Monday, March 24, 2008

Selling Your Book The Way People Want to Buy It

Or Your Per Book Net Profit and What You Can Do About It

Stop Whining!

You know, about how much money you make per book.

If you self-published and your margin is too small to accommodate the profit margins of bookstore or Amazon sales it's your own fault. You didn't do your homework upfront. So swallow hard and console yourself. You've learned a valuable lesson for the next time you publish.

Ditto for subsidy- or partner-published books. Your publisher doesn't give you enough royalties? Next time negotiate better or choose another publisher or, better still, self-publish (yes, a new learning curve for you but you'll have more control over your profitability).

If you're traditionally published, you made the tradeoff! You hoped for fame. And you hoped for big sales. You may have gotten one, both or neither. You knew there were no guarantees. And didn't you know, too, that the publisher was taking the financial risks and therefore needed to take a bigger share of the pie to pay for his or her expenses and to make a profit to stay in business? If you didn't, maybe you should have taken a Business 101, Basic Economics or The Essentials of Capitalism course before you embarked on what, after all, is a business. In fact, an industry!

So the fact remains, you're boo-hooing because you don't make enough per book, right? Well be comforted because volume counts for something, too. So, roll up your sleeves and go for more sales. Promote like crazy. To do that, you'll want to be able to write a picture-perfect query letter so you can:

 Pitch your next book to a publisher or agent who can be a partner in increasing your profits.

 You'll want to know how to query appropriately for feature stories on you or the content of your book.

 You'll want to know how to write a presentable cover letter to contest judges so you can win some awards to make your book stand out.

 You'll want your query to entice radio and TV producers so they'll want you on their show. To do that, get controversial -- yes, even in the query!

 You'll want to query magazine and e-zine editors to publish your articles and/or excerpts so you can build credibility for your book and more easily sell the next one. And you do that by -- you guessed it -- doing your homework. Buy a book that tells you how to do that.

By the way, The Frugal Editor is a good start on all of the above!)

And then get a few good books on promotion. You need to understand what the different kinds of editors need. And you need to know how to offer them what they want in a way that makes it supremely easy for them to pick you.

You want to sell your book any old way your customer wants to buy them. Many people prefer to buy from Amazon so why would you try to force them to buy direct from your site? What if it doesn't work and they buy somebody else's book from Amazon instead. You know, they may be at Amazon spending their money and be interested in a book like yours. Lots of people are. They may need one more book to make the minimum to get free shipping. Or they may not want to pay sales tax. Or they may not want to take the time to make two purchases, one with credit card, one with Paypal. Or they may just get ticked because you're trying to make them buy your book YOUR way, they won't buy your book regardless.

What if they like to read e-books or need a book instantly and your book isn't available that way? Yep, they'll buy somebody else's! Loyalty only extends so far.

Ditto for Kindle!

What if they long for a signed book? Do you offer a way for them to get your treasured signature? With a label sent directly to them. Your autograph is one way to entice readers to buy directly from you if you prefer that.

Many authors rely solely on online bookstore sales. Authors can avoid some or our industry problems by selling their books that way. But what about customers who prefer to buy from bookstores? You should have at least made the effort to assure that your book can be ordered for customers who request them at B&N and Borders or at your local independents.

And here's a last idea for boosting your profitability. It's especially useful for authors who have only one book. Sell another book with yours at book fairs and your speaking engagements. It helps if the second or third books are related to yours but don't duplicate it so closely that a reader wouldn't need or want both. You can offer a little gift with purchase if a customer buys both. Authors' Coalition does that at their booth at the LA Times Festival of Books.

To make something like this work, of course, the second book must be purchased in quantity and marked up. Here are some ways to do that:
 You can cross-promote with an author friend.
 Or you can contact an author, tell them your plans and ask for a bookstore discount if you buy, say, six of his or her books.
 Or you can sell The Complete Writers' Journal which was designed with this purposed in mind and is available at discounts in quantity. Find it at www.redenginepress.com.

I guess it comes down to this. We all make mistakes. But we don't benefit from them if we don't own up. Hoist up your panties, do what you can to rectify the mistake this time around and avoid making it again.

And keep learning. You do that by reading, reading, reading. Add evaluating to that list. Not all resources are born equal. Listen but don't swallow whole anything you hear or read. (I'm sure you've noticed that there is a lot of griping-to-no-purpose going around the Web!)

Once you've been around the industry a little while, it will be easier to tell if what you hear is right for you. You'll know what to adopt and what to discard. Hooray for you. Now you're a real author. An author who knows the industry you're in and how to make it work for you. The school of hard knocks isn't all bad.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author THIS IS THE PLACE; HARKENING: A COLLECTION OF STORIES REMEMBERED; TRACINGS, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T; and THE FRUGAL EDITOR: PUT YOUR BEST BOOK FORWARD TO AVOID HUMILIATION AND ENSURE SUCCESS.
Her other blogs include TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com and AuthorsCoalition.blogspot.com, a blog that helps writers and publishers turn a ho-hum book fair booth into a sizzler.

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