With hundreds of thousands of books already available and a possible explosion of material in the years ahead, the challenge for authors (and publishers) will be how to make the book/s stand out from the crowd and generate sales.
The big publishers spend the majority of their marketing budgets pushing the top names, (the big sellers) with a lesser percentage spent on those who are breaking through, (unit sales of about 200,000) and then diminishing money on those who are ‘the ones to watch,’ with nothing left over for the others. The new authors (unless the publisher has spent an inordinate amount on acquiring the titles) are left to their own devices. The biggest challenge therefore, as an author, is getting your name out there and unfortunately not all publishers will help you to do this or allow you enough time to build your 'name'. If you're not selling from day one then you could find yourself being dropped after your book contract is fulfilled. This doesn't mean that your book was bad or that your writing was poor. On the contrary both could be brilliant. But in a world that wants quick returns on investments you simply ran out of time.
Books are a low cost item (generally) and not a fast moving consumer good (FMCG) so they don't generally fly off the shelves unless you happen to be a celebrity, or a big named author already. Selling books whether you are a bookseller, author or publisher is very hard work and usually for the majority of titles a slow trickle until hopefully (in some cases) that trickle becomes a stream, then a river and at last an almighty flood. But making that happen all takes time, persistence, marketing and money.
Sitting in your garret compiling your masterpiece and then letting your publisher get on with the business of marketing and selling your books is not an option. If you want your books to sell, not only do you have to produce the work that people want to buy, but you also have to be a clever and persistent marketer.
Branding can help to create and reinforce an identity for a product or service and place it in the minds of the customer, thereby boosting sales. With books the branding can include: the author, the publisher’s type of list, the fictional character, or as in my case the setting of my crime novels, marine mysteries, against the backdrop of the sea.
Reinforcing that brand will involve the packaging, the cover design, the size of the book, the title, typography, the quality of the paper, the marketing i.e. where the book is advertised, what kind of advertising is undertaken, the images used, the style of copy writing, the marketing message. And what reinforces the brand is the consistency of communicating all the above, across all the marketing channels; something that many publishers sadly aren’t very good at because they don’t employ professional marketeers, and often don’t have the money or the time to do it correctly and consistently.
That’s all very well you might be saying but this branding is the publisher’s responsibility surely, what can I do about it? OK, so you might have little say over the packaging of the book or the advertising or lack of it but there is still a lot you can and should do to market yourself and your book/s.
Research in the UK by the Next Big Thing, (2008) sponsored by IBS Bookmaster, has shown that people get their information about new titles from in store displays, (28%) but how does an author get an in store display if the publisher is not committed to the title and not prepared to pay the chain bookseller for it? With Waterstone’s recent change of policy to help support local titles and authors there is an opportunity for authors to take the matter in hand and go direct to their local Waterstone’s managers. Ask them to support your book by stocking it and perhaps promoting it with an in store event. Don’t wait for them to come up with ideas but suggest them yourself and make sure you tell everyone about it both on line and off line. Even before the recent announcement of Waterstone’s to ‘go local’ though I have always found them willing to support book signing events and have organised signings in many Waterstone branches across the south of England.
W.H. Smith is a different kettle of fish. There are no such opportunities with this giant chain because of the high costs to the publisher for carrying and displaying titles in store so generally only the big named authors will continue to make it on to the limited shelf space. But if you feel like approaching them then why not? You never know, you might have a very innovative local branch manager.
Then there are independent bookshops and, if an author is fortunate enough to have one of this dwindling breed in their neck of the woods, direct contact and support from the indie is extremely worthwhile particularly if that indie is expert in hand selling titles to customers. Again you can suggest a book signing event. I’ve done several with my local independent bookshop including two eight hour stints on board the Wightlink Ferry.
So what else can you do? In second place in the survey consumers claimed they got information from a newspaper or magazine book review (14%). Again, it is extremely difficult for a new author, or an author who has not made the big time, to get a review. Reviewers tend to favour non-fiction and literary novels. However, media coverage in local and regional media, or in specialist magazines, isn’t so difficult, but don’t wait for the publisher’s publicist to do this, because they won’t. Remember they are tied up with their big name authors. So authors need to build their own media list and send out their own press releases. They need to look for unusual stories and angles to generate media interest, and give radio interviews wherever possible. And if you don’t know how to write a press release or give a radio interview then put yourself on a course and learn how to do it. It could be one of the best investments you make. Or perhaps the publisher could run courses for their authors. Now there’s a novel idea! I’d be happy to oblige.
The next biggest data driver, according to the research, is recommendations from friends and family (12%) followed by Internet recommendations (9%). Combined this adds up to 21% and in my calculation has got to be worth pursuing. They are areas of marketing that are both available and accessible to any author.
Book specific and genre specific web sites are an important part of the author’s marketing plan as are the social networks such as Twitter, Facebook etc. And with the proliferation of bloggers they’ve also got to be a target area, not to mention creating your own blog and/or website to showcase your work and interact with your readers and potential readers.
Generating word of mouth and raising your profile and that of your books takes time, effort and persistence, which can be frustrating, but it can be fun and rewarding. It is also an essential part of being an author and an extremely valuable investment in your career.
1. Don't rely on the publisher to market you or your book. Do it yourself.
This is no time for modesty false or otherwise. Publishers don't have the time, resources or money to commit to marketing many authors but instead concentrate on their BIG names, their 'cash cows!' Draw up a marketing plan from the moment (or even before) your book is to be published and stick to it.
2. Keep marketing from day one and use every opportunity you can to promote yourself and your book.
This can be through a press release to the media. Send it to local, regional and specialist media. Put it on-line, on your blog, website and/or social networks. Send it to specialist blogs and web sites. Send it to radio stations and offer to do interviews.
Get recordings of interviews or record them yourself and put them on your blogs, websites and on You Tube.
Give talks in libraries, both local and around the country, to help spread the word about your books. Libraries are great at promoting authors and have ready and willing readers. You can also sell your books at your talk and generate income. Contact other organisations, for example Women’s Institutes, retirement organisations, schools (if appropriate depending on your book) book festivals etc. and offer to give talks. Promote the event beforehand on your blogs/websites and get someone to take photographs at these events and put them on the Internet afterwards.
Contact local bookshop/s and ask if you can do a signing. You will need to market the event yourself, don't expect people to turn up, even some of the big name authors are left at book signings staring at the bookshelves with no one to talk to.
3. Keep it going.
Marketing is a long slow process. What you do today might not have an immediate impact but eventually it will begin to work. Give it at least eighteen months before you start to see any real benefits.
4. Be patient and persistent.
5. Always look for opportunities and seize them where you can. Never stop marketing.