2. Sales and marketing. Sales is defined as “the act of selling a product in return for money or other compensation.” Marketing is the strategy that the business uses to get to the sales part.
Sales and marketing is generally considered the second of the two line functions in business, because it generates income directly. The Sales part is pretty obvious: you give someone something – a proposal, a manuscript, a book or e-book – and they give you money. The Marketing part is all the various research, techniques, and strategies that you use to get the sales.
Sales, for writers, splits into two categories: licensing and direct, or selling-to-editors vs. selling-to-readers. Early on, in the traditional publishing industry, it’s all about licensing. The writer sells (licenses) his/her work to a publisher/editor, who handles the actual production of the physical book, as well as a lot of the things that come under Quality Control. Selling to an editor involves the grunt work of sending the manuscript out over and over until you get an offer, followed by the contract negotiations over exactly what rights and subrights the author is licensing to the publisher. Eventually, most of us get an agent to handle this part, but that doesn’t mean it goes away entirely. The author still has to OK the deal, and then review and sign the contract, and there’s often a lot of networking on the author’s part that goes into getting the offer in the first place.
If you’re self-publishing, the whole licensing area drops out (except possibly for subrights); instead, you have expanded the Operations area and vastly expanded the Marketing and Publicity areas, in order to do all the things a traditional publisher would do.
Either way, direct sales-to-readers don’t come into the picture until there’s an actual physical book available to sell. For the traditional publishing industry, the publisher handles the vast majority of selling-to-readers, too, but there are at least some genre writers who generate direct sales themselves, at personal appearances or by setting up their own sales tables at conventions and book fairs. Usually, this kind of direct marketing-to-readers works best if one is in a genre such as SF (which has lots of conventions) or children’s/YA (school and library book fairs). For the self-published, there’s all of that plus the getting-the-book-into-bookstores part, which takes considerable time, effort, and persuasive ability.
Direct sales are also something that one has to watch closely. While it can be very satisfying to talk to readers and watch them buy your books, you have to sell at least one hardcover or two to three paperbacks per hour just in order to make minimum wage for the time you’re spending at the table. Add the same numbers for every hour you spend getting to the convention, hauling books in and out, setting up and tearing down, collecting and paying sales tax, and for most writers, it’s just not cost-effective. (I’m assuming here that the writer bought the books wholesale from the publisher at the standard author discount rates.)
For ebook publication, there’s nowhere near as much time and effort involved in distribution and direct sales; you sign up with the big e-retailers, put a link on your web site/blog, and you’re pretty much set. On the sales and distribution part, anyway.
Which brings me to the marketing half of Sales and Marketing.
There are two basic types of marketing: push marketing, in which one tries to get the book prominently displayed in as many places as possible, so as to encourage potential readers who pass by to pick up the book and buy it, and pull marketing, in which one tries to get a lot of potential readers to go to bookstores and ask for the book, “pulling” it into the store. Most of the marketing publishers do has traditionally been push marketing to bookstores and wholesalers. Authors do both: push marketing to editors and pull marketing to readers.
Like Sales, Marketing splits into two parts: marketing a manuscript to editors/publishers/agents, and marketing the book to readers. For writers who don’t yet have an agent, marketing a manuscript basically means doing a bunch of research to find out which publishers/editors/agents are most likely to be interested in their particular book, and then polishing their query letter/proposal. Those of us who have agents are not exempt from this; there are always questions of strategy that only the writer can decide. Would a collectors edition be feasible, or is it too early in the writer’s career for anyone to be interested? Is it better to do a free podcast now, as a promotion, or try to sell audiobook rights later? Will that high-profile work-for-hire generate enough visibility to be worth the lost time working on one’s own original series?
This part of marketing can also include choosing new products, which for writers means picking what to write next. Depending on your overall strategy for your writing career (see upcoming post on the Executive area), that might mean working out what’s “hot” in the current market, drumming up a work-for-hire contract, or settling down to whatever one is most longing to work on next. Whichever route you’ve chosen, it will require some thought.
The second part of Marketing – promoting books directly to readers – is where most writers focus their efforts once a book comes out, and it will eat your life (and every bit of cash you make on the books) if you let it. There are horror stories about writers who wrote their first book, and then had their careers collapse because they spent three to five years after it came out doing nothing but promotions and answering fan mail.
Direct promotion covers everything from autographings to “author loot” (like bookmarks) to special web site promotions to conventions to book launch parties. Most of the time, the author foots the bill for this themselves, and it can be quite high, especially for those determined to “do everything possible to make the book a success.” They’d usually be better off thinking for a few minutes about how much bang they’re getting for their bucks, and then choosing only those promotional events/items that make for the largest explosions. Figuring out what’s best to do is as important as actually doing it.
Promoting a book directly to readers is absolutely vital for the self-published, but it’s more and more necessary even for those of us who are published by traditional publishers. In-house publicity departments are run ragged, and publishers expect their authors to step up and fill in the gap. The catch is that doing the wrong thing can blow you right out of the water…and it’s not always obvious what “the wrong thing” is. Even experienced professional publicists mess up now and again.
Marketing a manuscript to editors means doing the research to find out if the book you have written fits their line. There is no point in sending a fluffy romantic comedy to a publisher that only does gritty action-adventure-thrillers, or a science fiction thriller to an academic press that only prints textbooks. Editor marketing also means not cornering the editor at her cousin’s wedding, his sister’s bat mitzvah, or their son’s college graduation party and handing them a copy of the ms. along with a demand that they look at it. (I am not making these examples up, only changing names and relationships to protect the innocent.) This is not networking; it’s obnoxious, highly unprofessional, and pretty much guaranteed not to work anyway.
Marketing a book to readers is a lot harder, because the market for fiction is so huge and diverse. Again, market research – but this time, look at what other writers are doing to promote their books, what other publishers are doing, and what’s being done for completely different entertainment products. Talk to readers and bookstore clerks about what they like/don’t like to see happen. Talk to your fellow pros and find out what they’re doing and not doing, and what they think has worked and what hasn’t. Then consider your own time, energy, and abilities, and do some brainstorming.
The most difficult part of marketing a book to readers is getting attention in more than your local community. An ad in the church bulletin usually isn’t costly, but it also doesn’t reach a lot of people. Bookmarks passed out to local bookstores may raise awareness in your city or town, but they don’t do much for the rest of your state, let alone the rest of the country. The Internet and social media have made it possible to reach people all over the world, of course, but doing so effectively takes a lot of time. If you’re self-e-publishing, you’re pretty much committed to it, though.
Next: Quality Control