Book Marketing, Author Publicity, Branding

Friday, June 4, 2010

Demand Creates Supply, Not the Other Way Around

I have mentioned previously how books get stocked on bookstore shelves, how difficult it is to get a book stocked in bookstores, and why bookstores may not even be the best option for authors.

I'm not trying to give the impression that authors shouldn't care if their book is available in a bookstore. Bookstores do sell books. However, when it comes to book sales and what the best venue is for a particular book, they are not the only game in town. Authors run into problems when they focus on bookstores at the expense of all other marketing avenues. Bookstores should be a part of every author's marketing plan, but they should not be the ONLY part of an author's marketing plan. Some authors are under the impression that if only their book were available in every bookstore in the country, or in a major bookstore chain, it will sell. Of course, that is not necessarily true. As book marketer Brian Jud has stated, "bookstores display books. They do not (actively) sell them." If a book hits a bookstore shelf and doesn't sell, it's going straight back to the publisher, and the author is going to get socked with returns.

Recently, I have been receiving a lot of questions from authors in regard to distribution. It is usually a panicked email or phone call from the author stating an online bookseller or bookstore is "out of stock" and readers are "unable" to order their book. It's costing the author sales!

Well, not necessarily. The main distributor that my publishing company works with is Ingram/Spring Arbor, but that is really beside the point. No distributor carries an unlimited quantity of any title. They order what they think they can sell to the online booksellers and to the bookstores. Occasionally, the distributor does run out of books. This is a common occurrence and is no cause for alarm. They will reorder more.

In the meantime, bookstores or online booksellers have the option of taking back-orders for a title, and then shipping them when the distributor receives new stock. Readers may also be able to find copies on, or directly from the publisher. Distributors and publishers only make money when they sell books. They are not going to let any title remain out-of-stock for long. This is why you hear of some publishers having a "second printing" of a title...they ran out of the first printing of books they ordered. The company I work for has a digital print facility. We can print books at will and send them where they need to go. Many publishers are going this route.

Another comment I have been hearing is from authors who say they "don't care" if their book sells once it's at a bookstore or not. At least it's in the store. This makes no sense at all. I guarantee you the bookstore cares, because they are not going to let stock just sit in their store if it's not selling. The distributor cares, because those stores are shipping books back to them, and they are losing money. The publisher cares, because now they aren't getting paid for those books, either. Eventually, the author WILL care because when they receive their royalty statement they will see how much those returns have cost them in lost royalties. It has to make good business sense to physically stock a book at a particular retailer.

Simply sending hundreds or thousands of books to the distributor (which a publisher can't do unless the distributor orders them) will not result in book sales. The same goes for trying to put thousands of books on bookstore shelves across the country (which only the stores can do. It's not up to the publisher, unless they are paying for shelf space). If there is no demand for a title, it's not going to sell no matter how many retailers may have it available, or how many books are on hand at the distributor. Only one thing guarantees large stocks of a title at a distributor or in retailers across the country: demand.

Demand is the reason why you see dozens of copies of CDs from the latest winner of American Idol at Walmart, but only one or two polka CDs. There is more demand for the American Idol winner's music than there is for polka.

With no demand, there is no supply. Bookstores use demand to determine which books they will carry. Distributors use demand to determine how many copies of a title they should have on hand for stores and booksellers to order. The greater the demand, the more books they offer. If there is low demand, you will only see a few copies being stocked by the distributor and only a few venues offering if for sale (if any).

Of course, it is up to the publisher and the author to create that demand through marketing and promotion. If that demand doesn't exist, there will be few copies floating around in distribution or in bookstores. This is the reason why authors need to work to do events, interviews, get book reviews and create "buzz" around their title. It's all about creating demand.

Demand creates the supply of books available, not the other way around. Creating that demand is a job that never ends.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Are You Sabotaging Your Book?

Who would sabotage their own book? Authors don't do it intentionally, of course. But, when it comes to marketing their books, authors sometimes do things that could impede their sales, and take what could have been a successful title and relegate it to the bargain table of the local bookstore. Here are a handful of things I have seen authors do that get in the way of sales and success:

1. They give up too early. Authors sometimes spend years writing their books, only to throw in the towel on marketing and promotion after a few months. There is a lot of competition in the marketplace. In fact, last year there were more than a million book titles released in the U.S. Most books don't fly off the shelves of bookstores. It takes patience and persistence (and a lot of hard work) to promote a book, and the author must be involved. No publisher can guarantee book sales, but if the author quits too early I can guarantee the kind of results they will experience. My recommendation is don't quit at all.

2. They expect the book-buying public to beat a path to their door. This isn't true of any author, not even the famous authors. They had to start somewhere, too. Almost every successful author has a rags-to-riches story. They didn't start their writing career being famous, and many slaved away at it for years before they started to reap the fruits of their labor. Too often, authors show up for their book signing events and just sit at their table, waiting for a line of people to form, eager to buy the book and get the author's signature. More often than not, there is no line of people at the table, only customers walking into the store and avoiding eye contact. It is up to the author to engage them.

3. They get "Ernest Hemingway Syndrome." Getting a book published is great, but it doesn't mean the author automatically has the key to fame and fortune. Some authors adopt the attitude that now that they have a book in print the world owes them something. They get angry with bookstore managers who don't schedule them to come in for a book signing event, they get angry with the publisher if they feel their royalty checks are too small, they get angry with media outlets who pass on publishing a story or review about their book. There are NO guarantees in the publishing industry. Rejection is part of the business, and every author has experienced it at some point. The old saying "you'll get more flies with honey than vinegar" is especially true in the publishing industry. Nobody wants to help an author who is too demanding.

4. They don't have a plan. Too many authors expect other people to sell their books for them. Ironically, these are also the same authors who don't sell many books. Even the large publishing houses expect authors to come to the table with something in terms of marketing their book, whether it be a large fan base, a platform from which they can successfully launch their book (such as a popular blog or radio program) or a plan for reaching their target audience. Expecting your book to be stocked in every bookstore in the country is not a marketing plan. If an author doesn't have an idea for who the target audience is for their book, they are going to struggle to find an audience. Authors who know who they have written their book for and how they are going to reach that audience are always a step ahead in the game.

5. They don't listen to professional advice. On the other hand, some authors feel their plan is the ONLY plan which will work at all. They hire a publicist, only to micromanage everything the publicist does to the point of making their efforts ineffective. I once worked with an author who hired an outside publicist, and then proceeded to argue with the publicist every step of the way through marketing. The publicist resigned after a month. Publicists and publishers are the experts and the professionals in the publishing business. Many of them are very good and know what they are doing. Try following their advice now and then and you may be surprised at the positive results. You wouldn't hire a doctor to perform open-heart surgery and then proceed to disagree with him about how he planned to perform the operation, would you? Yet, some authors with no prior experience in publishing will vehemently oppose a publisher's or publicist's marketing plan without first giving it a chance. The professionals who are good at their job will explain what they are doing, and why, each step of the way through the marketing process, and work as the author's partner. If they don't, ask.

These are just a few examples of how an author can sabotage the marketing of their book. Writing a book is a labor of love, but selling a book is business. Approach it as a professional, surround yourself with good people, work hard and treat it as a job (it is) and you'll be giving your book the fair shake it deserves.

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