13 February, 2011

It’s not a lot of fun to hear from a published author who is unhappy with book sales. The conversation usually begins with complaints about what the publisher is doing wrong or not doing at all.  While the author is often right that opportunities have been missed, dwelling on the past is counterproductive.  Publishers are stretched thin, and sometimes lack vision.  You are not just the author, but a full partner in the marketing of the book, which in today’s world means that you know who your reader is and actually have the ability to reach your audience.

Your publisher’s efforts will largely center on publication time for your book. That will be 4 weeks before pub date through about 4-6 weeks after the pub date.  Outside of that time frame, most of the publicity and promotion will fall to you and your important task will be to keep your publisher in the loop. If they see books moving, they might give you support outside of this time frame, but their efforts will transition from active to reactive.

So here comes the Tough-Love: Get over it!  You can’t change the past; what you need to do is stay positive, renew your efforts, and jump start your own activities in order to re-energize your publisher. Here are some tips for authors looking to pick up their sluggish sales:

Ask your editor and your marketing contact (nicely) to share their marketing plan with you. You have a right to this information.  If you get push-back, tell them you are planning your own activities and want to avoid duplicating efforts.  You don’t want to make assumptions about what your publisher is doing and then be disappointed when there are no results. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much your publisher actually did. In particular, ask for the review list of media outlets to whom they sent review copies. Gently, ask if they are doing follow-ups. If they aren’t, ask if you or your personal publicist can do the follow-up for your book.  You can also get copies of your press release and any other press materials. (These could be posted on your site on a Media page by the way, unless your publisher objects.)

Keep an eye on the news. For the most part, book reviewers only review new books. So after your publication window don’t spend your time pushing for book reviews. Connecting your book or expertise to something happening in the news is the best way to get press hits. So when you spot a story opportunity, write up a press release and get it out to reporters covering the story.  If you get any hits, be sure to tell your editor! Years ago I edited a book called A Survival Guide for Working with Bad Bosses. The author, Gini Graham Scott, sent out a press release when the Devil Wears Prada movie came out giving advice about how to work with that kind of boss. Though her book had been out for months, this timely press release won her dozens of media hits, many of them in syndicated columns.

Continue booking speaking engagements. You can give speeches or talks about your topic long after the publication window. This can be a great way to reinvigorate interest in your book, show your publisher that you’re not dead in the water, and jump start word of mouth. Keep in mind that publishers generally don’t book speaking engagements for you, but they will support speeches that you set up. Go and speak any where they will have you. Keep in mind that big conferences often book speakers 8 months or more in advance.  Check out websites to find out when you need to apply for sessions. Keynote speeches, which can be quite lucrative, are usually booked through Speaker’s Bureau. Finally whenever you are going to a town for any reason, think about local organizations you can approach such as Rotary Clubs, schools, religious organizations and libraries to arrange speaking events. These small groups are unlikely to pay for you to travel to their town, but if you are already there you can win enthusiastic fans by dropping in for a visit. Let your publisher know when you book a new event so they can arrange for books sales with the organizer or consider doing publicity in the city while you are there.  Also ask your publisher to provide flyers that you can hand out with information about your book and hopefully a special discount available only to attendees.

Making sure all your activities are well connected so they support each other. Akin to a tree falling in a forest with no one to hear it, if you give a speech and no one knows about it, it won’t sell any books.  Make sure everyone knows about everything that you are doing all the time!

1.      List all your speaking engagements and media appearances (with links) on your website. Your home page should appear active and immediately give the impression that you are a hot, in-demand expert or writer with a lot going on. You want energy to flow off your pages.

2.      Feed your blog and website into your Amazon author pages. Many authors ignore their Amazon pages. This is a big mistake. Make sure yours are active and as complete as possible.

3.      Have buttons on your website that will connect visitors to your Twitter, Facebook, blog feed, book listing and anything else you are doing.

4.      Insert links to everything you are doing below your signature line in your e-mail program so every e-mail goes out with links to your book, blog, tweets, Facebook etc

5.      Post reviews and endorsements for the book on your website and make sure your editor has them to post on the online bookstores.

Regularly update your editor and marketing contact of your activities. I recommend weekly updates during the first 3 months after publication and perhaps monthly after that. Make the e-mail cumulative with new activities on top in boldface. Sort activities into categories – speeches, sales opportunities such as bulk sales to organizations where you are speaking, media appearances, new posts or other online activities.  The Publisher can’t support your activities if they don’t know what you are doing, and it’s best if the e-mails they get are really organized. You want to stay top of mind as a smart, go-getter author.

Don’t lose steam. Many authors set up a blog or a Twitter feed and lose steam. You have to stay devoted to the cause of cultivating your platform, engaging with your community and promoting your work.  At minimum post to your blog once a week and Tweet at least three times a day. Be sure to reply to everyone who mentions or retweets you because being nice on Twitter is really important. (There are many great strategies for increasing traffic to your blog once you have a foundation.) Try to devote at least ½ hr or an hour a day to marketing activities. Crash-marketing (just like crash-dieting) isn’t very effective. Steady, consistent, coordinated activity is most likely to yield results.

The Personal Touch can go a long way. Take every opportunity you can to talk to readers and booksellers. Seemingly insignificant personal interactions can build word-of-mouth momentum for your book. When you walk by a bookstore, go in and talk to the manager. Offer to sign books if any are in stock.  If you are speaking in a city, call local bookstores in advance to let them know you are coming. Unfortunately, in this world of mass marketing, it’s not likely that your publisher will be able to make individual phone calls to a store about one media appearance for one author, but you can and you might be surprised by the results.  (Tip: Use Google Maps to find local bookstores wherever you are. Search for your location. When it comes up, click on the search nearby link and type in bookstores. All the local stores with street addresses and phone numbers will pop up.)

Good luck!

–Jacquie Flynn  (Follow me on Twitter @BookJacquie)