Monday, May 23, 2016

What You're Missing When Your Books Don't Sell

Drake Valley Press instituted a new policy this past year: the author must submit a marketing plan before we will consider publishing their book - even if they've just written a book that deserves to be on every bestseller list.


Because at least half of a book's success depends on marketing. Bestsellers don't get that way on their own; books don't fly off the shelves without someone pushing it, and word-of-mouth has to begin somewhere.

Marketing has changed substantially in the 30-plus years that I've been in this industry. And to see just how dramatic the changes have been, simply look at your own life and the way in which you experience advertisements.

Television doesn't have us rushing home so we don't miss our favorite shows, and gone are the days in which we were captive to television commercials. The older generations record their programming and fast-forward through the commercials; the younger generations watch more YouTube than television.

Newspapers were once the mainstay of the news from local to regional to international. Now advertisers are experiencing far fewer people seeing their print ads, because they're all on the Internet, and most are getting their news through social media.

Magazines are increasingly read online, the printed article now augmented by instant feedback through forums, videos and interactive pages.

You may have noticed a substantial decrease in "junk mail" over the last few years; that's because what used to clog your mail box is now in a mail box of a different kind - online.

The fact is that the Internet is the frontier for all marketing efforts. And if you don't believe me, take a look at your Facebook feed and scroll through those Twitter tweets. Look up your local newspaper online and see if you can escape the advertisements on the virtual page. Run any search and click through to the websites and tell me how many do not contain advertising.

To be a successful author in today's marketplace means you must find out where your fans go and you need to be present there and ready to interact. If you've written a series set against the backdrop of the music industry, where are music fans hanging out? What are they reading online? What sites do they visit? Who are they on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn?

First, the author needs to capture their market's attention. 

Then they need to interact with them. Make their websites more inviting; the same old home page week after week, year after year, is boring. And it won't get people coming back. Blog about subjects that tie into your book, and don't just blog on your own - connect with websites that need bloggers like you.

Don't send out tweets and Facebook posts asking or begging people to read your book. Who does that? Does your local grocery beg you to buy milk at their store? Do you see constant tweets from your pharmacy asking you to buy your prescriptions there? Look at your Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Who is begging people to buy their product other than authors? 

Nobody. Why? Because it doesn't work.

I want to read a book because I expect to get something out of it. Maybe it will take me to an exotic location. Maybe it will be a story of survival (I'm particularly fond of those), or it will open my eyes to something in the world I would never otherwise experience.

But I'm not going to read a book because an author is begging me through social media.

To sell your books, you have to think like a consumer. What does your book offer to them? Why should they shell out money to read it? Tell me what third party reviewers have said; tell me something that grips my attention. Give me a reason to give your social media presence a closer look. And then give me a reason to hop over to amazon or go to my friendly book store and buy it.

Think outside the box. Observe your own surfing habits and see where you can find your ideal audience and connect with them.

And one more thing: I don't need for an author to tell me whether they're marketing their books. I can tell with a glance at their book sales.

Stop marketing and your books stop selling. It's as simple as that.

- Don Freeman

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Thin Line

Successful authors often must live their lives in the public eye, unlike someone working in the confines of a company. This often goes against the grain of the typical author, who is much more comfortable working alone in front of a computer or with a pen and paper in hand.

When I first began my career in publishing, the average cost of producing a first-run title was around $75,000. The marketing budget was often twice that amount. With $150,000 in hand, we were able to place high profile ads in magazines (longer life span) and large, metropolitan newspapers. For authors who were already in the public eye (such as a past, present or candidate for president) or who had previously been on the New York Times bestseller list, we were often able to get television interviews on major morning news networks.

We published few books compared to the plethora being released every day, and eBooks hadn't yet been invented. This meant fewer competition, especially when you drilled down to the genre and sub-genre.

In today's market, the author has taken on much of the responsibility of marketing and promotion, regardless of their publisher's size. The exception remains those already in the public eye and those who have already proven their ability to sell millions of copies.

Most authors fall in the mid-list or below; in fact, the vast majority of authors will never sell more than fifty copies of their title. To get out in front of potential readers, it means they have to get out from behind their computer - either virtually or physically.

When I worked with authors some forty years ago on their marketing plans, the standard was to send them into book stores for physical signings. Forty years ago, this was a novelty and readers and store staff seemed to love it. All of that has changed in recent years as the publishing industry has been turned upside down. Today most stores are wary of author signings and most store visitors seem to want to avoid them.

We then switched to making their appearances into events by adding talks of value to the audience. This was more easily done with non-fiction, as the author could have an hour-long discussion on the ten best ways to get wealthy or the ten best ways to groom your dog. With fiction, we had to be inventive. Ten best ways to kill your spouse (on paper, of course); ten best ways to make love (without a demonstration); ten ways you know aliens exist - you get the idea.

But what happens when an author does not want to be in the public eye? Some actually have anxiety attacks at the mere thought of public speaking. Others are frightened out of their wits at anyone knowing something about them.

We've handled this situation in many ways. First, there's the pseudonym. Write the books under a fictitious name and your neighbor will never have to know that you wrote The Best Ways to Cheat on Your Spouse. Second, there's the carefully orchestrated public persona, which is often dramatically different than the actual person. You've no doubt heard of this in action in the movie industry, especially during the Golden Age. With the Internet, however, when anything can go viral in seconds, the crafted public persona can be torn down in an instant.

Authors who want to hide their identity pose a particular challenge because we can't show their photographs on their websites or in promotional material; you'd be surprised how many people look for those pictures. It means they can't reveal themselves to their neighbors, their friends, their families, and their communities - the first, closest round of potential buyers. They often live a lie, some as the opposite sex, conjuring up stories about themselves that never happened. One author we know (who thankfully was not published by Drake Valley Press) even came up with an elaborate story of an invalid, dying spouse to explain why he/she could not attend public events. It very nearly backfired when a concerned reader decided to raise money for the invalid's care so the author could travel.

When an author does not want to physically tour (or can't due to other commitments or physical limitations), the Internet is the natural place to turn. The multi-pronged campaign contains:

- social networking
- a blog and website
- blog tours, online radio and online television

Social networking is exactly what it says - it's social. Authors who only talk about their books and who only post or tweet about their books are considered coarse and offensive. Readers want to know the person; they want insight to the minds that created the works they love (or are considering purchasing). This often places the author in an awkward situation - wanting to connect to their readers without sharing too much with a stranger.

Some authors focus only on the craft of writing with their blogs, which circumvents having to reveal too much of themselves. But in our experience, when an author writes only about the process of writing, it's for people who want to learn to write or get published; it's not for the readers who are interested in buying a book - unless the author has written a book about how to write and how to get published.

When an author begins to write about the background of their latest book - what inspired them, how they researched it, perhaps even which parts are based on true events in their own lives - readers love it. And authors again walk that thin line of giving them what they want without placing their whole lives on a platter for the world to see.

Websites can be less personal than social networking and blogs, but websites serve a different purpose. Websites answer basic questions: what did the author write, how can I buy it, and what are the books about? This is where 90% of the exposure involves the book itself - excerpts, cover designs, links to buy, etc - and only 10% needs to explain who the author is. Websites are safe. But in this day and age, the task becomes driving potential buyers to the author's website - and that goes back to social networking and blogging.

Today, we are more apt to send authors on virtual blog tours than physical tours, which uses professional companies to book appearances on blogs that reach around the world to varied audiences. With an author who has limited physical energy due to age or an impairment, for example, the basic tour is used - an excerpt, a short bio, and buy links. For an author with more time or energy, a different interview or Q&A can be used with every site. Some of the questions get quite personal, and again, the author walks a thin line.

Once an author is successful and their books reach the point where they are selling themselves, they can then begin to step away from the limelight. You'll see this with authors of a certain stature who might blog three or four times a year or who rarely if ever get on social networking sites. Their public appearances might consist of getting on the three or four major morning network news, or signing their books in New York, LA and Washington, DC. They can get away with it at that point because their fan base has already been firmly established. Sometimes newbie writers will point their fingers toward Stephen King or John Grisham and say to me that he doesn't blog every day or he isn't always promoting his books and they sell - but what they don't see are the years of hard work it took for them to reach the level of success they enjoy today.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Traditional Publishing

Recently one of our authors attempted to schedule a signing at a book store near him. When the store owner asked if he was self-published, he said he didn't know. Hence the call to my office asking if he was self-published.

I can't begin to emphasize more strongly that every author must learn the publishing industry. You wouldn't consider joining the military and not learning its structure, being employed by the tourism industry and not learning what tourism is, or for that matter, becoming employed by any company and expect to coast through, being promoted almost immediately to the top, and not have a clue what the company does or how it gets the product to the consumer.

Yet, that is precisely what a lot of authors expect.

I see it all the time: first-time authors who do not know the difference between traditional and self-publishing; authors who don't know how books are produced, how they get into the marketplace, how money is made - or that money is expected to be made - how books get to the bestseller lists, how to reach their target or even that they should have a target audience.

To make it in this business, you need to understand the business.

You don't get your first book published and find yourself on the New York Times bestseller list. Oh, sure, you can find an author where that happened, and I guarantee that a lot of money was spent in a promotional and marketing campaign (six figures), targeting those book stores that report their sales to the New York Times. It could happen to .001% of all authors who will ever be published. You have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Yet, time and time again I see authors who don't seem to understand that they have to work to succeed in this business - and publishing IS a business. You have to work at the craft of writing, work to establish your platform, network with others in the industry, work to understand the way it operates, make an effort to stay on top of changes and technology, marketing and promotion.

If you want to succeed and truly earn an income with your books, learn as much as you can. Reach out in every direction - to other authors, to readers, to booksellers, to retailers, to industry experts. Subscribe to their blogs, network with them on social media, attend conferences and functions. Read books on the subject, subscribe to industry magazines, and learn, learn, learn. That is precisely what other authors are doing, and they're doing it day-in and day-out. You'll be left in the dust if you don't do the same.

And what happened with that author?

The author who didn't know whether he was self-published or traditionally published made such a poor impression on the bookseller that when he returned to report that he was, in fact, traditionally published, the bookstore said they were not interested in him or his book. The door closed in his face. They'd made up their mind before he'd come back to report his findings.

Had he known up front that traditional publishing means the publisher pays all costs in producing the work in book format and self-publishing means the author pays all costs themselves, he could have confidently reported he was traditionally published and had a better chance of booking a signing.

Instead, he just looked stupid.

Don't let this happen to you. Learn the publishing industry. Pay your dues. And work your way to the top - the way every other industry works.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Giving Books Away

Should an author give their books away for free?

Publishers are in business to make money so of course it stands to reason that if the books are being given away, they're not making a return on their investment.

But many authors are willing to do just that.

If someone is interested in your book, they will pay for it. 

Consider your own buying habits. If you want something - whether it's food, clothing, a new stereo or television, furniture, decor or books or music, you will buy it. When you are giving away your product - and your book IS your product - you're saying to the recipient that you don't value your work enough to charge them for it.

This isn't to say you shouldn't give your mom a copy... Or give it as a birthday gift to a friend or relative... But lately I'm seeing a lot of books being given away to complete strangers.


Sometimes authors want more reviews. At Drake Valley Press, we allocate a certain number of copies for reviewers - but they are bonafide reviewers. They are not a reader who wants a free book because they don't want to spend their own money, and who agrees to give the author a rousing endorsement of their book. When an author brags continually of how many rave reviews they've received on amazon but they haven't sold a book in six months, it means they are giving away their book instead of selling it. It's the kiss of death if the author wants a real writing career.

Free books do not count in book sales.

For an author to "move up" in this industry, they often need to grab the attention of literary agents and larger publishers. Any publisher can access the sales figures of any book if they are published through traditional methods. Sales figures reflect books that are sold, not given away. So if the author has given away 500 copies of their book and sold 5, their sales show that they've sold 5 - there is no mention anywhere of the 500.

When an author self-publishes and they provide the publisher or agent with their sales figures, it is critical that they provide an accurate number. If they gave away 500 copies and sold 5 but they tell the publisher or agent that they sold 505 copies in a certain period of time, the sales models generated for their next book will take their previous sales into consideration. When they managed to sell only 5, it leaves the publisher scratching their heads and asking "why?"

When an author is participating in a Virtual Book Tour, we also recommend that they NOT give away their book as a prize. Visitors to the blogs will not purchase the book because they're not sure if they're going to win it - and they don't need two copies.

And never add a free copy of the book along with the prize, for the same reason. Add marketing materials such as a bookmark or post card, but never the book itself.

If they want it, they will pay for it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Finding Your Target Audience

The number one reason why authors don't sell more books is they fail to connect with their target audience.

The first step in identifying your target audience is to accurately define your book's genre. If you don't know what genre it is, find books that are very similar to yours and find out where they are placed in a brick-and-mortar store, or what categories they're listed under online.

If you market your book as science fiction but it's really fantasy, those readers who download sample chapters or skim the book in a store will not connect with it. Readers have distinctive tastes. Yes, it's possible to persuade someone to read a book that isn't in their normal genre, but to be successful, you don't want to be trying to swim upstream. You want to join the current and ride the waves.

The worst thing you can do is describe your book in an elevator speech and ask for opinions on its genre. Research it. And if you still can't figure it out, learn more about the different genres and improve your writing skills so the genre can be clearly defined.

The second step is to pay attention to who buys it. This is where personal appearances are invaluable. By connecting with fans and readers in book stores, libraries and other venues, you should be forming a mental image of your average reader. Don't make the mistake of assuming that your book will appeal to all ages, both male and female. Maybe it will, but that is not the way books are sold. You need an age range; primarily male or female, and maybe even down to race, nationality, political beliefs or religion.

Why is this important?

Because everything spins off your ideal reader.

Television interviews and radio spots have a targeted audience. By knowing who your audience is, you can connect with them through interviews with news media that reach that audience. If you appeared on an inappropriate station, for example, the viewer or listener will tune you out or turn you off. Connect with the right audience, and you create a demand for your book - driving people into the stores or online to buy it.

Magazines also have specific target audiences. If your book appeals to women in their 20's, an interview in Sports Illustrated may not be seen by too many of your potential readers. Likewise, if you're trying to appeal to men in their 30's, you wouldn't want to target Good Housekeeping. They're both wonderful magazines but the best use of your time and resources is to connect with the audience most likely to purchase your book.

And what if you think you're connecting but your sales don't show it?

You could be preaching to the choir. Suppose, for example, that every time you do a personal appearance, all your friends and relatives come out to cheer you on. You might be tempted to look into the audience and see an adoring public. But once those 20 or 30 or 40 people have bought your book, then what?

If you aren't growing your fan base, you're losing ground.

Similarly, if you have an adoring group of friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter that continue to cheer you on but your sales remain in a slump, step back. Remove your emotions, above all else. And critique the situation objectively. Could you be preaching to the same core group, day after day and week after week? Well, then, there's your answer. Unless those people are effectively talking their friends and relatives into also buying your book, your sales will continue to get weaker. How many copies of your book does one person need, anyway?

And what happens if you're not connecting?

Then you're not reaching your ideal audience. Yes, it is invaluable to join authors' groups online and in person. But unless you have written a book for an author (such as how to edit, promote or otherwise assist in their writing career) you should be targeting the reader.

How do you get more readers to buy your book? Find out where they are hanging out. Find out what television news or talk shows they watch, which radio stations they listen to, which newspapers and magazines they read. Find out what websites they visit and connect with them there.

If your sales are not growing or they've fallen into a slump, chances are you can't identify NEW followers on Twitter or Facebook, your blog or other social networking sites who are interested in buying your book. Maybe they've connected because they want to network with other authors, or your Aunt Sally or Uncle Joe told them you post great recipes on Facebook. Or maybe they're following your blog for another reason.

You have to continuously and continually assess your sales and question why they are not growing. And if they are growing, congratulations. Keep doing what you're doing!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Marketing - In It for the Long Haul

How long should you plan to market your book?

The answer is: you should never stop.

New authors, in particular, often become frustrated when their books don't catapult to the New York Times bestseller list within a week of its release. By the time it's been out a month or two and there aren't lines around the block waiting for the book store to open, they're tempted to throw in the towel.

But in reality, the marketing and promotional campaign should just be getting started.

Marketing and promotion is always trial-and-error, regardless of the product you're selling. I am old enough to remember the first commercials for Coca-Cola products. Why aren't they the same today as they were fifty years ago? Because times change. People change. And what worked last year or last month might not work today. It's why companies employ advertising and marketing professionals who are constantly reassessing their place in the market, running sales figures and tweaking the ways in which they try to reach the consumer.

With books, the author assumes the bulk of marketing and promotion, unless you're already famous and have a built-in audience. And even if you've already been on the New York Times bestseller list, or you have achieved fame and fortune in politics or television or the movies, it's no guarantee that your campaign will roll out flawlessly.

Writers are by nature solitary creatures. In order to be successful in this business (and books are a business) you have to be willing to try different things, assess the effects, critique the campaigns, and adjust accordingly.

Marketing is not a sprint. It's a long-distance marathon.

Some of the ways in which our most successful authors have marketed include:

1. Social networking - connecting with their fans and readers. What works one day may not work the next, so we suggest using several - Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, for example - and ramping up in one area while assessing the sales during that period.

2. Blogging is another way of connecting with fans and readers. Drawing people to your blog can be the challenge, which is where social networking can play a part, or teaming with other authors in a Blog Hop.

3. Virtual Book Tours are online "appearances" that can include author interviews, guest blogs, Q&A's, as well as excerpts from the book the author is promoting, and information about the author himself/herself. It raises the author's profile in areas where potential fans might not yet know of them, and it helps to connect the author with other authors and even the tour operators or blog sites. It can also drive traffic to the author's blog, and through social networking, it can increase the number of followers, readers and fans.

4. Personal appearances can be anything from signing books in a book store to speaking at a library or a book event. The books should always be available for purchase on the spot. But in addition to direct sales, authors can establish valuable relationships with book sellers, librarians and readers who will continue to recommend their books long after the event is over.

5. Traditional media includes television appearances, radio spots, newspapers and magazines. We've seen authors pick up the phone and call their local television stations - or email them - and get valuable air time. Many news outlets will even post the interview online so the author can link to it afterward.

Radio spots are even easier, as there usually is no travel requirement. As long as the author has access to a landline (mobile phones often create distortion on a radio show) they can telephone at a designated time and get anything from a five-minute interview to half an hour or more. Some of the shows are telecast nationwide, and again, many of them are available online afterward.

Authors love to write and a great way to get publicity is to write their own story for the local newspaper or a magazine. The news media then has the option of simply cutting and pasting the story or following up with a more extensive interview and article.

The most successful authors use a combination of all of the above.

Of course, it isn't feasible for an author to remain on the road year-round participating in personal appearances. So they stagger their events and in between, they use the Internet or traditional news media to continue to raise awareness of their book.

And how long should they continue to promote their book?

If they have written only one book, they should continue to promote it until sales have dwindled to less than fifty copies per year. They can always revive them later, particularly if the subject matter becomes a hot news topic.

If they continue to write - which is what we recommend for all our authors - they should promote the current book until the next book is released. As they participate in personal appearances, they should request that their backlisted books be available for sale as well as their most current book. With each book that is released, it provides the author with the opportunity to connect with a larger audience. And once the readers love one book, they'll be looking for other books by the same author.

The worst disservice an author can do to themselves and to their books is to give up too early. By throwing in the towel or becoming frustrated in the first three to six months of a book's release to the point of giving up on the publisher, the book and themselves, they ensure a problematic career - or a career that never manages to get off the ground.

When one thing doesn't seem to be working, the most successful authors are able to step back, detach themselves emotionally, and assess why it isn't working. The main reason is that the author simply is not connecting with their target market. More on that next week, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why I Will Publish Your Book

In yesterday's blog, I talked about the main reasons I won't publish an author's work. Here are the reasons I will publish your book:

Reason #1: I Love Your Book

It isn't enough for me to like your book. I have to love it. Before your manuscript is ready for prime-time, I will have read it four to six times. I've read books that grabbed me each and every time; I've read manuscripts in which I discovered additional layers with each reading; I've read books I can't put down even though I've read them multiple times.

When I am reading a manuscript for the first time, I ask myself if I am ready to read it again... and again... and again. If I can barely make it through the first reading, I know I won't make it through the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th without wanting to ditch it. I have to be enthusiastic about it.

Reason #2: It Won't Require Significant Editing

When the book is a great read and I can tell that it will require very little if any editing, it's a sure winner in my book. I need to see that the author has invested their time and perhaps the time and cost of a professional editor to make the book shine. Grammar, punctuation, tense, backdrops, characters and the backstory all have to be as good as the plot.

Time is money. When an editor gets bogged down in editing, the price tag for that book goes up quickly. That means we have to sell even more books just to break even, and we'd better be able to defend our decisions to our board.

Reason #3: It's a Genre I Can Market

There are hundreds of genres and sub-genres in the marketplace today. Here at DVP, we have established relationships with companies who market and promote particular genres - specifically, suspense, mysteries, thrillers and romance. If I loved your book but I don't have inroads in that genre, I am not going to be able to help you; there are specific markets for children's books, for example, in which we have no experience.

Reason #4: You Have an Established Platform

Today's marketplace is fierce and the top priority for every author is to break away from the pack and get noticed by potential fans/readers. I will perform Internet searches on an author if the three reasons above have been satisfied. If they have a quality website, a current blog, and they are active in social media for the purpose of selling their book, those will increase the likelihood that they'll be offered a contract.

We prefer to work with authors who have already been published and who have a track record, meaning we can look up their previous titles and see how many copies they've sold. If they self-published a book and sold 500 copies in a year, it has our attention. If they've been traditionally published and they've sold thousands, it receives even more attention.

Authors who contact us with their first manuscript and have an over-inflated idea of their book's importance are not for us. We want authors who understand the publishing business, know how difficult and yes - frustrating - it can be, and who are in it for the long haul.

Reason #5: You'd Be Great to Work With

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, all companies are made up of individuals. We want to work with positive authors who understand they are a vital part of the team. If we run an Internet search and find positive, thought-provoking blogs, social media tweets or posts that do not offend, and authors who don't point the finger when things go awry (as they inevitably will), we take notice.

We want authors who understand that selling a book is not a sprint but a journey that will take months or perhaps years. They should understand that we're going to remain as positive as we can. We'll be ready to think outside the box. We'll have meetings and brain-storming sessions to try and find the author's right audience. If one thing doesn't work, we'll try another. There will be frustrating times. There will be bad days. We make mistakes, too. But if the author is ready and willing to continue trying and avoid finger-pointing, we are, too. We'll go the extra mile if they're willing to go with us.