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Monday, December 3, 2007

Are you an Active Participant in Helping Make Your Book a Success?

This post might be better of under Sarah's insightful marketing blog, but I wanted to begin a thread on this since it does relate in some ways to my recent posts.

Dimitri Rotov, one of the sharpest minds in the Civil War blogosphere, has an interesting post about HarperCollins and its "toolkit" for allowing HC authors who do not have a website to create one.

He quotes Booksquare as saying, "the truth of the matter is that publishers simply don’t have the staff and budgets to market each and every book published." Although Dimitri ends with a one-word conclusion--bogus--I think he is only partially correct.

For most medium and large houses, the Booksquare comment is true. A few titles are targeted with money and time, and the rest are put into the stream of commerce to see what happens. If a title sells a certain number, then it has a proven "viral" ability to sell and be read, and so would benefit from an infusion of cash and time.

"Authors," continues the Booksquare article, "must be active participants in marketing themselves and their work." We have the same attitude at Savas Beatie.

We are a small independent press, but we have a dedicated marketing program for every title. We work it into the budget based upon a number of factors. One of the prime determinations is, "How hard is the author going to work to sell his book?"

Most of our authors are very hard working. They lead tours, give talks, drive hours to bookstores to sign books, mail signed copies to customers, establish websites, and so on. The smart authors know that the real work starts AFTER the book goes to the printer.

However, a few are not all that motivated. They sign a few books, rarely give talks, refuse to establish a website, and generally do not cooperate when we suggest action, and do not go out of there way to sell books. In the real world, here is what happens to titles written by these authors: the books that flood out onto the shelves of bookstores flood back in again. Then these authors complain that their royalty checks are not large enough.

The simple fact is that authors who sign books, write articles, host an active website, maintain blogs, and deliver talks generate sales across the country by word of mouth and viral marketing. Sell a book to a customer at a store in Virginia, chat a while, and establish a relationship, and you have also sold one to his friend, cousin, brother, or neighbor in Oregon. That, in turn, prompts a good review on Amazon, which in turn prompts a stranger reading the review to buy a copy. And so it goes. I do not care how many books blast out into the stores in Month 1 nearly as much as I care about the sell-through of those books during Months 2-12 (and beyond).

So, you ask, how does this relate to Dimitri's posting? Simple. We have a finite marketing budget each season, and we allocate as best we can at the beginning of each season. Which books get mailings? Which get radio, TV, print ads? Who gets a plane ride and costs to X number of cities for signings? As soon as an author demonstrates a disdain for pushing his own title, however, he is sending us a message: "Hey, Mr. Publisher--reevaluate the allocation of your resources!" My answer is always the same. "I will, thank you." This generally means we withdraw marketing funds and man hours and use that money and time on other titles and more determined authors.

Dimitri is right: there are to-do lists in marketing departments, where some people go through the motion and mistake busy work for productive time that sells books. Presses with more modest budgets can't afford that luxury.

Authors--are you paying attention?

--tps

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