Book Sales Depend on Getting Many Things Right
For most authors, book sales are an important reason for writing a book. They hope to entertain, educate, inspire or simply share their artistic work with readers and hopefully earn money from the venture. For business or professional people who are using their book as a business card to increase their visibility or gain new clients, book sales are typically a lower priority. These authors often hope to make money from building their businesses. But for everyone, regardless of your goals, a well-planned and effective book marketing campaign is a huge asset.
Book publicity, by definition, is earning media coverage to call attention to the title, topic, and author in the form of an interview, article, feature story, blog post, review, social media shares, and so on. Publicity is the initiative an author/publisher takes to create awareness about a book launch. However, it is one part of a bigger strategic plan necessary to give a book and author a better chance for significant sales.
Improve your Sales and Book Publicity Prospects with an Organized Approach
A book publicist can present a book to a producer, editor, or blogger, but if they are not interested in it, a publicist cannot force coverage. When books do earn media coverage it is still up to the audience to decide if they are interested enough to purchase the book — and sometimes, they aren’t willing to buy it.
While book publicity plays an important role in creating awareness (even Steven King and John Grisham do publicity for new books), several factors outside of a publicist’s role positively or negatively impact 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.
- Write a quality book, as 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.
- Work with professionals. Books need to be properly designed (cover and inside layout) and skillfully edited, with well-written front and back cover copy. People do judge a book by its cover. PR pros present 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 retail listings with large online booksellers. Minimally, every book retail description needs a book cover, “look inside” (Amazon) or “read instantly” (B&N) feature. They also must have a detailed author page with a website, social media handles, and author photos. It also requires a detailed book description, author bio, all tagged adequately 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. Books should be available to be carried 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.
- Have the right pricing strategy, especially for eBooks. Often authors/publishers offer free or inexpensively priced eBooks to help create viral word of mouth buzz and recommendations. It is an especially effective strategy for a series/trilogy—offer the first book for free or very low price to get the reader interested in the next one.
- Plan a series of social media posts. 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 months or years before a book is published, with the author interacting with bloggers, readers, and professionals in his or her genre.
- Launch and maintain a professionally designed website. It is the place where media and readers can connect with the author to learn about current projects, past titles, and future work. Website information should include pages about the author, about the book (with excerpts), reviews, and media placements. It also needs to have 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.
- Take an active role in publicity and promotion. Book publicity alone will not generate book sales. Authors need to connect with both the media and potential readers to make good impressions. Our publicists act as matchmakers: we present books and authors to the right people, but it is up to them whether or not to provide coverage. Editors and producers may talk to authors and read through books, but their impressions will drive coverage decisions. Successful authors actively work their network, visit local bookstores, connect with readers and other authors, and give good media interviews.
- Have good 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 make the world ready for them. For example, a target television show may have just run 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.
- Do well up against the competition. 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 book 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. It is a marathon, not a sprint. The analogy we use is from 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.
- Amplify 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.
- Continue 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.
Even celebrity authors aren’t immune to book sales woes. There are plenty of times when highly-touted books — even with the best distribution, publicity, and name recognition—have fallen flat. If their sales can disappointing, what can authors who do not have the benefit of personal fame to sell books? The answer is a well-planned book marketing and publicity campaign that includes a variety of tactics to reach the target audience.