There is a wide choice of activities an author may decide to take advantage of in marketing his or her book. Creating a marketing plan will help the author explore the range of choices to fit his or her strengths, interests and budget – and what activities are most likely to result in maximum sales for the book.
Strategic Thinking About the Book
A complete book marketing plan has several components that start with strategic thinking and end up with a tactical action plan that focuses the marketing effort and helps all involved parties understand the intent and desired outcome. Ideally, the marketing plan should be written before the book is written so the author will write to the reader, to answer the reader’s problems and fill a need in the market. No marketing plan can make up for a book that doesn’t meet the needs of the target audience in a compelling way.
Define the most likely reader, a profile of the person who most needs your book in terms of demographics (i.e., gender, income, marital status, etc., psychographics (attitudes about the subject, fears, desires) and behaviors (what does this audience read, where do they go to buy information products, to what groups do they belong).
Also consider whether there is a secondary audience and answer these same questions for that type of reader as well.
Some of the important elements of positioning include:
- Where does the book fall in the market of books on this topic? What is special about the book?
Compared to other similar books is it:
- Broader and more superficial OR deeper into the subject?
- For the lay person OR for the professional?
- Simple and easy to comprehend OR feature-rich and more complex?
- Complete and self-contained OR does it have interactivity and lead to further learning?
- Written by an established expert OR written by a new expert or by a experienced lay person?
- How the book is positioned will determine how press releases are written and who the back cover copy and other sales material will be directed to.
Author’s Definition of Success
There is no point in creating a plan to get where an author doesn’t want to go. Most people assume the plan is designed to maximize sales, but that may be only part of what the author would like to have happen with the book. If the author is a professional or an expert, like an attorney, coach, therapist, then getting new clients may be one of the major goals of the book’s marketing plan.
Define success in terms of quantity of books sold, dollar revenue, new clients, a review in the New York Times, a book contract with a major publisher or whatever is significant to the author. How many books will be sold is affected by the price, wholesale discounting, how active the author will be in marketing and where the book will be available and other variables.
When authors do well, they can do very well.
James Patterson is the world’s highest-paid author, earning $70 million in the last year, according to a list published by Forbes. His current $100 million book deal requires him to write 17 books by the end of 2012, according to Forbes.
“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, the “world’s first author-billionaire” according to Forbes, rounds out the top 10.
Marketing Preparation for a Book Published by an Established Commercial Publisher
While the author/publisher is responsible for all aspects of a book which is self published, when a book is published by an established commercial publisher, some of the aspects of marketing may be handled by the publisher and you will want to coordinate your activities with those of the publisher.
The primary activity of the publisher is to make sure the book receives adequate distribution (covered earlier in the publishing information) and is available in retail bookstores, but a good publisher with a publicity department will also do some of the other tasks, such as getting early industry reviews, perhaps helping write and send out a media kit, create sell sheets or other collateral materials, set up media connections and make sure the author’s book is known to those who decide on the most prestigious book awards (such as the National Book Award in the US) if the book might be in contention.
If your author’s book is published by an established publisher, then the publisher will have set the retail price for the book and set the publication date – usually about 5 months after the books are physically ready. It will be very helpful if you can get on the telephone with both the author and the publicity department at the publisher to get early hi res JPG files of the cover, the publication date, planned media and reviewer requests and anything else the publisher has committed to doing.
With the exception of book awards (since the publisher always does the application process, you can’t apply for book awards for the author of a book from an established commercial publisher), just about everything else in this section will apply whether your author’s book is self published or commercially published – but do coordinate with the publisher when possible so you aren’t trying to do the work they might already be doing. Publishers are usually very supportive of authors working with author’s assistants and setting up a strategy to market and sell the book, both with live events and on line.
Timing of Self Publishing and Marketing Activities
Marketing Preparation for a Self Published Book
When an author is close to completion of a self published book, there are some basics that must be prepared so the author will be prepared to sell in any environment, live or on line.
Before you start other marketing activities that create compelling branding with words and visuals that are crafted to reach the audience. The most important are creating a compelling web presence, a fact-filled high-powered media kit and a few collateral materials
We will cover this in detail in the next session.
We will cover this in detail in two more sessions.
Collateral materials are all the promotional brochures, bookmarks, stickers, postcards, and other items that you give away at events, trade shows, and the like. Don’t get carried away with these and have them eat up your profits. An author can be ready for just about any event with a well-done poster of her book and other products, a sell sheet (8 ½” x 11”) with color copy on both sides, and some postcards or bookmarks. You need to establish a consistent style or brand that creates recognition for you and your book.
Distribution, an important aspect of book marketing, is making sure that the book is available where the audience for the book would naturally buy through retail channels (bookstores, gift stores, online, catalogs, etc.).
If the author is publishing with an established commercial publisher, distribution will be handled by that publisher. You will need to talk with the editor or person in charge of publicity to learn how best to order the author’s books for speaking engagements, etc. Generally, the author can buy his or her own books directly from the publisher at a 50% discount from the retail price.
If the author’s book is self published, then you cannot expect to make the book available in bookstores. But you can get the printer (especially Lightning Source) to drop ship the book to the author’s speaking location. The author will be able to buy the book from the printer at cost, meaning at the cost to print, which is generally from $2 to $4 dollars a book.
Distribution is getting the book to the audience through retail channels and book fulfillment is instead the author selling direct to the public (at events, at the author’s speaking engagements). Since books are expensive to ship, the key to fulfillment is to not keep too much inventory on hand and to have others ship whenever possible.
Many authors start out by doing the fulfillment themselves (or with the help of LightningSource) by having packaging for one book at a time ready to go.
Many authors are limited by both time and/or budget in determining what marketing activities they undertake. Part of a great plan is to reach the audience within a budget you can afford. A number of marketing activities are free or low cost, especially Internet marketing activities.
Many, if not most of the most effective book marketing activities are low or no cost for the author.
We categorize these activities into three broad areas all of which will be covered in much more detail throughout this book marketing section:
- Basics – Don’t start other active marketing without having an author web site, a completed Amazon page and a media kit
- Traditional PR activities for books and authors – book reviews, press releases, article submission
- Internet marketing – virtual book tour, social media, Amazon campaign and more
- Event-related marketing – speaking, book launch activities
Create a Marketing Calendar
Take the One-Page Book Marketing Plan Worksheet and put the activities in chronological order to create a calendar of what you and the author intend to do when.
Add in expected dollar amounts in the One-Page Book Marketing Plan and check with the author to make sure that they are within the budget.
If your author is self publishing, setting a publication date is a necessary part of planning for the book. Although your author can sell copies of your book at events and on his or her web site as soon as it is printed, having an official publication date allows you to plan for presenting the book to the media and the audience in an organized way.
For books published with established commercial publishers, the publisher will select the publication date well in advance. The reason they do this is to help prepare the market to be anxious to buy the book.
There is a good reason to select a publication date three to four months after you have printed copies of the book and that is to send out advanced reader copies for industry review.
But the author can still sell what is called “pre-publication” copies of the book as soon as it is back from the printer.
Selecting a Publication Date for the Self Published Book
If you can arrange it, select a publication date that coincides with an already- planned special event or other natural way for you to get media attention. For instance, if the author had written a book on mothers, a publication date weeks before Mother’s Day is an almost certainty in grabbing media exposure, when reporters and others are looking for fresh material on that topic.
Publication Date versus Copyright Date
You would also like for the book to appear current, maintaining the current year’s copyright date as long as possible. So securing a publication date early in the calendar year can be an advantage. On the other hand, the fall season (books coming out in September through November) get the most attention each year at the national book exhibition, Book Expo America, held in late May.
It is perfectly acceptable to use a copyright date on the copyright page for the following year if your book comes out in October, November or December. This is because you have 90 days to file the copyright registration once you have a printed book.
Publication Dates and Getting Early Book Reviews
Book reviews are important to the early and perhaps ultimate success of the book. If the book is favorably reviewed by one of the major newspapers or book review services, it is more likely to be ordered by libraries and other institutions that rely on reviews as a way to choose among the many books that are published each year. We will cover the steps in getting a book reviewed before publication later.
Advanced Reading Copies and Prepublication Copies for Sale
Copies made digitally in advance of the publication date are used for promotional purposes by the author and for sale on the author’s own web site or at events.
Amazon will list books for months before the book’s publication date and take prepublication orders but they will not start selling the book until the publication date.
This is actually one of the ways review services double-check to make sure an author or publisher is not sending them an older book as if it were new – by checking the book’s status on Amazon. If the book is already available, then it is past the publication date and will not be reviewed.
Tracking Book Sales/Best Sellers
If you sell your own book, you know exactly how many books you printed, how many have been sold (through your online shopping cart), and how many are left to be sold in the printing.
Oddly enough, when books are published by traditional publishers and go through the bookstore system, there are very few avenues open for authors and even publishers to track “real” sales of books. The Bookscan report from Neilsen Broadcast Data Systems, available since 2001, provides weekly sales by the major book retailers. But only the very largest companies can afford this expensive service. It is virtually impossible to estimate the real sales of a book from the quantities that are shipped to the stores. Remember, all “sales” to bookstores are made with a long-established, full-price return policy anytime. That means all the books could be returned to you, even a year later. Major publishers expect overall return rates of 20 percent to 30 percent, but individual books can be much, much higher.
When your book is returned, it doesn’t mean that someone bought it, didn’t like it, and sent it back through the bookstore. Far more likely, it was never sold in the first place, and the bookstore returned it to the distributor after sixty to ninety days.
You will see sales numbers on your royalty statement, but generally there is also a reserve for expected returns as well.
If your book is published by an established commercial publisher or printed by Lightning Source, you can call the distributor Ingram’s sales tracking phone number, 615-213-6803, to hear about sales for both the previous week and last year.
It seems that all authors these days say their book is a best seller, and that’s because there is no established, objective criteria for what that means. There are roughly forty national and regional best-seller lists in the United States. The New York Times’ list is probably the most well known and respected. Another one that is well known, especially inside the publishing industry, is provided by Publishers Weekly (PW). In 2005, 442 adult titles were declared best sellers, according to the Publisher’s Weekly compilations. Some best-seller lists such as those belonging to Publisher’s Weekly and USA Today are based on national surveys, with others on much less objective criteria. The New York Times bases their list on a poll of both chain and independent bookstores. The list from the American Booksellers Association polls only independent bookstores. The Los Angeles Times polls thirty bookstores in the metropolitan area to compile its list.
Only eight self-published books have made it to number one on the Publishers Weekly best seller list.
Focus and Persistence
New possibilities will always present themselves and it is easy to get distracted by some new marketing opportunity unless you have a plan. It is also easy to get discouraged with early book sales. Nonfiction book sales generally start slower and are higher the 2nd and even higher the 3rd year after publication as the buzz about the book builds. Slow and steady wins the race. Many of the best selling books of all time are perennials; they might not sell millions in a single year, but they sell millions over time.
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