Saturday, June 28, 2008

Getting Those Ducks in a Row

One of the most important elements for successful book publicity is having printed copies ready for distribution. While this may sound like a no-brainer to some, many authors approach me to publicize their books before they're available for stores to order. This situation creates a dilemma for everyone involved: the bookseller, who wants to give the writer a signing date, but doesn't see the book available through the distribution channels he likes to work with; the publicist, who has to scramble to contact the publisher about the distribution issue; the publisher, who then has to contact distributors and buyers regarding the listing; and the author who misses out on a good signing event.

Many chain bookstores, like Borders and Barnes & Noble, prefer to order through their own distribution systems. This is an important concept for self-published authors to understand, because it often takes a certain amount of time (sometimes up to three months) to get the books into the system. Publishers will handle applying for ISBNs and setting up distributors, but writers should be aware that doing so takes time. And not all publishers do their homework; I've worked with a few authors who've had their promotions stalled while waiting for their book to become available to a certain distributor that a bookseller wants to use.

Most independent booksellers order through wholesale suppliers like Ingram Book Group or Baker & Taylor. Some bookstore managers are willing to order directly from the publisher, especially if the publisher allows returns and will give discounts and/or pay for shipping. Due to high shipping costs and lack of shelf space, many booksellers are now asking authors to bring books to signings. This is known as a consignment arrangement, where the bookstore will take a certain percentage (usually 40%) of any books sold. So, in addition to the expense of purchasing the books himself, the author also has to get them to the store, which can be a headache when the signing isn't local.

When I contact booksellers for book signing dates, the first question they typically ask is not about the book's content or the author. They usually want to know the ISBN number. Most of them will look up the book as we speak on the phone and their second question is invariably whether the book is available for order. If they see a print-on-demand (POD) listing for the book, they often express concern about availability, so I urge my self-published clients to see if the publisher will consider printing an offset run. Most publishers, if there is enough demand for the book, are willing to do so.

It can be tough out there for self-published authors who are marketing books for the first time. Not being ready to take book orders is a mistake that no author wants to make, especially when s/he often has one shot at a prestigious bookstore, speaking venue, or media appearance. Authors can assure themselves a much better chance at success if they take the time to get those proverbial distribution ducks all lined up before they kick off their promotional plans.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Working the Book Video

In the May 29 Random House/Zogby poll, 46% of respondents indicated that they spent the same amount of time reading as they had in the past year. 23% are spending more time reading (a good thing), while 30% said they are reading less than usual.

It's this last group that we all need to think about. The trend these days, especially for the younger set, is that people are reading less than in previous years.

So, what are these 30% who read less doing instead? Nearly two-thirds of them (65%) told Zogby that they're spending more time online, while 37% spend more time watching television or movies and 18% claim to be devoting more time to computer and video games.

These data show why so many writers are now making book trailers (a term coined by Circle of Seven Productions CEO Sheila Clover) to promote their work. For those who haven't seen one yet, a book trailer is basically a one-to-three minute promotional video about the book. The majority of them are mini-documentaries that include voice-over, visual images, and some type of musical score. A few show actors acting out scenes from the book and some include author sound-bites or even (least recommended) authors reading their work. Most authors run these on their websites and social networking sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook. And publishers run them, as well. In fact, according to a June 7 Wall Street Journal article, many publishers are now creating divisions dedicated to making book trailers for their authors.

With so many readers spending time on the Internet, it makes sense for authors to use the web as a promotional space for their work. Yet, many authors make the mistake of creating videos and plunking them down in their websites, assuming that just having them there will entice readers to buy their books. It's true, having a book trailer out there is important. But even more important is working it. Like your business card and press release, a video does no good unless someone sees it. That means you need to tell everyone you know, including the media, about it and invent creative ways to distribute it.

And that's where a good publicist comes in. Your publicist can announce your book trailer release to the media, send out copies to reviewers and book sellers (in the old days, we sent video news releases (VNR's) on VHS tapes; now we send links to your trailer), and use your video to market to distributors, bookstores, universities, and libraries. It's all in the pitch, of course, but having a good video (more on that in a future post) and a sharp publicity person working for you will help get your book the attention it deserves.