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.