Friday, March 4, 2011

Why Don't Publishers Try To Sell Books?

Flower. Flower. Flower.

I'm curious.

I have been reading off and on for a couple years (on the web and in newspapers) now about some authors who have gone the self-publishing route via the Internet and been quite successful. I have no personal knowledge as to how these authors achieved their success. Of course they have written books that have a tremendous amount of appeal to readers but we all know that isn't enough. Quality does not equal sales. My guess is that these writers all do an enormous amount of marketing and self promotion. That is an extremely difficult thing to do.

The articles detailing these success stories always point out that Publishers are afraid of these authors. They shouldn't be they should be in awe of them. Not because this style of publishing is a threat to the hold on the market that the long established methods have in place but because these authors have learned how to sell what they produce. That is something that Publishers have never learned how to do. Making the consumer aware of your product is the biggest part of selling and yet what happens in publishing? Books are written, printed and then comes the disconnect. Publishers rely solely on others to sell for them.

I have worked in this business for thirty years. I have yet to see a marketing plan in any catalog for 99% of all books published that consists of anything more than a list that says: inclusion in the white box, targeted web marketing, ARCs available for reviewers, reading group guides available, co-op money available, some vague, potential author appearances and the offer of a counter sign. By the way seeing those things listed in the catalog is no guarantee that any of them will really happen. The 1% of authors that publishers deem worthy of more effort will have national media attention added to that list and the sales rep will assure you that they are hoping for an Oprah or Today Show or Daily Show appearance and to expect a review in the New York Times.

When a book by a first time or midlist author takes off their publisher will give a bookseller chapter and verse on how well their plans for that title worked. OK. In the real world everyone who has ever worked in a bookstore knows that publishers have no clue what to do with all the books they produce. That once a manuscript has been selected by an editor, given a cover, handed to a sales rep, cataloged and shipped to a store it's the booksellers problem. The bookseller ordered it for their store, they can sell it. Retail and publishing are two worlds that only meet at trade shows.

What actually happens to make an unknown book sell? Best case scenario is that some bookseller reads a book, loves it, writes a recommends card for the book, handsells the heck out of it and the bookstore owner or buyer mentions this to another bookstore owner or buyer or sales rep and the process starts all over again in another store.

Sometimes an author works at getting publicity for themselves. They might have a website, do some emailing, maybe they are able to get their local paper to write about them, offer themselves to stores, libraries or reading groups for events, etc. It's a hit or miss proposition depending on how dedicated or aggressive the author is.

Every other way a book can sell can be put down to pure chance. Maybe the book was faced out on the shelf and it caught a customer's eye, maybe a customer liked a previous book by that author and happened to find out that a new book was available. Any media attention is a maybe as well. From the maybe it will happen to the maybe it will be positive to the final maybe that an interested consumer was paying attention and is willing to purchase the book.

That brings me back to my curiosity. If I'm a publisher why aren't I contacting any of these successful Internet authors and paying them to share the secrets of their success with me, my marketing department and my sales reps? Obviously these writers know how to sell and could teacher a Publisher a thing or two about how to sell a book.


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