Thursday, August 16, 2007
This doesn't mean that traditional publishers do nothing for a book. What niche publishers bring to the table is a large basket of customers interested in books in a given area. Travel, for example. They have a marketing system--catalogs, websites, customer service, telemarketing, package stuffers, trade exhibits, and so on--that reaches travel customers. They plug each new book into the system and can usually count on some percentage of their existing travel customers being interested in this new book. And this new book then will generate a few new customers who might be interested in some other travel books already published by the company.. It's a relatively efficient system--and the way most niche publishers make money, if they make money.
Does this mean your book will get no individual attention? No, but you're the one that will have to give it that individual attention. Your publisher will expect that. Most publishers try to make this clear--though I've noticed that many authors don't seem to hear the message and become resentful when they realize they have to do "all the work." Like it or not, this is how the business works. If you can make your peace with it, you can take advantage of your publisher's infrastucture to become quite successful.--Ken Guentert, The Publishing Pro.
- 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 their appearance, their age, their marital status, their family size, their income, their needs, their desires, their 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 message. This is best phrased as how you will change your reader’s life. This is a powerful concept. The change you promise may be modest—maybe you are a mystery writer who only wants to entertain someone sunning herself on a beach—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 do you expect anyone to buy your book?
- Decide on a working title and subtitle. Generally, the title and subtitle should clue your potential editor and reader into 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.
- 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.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
- Consider self-publishing before--or while--you look for a publisher. Prospective publishers will look more favorably on you if you have established a track record of being able to sell your work. You don't have to sell thousands of copies to impress a publisher--a few hundred, steady sales, or a profitable project will do. On the other hand, if you think you can find a publisher who can sell your book when you can't, you are dreaming.
- Identify likely publishers from the get-go. Go to the library or online to identify prospective publishers in such resources as The Writer's Market. Look for publishers who express some interest in what you're writing about and who you're writing to. For this, we prefer smaller "niche publishers" to larger "trade publishers." The former have a stronger focus and are more likely to be interested in your book and to keep it in print for a longer period of time. Skip the publishers who look only at manuscripts submitted by agents--unless of course you are using an agent.
- Write a good proposal. Your proposal should contain a descriptive working title and subtitle, a coherent summary of what you are saying, who you are saying it to, and how your book will change their lives. Include a descriptive Table of Contents that shows where the editor where you are taking your reader. You will send this proposal, along with a short cover letter, and however many chapters (usually one, two, or three) the particular publisher wants to see. Publishers almost never want to see the entire manuscript. (If you want, you can have a competent copy editor work over your manuscript. However, if your content is clear, this is probably not necessary. Unless you are submitting literature, the acquisition editor is unlikely to care how well you dot your eyes and cross your tees. That will be taken care of later.}
- Follow up. If you've submitted your manuscript to a big New York publisher, you probably won't get anywhere by telephoning the publisher and asking for the editor. However, if you've submitted your manuscript to a small niche publisher, you have a good chance of talking to someone who might be interested in talking to you about your project--especially if you've done your homework and targeted likely publishers.
- Check 'em out. If you've managed to interest a publisher, you then need to decide if this publisher is really right for you. The temptation will be to go with anyone who is interested--because chances are there will be only one--but one bad marriage is not in your interest. You still have the option of going it alone. Make sure:
- The publisher publishes in your area of expertise. If she doesn't, why is she interested in your book?
- The publisher has a track record. If your publisher is just starting out, he may have no idea what he is getting into and probably doesn't.
- The publisher has a clear way of marketing books like yours and/or to readers like you intend to reach. Don't expect your publisher to pull out all the publicity stops for your books. Generally, it doesn't work that way. Successful publishers are good at marketing multiple products--books, for example--to customers eager to buy more than one item for them. Look at your potential publisher's catalog, website, events, and exhibits and ask yourself if your book makes sense there. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. At least ask your potential publisher, again, why she is interested.
- The publisher seems to care about building relationships with authors. If he doesn't seem interested in your work, he probably isn't all that interested in you or your book that much either.
Ken Guentert, The Publishing Pro.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Two other suggestions:
- First, consider asking your publisher if you can commit to buying a large quantity of books (1000 or more) off of a press run. If your publisher is agreeable, you'll get your deepest discount this way.
- Second, get the right to buy books against your royalties. If you aren't getting a cash advance against royalties--more typical than getting one--ask to get an advance in the form of books. Of course, this will reduce (or eliminate) your cash royalties down the road. On the other hand, if you can sell your books, this is financially advantageous. Here's how it works. Let's say you have accumulated $1000.00 in royalties payable somewhere down the road. Let's say you have the right to buy your book, which has a $20.00 list price, at a not-all-that-generous 40% discount or $12.00 each. Your publisher lets you take 83 books worth $996.00 at your discount (83 times $12.00) against your royalties owed. You turn around and sell those books at the list price, thus your $996.00 royalty taken as books converts to $1660.00 (83 times $20.00). Of course, you've got to sell the books--but that is the name of the game. It's a good deal.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
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 55% or 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) people are coming 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. And to add insult to injury, the distributor 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, there is some marketing involved, especially in the way bookstores display books. And that’s one reason why it’s important to pay attention to your cover design. The problem is that bookstores, especially the general ones, do not do an effective job or 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 some other time.) Moreover, if 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.
This is not say that it is impossible for a small publisher to succeed with a strategy of selling to bookstores. Here 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 both energetic and smart. He figured out 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 is 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, LLC.