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One Book at a Time Part 2

This is the second part of a post I began here, all about the different types of people who buy books, and the reasons they buy.

In this entry, I'll be focusing on the things writers and publishers do to reach these groups, and how effective these things are.

1st Tier: The Diehards. They include Booksellers, Librarians, Megafans (collectors, bloggers, voracious readers, people who help spread the word, family and friends) and the Media (reviewers, interviewers.)

Here's how publishers try to reach these people:


  • Distribute advance reading copies and galleys to reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and the media.
  • Have a presence at trade shows (BEA, GLBA, ALA, ABA, etc.)
  • Through house catalogs and distribution catalogs.
  • Through their sales reps.
  • Through their publicists, sending out press releases and materials.

Here's how authors try to reach these people:

  • Though genre conventions and book fairs.
  • By visiting libraries and bookstores on tour and for drop-in signings.
  • Through targeted Internet activity, including email, message boards, MySpace, and newsletters (to those who sign up for the mailing list.)
  • By contacting local media directly with a press kit and a hook.

What works?

All of this works (though getting media coverage is hardest) because the Diehards are actively looking for books and authors. It's much easier to find someone who is already seeking you out than it is to impress someone by cold-calling.

There may not be enough Diehards to make you a huge success, but these people deserve more of your time than any other group because they are megaphones who talk about your books, helping to spread positive word of mouth, and that relates to sales in excess of their numbers. Cultivate them. Treat them well. Thank them. Reward them. You need this 1st Tier if you expect to break out.

2nd Tier: Heavy Users - These folks account for a large portion of book buyers. They're readers who buy many books a year, and are actively looking for something new to read.

Here's how publishers try to reach these people:

  • Advertising in trade and genre magazines.
  • Securing reviews.
  • Purchase coop placement in bookstores.
  • Touring authors.
  • Booking media appearances and interviews.

Here's how authors try to reach these people:

  • Touring.
  • Attending conferences and book fairs.
  • Giving away materials (chapbooks, bookmarks, free books.)
  • Mailing postcards.
  • Advertising in trade and genre magazines.
  • Public speaking.
  • Maintaining a sticky website.
  • Having a large Internet presence (responding to email, joining listservs and egroups, appearing in public forums, links, Wikipedia, Amazon Connect, MySpace, etc.)

What works?

Reviews sell books, but they are getting harder and harder to come by. Harder still is getting media coverage.

Ads may sell books (I remain skeptical) but not in proportion to what they cost---a $1000 ad that sells 20 books can be called effective, but certainly not cost-effective.

Touring is also extremely cost-ineffective. While it's important to meet booksellers and fans, official signings are usually poorly attended.

Postcards are a big waste. I've gotten dozens of postcards from authors, and never bought a single book because of one.

Public speaking, in the right forum, can sell books. Keynote speaker spots are hard to get, but worthwhile, especially if they pay you to attend.

Giving away materials while at conventions or while touring is a loss leader, but can spread goodwill and name recognition.

The Internet is the cheapest way to reach people, but it's also a time black hole, and the majority of book buyers don't really care about author websites.

Coop placement works, and is arguably the best thing that can be done for a book. But it doesn't last, and can result in big returns and poor sell-through because bookstores order more copies. It's also pretty much beyond an author's control. And it might be beyond a publisher's control as well.

Though the more books an author has in print, the better off they generally are, the amount of books that do get printed isn't up to the author, or the publisher. It's up the the accounts.

The buyers (wholesale, not retail) determine how many books get printed, by placing orders with the sales reps. If your book doesn't have a lot of pre-orders, you simply won't get coop dollars.

3rd Tier: Casual Users - These also account for a large portion of book buyers, but they only buy books occasionally. These are the folks who buy books as gifts, or only buy bestselling authors, or only read one book a year while on vacation.

Here's how publishers try to reach these people:

  • Advertising in national periodicals.
  • TV and radio spots.
  • Booking media appearances and interviews.

Here's how authors try to reach these people:

  • Large public events (LA Times Festival of Books, Chicago Printer's Row Book Fair, etc.)
  • Media coverage

What works?

Word of mouth. Of course, word of mouth works on all tiers, but the Diehards and Heavy Users are actively looking for books. The Casual Users don't read very much. Books aren't their main source of entertainment. Some don't read at all, and only go into a bookstore when looking to buy Uncle Earl something for Christmas ("He likes books about war," they'll tell the bookseller at the information desk.)

You can sell them books by meeting them in person, or you can spend gazillions of dollars on ads hoping that your name will stick in their minds that one time a year they go book shopping.

But the sad fact is, the only way to reach these people is to already be a bestseller. And since they account for a large number of books sold, newbie and midlist authors (and their publishers) should save the full page NYT ads and concentrate on finding buyers among the first two tiers.

4th Tier: Johnny Come Latelys - This is the group that only buys books after everyone else has bought them.

Here's how publishers try to reach these people:

  • Even more ads.

Here's how authors try to reach these people:

  • If an author is so successful that they are selling to this group, they are no longer trying to reach fans. They are in seclusion, hiding from fans.

What works?

Crossing your fingers and clicking your heels together. These buyers only purchase pop culture phenomenons, like HarryPotter, Stephen King, Dan Brown, and the bible.

Conclusions

After four years in this business, I've come to the conclusion that just about everything authors do is cost-ineffective, if you look at the direct benefits (book sales.)

But there are indirect benefits. The more people you meet and impress, the better off you are. Networking has far-reaching effects, giving you more opportunities to spread your brand.

Unfortunately, networking almost always has to be done in person, and requires a substantial time and money commitment on behalf of the author, with no guarantee of returns.

The goal is positive word-of-mouth. The author is the most effective spokesperson for a book, so the author has to bear much of the responsibility for getting out there and shaking hands with the world.

The publisher has to make sure the books are in print and distributed, and be willing to support an author until a tipping point is reached. The tipping point is when efforts are supported by sales, and there is a return on the time/money investment.

It may take years for the tipping point to come, if it ever comes at all.

I've long been against advertising, because I believe it is a lot of money spent for a tiny return.

The same can be said for touring. Or even single booksigning events. Or traveling to conventions and book fairs. It all costs a lot, and returns very little.

In fact, I'll go on the record and state that NOTHING an author can do will make an immediate, tangible difference in their career.

But the intangible benefits can add up.

The fact is, every person who meets you, and every person who reads you, has the potential to become a lifetime fan. The more people you meet, the more people you get to read you, the more potential fans you have.

You may not sell nearly enough books to cover the costs of a trip to Bouchercon, but you'll sell more books because of that than if you'd stayed home. This goes for everything you try, everything you do, to self-promote.

And let's say, after years of effort, you sold an extra 5000 books that wouldn't have sold normally. Not a lot. But those sales will lead to more sales, and the people you met will remember you when media and publicity opportunities arise, and if your publisher is smart they'll recognize your efforts and try to match them with efforts of their own.

  • Yes, it involves a lot of hard work that may never pay off.
  • Yes, luck plays a huge part.
  • Yes, it's easy to get discouraged when every single thing you do looks like a failure from a cost-effectiveness standpoint.
  • Yes, many of your peers are a lot more successful and don't do nearly as much promotion as you do.

No one said this would be fair, fun, or easy.

Your job is to write the best book you can, and then work to build an audience. There are no quick answers. Your books will sell one at a time.

How many of those one-at-a-time sales are you directly responsibly for?

First Three Weeks

The first few weeks after your book is released, you won't be sleeping much.

Part of that will be worry. But most if it will be hustle.

If you (or your publicist, or both of you) laid the groundwork prior to your release, you'll have several weeks of traveling, speaking, and interviews. Your editor and agent will be sending you reviews. Your emails will triple. You'll be running around frantically trying to stay on top of everything.

Your publisher wants you to push as hard as you can, because they believe the first few weeks in a book's life are the most important. They want to get you on the bestseller list. They want the coop placement they bought to earn out.

While that's understandable, I also believe it is short-sighted. Here are the reasons why:

1. Slow and steady wins the race. Sure, selling a lot of books the first few weeks looks good. And that's what the marketing dollars are used for. But building a readership is a marathon, and you can't sprint the first mile and hope to keep up that pace. Word of mouth takes time to build.

When your new book comes out, you're trying to remind your previous fans to buy it, and you're trying to find new fans. How many new fans do you think you will find you during the three weeks your book is being pushed, vs. the forty-nine weeks that your book has no coop?

I'm voting that you have the potential to find more fans in those forty-nine weeks, with your backlist, your appearances, and your internet presence. You also have the potential to sell more books in those forty-nine weeks than in the first three.

I can understand why your publisher only pushes for three weeks--it's a monetary decision. But they shouldn't stop caring the rest of the year, or be disappointed if your book has a slow start. A sale is a sale, no matter when it comes. Wanting your sales to be top-loaded for the first few weeks causes a lot of undue stress and unrealistic expectations.

2. You can't make a difference anyway. Let's say your publisher is hoping for a shot at the NYT List. So they send you to a new city every day for 21 days. The tour is hectic and expensive, and what's the most they could hope for?

Even if you're a bestseller already, moving 200 hardcovers per event is a huge amount. Chances are you'll sell under 50. But even if you sell 200, in a week's worth of tremendous effort you only managed to sell 2100 books.

Yes, 1400 is a lot, but I doubt it will be the tipping point to get you on the Times list. First of all, that assumes everyone who buys a book at a signing is a brand new fan who wouldn't have bought it otherwise (if they would have bought it anyway, why waste the time and money?) Second, that extra 1400 probably won't be the difference between making the list and missing the list. The numbers needed to make the NYT List are very high, and an extra thousand books probably won't be enough. Patterson sells 60,000 of his new hardcover a week.

3. It's not this year that counts. Actually, how well your new book does has less to do with your current promotion and more to do with your prior promotion. If you spent the previous forty-nine weeks accruing and prepping a readership, then you can announce a new book during your three week sprint and sell X number of copies, because you have a group that already knows you. Running around for three weeks trying to find new readers is much harder to do, and not very effective unless you have a huge media buzz.

4. The numbers game. Publishers care about numbers. But it seems that everyone is looking at the first numbers, and if they don't meet expectations they give up hope.

Why is it that important things like a second printing, or consistent sales, or earning out an advance, aren't even mentioned to the author? We hear it immediately if we get a review or make a bestseller list, but isn't your paperback going back to press for the third time also a cause for celebration? When your book finally begins to earn royalties, isn't that even more important than being on some bestseller list? But no one tells you this when it happens.

It seems that the numbers have to be front-loaded to be impressive.

This is the Hollywood blockbuster mentality, where you spend 150 million and hope to make 200 million. Doesn't it make more sense to spend 50 thousand and make 100 thousand? Do books have to sell millions of copies in order to be successful? Isn't the publisher making a profit more important than them making a killing? Especially since so many of these blockbusters lose money?

I recognize the importance of the first three weeks. But I don't believe that's where all the emphasis should be. Winning teams usually aren't created overnight. It takes years of training, fine-tuning, coaching, and adjusting to get a winning ball team. Sports owners know this. I wonder why publishers don't seem to.

One Book at a Time Part 1

Books are sold one at a time. To individuals.

The aren't sold to nameless, faceless masses. Each of those buyers has a name, and a face, and a reason for buying.
  • Some people buy books because they collect them.
  • Some people buy books to give as gifts.
  • Some people only buy books in certain genres.
  • Some people buy books based on reviews.
  • Some people buy books based on word-of-mouth.
  • Some people only buy books by certain authors.
  • Some people buy books because they feel obligated.
  • Some people buy books because Oprah told them to.
  • Some people buy books to read more than once.
  • Some people buy books, read them, then give them away.
  • Some people only buy books on sale.
  • Some people only buy paperbacks.
  • Some people only buy hardcovers.
  • Some people only buy large print.
  • Some people only buy audiobooks.
  • Some people only buy text downloads.
  • Some people only buy used books.
  • Some people buy for the library markets.
  • Some people buy books and never read them.
  • Some people read a lot but never buy books.
  • Some people buy books to resell them.
And so on. Different people buy books for different reasons. But unless you lecture to businesses who buy in bulk, the majority of books sold are sold one at a time, to individuals.

If you want to reach an individual, do you treat her like she's part of a group? How many individuals can you do this to before you start losing the interest of others who buy books for different reasons?

I know what you're thinking. It's impossible to personally reach thousands, let alone millions, of people. Right?

Wrong. Everyone who buys Patterson's latest thriller is doing it for a specific, individual reason. They aren't doing it because the publisher tells them to, or casts some magic spell. They aren't doing it because they're in touch with every single other Patterson reader, and all conspire, herd-like, to make him rich.

They're buying Patterson books as individuals, not en masse. But even though I write books similar to Patterson, and share some of his fanbase, he has many more fans than I do. This begs the question:

Does Patterson have the same type of fans as I do, only more? Or does Patterson have different types of fans than I do?

I believe the majority of his fans are different.

An author named Geoffrey A. Moore wrote a book called Crossing the Chasm, which is all about selling technology driven products. Moore believes that the majority of people who buy a product only do so after the 'early adopters' (15% of the buying public) embrace it. If they do, then early majority, late majority, and laggards (83% of the population) follow suit.

For the past few weeks, I've been thinking this is a pretty good model for the book biz, and explains why some books become major hits and others fail.

While books are sold one at a time, not all book buyers are created equal. There are tiers of importance.

1st Tier: The Diehards - These are the early adopters, the people who must embrace your book first before you can be a success. They include Booksellers, Librarians, Megafans (collectors, bloggers, voracious readers, people who help spread the word, family and friends) and the Media (reviewers, interviewers.) These buyers act like megaphones, offering information and recommendations to the other tiers to encourage them to try your books.

This group is targeted with advance reading copies, through book tours and library visits, through catalogs, through advertising, and through industry conventions and organizations (BEA, ABA, ALA, GLBA, etc.) A lot of time and money is spent to cultivate this group.

These are the people who the majority authors sell to. And depending on your print run, that might be enough to earn out your advance/have more than a 50% sell-through. But it won't be enough to make you rich and famous.

2nd Tier: Heavy Users - These folks account for a good portion of book buyers. They're readers who buy many books a year, and are actively looking for something new to read. They're influenced by the 1st Tier. Heavy Users usually stick to a specific genre because they know they enjoy it, and they value reading as one of their top ways to relax and be entertained.

A portion of this group attends conventions, visits bookstores, and spends time online looking for books and authors. They are targeted through advertising, conference appearances, and having a large online presence.

These are the people you need to 'break out' and have a shot at the bestseller lists.

3rd Tier: Casual Users - These also account for a good portion of book buyers, but they only buy books occasionally. These are the people who don't usually visit bookstores and don't necessarily value books as one of their main forms of entertainment. They read a few authors that they've enjoyed in the past, or they buy/receive books as gifts, or they only buy books when necessary (on vacation, at the airport, because a book was strongly recommended.)

This group is targeted with media and advertising. They aren't particularly interested in meeting authors, and they aren't online surfing writer websites. But their purchase power is necessary to have a mega bestseller.

4th Tier: Johnny Come Latelys - This is the group that only buys books after everyone else has bought them. They might not even read the books, but they don't want to miss out. These are the folks that make Harry Potter and The DaVinci Code into monster bestsellers.

In my next blog entry, I'll try to explain what authors and publishers should be doing to effectively reach each of these groups.

Vacation Time

My wife cornered me yesterday, demanding that I tell her which week I have available this summer so we could take a family vacation.

We haven't taken a family vacation in four years. Not coincidentally, that was when I landed my first book deal.

My family deserves a vacation. Hell, I deserve a vacation too. But Hyperion hasn't planned the tour yet for DIRTY MARTINI (the release date looks to be the end of June) so I don't know where I'm going to be or what I'm going to be doing this summer.

My wife said that we need to take a week where we can rent a cabin on a lake, go fishing and swimming, and just hang out and relax.

I explained that I'm working my butt off so some day we can buy a cabin on a lake, and go fishing, swimming, and just hang out and relax every day for the rest of our lives. Remember the grasshopper and the ant? Work now, relax later.

My wife reminded me that my son will only be nine once, and we should enjoy him at this age.

I said that I have two distinct memories from being nine years old, neither of them involving my parents.

My wife called me an idiot. I couldn't argue with that.

But we do need a vacation, so I am going to find some time. I still haven't fully recovered from my 500 bookstore tour last summer. Since getting home I've written a screenplay, a novel, eight short stories and articles, attended seventeen events, and visited another 112 bookstores. I need to finish another book this month (which will be my 15th novel) but then I'll have a little bit of free time.

So I'm going to do it. I'm going to go on vacation. I don't want to be planning for a future with my family and find out---when the future arrives---that my family isn't there to share it with me because they got tired of waiting and left.

Am I the only insane workaholic who has this problem?

Buzz, Balls, and Advertising

Regular readers of A Newbie's Guide to Publishing know that I don't believe book advertising is cost-effective.

Gregory Huffstutter has disagreed with me on this topic, and many of his smart responses can be found in the comments on this blog.

He's doing a guest column on MJ Rose's blog about roadblock advertising. Here's the link:

http://mjroseblog.typepad.com/buzz_balls_hype/2007/02/the_ad_man_answ.html

I want you to check it out. Not because I believe he's right, but because I believe he's wrong.

What do you think? Go there and weigh in on the conversation.
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