us to challenge you to leap to the next level by following the guidance here and doing an extraordinary job with your present titles.

Independent presses and university presses: As a medium-sized publisher, are you using all the ammunition at your disposal to position your books ahead of the herd? The strategies here will accelerate your publicity plans, open new doors for special sales, and boost your bottom line.

Publicists, sales directors, and marketing coaches: Sure you know your stuff. But those who stop learning, stop growing. We defy you to not find several nuggets of wisdom here that will make your job better, easier, and give greater results.

Be passionate about marketing! Stomp on the gas pedal. Nobody cares as much about your book as you do. Don’t turn on the cruise control. Dream BIG dreams. Educate yourself. Then get out there and make it happen.

Jump Start Your Book Sales transcends the typical how-to book. It inspires and entertains as it informs. But it is not for the faint-hearted. It separates the wannabees from those who are serious about making money with books. If the latter describes you, read on.

Web Sites, Wisdom and Whimsey

Publishers Weekly survey reveals encouraging statistics. PW polled 1,000 adults about their reading habits and preferences and came up with some startling revelations.

1. "Bestseller lists" don’t count for much. Only 8% of the responders said they were "very important" or "extremely important." Our chances of capturing a spot on these coveted lists is iffy at best. And the general public couldn’t give a tinker’s damn. So there!

2. Readers really care about cover copy. The information about a book, which is printed on the back cover and inside flaps of hardcovers, was rated as either "extremely important" or "very important" by two-thirds of potential readers. Cover design on the other hand, was only important to 23% of the people. Think about that! Much emphasis is put on the graphics, yet readers say good copywriting is what compels them to buy a book.

3. In other findings, we learned that fiction is ahead of nonfiction 53% to 43%, with mystery and suspense being the favorite fiction categories.

4. Happily, the survey also revealed that younger book buyers are more likely to buy a larger number of books. It was previously believed that older people were the biggest book purchasers.

Consumer spending on books to explode. That’s the good news from the Book Industry Study Group, which projects domestic consumer spending on books will reach $31.2 billion by the year 2000. This is up from an estimated $19 billion in 1990. Another prognosis from the 10th Annual Communications Industry Forecast, projects more slimmed down numbers. They predict total consumer spending on books will increase from $15.7 in 1955 to $20.7 billion in 2000.

In either case, those who feared that the Internet and CD-ROMs would signal the end of books as we know them can take heart. Books sales will continue to be healthy despite the advent of the digital age. This is fueled by the fact that those most likely to buy books-baby boomers aged 35 to 54-are at an all-time high. Technology, competition, and consumer lifestyles are redefining book retailing and distribution. Consumers seek value pricing, convenient purchasing, and broad selection. Our challenge is to help them achieve these desires.

Did you hear that researchers have learned how to transplant brains into the feet of dogs?
I don’t know about you, but it certainly gives me paws for thought.

Statistics that can shape your business life. We’re happy to report that more Americans enjoy reading than any other activity according to the fourth annual Harris Poll of U.S. leisure activities. When asked, "What are your two or three most favorite leisure-time activities?" 30% said reading. It was followed by watching TV (21%) and gardening (14%). The American Booksellers Association commissioned a consumer research study conducted by the NPD Group, Inc. It found that Popular Fiction, though always the most prevailing category, slipped two percentage points in 1997. While this doesn’t seem like much, it represents a decline of over 21 million books purchased in that category! Popular Fiction represented 50%. Cooking/Crafts came in second at 10%, while General Nonfiction and Religion each captured 9%.

Noel Coward once said that "having to read a footnote
resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door
while in the midst of making love."

Looking for a powerful online publishing community? Then surf on over to http://www.bookzone.com. The premier Web developer and host for publishing professionals, this huge site has something to help every publisher-and book lover! From their retail Super Catalog to Literary Leaps (the Web’s largest searchable collection of book-related links) to their BookFlash promotion service to BookZone Pro (a section chock-full of articles, links and tools for publishers), you’ll find something for you.

Rosses’ Rules of Order: 13 Tips for Awesome Results

  • Marketing begins the minute you get the book idea or decide to purchase a manuscript.
  • Forge strategic alliances with others who are already reaching your customer base.
  • Write all promotional materials from a benefit standpoint.
  • Use direct mail only for a book over $25, or for a collection of titles.
  • Avoid advertising, except to tightly focused target markets or in trade publications.
  • Work with distributors and wholesalers rather than individual bookstores.
  • Use reputable book manufacturers or savvy print brokers rather than generic printers.
  • Price the book a minimum of five times first-run production costs.
  • Authors are your best salespeople; involve them and give them good buy-back discounts.
  • Position your books so they have a unique selling proposition (USP); separate them from the herd.
  • Be aggressive about pre-publication marketing to generate working capital.
  • Strive for publicity off the book review pages: aim at lifestyle, business, sports sections, etc.
  • Include an order form in the back of every book.

Genre-Specific Web Sites

Great site for children’s books. "Books for Children and More: an Editor’s Site" doesn’t pretend to be all things to all people. It is a highly selective, not an all-inclusive starting point, but attractively designed and full of good tidbits. Under the Articles section there is basic information for writers and illustrators, followed by additional sophisticated advice. Under Children’s you’ll find links to "Children’s Literature Web Guide," not to mention other intriguing places. Come browse at http://www.users.interport.net/~hdu/ even if you don’t do children’s books; we guarantee you’ll find something useful.

Web resources for those doing children’s books. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has an informative site at http://www.scbwi.org. Here you can locate individuals to illustrate or write a children’s book, plus access articles from their SCBWI Bulletin. We found many useful tips in their articles. The "Events" section lists meetings and conferences of interest. Anyone connected with children’s publishing should pay them a visit. Also check out another site called The Children’s Literature Web Guide at http://www.ucalgary.ca/~dkbrown/. They have Internet resources related to books for kids and young adults. Here you’ll find links to book awards, recommended books, bestsellers, and children’s literature Internet discussion groups-not to mention resources for parents and for teachers (a great place to get your books listed). Additionally, they have a forum called "Talk About Books." It features a message board for posting your comments, recommendations, questions/answers about children’s books, and other useful related material.

Are you into romance? Then take yourself to http://www.romantictimes.com/ where Romantic Times resides. Dubbed "the bible of romantic fiction," it is dedicated to news of romance books and the behind-the-scenes world of romance publishing. You can view the current issue, back issues, and 150 new book reviews each month. (You are represented there, right?) We found intriguing industry pieces on foreign rights, contracts, agent news, even a story on promotion titled, "Selling Yourself for Fun and Profit."

Attention mystery and romance buffs. You may want to visit The Rock. (No, we don’t mean Alcatraz.) This is a free online magazine with content likely to tickle your fancy. In the October 1997 issue there is an article, "Make Mine Hard-boiled," about cooking up great detective mysteries. "Romance that Goes Bump in the Night" was about exploring paranormal romance. Regular features include Up Close & Personal (a Harlequin Intrigue editor was interviewed), news releases about romance and mystery genres, plus reviews of all genres. There is also a section titled "Authors on the Road" that covers book signings, workshops, events, and kudos. This is a site to educate yourself and use as a promotional vehicle, so check it out at http://www.paintedrock.com.

Treasure trove for fiction authors. Surf on over to http://www.eclectics.com/writing/writing.html and you’ll discover The Eclectic Writer. They indeed have a menu of tantalizing offerings: "Spot Newsletter" is about promotion and publicity for authors; the "Writers’ Message Board" is a Web-based discussion board for writers. Then there are collections of articles on writing in general, plus crime, romance, horror, children’s, technical, sci-fi, poetry, mystery, even screen writing! You’ll also be able to locate Usenet newsgroups for writers here as well as links to many reference works. And the articles are worth their weight in gold. Here’s a sampling: "What Makes a Hot Book Hot?" addresses sensuality, "Setting" talks about how to create an ideal place for your novel, while the "Fiction Writers Character Chart" provides a detailed guideline for getting to really know your characters.

Calling all word-aholics. Want a fun site where you can tease your brain cells? Then go to http://www.wordmuseum.com. It features reviews, contests, classes, and how-to articles in many genres. It’s also a very imaginatively designed site; for instance, the Horror page has blood dripping from the top. But you’ll find more than horror and blood. There are also sections for mystery, westerns, science fiction, children, teens, even the paranormal. Surfers can enter writing contests, thereaders club, or pursue fun trivia.

Excerpted from Jump Start Your Book Sales by Marilyn and Tom Ross. © 1999, Communication Creativity. Not to be reprinted in any form without express written permission of the publisher.

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