Amy Collins, President of New Shelves Books, is the authority on book sales and marketing in the US. Over the past 20 years, New Shelves has sold more than 40 million books into the bookstore, library and chain store market for small and midsized publishers.
"We are educators and marketing coaches," Amy says. "We spend our days working with authors and publishers to evaluate their current situation and create a plan to improve their sales. We work to constantly stay abreast of the changing rules, industry news, opportunities, and services out there so that our clients and followers can make informed decisions."
Amy herself is also columnist for and a board member of several publishing organizations and a trusted teacher in the world of independent publishers. Amy will be speaking at indieLAB, a new Writer's Digest event for entrepreneurial authors and freelance writers, this September. Here, she shares insider secrets about book sales, marketing tips and publishing trends.
What are some strategies authors—especially debut and self-published authors—should consider when marketing their books?
In almost all cases, the most important thing to focus on is reviews. That is true whether the book is just coming out or it’s been out for a few years. Getting reader reviews online, getting librarians and bookstore employees to review the book, sending review requests to newspapers, bloggers, magazines, and popular websites... all are equally important. Start asking for reviews, testimonials, and endorsements a few months before your book is going to be published; and keep asking every day for the rest of the life of your book.
Find people on Amazon, on Goodreads, at your local library, at local bookstores, online, and in the real world who review books and ask them to consider reviewing yours. Too many authors ask for a few reviews and then quit. Too many authors ask their friends to review their book and then give up when their friends don’t actually review the book. (Hint: most friends will not review your book… They don’t know how and it intimidates them… Stop asking your friends)
But you SHOULD ask industry professionals and avid readers who write reviews online. This should be a daily practice for every day you plan on being an author. Talented writers can author terrific books. Talented authors can get terrific books published. But successful authors get their books published and then talked about. It’s our job as authors to get our books talked about. And it’s our job as authors every day to ask for reviews and attention. It doesn’t “just happen.”
What’s the best way to get a book into libraries?
To start, a book that wants to be stocked in the library needs some independent, third-party reviews that were not paid for. After that, the next step is to make sure that the book is available from a wholesaler that libraries like to order from.
Ingram, Baker and Taylor, Midwest, Brodart, Follet… These are a few Library wholesalers. Your book should be available and stocked at at least one of them. If you’ve decided to go print on demand through IngramSpark, your book will be listed as in stock with their sister company, Ingram Wholesaler and you’re in good shape.
Librarians depend upon reviews, patron requests, and acquisition lists from some of their favorite wholesaler vendors. So if you are lucky enough to have a “street team” have them go to their local library and request your book. Libraries like to stock books that have been requested by their patrons. After that, approaching librarians by letting them know how you’re going to attract more patrons to their location with your book is a great way to get librarians across the country to stock your book.
And don’t forget e-books and audiobooks! The biggest wholesaler for those types of books is Overdrive. Get your book into OverDrive (owned by the same company that owns Kobo in Toronto) and start emailing librarians letting them know that they can offer a book and audio versions of your book to their patrons.
Why are libraries important today?
According to US census data, over 70% of the voting age American adults have a library card. And 56% of Americans have been in a library or on a library website in the last month. Library foot traffic has gone way up and more and more people are visiting their local library. Libraries are becoming even more of a community gathering and community service venue.
What challenges do small publishers face today, and how do you go about helping them overcome those challenges?
The two biggest complaints I hear from small publishers and first time authors who are considering getting into the small publishing arena are:
1) Hybrid and “Co” publishing companies will charge them a great deal of money.
2) Not being able to find editors, designers, and help when they decide to publish their book on their own.
But the biggest issue I see in working with thousands of small presses and self published authors every year, is the gap between authors who want to get their book published and authors who want to get their book published properly.
Successful publishers take their time and follow all of the steps necessary to publish a book properly. They do not “rush to print” they put a solid plan together and they educate themselves as to what is needed to publish a book properly.
There are wonderful resources out there that any author can use to teach themselves how to become a successful publisher. The key is to read those articles, watch those videos, take the time and the trouble to learn about this industry. Publishing a book is no different than launching any other new business. And there’s a lot that goes into launching a new business successfully.
No one would think of opening a new restaurant or launching an art gallery without taking a great deal of time and money to learn exactly how those businesses work. And they would never think of opening a new restaurant without taking time to find the best dishes, stoves, and decorations. So why do people who want to start a publishing project think they can launch without the same sort of time investment?
The biggest challenges most new authors face are lack of information and not enough planning. But the good news is that both of these can be easily fixed.
What trends have you noticed in the publishing industry in the last five years?
If you read the New York Times, you will be told that e-books are stagnating. That is not at all what I have noticed in the last five years. I have seen a enormous eBook growth. Major media outlets only interview the top publishers and members of the American Publishing Association. The top 10 publishers out there are all selling their e-books at very high prices. They charge $15 for an ebook and then act surprised that eBook sales are dropping. Many novels are less expensive in paperback than they are in eBook! Top publishers have shot themselves in the foot with very expensive e-books. But the rest of the publishing community and small press world knows that avid readers are very willing to pay three, four, and even six and seven dollars for a new author. They’re willing to take a risk and to buy a new book… But not for $15. EBook sales are not stagnating when you take small presses and self published authors into the equation. And eBook price strategies are creating wonderful opportunities for new authors and small presses. (Bookbub anyone?)
What new trends do you anticipate for the coming years?
While the subscription services out there may not be perfect, I predict that subscription-based fiction readership will grow a lot in the next five years. Apps like HOOKED and others should not be dismissed as a fad. It’s not easy to pay attention to every new thing that comes down the pike… But I would recommend that we all keep an eye on the subscription services and “push apps“ out there.
I also believe that paper books are not going anywhere, but electronic versions of content will continue to pick up readers. Younger readers love paper books, but the next generation is quite used to reading and browsing online. Tons of older readers are preferring audiobooks. Avid readers will be getting their books in all sorts of ways. So publish in EVERY format and on every venue.
What misconceptions do you think authors have about publishing, marketing and book sales?
Too often I speak with authors who believe that if they publish their book, the readers will come. This is not Field of Dreams. No one is going to “find” your book. You are not going to be “discovered” without investing time each day on marketing activities. First time best-selling authors and the self-publishing success stories have one thing in common: They worked very hard to promote and market their books. They promoted themselves and they worked hard to build a fan base and a readership. Authors who just want to “stay at home and write” are very welcome to do so, but after almost 30 years in this industry, I’ve never met a successful author who stayed at home and “just wrote.”
The other misconception I hear almost is often is that sales and marketing needs to cost a lot of money. That’s just not true! If you were willing to spend a little bit of time every day promoting yourself and your books, you do not need to spend a lot of money. But you have to spend one of the other… spend time or spend your money so that others can spend time. As I’ve said for years: “Time, Money, Talent: Pick any two.”
Can you give us a brief preview of what you’ll be addressing at indieLAB?
I will be teaching two sessions. One will be focused on how to find your readership. If you are an author who doesn’t understand why other authors have so many readers and you want to develop your own fan base, this session is for you.
For the authors who dream of getting their books in the libraries and bookstores? I will be teaching another session on just that. We will be going over a checklist of what needs to happen to get your book onto the shelves of your favorite stores and libraries.