Monday, March 16, 2009

Books Don’t Sell Themselves

I need to stress to all authors that books don’t sell themselves. If you’re tracking your sales on Amazon, or on sales reports from you publisher, you’re realizing that now.

You’re published, and that’s a heady feeling, but now you need to be working just as hard on selling them and yourself as you did on the writing and editing. You’re not done. I realize that everyone has another life aside from your writing. I also realize you want to use your spare time to continue writing. If you’re not putting any effort into promoting yourself and gaining name recognition, where is your market? Your reader base? Without a reader base, what’s the point of all the work involved in writing and publishing that writing?

A few questions to consider: Do you have your website up? Are you blogging? Are you utilizing many of the Internet options, social networks such as Facebook, Gather, Twitter, MySpace, and a host of others? In other words, are you building an Internet presence? You also need to physically make yourself known as an author. Are you contacting people locally? Local bookstores, libraries, local author groups, book clubs, newspapers, and radio to publicize yourself as an author and your book? Locally, you have an ‘in’. Use it.

Traditional publishers expect their authors to spend at least three months prior to publication and two or more months after publication on book publicity and promotion. If you’re published with a smaller independent press or POD press, it’s even more vital to be working to promote yourself as an author and a person. In other words, name recognition. Notice I didn’t say a book. The intent is to draw readers to you. You cannot accomplish that by beating them over the head with a book. As an author you are more than a book. People, as a rule, don’t like a hard sell. You want to draw readers to all the work you’ve created. Each successful sale of your newest release can create an interest in your backlist and anticipation for your next book.

I won’t kid you; promotion requires commitment and a lot of time. You need to be organized and set aside blocks of time to do this. It also means stepping out of your comfort zone to do it. Bottom line here is this is your business, your product that is debuting. Your books/product will only be as good as the effort after the writing to get attention for you and your books. Keep that in mind.

Even if bookstores do carry your books, what separates you from all the other authors out there? You need name recognition and a reader base. You have to build that with well-crafted stories and advertising yourself.

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About our guest
I'm married to a spitzy Italian. We have a ranch out beyond the back 40 where I raise kids, dogs, horses, cats, and have been known to raise a bit of hell, now and then. I have a good sense of humor and am an observer of life and a bit of a philosopher. I see the nuances—they intrigue me.I’m a Marketing Rep by profession and a creative writer. I have written several mainstream Romance novels one of which I’ve out on a partial request. I’ve written and published various articles on Promotion and Publicity, Marketing, Writing, and the Publishing industry.Aside from conducting various writing discussions and doing numerous guest blogging engagements, I write a blog, Over Coffee, Each week I promote and share authors’ stories, on the laughter, glitches, triumphs, and fun that writers and authors face in pursuit of their ambition to write—Over Coffee.


Sheila Deeth said...

Accepting that the author still has to market their work, is it any easier to market something that's traditionally published rather than something self-published?

Dana Fredsti said...

Oh, Sia...there is truth and steel in your words... and I'm so burned out on all of it right now. I would stress building in time to renew one's energy in there somewhere... because if you don't, everything falls apart at once.

Judi Fennell said...

Ah, yes. Promotion.

Here's some:

Check out my blog for $150 OFF a Weekend at the Beach in Ocean City, NJ.

There. Did I do good, Sia?

And you're right up there with the rest of us marketing mavens!

Sherrie Super said...

Oh, if only they DID promote and sell themselves. Dang!

Great article, Sia!

Anonymous said...

The internet makes it easier to get your name out there but now your name is in a bigger and deeper pool. How do you set yourself apart?

~Sia McKye~ said...

Judi, you crack me up! You're no slouch when it comes to promotion.

And thanks for visiting my Over Coffee Blog. I didn't realize you knew Caridad Pineiro. She's a neat lady.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sheila Deeth said...
Accepting that the author still has to market their work, is it any easier to market something that's traditionally published rather than something self-published?

Yes, traditional is easier. While everyone has to promote him or herself, build up name recognition and a readership base, with traditional publishing there's a support staff. Plus, when your book is released, it's released nationally (this involves thousands of copies) AND online.

Those that are published through Indie publishers using digital technology or POD technology usually don't have those avenues. The book IS released online so it ostensibly is available worldwide.

The difference comes down to this: most National chains don’t, as a rule, carry fiction trade paperbacks on the shelves. If the Independent Publisher lists their books through wholesale distributors such as Ingram’s, the trade paperback can be said to be available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, or any other National chain bookstore. But due to the higher cost of trade paperbacks ($10-18 apiece compared to $4.99-8.99 for mass-paperbacks) they don’t give them shelf space because they’re looking at sell through. That’s not to say NO fiction trade paperbacks are ever carried on the shelves because a savvy author can approach the local/regional book buyers for those chains and get their books on the shelf. Local authors do get some breaks. A savvy publisher can work a deal with some of these bookstores too. So it CAN happen, just not as a rule. And by the nature of the technology, it gets very pricey to provide 1000’s of copies nation wide to those chains. If the publisher owns the technology, it’s more cost effective, but many use outside presses to print their books.

So two debuting authors publish their books on same day. Author A is published through a traditional publisher. The print run is 25, 000 books to be distributed nationally and the book is available online. Author B publishes through a small independent publisher who uses digital technology from an outside press. It’s available online and in e-format. An unlimited amount of books are feasibly available of that book but they aren’t distributed nationally except through a catalogue. They’re available on an order basis. Customer walks into the store. They see 5 copies of author A on the shelf. The customer can pick them up, look at the blurb and decided to buy it. Author B’s book isn’t on the shelf. It has to be ordered. Chances are, customer has no idea that author B’s book is of equal quality because they don’t see it on the shelf. Author A has the advantage.

This is where author A & B have to promote their names and build their readership base. Both have advanced warning of release dates. We’re going to say, both A & B started building anticipation for their book 3 months before the release. They do this through the social networks. Both names are getting well known. They blog, join discussions in writing forums. Now the customer can walk into the bookstore and know about both. Still, the advantage is with author A because chances are, their books are in many of the bookstores nationwide—25,000 books of author A’s in fact. Author B can’t compete with that, but author B has people ordering it from the bookstore and online. Author B has their book in a few local and regional bookstores, which ups their advantage, but only marginally. Author B still can’t compete with author A as far as volume and catching the eye of the customer with a well-designed cover. For author B to sell over 1000 books is going to take work and lots of it. Where the advantage swings bit to author B is that the shelf life of the book is longer. Author A’s book might not be reordered after 3 months, but author B’s books are still available. If both authors release another book after 3-6 months to build on the buzz, advantage is still with author A.

So yes, the advantage is with traditionally published books.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Anonymous said...
The Internet makes it easier to get your name out there but now your name is in a bigger and deeper pool. How do you set yourself apart?

First, by writing a good book. By being creative in your promotion. Letting your readers get to know the person behind the book. Getting good reviews. Looking for avenues to publicly talk about yourself and your writing. Some selected book-signing events, getting in with a book Club. Getting creative with your publicity department from your publisher. And working you’re a** off on the Internet. I’ve found that by helping others you help yourself. Do book reviews of big name authors and post it to your website or blog. Big names draw people and search engines to you site.
By being aware that if your first book is good, chances are the readers will buy the second and in fact will be looking for the second. Realizing that you’ll have to be patient and build your readership base steadily. Each book does better than the last. The Dan Browns are few and far between. They hit with a big splash because their book fits a niche, or dovetails with current events. Even those best selling authors had to start out unknown. They may not have hit even the extended best selling list until their 3rd or 4th book. But they were in it for the long haul. Once they hit that list, the publisher is going to increase the print run of their next book. That increases the volume available on the bookshelves. That volume is eye catching because smart bookstore personnel put up displays of those authors books. They are under more pressure to sell those books by talking about them to customers. But it all starts with writing a good story and a willingness to work hard to get name recognition.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Dana Fredsti said... "I would stress building in time to renew one's energy in there somewhere... because if you don't, everything falls apart at once."

Absolutely, Dana! Burn out can happen. Finding those things to renew your spirit is vital to your well-being and your creative side. It's hard to write when exhausted. Find time for you and do the fun things that refresh you. And don't be obsessive.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sherrie, thanks for stopping by my friend! I'd say a lot of authors would be thrilled if all they had to do was write the books and hand them off to their publisher and then go back to writing the next, lolol!

Kim Smith said...

I used to ask how do you know when your book is finished and ready to submit - now I ask how do you know you are finished promoting and ready to write a new book?

Anonymous said...

Sia, It tickles me that your comments are longer than your article! What doesn't tickle me is knowing what a disadvantage I'm at compared to authors published by the major presses. The job of promotion seems insurmountable. One person can only do so much, but if by chance I succeed, the success will be so much sweeter. (That's what I tell myself anyway.)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kim Smith said...
I used to ask how do you know when your book is finished and ready to submit - now I ask how do you know you are finished promoting and ready to write a new book?

Kim, I'd say that's up to the author. There's no hard and fast rules. The major thrust of promotion is going to be done at least 3 months before your book is released and at least 3 months after. I would think that a writer, depending upon their writing styles, can be working on the next book ideas and writing even before the promotion buzz dies down. I think it's a matter of organizing blocks of time.

But if you're spending 6 months a year doing promotion you have 6 months that you're not hyper-focused on it. Many can write a book or two in that time. It's very individual.

Pomotion is labor intensive and can be mentally and physically draining. Even if you are able to write the next book during part of your promotion period, you are going to have to take some downtime to recharge. Even while writing the next book, you need to keep your name out there. It's a good blogging subject, I'm working on blah-blah.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Pat, my friend, I so need an icon that sticks it's tongue out, :p lolol!

Pat, how do you climb any mountain? One step at a time. Promotion for small press authors seems like a mountain. But you take it one step at a time.

Digtial print technology is becoming more prevalant and despite what the naysayers say, more acceptable. The quality of these books are amazing and moving into the area of being a serious contender in the publishing field. It used to be said that small press authors were lucky to sell 500 copies. I know MANY that have surpassed that, one step at a time. Being persistent and being creative. You, my friend, are both.

Pat you are a wonderful storyteller. You take great care in how your books are presented. I'm not seeing you fail in this. You are going about it in the right way. Before you know it? you'll be up that mountain and planting a flag that says Bertram. :-)

s.w. vaughn said...

Sia, you are a kind and wonderful person. :-) Thanks so much for answering everyone's questions in such detail, and so intelligently!

You've really got it together. I'm impressed.

I think I'm in a unique position as far as promotion. I have novels contracted through independents, and now I have a deal with a commercial publisher as well. I'm working under two names, so at least initially there won't be much cross-promotion.

By the time my first commercial book comes out in spring of next year, I'll already have at least one indy title out, possibly two. It will be interesting to see how they both pan out.

Thanks again for this wonderful information and encouragement, Sia! You are a gem.

Chester Campbell said...

Good stuff, Sia. As a small press author, I've been on the promotional merry-go-round since my first book came out in 2002. With the fifth due next month, I'm in the throes of banging away at Facebook and Twitter and the listserves, while setting up local signings and a launch party, plus preparing for a blog tour. What's this burnout stuff Dana's talking about? I ain't got time for that!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Why thank you Mz Vaughn, :-)

Writing a book and then putting your baby out there for others to read and maybe not like, is hard enough. Add promotion, when it's such a foreign concept to a solitary writer, it's scary. It's confusing, there are days you feel you're spinning your wheels for nothing. This is where other writers can be encouraging and SHOULD be. It doesn't take much effort to share knowledge and offer encouragement. I have little patience for negative people. My personal philosophy is a positive attitude draws positive energy. However, as you can tell, I don't spin fairytails about the publishing field either. I save that for my stories.

I think you have to look at the realities of what you're up against so you can plan the best way to climb the mountain. Traditional publishers might offer better equipment to climb the mountain, but the mountain still remains to be climbed. You make it to the top because you are determined to do so and by putting one foot in front of the other.

It will be interesting to see how your books do. traditional vs independent. Keep me posted, will you?

You've built some name recognition, which is good. I wish you the very best! :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Chester, you crack me up! That's the spirit though.

Most of promotion is being friendly, commenting on people's status comments, and follow through. If someone comes and leaves a comment on your blog, return the favor. If they return the comment on the social networks, do the same. Most of it's common sense, courtesy, and taking a personal interest in others. It draws people.

Knock 'em dead Chester! :-)

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Promotion is time consuming, but necessary.

Doing all this on the Internet does take time away from writing, but it's the best way to get name recognition.

Great post.

aka F. M. Meredith

~Sia McKye~ said...

Marilyn, I do agree, it's a necessary evil, lolol! And actually, you can have fun with it too. I've met some great people that way.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Marta and crew for having me. I alway enjoy visiting here. :-)