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 cliché 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.

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