In my recent blog post: What Are the 5 Phases of Publishing a Book? | Part One I introduced you to these five phases of publishing a book and discussed phases one through three:
In this post, I will discuss the last two phases – 4. Marketing and 5. Distributing and Shipping. Although the five listed steps imply a linear progression, the journey is never quite straight and/or sequential, as in any creative process. For example, in the book publishing process, marketing activities underly all of the stages, because it actually starts when the first viable draft of the manuscript has been written. This surprises most new authors.
Marketing is the most important and the most complex phase. It is a long and arduous process that is not unlike having a child. I say this because the book needs constant and consistent attention over a long period of time, particularly if your content is evergreen.
[Disclaimer: This article describes my author experience of independently publishing a non-fiction art instruction book to be sold internationally. Off-set printing was used because color is on every page and it is a hard back so that it is durable, lays flat for better usability, and is marketable to a variety of venues, including libraries. Every book carries its unique goals.]
Phase 4: Marketing
What is marketing? It is the business process of creating relationships with and satisfying customers. With its focus on the customer, marketing is one of the premier components of business management.
Given the above definition, to write and sell a book, the author must understand that he/she is starting a book publishing business. Most authors do not fully comprehend this phenomenon, which can cause angst and frustration. I arrived in my book publishing journey having taken classes in marketing and I worked in a marketing department within a medium-sized corporation many years ago. Hence, the principles were and are not difficult for me to grasp. If you do not have similar knowledge, I recommend that you take a basic Marketing 101 course BEFORE taking advantage of the many books and online resources available on the subject of marketing books.
It is important to know who will be reading your book and whether they represent a viable market. Along this line of thinking, knowing the problem(s) your book will solve and providing solutions to this problem is also critical. If these are not completely thought out then your book will not sell.
Here are a few of the basic marketing tasks for publishing a book:
- Identify and articulate in writing who your readers are; this is your target market
- Create your book publishing business name — mine is Coffman Press — and file it with your State Department
- Hire a book marketing consultant/coach and/or attend online and offline classes
- Establish your brand
- Design an author website or add a Book Page to existing website. A web designer and developer may need to be hired.
- Learn to write marketing text or hire a marketing communications expert. You need this for your:
- tag lines
- website pages
- 30-second elevator speech
- bios (you will need bios of three different lengths0
- one-page book flyer
- one-page speaker/instructor flyer
- introduction paragraphs for people who will be introducing you are various events
- social media platforms, such as profile paragraphs
- business cards
- press releases
- podcast and radio interviews
- Amazon book description
- Research the competition, particularly the top selling books in your subject area
- Research and identify your key words which are needed for SEO searches
- Create a marketing budget. Like most other small businesses, we create and produce something but often fail to budget for marketing and distributing it.
- Given your market, identify the most effective social media platforms. Then learn about how to effectively use them or hire a social media expert. A social media plan is a good idea.
- Learn how to use a photo software program. I could not function without knowing how to use PhotoShop Elements.
- Attend local networking events consistently
- Prepare talks for book signing events
- Research potential sites for writing a guest blog
- Determine the marketing support items you will have reproduced, such as: postcards, coffee cups, book banner, book marks, etc. You may need a graphic designer for assistance with these.
- Decide if you will apply for book awards
The opportunities for selling books is huge, which is the good news. The bad news is trying to figure out which are the most viable for you and align with your values and goals. By the way, nearly everyone will offer suggestions and each of these is well intended, though most people do not understand what is involved to accomplish various marketing tasks.
If you don’t know how to write a marketing plan, I recommend you hire a book marketing consultant. A plan may feel daunting, but if it is not done, a lot of flailing occurs. Warning: There are marketing experts who claim to help you write a plan, but they actually only give you a ton of suggested activities, which is NOT a plan. Make sure you ask them to show you a written book marketing plan they have helped someone create. If they say that this is confidential information, then move on to someone else. If not, they should be able to provide at least an outline that is relevant to your book. Marketing experts love to dish out numerous activities. Unfortunately, not all of them are experts in helping authors create a plan that can be executed.
Not only is a marketing plan important to you, but book stores, particularly large ones, want to read your marketing and PR plans before they will carry your book. If you don’t know where you want to go, then distractions take over and a lot of money and time can be wasted.
I started marketing my book nearly a year before it was published by starting to tell my blog readers and social media fans that I was writing the book. This not only creates interest and buzz, but I also gained many wonderful supporters, whom I adore.
This is an important marketing question: How do you think you will best market and sell you books? Will it be via teaching, speaking, libraries, podcasts, social media, book stores, other retail outlets, blog writing, guest blog writing, etc? Research these avenues. Example: If your book is suited for libraries, then you need to know their requirements before you print your book. I did not do this. Consequently I did not know that they want an index for non-fiction books. Libraries have additional requirements, as do school systems and colleges.
NOTE: I do not mention e-books, Kindles or audio books because none of these are appropriate for my type of book. Because I have color on ever page and the interior design is critical to conveying my instructions, I could not use a print-on-demand (POD) company.
The above question leads into another good question: How many books will you print? It is easy to get caught up in the price per unit discussion when reviewing printing proposals. In other words, it will be attractive to have more books printed because the price for each will be less. However, really try to imagine having 500, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, etc., books in your storage and then figuring out how to sell all of them. I had a coach who wanted me to print 2,000, but fortunately I agreed to 1,500. Now I am wondering if I should have printed 1,000. By the way, some printers will not print less than 1,000.
The Amazon Quagmire:
True, we all want our books to be on Amazon. However this is not accomplished with a few computer key clicks. I recommend consulting with someone before signing up to sell on any of their programs. It is not an easy maze to maneuver and there is a learning curve in understanding their fulfillment and shipping system. Most people are also shocked to hear that Amazon takes 55% of the retail price of your book!
The Book Launch:
Every book needs to be launched and there are a number of different ways to do it. Again, research and expertise are helpful when putting a book launch plan together. It isn’t just throwing one book signing party with our friends. It is more involved than that. It is also not a one time event. I spent time and money on postcards, invitations, emails, flyers, newsletters, food, decorations, etc.
This is a montage of two photos taken minutes before my first local book signing party. I was able to hang several of my paintings in this location as well.
Phase 5: Distribution, Fulfillment & Shipping
How many books did you have printed? They are on their way, and where are they going to be stored? I had thought about this previously, but I hadn’t REALLY thought about it. We had to figure out the book box sizes and weight, and then determine where they were going to land. I had 1,500 books printed and the reality of all of these 60+ boxes was a bit overwhelming.
Okay, you have 500-2,000 books in your basement/garage/storage unit. Now you need to:
- Determine your packaging for shipment ( wanted to ship my books out as if each was a present, so I researched for purple mailers, but I ordered the wrong size the first time. Argh!)
- Design your mailing label
- Determine how these labels will be printed out and by whom
- Determine which shipping carrier to use to calculate shipping costs
- Plan how you will respond to daily orders
- Decide if you will sign every book
- Create systems for keeping track of books sold, which is a tad more difficult than you think it will be. Example: One book store only takes books on consignment, another buys them, a friend hands you cash, another buys it via credit card, then there are the books sold on Amazon and via your website.
- Determine if you will use an e-commerce software system or PayPal for purchases off your website.
This is a photo of my ‘shipping department’ in my basement. The boxes on left represent half of my inventory.
I had a pre-sales promotion for my book that extended over several months. My offer included free shipping within the continental US. From this, I sold over 100 books. Once the books arrived, sales came in almost daily. Suddenly I realized that I was being held hostage by the book. I couldn’t miss a couple of days because books needed to be signed, labels printed, packaged and then taken to the Post Office. How was I going to do any traveling or take a break?
I decided I wanted to work with a fulfillment company and I found one within 100 miles of where I live. As good as this sounds, it is another cost for them to store the books, then fulfill the orders and ship them. I also had to have them pick up 750 books in a semi….for a cost.
Once you become a published author, you have entered the retail business. This was a surprise because I hadn’t thought about it. Retail involves responding to emails, complaints, lost orders, damaged books, etc. It is another task that take time and energy.
Gather up a team of supporters to help you through the entire process. There are also sacrifices that will need to be made and these cheerleaders help in surviving these. For example, I know that I did not have the time or energy to be the friend that I wanted to be the past two years. My painting also took a back seat. Most people do not realize the complexities of publishing a book and will not have much empathy. Joining a independent book publishing organization can be beneficial. For example, we have CIPA (Colorado Independent Publisher Association) that meets in Denver. I wish I had joined them earlier in my process.
My intent in this blog has been to paint a picture of reality when it comes to publishing a book. I want to share some of the surprises that I incurred so that they may not be a surprise for you. I believe there is a tendency to romanticize writing a book, which can cloud the challenges, money and commitment needed to achieve this goal. It was also interesting for me to hear that 4-5,000 books are published daily! I don’t know if that statistic is accurate or not, but I have heard similar statements. The competition is fierce, which you must believe in yourself and your book.
We have all heard that there is at least one book in each of us. I believe this is true! However, writing, printing, publishing and selling one is not romantic, but a significant undertaking.
Please share this information with your writing friends and/or share using the buttons below. I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions to this blog post as well as Part One which is here:
Colorfully and gratefully yours,
PS Book marketing activities/events will tend to correlate directly with book sales. For example, I have sold 320+ since February 5th (which I think is great!), yet in the past three weeks I have only sold one or two. This is because I needed to take a break and have done virtually no marketing. We all wish “You can build it and they will come,” yet we know this is a rarity.