Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What Marketing Should a Micro/Small Press Provide the Author?

The title should really read something like: Should, Want to, Reality of Micro Press marketing.

A micro press is loosely defined as a press that puts out less than 25 title per year. Most startup publishers fall in this category. A small press puts out a few more than 25 titles per year, but not a whole lot more.

Last year well over 250,000 titles were put out, most by the big four or five publishers (depending how you count recent mergers).

It has been said over and over again, here and other places, that all authors want to do is write. It is, generally speaking, what they claim to be good at. HELP, is the chorus of calls from authors of micro and small presses. You aren’t doing anything for me in marketing, this is not what I expected.

To re-coin a phrase: “I feel your pain.”

I really do. I also feel guilty. I don’t like to feel guilty, it makes me upset and distracts me. All I want to do is edit good books and write, sort of like what you--the author--wants to do.

Marketing (dictionary definition): “the commercial processes involved in promoting and selling and distributing a product or service.”

Marketing (my summary of 23 years): The creation of and execution of a marketing plan, which includes: Understanding your strategic position, creation of a fact book, creation of major marketing objectives and strategies, a product plan, a marketing communications plan, a research plan, a customer service plan, sales management plan, budget, timing, and execution of all of the above.

I hope your eyes glazed over. Mine did.

A micro press typically has two full time employees (usually editors) and a few part time employees.

A small press, for instance one I know of in Seattle that has been around for over twenty years, has five full time employees.  Two of them are editors.

The small press, after twenty years, now has over 500 books and under 1000 books. Remember how many books were put out last year alone?  Yeah, you get the idea on marketing muscle and bandwidth even after twenty years.

Out of desperation, most small and micro presses start out specializing, or very quickly begin specializing. Why? Because that is an implicit marketing plan. Romance. Mystery. Focus on one thing and you know who your target customer is. You know where to advertise. You know what book conventions to go to. You know what type of artwork to use. You get the idea. Group dollars spent helps all the books in the portfolio.

Literary and eclectic presses have it much harder. There is no built in macro marketing plan.

Wait, I hear that person in the back saying, isn’t this about the author?

Yeah, it is about the author and the author marketing. The specialty press says, “Here is where we target, it is similar for every book we do, here is what we recommend for every author. Go for it.”

The eclectic and literary press says. “Your book is great. We love it. It is different from every other book we have. Go figure out how to market it, because we have N number of books this year and there is no way in hell we are going to develop a marketing plan for all those books and get those books out.”

There is a reason that almost all of the successful self-published fiction books are genre popular fiction books and in particular: romance, mystery/suspense, and fantasy/science fiction. The marketing is a tiny bit easier.Not easy, but easier. Those successful authors? Put out two to three books PER YEAR and market them as a group, continuously. After three years that one author is a micro press.

What some startup presses are now doing is picking books they accept strictly by how well they think the author can market the book. When you submit they ask the author to “prove” they know how to market. Beyond the clich√© and rote of “I will do Facebook, create a website, and email all my friends.” There are some advantages of joining this sort of press. The biggest is that as all the authors market away, it raises the stature of the entire press (from a marketing perspective). A thousand authors, where each, for purposes of discussion, add to the other author’s marketing effort by 1% by association. With a thousand authors, your marketing efforts are multiplied by 10. Not bad. You give up good editing and some other things, but still not bad.  The press does well too, potentially growing fast and adding a bit of marketing of their own.

But, most authors are not great marketers.  Also, some authors want good editing and personal attention. Finally, some authors want a press that has (or will have) a good reputation of “yeah, most of their authors are quite good.”

That press has an implicit marketing plan also. Slow growth with good books leads to something, over time. That is about it.

With two employees (or five if you are bigger) and a few part time contractors, it is all about time and money. The woman doing your artwork is probably not going to do your marketing. The guy doing taxes and accounting isn’t either. The tech gal doing websites and ebook uploading and conversions and other computer work doesn’t’ have time, nor the inclination.

If you are lucky, one of the two (or five) founders and principals has product management and marketing experience. If s/he does then the author gets one additional piece of marketing. Reactive marketing.

Reactive marketing is when the author asks for help in the form of at least a few ideas and wants help and feedback. Then the person with experience at the press will react, throwing out what seems like a shotgun blast of ideas and suggestions. The author is going to pick up those pellets and arrange them into a semblance of marketing plan (see the earlier, eye glazing, definition) and add to it and execute.

Look, no one knows your book better than you (the author) do. You should know the market, because if you wrote a book like this, you should have read more than one book like it. If you haven’t read a lot in your genre and similar to your book, guess what step one of your marketing plan should be?

I digress. A small press (bigger than a micro press) might write a press release for you and create a press kit. From a template. On their stationary.

Other than that, there is probably little they do for an individual book. The small press is busy marketing the press. Lifting all their authors a little bit.

The micro press is busy trying to become a small press. It is finding authors that fit its portfolio. Authors that will either sell on their own, are good writers and marketers, or the editors like the book and want it in the portfolio and even if the book does not sell well, everyone who reads it says, that is a good book, it doesn’t make your company look bad.

That guy in the back is groaning. “For this, I get 35% (give or take, depending on the press) of revenue of the book? What the hell? I should just self publish.”

I feel your pain, I really do.  65% of almost nothing has to pay for editing, artwork, computers, software, relationships with printers, publishing associations. If only I had a lot of time and money for marketing, then that would be 65% of something, but would it cover my time and expenses? My press’s ROI (return on investment) is already zero, can I afford too much negative? It is a tough call. Most startups in publishing go the “build it slowly” and just like a big press “hope for one big one that can snowball the whole thing.”

The big publishing houses end up making 3% profit. I think you can guess how much micro and small publishers make.

I feel your pain. I’ll find some more good books that make you look good. You go out and market your book. But, I will give you that shotgun blast of advice if you ask, as long as you have a few ideas of your own.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Why are you so anxious for the print book to get out? (or, What is your Marketing Plan?)

Happy New Year to everyone!

This blog entry has been updated 1/9/2013 at the bottom.

This is a bit of a marketing entry. It is part of a series, as 2013 is, we hope at New Libri, a year of marketing.

We do all of our books first in eBook, then intentionally wait three months (or so) and put the book out in paper. Without exception, authors chomp at the bit for the paper version. “When is it going to come out?” “Most of my friends/relatives/colleagues/reviewers are waiting for the paper version.”

Why is the author so anxious for the print book to come out?

I ask the question (rhetorically) because the only reason the author at a medium, small, micro, or self-published press should be chomping at the bit for the paper version of the book to come out is because they have an awesome marketing plan ALL READY TO GO. If you don’t have at least a credible marketing plan, round one, sketched out, then WHAT’S THE RUSH?

The eBook is the main proof, if you will. Most of the editing is done (the beauty of an eBook is small edits can be updated to the servers at any time). You should be able to get some reviews from an eBook, so don’t say “I need the paper version for reviews.” Sure, for SOME reviews you do, but what is your marketing campaign, vis-√†-vis reviews? No, the truth is, authors want the paper book because there is no marketing plan. Thus, you might as well get the paper version out there too. Get a few more reviews. Hope for the best.

I know this sounds cynical and certainly not confidence inspiring to authors wondering about joining a medium/small/micro press (or self-publishing). After all, isn’t that what a publisher is supposed to do? Market the book? Yeah, sort of. Sometimes. I have commented on this before. The primary benefit an author gets from a small press includes a lot of things, but PERSONAL marketing is not one of them.

An author's marketing plan should include a number of things, below is a short list:

  • Go ahead give it a fun name
  • Goal of the Plan
  • What is your budget? Don’t equivocate. Pledge some money RIGHT NOW. What is it going to be? Now pledge some time.
  • Duration of the plan. Schedule. (Yeah, basically a project plan).
  • List the issues you have to overcome
  • List actual (real and achievable) targets (goals)
  • Main message.
  • Deliverables (e.g. sell sheets, PR packages, pre-canned interviews, etc.)
  • How is it measured?
  • Target audience
  • Strategy
  • Communication channels
  • Are there campaigns within campaigns?
  • Share your plan with the publisher. Will they help ($$$, timing, etc.)

This list should be filled out EVEN IF YOU ARE GOING TO HIRE SOMEONE TO HELP.

By the way, if you are going to hire someone for marketing, think many thousands. ($5,000 to 10,000). This may not include advertising fees, etc. Generally, if you don’t have a basic plan of your own, you shouldn’t be hiring anyone.

It is tempting to mistake an advertising campaign for a marketing campaign. They are not the same.

Big campaign versus small campaign. The truth is, for the first campaign an author does, it can take months to plan out even a small campaign, even (or especially) if your budget is close to zero. Now, many authors I know go fairly quickly to the “zero” for budget. “I am a starving artist.” Is it really zero? Did you spend money on a writing workshop? Did you spend money on an MFA? Why is this part less important than the rest of your education? Or, to put it another way, ON AVERAGE, even at the low end of the income spectrum, Americans spend 5.7% of their income eating out and another 3% of their income on entertainment and then there is that smart phone and all those monthly charges. So, your writing is less important than that latte, eh? By the way, that eating out % does not include alcohol.

You get the idea.

Now, I said that medium/small/micro presses really don’t do any marketing. Of course that is not completely true. But, the marketing they do is generally going to be group focused. Not author focused. There are exceptions, but for now that is the way to think if you are the author. You can try and piggyback on those group efforts, but really, you should think of how to add to those, follow on to those, or simply do your own marketing.

The reason I ask, in the title of the blog, why any author is in a rush for the paper version of a book to come out is: without a marketing campaign to leverage that paper release, you are losing a bit of an opportunity.

This is why the typical medium to large sized publisher takes 2-3 YEARS from acceptance to releasing the book. It is not the editing and printing that drives the release, it is the marketing plan. What many “mid-list” authors figured out is that the plan for them, from the publisher, is “not much” other than some catalogs and a list of people that get the pre-release of the book for review. This is a pre-canned, low budget, plan that most authors get. This is a bit of a crap shoot and is why many authors do self-publish (even if they have been published traditionally in the past) or switch to a smaller press. Faster release. But, those authors know they have to do their own marketing.

Small presses can develop marketing materials for an author, but that is not the same as marketing plan. In future entries, I’ll discuss what a publisher might do for a marketing plan, but I can tell you for a startup publisher, the marketing plan includes “Step one, build a portfolio of good books that you can then market as a group.” This ultimately DOES help the author, but in a group way and over the long term. Some of our authors are content with “help New Libri grow and we will grow also.” We love them. But, you need your own individual plan, even if it is “ride the publisher’s long term plan.” You need that plan simply to satisfy yourself and to answer the question when someone asks you how sales are going.

So, do you really want that paper version of the book ASAP? How’s that marketing plan going?

Update 1/9/2013.

The danger with blogs is that, of course, they tend to be looser and less edited than a formal column. They also tend to be only part of a bigger picture. I have, rightfully, been called to task that this particular blog suffers from both. What is the responsibility of the micro press in the marketing? This entry seems to indicate that ALL of the responsibility is the author’s. Next weeks entry will focus more on the responsibility of a micro-press (one that publishes less than 25 titles per year). Surely, some state, it cannot be all the author’s responsibility!