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22 posts from September 2008

Author Questions: Sell-through Data

Checkout This week I'm all about questions authors should ask their editor/publisher.  Sunday's post dealt with distribution and yesterday's was on marketing and P.R. Today's question has to do with sell-through.  At the end of the day, sell-through is all that matters.

Sell-through data is available from a variety of sources but Bookscan is probably the most common one.  Bookscan gathers point-of-sale data from a large percentage of accounts and pulls it together to provide some very useful reports.  When looking at Bookscan data it's critical to look at both the number of copies a book sold for a week as well as how that compares to related titles.  We sometimes get hung up on whether Bookscan data represents 60% of the market, 70% of the market, etc.; what's most important isn't that percentage but rather the fact that book X is selling twice as many copies as book Y.

The critical question for an author is: Can your editor provide sell-through info on related titles?  Sell-through data on related titles is extremely helpful at the proposal stage.  Why write a book on a subject that's not selling?  That's where the comparable title data comes into play.  Then, when your book is published, will your editor be able to provide you with sell-through data on it?  Rather than having to wait for a surprise when your first royalty statement arrives, an editor with Bookscan access can give you an idea of how the book is doing right out the gate.

Just realize that not every publisher subscribes to Bookscan and that Bookscan data is confidential.  Your editor may not be able to give you a file with all the data from Bookscan but they should be able to provide enough details to let you know whether you're heading in the right direction.

Author Questions: Marketing & PR

Megaphone Yesterday I launched a new series of posts, each of which will feature a question (or set of questions) I feel authors should ask their editor/publisher.  The topic of yesterday's post was distribution and today I'm turning the spotlight to marketing and PR.

The key question every author should ask their editor/publisher is, "what sort of marketing/PR investment will be made for my book?"  The answer is likely to be something no author wants to hear.  These days, marketing is frequently limited to placement in the publisher's catalog and on their website as well as a product page on each online retailer's site.  Many titles benefit from e-mail blasts and other focused initiatives but few are promoted in major magazines and newspapers, for example.

Author platform is king.  If you're an author with an enormous mailing list, an extremely popular website/blog or someone who speaks in front of tens of thousands of people every year publishers will climb over each other to sign you to a project.

Most blockbusters are the result of author platform.  There are exceptions, of course.  William P. Young's book, The Shack, is the most notable recent example.  He was an unknown before The Shack and now has a huge platform thanks to the popularity of this excellent book.

You need to know if the publisher is assuming your platform is the key to your book's success. Ask your editor/publisher what tactics other authors with large platforms have used to drive sales for their books.  Better yet, see if any of those other authors might be willing to join forces with you.  The collective platform promoting all the books is likely to be more powerful than each platform promoting individual titles.

Author Questions: Distribution

Books2Over the next several days I plan to feature a series of posts about questions I believe authors should ask their editors/publishers.  Far too frequently it seems like the critical discussions between author and editor focus on things like writing schedules and compensation packages.  While those are certainly important subjects there are plenty of others that need to be covered as well.

The first item I'd like to suggest is distribution.  Every author should ask their editor the following question: What sort of distribution do you expect for this project?  Shelf space is at a premium.  Does the editor anticipate getting the book into the key brick-and-mortar accounts?  If so, how deep will this distribution be?  One copy per store?  Two?  More?

To be fair, at the project proposal stage, no editor can tell you exactly how many copies of your book will be at your local bookstore or across a chain.  And while conditions can change significantly between the contract signing stage and the book's publication date, the editor should be able to give you projections throughout the project.  Assumptions are made at the proposal stage, verbal/projected buys are provided by accounts 2-4 months prior to publication and then actual store/chain orders are in publisher systems within 30-45 days of the book's pub date.  Your editor should be able to give you an estimate at each stage and those estimates should become more precise the closer you get to the pub date.

Don't forget about overseas channels as well.  Ask your editor what sort of distribution you can expect for English language copies outside the U.S.  And although they may not be able to pinpoint the number of translations that are likely, they should be able to give you an idea of how similar recent publications have fared.

Don't be afraid to ask -- you never know what you might learn along the way.

Optimism vs. Pessimism

ScalesHere's a very timely article in yesterday's New York Times.  It's called "The Power of Negative Thinking" and it really resonated with me.  Yes, I tend to be overly pessimistic about certain matters but I think the article's author, Barbara Ehrenreich, is spot on with her observations.

What in the world does this have to do with publishing?  You'll see it refers to all the bestselling self-help books that promise "if you believe in it, you'll get it."  The reining champion of this genre is, of course, The Secret.

As Ehrenreich says later in the article, "consistent pessimism can be just as baseless and deluded as its opposite."  The most important statement she makes is towards the end where she says, "The alternative to both is realism — seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news and being prepared for famine as well as plenty."  Amen.

How the Kindle is Changing My Reading Habits

Kindle3 Now that I've had my Kindle for a few months I recently noticed a pretty dramatic impact it's had on me.  In my pre-Kindle days I'd spend my reading sessions going through a few magazines as well as a chapter or two of whatever book I happened to be immersed in that week.  The key point is that the majority of my time was spent reading books.

Nowadays I spend just as much time reading as before, but it's all centered around my New York Times subscription, my Kindlefeeder RSS feeds and either Time magazine or my most recent addition, MIT's Technology Review magazine.  I purchased and started reading three other books on my Kindle but I haven't touched any of them in at least two weeks.

So for some strange reason, I'm finding the Kindle experience to be more useful when it's focused on shorter length, more time-sensitive content.  Jeff Bezos has spoken before about our current culture's tendency towards "information snacking", or spending more time with shoter length works.  Amazon's e-reader is supposed to help us embrace longer works (like books) again, but if my experience is any indication, the Kindle (and its wireless functionality) is turning out to be yet another device that enables even more info snacking.