Even Pippa Middleton is not immune to book sales woes. As widely reported, sales of Pippa’s book—even with the best distribution, publicity and name recognition—have fallen flat. If HER sales are disappointing, what can authors who do not have the benefit of famous relatives or name recognition do to sell books?
For most authors, book sales are an important part of why they write a book. They want to entertain, educate, inspire or simply share their artistic work—and perhaps make money from the venture. For authors who are using their “book as a business card” to increase their name as an expert in their field or to attract new opportunities, book sales are typically a lower priority as they want to make money from consulting projects, speaking engagements, etc.
Book publicity, by definition, is using the media to create attention for the title, topic and author in the form of an interview, article, feature story, blog post, review, recommendation, and so on. Publicity is one initiative an author/publisher undertakes to help create awareness about a title. However, publicity alone is one small part of a bigger strategic plan necessary to give a book and author a better chance for significant sales.
A book publicist can present a book to a producer, editor or blogger, but if they are not interested in it, there is little a publicist can do to entice coverage. Furthermore, even if a book does get coverage it is still up to the audience if they are interested in purchasing the book -and in Pippa’s case, the audience did not appear willing.
While book publicity plays an important role in creating awareness (even Steven King and John Grisham do publicity for new books) there are several factors outside of a publicist’s role that positively or negatively impact book sales. In order to have the best possible chance of attracting media attention and potential book buyers, authors/publishers need to consider doing the following to set books up for the greatest chance of success.
- A quality book, written by a credentialed author (essential for non-fiction) with a topic that will be of interest in the current market. No one can predict book sales or the media’s reaction to a book, especially for a first time author. The expression “write about what you know” is crucial. It will add credibility to the project.
- Professional help. Books need to be professionally designed (cover and inside layout) and professionally edited, with well-written front and back cover copy. People do judge a book by its cover. Our job is presenting books to targeted media, but it will be the book, its message or story, and the author’s credentials that ultimately make or break the chances for coverage.
- Complete Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. retail listings. Minimally, every book retail description should include a book cover, “look inside” (Amazon) or “read instantly” (B&N) feature, detailed author page with website, social media handles, author photo, detailed book description, author bio, all tagged properly in the right genre, and reviews even from friends and family to start. Again, there is often only one time to make a good first impression
- Engage the services of a book distribution firm. Book distribution companies try to get books on the shelves of independent bookstores, plus larger retail outlets such as Barnes & Noble, Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, etc. The more visible a book is, the more potential buyers will see it. Minimally, books should be available to be ordered in any brick and mortar bookstore. Note: Having a publicity plan in place makes a book more appealing to distribution companies considering taking on a title.
- Pricing strategy, especially for e-books. Often authors/publishers offer free or inexpensively priced e-books to help create viral word of mouth buzz and recommendations. This is an especially good strategy for a series/trilogy—offer the first book for free or very low price to get the reader hooked for the next.
- Well thought out social media plan. Ideally, before publicity begins, authors already have established meaningful connections and given audiences relevant content, not overselling/pushing their book. Strategy and fan base building should begin well before a book is published, with the author interacting with bloggers, readers and professionals in his or her genre.
- Professionally designed website. This is a place where media and readers can connect with the author to learn about current projects, past titles and future work. Basic website information should include: about the author, about the book (with excerpts), reviews and media placements, a place for fans to sign up for news about future books, social media links, author contact information and links to buy the book from all major retailers.
- Authors need to take an active role. Book publicity alone will not generate book sales. Authors need to connect with both the media and potential readers to make good impressions. As publicists, we act as matchmakers: we present books and authors to the right people, but it is up to them whether or not to cover it. They may talk to the author and read through the book, but it is ultimately up to media professionals, and their impression. Successful authors actively work their network, visit local bookstores, connect with readers and other authors, and give good media interviews.
- Timing and luck. There is no doubt that timing and luck play a part in the success of a book. Just because we (the author and publicists) are ready for the book/topic to be covered, it doesn’t necessarily mean the media is. For example, a television show may have just done a segment on a similar topic. We also hear from media weeks, months or even years after they receive our pitch that they are now ready to interview the author. Current news stories also dictate media interest. A politician’s messy affair, a celebrity’s death, breaking business trends/statistics, a hurricane, election or an awareness topic like bullying can suddenly make the topic of a book or an author’s expertise front page news—or knock you off the agenda for a bit while they chase the news of the day.
- Volume of experts and author vying for the same attention. To go along with timing and luck, authors need to understand that there is stiff competition for media attention from authors and experts with similar stories and expertise. Your publicist will be aggressive, but know there are many experts vying to make their sound bite heard. When you see a fitness expert on Good Morning America, chances are they have been building their name and reputation for years. New authors need to have patience. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The analogy I use is baseball: when a first time author comes to us, they are in Little League and hope to play in the World Series. Occasionally, a player can jump to the Major Leagues, but most have to build their name and game working their way through the system to open the doors to the bigger opportunities.
- Amplifying publicity results. Successful authors use publicity exposure (links to interviews/articles, reviews, “as seen in Wall Street Journal…”) on their websites, social media platforms, book covers, future submissions to publishers and in their bio or marketing material. They ensure the investment of time and money in writing and promoting a book continues long after a publicity campaign is done.
- Continuing relationships after a publicity campaign is over. Authors need to continue interacting with media (especially book bloggers), supporting fellow authors in the same genre, and communicating with fans and readers. Becoming a well-known author is not an overnight process.