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Authors Must Be Marketers

authors marketingAuthors don’t like to promote their own works. Here are actual quotes from some of the authors we published:

“I’m a writer, not a marketer.”

“I’m uncomfortable asking people to buy my book.”

“I don’t really understand social media.”

“I’ve put a ton of effort into writing my book. Why do I have to sell it?”

On the one hand, I sympathize with these comments. It makes sense. You’ve written a book and it’s somebody else’s job to sell the books. Isn’t that the way the book business works? Plus, won’t your beautiful writing sell itself on its own merits?

But that’s not how publishing has ever worked. Walt Whitman printed up pamphlets and went door-to-door to hawk his poetry. Ernest Hemingway posed for Ballantine Ale ads that show him scribbling away next to a cool can of beer. And the solitary genius thing definitely doesn’t cut it today. In this age of disappearing book chains, squeezed publishers, and the rise of mega-distributor Amazon, all traditional book marketing realities have been destroyed.

Today, here is the truth for all authors, whether they end up with a large or small publisher, pay to publish, or self-publish: Authors have to become marketers if they want their books to sell. They have to team with their publishers, if they have a publisher, to promote and sell their books. If they self-publish, they are totally responsible for marketing their books.

Think of bookstores and sites like Amazon as supermarkets of books. In a supermarket, the manufacturer of the individual product is primarily responsible for sales of that product. A supermarket gives products room on the shelves. As a self-publisher or a published author, you are the equivalent of a food manufacturer. The publisher is your distributor who helps get you in the store (or on Amazon). But you have to take primary responsibility for the sales of your products.

If you’re self-published, there is a good chance nobody will find your book, even if it is the next Great American Novel. There are millions of competing books, and the odds of yours being plucked from the crowd are minuscule.

If you pay to have someone publish your book (this used to be called vanity publishing), don’t trust your publisher to sell a lot of copies of your book. The publisher is making most of its profits from the production side: any profit from sales is a bonus. These books will get a little sales help; not much.

But even if you are published by a “legitimate” publisher — you know, the ones that don’t charge you upfront for taking your book on and might even give you an advance, although those types of publishers are disappearing — you will have to do most of the marketing yourself.

Here’s why: Your publisher has lots of books it’s trying to sell, not just yours. Let’s say the publisher is selling 50 books. The publisher will do its standard marketing for the books, but each book can only receive on average just two percent of its attention. Even if the publisher has a full-time staff person devoted just to marketing, on average your book will receive under an hour of that person’s attention per week.

On the other hand, you have far more time to concentrate on your book project than your publisher does: if you want to, you can spend one hundred percent of your time marketing your book. (Even fifty percent — you may want to save time to write your next book — is twenty five times more time than your publisher will be able to spend on you.)

I speak as an author, as a publisher with thirty years of experience, and now vice-president of YourNewBook.com, a newly-formed self-publishing company. I’ve also an owner of a marketing company, Raphel Marketing.  As someone with a strong interest in the world of marketing and the world of publishing, I can tell you with certainty that almost all the marketing muscle has to come from authors. Over the past thirty years, as hard as we’ve try to promote our book list and any single book, the books that have achieved the most success had have the authors who are most engaged in marketing.

What your publisher can and should do for your book is to provide you with materials to help promote your book: websites, blog tours, book trailers, publicity releases, etc. And the publisher gets your book available to be purchased by selling it directly, getting it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at a distributor so bookstores can order it. The publisher also handles the shipping and warehousing of books, and takes in the money and does all the accounting. These are not small details, but rather time-consuming tasks that most authors can’t do or would rather not handle.

Publishers can help arrange book tours for authors at bookstores. But as the number of brick and mortar bookstores decline (and as many of the remaining ones cut author appearances), actually going out to speak at bookstores is just a small part of what you as an author can do to promote your book. More and more you have to search for innovative ways to sell.

Here are five ways our authors have helped make their books a financial success:

1. Speak! Don’t confine your appearances to the local bookstore. Try to craft a speech about a topic related to your book that will appeal to a large audience. Then market your speeches to local clubs, libraries, schools, and any other organization that may be interested in your topic.

2. Give your book away – selectively. We are willing to give books away for our authors on one condition: That the recipient has the authority and might be willing to purchase bulk copies of the book. We publish business and education books, and bulk orders make up an important part of our revenue stream, so giving away one book can be tremendously cost effective, even if it seems counter-intuitive at first.

3.Blog: You’re a writer. You have ideas. It takes no advanced computer skills to put up a blog or even a full-fledged website. There are lots of companies that will give you the tools to make a simple template on your own. Once you have the website or blog up and running, tell all your Facebook friends about it. Use social media to discuss the topics on your site. Print up business cards with the site’s web address. If you have interesting posts, you’ll be able to cultivate an audience that is primed to read your book.

4. Generate publicity. It’s free and can make all the difference in book sales. Write a press release about your book for the local media. Figure out a news angle that ties into your book and tie it into your press release. Have someone throw a party for your new book and put the photos up on social media and send them to the local paper. It’s really tough to get national publicity, but your book sales will perk up even if you get local or regional publicity.

5. Find a community of interest. If you’ve written a novel, memoir, or non-fiction book that has characters or stories involving autism, contact organizations, Facebook groups, and local groups that help people with autism. If you’ve written a book about fly fishing, try to find organizations and interest groups that cater to people interested in fly fishing. Try to find interest groups and organizations that might have a connection to the materials in your book.

Writing a great book and making a book look good are necessary to sell your book but not sufficient to make your book a success. But without the active marketing help of the author, efforts often lead to disappointing sales.

So authors must be marketers. It’s a truth, but it doesn’t have to be a sad truth. Marketing can be fun, if you approach it with the right attitude. After all, if you’re an author, you want to share your work with as wide an audience as possible. By doing promotion and marketing, you’re not selling out. On the contrary: when you change your attitude about marketing from negative to positive, you give your book a chance to be read. And you even make some money along the way.