November, 2009

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What if it doesn’t work?

I make a living at being helpful.  I am incredibly lucky…  my day to day duties center around showing authors and publishers how they can achieve their goals.  Talking to authors and publishers is not actually part of my job description, but it takes up most of my day.  I love helping people figure out how to best focus their efforts and balance their expectations with the realities of the book world. 

Being of service to clients and non-clients alike is actually written into our mission statement.  Most of these conversations do not result in new business for The Cadence Group, but it does result in the feeling that we are helping others, steering authors away from being taken advantage of and doing some good for our industry.  And during those early conversations, I look like a real hero.  People LOVE me…
But sometimes I spend my day having to tell people that their book is not selling. They did everything right, but it is not working. That all the expense and time invested so far is not resulting in actual sales.  I look less like a hero then.
Once a book is launched, the stores notified of it’s existence, the reviews written and the marketing done… what happens if the book does not sell?
The hard truth is most books do not sell well.  It takes a mixture of time, money, marketing savvy, good word of mouth and, most of all, luck to start a book on an upward trajectory that results in sales. 
What can we do to maximize a book’s chances:
  1. Start with a tried and true, modern, marketing campaign (reviews, online, bookstores, libraries, media)
  2. But not rely on a marketing plan if the plan is clearly not working
  3. Pull back the scope and focus on regional and author-based sales
  4. Send out copies of the books to those who can make a difference (booksellers, freelance writers, bloggers)
  5. But above all else, keep pushing.  Don’t give up.  Keep participating in discussion groups, keep calling book clubs and volunteering to speak to the group, keep contacting local stores and libraries, keep pushing.
Very often authors get discouraged at the first round of disappointing sales.  They see all the money and time spent as wasted and give up or lash out at the bookstores/media.  It is easy to blame a short-sighted media or stubborn book buyer when a book does not get the exposure we feel it deserves, but often we are just being impatient.  Small presses cannot launch in the same explosive way a large book does.  Small presses can’t spend that kind of money and can’t rely on years of good-will from book buyers and the media.
But what can a small do that a big publisher can’t?  Be patient, grow a book organically, give a book a long time to find it’s market… give a book the time to succeed slowly.
Time + Dedication + Luck = Success. 
It is our job to supply the first two… let’s not be short sighted.  But let’s start from the expectation that every book will need a different set of activities to find it’s prime market.  It is with time and dedication that we have the best shot of hitting upon those successful activities.  Authors at small presses have it harder.  It is tougher to launch a book from a small press, but giving things time and constantly trying new things gives a small press book advantages that big house authors only dream of.