Things People Are Just Now Figuring Out About Publishing (that seemed obvious to me)

I’ve read several blog posts this past week about publishing that had me rolling my eyes. Maybe it’s because I spent ten years in marketing before I committed myself to the insanity of writing. While I’ve never worked in publishing, selling is selling and products are products, no matter the industry. Without further pre-amble, I give you the 4 p’s of marketing, applicable to igloo salesmen and book hawkers alike, even in the digital age:

Product – Everyone may have a story to tell, but not every story will sell. Okay, I was trying too hard for the rhyme on this one, but here’s what I was trying to say: just because you wrote a book, doesn’t mean people will fork over money for it. Especially if you’re one of those people who thought you’d give self-pubbing a try because, hey, everyone else is making a bundle and you’ve got a really great story about a vegetarian werewolf that’s just dying to be told. How hard can it be to write a book, anyway? If Snooki can do it, anyone can. (Read more about the projected hysteria here.) Bottom line: to be successful, you have to offer the public a good book (i.e., a good product) and learning to write takes time. Years, not a few spare lunch hours, folks.

Price – There is a race to the bottom, but not everyone is running the race. First, ebooks were $2.99, then they were $.99, now they’re free! (no, really, F-R-E-E, while supplies / hope lasts) Now, that vegetarian werewolf novel may need to be .99 or free in order to leave the shelf, but will Stephen King ever need to price his books that low (outside of a limited promotion) because of market pressure? In a word, no. Why? Because quality products can and should command a higher price. The car industry leads with a perfect example. Ferraris will always sell for top dollar, even in a recession, even when other manufacturers are scrambling to make econo-cars, because Ferraris kick a**. Bottom line: you can command a higher price for your product if you offer quality. If you don’t offer quality and price accordingly, you’ll have to make it up in volume, which will be harder to do if your book sucks.

Place – If you’re on the bottom shelf, you’re on the bottom. This has nothing to do with the “place” you’re sold, but, rather, how your products are positioned in the market. If you come right out of the gate with an unedited book, complete with a crappy cover and a bunch of fake Amazon reviews posted by suckers who owe you a favor, then guess what? You’ve positioned yourself. And it ain’t with the Ferraris. Traditionally published authors have it easier because of the halo effect that automatically comes with professional alignment (never said it was deserved in all cases). Does this mean self-pubbers can’t achieve a similar effect? They can, it’s just going to take more work and money. Hire that editor, that designer, establish yourself as an expert through speaking or teaching or interviews, maintain a professional web presence…so many others have said this before. But how many people are actually following this advice? Bottom line: if you position yourself as a dabbler (whether you intend to or not), people will view your products as inferior.

Promotion – Pull, don’t push when selling. I’ve read numerous posts questioning the effectiveness of Twitter, FB, and other forms of social media in selling books, including one by Publishers Weekly that backs up this supposition with data. Here’s the answer: social media won’t sell jack. Does it have an overall impact in the perceived value of a product? Yes, if it’s done professionally. Will people run out in droves to buy your new book because you told them to do it in 140 characters or less? Not likely. I’m sure it happens on a limited basis. But is it a reliable and time-worthy method of sales? No, and I’ll tell you why not–because EVERYONE IS DOING IT. If you want to be heard in a crowd, the first rule is whisper, don’t shout. What the heck does this mean? It means, dear reader, that your primary goal as a writer is to entertain. So entertain, don’t sell, and people will come to know your genius and decide to purchase it for $2.99 and above. And another thing, please target your efforts with a sniper rifle, not a shotgun blast. In other words, pasting an Amazon link to your vegetarian werewolf book at the bottom of your witty and/or snarky blog comments is nice and all, but you’ll sell a lot more if you send comp copies to the folks who host veggie blogs or werewolf blogs, or both (in the hopes that they’ll evangelize). Bottom line: You can’t make someone buy your product, you have to make them want to buy your product. This is best done with a slight tap on the shoulder, not a crack to the head with a sledgehammer. 

There you have it. The 4 p’s of marketing. Go forth and sell, dang it. But subtly.

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5 thoughts on “Things People Are Just Now Figuring Out About Publishing (that seemed obvious to me)

  1. Your story was frightening, but 100% true. I can’t believe how you hit everything right on the button. You must have a lot of experience in the trenches. I am one of those poor souls entering the twisting world of getting a book published. In my journey, I have adhered to most of what you wrote, and my chances are slim to below average of getting even a relatively successful book. I understand this, but I still hope, dream, and keep writing. I set out to write a book in the comedy genre that is a collection of seventy-one easy to read short stories, which should appeal to a fairly large audience. I spent two years full-time writing, practicing writing, taking writing courses, joining sites that review my work, and editing, editing, and more editing. The book is in its final edit at my publisher. My cover is being professionally designed. I have a photo shoot in the next week. I’m on the cover. I hired a web designer and marketer to set up an author’s site. He will be having me produce short videos of my stories. He is honest, and he’s told me that it’s a long hard road to even moderate success, and nothing is guaranteed. I’m glad I read your post. Sometimes as a writer my head goes too far into the clouds, and I need a dose of reality to remind me that writing is a tough business. It takes a lot of practice and hard work, and even then it’s still a crapshoot. It is one heck of a ride though. Thanks again, and take care.

  2. Patrick: I hope I didn’t dampen your enthusiasm too much because it sounds like you’re doing everything right, which should hopefully result in success. And since your subject matter is tied closely to your blog, you’ve got a built in audience. Also, I read on one of your posts that your publisher asked for a second book from you. Well done! Having a volume of work available to the public is pretty darn important because it increases your odds of discovery. You’ll get there. I know it. Why? Because you’re treating this like a business. Keep writing; keep flying.

  3. Thank you for showing me that I’m at least heading in the right direction. My enthusiaism is still high because I always reach for the stars, but I’m happy if I get my head in the clouds. My second book is in a totally different genre. It is based on a blog I have called “Simple Thoughts” at blogspot. It is a spiritual book which deals with a lot of the things people are looking for, including: meaning and purpose in their lives, happiness, personal peace, and someone telling them that everything will be okay. I have been working on Writing.com for over a year and a half. I have a portfolio with a few thousand views, and over 200 reviews from writers. Since joining, I’ve been brutally, painfully, and honestly reviewed. It was tough, but it made me a better writer. Sorry about the rambling. I’m very excited, and I love to communicate with other writers. Thanks again for a great post.

  4. W.O.W. Another great post, Monica. I couldn’t help cringing as I read it because I recognize myself in much of it. You mean I can’t just ask people to buy my book and expect to become one of those overnight success stories?? I love your advice. This post will be marked in my favorites folder and I’ll be back to review it often!

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