Sell Your Book In 2018

Seminar at Henrietta Hankin Library on January 7, 2018

January 7, 2018

Sell Your Book In 2018

Henrietta Hankin Branch Library

215 Windgate Drive

Chester Springs, PA 19425

Good afternoon, thank you all for coming out on this frigid day – aren’t we are glad it did warm up! 1 degree this morning when I awoke.

We have two hours and I want to make this an interactive session and we can talk about your projects and concerns. We can all learn from each other’s experiences. But first I want to talk to you about my journey as an author/entrepreneur and how I arrived at this point and how I have developed my own unorthodox way of marketing.

First, does anyone in the group have their own syndicated television show, have someone who will purchased thousands of your books or have access to unlimited amounts of cash? If so, this talk isn’t really for you and you can depart – except those with unlimited cash, I want to talk to you after this presentation.

Besides authors, in the audience we have some noted artists. I think you also for coming. This is fitting because I have found almost all marketing issues facing authors also face artists in selling their work. So if you are an artist, just replace author with artist when I speak.

As a rookie author more than 15 years ago I was all ready to follow the traditional path to becoming a best-selling author. I was going to get a publisher, go to book stores with long lines of people with cash in hand to buy books, be sent on book tours and have a movie made of my work. Idealism. You can laugh.

The publishing industry then, and certainly now, isn’t what it seemed. Why didn’t people flock to the signings? And I’m still waiting for that call from Hollywood – actually a legitimate call from a movie person. Lots of people want to make movies but they are usually looking for funding.

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of how I came to my own way of marketing. And believe me this isn’t rocket science but you need to look at your experiences and figure out what works for your book.

            Two of my books are on marketing for authors and I was asked by two different publishers to write them. Carole Stuart of Barricade Books said I’m her best customer and the outcome was Selling Your Book, recently released. When I was approached for the first book, The Selling Of An Author, I was asked to do the book for other authors within the publishing house. I said I’d write the book but why don’t we sell to the general public. That book was before the great influence of social media. My latest one includes the social media and how publishing has changed.

Also, I want to make sure we all understand writing and painting are creative endeavors and we should all be creating the best art, books, music we can. Making a fortune shouldn’t be the main consideration but I believe we all should be compensated – note I didn’t say fully compensated because that is not going to happen – for our talents and work. A rule for you to follow: Don’t ever figure out what you are paid per hour for your writing, it will be too depressing.

I’m a former newspaper reporter and I was taught never to bury a lead; that is to wait until the end of an article to write the news. Well, there is no one secret that will to gigantic sales. But there is a formula that I’ve hit upon that you may want to keep in your mind.

It is 6 to 1. Pretty simple and I really think it is 7 to 1. When I talk about the number of books I’ve sold or gross sales I always quote conservative numbers. You always need to straight with people.

The 6 to 1 formula: You will have to sell six or seven books at a book store or on internet sites to equal the profits that you will receive from selling one book at a private talk. Now, it is obvious why I spend a majority of my time at historical societies, civic groups and libraries and not sitting at book stores.

We all know authors and artists don’t receive full face value of books and paintings sold in book stores and galleries. For authors, the publisher gets a cut, the book distributor gets a cut and the book store owner gets a cut. Most standard book contracts now call for 10 percent or less of the net. The net is not the $25 face value of a book but what is left after all of the expenses, maybe $12.00. So that $25 sale will net you maybe $1.20. When I go one of my talks I purchase books directly from my publisher, usually about a 40 percent discount. So from that same $25 book I’ll receive $10 and not $1.20…..hum might have revise up that ratio.

I’m talking traditional publishers and I rather work with them than self-publish. There is a cost to design, editing, proof-reading, printing and some marketing – don’t expect a lot from any of the publishers – so they do make an investment and are due some of the sales. If you self-publish you make the investment and you do the work – but all of the profits are yours. Just marketing my books is hard work, I really don’t want to worry about printing quality, distribution and returns.

And I’m sure you all know by now that Barnes & Noble, last major book store standing, won’t stock self-published or print on demand books. They may allow a local author to a signing but you’ll bring in your books and take them away. Shelf space is very valuable and if any book doesn’t sell in a short period of time, the remaining ones are shipped back to the book distributor.

Aha, you say! There are business services out there that will design my book, edit my book, print my book and market my book! Yup. Plenty of them. They will gladly have you pay for all of your services. Be very, very, very careful of those businesses, many are in business to make money from authors and selling your book is secondary or not even a consideration.

I like the ones that say they will send out thousands of press releases and email blasts and social media postings. As an author you should ask how many are generated, you need to ask the impact. What track record do they have for increasing sales of clients? Many, many moons ago I was a newspaper editor in West Chester and we used to get hundreds of those releases a year – a writer in small town Texas writing about a local issue. In the waste paper can went the release. No local interest there. Keep your eye on the bottom line and don’t be dazzled by their marketing.

You all need to be smart business people – that is unless you are the person with unlimited funds. What is your rate of return? If you invest money in a marketing campaign, will you see sales to at least cover the marketing initiative? I usually try a new marketing idea a year, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.

A book signing might not show immediate results but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful. I usually get one or two requests at each signing to do a talk for a group. Group talks are excellent for sales of my books. I then have access to a group that is interested in my book and I’m the only one selling books.

Group signings can be good as each author will draw people that the other authors won’t reach. They can be neutral as the buyers have limited funds. I have only had several signings and talks that I would consider a total bust. One was a book store many years ago that set up a signing and then forgot I was coming.

For the record, I love sales from the internet, Amazon, bookstores and multiple author signings. I’ll reach people through those avenues that I never will by my talks. Those opportunities just aren’t my main priority.

You need to identify your audience – those interested in purchasing your books and paintings.  And you need to identify how to reach them.  This isn’t always as easy as you think.

Gettysburg – I’ve written two books on the major Civil War battle and I’m working on a third. Gettysburg is a historic place with thousands upon thousands of visitors a year interested in the great turning point of our country. You would think that Gettysburg would be the best place in the world to sell my two Gettysburg books.

Not quite. For on major weekends – anniversary of the battle and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address – there seems to be as many authors in town as visitors. The book stores, museum, national park’s visitors’ center are all full of authors signing books. You talk about major competition.

I go and sell books because it leads to talks to groups and at times I have solo signings at places. One of my best was at the Farnsworth House, supposedly haunted, on July 2, 2013, 150th anniversary of the battle. I was the only person signing early evening and I had access to people waiting to eat and go on their ghost tours. That was the best signing of the three days.

Very important to find the group interested in your book. Kevin Ferris is an author with two successful books on veterans and the last one dealt with veterans and pets. That opens up major possible interest groups from veterans, to those interested in our history to those who love pets. Kevin has also connected to a charity and part of his projects go back to that charity. I do the same, one of books supports a charity, another a library and two do historical societies. And of course those entities all sell my books.

In my first marketing book I think I wrote that if you did a book on knitting don’t book a signing at a sports memorabilia show. Remember your target audience.

I had an author write to me recently that she has spent many frustrating hours at events where her sales didn’t cover the cost of renting a table. To cut down on that possibility don’t always agree to buy that table. Do some research.  Do you have a reasonable expectation of selling books to make it worth your while? How big is the attendance expected to be? How many people were there in the past? What are the interests of the crowd?

A big crowd doesn’t always mean success. Food events are always questionable in my mind. West Chester has a restaurant festival that packs the streets. A table there is hundreds of dollars. I did it once and barely covered the cost of the table. The people are interested in eating not buying books. Sticky fingers will also ruin books. When my mushroom book came out I went to the Mushroom festival in Kennett Square. Again, big crowds but they wanted to eat not buy books. I’m been opting for the smaller Chadds Ford Days in recent years, it is held the same weekend. I can sell 50 to 60 books most years – when it doesn’t rain.

I go to some local events each year knowing my sales won’t be great because of secondary considerations. Talks generated, friendships, meeting new people. This isn’t all about the money.

When you are out and about have a story to tell about your book – not just have a cute children’s book that includes the antics of your cat. What lessons are you teaching in the book? What makes you different from the other books? To be successful you need to connect with strangers. Your friends and family, usually, will buy books. How do you connect with strangers?

You need to be your own best salesman and you need to be enthusiastic about your book/painting. If you aren’t, no one else will be. Don’t be bashful. Just writing a book or creating a painting isn’t enough. They are big accomplishments and you should be proud but if you want to sell your book you need to be a promoter.

My first book was published by Pennsylvania publisher Stackpole Books on Fort Delaware in the Civil War. I had a signing at the national park in Gettysburg set up by Stackpole and other signings around town during the weekend. The first signing I was paired with a disgruntled author who didn’t like the title of his book and wasn’t happy with the publisher. You could tell, he spent the two hours with arms folded, grumbling. I spent those two hours as far away from him as possible and tried to engage visitors. By the end of the weekend, the publisher told me, he had learned from me and was being more positive.

Have a story to tell, and don’t tell everything in your book. Why should they read the book if you tell them everything? People love to know about the life of a writer and how a book was written. Each one of my books has a story behind them, and most aren’t pretty.

Connect with your audience. I try to arrive early at talks so I can find out something about the groups. I went to a Longwood Rotary meeting, arrived early and sat at a table known as the “Dave” table because usually you had to have Dave in your name and they were known for their antics. Nice guys and I mentioned during breakfast that I did research at the David Library. I was asked to mention the library and pause and I did. When I paused the table members got up and cheered the reference to David. They purchased books.

Look around the room. Do you see fellow author and artists or the hated competition? We need to talk about competition and those people who pass our books and art and don’t purchase. We aren’t going to sell to everyone. Some don’t like to read, some don’t like the subject, some may already have your book or a print of your painting, and some may not have the funds to purchase. You can’t control those factors and don’t get upset.

When I first thought about being a writer I used to walk into bookstores and think if all of those people could write books, then I could too. After my first books I walked into those same stores and thought, look at all of that competition.

To sell your book you need to stand out from that competition. If anyone thinks you can just list a book on Amazon and write a blog and become a best seller you are fooling yourself. There are more than 11 million books listed on Amazon. You need to promote yourself to get noticed. Today’s technology on writing and self-publishing makes it easier to produce a book but harder to sell.

You need to use social media to promote your book but I’ve washed out of my mind the accepted social media paths, which, according to the publishers, that you need a platform, that is Facebook, Twitter and other social media followers. Some publishers aren’t very creative or thoughtful, part of the reason they are going out of business. Two examples:

When I first shopped my first Gettysburg book to a publisher, I was told I would sell less than 500 copies. They would print if I would pay them to do so. This was a traditional publisher that was turning into a vanity press. I didn’t know so at the time. After I finished laughing, actually after a heated exchange, I told them I was breaking off all negotiations. Even though people in the publishing house knew my track record, the publishing house had been sold and they thought about all of the Gettysburg competition. Well the book has sold at least 6 times their estimate – and might be more. Of course I used a traditional publisher.

By the way, you all know that the average sale of a book is less than 200 copies.

Second example concerns a conversation I had with a larger publisher that didn’t accept my book proposal. I went another route with that one. The big publisher was concerned I didn’t have enough social media followers – I do have several thousand but I don’t work at building that audience.

Why? To keep followers you need a lot of content that must be generated almost every day. It might take three years or more before my books are written, researched and published. Frankly I’m not going to take the time to keep those people interested for three years between books. BUT I do keep involved with Facebook, LinkedIn and other groups, especially history ones. I can contribute and have access to thousands of people interested in my books’ subject without the daily grind of keeping everyone happy. Makes sense to me but not to that publisher.

I like to pass along kind words that are said about me and my books. I hate those authors who buy publicity – they a join a group for big money and then each member of the group praises the other person’s book if they like it or not. Sickening and misleading to the public. There are also publicists and organizations that will post glowing words about your book and painting – for a fee. That can be effective and legitimate marketing but again as a smart author/entrepreneur you will have to determine if is cost effective.

Have you heard about the life coach that is charging $15,000 to help authors sell books? How many books will you have to sell to just cover the life coach?

How do you get signings and talks? You work for them and schedule them yourself or use an agent. Remember agents cost money. My publishers will at times get me appearances. My latest book on Gettysburg was published by Schiffer Books here in Chester County. They booked me for my favorite signing – last month in New York City at the Union League. Elegant place, a cocktail reception beforehand, a packed room of people purchasing books for two hours, and a dinner in the Union League’s dining room afterward. Doesn’t get any better than that.

I enjoy meeting people, I enjoying talking with people, I enjoy sharing information with authors and artists and I enjoy research and travel associated with my books and talks.

You need to dispel the thought you are a VICTIM. You aren’t. Again, eliminating the millionaire, talk show host or crooked politician (is that an oxymoron?), we all are in the same boat. We need to work hard, make good decisions and have a realistic expectation of our success. We all dream of a movie from our book or a big gallery show in New York City for our art. Some will succeed and some will not. That doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t try. There are reasons to write almost every book that I discuss with authors.  It may be instructive, it may be family history, it may be therapeutic; there are many reasons.

I can talk about the nuts and bolts of the business side, accounting, sales tax, what to take to signings but I’d rather talk about your projects.

The way I market my books takes a lot of time and effort and energy. As an author you do some marketing, a lot of marketing or no marketing. That is up to you. Just keep your expectations in check.

I began with that equation 6 to 1 and I’ll leave you with another number: 86.

That’s the number of events I did last year.