How could a book with such promise turn into such a dog of a letdown? The proposal looked great. The project felt worthy enough. And the subject matter seemed as if it would be interesting to an ocean full of readers. With all of that going for you, there was no choice but to publish it, right? So you did. And after weeks spent editing copy and designing layout and getting books printed and distributing them all over creation—all you’ve got to show for it is a warehouse full of books and a net loss totaling more than forty thousand dollars!
You want answers, don’t you? You feel you’re entitled to them. Actually, you want more than just answers—You want The Truth? Fair enough, I can give you that. My question to you is: Can you handle The Truth?
Truth #1: An Overabundance of Books. With the emergence of the personal computer over the past twenty-five years, the number of books published on an annual basis has soared from an average of 40,000 books to 190,000 books in 2004 (everyone in the industry agrees that the 175,000 titles published in 2005 was an aberration). Technology is allowing for the production of more than four times the titles it used to for approximately the same number of readers. Couple that with the fact that people are finding less time in their hectic schedules for leisurely activities like reading. So it’s no wonder that so many publishers have more books collecting dust in warehouses than are being purchased off shelves in bookstores.
Truth #2: Shrinking Margins. Basic economics explain that when supply exceeds demand, prices go down. With the tremendous influx in the number of books being produced as well as the number of outlets that carry them, publishers are watching what little profit they used to enjoy evaporate into thin air. Bookstores are dropping retail prices to remain competitive, yet they continue to demand the same margin on book sales that they’ve always made. On the other end, authors expect to make at least a little money on the books—which leaves all you publishers caught in the middle, with the squeeze being applied from both sides.
Truth #3: Insufficient Marketing Platforms. In the good old days, authors counted on their publishers to help market their books. But with margins being crunched like a jalopy in a junkyard, you publishers can’t afford to pay for publicity and a big marketing campaign. You’re forced to pass those responsibilities on to the author. The problem with that is, most authors don’t know how to help themselves. They don’t fully understand what it means to have a marketing platform in place before their books are released, and even if they did, they have no clue as to how to create a significant, meaningful marketing platform. Their marketing plans consist of little more than getting their books published and hoping for the best.
So what are you, a publisher, supposed to do with all this truth? How can you use it to protect yourself from authors who will leave you with more dusty books in warehouses?
In a nutshell, you have to be selective. You have to choose a few good books written by authors who are prepared to go out there and sell them. Every time an author drops a manuscript on your desk, there are four distinct questions you need to consider and answer decisively:
1. Does this author have a publishing history?
2. Does he/she have a large fan base to work with?
3. What kind of a marketing platform is in place?
4. How will the marketing plan bring readers into the bookstores?
If you as a publisher, or as an editor for a publisher, are not satisfied with the answers you get to these questions, you just can’t ask your publishing company to assume the risk. Don’t get too enamored with a good proposal, a worthy cause, or a brilliant book. Align yourself only with those authors who have the marketing platform in place plus the courage and commitment to go out there and make their books successful. You want them on the ball. You need them to be on the ball right now, not simply intending to be on the ball at some vague future date.
Questions about the importance of marketing platforms may be directed to Michael R. Drew at the Austin, Texas, headquarters of Promote A Book: 512-858-0040. You can also contact Michael via email at Michael@promoteabook.com.
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