Monday, April 6, 2009

Promoting Your Novel - Part II

I like total control over everything I do because I think I have all the best answers, but of course, I don't.  But I come as close to the answers that matter most. This is important. Small adjustments can always be made along the way.  So in my case, since I have experience in sales, marketing, advertising, copywriting, graphic design, and more, well, I like to do-it-myself. My own way. But that's just me. That's how I get my kicks these days, and I'm out to prove, at least to myself, that I can succeed doing it on my own, and with very little money.  (Besides, I can't find an agent. Not that I've tried so hard. I loathe the system.) It's your call on how much time and money you're willing to spend on anything.  Point is? How much does success mean to you? Plain and simple. There's your answer. Just remember, if you're paying for SP services, shop around and make sure you're getting your money's worth. You're the boss. You're in control.


Okay, so the quality of your book depends on many factors along the way. Its packaging, (jacket covers) its written content, the printing quality, its manufacturing. In the SP world, that usually means perfect binding (they glue it up) and not stitching or signatures where they fold leafs and assemble it the traditional way.  But this is a minor glitch in the SP menu of services. Something that many consumers will overlook since they don't really care about the binding as much as writers do. So perfect binding will do, as long as it doesn't fall apart.  I recently bought a self-published novel that was poorly stitch-bound by a Vanity Press, and whenever you turn the pages it feels like it wants to fall apart. Not good.


The Self-Publishing Image:

SP has gained a bad reputation and for good reason. They're all in it for the money they can make from their incidental services, meaning editing, synopses, and so on, which are usually not up to traditional publishing standards. That being said, I've never seen the perfectly proofread or edited novel by traditional publishing houses either.  I also worked as a proofreader and easily find typos in the best-written books, by the best writers. It happens all the time.  So the trick is to design and present your book to the public in its most advantageous form. People do buy a book by its cover, and I'm living proof of that.  


Make sure your book cover is on the money, as they say.  And BTW, we all know that publishing houses hire book cover designers that are in touch with the buyer/reader markets out there and that they have a gift for knowing what kind of cover will sell the most books. Here’s what I’ll say about all that. Book covers are designed with regional slants sometimes and differently for international markets as well. The designer’s main approach is to design your book cover so it fits in with the rest of the books on the shelf. They don’t want it too look like an oddball cover among everything else.  So, if you plan on designing your own book jacket, first take a look at the current bestsellers in your genre and see what makes them tick. Aside from subject matter and artistic style, colors and textures go a long way in conveying your idea to the reader.  That being said, some book covers appear generic in nature, while others have a much more personal touch. This is all a guessing game for the most part, but think about the most relevant image that will connect with your readers and go with that. Make it curious and artistic and beautiful.  (I’ll say this much, the cover for the Oscar Wao book is hideous and although the story seems to be something I might enjoy, I’d be embarrassed to own that book because of its cover. What can I say; I was a fine-arts major. And no, I don’t buy any of the Dummies books either.)


So let's remove the SP stigma out of this equation and make believe that you've done your homework and your book is very presentable in the marketplace, and desirable to its target market and crossover markets. Hey, you've got a winner on your hands, so far. People like what they see, like what they hear about it, and now they're thinking about buying it. That's the first step. You must get inside your audience/readers mind. Anticipate what they're looking for to begin with and present it with all you've got. Notice the word present folks. We're not hard-selling or hitting people over the head with a sledge hammer to get their attention and buy your book. 


You want to display your book in its most advantageous form, in the best targeted venues, with the right message, intended for its target audience. All that, and still no sale? No, not even close. Well, we're getting closer. We're just priming the senses. Whetting their appetites. Selling the sizzle, as they say in the business.  People are skeptics, especially these days of mass information overload on the internet, cell phones, TV, you name it. Society is flooded with messages, commercials, useless information, all day long. Most people just tune it out, until something relevant and important to them catches their attention. Hopefully, your novel. Now we're on to something.


What your book means to your prospective buyer:

It must mean something of value and it should offer or convey a sense of life-changing benefits, at least to an extent. That means it's important to them in ways that other books are not, and that's usually personal, but by design, no less. Once your potential buyer has seen your book advertised and becomes interested in it, for whatever reason, triggering a favorable emotional response towards it, then, and only then, will the seeds of a sale have been planted, and the selling points can begin, in earnest.


Sounds like a heck of a long way to go just to make a sale, but these are the hard-proven facts. Don't try to re-invent what's been working since the dawn of civilization. And as an aside to all that, now more than ever, people are prone or inclined to easily "swipe" their credit cards over the internet since it's such an easy, safe, and convenient way to purchase. So in many ways, selling your book is not so impossible after all. It’s impulsive.


It's all about the impulse purchase:

You've heard me use this term before. Purchasing by impulse, or triggers. This is how merchants in supermarkets get you to buy all the junk you don't really need at the check-out counter. You buy it mostly because it's your last chance to get it before you check out into your long, lost, dreary world again, while you're still in the buying mode. So you grab stuff, anything, and when you get home you ask yourself why you picked it up to begin with.  The key here to this impulse is not what you want, but what you might miss. Big difference. Therefore, that leads me to the all-important deadline. The last-chance. The do it now or never syndrome. Take it or leave, and possibly regret it, either way.


Buying Offers:

I've touched on this before to some extent (link here). You've heard me say that consumers don't buy just products and services. They buy into benefits and offers. Still with me? In other words, they buy into the intangibles of what they expect from the product, as opposed to the tangible product itself. What's in it for me? That's the only question you need to answer at this point. But in order to trigger the sale, the answer must be one of convenience and satisfaction all the way around for the prospective buyer. At this point, they're still undecided. Maybe they need a little more information, more details about your book before they commit to buying. Not so much because they risk losing $14 bucks, but because they don't want you to rip them off. They win, you lose, kind of deal. Bad strategy. Wrong approach.


Here's what you need to know:

Give the prospective buyer a good reason to trust you and your by-product, your novel. Assure them of its value and benefits. And then, make it easy for them to come to their own decision about purchasing it and how they would like to pay for it, and when. Hopefully, right now, before the heat of sales battle is over and they forget they're even alive on the planet. And preferably at a discount, if possible. Discounts are bona-fide offers. Use these emotional triggers whenever you can, because they work in the book industry all the time. 


Your Platform:

This is just a fancy way of saying who you are and what you believe in. What your core principles are as a person. Can you be trusted with your product or are you just another swindler on the take?  If you're not already positioned in the marketplace as an expert in your field or as an established writer with a positive agenda, don't worry about it. All the things we've already discussed are designed to build and enhance your platform based only on what you're selling and not your proven credentials or what your background is. You have to start somewhere, and your first book can help you establish your platform.



Publicity defined is any information about you, readily made available to the public at large. That means, via news clips, newspapers, press kits, tour junkets, and so forth. It's press about you and your book and it must start locally, expand regionally and then blow-up nationally or better.


A Brief Wrap-up:

We've briefly gone from product quality, perceived product value, to the all-important impulse buying decision.  We've turned a prospective reader into a customer, and if they like what they get, hopefully, repeat business for the same book or another book you may be trying to sell. And it all started with a great presentation, followed up by meaningful, relevant content, emotional triggers, and lastly, the purchase. You've sold a book. If your book has built-in controversy that may give it marathon legs and chances are you'll be getting good word-of-mouth and more sales as a result for the long-term. Which is what you want after all. But remember, that what you do for one buyer, you can do for millions of interested buyers online. All you have to do is find them. They're everywhere.


Targeting Customers:

Targeting customers online can be done in many ways. You can always hire an online ad agency to help you with this and most of them are reasonably priced if you want to test by placing several banners in key websites for an extended period of time. You can do the searches yourself and find all sorts of websites that may be a good place to advertise. Find their rates and compare, then make a test run with your banner ads and feel out the results.


Get over it, Publishers will not promote for you...

Unless you're the next John Grisham. So suck it up, put a promotional plan together and go for it with everything you've got. Your success is up to you and how smart you handle the resources at your disposal. This is not rocket science and hopefully, I haven't made it sound that way, but there are some hard and fast rules you must follow if you want to sell your novel in mass quantities. 

Saturation and Repetition:

This sounds like the hard and expensive part, but it is a necessary evil. Your book needs to saturate as many targeted markets as possible, repeatedly. How many times have you seen the same advertisement for a product you liked but had yet to buy it?  This is the reason for repetition of your banner advertising. Preferably with different messages in different venues.


Your novel must stand out above all the literary clutter and rise above it all in grand style if you want to be at the top of everyone’s “wish-list”, or better yet, bypass the wish-list altogether, as in the “I’ve got to have it now mentality”-- the impulse. Nothing else will do folks. There are too many books and novels to compete against, and only the smartest and the most resourceful authors will make it through. Rest assured that if you don’t sell millions of books, you’ve geared up for it and maybe you’ve sold 50,000 books instead. Not bad at all. That’s an achievement in today’s tough markets. These are the cold, hard facts. You’ve got to make some noise and make it count.


I've outlined most of the important factors that go into developing an effective promotional plan, however, this is just the beginning. Sometimes, people seem to get lucky and strike it rich in this business.  But, I'm here to tell you that they are not luckier than you. Instead, they have adhered to certain criteria, certain standards and have bulldozed every obstacle out of their way.  


I think that's what life is all about. Nothing ever comes so easy and nothing so easy is ever worth your while to begin with. Success can happen to you. But only if you make it happen.


Any questions?


Next Monday's Post: The Cormac McCarthy approach to selling your novel. It's not what you think.