Being a Successful Author — Magic or Work?

My guest blogger today is Sia McKye, a marketing/publicity expert. This is the follow-up to McKye’s article, “Getting Published: No Magic Wands or Treasure Maps.” KcKye writes:

As an author, nothing can be quite as exciting as receiving word you’ve sold your book and it’s going to be published.  You are over the moon and flying high.  Maybe even dreaming of the NYT Best Sellers List. Finally, you’re getting validation for all your work and hours of writing.  Everyone you know hears about it.  You’re discussing galleys, Arc covers, the artwork, blurbs, and author endorsements on your cover. Tossing terms around like Pub dates, Arc mailings, targeted print campaigns, web promotions and Reviews, library marketing, and author events.  Your book finally hits Barnes & Noble and you find yourself going in just to look at a book with your name on it. You take pictures.  You start being obsessed with Amazon figures on your book’s placement of the day or week.  You’ve got it made, right?

Keep in mind that just having your book in print doesn’t mean it will automatically sell-books don’t sell themselves, even if they are listed on Amazon–or on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. As a friend of mine recently reminded me:  “Over 195,000 new novels are published by traditional publishers in the U.S. every year. Of those, 70% sell fewer than 500 copies.”

Here’s another reason to aggressively market yourself and your books and the importance in building a reader base. 

Debuting authors are lucky enough to get a first print run of 10,000 for their book, depending upon the genre and your publisher’s confidence in your work (some can be as high as 20,000). You might think 10,000 is a big number until you start calculating book stores and Amazon.  It’s really a small run and it’s not going to hit the best sellers list with that number. If they sell only 500 copies or less, then the publisher eats the cost of having the other 9500 shipped back to them, at full cost, and made into pulp.  Publishers are not happy when this happens, but they have a contract with you, maybe for a three-book deal. Maybe they’ll recoup their losses on the second book?  If they don’t will they take another three books from you?  Or drop you like a hot potato?  Can you see where active promotion and publicity is vital? 

On the other hand, you’ve worked your butt off with marketing and promotion. You’ve built up name recognition on the Internet through Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, and Gather, MySpace and other social networks.  You’ve worked hard at blogging and building presence and attracting your consumers-readers.  You started this long before your book was even sold.  You continued even after your book was sold. You’ve written book reviews on books similar to yours, written anything and everything related to your books and also to you as a person.  You’ve made yourself a personality, with likes, dislikes, and interests.  In other words you’ve become a real person to your readers.  They see you share the same interests as they do, you chat with them. You build characters in your books; surely it isn’t that hard to project yourself to your readers?

Because your potential readers like you and have gotten to know you somewhat, they do name-dropping about their “good friend, the author.” 

“Oh yeah, I know Anna Campbell and she just released TEMPT THE DEVIL.  Highlanders, honey, you have to look for it.”

“I just read the best suspense/thriller recently, A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE, by my friend Pat Bertram.  We’re talking danger and a story of ordinary people becoming extraordinary to survive.  You’ve got to order it.”

“My good friend Judi Fennell wrote this cool series about sexy mermen and a kingdom under the sea. The first book is called IN OVER HER HEAD, you gotta read it!”

“Toni Blake is just the nicest person evah.  She writes some real sizzlers, we’re talkin’ hot and sexy.  She has a new one coming out called ONE RECKLESS SUMMER…”

It’s that simple and any debuting or popular author’s name can be slipped in there.  Why? Because you’ve worked hard to be assessable and real to your readers. Because once you knew your release date, you started building anticipation for your book. So now, your book is released and sells through at 80%, or 8000 books.  Your publisher is very happy and is patting him or herself for their ability to find talented writers.  They decide a second print run is good business. Because you’ve built a buzz you probably will do well on the second run. Your publisher decides for your next book (for a debuting author that can be as soon as two-three months later) to start out with a first print run of 25,000 and a much larger presence on the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble and more pressure for the staff to push your book.

By the way, to hit the NYT best sellers list?  The book needs a first print run of at least 35,000.  Maybe Nora Roberts or Christine Feehan may get that type of run, but look at all the time they invested in marketing and promoting themselves and their books.  As a debuting author, you’re not going to get that with a first run.

This type of marketing/promotion also works for POD authors.  True, you don’t have to deal with print runs and costly returns, but if your books are in bookstores, the return cost are still a bite and one you as the author have to foot.  It’s smart business; again it’s your business, to have these books sell through.  You want to be successful and to do that you need a solid reader base as much as, or perhaps even more than, a traditionally published author.  Collecting dust is not the image of your books you want in the bookstore management’s eyes or your own, especially if you want them to continue to carry your books.  Shelf space is not a guarantee of sales any more than having a book with your name on it is. 

Stirring up publicity and marketing of yourself as an author and promoting your book, is many times, the least favorite task for an author. The point is if you want to be a success as an author then it’s going to take hard work. A third of your time is spent in writing the story and the rest is spent in selling it to a publisher and then promoting the book and yourself as an author. Building that all important reader base. It’s a necessary part of business.   

Writing is a business. The author is the proprietor of that business. Products have to be promoted to be a success. It’s as simple as that. Once we realize that, we put ourselves in the right mindset to be a success.

There are no magic wands, treasure maps of shortcuts, or guarantees to be a successful author or being published.

Just a dream and a lot of hard work.

Creating a Book Marketing Plan

This article was reprinted with permission from Dog Ear Publishing.

You all know a book won’t sell itself? Right? Surprisingly, many authors DON’T understand this fact until too late — and they are disappointed with their sales performance. Every book needs some sort of marketing plan — something that sets your expectations and creates achievable goals that you can attack in an orderly fashion.

But – how do you create a marketing plan for your book? There is a ton of great freeware, even more that you can spend lots of money on, that all help you create a marketing plan for selling your book. But – before you go to the exciting effort of spending time and money on downloading software, open up your trusty word processor and follow me…

Chapter One – Who will buy your book?

The secret to sales success is to target your marketing as directly as possible to your potential reader – and have it be someone who is reachable.

“Everyone will want to read my book!” Sorry, but that doesn’t work. Even the absolute best selling books – that sell 2 or 3 million copies in a year – only penetrate to about 3% of the reading population. Sales success for your book will be driven by defining a very clear picture of who is interested in your book.

They must be identifiable: Make a list! Which groups would be interested in your book? Why? Who is next? Why should the need or want your book? (remember this – someone is more likely to buy something they NEED before something they WANT.)

Now – narrow it down even more. Find a unique angle about your book – and don’t try and be everything to everyone, because you can’t – insteand target 100% of a specific part!

Chapter Two – What is your definition of success for your book? What is your GOAL?

Some authors write for themselves and their families only — they don’t dream of their books as bestsellers in the marketplace. Some authors write for a very specific personal need to tell their story. Some have unique insight into very specific topics. Many have dreams of seeing their book in the front of Borders or Barnes & Noble. Each author is different, but you MUST decide what your real definition of success happens to be. We don’t want to pursue a goal that may not be what you actually feel is important.

Chapter Three – Objectives, Plans and Actions

Everything needs to start with a GOAL – and that is what you outlined in Chapter Two. Everything you do for your book should be in support of this goal.

Objectives- these are the steps you take to achieve your GOAL – for example, if you goal is to sell 5,000 books, then you need to identify some OBJECTIVES as the “steps” to achieving your goal. Just like your GOAL – make sure your Objectives are reasonable, and something that you can achieve. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to confuse WANTING to do something or achieve a goal with be ABLE to achieve a goal – make sure you possess the necessary skills to do the things on your list. Perhaps my OBJECTIVES list would look like this:

1. Set up personal events to promote my book – book signings, seminars, radio interviews, etc.
2. Secure reviews from print resources.
3. Identify online resources for promotion of my book
4. Identify non-retail opportunities for book sales.
5. Create outbound awareness campaign of me the author as an expert in my field

Plans – your PLANS outline the needed steps to get your OBJECTIVES moving, and they begin to create “to do lists” and measurable actions. For example, one of my Objectives is to set up personal events to promote my book. So, my plan section might look like this:

Objective: Personal Appearances:

Plans:
i. Set up one book signing per week at local outlets
ii. Set up two seminars on book marketing in 1Q 2006
iii. Conduct one radio interview per month in 2006

Actions- these are the details of each PLAN- and, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details…”. This is where most marketing plans fail – you must have a coherent and workable set of “actions” to achieve each plan, that then leads to each objective – and, eventually, achieves your ultimate goal. If you can’t produce a reasonable set of “actions” for achieving each plan, then scrap the plan and start over. Here is my “Action” list for the Objective / Plans above:

Objective: Personal Appearances:

Plan: Set up one book signing per week at local bookstores

ACTIONS:

  • Call B&N at Keystone- get Events Coord, name – make appt to visit and present book signing idea. BRING BOOK!! Mary knows Mgr – get intro?
  • Borders Mgr – drop off book – and mention reading / seminar on mktg –
  • Contact library for presentations on self-pub. Monthly event?

As you can see, it really is all about breaking your marketing efforts down in to small enough pieces to be A) understandable, B) achievable and C) measurable.

Marketing & publicity is a long-term, consistent and concerted effort – it never ever happens overnight, even though it may seem to for some people.

Chapter Four – Create a reasonable timeline and budget

All of us have finite amounts of time, energy, and money. Marketing can eat up all three very quickly, leaving you alone, exhausted, and broke. The game is to pace yourself and resources so that you can keep the effort moving along. This is where your planning in Chapter Three works it magic – without looking at the “big picture,” most of us would never know how much of our precious resources should be devoted to each aspect of the game. Organization and prioritizing are the most important part of the process – and you may find yourself returning to “Chapter Three” and rewriting sections of your plan.

Here are some monetary expenses you may expect to incur in your marketing plan:

1. Sample Books – do you plan on sending them out or dropping them off?
2. Marketing materials – posters, flyers, postcards, etc.
3. Press release writing and distribution
4. Advertising – sponsored search, links, banners, print
5. Web site design and shopping cart creation
6. Direct mail opportunities

A quick note on samples – I don’t believe in sending out books blindly – it’s too expensive and not effective. If a potential resource is interested in your book, they’ll ask for it (as long as you’ve written a good press release…)

Chapter Five – Creating a brand with your book marketing plan

Think about this… in many cases, you – not your book – are really the “brand” you are selling. Books can occasionally be seen as a commodity… “experts” who can be interviewed on a topic are often far more valuable. Your book is your calling card – and ultimately the way you will profit from your “expertise” – but many times, it YOU that is the selling point!

Use your marketing plan to push you as the primary product – building a brand around what you know and your “mystique” as an author. Also – don’t forget to let us know your plans! If you and your book are “tied” as a brand – let us help you use your book to increase your credibility and awareness. At least have us add your web site in several places in the book – even on the cover. Letting us you’re your marketing plans can allow us time to helpyou create the best possible product.
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That’s it – the building of a book marketing plan in a nutshell if you will. Let us know if we can answer any questions, and thanks for reading.

As always – if you like this information (and found it helpful) please feel free to post it on your site, put it in a blog, toss it in your newsletter, or in general spread it around. Please just give us credit here at www.dogearpublishing.net

May you have success in your creative efforts!

 Ray