Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sales DNA - What Makes a Book Sellable?

Heading for the Mid-list? Aspiring Bestselling Authors: Beware

Okay folks, this is it. I’m about to reveal the most important aspect of book promotion known to humankind. And you’ll read about it here, like only my twisted brain cells can deliver it. But more importantly, you’ll understand it and hopefully apply it to your own writing life. And BTW, let me preface this article by saying that I realize I’m a dreamer (But also a doer – remember, faith without works?) and that my fantastic goals are almost impossible. The keyword is “almost”.

But listen, that’s what life is all about. Nobody ever made it big by thinking small. Write and shoot for the million dollar deals. You may not get one, but you might come close and you’d be happy. And for those who think that publishing your book(s) is almost impossible in today’s marketplace, remember this: Publishers will buy anything that will make them loads of money, at any given time. That makes sense to me. It’s your job to figure out what that is, and it’s their job to take a chance on it.
And they really don’t care who you are. If your writing is commercially viable, (keyword, commercially) they’ll help polish your book and you, and present both to their readers. They may also dump you if sales don’t take off right away, or as soon as sales plummet. But not all is lost; you’ve hopefully already collected your hefty five figures or maybe even a six figure advance. Nothing personal folks. Sit down and write another one just as good, or even better than the first one. It’s all about money, but when has it ever been any other way? The only folks that work for free are volunteers at the Salvation Army and other places like it. Everyone else needs to get paid, including you. So let’s get to it.

Ingredients of Sales DNA
Okay, let’s pretend that making a sale has a unique DNA structure. Which it does. A progressive chain of events that must take place in order for a prospect to consider making a purchase. (Yes, first there are prospects, then customers and then clients. In other words--shoppers, buyers and repeat buyers.) And within this structure there are molecules known as Packaging, Branding, and Trust. These are some of the essential components in Sales DNA. There are others, to be sure, but in the world of promotion, these three are the most palpable because they appeal to the senses. But one of them is without question far more important than the others, and that is the element of TRUST. And that’s a progressive element, it doesn’t happen overnight. You must build it and then build upon it. Either that or get booked on Oprah. She’ll give you instant, jaw-dropping fame and fortune and months of free promotion to go along with it. Otherwise, you’re on your own, my friend.

All right, I’ve mentioned three ingredients, but we’ll talk about the most important one because the other two, Packaging and Branding are visual elements. They are designed according to focus groups and astute, intuitive graphic designers to appeal to your senses and your emotions. That’s it. There’s not much more to add to that so let’s focus on the brainchild of Sales DNA: Trust (confidence).

A Matter of Trust
For instance, have you ever bought anything from someone you don’t really know? Hardly ever happens. There must be a level of trust and confidence between buyer and seller before all else. Why do you think Amazon.com now sells just about everything under the sun? By now, most people know them and trust them and many folks, despite Amazon’s somewhat tarnished image, even like them too. That’s important. And this is why self-publishing is such a taboo. Because do-it-yourself publishing has very little checks and balances. This kind of publishing does not carry the clout of commercial publishing houses. That being said, especially these days, even big publishing houses are no guarantee of well-written and well-edited books. But the positive image these publishing houses carry-over from yesteryear is undeniable and it is their advantage over self-publishers.

But, the real guys making all the money these days are self-publishing houses. And in all fairness to them, if you’re smart, you can take advantage of their services in ways that benefit you too. (Another topic for another time.)

So trust--winning the trust of your prospective customers is a vital component in making a sale. Not the only component, mind you, but it ranks first among the top three.

Book Buzz, a.k.a. Lip Radio or WOM (Word of Mouth)
What I’m about to say is so valuable, and so necessary, that without it you simply cannot succeed. (Not on a grand scale.) You’ve heard of “book buzz” before and there are plenty of internet start-ups that claim they can help build that all-important “Buzz” for your book. Well, guess what? These guys could be the most viable option that may help you build that all-important buzz. And before you think this is just another promo for businesses that help promote your book, I’m not getting paid (unfortunately) to mention them here. BTW we’ll compare three of the biggest “book buzz” promoters out there in my next post, but first, let me explain why buzzing your book is the fastest, easiest way to sell it.

Breaking Through the Sales DNA Chain: Without Recognition, Sales Don’t Happen
First, let’s look at things from another angle. The point of view not from the bottom up, but from the top down instead. Let’s say you’re bored, you’ve run out of good books to read. You’re even thinking about reading McCarthy’s Border Trilogy again, for the third time. Good Lord. Life is way too short for that, so you go on the internet and search for something new. Easy right? Something that will fill your nights (or whatever time of day you read) with suspense, intrigue, a new world, and so on. You just want to read a damn good novel, for the love of God!

Something new and different. Okay, so you punch in your search criteria and thousands of amazing titles come up. My goodness, has every man, woman and child on the planet decided to become an amazing “blipping” author? That’s your first thought. Then your second thought: How long will it take me to read samples of all these interesting books?

(BTW, paid reviewers make sure they are all interesting. Does something smell rotten in Denmark? You bet.) Is one lifetime enough? At this rate I may never order my favorite one, if I can ever find it, for crying out loud. This is ridiculous, you say. Hours later you’ve narrowed your picks and added them to your wish-list of good reads, which has now grown another three pages. Are you starting to “get my drift” as we used to say in the good old days.

Finding a good book, the one you really like, above all others is a nightmare. And it’s about this time, after my exhaustive book search, that I truly wish I were dead, or something like that. Or maybe that I could live to be 200, and still have my eyesight intact, so I can read my favorite books. Is that too much to ask?

Okay, you get the idea. There’s plenty of competition out there. Amazing books are everywhere, by the millions. Wish-lists are pages long and most people even forget they even have one, or how to find it. And just when you thought you are about to make a decision and pick your three favorite books, a few dozen more amazing books have popped up. Now what? Can you see the madness of it all? How does a first-time novelist break through? How do you get to the top of the wish-list? That’s the real question isn’t it? Here’s a real answer. Write a damn good novel. Better than all the rest. Ouch! Sad, but true. But take heart my fellow authors, stories, just like art, are subjective. And the fact that very few authors/writers get five stars on Amazon.com reviews is enough proof of that. BTW, the one-star reviews are my favorites. They’re so mean, so derisive. So much fun!

All right. Enough of that. Lets all take a deep cleansing breath and focus on the happiest place on earth. Let’s find solutions. Not all is lost and your career as a novelist is still viable. (Oh, please.) Really. There is always hope for those who seek it. That’s why you’re reading this article, isn’t it? You want hope. You want to be reassured that it’s all going to be okay, and that you’re going to be the next Stephenie Meyer. Am I right? And BTW, I’m still having a hard time believing her publishing story. But that’s where topics like this come in. Writers like Meyer, bring a glimmer of hope to all aspiring authors. They help renew our faith in the publishing industry. They give us pause to think that we can make it too. And we can. (Oh, how beautiful life can be, my friends.) BTW, let me just say that the success of authors like Meyer and Wroblewski is a combination of two essential ingredients. Great writing and ambitious agents/editors. They know how to spark a wildfire. Case closed. Let’s move on.

First, the writing, it should be “great”, but “good” writing will do. Not to worry, publishers are desperate these days; everybody is a good writer now, even yours truly. So we’ve got that ingredient out of the way. If your writing is marginal, you’re in. (Just look at the crap that’s being published these days. It’s what I call, shit sandwiches on five-grain bread.) The next ingredient is a bit more elusive, but again, if your writing is good enough for today’s marketplace, and whose isn’t, your next step is to find an ambitious agent. When you do, if your story doesn’t stink, and they smell money in your story, they’ll find a way to sell it for as much as they can get. It’s just that simple and that complicated folks.

Now let’s say your agent is not as stellar and ambitious as you’d like them to be. In all reality, you should fire them and find a better agent to begin with. But there are other ways to help buzz your book. Let’s not forget that promoting your book is 99% your responsibility, regardless of the publisher. And you must be even more ambitious than anyone else in the publishing chain. That’s somewhat obvious. Now, let me distill the quickest way to generate book buzz. Yes, you guessed it. Good story, good writing. The same old axiom. Don’t shoot the messenger, these are the facts.

People can’t talk about your book unless your stories offer something interesting and different to talk about. Maybe something outrageous. You must write something with marathon legs. Your story cannot afford to languish and jog into the annals of literary readership, you must sprint your way there. Your story must inspire and provoke. Your writing must, in short, be meaningful and important to those who have chosen to read it. That’s right--among the long, winding road of wish-lists. Think: great title, amazing covers/blurbs, and intriguing opening chapter. Your golden keys to making a sale. That’s the short of it. Now let’s zoom in and take a closer look at the details.

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PART 2 of this post will be posted on the 19th because it's just too long. We'll get to it next week folks. This Part 2, Sales DNA 101, is one post you don't want to miss. Just like a good novel, the ending is usually the most anticipated, so come on back and check it out.

I bid you peace of mind and great health. Hey what more can one ask for? If you have those to things, you can own the world. As long as you work smart enough and fast enough, that is. We all know how time flies and all the mistakes one makes along the way that set many of us back. (Yes, I speak from experience.)

So here's my moment of Zen: Mistakes help you learn, unless you act on good advice and avoid them.Then you learn twice as fast.

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