Mark Terry

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Who's Buying Your Book?

October 26, 2006
AIMLESS WRITER asked me on yesterday's post if I thought all these drop-ins (I prefer drive-bys) had an affect on booksales. I don't know if my answer was particularly trenchant or wise, but I said what I thought, so if you're interested, go over and read it.

But that got me to thinking about something that I think is important to authors about publishing and bookselling. And it's this: who the hell are we selling to?

The obvious answer is readers and book buyers, but here's the thing--they're what would probably be called "the end-user" in the business world.

We've got to sell our books to our publisher. (And there's often a preliminary step, of selling it to your agent, although money isn't involved in that until later). Then, within the publishing house, your book has to be sort of sold to their sales force--although it's their job to sell the books assigned to them, they're going to do a better job if they're somehow sold on your book and excited about it. It might be possible for a writer to go directly to the sales force, but it's not very common. Your editor at your publisher is the primary sales force to the sales force (got that?).

The publishing sales department then needs to convince the publisher, along with the editor, just how much money and effort is going to get behind your book. There are all sorts of decisions here, and they're pretty much out of the control of you, the author. What will the cover art look like? Will it be our lead title? Will it be at the top of the web page, front page of the catalogue, will it have a full page to itself or a little picture with four or five other books? Will they pony up money to the chains to get co-op and special placement, ie., front table, end caps, and those cardboard things where they place all your books? Will they take out an ad for you in Mystery Scene Magazine, USAToday, or the New York Times or none of the above. Of course they'll send out review copies (called ARCs, or advanced reading copies), but how many? Will they send out 20 to Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal and a few newspapers and review sites, or will they print up 1000 ARCs and flood every review venue in the country along with a press kit and a follow-up phone call or e-mail from your publicist? Will the ARC be boring, looking like a trade paperback with a blank colored cover, or will it resemble your book with cover art? Or even be a hardcover of your book (if you're published in that format?) Will they book you on Larry King Live and the Today show, or will they say, "Let him/her drum up some coverage?"

All of that is determined not only by the budget and size of your publisher, but the excitement of your editor, publisher and sales/marketing force.

Bookstores are another group you're selling to. Didn't realize that? Think about it. 200,000 books published each year in the U.S., give or take, plus they want Stephen King's backlist, as well most of Dick Francis', Sue Grafton's, Janet Evanovich's, not to mention keeping in stock all those Tolstoys, Dickenses and Nora Robertses. They have limited real estate, so they've got to have some reason to stock your book. Those reasons may be: your publisher is a realiable publisher and the bookstore stocks most of their list, but definitely stocks their main titles, they received co-op, you got a good review in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus or The New York Times, or, perhaps, the publisher's sales rep called, e-mailed or stopped by personally and recommended your book.

Libraries. Let's not forget them. There are about 10,000 in this country, and if you could just get every one to buy a single copy (many libraries buy multiple copies because books wear out), you'll be doing pretty good on sales. Librarians read Library Journal for reviews (which reviewed DIRTY DEEDS and liked it, boosting its sales, but has ignored THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK--the luck of the draw, back to 200,000 books a year and limited review space). But they don't typically buy through Ingram (the biggest distributor), but through Baker & Taylor, another distributor.

And finally we're talking readers, although there's plenty of room to talk about Sam's Clubs and Wal-Mart and Meijer's, and... but those are distribution deals that have little to do with the author and everything to do with the publisher.

So the point I'm trying to make (I think there's one in here somewhere) is that you probably shouldn't just think about readers when you're doing your marketing, but should in some ways involve your own publisher and editor and their sales force in your marketing plans, as well as the bookstores and libraries. Jacqueline Suzanne was one of the first authors to actually take her tours to the warehouses and distributors.

I keep trying different things. My feeling is the drive-bys are pretty effective. Mailings probably aren't, but they seem to work well once you have a list of people who have actually bought your book, because then they'll know the next one's coming out. Reviews, out of your control (more or less), in the right places can help, but newspaper reviews probably aren't as useful as good reviews in the trades that deal to the booksellers, distributors and librarians. Word of mouth... well, that definitely helps, too.

Something to think about, anyway.

Mark Terry


Blogger Aimless Writer said...

Thanks for your indepth reply! Now I'm thinking drive bys are a good thing. Especially if they are less likely to return the book if its signed. I'm in NJ, just across the river from NYC so we don't have alot of small book stores here. They are all the big names so I wonder about how much control the in-store people have on helping a local author.
When I see an author in a store I always buy the book. (Hey, if its not my thing I'll give it as a gift) but I figure someday it will be me standing there signing (I'm willing it to happen!) and I'd want others to buy from me. Karma and all that.
Thank you so much for your answer!

5:37 PM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

It's still those in-store people that talk to book buyers and who shelf the books.

I give you credit if you're always buying books at signings. I've always been too shy, although increasingly I'm inclined to stop by just because I now know what it's like to sit there and have no one stop by.

6:40 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Libraries are a big part of Poisoned Pen's market. I suppose it is easier to reach 10,000 libraries than the whole of the reading public. I went to WorldCat and saw our books sometimes in 400 libraries which potentially makes for a lot of readers which is nice.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Mark said...


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