WHAT WRITERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MARKETING Pt. 4 (By Jerry D. Simmons)
Copyright 2015 Jerry D. Simmons & WritersReaders.com
The Insiders Guide to Publishing
WHAT WRITERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MARKETING
The six “Ps” of marketing books.
Marketers everywhere universally recognize five Ps of marketing. But when it comes to publishing and marketing books, add to that list a sixth, which is “push.”
(1) Product. The manuscript, which you poured your heart and soul into creating, is the product. Publishers focus on what they’ve got to do to sell your book. That means publishers want to publish and sell (to booksellers) as many copies of your book to generate as much billing as possible. They want to maximize the sale and distribution of that book as best they can. Depending on your book’s position on the seasonal list, it’ll get some sort of marketing attention. The amount of attention your book receives will depend on whether it’s a hardcover, trade paper, or mass-market paperback. The big name titles generating the most billing will get the most attention and resources. First time hard covers by unknown authors often get very little in the way of in-house attention simply because there isn’t enough time to devote to them. This is where your understanding of the marketplace can play a pivotal role in the marketing of your book.
(2) Package. A key component of any book is the package. The best way to describe a package is the cover, title, and the overall presentation, which must fit the subject matter. Sort of like the Supreme Court’s description of pornography, the correct book packaging is hard to describe, but publishers and readers know it when they see it! A category book, such as mystery, romance, or science fiction, needs a cover that clearly and easily identifies the subject. The same holds true for a biography, cookbook, or business book. The cover and title should easily and quickly identify the category of a book. Photographs versus illustrations, placement of the author’s name and title, various colors, and font size and type, are all part of what makes the package. Ideally, you want something that’s similar to other titles in the same genre or category. If there’s one thing that publishers spend a lot of time deciding, it’s whether the package is right. As an author, you don’t want your book’s package straying too far from how similar books are packaged.
(3) Price. This falls into the same realm as the package. You want the price of your book to be somewhere in the middle, not on the high or low end of the price range. This holds true regardless of your book’s format: hardcover, trade paper, mass-market paperback, or juvenile. You don’t want your book to be over-or under-priced. The best way to know where your book’s price falls is by visiting bookstores and checking the price of your competition’s books. Many factors play a part in price. Format and category are important. If, for instance, your book is a 125-page hardcover novella, then you can’t compare it to a 650-page biography. Hardcover books in different categories vary their price. If your book is being published in trade paper and is a business book, you wouldn’t want to price it several dollars above the competition, but rather, somewhere in the middle of all the other trade paper business books.
(4) Place. This describes the type of bookseller establishment where books are sold. This could be a supermarket, membership club, or retail bookstore. Certain categories of books have historically sold best in certain markets that cater to certain consumers. Place goes hand in hand with distribution: where a book is sold depends on the price, category, and history of previous books in the same genre. A biography of a former political or historic leader may not be appropriate for certain retailers unless there happens to be a huge marketing push going on for a new movie or television series about that person. On the flip side, a biography of a movie star appearing in the new blockbuster may be the exact thing for the same market where the political bio was not. There are always exceptions to the general rule but the proper placement depends on many factors, such as what’s going on in complementary markets like motion pictures or television. There are markets—places—for every book. The key is finding the right place and provide it with the right quantity of books to maximize sales and minimize returns.
(5) Promotion. The right promotion can be the key to a successful book. Promotions come in two varieties. The first is the promotion the publisher puts together for booksellers, their own customers. Marketing directly to them and catering to their needs is a very big part of the overall strategy. The second is the promotion aimed at the consumer, that lone individual who buys from the book retailer. More resources are aimed at the bookseller than the consumer. This is because the big publishers have easier and quicker access to their customers and get more bang for their buck with them than trying to lure the consumer into a retail store.
(6) Push. Not a recognized part of any college marketing course, “push” is the sixth “P” in book marketing. It’s an important part of the publishing world and overall strategy of selling books. It simply means shipping as many copies as possible to as many booksellers as possible to generate as much billing as possible to meet corporate financial demands. As an author, you should be aware of “push.”
What these mean to you. Now you have an understanding of the six Ps and how to market a book. The product is your book. If you can choose the right package, with the correct price, make sure it’s sold to the proper places, with the exact mix of promotions, and not too much push, you have the right ingredients to improve your book’s chances of selling through at a high percent of sale and making yourself a successful author.
More information before you begin marketing your book.
You’ve already taken the first step to effectively market your book, which is to understand the book-publishing landscape: the three dominant forces driving the book publishing market, the three specific methods of advertising, the traditional book publishing marketplace, the marketing strengths and weaknesses of the major publishers, and the six Ps. You also need to be aware of the following marketing considerations before you can begin to plan your own selling strategy: knowing your reader, understanding destination and impulse markets, coordinating your publicity, and thinking creatively.
(1) Know your reader. This is a very basic principle: books of certain price points (the retail cover price of a book) and categories appeal to certain readers in a certain demographic. Demographics means “the statistical characteristics of human populations (as age or income) used especially to identify markets.” (Merriam Webster OnLine). The demographic profile of a market plays a role in how you market and to whom. For books, a lot of common sense goes a long way.
As a general characterization, romance novels wouldn’t appeal to most men and as a result, a publishing house wouldn’t market romances to men. Non-fiction titles on hunting or fishing wouldn’t necessarily appeal to most women, so you wouldn’t market those books to women. Low price points such as mass-market paperbacks at $7.99 or less would appeal to a book retailer in an area of middle-income homes near Dollar Stores and discount outlets. Higher price points such as cookbooks with a retail price of $40 would sell best in upscale neighborhoods near gourmet food and wine stores. All these examples are broad generalizations of identifying a market, and using a lot of common sense.
What it means to you. Publishers have limited marketing budgets and must maximize their spending dollars by making certain they get the biggest bang for their buck. The same holds true for the individual who is self-published, and certainly for the small press. Identifying to whom your book would appeal and then focusing your marketing to that demographic is the only way to maximize the dollars you have to spend.
(2) Destination and impulse markets. Book retailers are either destination or impulse locations or markets. Your local bookstore is considered a destination market because consumers walk into that store with the intention of buying a book. The bookstore is their destination for buying that product. An impulse market is one in which the primary reason for a consumer to visit isn’t buying a book. For instance, your local supermarket, drug store, mass merchant, or price club is typically an impulse market. Books are designed to catch the consumer’s attention and turn that attention into a sale. It then becomes an impulse purchase.
What this means to you. Price point and book category are simple ways of identifying a market. The market, in turn, affects where you want your book offered for sale. For example, mass-market paperbacks that carry a retail price of $7.99 or below are ideal for the impulse buyer you find in a supermarket, mass merchant, or price club. On the flip side, books that carry a retail price of $14.99 are seldom found in those kinds of retail book outlets. Also consider the fact that a $7.99 nonfiction copy of a political or historic biography may not be a good fit in an impulse market, whereas a $14.99 copy of a former hardcover bestseller that is now a major motion picture might be a candidate for the impulse buyer. These are very broad generalizations used as simple examples of identifying markets, but show you that with a little knowledge and common sense, you can begin to figure out your market.
(3) Coordinate publicity. Coordinating your publicity with in-store promotions and advertising, including pre-selling, is absolutely critical to maximizing the sale of a book. What would be worse than getting a front-page article with pictures of you and your book and then not having adequate copies in the hands of the retail booksellers? This spells disaster. It’s difficult, not impossible, to coordinate publicity with on-sale dates. Publishers can control advertising and promotions. The best you can do with publicity is ask the media to publicize you and your book during certain dates and explain the reason. These people understand the importance of timing and, for the most part, will work with you to make certain their customers are not frustrated by a disconnect between the media’s publicity and your book’s availability.
Pre-selling, the practice of notifying book buyers and consumers that a book is being published long before the book’s actual release date, can also be an important part of any marketing campaign, if not used excessively. Teaser campaigns that alert buyers to the arrival of your title at or on a certain date is a good way of building anticipation and hopefully demand. One way of doing this is with a series of postcards you mail to book buyers or key people that can have an impact on the sale of your book. Focus on people who are likely to catch the attention of the media, those celebrity types that are likely to be photographed by newspapers and magazines, or could be counted on to talk about a book before its publication. The hope is to create some kind of buzz for a book.
The pre-sale can be completed before the actual buy from a bookseller (or after the purchase) as a way of reminding store employees the title will arrive soon. Either way, you don’t want to over-sell a book by providing book buyers or retailers with so much material that the strategy loses its effectiveness.
What it means to you. Publicity is essential, so you must be prepared to coordinate it to maximize its impact. Pre-selling requires the right combination of reminders or, as the industry refers to them, teasers, in combination with the right information, to focus attention on the product and not on the junk mail. This is a fine line and can backfire, so it’s best to pre-sell too little rather than too much.
(4) Think creatively. Creative thinking and marketing go hand in hand. Creative thinking is essential to separate your book from your competition. Publishers are concerned with keeping the production process flowing. They must continually keep books on the launch pad so they can generate billing and keep revenue flowing. They don’t have time to sit and think creatively; marketing has become mechanical for them. Rarely do they come up with new ideas. They’re guided by the simple belief that everything has been done before, so they repeat ideas others have created. It’s done everyday in every marketing department in every industry that exists.
What it means to you. You’re not a big corporation. You have time to think creatively. You need to give strong consideration to your audience and establish in your mind who your readers are going to be. Ask yourself, “Who will have interest in reading my work?” If you’re self-published, or with a small press, take time to think creatively about marketing your book. Bounce ideas off friends or other writers, people who will give you objective opinions.
Some quick examples: If you’re writing a garden book whose readers are located in a particular region of the country, why not market to nurseries or garden centers in that area? Chances are, the big national chains won’t be willing to participate, but you never know. Try the local shops, the ones with community ties. Who better to see your book than people who visit local nurseries or garden centers? The same logic holds true for cookbooks or any other type of non-fiction title geared to a specific audience.
If you’re writing fiction, it’s a bit harder. But let’s say you’re writing a medical mystery. How about doctor or medical organizations? The hope is to find a niche where you can sell your book outside the traditional marketplace where the big publishers don’t venture. Tap into a group that might have interest in what you’re writing and the possibilities are endless.
If your book, fiction or non-fiction, has ties in some way to a particular city, state, or region of the country, then focus on booksellers in those areas. Don’t ignore the mainstream, but focus your attention on thinking outside the mainstream and market where your audience will work, shop, educate their children, eat, or travel.
Be willing to test an idea and then move to the next one when the first idea doesn’t meet your expectations. Every idea isn’t going to be successful; recognize that fact. Set some goals. Check the results often, then be willing to accept the fact an idea didn’t work. It’s no big deal! Happens all the time. The goal is to find the one or two ideas that do work and continue selling books.
The competition for readers is fierce. The more you can learn to think creatively and be willing to ask for help in selling your book, the better your chances of being successful. There are no bad ideas, nothing too crazy or silly. If it will generate publicity, then you’re to be applauded. If it sells books, you’ve reached one of your goals. Be adventurous and take chances. It’s your hard work that’s at stake, your future as an author. Without risk there’s little reward; you’ve earned the opportunity, now seize the moment.
Marketing is critical to your success as an author. Regardless of whether you’re self published, with a small press, or under contract with a large trade publisher, the more you know about the marketplace and how to make marketing decisions, the better chance you have of maximizing your sales and minimizing your returns.
To be a good marketer you need to think creatively, be willing to go where publishers won’t, and have the courage to walk up to booksellers and media outlets to promote yourself and your book. The worst they can say is, “No, thank you.” The competition is fierce, but if you understand the goals of your competition, learn how to exploit their weaknesses, and capitalize on their mistakes, you’ll greatly improve your chances at being a successful author.
Malcolm Gladwell is the author of a classic book titled The Tipping Point. The idea is that“little things can make a big difference.” The back cover of the book says, “A Tipping Point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” That’s the essence of a great marketing plan! Good luck!
Jerry D. Simmons