John Koehler, founding publisher at the small indie press, Koehler Books just wrote this blog post for their website,http://www.koehlerbooks.com/the-truth-about-book-marketing/ While reading it, he jarred my thoughts back to book marketing with a sigh. My experience with this dreaded or delightful aspect of the publishing industry reeks of highs and lows and some words for future authors which will hopefully help you avoid the pitfalls along the way. Here’s a quick summary of my experience followed by helpful hints.
My first book, a children’s picture book called Back to the Manger, was published by a tiny publisher in Minnesota. They did a beautiful job on the product and gladly left all the marketing to me. Being the zealous first time author with a holiday book in hand I pounded the internet pavement with a vengeance. The book did well, supported by strong events and speaking engagements. In two months it sold a few thousand copies, but I found myself wondering what might the sales result have been if this publisher marketed the book as well as they produced it? Also, by Christmas Day my weary bones could barely make it downstairs for stockings and presents.
For my first novel, A Minor, I signed a traditional deal with a small publisher. Just FYI, traditional means you get an advance and royalties. They worked hard and created a gorgeous product with breakthrough technology, the music embedded into all the ebooks – presto! – just touch the title of the music on your Kindle and it plays. Their partnership with Ingram distributors accomplished this feat, but Ingram didn’t seem to do much more, despite being a big name. Again the lions share of the marketing landed on my doorstep with the first box of comp books. As John says, expect about 50-80% of the work to be done by you, the author. He’s not kidding. The book sold well, but not as well as I’d hoped.
Next up, a poetry and essay compilation with Redbud Writers Guild, Everbloom, with a small publishing house which also happens to have a fantastic marketing department. Lesson here, some small presses do have the capability to market your book so look carefully under the hood. Talk to other authors who’ve been published by this press. What did they do for their book? What does the contract say about marketing? What I’d describe as teamwork marketing muscle launched this book (i.e. not just me) and again it did well, but not as well as I’d predicted. Hint- don’t make predictions on book sales. However, the experience of working together with a marketing team enhanced my joy in releasing this book into the world.
So my singlehanded marketing effort for my first book has actually sold more copies over time than the others? Why? Not an easy question to answer because an amalgamation of factors are at play. A key one is what I like to call the unanticipated demand factor. Some books are organically launched in the right place at the right time. My Christmas book happened to be such a book. It leveraged a unique time period that can be maximized year after year. So timing effectiveness is a reality. Hint – think about how you can link your book to a specific timing or event that thematically ties in with the topic. Also, breakthrough technology doesn’t ensure success so don’t bank on a quality of uniqueness as a factor of sales. Sure, the cover is important, but a breakthrough cover design/feel won’t make a huge difference. A teamwork approach to marketing is best. Hearing about a new event/opportunity from your marketing team even six months after the book launched buoys your desire to do more. If they’re still working for the book, then you can too, especially beyond the book signing launch party. In store signings don’t sell many books. Celebrating with friends and family at a rock ‘em sock ‘em launch party is a blast, but just because you sold 50 books that day doesn’t mean your book will succeed down the road. As a benchmark, a friend working for a larger publishing house told me, “If your book sells 10,000 copies then it’s a success.” With my limited track record of working through three book launches, I’d say he’s right.
Does all this deter my desire to write the next great American novel? Heck No! The intangible “amen” of writing a creative paragraph that develops a character and advances the storyline inspires me to keep going. We authors love words and the way we can manifest, manipulate and massage them to speak life into something that’s never been spoken before far outweighs the hills and valleys of book marketing. Keep your heart focused on the story while learning and growing as a marketer one book at a time. Keep the faith and Happy National Novel Writing Month everyone! For the first time I’ll be participating in this worldwide, manic writing endeavor with a healthy dose of fear and trembling.
p.s. John Koehler published a helpful little ebook for those who want more illumination on writing and book marketing and it’s free. Here’s the link: http://www.koehlerbooks.com/dropbox/pocket/pocket%20guide%20digital%20ARC%207-1.pdf