Marketing a Print Book--James D. Macdonald

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reprinted with permission from a forum post written by James D. Macdonald.

Okay, let's talk about marketing campaigns.

First, the number one reason anyone buys a novel is they've read and enjoyed another book by the same author.

The number two reason anyone buys a novel is that it was recommended by a trusted friend.

All the other reasons vanish down into the single-digit percentages. (The reasons people buy non-fiction are different ... and not important right now.)

The marketing that you're thinking of -- newspaper and radio ads, for example -- that the A-list authors get serve one purpose: "You know that book you were going to buy the minute it came out? It's out!" That only works because of reason one above: The public has read and enjoyed previous books by the same author. You could get the same print ads that a Rowling or a Grisham get ... without getting the same results. Because there aren't enough people waiting for your next book. If you're a first-time author there's no one waiting for your next book.

Smaller stuff -- end cap placement, for example -- gets spread out pretty well among all the house's authors. The bigger houses have more money to spend on that.

Trusted friends ... you know who they are. (That's one reason you want Oprah to recommend your book; she's the trusted friend to millions.) That's also where reviewers come in. That's why publishers send out hundreds of ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) to reviewers, and not just for their A-listers ... for everyone.

Here's what all publishers do for all their authors, first-time no-names and everyone else:

1) ARCs to reviewers
2) Ads in trade mags (you won't see those unless you're running a bookstore)
3) Listed in the publisher's catalog, which is sent to every bookstore and library in the country
4) Touted by paid salespersons who visit bookstores and chain buyers. There will be a publicist assigned to your book. That publicist will be handling many other books, but he or she has contacts that you just don't have.

You, as an author, can't do any of those things. Those, however, are the things that actually sell books.

Having the book on the shelf is the important part, and the publisher will be moving the heavens to get a couple of copies of their entire line on every bookstore shelf in America. That's for the early-adopters, the people who will pick up books that look "interesting," and (it is to be hoped) recommend them to their friends (see above, reason two why anyone buys a novel). It's also for the folks who want to buy your book for whatever reason (they read another of your books, for example). The publisher wants your book to be on the shelf when that person walks in the door, because if it isn't, the odds are low that they'll seek it out. They'll buy another book instead.

Another thing that all publishers do is put an attractive cover on your book. Book covers are meant to be point-of-sale ads for the book. The publisher may well have paid as much to the cover artist as they did to you.

You could hire your own publicist. Sure. But rather than that, blowing your entire advance to make back pennies on the dollar, you'd be better advised to spend your advance on groceries while you're writing your next book. Because each of your books is the best possible publicity for all the others. Write another novel. You're an excellent, professional author, right? Do what writers do. Write. The short story you sell to a major magazine is better publicity than anything you could buy.

If merely running external marketing campaigns was all that it took to make any book a best-seller, publishers would run them on every book. Who wouldn't want every book to be a best seller?

The idea that publishers don't market and promote their products effectively is a strange one, and it's retold by people who aren't your friends. Publishers want to sell all their books, including yours, because that's how they make their money.

8 comments:

Erastes 5:28 AM  

Interesting, but he's talking from a stratosphere that not many of us lowly writers can imagine.

His idea of what "ALL" publishers do is amusing. All publishers put an attractive cover on books do they?

And this: You, as an author, can't do any of those things.

I'm afraid that I'm the one who sends ARCs to reviewers because the small publishers I've been working with only send out to a few on their list. Hell, Linden Bay don't even supply author copies, let alone ARCs.

I agree with him about short stories being good advertising, though.

Angie 12:07 PM  

What Erastes Said.

The Great and Powerful Yog is still operating under the assumption that New York is the only place in the world that publishes books. It's cool that he's there, but I'm not, and neither are a lot of other writers I know. When your publisher is operating on half a frayed shoestring, you pretty much have to do whatever you can to help the marketing effort.

Angie

Emily Veinglory 3:54 PM  

I should say that I posted this ober from a general writing forum so the default application would be 'typical' types of commercial publishing.

Angie 4:02 PM  

Emily -- that does make a difference then. [nod] But it still underscores the Great Divide in publishing, the way folks in certain places can say "Publishing is like THIS" and mean only part of the industry. It reminds me of how some folks over in other places can say "Romance is like THIS" and mean only the het side. Similar blind spots, springing from similarly judgemental (and often superior) attitudes. :/

Angie

Emily Veinglory 4:10 PM  

I still think a lot fo it is or should be true. To the extent it is not authors are arguably partially self-publishing. Which is a good deal for the publisher--they don't have to pay for their own ads and ARCs, but something we should perhaps consider. I don't buy my own ads or Arcs.

Angie 4:21 PM  

Sure, I'd love it if my publisher could afford more marketing oomph. At this point, though, I don't think the books would sell as well if they tacked another dollar or two onto everything. It's a scale problem, and one that small presses have always had.

It's my choice to submit my work to a publisher I know is small, although there aren't all that many alternatives that are much larger. It's not like Avon or St. Martins are scrambling to come out with an m/m romance line.

I've never paid for an ad either, although I suppose I could if I wanted to. I don't have any novels out yet, though, and I don't think an ad would be worth it for a short or a novelette. And the reviewers who take m/m tend to be online and take e-copies; if I run into one who isn't on my publisher's list already, I can just zap them a copy of my author's copy, so that doesn't cost me anything either.

I think there's a difference between a small publisher doing what it honestly can, and letting the writers do more on their own if they want to, and a large publisher (like PublishAmerica, for instance) doing absolutely nothing and expecting the writers to do all the marketing. It's the widow's mite idea, you know?

Although yes, in a perfect world, all the publishers would take ads in magazines, and would publish paper editions of all their books, which they got into (end caps in) bookstores. :)

Angie

Emily Veinglory 4:49 PM  

I do not think it is a lagre versus small press issue so much as one specific to small presses with large volume (e.g. e/POD).

If they do not pay for it, ergo it is not done that is one approach (my approach). But I now see a lot of the press not doing it but actively encouraging or in some cases mandating that the author does.

I do not see a problem with that either but it is a co-op publishing model: where the author pays for things traditionally done by publishers. I think that is a choice that should be made consciously by both author and publisher.

On thos blog I see authors very anti authors paying for print, but a great many will pay for their own ads and ARCs. I am not sure of the distinction. Especially give the ducious effectiveness of most advertsing and limited ability of solo authors to spenbd promo money effectively.

I also thing this misses the main point. That the core ability to sell books is not promo but basic distribution--which is down to the publisher.

Angie 5:06 PM  

I'm not sure where my press would be regarding volume; I don't have any numbers for them, or for any similar publishers for that matter. But they do both e-books and paper books, with nothing done on-demand, and their marketing budget is still limited.

I agree, of course, that getting our books (the paper editions at least) into chain bookstores would make a huge difference, moreso than any amount of advertising or reviews. That's an end of the business I can't comment on knowledgeably, though, except to observe that none of the small presses seem to get into the big chain stores, unless the individual managers have discretion in purchasing, and have a particular interest in some genre and goes looking, or at least says "Yes" when someone comes in with a box of books. That doesn't seem to happen very often, though. Going through regular channels? No clue.

As it is, though, I do what I can. Which at this point is mainly being a presence around the blogosphere.

Angie

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