Self Publishing Blog

Publishing Questions

Copyright 2006 by Morris Rosenthal

All Rights Reserved

Book Promotion Questions

How Can I Sell More Books ?

Question) How can an author get books into the large chains and the small independent bookstores.

Answer) It depends on the publisher, the distributor and the discount. If these don't line up correctly, the chance of getting a book into a chain is near zero. Small, independent bookstores basically work on a pull system. They can't afford to stock books on hunches unless they are very specialized, you have to prove you have sales first. A really focused distributor with an actual sales force can help if you're a small publisher, but they take a huge percentage and may have expensive stocking requirements.

Q) What methods do you use for book promotion?

A) You're looking at them, I use the Internet. I've tried all sorts of things, the list is in one of my online articles, the basic how to market a book article is here, but for selling books without having to become a performer, the Internet is the way to go if you have the patience.

Q) Will TV advertising of our books work?

A) I have to admit I haven't seen a book advertised on TV since "Dianetics" by L. Ron Hubbard. Now that I think of it, I've also seen the Church of Latterday Saints advertise the Book of Mormon on TV, but I believe they give it away for free as religious outreach. TV advertising in the US is just incredibly expensive.

Q) BooksaMillion is listing my title as "This is a print on demand title." Will this destroy my credibility with reviewers?

A) Anybody in this business who thinks they're fooling anybody else about who and what they are is kidding themselves. Reviewers either know who the publisher is or they don't, and the biggest turn-off to reviewers these days is seeing books from one of the big three subsidy presses, AuthorHouse, Xlibris and iUniverse, or from PublishAmerica - better off self-publishing. BTW, it looks to me like Books-A-Million only lists POD books as POD when they aren't in stock at Ingram.

Q) I just got an e-mail from website X that got my press release (PRWeb), and has offered to review my book and interview me. They charge $250.00.

A) I never heard of them. There are lots of companies that make a living reading PRWeb releases and offering their promo services. I believe all are a waste of money. You cannot buy meaningful promotion for a book, you have to do it yourself. I actually like PRWeb for the links that they'll give your site so they're worth the $10 or a few bump-ups, but the vultures who come sniffing around for $250 or $500 are in the business of taking your money.

Q) I've read your book just before publishing my own. Is it too late to change my title if I haven't printed yet?

A) Marketing is the whole deal, and title is important. You can certainly still change your title, just go to Bowker. You can also add or modify a subtitle after a book is published without much effort. The first trade published book I ever wrote was titled "The Hand-Me-Down PC" - both the publisher and I thought it was a great title, friendly, cut out a niche, and we were both wrong. The book was about upgrading and repairing PCs and we should have titled it "Upgrading and Repairing PCs." People who never saw more than the spine of the book on a shelf had no reason to pull it out and look at it; it was too cute.

Q) Can you look at my book website and give me feedback?

A) Aside from the need for more text content, you forgot to title the pages, which is critical for search engines. It also takes way too long to load for anybody using dial-up connections. There's quite a bit about it in the website design link I might have just sent you on my site.

Q) I wrote the book that was inside me and now I'm getting ready to self-publish. Can you help me find an editor who can also do my marketing for me?

A) I'm afraid I've never met an editor with much marketing sense. I push the Internet for marketing, and it's only going to grow in the future. If you aren't desperate to see it in print quickly, why not put the draft on the web and see what happens? It's the best way to find out what really interests people, and you'll get some free editing from busy bodies along the way:-)

Q) I've gotten 5,000 hits on my website but have only sold one book. What am I doing wrong?

A) Hits or unique visitors? I run around 2500 unique visitors a day, and when I offer a discount, that results in 2 mail-order book sales per day. If I counted all the objects and pages those visitors accesses as hits, the total would be well over 10,000 hits a day, but hits don't measure anything meaningful. Also, people who are sold on one of your books by your website don't necessarily buy it from you. I sell more books through Amazon Associates than I do by direct mail order, and my biggest sales channel is people ordering through their local bookstore. It's hard to say exactly what percentage of those bookstore orders are due to my website, but it's the only marketing I do.

Q) What do you think of my promotional website?

A) In truth, I'd question your choice of marketing copy, it's very gung-ho, as opposed to simply offering some large samples, which would also draw traffic to your site. I don't know how typical I am, 41 year old male, but any time I read an offer to "make my head explode" it's a major turn-off. You've done well to get radio time and draw people to your site, but you really need to broaden the availability and may want to rethink your site design for your target customers.

Q) How can I compete with the record labels and attract people to my site to buy my music?

A) The web is the great equalizer, but it seems to me that most bands having success with the web have built a following through live performances. I'm not sure how you would go about attracting people to a music site otherwise, you would have to write about music if you wanted text based traffic. It's still early enough in the game to get in if you have a strategy. When I first put up a website in 1995, I thought it was too late already to have an impact, but boy was I wrong. Also, as with many other things, there's always a shortage of quality material, even if the quantity is enormous, and the architecture of the web helps the quality material gradually bubble to the top.

Q) My local Barnes&Noble said they're hesitant to stock my print on demand book unless I give them a marketing plan. Borders made no such demand. What do you suggest?

A) If you want them to stock your book, I recommend you give them a plan:-) What they probably want to see is how you intend to promote the book, in terms of both your own efforts and dollars. If you plan on giving readings at schools and libraries, have an aggressive review gathering approach, a web presence, any of those things would look good. The problem is you're up against the big children's book publishers who will all say, "We will feature these new titles in our Winter catalog and our sales force..." Since you got already got Borders to stock the book, you're doing something right, so just describe what you did on paper, then call it a plan.

Comment: Nice site, but you have a typo in the title of your page at http://www.fonerbooks.com/market.htm

A) Thank you. It happens fairly frequently with me, since as you probably read in my pages about web design, I frequently tweak titles to see how it affects search engine traffic, and I don't hire proofreaders for the website. Of course, my books aren't perfect either, but one of the nice things about POD is you can save up the typos for a few months then upload a new file. In my books published by big trades, the errors that get past the first print run are usually in for good.

Q) Have you ever used the Amazon co-op program where the sell you Better Together placement for a month with a popular title?

A) The sell-through of Better Together can go as high as 25%, but that requires well matched titles which together achieve free shipping. I've never used it myself because I don't have any good targets to pair with, I have a friend who's used it quite a bit, he's pretty sure it's paid, but I'm not sure how good his tracking is. There are risks, like if you got bad reviews immediately after pairing, if your book went out of stock, etc... I doubt it ever makes sense to pair with books outside the top 1000 unless you're really taking a long term view and hope to remain in the Better Together spot after the promotion is over. Even then, it would only make sense to do it with new titles, otherwise it will be hard to push out the existing Better Together match with just a month of sales.

Q) I don't like Internet groups because I get a bunch of messages, and I don't want to spend time reading them. Is it necessary to participate in a group when promoting a book?

A) You don't have to, but it's the only way to be effective. Otherwise, you're just an outsider trying to use the group for self-promotion, and the other members will quickly determine this and discount anything you say as spam. The moderators might ban you, and you may also find yourself with a bad reputation you can't shake, like the boy who cried "wolf." I don't even know how you could determine if the membership of a group is a potential audience for your book unless you participate for a while. Book promotion is work and it takes time. If you can't be bothered to read e-mails or forum posts, you'll have to stick with less interactive marketing (ie, advertising).

Q) I worry if I use your techniques for non-fiction to attract visitors to my site, they'll be surprised when they find I'm a novelist. Do you still think it can work?

A) Surprised is fine, the question is, can you craft a site that will hold their interest despite the fact they weren't looking for fiction? Fiction is a tough sell for unknown authors, no argument there. I haven't really made a study of online fiction sales, there are plenty of sites trying to do it, so you should do a survey of as many as you can turn up, and compare their techniques to their actual sales on Amazon and BN.com. Imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery if you stick with the general approach as opposed to ripping off a design.

Q) How can I sell my poetry book?

A) Poetry is an incredibly tough sale, I wouldn't know where to begin. The most important thing for you is probably to do as many public readings as possible, try to create a demand, and bring books with you to sell. Sign them, maybe write a little "thank you" poem on the title page. "Thank you for buying my book, hope you don't conclude I'm a shnook." There are all sorts of poetry sites online, you might want to try entering poetry contests, if you win one it's a bona-fide. Just make sure you apply to legit contests and not places that churn as many poems as possible for the entry fee and pick the winner out of a hat.

Q) I get people to come to my website by going to multiple chat rooms every night and pasting in my URL until they block me. How long will it take for me to have a top site?

A) Sounds to me like a lot of work for a questionable result, not to mention ticking off a bunch of strangers. I can't believe you'll derive any benefit from this promotional effort, I would suggest you focus your energy on adding content to your site and leave the poor chatters alone.

Q) Do you invest a lot of time and money marketing your books, or does the fact your books are carried by Ingram, Amazon and BN.com generate enough sales to keep your company afloat?.

A) Marketing is the whole job, being listed on Amazon and Ingram allows people to purchase your books, but it doesn't do anything to sell them. Did you read the book excerpts on marketing and website design at

http://www.fonerbooks.com/market.htm

http://www.fonerbooks.com/website.htm

I was already getting a couple hundred people a day coming to my website to read the free version of my case study book before I published it. Way too many authors and small publishers think if you publish a better book the world will rush in and buy it, but there's zero truth to that. It's all marketing.

Q) I've published a non-fiction book and purchased a website. The book hasn't sold on e-bay and I can't afford to advertise. If you can take a moment to look at the web site, it's X

A) I did look at the website and it has three fundamental problems. First, your Google Page Rank is zero, you have to get some incoming links. Second, none of your pages are titled (this is the HTML page title), they all come up as "Microsoft Internet Explorer" which ensures you won't get many visitors even if you get into Google. Most importantly, you don't have any content, your website is an advertisement. You can either put large chunks of the book online (I go up to 50% on commercial books, 100% on the ones I don't worry about selling) or write some related articles. Otherwise, nobody will ever come to your site or recommend it to friends.

Q) Could you review my site with an eye towards its efficiency for selling books?

A) From the standpoint of selling books, I believe you've made a number of critical errors. For starters, the fact that you have a book to sell never appears in the first screen full, you're already forcing readers to scroll. In some cases, the only sales link is at the bottom on the page! The majority of your pages don't even display a thumbnail of the book cover, and the price info is only available when you get to the ultimate ordering page! You'll notice that on my site, every one of my pages that's related to a book has the book cover visible in the first screen of information, along with the price. Your banner ad wording is ambiguous: "Watch for the Book" - does that mean there will be a book available some day, or that I should keep an eye out at my local store? Many of your well written articles don't have a direct link (at least not an obvious one) to a selling page, they are often twice removed, with an intermediate page in between. One reason Google Adwords has been so successful is that many people are on the web to shop; they actually want to buy something. You're making it too hard:-)

Q) What do you think about the X scheme discussed at X forum for boosting Alexa ratings?

A) The whole point of Internet marketing is to build a web based resource that hundreds or thousands of new people will visit every day, find useful, tell their friends, and two or three percent of the time, buy your book. All of the goofy schemes for artificially running up web traffic are pointless, because those people aren't interested. Google Adwords and Overture will send you traffic through targeted ads for relatively low cost per click-through, but if your website isn't in order, it's a waste of money.

Q) Is it worth paying my POD an extra $499 to have my book advertised in a magazine that gets sent to stores, plus some other promotions?

A) The marketing any subsidy publisher will do is absolute crud. Nobody buys a book because of advertisements unless the author is famous, the person recommending it is famous, or the prize the book received is famous. You can't buy readers, it just doesn't work that way. Better to spend the money, slowly (as in a couple dollars a day) on a Google Adwords campaign to get your site traffic moving. Those package deals are just a way to rip-off authors who can't tell when it's over how the money was allocated. I hope you at least try to find a trade publisher and get your book published before you give up and use a subsidy press.

Q) I'm entirely convinced of the merit of the book I've written, and I've mortgaged my house to raise money for the publication and promotion. Can you tell me which POD has the best promotion services?

A) My advice is to pay back your mortgage immediately. What did you think you needed that kind of money for? If you want to publish the book to see how it will do, try a reasonable POD press like Booklocker who charge a couple hundred dollars for the whole process and don't steal any of your rights. To spend more than a couple hundred dollars on a book that you don't have a proven sales channel for is insanity. I say this through the experience of having dozens of folks just like yourself contact me over the years, only after they've invested the money in piles of unsellable books. Don't get sucked into the vanity presses who will "help" you promote your book - they spend thousands or tens of thousands of YOUR dollars and you'll get NO sales in return.

Q) I've gotten a request for a review copy of my book from somebody at a university, but I'm afraid they'll just sell it on Amazon. Any thoughts?

A) A friend of mine is a professor at a prestigious college where a guy comes around every few months buying up review copies from professors by the pound. None of them seem to think there's an ethical issue involved, probably because they're all making money. When colleges contact me for review copies of my books, I'll send one on 90 day evaluation which the professor can keep for free if an order for 10 or more books results from it. Otherwise, they can return the book or be billed for it. It's important to get the guidelines straight before you ship the book:-)

Question. My POD subsidy publisher suggests that I pay them to send out several hundred copies to try to get reviews. How many review copies should I send out?

A) I've gotten great reviews in national showcases multiple times that resulted in sales of two or three books. The only reviews that counts are the biggest of the big, and a POD publisher just isn't going to get them for you. In any case, never send anybody a review copy with out asking them if they want it, or it goes right into the trash (or gets sold on Amazon). If you search on Google for something like "can't get my book reviewed," you'll find that the majority of authors using subsidy presses really can't get their books reviewed in the press, no matter how many copies the send out, because the reviewers recognize the name of the subsidy press. The promotions done by subsidy presses are designed to earn money for the subsidy presses.

Q) I have not been able to attract visitors to my publishing website. Would you put my books on your website, or do you have any other suggestions?

A) For starters, you haven't even bought a domain name yet and are being hosted by tripod. Actually having your own domain and site is critical for getting the attention of search engines and getting visitors to take you seriously. I don't host other people's material on my own publisher site, it's not a question of money, it wouldn't be professional. I'm currently advertising a friend's e-book, because I thought it was a great read and because I had the empty spot on my publishing pages, but that's the furthest I'll ever go in that direction. The only "trick" I employ is making sure that my page titles contain the key phrases people search on when they're looking for the material. That's a case of having a professional web statistics package (comes with any reasonable commercially hosted site, like the one I pay $10/month for) and to study those statistics over the course of a year while making changes on the site to see how the search engine traffic reacts. The Google ads on your site are a big turn off, but the real problem is you have no content. I'm not sure if you're trying to attract authors or sell books, but in either case, you need to build up at least a book's worth of online content spread over a few dozen pages before you can expect any traffic. The quality of the content will determine whether or not you get any quality links which will help build more search engine traffic.

Q) How can I apply your Adwords marketing methods to children's books?

A) I don't believe that pay-per-click advertising will work well for children's books, unless you are writing educational books on hot-button issues. The only thing that's "guaranteed" to work is readings - you going on a big road trip and reading your book to children wherever they'll take you. That's the only thing I can imagine that would create enough demand for stores to actually stock books from an unknown children's author. Now, if you have the technological savvy and promotional ability to do online readings, lord knows there are plenty of parents too lazy to read their own kids bedtime stories, so you might corner the market. My mother has been creating children's books for more than 30 years without any commercial success. Using the web to promote children's books is, difficult because the subject matter isn't sufficiently specific to draw any traffic from search engines.

Q) What do you think about Google Print?

A) I read about it somewhere early in the year, and hunted it up on Google before they started advertising. I was a late adopter of Amazon's "Search Inside the Book" so I figured I'd get on early with Google Print and signed up at that time. They responded that they wouldn't actually be starting for a while (turned out to be six months), then finally opened the program up around two months ago. I FedEx'd my books in the first day, still haven't been processed. BTW, reason I signed up with Amazon SIB in the end was defensive. The publishers who don't play along get a few page views, which means a few less sales, which means a lower position in the search results, which means a few less sales ... you get the picture.

Q) Don't you worry about books getting stolen from Google Print?

A) No. Anybody can steal anything, happens routinely with my web site. Every couple months I go around threatening legal action against people who have done so. Works OK in the Western World, but not in the less advanced countries. Google allows you to set what percentage of the book can be read, and the default is 20%. I give away much more than that on my site.

Q) Will publishers take advantage of Google Print to sell more books direct, cutting out retailers?

A) No. Oddly enough, most larger publishers consider direct sales incredibly painful to deal with and avoid them at all costs. Smaller publishers love direct sales, which are the most profitable. It's a question of business models, and Google does nothing to change that.

Q) How much does it cost you to set up to sell your books through PayPal?

A) The PayPal set up costs nothing, they take a percentage of every sale. Comes out around 5%, but with no fees or minimums and their wide acceptance, it works better for us than regular credit card processing. When you get the book, pay attention to the label on the envelope, which is printed with a single click from the PayPal site, using the information you filled out the form with. Saves a lot of time. We ship at break even (the $2.25 just covers the postage, label and envelope) but most publishers add a buck or so to boost margins.

Q) How much does professional web hosting cost for a publisher site?

A) We pay $10/month. You can find cheaper deals, but I'm happy with my ISP, he actual has a phone for emergencies, and he's been down far less than some of the previous ISP's I used who were much bigger but far less responsive. See www.northcomp.com

Q) Can I get my books discounted at Borders through Amazon?

A) Amazon has started discounting the books available for In-Store Pickup at Borders. I believe the books are selected for the program based on Amazon sales, but obviously, they need to be in distribution with a full trade discount. The discounts usually seem to be 10%, though I saw a 5% as well. The customer actually has to pay Amazon for the book, then they send you an e-mail confirmation and you go to the store and pick it up. It's the first time I've seen Internet book discounting actually spill over into a bricks-and-mortar store. No idea if this represents a new partnership between Borders and Amazon, or if it's just an extension of the deal they already had.

Q) How long does it take to get into Amazon's "Search Inside the Book" program?

A) It can depend on your relationship.I filled out the form for our two publishers, one POD and the other an offset Advantage member, within a week of each other back in February. Our non-Advantage publisher got the confirmation within a week and Fed-X'd the books off to their DHL-India connection, where it took a few months for them to be fully processed. Our Advantage publisher got the "send us your books" e-mail from Amazon over a month later, but the book were processed in the US. So, at least in early 2004, it was two completely different, though equally swamped, operations.

Q) I'm thinking of spending $600 on a big library mailing. Do you think this is an effective way to market books?

A) We tried a flyer service a number of years ago with two books that had seen some library sales on their own, probably through patron requests. The co-op mailing cost $600 and we spent an additional $150 or $200 printing up 3,000 fliers for the general mailing on nice stock. One book was a collection of translations, the other was a WWII ship history/memoir. Both books had been well reviewed in their respective fields, and review excerpts were featured on the flyer. Distribution was available through B&T and Ingram (this was before Ingram started kicking out small fry). One book was a hardcover, the other was paperback. Both were cover priced at $21.95, a 30% discount was offered for direct orders. One book had been in print for two years, the other for less than a year. The initial sales bump through reviews and other publicity was over by the time we did the mailing, the only ongoing sales the books were receiving was through direct mail-order and through Amazon. This means that the impact of the mailing was highly trackable for us, since we literally knew where almost every sale was being generated.

To the best of my memory, the mailing sold two books for us. The approximate cost, therefore, was $400 per book, or a net loss of about $390 per sale. This doesn't mean that mass co-op mailings are necessarily worthless, but I'd investigate any such deal carefully, talk to people who have had success with it, and make sure that they have sufficient knowledge of where their sales are coming from to have a meaningful opinion. The press that recommended this mailing to us, on further investigation, turned out to have no clue how and where their sales were actually generated. Live and learn.

There are several possible reasons this mailing may have worked so badly for us. Library budgets were in serious straits a few years ago, many still are, so techniques that worked well in the 80's and 90's may be entirely irrelevant now. Our books may have been poorly suited to general library acquisitions. The other fliers in the co-op mailing, there were two others, may have been such a turn-off to librarians that they ignored all three. Our own flier may not have been tweaked properly for libraries. The season may have been wrong, if I recall, we did the Winter mailing. All that said, it was definitely the worst bang for the buck we ever got from advertising, so I'd be leery of ever trying a co-op mailing again.

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