Monday, October 27, 2008

Breaking "The Distribution Code"

How will you distribute your book? Bookstores and libraries don't have time to order from tens of thousands of individual authors who sell from a stack of books in their basement. It's much more efficient for them to order from a small selection of wholesalers and distributors.

So how do you get with the right distributors so that your book has a chance to make it into the main places that sell books? Some of the answers are pretty straightforward and others a bit more tricky. Make sure you know precisely what you're getting into.

"Available" or "Available with Return Policy"?

One publisher said that they do an especially good job of making their books "available" in bookstores. Hmmm... "available?" What they may mean is that "it's available for any bookstore to order through a major wholesaler."

Just one problem with that set-up: if the wholesaler offers no return policy, then most bookstores won't order it except when a customer comes in and puts through a special order. Why? Because bookstores are used to having the option of returning books that don't sell and getting their money back. (Libraries, on the other hand, will order with no return policy.)

So, if it's important to you to get your books into bookstores, you'll want to make sure your publisher sets you up with the major wholesalers - Ingram and Baker & Taylor - with a return policy.

If you're going the print on demand route, Booksurge hooks you up with Baker & Taylor, while Lightning Source gets you with Ingram and Baker & Taylor. But check to make sure whether or not they're offering a return policy. If not, and if getting into bookstores is important to you (it's not important to everybody), you might need to pay extra to establish the policy.

On Getting a Distributor or Wholesaler

If you're with a major publisher, you're almost assuredly hooked up with both Baker & Taylor and Ingram with a return policy. If you're publishing yourself or with a small press, you need to find out how you're set up.

Ingram won't take books directly from any press that has published less than ten books. If your publisher is very new, or if you're self-published, you'll need to find a distributor that has a relationship with Ingram.

Comparing Distributors

Some distributors passively take orders. Others actively market your book and make personal calls to open up new distribution channels.

Some ask for exclusive rights to distribute your book. Let's say you're with Booksurge and excited about making 35% on each Amazon sale. Could signing an "exclusive" contract with a distributor require you to distribute to Amazon through your distributor, giving you a much smaller part of the action? (This week, I chatted with a representative of AtlasBooks, the largest distributor for small to mid-size publishers, who told me that although publishers sign an exclusive distribution contract with them, they allow BookSurge authors to keep their 35% from Amazon.)

Make sure you know exactly what you're getting in a distributor!

Here's an annotated list of select distributors from John Kremer:

Ingram lists these distributors as having a relationship with them:

Publicity Tips

Yesterday, I started reading Publicize Your Book! by Jacqueline Deval, a former publicity director of several publishing houses. She emphasizes that even if you have a traditional publisher with a marketing department, authors must market their books if they expect them to sell.

She begins by sharing the story of James Barron, who wrote a "funny and informative" book for expectant fathers. At the time of Deval's writing, Barron had 185,000 copies in print. How did he do it? A couple of things stood out to me:

1) "He stopped by specialty stores like maternity shops, toy shops, and hospital gift shops" to persuade them to order from his publisher and sell the book, giving them a sales order form. He even offered to buy back the books if they didn't sell, but never had to buy any back. Forty to 75 stores ordered, and many of these kept re-ordering.

2) He selected three cities to target: New York City (where he lived), Chicago (where he grew up), and Atlanta (where his wife was from). He hired publicists in Chicago and Atlanta to "set up media and book signings, as well as to go to the sames kinds of specialty stores as he did in New York." I'd never really thought of publicity people as being regional. But it makes sense that some publicists would have lots of regional relationships and know all the possible outlets.

He said, "I work under the assumption that I'm going to get twelve rejections for every yes."
I like that. If I find some success in alternative outlets and discover that one out of 10 will say yes, then it becomes a time and numbers game. If I contact 100 stores, I might get 10 stores taking me. I can wade through the rejections if they net me some decent sales. Cool!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Marketing Ideas from Robert and Kim Kiyosaki

  • How can low-profile people publish and sell books?
  • What if publishers reject us?
  • What if bookstores don't want to stock our book?
  • How can we sell our books?
Best-selling author Robert Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, 26 million copies sold, on the NY Times Bestseller list for six years) and his wife Kim addressed some of those questions in an interview. Their main points:

1) He considers himself a poor writer, having flunked out of high school twice because he couldn't write. "I can't spell and don't know punctuation. If I were back in high school today, I'd still flunk."

So he wrote as best he could and gave it to a second grade teacher to re-write, but she made it into a boring textbook. He then gave it to the person who would become his co-author to put it back into more natural, interesting language.

2) He approached the book as an entrepreneur rather than a writer. His background was sales and marketing. From that perspective, most authors are boring. You need to say something that others aren't saying. You need to write with your readers' needs in mind.

Also, as an entrepreneur, he considered related sales. In fact, he wrote his book as a brochure to sell his $200 game.

3) He overcame rejection. All the publishers he pitched the book to said that it sucked and would never sell. Wholesalers and distributors didn't want it. Bookstores didn't want it. So, he self-published 1000 copies.

4) Market your books. He paid a publicist thousands of dollars, but got only one small speaking opportunity. He then took out an ad in the Radio-TV Interview Report, which landed him interviews with a few big-time radio stations. Then the big bookstores started calling him because people were asking about his book and they needed to stock it.

Someone asked Kim why she was attending this marketing conference. After all, they had already sold millions of books. She responded, "That's why we're on the bestseller lists." They're always learning about selling and always promoting their books. "You can never stop promoting, never stop selling. I never stop selling."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Marketing Ideas from Jack Canfield

Today I listened to Steve Harrison interview Jack Canfield, co-author of the wildly successful "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series. Here are my takeaways.

His credentials: He sold over 115 million books over 41 languages, has been on Oprah, Larry King, etc. One of his Guinness World Records is to have the most books on the New York Times bestseller list at the same time.

His motivation: to change the world and make a difference.

How did he get started?

In college, he majored in Chinese history. But he took an elective class in psychology and fell in love with the subject. In grad school he studied education, then taught in an inner city school. He wanted to learn how to motivate his students and succeeded to such an extent that he began training other teachers. He then wrote a book about helping students, but discovered that if you didn't let people know about the book, that people wouldn't buy it.

At a teacher workshop he was leading, a person said, "My husband's company needs this." He hesitated to accept, thinking it was out of his field. But she assured him, "They're just kids in big suits."

He always illustrated his concepts with stories. People would ask if the stories were in a book. So he made a list of 70 stories, hooked up with Mark Victor Hansen and his stories and created their first Chicken Soup book.

But they were rejected by 144 publishers. They were both in debt, not making much money, and had to market it themselves. 18 months before it hit a bestseller lists, they began interviewing scads of people who had written successful books, asking, "What do you do that we need to learn?" They looked for patterns and created a marketing plan. By the end they had a #1 bestseller and later a bestselling series. A Chinese company just got rights to use their books to teach English in China.

Had he not said yes to teaching those businessmen, he would have never gotten to where he is today. Now he speaks to thousands.

His mission: "To inspire and empower people to live their highest vision in a context of love and joy." He helps others to live their vision, not to adopt his vision.

Harrison: "Did you just get lucky? What made the difference?"

Hanson: We make our own luck. We started thinking differently; thinking like a marketer. It took several years to get beyond the stigma of marketing - thinking that it was something less than legitimate for an author. It took a shift in attitude, a learning of techniques and strategies.

Harrison: Many authors have passion to serve and make a difference but feel awkward about self promotion. What would you say to them?

Canfield: If you had a cure for cancer, would you have a fear of being a self-promoter? Believe that what you have is extremely valuable. To not share it hurts people. If you have food for the hungry but don't tell the starving you have it, you've done them a disservice. You're not an egoist, you're simply helping people.

Don't hide your light under a bushel.

There's both a feminine and masculine aspect to creating a book. First, there's the creative part of giving birth to the book. Then there's the masculine sideof pushing it out into the world and supporting it. Don't put the baby in the dump.

Mark Victor Hanson was more outgoing than me. You might need to team up with a person who's more out there.

Mark and I had to become our own ad agents. We couldn't afford to hire a PR agent. But we won both a book publicist award and an Abby Award, beating out the professional PR people.

If you wanna be successful, you've got to do the work.

Things authors can do:

1) Decide (from Latin "To Cut Off"). Cut off alternative paths. We have over 2000 people who've said they didn't commit suicide because of a chicken soup book.

2) Expect to succeed. A publisher said, "You'll be lucky to sell 20,000 books." The publisher laughed out loud at them when they told them they wanted to sell 150,000 by Christmas. Now the publisher has profited wildly.

To visualize success, we took the NY Times bestseller list and typed in "Chicken Soup for the Soul" and put them in hallways, in our office, etc., to visualize the goal. We would visualize whole bookstore windows with their books in it. Today there's often an entire category of books called Chicken Soup for the Soul in bookstores.

We spent 8 or 9 minutes each day visualizing images of success.

Rather than say, "We're writing a book, we'd say, "We're writing a best-selling book." Dream big. It doesn't take any more energy or time to dream a big dream than to dream a small one.

What he learned from W. Clement Stone:

Get into action. Get off the couch. Do something that brings results. Stone would take a wooden quarter with the letters TUIT on it and give it to people who said, "I'll do it when I get around to it." He'd give them one and say, "Here's your round TUIT. Now get going on your project." It's the ones who act on ideas that make them happen.

I use a vision board screen-saver on my computer. Images of my goals keep going before me.

Every book you get into someones hands can change lives forever. Read You've Got to Read this Book. Every goal I've visualized has come through, although not all came through on time.

What visualization does:

You begin to believe it's possible.
You start your subconscious working on it.
You activate a new part of your brain that will help you achieve your goal.

Stone also taught him to use affirmations.

Harrison: And you studied marketing. I saw you at a marketing seminar, having already filled a spiral notebook full of new ideas and having to get out the hotel notepads.

Things to do:

First, be a giver. If you want the best for your reader, this is the 1st. We always identify a charity to share in the profits of each book. Put the charity on the back of your book. People like to buy, knowing that part goes to charity. Plus, it's hard to give without getting. Charities then started putting the book in their literature to sell more - they make more that way.
Give away articles to parenting magazines free of charge. Give free talks. For the first six weeks we went to churches and chambers of commerce. Find the connectors who can introduce you and your books to others.

With our last book, we gave away 2500 copies.

I can point to every free talk I've given an identify people who came up and said things like, "I want 100 books for...."

Become a joiner. He's part of 12 organizations, so that he can network. People are typically weak in finances and networks. Volunteer your time in organizations. He started volunteering in a hospital cutting cheese balls. But that's where he met leaders of organizations.

Harrison: It's the power of 6 degrees of separation.

Speak at conferences. If you're not willing to give it away free, you're not passionate about it. You get to meet other speakers and connectors.

Get out of your office. Writing books is like an iceberg - 10% is writing. 90% is marketing.

Harrison: What if have money issues?

Canfield: Read Speak and Grow Rich. The best way to make things happen is to talk to real, live people. There are lots of strategies. Call associations. It's all learnable.

Buy catologues to find lists of places that get speakers. Know the American associations.

We want to make large sales, not small sales. If Amway could buy it for their employees.... They called numerous organizations that hung up on them. Then got to "D" and a toy store owner talked to them and bought thousands.

We got lists of radio shows and started calling them. We did 600 shows that first year.

On interviews:

We asked Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled) for his secret. He did 3 interviews a day. Even 10 years later he was doing one interview a day. One hour interviews are best.

Now he does a satellite radio interview, then radio shows. You can do virtual tours. But whatever you do, KEEP GETTING OUT! As long as he does interviews, sales go well. When he takes a week off, sales cut in half.

Harrison: Why do you still do the small stuff?

Everybody's listening to every radio station, otherwise, they couldn't stay going. So start with the radio. Take a 1:00 in the morning slot that nobody else wants to do. Somebody's out there listening. They may hear about the book, read it, and pass it on. It could change that person's life.

He takes internet radio shows, though may be small. We do constant and never-ending marketing. "I never wrote books to get rich; I wrote books to make a difference." So he takes small and big opportunities.

One of the big tools is bypass marketing. Only one out of seven people go into a bookstore to buy a book. So, 6 out of 7 aren't going where our books are. We had Chicken Soup in a Shell station and a bakery. We put them anywhere people had to wait - doctors offices, salons, etc. We sold hundreds of thousands that way. We went to Petco and Petsmart with our book about pets. We use blogs.

Have other speakers sell your books. Sell their books as well. That way you have more to offer.

Think of things I can do for others and what they can do for me. 99% of our stories are written by others. Many have a third or fourth author. I make less per book, but we have another seller.

Watch The Secret. Twenty-four speakers are in that movie. Later became a book. They all cross promoted. Since several biggies were recommending it to their contacts and people were getting it recommended repeatedly from people they respected, many watched it.

Harrison: Give us a key lesson to remember and act upon:

1) Write a great book. Learn the craft, get feedback.
2) Learn how to market books. (Go to the programs. Sit at the feet of the masters. Learn more to earn more.) I spent half of my early money on attending seminars. Become a master. Invest in your education to become a master marketer.

Steve Harrison and Jack Canfield are currently promoting a seminar they'll be doing. You can find information at:

Appealing to Publishing Trends

Whether you're seeking publication or marketing your book, recognizing trends can be important. Know what's hot. If everybody's concerned about the current economic crisis (the current hot topic), then tell a publisher how your book can help those financial hurting or worried about impending economic doom. If you're marketing a book, tell a newspaper or magazine how your expertise could help.

To learn about trends, I listened to respected editor Nancy Hancock's (who works for a major publisher) presentation at the Maui Writers Conference. No, I wasn't able to attend. I just went to their site and signed up for a month of free audios. Now I get to hear top authors and industry professionals via my mp3 player!

Here are some of my takeaways:

You need power to get published.
  • Get a good agent. That empowers you.
  • Work on your platform to gain more power. Build your website. Get your e-mail list together. The bigger your platform, the greater your power.
  • Work with meaningful people. Hancock believes in the 6th degree of separation. She pays attention to a manuscript if a best-selling author recommends it. Very few books get published without someone helping you. Meaningful people give you power.
  • Study collaboration. Learn from successful collaborators.
  • Trends also give you power. Here's how:
Most editors get fifty to 100 proposals per day. They're also editing something that's in process for production, perhaps 12 or more books. They also talk to agents and authors. Plus, they have 8-10 hours of meetings per week. So, they read proposals on weekends.

To get a busy editor's attention, tie your book to a trend.

You're either following a trend or creating a trend. Trend cycles tend to be 7 years. There are trends for topics and trends for formats -- Big books, tips books, etc. Dummies books were hot, but not as much now. There are language trends. Think of the trends: "Diaries" books, "Confessions" books, "Insiders Guides."

To discover trends, try clipping. Hancock and a famous publicist read magazines and newspapers and clip out phrases and topics that might indicate trends. Then, they paste them on a board to track and observe them. If you read a variety of publications, you'll begin to see trends as the same phrases keep popping up.

Trends impact the degree of expertise needed. On morning shows (at the moment Hancock speaks), everyone has to be an M.D. or Ph.D.

Read news magazines and several different papers -- a regional paper, then the NY Times and Wall Street Journal. The WSJ is often the best indicator of trends because of what they feature. She discovered a potty training trend from a Wall Street Journal article.

There are financial trends: from day trading to flipping houses to what's next.

Historical trends. We recently experienced DaVinci fever. But after it peaked, it went away.

We've gone from simplicity to gratitude to happiness to volunteerism.

Find something that's all your own, but show how it fits into existing trends.

On Contracts and The Authors Guild

Want to keep from getting screwed over by a publisher? Consider the Authors Guild.

We've all heard horror stories of popular writers or musicians who make their publishers and labels rich while they live with mom and survive on Ramen Noodles. What happened? They were probably so delighted to get published or produced that they were willing to sign almost anything. And besides, they're artists - you know - "art for art's sake" and all that. It seems rather unartistic to haggle about a few words in a contract. As a result, they got a lousy contract that keeps them working at McDonald's when they could be making a living with their writing.

Like it or not, there's a business side to writing. And unless you aspire to study publishing law on the side, you'd probably benefit by having someone with experience in publisher contracts to look yours over before signing on the dotted line.

A writer friend recently received an offer from a publisher and immediately sent the contract to the Authors Guild. (They'll give input on contracts as a free service to their members. Annual membership is about $90, I believe.) Input from their staff attorney was detailed and invaluable, reflecting an intimate knowledge of what's standard and what's not in the industry, and what you want to push for as an author.

Example: the attorney mentions that royalties based on the publisher's "receipts" is referring to net-based royalties, which are about half what you'd get from the same percentage of list-based royalties. Thus, you should expect your publisher to offer about twice the percentage in net-based royalties that they would pay in list-based royalties.

Plus, when a publisher bases the author's cut on receipts, the publisher might give special discounts to certain distributors or sellers, putting more money in their hands and less in the author's.

That's not to say that basing royalties on the publisher's receipts is wrong. (My traditional publisher based its royalties on their net, or receipts.) It just means you need to know exactly what you're getting out of the deal, comparing it to industry standards.

What are the standards? According to the above expert, many authors get 8% of the list price (which would be about 16% of the net) for sales of the first 150,000 copies and 10% for copies sold above 150,000 (about 20% of the net).

A change in the wording of one, brief sentence in a writer's contract could easily have you making twice as much income from a book. So know what you're getting into!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

DePoy On Writing

Yesterday, the Georgia Writers Association hosted Phillip DePoy, director of theater for Clayton State University. DePoy has written nine published books, two published plays, and thirty-seven theater pieces that have seen production throughout the country. Kirkus calls Phillip DePoy, "a master of Southern storytelling." A recent reviewer called his Fever Devilin novels "some of the best regional fiction being written in America today."

His latest book is The Drifter's Wheel: A Fever Devilin Novel (Fever Devlin)

More convincing than all the above ad copy is that my wife Cherie bought a copy of his latest book and couldn't turn out the light until she finished it at 1:00 this morning.

I almost didn't attend, reasoning, "I've heard the guy before...and after all, I write nonfiction." But I'm glad I went. I'm always glad I attend these monthly meetings. Why?

First, it's simply fun to hang out with other writers. I chatted with a successful history writer and a fantasy writer who's on page 500 of her fantasy novel. I also met a corporate communications writer, a beginning novelist and a Hospice chaplain writing stories about his encounters with the dying. One of the writers grew up in Germany and had a personal encounter with Adolf Hitler in her classroom!

Second, we all need each other. One writer needed an editor and found one at the meeting. Another needed encouragement to move forward with a project. I think he came away motivated and encouraged! I needed more inside information on the business of writing. A conversation afterward helped. Young authors don't seem to understand that so much of successful writing involves relationships within the writing industry. This is the place to connect.

Third, I always learn something from the presenters. Here were some of my takeaways from DePoy:

1) Overcome rejection. Publishers rejected the manuscript of his first novel over 5,000 times.

2) Get an agent. You'll need one to get a traditional publisher. Ideally, your agent should live in New York City, so that she hangs out with editors and takes them to lunch. It's all about relationships. So the editor mentions between bites of her bagel, "What we'd really like are a few intriguing memoirs." The agent replies, "Hey, I represent an author who's three quarters of the way finished with his memoir. Would you like to take a look?" That's the way deals happen.

3) "I write every day. I wrote this morning before I drove up from Atlanta." He says that only a small percentage of what he writes gets published. But put out the volume, and some of it will get out there.

4) To sharpen your story-telling skills, study the ancient stories and epic fables that have passed the test of time. What are their characteristics? Basically, the great stories are being told over and over, dressed up with different characters, settings and distinct voices. Study the stories that lasted and you'll improve your own stories. (George Lucas did this and used the results in creating Star Wars.)

5) Sum up your manuscript in three intriguing sentences. Publishers go through hundreds of proposals each day. They may read but a few sentences of most of them. If he likes those sentences, he may read more. If he likes your proposal, he will use those sentences to pitch it to the marketing department. Then the marketing department will use those sentences to sell it to bookstores.

Did you miss your writer's meeting this month? Calendar the next one!