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Marketing is one of the most important pieces of the formula for an author’s success; yet it is often given scant or no attention by new writers in advance or getting published. Over the ten years that I’ve been in the writing business, I’ve become very aware of the necessity of developing a solid marketing strategy.
On nearly every writing-related message board I monitor, I find postings by rookie authors expressing their surprise and disappointment over the difficulties they encounter when it comes to marketing and promoting their new book. Just as I did, they find that writing the book is only a part of the road to success. Once the work gets into print, the second and possibly more difficult part of the process begins: getting people to buy it.
My personal experience is that I gave no thought to selling books while writing my first manuscript. I was caught up in telling my story and didn’t take the time to research the writing business. For some reason it was in my head that once the manuscript was complete my job was done. I thought whoever published my book would arrange for distribution, press releases, and scheduling interviews and signings. That was before I realized the big publishing houses weren’t anxiously waiting for a chance to make me an offer on my blockbuster-in-waiting. That was before I’d heard the terms self-publishing and print on demand (POD).
Some of the things I’ve learned over the years are that:
Unless the author has name recognition or a track record of literary success, traditional publishers expect the author to do the lion’s share of the marketing. If you’re new on the scene and are fortunate enough to get signed by a traditional house, don’t expect them to send you on an all expenses paid national tour. It’s almost a certainty that isn’t going to happen. Whether your book is traditional or self-published, you’re going to have to hustle.
A marketing plan should be developed prior to, or in conjunction with writing the manuscript. And that applies whether you plan to self-publish or seek a traditional publisher. In either case you should know ahead of time what you’re going to do to get your printed book into the hands of readers. In fact, if you intend to get traditionally published the publisher will more than likely ask you to submit a marketing plan. The quality of that plan will be a factor in whether or not you are offered a contract.
Book stores, particularly the chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble, are often reluctant to stock self-published or POD books. I’ve read that generally speaking, they won’t stock them. But I’ve also heard of exceptions in which local managers will place a few copies on the shelves. Also, if your book falls into either or both of these categories and you schedule a signing at a book store, you could very well have to supply your own books. In most cases the arrangement will require sales be split with the store on a 60/40% basis. I was once able to get a more favorable 80/20 deal, but that was an exception.
It has been my experience that book store signings, especially at the chain stores, are overrated. The marketing director for my current publisher feels that these events are the least productive of the promotional options available. Statistics show that the average number of sales at these events for a non-big name author is six books. When you consider that these figures include experienced as well as new writers, the results aren’t that impressive. My marketing person pointed out to me that a poor signing with few if any sales, can be devastating to the author’s ego. I still do store signings on occasion, but they are a low priority. I focus my attention on doing programs at libraries and coffee shops that include discussion of my book, Q&A, and a signing. For me, they’re much more enjoyable and profitable.
In closing, let me say that for those like me who failed to develop a marketing strategy early on, it’s not too late to put one in place. People like us start at a disadvantage, but with sound logic and determination we can catch up. So, when you find yourself confronting the realities of trying to generate book sales, don’t let it get the best of you. If you’re serious about your writing, put together a plan that fits in with your personality and character strengths and execute it.
You may not find what works best for you overnight; but through trial and error it will come together over time. Your perseverance will be rewarded in the end.