Monday, October 30, 2017

Marketing 101: Define the Scope of Your Project

Easier than ever: In this exercise, you will do go through the process that smart publishers use to determine the scope of their book projects: that is, your book’s specifications, your expected sales, your initial press run, and your selling price. All this before you sit down to write your book. Except for some production research you’ll have to do, it’s actually a fairly easy process, even easier if you’re taking advantage of new technologies like print-on-demand and digital publishing (ebooks).  
Editorial Input: Deciding Whether the Project Fits Your Focus. In every publishing house, the first stop is with someone performing the function of “acquisition editor.” This is the person who looks at a proposal and determines that its substance—and perhaps its timing—is a good fit for the house. If you are self-publishing, you are also functioning as the acquisition editor and will decide whether you are doing a particular book or not. The acquisition editor may rewrite the proposal and add some embellishments, including some ideas about how long the book should be and what format it should be in.
Sales Input: Deciding How Many Books You Will Sell (or otherwise distribute) in One Year. The next stop for a proposal in a traditional publishing house is the marketing department. After looking at the proposal, the marketing director might communicate with the editor to get some alignment on the right format for the book. After that, the main task is to estimate the sales and other unpaid distribution for the year. Nowadays, smart publishers aim to keep their inventory low, only what they can move in a year. With print-on-demand and digital publishing so available, you have no reason to have too many books in inventory. I suggest that you order books for yourself to sell in lots of twenty-five, unless there is some reason to believe you will sell more than that in a month. Calculate your unit sales in three major categories: 1) books you will give away (to family and friends, contributors, key contacts, etc. 2) books sold indirectly (through bookstores, Amazon, other resellers, etc. 3) books sold directly by you at presentations, websites, exhibits, etc. Be conservative, and be especially careful about overestimating what will happen with indirect sales. Unless you are very familiar with the business of capturing indirect sales, focus on direct sales; that is, those sales you will make yourself. 

Production Input: Deciding What Your Book Will Cost to Print. The next stop for a proposal is the production department, which takes the ideas of the editor and marketing director about format, along with the marketing department’s estimate of first-year sales, to determine the unit cost of the first press run. At least that’s the way it used to be in traditional publishing houses, still is for publishers who haven’t migrated to print-on-demand and ebooks.The occasional author-publisher has production specifications that can’t be met by printing-on-demand or ebooks. If you can use print-on-demand services or ebook technology, please do so. You’ll thank me later. As far as ebooks go, you have no printing costs. That’s a bit too simple, because you will be paying an outfit—like Amazon—to produce and distribute the ebook for you. And they will take their share. Some say more than their share. In the case of print-on-demand books, you can find out your cost in seconds—at least with CreateSpace, my recommended print-on-demand company. All you do is go to and select the Buying Copies tab in the middle of the page. Then you go to the “Member Order Calculator” in the middle of the page, select your “interior type” (eg. Black and white), “trim size” (e.g. 5.5”x8.5”), “pages” (e.g. 160), and quantity (e.g. 160) and “quantity” (any will do). Then select “calculate” and you will see your total cost and per book cost. (Note: CreateSpace does not reduce the unit cost for larger quantities unless you have a coupon.) It’s as simple as that. 

Business Input: Deciding What to Charge for Your Book. The next step falls on the business department, which takes the production department’s unit estimate and multiplies it by a number that will give them their targeted profit. Figuring out what to include in production costs and what multiple to use can get pretty complicated. As an author-publisher, you can keep it simple. All you need to do is take the unit printing cost that you got from the CreateSpace “Member Order Calculator” and multiply it by four or five. If you take my recommendation, you will set your “retail price” at about five times the cost of printing one book. Things you should know: 1) CreateSpace will let you select a much lower price. Resist the urge. 2) Retail price is the price CreateSpace uses to calculate your share of sales revenue. In other words, if you set your retail price at $20.00 but Amazon decides to sell your book at $18.00 (this is common), it will calculate your share (royalty) based on $20.00. 3) Just because you set the retail price at $20.00 doesn’t mean you have to sell the book to your customers for $20.00. 

Publisher’s Input: Deciding to Publish. The last stop (at least initially) for a proposal is the publisher’s desk. He or she looks at the proposal, reviews the sales estimate, checks the unit costs, eyeballs the suggested price, and decides whether the project makes sense—editorially and financially. Often this is not a perfectly neat process. For example, the publisher might like the project for editorial reasons but think that the retail price is too high to be viable. In that case, she might send the project back to the team to make some adjustments. In the case of you, the author-publisher, the entire process happens in your head and it should be relatively easy for you to either decide that your project is a go, that it doesn’t make sense, or that it needs to be revised in some way before you can go forward.
So what has happened so far? You have defined the scope of your project—its focus, its cost, its expected sales, and its retail price—before you sit down to write. That's the smart play.The Publishing Pro

Friday, September 22, 2017

Marketing 101: Write Your Own Book Proposal

Best practice: Before beginning to write any book, you should write a formal proposal that you can either 1) send to a traditional publisher or 2) use yourself as a primary planning document for your own self-published book.  Here are the basic elements: 
  • Write a short description of your target reader. Instead of using generalities, describe a specific person, or couple, or family. Depending on your book, relevant details might include your target reader’s appearance, age, gender, marital status, family size, income, needs, desires, and values. If you can picture an actual person in your mind, more’s the better. (Note: if your book’s buyers will be different from your book’s readers—the case for children’s books, for example—you might have to split this exercise in two.)
  • Write a short summary of your content. What are you doing with your book? Are you sharing your story? Are you instructing your reader? Are you persuading your reader to do something? Are you inspiring your reader? Are you entertaining your reader? Once you decide your general approach, you can get more specific. For example, this book is teaching author-publishers how to market their books. Another example: I have a client who is sharing her story of growing up with a schizophrenic mother. 
  • Decide how you will change your core reader's life. This is a powerful concept. The change you promise may be modest—maybe your murder mystery will reduce the boredom of a sunbather by a hotel pool in Cancun. That's okay, but the more significant the change you can promise, the more likely you are to find readers, and the higher price your book can command. If you can’t promise to change someone’s life, why would anyone bother to buy your book? This is true even for fiction.
  • Decide on a working title and subtitle. Generally, the title and subtitle should suggest what your book has to say and to whom. Be descriptive rather than poetic How to Make a Million Dollars Selling Widgets is a stronger title than Widgets Gone Wild. If you must be clever and creative with your title, your subtitle definitely will need to the do the descriptive job. As in: Widgets Gone Wild: How I Became a Billionaire Selling Widgets.  It's a "working title," meaning the intent is to help you sell the concept to a prospective publisher and/or help you write the book. The final title and subtitle could be different. 
  • Write Your Table of Contents. Again, your Table of Contents should be descriptive. The purpose is to clarify (for yourself, if you’re self-publishing, and ultimately for your readers) where you are taking your readers and what you will do for them. Your Table of Contents is an extremely powerful marketing device, one that may determine whether someone buys your book or not. Writing a good one—it’s basically an outline—also will make it easier for you to finish writing your manuscript. And it will definitely help you stay on track.

That’s it. Now you’ve got a proposal that defines your book from the ground up.The Publishing Pro.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Marketing 101: Get Perspective

It’s a kick to publish a book. Because of that, it’s easy to lose perspective. Here’s the truth. Your book is not your work. Your work has to do with your mission or your purpose. Your book is a tool, something intended to further your work. Depending on the nature of your project, your book might be one of the following:
  • a commodity (a product that you sell for a profit)
  • a promotional item (a marketing device that you give away or sell at a loss in hopes of generating new business; it might be a catalog or an education book or a pamphlet.)
  • a manual (an internal publication designed to improve your operation in some way or an external publication designed to help your customers use your product or service)
  • a workshop tool (a workbook or guide intended to be used by facilitators or participants in a class, a seminar, or a workshop; it might be sold outright or bundled into the cost of the workshop.)
 As you can see from the above, books generally are tools that help you accomplish your work. They should never be confused with the work itself. This does not denigrate your book project all. The right book will do some or all of the following:
  • add to your credibility
  • increase your revenue
  • get you more presentation bookings
  • find you more prospects and/or clients
  • make your business run more smoothly
  • increase customer satisfaction with you, your products, and your services
  • brand your business
Your book is one powerful tool. Nevertheless, your book is not your work. This leads to the secret of powerful book marketing: If you promote your work, you will promote your book.The Publishing Pro

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Marketing 101: Forget about Bookstores

For now: Most first-time authors that I meet have a misconception about how books are sold. They think books are sold mainly through bookstores.
They can be forgiven for believing this. After all, bookstores are the place where it is easiest to see a book being sold. And seeing is believing.
The other piece of this belief is that you want to believe your book will be sold in stores. If you’re an author, nothing feels more like success than walking into a big chain store and seeing your book on the best-seller table.
Obviously, some books are sold in bookstores, but I am not enthusiastic about any but large and knowledgeable publishers following a sales strategy that relies principally on bookstores. Here’s why:
First, selling to bookstores is unlikely to be profitable. In order to get your books into bookstores, you must sell them at a substantial discount. If you sell to them directly, you will probably sell them for 40% off of your list price. And then you will need to set up an account for them, invoice them, collect payment, and deal with returns. If you sell to bookstores indirectly through a distributor or wholesaler, you will do so at 50% or more likely at 55% (or even more) off of your list price. If you are a self-publisher, starting out with a small press run, you will find it almost impossible to make money at these discounts. Even if you are an independent publisher of several books, able to do standard runs of 2000-5000, you will find the economics of bookstore selling difficult at best and a strategy engaged in as a secondary rather than a primary revenue stream.
Second, selling to bookstores is risky. If you sell to bookstores directly and set up accounts with them, they will expect to return unsold books. This is something you may be able to live with, at least over time as you build up your business and your account base. However, if you sell to bookstores indirectly through distributors, returns are a killer. Here’s what happens. When your book comes out, your distributor asks you to send them a quantity of copies, let’s say, 1,000. Now you think you’ve sold 1,000 copies. You haven’t—whether your distributor buys the copies up front or on consignment—because your distributor retains the right to return unsold books to you. You ship 1,000 books to your distributor, who ships them to one or more warehouses. The warehouses then distribute your books to stores. However, the stores usually will not put your books on the shelves unless one of two things happen: 1) you give them a monetary incentive to display the books (this is called a “retail display allowance”) or 2) many people come into the stores asking for your book. The latter only happens if you’ve done some publicity or taken other marketing steps that drive people into the stores. Assuming you haven’t been able to afford to pay stores extra money or to spend thousands of dollars on a national publicity program, the bookstores now send your unsold books back to the warehouse, which sends your unsold books back to you. What’s more, thanks to all the handling, a large percentage of the books may be damaged and not saleable, at least at the list price. Worse, they may tear the covers off and send you only the covers (to save shipping costs) so that you can’t even sell the damaged books at a discount. Now you’ve spent extra money on books you can’t sell and on shipping that did you no good.
Third, bookstores (especially general-interest stores like Barnes and Noble) are not an effective way to market your book. Bookstores are infrastructure, a place where customers can find books. Of course, bookstores provide some marketing, especially in the way they display books. That’s one reason why it’s important to pay attention to your cover design. They problem is that bookstores, especially the general ones, do not do an effective job of reaching your particular customers. They attract all kinds of customers, few of whom are going to have the remotest interest in your book. They are highly inefficient that way. (On the other hand, if a bookstore has a focus—travel, for example—and you have published a travel book, the match is better. More about this when we return to the subject in the final chapter.) Moreover, if when they do attract the right customers, and even when the right customer buys your book, you don’t have this customer’s name. And you can’t sell them something else or talk to them about your work—unless this customer contacts you.
Fourth, books increasingly are being sold online and in digital formats (Kindle, etc.) that bypass brick-and-mortar stores altogether, Amazon being the mother of online sales.
This is not say that it is impossible for a small publisher to succeed with a strategy of selling to bookstores.  Below are two of my favorite stories about two authors who “succeeded.”  (Their names are fictional.)
Joe Miller printed five thousand copies of his first book, a hard copy compendium of inspiring stories. This was a rather large run for a first-time author, but Joe was energetic and smart. He learned how the bookstore business worked. He hired a distributor, put together a publicity plan, and managed to sell most of his press run through bookstores. I thought he was rather successful. However, when I talked to him a couple of years later, he had a new strategy—enlisting the aid of corporations to buy editions of his book to be given away for publicity purposes. Not a bad strategy, actually. I asked him what happened to his bookstore efforts. “Oh, I gave up on that,” he said. “With tons of hard work, I managed to get rid of my books. But the discounts to distributors and bookstores were so high, I didn’t make anything.”
Bill Scarpelli created a small publishing house with a list composed entirely of his own photo books, which he sold mainly through bookstores. He was planning more books in the same vein. I was impressed. “Well, it’s taken a tremendous amount of work,” he said. “And capital. The worst problem is that it’s so uneven. Sometimes the money pours in. Sometimes there is nothing. I’ve had to declare bankruptcy twice.”
And those were successes.—The Publishing Pro

Thursday, February 02, 2017

The Four Sides of "Story"

It's complicated: While I was deciding to adopt "Get Your Story Out" as my new tagline, I became aware that story is not always used for benevolent purposes or in a benevolent manner. 

I grew up in the Catholic faith and migrated to Judaism, both of which give serious attention to tale-bearing. The catechism of my childhood spoke of calumny and slander, synonyms for telling lies about a person. Detraction, damaging a person's reputation by revealing some truth about them, is just as bad. If anything, Judaism is even more serious about tale-bearing, called lashon hora (evil tongue) in Hebrew. 

By any name, the use of both factual and fictional story for negative purposes is part of our public culture, painfully obvious during the recent election. 

It's complex though. Here is a simplified but useful way to think about it, especially for authors. 

  • Positive Non-Fiction: If you're doing a memoir and working with me, you'll be somewhere in this quadrant. Even so, it's not a perfect world. When I did my own memoir, I realized that my story was shaped by my memory--or absence thereof.
  • Negative Non-Fiction: If you're doing a tell-all memoir, especially if it involves other people in your life, you may be moving into this quadrant. In any case, how you treat other people in your work is something that comes up. If you're doing muckraking report, you might be in this quadrant. Then again, positive and negative, is in the mind of the beholder.
  • Positive Fiction: If you're writing a novel and have a positive purpose, I'd start you here. Some authors choose fiction because they can get at truth in a novel that they could not get at in a memoir without hurting someone needlessly.
  • Negative Fiction: It's hard to think of my customers here, but the category is real. Fake news, at least the kind that relies on a lie to damage a person's reputation or life. 
Like I said, it's complicated. The Publishing Pro.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Get Your Story Out.

New tagline: For a good three years now, I've been going to HealthSouth Rehab Hospital every Sunday and teaching a weekly class called "What's Your Story?" The experience has had a profound effect on me. It's not so much a class as a chance to talk to people about their personal stories. A few of them have been told "you should write a book." More often, they have an idea that they should write something down for their families, but they don't know where to start. Some of them even insist "I don't have a story." Of course they do, and there's nothing more delightful than helping them find it. 

In any case, it got me to think about defining what I do in a different way. My original tagline, which is twelve years old now, is "Making Professional Publishing Accessible—and Fun—for Everyone." To be honest, this is only a fancy version of what I have tended to tell people who ask me what I do: "I help people self-publish their books."

It's true. It's clear. I do help people self-publish their books. But it's not sufficient by a long shot. The patients at HealthSouth have helped me with that. What I really do is help people get their stories out—in multiple senses of that phrase. I get the story out of your head and heart, I help you refine it, and I help you share it with your intended audience. Getting the Story Out is taking me outside the boundaries of bookmaking into blogging, workshopping, presenting, poetry slamming, Facebooking, and letter writing. It gets me, the professional editor, beyond the planet of editing into the universe of marketing. More later. —The Publishing Pro