Tag Archives: John B. Thompson

How to Market and Sell Your Book in Only One Hour Per Day

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

For some, the idea of authors selling their own books may seem to be an impractical notion cooked up by contemporary publishing gurus who lack the same influence within the book supply chain as the traditional trade publishers have. For some, the belief is still held that, as purveyors of the greatest literary writers, trade publishers will do (and always have done) all the work for their authors because they’ve carefully selected only the crème de la crème … the sure sellers that will guarantee a profit for them.

In his 2013 Forbes article titled How To Market And Sell Your Book In Five Steps, Nick Morgan, comments that:

…most authors – naturally enough – are focused on the book, not on what happens after completing it. It’s enough to get the book over the finish line, the typical author thinks, let the publisher worry about marketing and selling the book. That’s human nature and it makes sense, but it’s not enough in the world we live in now. There are simply too many books published each year – a million or more in the US alone – to rely on destiny, or fate, or even good word of mouth to get your book the attention it deserves. And you certainly can’t rely on the publisher.

He nails it right on the head … except for the “in the world we live in now” portion. The truth is, it was always this way for the majority of authors. Even back in the day.

The Myth Debunked by Trade Publishers Themselves

For those who balk at the idea of self-promotion because they believe it is their publisher’s sole responsibility to promote their books on their behalf—and that all traditional publishers will take care of it for them all the time—think again. Even the Association of Canadian Publishers will tell you otherwise:

Many publishers have a publicity department that will handle this while the book is on the front list. However, once the next season is published, or you have published the book on your own, the job of getting publicity exposure for the book falls to the authors themselves.

And Canada isn’t alone in this. Not by a long shot. Even the Big Five—Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster—admit they focus primarily on their front list titles; and, once those books fall to the back list, the responsibility of continued promotion falls to the author.

Based on the common twice-yearly publishing schedule followed by most trade publishers (spring and autumn), I figured that the average book would be considered a front list title for only six months which means it has a shelf life of only six months. After that, the author is on his or her own to continue selling it. I’ve since learned that my six-month guesstimate was actually quite idealistic after picking up a well-researched book by John B. Thompson titled Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century. He delves even deeper into a trade publisher’s publicity, sales, and marketing budgets than I did in my last three books:

Today more than ever, a writer’s career is always hanging in the balance, rising and falling with the sales of their most recent books and always at risk of being curtailed by a disappointing track. Careers cut short and writers cut loose are among the prices to be paid for the logic of the field. They are the human costs of an industry where numbers rule in the end and where short-term growth and bottom-line profitability have come to assume more and more importance in the practical calculations of the major houses.

You would think that the major publishing houses with the larger budgets would be able to spend more money on promoting and selling all their books; but, the fact is, they are under even greater pressure from their parent corporations to watch their spend and focus primarily on what they consider the “big books” (which do not necessarily equate to “great literary works”) that can generate the most profit for them. The result, according to Thompson’s research, is an even shorter shelf life for the majority of books by the majority of authors:

As soon as a book shows signs that it’s going to take off, the sales, marketing and publicity operations mobilize behind it and look for ways to support it with extra advertising, trying to get more radio and TV appearances, extending the author’s tour or putting together a new tour to cities where the book is doing particularly well, and so on. … the sales, marketing and publicity operations are geared and resourced in such a way that, when they see that a fire is starting to ignite, they are able to pour generous quantities of fuel on the flames. … But if further appeals fall on deaf ears and sales fail to pick up, then the marketing and publicity effort will be wound up pretty quickly – ‘In two to three weeks we might pull the plug,’ … So how long does a book have out there in the marketplace to show signs of life? How many weeks before it becomes a dead fish that will be left to float downstream? … I would say the life of a book today is about six weeks. And quite frankly it’s even shorter than that, but you probably have six weeks and that’s it.

So we’ve gone from a six-month shelf life to a six-week shelf life with the larger, corporate publishers. Then the ball is back in the author’s court. Yikes! Scary stuff. There has to be a better way, right? I believe there is, and I’ve made it my life’s mission to help authors take control of their own book sales and marketing efforts so they can enjoy more commercial success.

Successful Selling Tips for Introverted Authors

Not all authors are introverts, but all authors can benefit from online marketing. And it only takes one hour per day, six days per week, to get the ball rolling. That’s it, that’s all. Truth.

Whether a book was self-published or produced by a traditional trade publisher, there are some effective ways the author can boost its sales that will fit well with both introverted and extroverted personality types. And here’s the best news yet: it’s possible to successfully market and sell your book using nothing more than a comfortable chair in your favourite writing room, a laptop, an Internet connection, and your own God-given talent to write.

So, what is stopping authors from moving ahead with this? That’s the question I asked myself when I wrote my most recent educational resource guide to complement my sales coaching for authors classes. Maybe you will recognize yourself in this chapter: Is this you? If it is, that’s okay. We’ll work together to overcome your fears and teach you how to sell your own book. You may just surprise yourself with what you’re capable of once you start this sales coaching for authors program.

I sincerely hope you will give it a try. I created the program specifically for you.

Educational Resources for Authors

* * *    * * *    * * *

As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2016 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.

An Effective Alternative to Returnability Where Everybody Wins

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

My last blog entry, Let’s Start a Revolution to End Returnability!, ignited a passionate debate over this decades-old book distribution model. Within the various industry LinkedIn groups where I shared it, fifty percent of people appeared to agree with my stance while another fifty percent steadfastly defended the practice no matter how many articles or books I cited showing other reputable publishers, authors, and even booksellers who view it as outdated, costly, inefficient, and environmentally unfriendly.

I asked myself, “Why?” And the only answer I could come up with is that change is often uncomfortable and sometimes causes fear—especially if the people promoting that change have neglected to provide a reasonable answer as to what we could possibly change TO that could be viewed as a better alternative for us all … and fair enough. So, the purpose of this blog entry is twofold: first, to further explain some of the intricacies of English language trade publishing that are at the core of my beliefs and business philosophies; and second, to provide an alternative to the current system that all of us could benefit from.

THE TRUE LIFE OF A BOOK IN THE TRADITIONAL DISTRIBUTION MODEL: ONLY SIX WEEKS!

Bookstores don’t sell your books for you, authors. You do. In my 2014 book on publishing, I went so far as to share the not-so-popular viewpoint that even your publisher doesn’t sell your book for you over the long-term. You do.

One of the biggest myths about trade publishers is that all of them are out there actively selling all of their authors’ books for them on a regular basis. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trade publishers focus primarily on their front list titles; and, once those books fall to the back list, the responsibility of continued promotion falls to the author. Based on the common twice-yearly publishing schedule followed by most traditional publishers (spring and autumn), I figured that the average book would be considered a front list title for only six months which means it has a shelf life of only six months. After that, it’s up to the author to continue actively selling it. It’s always been that way, contrary to popular belief.

I’ve since learned that my six-month guesstimate was actually quite idealistic. This past year, I picked up a well-researched book by John B. Thompson titled Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century where a trade publisher’s publicity, sales, and marketing budgets are discussed in more detail than in my own book:

“Today more than ever, a writer’s career is always hanging in the balance, rising and falling with the sales of their most recent books and always at risk of being curtailed by a disappointing track. Careers cut short and writers cut loose are among the prices to be paid for the logic of the field. They are the human costs of an industry where numbers rule in the end and where short-term growth and bottom-line profitability have come to assume more and more importance in the practical calculations of the major houses.”

You would think that the major publishing houses with the larger budgets would be able to spend more money on promoting and selling all their books; but, the fact is, they are under even greater pressure from their parent corporations to watch their spend and focus primarily on what they consider the “big books” that can generate the most profit for them. The result, according to Thompson’s research, is an even shorter shelf life for the majority of books by the majority of authors:

“As soon as a book shows signs that it’s going to take off, the sales, marketing and publicity operations mobilize behind it and look for ways to support it with extra advertising, trying to get more radio and TV appearances, extending the author’s tour or putting together a new tour to cities where the book is doing particularly well, and so on. … the sales, marketing and publicity operations are geared and resourced in such a way that, when they see that a fire is starting to ignite, they are able to pour generous quantities of fuel on the flames. … But if further appeals fall on deaf ears and sales fail to pick up, then the marketing and publicity effort will be wound up pretty quickly – ‘In two to three weeks we might pull the plug,’ … So how long does a book have out there in the marketplace to show signs of life? How many weeks before it becomes a dead fish that will be left to float downstream? … I would say the life of a book today is about six weeks. And quite frankly it’s even shorter than that, but you probably have six weeks and that’s it.

So we’ve gone from a six-month shelf life to a six-week shelf life with the larger, corporate publishers. Yikes! Scary stuff. There has to be a better way, right? I believe there is.

BOOKSTORES DISPLAY YOUR BOOKS FOR YOU. YOU SELL THEM.

As I mentioned earlier, bookstores don’t sell your books for you, authors. You do. They simply display them. And if you want prime real estate in a traditional chain bookstore, thus allowing you to benefit from impulse purchasing, it’s going to cost a lot more than you may realize. Thompson provided details on this in his book, too:

“The front-of-store area that is in your field of vision is a thoroughly commodified space: most of the books you see will be there by virtue of the fact that the publisher has paid for placement, either directly by means of a placement fee (that is, co-op advertising) or indirectly by means of extra discount. Roughly speaking, it costs around a dollar a book to put a new hardback on the front-of-store table in a major chain, and around $10,000 to put a new title on front-of-store tables in all the chain’s stores for two weeks (typically the minimum period). … Visibility does not come cheap. … As one publisher succinctly put it, ‘It’s become easier to publish and harder to sell – that’s the paradox. Any old sod can publish a book now, but actually getting it out to the public has become much trickier.’”

The fact is, if you want to sell more books, you need to create top-of-mind awareness for your book. You need to keep that book in front of people’s eyeballs so that, when they’re in the market to purchase a book such as yours, they will think of your book first. Very few authors (also very few of the small- and medium-size publishers, for that matter) can afford prime real estate within these traditional chain bookstores … which leads to an increase in returnability (if no one can find your book then no one will buy it, so the bookstore will return it to you for a full credit) … which leads to lost profits for those authors and publishers. It’s a vicious cycle. There must be a better way!

AUTHORS ARE ENTREPRENEURS

A gentleman commented on my last blog entry with a legitimate commentary and question for me regarding my motives in writing it. He said, …Your intro line depicts you as an author (‘best-selling’ even. Well done!), a publisher and as a sales coach for authors. Traditionally, these are all roles with a stack of ‘conflicts of interest’ in the broader publishing industry. Can you trust each other when the business agenda of each role works in competition for its rightful share in a finite commercial pie? Which character is promoting its own agenda when you offer comment, criticism or recommendation?

I told him I began my career as a writer with a personal goal of becoming a bestselling author. Along that road, I worked (as both a service provider and client) with various trade publishers and vanity publishers, and I saw many road blocks to my goal within both publishing models. So, that led to me becoming a book publisher over six years ago. I created a hybrid publishing company that combines (in my opinion) the best of both worlds: professional quality; non-returnability; retained copyright ownership for our authors of both their words and artwork we create for them; et cetera. As time went on, I learned more and more. My company’s service offering evolved further into me teaching authors how to sell audiobooks, ebooks, paperbacks, and even hardcover books for themselves so they can better control their net profits and have the best chance of commercial success. In other words, my three roles combined (author, publisher, and sales coach) all passionately believe that we need to end returnability once and for all. It hurts authors, it hurts publishers, and it is equally inefficient and time-consuming for booksellers.

WE ALL NEED TO WORK TOGETHER

Authors, can you imagine how much more profit you would earn if you knew how to effectively sell your own books? They would always be front list titles! Publishers, can you imagine how much more profit you would earn if your authors were out there actively selling their own books along side your own in-house publicity, sales, and marketing efforts? Booksellers, can you imagine how much more profit you would earn if you were using your co-op advertising dollars to support in-store book signings and book launches for the authors who are actively selling their own books and bringing that traffic straight to your store?

If we all work together, we can all make more money. But this is going to require a change because the current system works against authors and publishers. And the direct result is that more of us are moving online, trying to sell our books elsewhere, which could very well render our traditional booksellers obsolete sooner than later unless things change.

Let’s help each other. It’s in all our best interests to do so. Let’s start a revolution to end returnability … and teach our authors how to sell!

Let’s Start a Revolution to End Returnability!

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

Through this blog post, it is my goal to open up a sincere dialogue between everyone involved in the book supply chain from authors, agents, and publishers of all kinds (trade, vanity, hybrid … from the smallest independents to the corporate giants) to the printers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers that help us create, move, and sell our books to the masses. I want to talk specifically about book returns.

SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE

One of the most costly and troublesome practices in the world of book publishing is an archaic book return policy that detrimentally affects net profits for both publishers and authors alike. When a publisher marks its books as “returnable” for wholesalers and retailers, it is giving them the right to return those books, at any given time, for a full refund if they’re unable to sell them—regardless of whether those books are stickered with price tags or a bit scuffed from being handled by various people. 

This practice has always bothered me, right back to the days when I worked for a small literary publisher in Canada over twenty years ago. I’ve never understood why things were (and still are) done this way, so I went in search of an answer and came across a well-researched book by John B. Thompson titled Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century that provided an answer. Here is what John’s research found:

“The practice of allowing booksellers to return stock for full credit has a long history in Europe but was used rarely and half-heartedly by American publishers until the Great Depression of the 1930s, when publishers began experimenting seriously with returns policies as a way of stimulating sales and encouraging booksellers to increase stockholdings. In spring 1930, Putnam, Norton and Knopf all introduced schemes to allow booksellers to return stock for credit or exchange under certain conditions, and in 1932 Viking Press announced that orders for new books would be returnable for a credit of 90 per cent of the billed cost. …The practice of returns subsequently became a settled feature of the book trade and marks it out as somewhat unusual among retail sectors.

For decades, by continuing on with this practice, we’ve inadvertently trained the traditional wholesalers and retailers that they call the shots with regard to how (and at what price, in some instances) we should sell our books. As a result, it is next to impossible to convince any bookseller to carry even a small physical inventory of our books in their stores unless those books are marked as returnable and/or priced ridiculously low.

FEEDING “THE GODDAM BEAST”

To be blunt, I won’t play this game. I mark all of PPG’s authors’ books as non-returnable (my own included) to protect them from the crippling financial repercussions that are caused by returns; and, instead, I now teach authors how to sell audiobooks, ebooks, paperbacks, and even hardcover books online so they can better control their net profits. As I read more of Thompson’s book, my own views and policies in this regard were vindicated by the realization that other English language trade publishers, both large and small, in both the UK and the US, share my frustrations:

“…even if the book sells well, they are likely to be faced with high returns, at least 20 per cent, possibly as high as 50 per cent, which will be credited to the retailer and deducted from their receivables by their distributor, though they still have to pay the printer’s bills. ‘We call it “feeding the beast”. You have to feed the goddam beast and it just doesn’t work.’ As the returns come back they undo much of the gain they thought they had achieved with a book that seemed to be selling well… High returns are costly for publishers. Not only is a great deal of time and money wasted in packing up and shipping books that are never sold, and then packing up and returning them to the publisher’s warehouse, but printing books that are eventually pulped is wasteful and expensive, and the cost of writing off unsold stock goes directly to the publisher’s bottom line, depressing still further a profit margin already under pressure. …high returns which put downward pressure on margins is the price paid for adhering to this traditional distribution model. Improving supply chain capabilities and the ability to forecast consumer demand are important steps forward in the struggle to deal with the problem of returns, but they are really tinkering at the edges. ‘The physical side of the business is as broken and inefficient today as it was 15 years ago,’ commented one COO who joined a large house in the mid-1990s and has spent much of his time since then trying to deal with this problem. …there is much about this dynamic that could be regarded as illogical, irrational and inefficient, not to mention wasteful.” 

If so many publishers feel the same way as I do about this antiquated book return policy, then why are they still playing the game? Isn’t it time to stop?

THERE’S MORE TO DIGITIZATION THAN JUST EBOOKS

Booksellers, we as publishers and authors need you. And you need us, too. We’re all essential components of this evolving book supply chain that is increasingly influenced by digitization. Thompson discusses this in his book, as well:

“…the same trade house that had seen ebook sales grow by 50 per cent in 2007 now saw its ebook sales leap by 400 per cent in 2008. This was a sudden and dramatic change. … The upward surge in ebook sales both continued and accelerated throughout 2009 and 2010. …Will ebooks become 30 per cent, 50 per cent, even 90 per cent of publishers’ total sales in the next few years? The truth is, no one knows. Most people have an opinion but no one knows a thing. ‘I wish I could give you wisdom,’ said one CEO in 2011, speaking with unusual frankness, ‘but I have no idea. The consumer will act to define this – it won’t be defined by Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Apple or us…” 

It is possible that, one day, ebook sales will dominate over paperback and hardcover sales. But it is important to understand that “digitization” refers to much more than simply ebooks … and this will affect traditional wholesalers and retailers just as much as it affects publishers and authors.

The truth is, with the advent of short-run digital printing (SRDP) and print-on-demand (POD) technology, it is less and less necessary for publishers/self-publishers to print large runs of books or carry any physical inventory whatsoever. We can simply offer a link to the digital files of our paperbacks and hardcovers on various ecommerce sites around the world so that, when a consumer clicks on that link to purchase the book in whatever quantity, that triggers the site’s digital printer to print, bind, and ship that exact number of copies straight to the consumer’s designated ship-to address.

Times have definitely changed in the book business, and they continue to change at a rapid rate. Perhaps now is the time to start a revolution to end returnability once and for all by asking our traditional wholesalers and retailers to partner with us in different ways. Change your incentives! Adjust your current co-op programs to encourage consignment book signings and launches for authors inside your stores rather than using these programs for in-store placement of returnable books. Improve your ecommerce sites! Help us sell more of our books through your stores’ websites rather than forcing us to look for other online solutions due to unreasonable return policies. 

There are so many things we could do to help each other survive (preferably THRIVE!) in these turbulent times. Because, at the end of the day, the survival and future success of the traditional wholesalers and retailers depends as much upon us as we have always depended upon them. 

Related reading (even some traditional booksellers agree that “…Any rational business person looking at this practice would think the industry has gone mad.”): Quest for best seller means lots of returned books (2005)

Related reading: Why All Books Should Be Non-Returnable – By Angela Hoy (2005)

Related reading: Why All Books Should Be Non-Returnable – By Angela Hoy (2015)

Related reading: How to Price an Ebook