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What's Your Biggest Challenge with Your Book?

I'd be interested to learn what authors/publishers on this network think their biggest challenges are with their book. I wonder if there's any common, pervasive challenge we all face.

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I am planning to relaunch the marketing effort on my book Call to Liberty: Bridging the Divide Between Liberals and Conservatives in Fall 2007. I am going to try to chronicle the effort on my ning blog, so people can check it out. Here's some background on where we are at:

Book published: December 2006

Publisher: Scarletta Press, a small press with little background or experience. They provided no marketing and some, but not much, distribution. I had expected more.

Book did pretty well in local Barnes & Nobles, but there was no real national distribution. A few times I went to cities for events, which were fun, but no stores had the book, so the selling was really rotten. Could not justify that expense. Some have said it was a mistake to not do more of it, but I could not see the return. All expenses were from my pocket, with only a traditional royalty, and a hand full of sales.

I've done about 50 small speaking events in my local area, the Twin Cities. These average 20-40 people, and we sell on average 35% of attendees. I've been on one local radio station frequently, and several local cable TV pograms. Very comfortable with that. Would love to do more. Published two OpEds locally as well, and one review appeared. All in all, not bad on a first book locally.

However, I have to sell some books and help to make a difference in the country. We are attending a big political conference in Washington DC the week of June 18, but the problem is I am an attendee, not a speaker. I need to be a speaker.

Anyone interested can follow my blog. For now, I could use any ideas on accessing conferences and other large events far in advance in order to get my hat in the ring as a speaker.
In many ways your timing couldn't be better, Anthony. Next year is a national election. The campaigns have already begun—18 months before the general election. Partisan politics has never been so divisive as it is today. So the topic is timely in this environment.

No doubt you've already thought of this hook. If you haven't, I'd tie everything back to the 2008 election. Send review copies to all the major candidates looking for an endorsement. Fortunately, the field is wide open in both political parties and there are many candidates vying for attention. That means more potential endorsements for your book. Expand beyond the national figures to US Senate, US Congressional, state and local officials.

As for your immediate desire to be a speaker at the political conference in Washington, DC, it may be too late to be a speaker for this year, but there are things to get your name out there in 2007 and plan to speak next year.

First, develop your "author's block." This is your signature file you use on all electronic communications that describes you as an expert in this field and author of your book. Perfect this. Make it concise and powerful.

Second, contribute to the organization's blog. Many conferences and conventions have blogs. Write your impressions as an attendee. Use your Author's Block whenever adding to the blog. Write frequently so you increase your exposure to that group.

Third, offer to write a review for the organization's newsletter following the conference. Verify before hand that you can use your Author's Block at the end of the review.

Fourth, contact the conference's organizers and send them review copies of your book. Offer to speak at the next conference. This establishes you as a published author and expert in the field.

Fifth, offer to blog here (and anywhere else you have a blog) about the organization and it's conference. Tie back to the organization's web site. This will raise their rankings in the search engines, not to mention your own.

Sixth, offer to write reviews for the conference in other publications. You probably know the correct publications that reach your target audience. Submit conference reviews from the perspective of an attendee. Such publications are always looking for content and may appreciate having a review that wasn't generated by a press release from the conference's organizers.

At every opportunity, tell readers where they can purchase your book, whether it's on Amazon, your own website or in the stores.
I understand your situation all too clearly. Spending money to promote is understood but there needs to be some return on the investment.
Small publishers, and that's what I'm dealing with, do not do that much promotion. It comes down to the efforts of the author and that is not what I had expected. It's an expensive learning experience.
What about seeing if you can do a book signing at one of the locations in Washington while you're there?
I would say distributing my book nationally. I have self-published a children's alphabet nutrition book and am currently marketing it to the school systems and the afterschool programs, but how do I get national exposure? Where do I find these book reviewers and how do I distribute it cost effectively? Also how do I get my book in the Barnes & Nobles and other book stores to do book signings ect?
Identifying distribution as a problem for small publishers is the most important issue facing publishing today. Without distribution, marketing & promotion efforts are futile. I have a colleague who tells a story that illustrates this. She had a high profile client, Eric Menendez (that's right. One of the two brothers who killed their parents in California), who wrote a relationship book with his wife. My colleague presented the various distribution channels available to them. They decided to sell the book on their own website exclusively. Big mistake. Eric had "star power" and got high profile interviews on television, including an interview on Larry King Live. With all that publicity, readers wanted to know where they could buy the book. There was so much interest that it crashed their website for several days. Think of the lost book sales while the website was down.

From what you write, it sounds like you are promoting your children's book to the right audience. Without distribution in place, however, it would be foolhardy to promote your book nationally; just like it was for Eric.

To get national distribution, you will have to use a distributor (unless you have a pre-existing agreement with Ingram) to reach the bookstores such as Barnes & Noble. Did you know that the three major chain bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Borders and Books-a-Million, sell over 85% of the books in this country?

Are you sure you are prepared, financially, to sign with a distributor? Typically, the distribution chain (retailer, wholesaler and distributor) take 70% of the list price of the book. That means for a $20 book, the author/publisher (you) get $6 and the distribution chain gets $14. Doesn't seem fair, does it? I used to think so, too, until I realized that the real value in books comes from selling them, not from writing/editing/printing them. Many small publishers are unwilling to give away that high a percentage of the revenue to the distribution chain. One of the biggest factors in that decision is how much those publishers paid for printing the book. To make the economics work in this model, the printing costs have to be around 10%, or $2 per book in the example above.

Amazon is a better alternative for national distribution for many small publishers. Amazon gets 55% of the retail price of the book to sell it online. This is 15% less than the distribution chain. It's also a better value because Amazon is more than just a distributor. They also have tools to help you market and review your book. For a good overview of how Amazon can help you distribute and sell your book, read Brent Sampson's book, "Sell Your Book on Amazon." It's one of the best books available to spell out the Amazon advantages (pun intended).

To reach your audience on a national basis, Jay, I'd suggest you have your book reviewed by the Library Journal and the various national teachers' magazines. That way, you're reaching your target audience. A good review will help you immensely. I remember another colleague who had her book reviewed in the Library Journal. That one review was responsible for selling thousands of books.
There is a difference between Distributors and Wholesalers. Of the list given to me by B and N, wholesalers like 'The Distributors', 'Ingrams' and 'Partners' take 55 percent of list price. If there's not enough to be able to afford 55 percent, then printing your book through an independent book printer is something to look into such as Hignell Book Printing, Premier Book Printing ect. that give great rates.
The easiest way to distinguish between a Distributor and a Wholesaler is to look at the functions each offers.

A Wholesaler stores and ships books to booksellers. They do no marketing to let the bookstores know the book is available. If a bookseller wants the book, they can look it up and order it. Ingram is an example of a wholesaler.

A Distributor, on the other hand, stores, ships and markets books to the booksellers. Many distributors have their own sales force calling on retailers. Others use independent reps to sell to the retailers. The sales force sells your book along with the other books the distributor is representing.

Marketing makes the difference in the price paid by a wholesaler or a distributor. If one looks at the contracts offered by the various companies, one will see that a wholesaler typically costs 55% of the retail price of the book. A distributor costs closer to 70% of the retail price of the book. The difference is the cost to market the book.
Have you tried to find a way to get in touch with Shaq O'Neil? With his new TV program on kids getting fit, not fat, it would be a perfect person to get to toot the horn for your book. I'm sure he must have an agent. It's worth a shot.
Switch to direct marketing. Email and fax marketing. You get good exposure this way. For B and N, you need to have a distributor and it has to be certain ones.
In terms of marketing, I think it is the time that it takes to be consistent. Meaning that often we are so caught up in getting the book right we tend to forget the writing is actually the easy part. Evaluating what works and what doesn't work: is it a dynamic website, contests, touring across the country, a blog, mailings... there are so many variables. And what works today may not work tomorrow. So it is a challenge to always stay ahead of the curve... if you can see it coming.
You’re right. It’s all about the marketing. It took me a long time to come to that conclusion. It wasn’t until I looked at the value chain of book publishing that I understood. Distributors, wholesalers and retailers earn 70¢ of every dollar for selling books. I used to think that was unfair, until I realized how difficult and how important marketing is. Writing, printing and publishing a book is about 30% of the value of the book. The other 70% is in the marketing.

At the same time, marketing doesn’t have to be onerous. It’s really a matter of being persistent. Break the marketing down into small bite-sized activities and it becomes easier. It takes only five marketing activities a day to generate massive results. Do five things a day to promote your book. Make five phone calls. Send five letters. Contact five independent booksellers. Send five review copies. Five activities a day times 365 days (that’s right, no holidays) is 1,825 marketing activities a year. If only 5% of what you do brings results, that’s 9 successful marketing campaigns a year. Certainly something good will happen with your book based on those 9 successes.

You’d have to go a long way to convince me that the activities must be “ahead of the curve,” however. Publishers, and the entire book publishing industry, are rarely early adopters of any new technology. In fact, they’re late adopters (sometimes even Luddites). The progressive innovations are happening at the two extremes of the publishing value chain: manufacturing and retailing. For most of us, however, we only need to be aware of these changes and have the luxury of adopting them as we see the changes being accepted. The best course of action is to select a “proven” marketing tactic and persistently stick to that rather than chasing what’s new to stay ahead of the curve.


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