Why Authors Don't Market Their Books©
By Anthony Hernandez
As many of you know, I've been gone a couple weeks on business and was unable to get my last column out on time. I decided to make up for that lapse by writing a longer column this time, so I ask you up front to please bear with me.
I firmly believe that we as authors are the single largest determining factor behind our own commercial success or failure. I've spent plenty of time discussing ways in which authors can maximize their marketing efforts. So this time I think I'll do something different and discuss the most common reasons why author's don't market their books. Knowing the obstacles in front of us is the key step to coping with or even circumventing them altogether—and removing obstacles makes success far easier. As you read each objection, ask yourself the following question: Does this apply to me? How serious an obstacle is this to my success? How can I surpass this hurdle and help make my success easier?Objection #1: Honesty
Many authors view marketing as unethical or even outright deceptive, sometimes with good reason. We've all seen misleading ads. Well, by itself, marketing is the act of spreading a message whose contents are totally up to you. Stick to the facts. But nothing prevents you from dressing up the facts, within reason. Think about such everyday activities as wearing makeup, jewelry, even clothing. You're still you, yet the image you portray changes with your attire, haircut, shave, cologne, etc. For you as an author, marketing is nothing more than dressing your books up in their Sunday best and showing them off. And there is nothing unethical about that.Objection #2: Rejection
Some bookstores, distributors, publishers, agents, and readers won't give your work the attention it deserves. There are plenty of people who are ambivalent about books and who treat them as simple commodities with no appreciation for you and your efforts. In this bleak landscape, you must be your book's shining light. Enthusiasm is infectious; pass it around!Objection #3: Not My Job
Some authors think marketing is their agent or publisher's job. Large publishing houses only invest in known names who will recoup their investments. Small presses simply don't have the resources. If you think more can and should be done, roll up your sleeves and pitch in. No one else will.Objection #4: Marketing Is Too Difficult
You may think marketing is too difficult. Having a negative mindset makes your goals harder to achieve, especially because effective marketing is easy! A previous column explored the reasons why I'm convinced that authors have everything it takes to be great marketers by default.Objection #5: Discomfort At Public Appearances
There are a number of possible causes, fear of rejection among them. That's understandable. Writing is an inherently introversive activity. However consider this: people who come to your table or who show up where you're speaking are there because of you. They want to see you, to hear what you have to say. They're interested. They look up to you. Try this simple exercise: Strike up a conversation with a stranger in most any non-book-related environment. When asked, say you're an author. I have yet to see anyone whose eyebrows didn't shoot up followed by a flurry of questions. People love creative people and admire those who dare to pursue their dreams. Your status as an author will earn you respect and admiration. The person you're talking to may not read books in your genre, but they probably know folks who do. Situations very rarely turn out nearly as badly as you fear they might—and most turn out great!Objection #6: I Hate Selling
Some authors don't like hand-selling books and the boxes of books taking up precious closet and trunk space. On the other hand, we live in an instant-gratification society. I've sold my share of copies from a box I keep in my car and through my Web site. Sure it's a trifle inconvenient, yet one can't argue with cash in the hand—especially if it's the stranger you were just chatting with. And who knows? You may have made a fan who will tell others about your book. You may also have made a friend. Besides, if your contract allows you to buy books at a discount and resell them, you pocket the difference. This can greatly increase your earnings per copy!Objection #7: I'm Just Happy To Be Published
Yes, you should feel lucky to be published. But now that you are, you must do your level best to meet your agent's and publisher's goals. Remember, you may want to publish more titles. Fail to recoup the significant investment your publisher made in you, and they won't make the same mistake twice.Objection #8: Expense Versus Income
Many authors are throwing money into ads and other promotion and not getting sales. Careful analysis usually reveals some fundamental flaw in their approach. Others balk at the idea of investing anything at all. By learning how to avoid many common pitfalls and stretch your time and budget as far as possible, you can minimize your expense while maximizing your revenue. And again. if you can buy books at a discount and resell them, you can make a lot more per copy. The more you make, the more you have to market with.Objection #9: Location
I know of authors in Canada, the UK, France, Australia, and other places who have their books published in the United States. Currency exchange rates, shipping, tariffs, etc. can dramatically increase a book's cost. Buyers in the host country may hesitate to pay higher prices for a foreign-published book, and authors can have difficulty promoting themselves abroad. Try seeing if your publisher will release you from your contract so you can seek out a more coal venue. Better yet, explore using or creating an alliance between your publisher and one in your country where the local publisher puts out your manuscript and shares revenues with your original publisher. This can boost sales for your current publisher, give your local press a new title with little to none of the expense associated with most acquisitions, and possibly give them an international outlet as well—a win-win-win scenario.Objection #10: My Book Isn't Out Yet
Some authors hesitate to begin marketing and promoting before their books are released. Everyone needs this problem! Starting a marketing campaign after your book is released is like trying to build walls and foundation under a completed roof. You're ahead of the curve—and don't forget advance orders and sales!Objection #11: I'm Not Seeing Results
Maybe you've been marketing and marketing with no visible results. Part of this may stem from expecting instant results or from what I call incoherence. The majority of authors I know are doing things with little or no vision of the bigger picture. By creating a solid foundation and strategy, you'll see where and how each part of your marketing fits in.Objection #12: Price
A book by a small-time author priced at $15.95 may not sell as well as a $6.95 book by a big author. This issue mainly exists with print-on-demand titles. There's not much to be done about this. There are publisher groups and coalitions forming with the goal of lowering the price of POD books and I for one wish them every success. Meanwhile, there are readers out there who support small-press authors. Your email address book is a gold mine. I sold a couple hundred copies just to people I know. So can you!Objection #13: Distribution
This is a very well founded complaint. If people can't readily buy your books, they won't. It's that simple. Your publisher should be listed with Amazon, Ingrams, Baker & Taylor, and others. Self-published? Your books are no different! Small presses may not have the in-house resources to pursue distribution channels—or keep adding new releases to those they have. This critical process must not be neglected. If your publisher needs help in this area, you may want to consider volunteering.Objection #14: Not On Store Shelves
Bookstores may refuse to order or stock your title. There are several possible reasons for this. Not being listed with the major distributors is a huge drawback since most bookstores use these suppliers almost exclusively. Other stores worry about returns; if your publisher does not accept returns, this can hurt your odds with bookstores. Campaign to change this policy or leave your books on consignment if possible. The downside is that you're out the cost of the books until they sell. If they order your book, bookstores will be out the cost and will therefore appreciate a good return policy.Objection #15: People Can't Find My Books
This is what marketing is all about. You must lead your readers to your books and help them set buying your book as a goal. Make it as easy as possible. If you're listed with major distributors, then stores should be able to order your book.Objection #16: Stigma
Bookstores and readers may hesitate to buy books put out by small, POD, subsidy, or self-published books. I'm not aware of this as a large obstacle among readers, though it can be a large stumbling block with booksellers and distributors. A solid return policy, professional presentation, and good reviews from recognized sources can help mitigate this issue.Objection #17: Lack Of Publisher Promotion
Some authors complain about their publishers' lack of self-promotion. By this, we don't mean pitching individual titles, although certain titles may appear as part of larger campaigns. Still, publishers should be building public awareness of their existence and creating a solid reputation for quality, service, and professionalism. If your publisher looks and acts like an amateurish or fly-by-night operation, then that's how the public will see them. If they fail to build public awareness, people are less likely to buy your book. Here again, small presses may not have the resources to work on their image. In this situation, either select a new publisher or pitch in and help. And I strongly suggest the latter! The publisher's Web site should be professional, visually appealing, and easy to navigate—especially where sales are concerned!. Resource issues may prevent this from happening. Again, finding greener pastures or helping solve the problem are your best options.Objection #18: My Cover Stinks!
Authors can be reluctant to promote a product they feel looks unattractive or unprofessional. I can't overstate the importance of a good book cover. Covers can make or break a book. Survey after survey proves that people do judge books by their covers. Your cover is one of the cornerstones of your marketing campaign in the same way your clothes are a cornerstone of people's first impressions about you. Covers need not be pretty to be effective. However, if you believe that your cover is losing sales rather than gaining them, work with your publisher to change it. If they refuse and you can't live with the cover they gave you, move on.
I just covered eighteen commonly voiced author objections. Acknowledging their existence and finding ways to cope with them will help you focus your marketing mindset on eventual success instead of simply mitigating issues. How important are each of the potential objections I raised? Do you have any I didn't mention? What can you do to resolve them? You'll rarely have perfect conditions but don't let that stop you from making them as favorable as possible.
Just my 2 cents' worth!
Copyright © 2003. Anthony Hernandez
Anthony Hernandez is a published author, former Silicon Valley cog, and owner of Dawnstar Books. His column, TWO CENTS, appears every two weeks on EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection. You may see his work at www.sarcha.com and www.dawnstarbooks.com.