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How Book Sales Happen

Jim Miller‘s definition of marketing is “creating a market that didn’t previously exist or expanding one that does.” Almost every author I have talked to has wrestled with this because it can feel like the actual work of marketing is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.

That’s not really what is going on. However, I came up with a little model to illustrate why it feels that way and what is actually happening. I call it the “book sales funnel”.

There are four basic steps in any buying decision. Think about anything you’ve ever bought. First you had to hear about it or see it. You had to be exposed to it. Then you had to be interested in the product or service. Then you had to research it to see if it is right for you. And finally, you purchase it. With me so far? Good.

Now think about this: Do you buy everything you’re exposed to? Of course not. Why not? Well, perhaps you have no interest in a Thighmaster. Maybe you’d love to have that Lamborghini, but when you researched it, you realized you don’t have that kind of scratch. You “fell out of the funnel” before you got to a purchase. The exact same thing is happening to your potential readers. It’s called a funnel because it is wider at the top than it is at the bottom, and more people fall away at each point. It looks a little like this:

\                EXPOSURE               /

\           INTEREST           /

\      RESEARCH     /

\  PURCHASE  /

If you have no exposure, how many sales will you have? None. If you have a little bit of exposure, how many sales will you have? Could still be none. If that exposure doesn’t turn into interest, you need more or better exposure. Some people will be casually interested but not enough to look into it. Of those who do look into it, only some — maybe only a few — will buy it. So the more and better exposure you get, the more sales you will have.

People who are already famous have the first 3 steps covered before they ever put a finger on their keyboard to write a book. They can predict the number of purchases they’ll get based on the number of movies or TV shows they’ve been in, the number of hit songs they’ve had, or the number of followers or subscribers they have for their blog, social media pages, or their YouTube channel. Authors who have achieved fame have already done these 3 steps with their first or second or fifteenth book, and everything they continue to put out skips the first three.

The point is that there is no substitute for working to gain exposure. There are many ways to do it. Some are the things your publisher does for you. Some are things that don’t cost you anything. Some are only possible if you pay somebody. If you are a Tate Publishing author, we work to create opportunities for all of the above, but there is no one who can do it all for you. If you want more information about the kinds of things you can do, check out this blog post. I wrote it last year. It’s still true today.

(If you’re not a Tate Publishing author, you should be. You’re missing out on a lot of help for the things you’ve been left to do yourself! Visit TatePublishing.com for more information.)

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The Business of Being an Author

Most authors at some point approach the sales of their book as if there is either some magic involved or as if it is something that some nebulous “other” is supposed to do for them. But book sales are neither wizardry nor a spectator sport. It’s a simple business that works like any other business. To have a successful business, you need capital, a market, inventory, and workers to fulfill the needed roles. Unlike most publishers who leave all these things to the author to figure out, Tate Publishing has a plan for each of them.

Capital – The lifeblood of your business
Without money, no business can succeed. You need it for all the other aspects. You need money to develop your market, to buy inventory, and to pay your workers. Very few people have a cash reserve ready to launch a thriving business from a dead stop, just like very few people can send a rocket into space. If you have that, use it. Start big and fast. If you don’t, start with walking or riding a bike. Buy a few books, sell them, and use the money to buy more. I’m convinced that most authors spend the money they make on books instead of investing in their book’s business, and they die on the vine. The good news is that you can start fresh anytime. If you do this right, you should only have to use your own money once, and then your book sales will support future book purchases and on and on. To do this effectively, you should establish a separate account for your books as soon as possible. It’s a good idea to check with a tax professional to see what tax benefits you can get from doing this. When your book account has more money than your book needs, THEN you can pay yourself out of it.

Market – Who is buying your book?
Expecting someone else to bring the market to you is a fantasy. It only happens that way in the movies. We can help you build an audience, but we can’t do it for you. If you are a Tate Publishing author and haven’t read the niche marketing section of the marketing guide in awhile, it might be time to revisit it. My job as your marketing consultant is to help you buy and sell your books in your niche market. If you don’t know how or where to find people where they gather, how to connect with them, or how to turn those connections into book sales, I am here to help. If you have done these things and stopped, why did you stop? Let’s get started again. When you do this right, working in your market builds capital, which you can use to help you reach more of your market. (If you’re not a Tate Publishing author, you should be. Click the link in our name to get started.)

Inventory – Books on hand
Successful authors have a minimum number of books on hand at all times. Authors who can only schedule one or two events a month may be fine to have 25 books on hand. Authors working events every week should have 50 or 100. Authors who are active nearly every day should reorder when they get down to 200. Managing your inventory is the key to being able to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. Determine how active you can be and work up to your minimum inventory as quickly as possible.

Workers – Whose hands?
Most authors I talk to these days understand their role as the face of the book. Every now and then, I still run across an author who thinks that this is my job or a bookstore’s job or the system’s job to produce book sales. Even among authors who understand their role, I often talk to authors who believe at some point they can put this thing on autopilot and expect sales to roll in. Let me make this clear: you are the CEO of your business. Not me, not Tate Publishing, not Barnes and Noble, and not a distributor. You are the CEO. You have retained our services to help you with marketing advice and publicity contacts to bookstores, non-bookstore venues, and the media, and we’re always willing to help in those ways. However, you don’t want to sit in the back seat of the car until your business is big enough to hire a driver. Don’t give up too early. Building a business of any kind takes time, and building an audience for your book is no exception.

If you keep these things in mind and set your expectations accordingly, you set yourself up for a long and successful career as a writer. As your publishing and marketing partner, we want nothing less for you!

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Growing Beyond Your Local Area

Last week, I was talking to Sheldon Larmore, author of Be Quiet and Listen. It is the story of his family’s journey through the pain and loss that came through their son David and his will to live as long as possible with spina bifida. After he passed away, they set up a memorial fund to help children with disabilities, and they fund it with the proceeds from their book sales. Sheldon told me they have had great success and feedback locally, but they haven’t been able to get much going beyond that. He and his wife still speak at churches and civic groups at least once a month, which is still quite active. This is a common thing I hear from authors. How do you take that activity to the next level?

Moving your book beyond your local area involves personal appearances, which means the pace will need to be adjusted according to your availability, interest, and desire for doing them. The cost of travel will need to be taken into account as well. This works best when you have established a solid footing locally, so if you haven’t yet, do that first. With all those things in mind, here is the idea:

Whenever you go to a group to speak, ask them who they know in the next town that might benefit from having you come. Then contact those people and set up speaking engagements there, and so on. You can expand out as far as you want to travel. Work towards the major metropolitan areas because you can get in front of more people in less time that way.

The reasoning behind this is that the best way to spread a message is still by word of mouth. Technology has increased the reach for all of us, but it is still word of mouth that causes your audience to grow beyond your reach. So the question becomes, how do you increase word of mouth?

It starts by asking for it. Every time you speak, add a simple sentence to the end: “Tell everyone you know about this.” The fact is that most people won’t do that, but it’s just as much a fact that some will. And those who do will tell a lot of people. And some of those people have reach well beyond just their local area. See Readers, Fans, and Evangelists for more details on getting others to help you grow your audience.

It helps if you give them something to spread. This is where social media fits in. If you speak, start a YouTube channel. Get someone with an iPhone to record a video of you sharing 30-second to 1-minute bites of some of your best stuff. Post them as often as you can (weekly, monthly, etc.) Take the audio and turn it into a podcast. I’m no expert on any of those, but do a Google search of those terms and start educating yourself. If speaking is not your thing, you probably haven’t even read this far, but get better at it or get very good at blogging. You can learn how to do that here.

If you’re reading this thinking, “Man, this sounds like a lot of work!” Congratulations. You’re right! It was a lot of work for the Apostle Paul trying to spread the gospel of Jesus, too. Thankfully, we don’t have to put our feet to the ground (or our boats to the sea) as much as he did, but the attitude and work ethic are the same.

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Want 10,000 followers? Do 10,000 things!

I had a conversation with my 12-year-old one morning (3rd of 3 sons, 4th of 5 kids) that was a step further than the same conversation we have every morning. He has maybe 3 things he has to do to get out of the house every morning, and I have at least 10. Most mornings, he is standing at the door grousing about being late while I’m going around the house turning off lights.

The difference today was the suggestion I gave him: Instead of complaining about what I’m doing while you’re waiting, look for things you can do to help us get out the door. It wasn’t spoken in anger. I didn’t talk down to him. I gave it to him straight, like the revelation it was for me. I continued as we got in the car, telling him that this is a good lesson for life in general. You rarely control what others do. You always control what you do.

As an author, what do you control?

You DON’T control retailers, distributors, your publisher, your marketing consultant, your publicist, your agent, the media, or the whims of a fickle public.

You DO control the things you do to reach people. So how much do you need to do? If you want to build an audience of 10,000 people, you should plan to do 10,000 things. That means you only need to average one new follower for each thing you do. Some of those things are going to result in a lot more than one new follower. Some will result in none. All are valuable, even if the only thing you learn from any one of them is what not to do!

What counts as a thing?

Small things:
A conversation about your book, a blog post, a tweet, a post on facebook, a bookmark/business card/push card given to someone, making a new connection on LinkedIn.

Big things:
A speaking engagement, a networking event, an email newsletter to a couple hundred people who have signed up to receive it, a booth at a fair or festival, a visit to a book club.

Long shots:
Contacting someone in the national media, presentations to organizations that could potentially buy your book in bulk.

IMPORTANT: What doesn’t count as a thing?
Googling yourself, looking at your sales ranks on Amazon, consulting with the people listed above that you can’t control, reading and re-reading your book for errors, wondering about your book’s sales.

EQUALLY IMPORTANT: None of these non-things are bad, but none of them will help you to build an audience, and that’s what we’re talking about today.

Do 10,000 things strategically, and you’re likely to get the 10,000 followers you need, if not more. The strategy to follow is to do the small things more often than the big things and the big things more often than the long shots. Keep track of everything you do in a notebook, on your computer, somewhere. Measure the results (by doing the non-things) the best you can, but not too often. You don’t want measuring to become the focus, or you’ll spend a lot of time measuring nothing. Make adjustments in what you do according to what the results tell you.

If you focus on 10,000, you won’t be discouraged after doing 100 things and seeing little results. You’ll realize that that is normal, and as you go and learn, you’ll find that each one builds on the things before, and effectiveness multiplies. You may get zero followers after 100 things or even 1,000. Keep going until you get to 10,000. Commit to yourself that you won’t quit until you get there, and you’ll be amazed at your results.

What are some of the things you’ve done that count as one of your 10,000? Comment below!

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How Often Do You Think About Your #lifewith3M?

As of this writing, I’m nearly 46 years old, and I can’t think of a time in my life when I didn’t know who 3M was. I’m sure Scotch tape was the first product of theirs that I encountered, but I’ve probably used Post-its more than anything else.

I know what you’re thinking: “Why are you writing about this, Jim? WHO CARES about your history with 3M products?!”

I get it. I didn’t care either until a few minutes ago when a friend sent me an article about how 3M has attracted 121,000 followers on Twitter! They recently kicked off their global brand campaign at a hipster music festival (South by Southwest in Austin) with the hashtag “#lifewith3M“. A recent tweet said nothing more than “At 3M, #science is at the heart of everything we do. #LifeWith3M” and a picture of a person’s labcoat-clad arms and torso pulling test tubes from a box with his or her purple-gloved hands. In a week, it’s garnered 220 retweets and 411 favorites!

“Okay, Jim, that’s great, but what’s your man got to do with me?

Everything. And I can sum it up with one question: If a “boring” brand like 3M can get a 6-figure sum of followers and over 200 retweets with over 400 favorites of a ridiculously simple line, why can’t you?

Here’s the Forbes article my friend sent me:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/quickerbettertech/2015/04/13/boring-brands-can-crush-social-media-and-5-other-things-you-can-learn-from-3m/

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What Does the End of Borders Mean to You as an Author?

You might have heard it on the news. Maybe you read it here.

The question on the mind of every author — and everyone in the publishing industry — is, “What does this mean to me?”

Tate Publishing is preparing a statement, and I don’t know what the official word is yet. However, I wanted to share a couple of my thoughts as our leaders prepare theirs.

The first thought is this: DON’T PANIC! We’ve been saying for months that this could happen. We’ve also said that even if every single bookstore in America closed, we would still have a plan for our authors. Unlike most publishers, our plan for our authors’ success does not depend on anyone but us and our authors. Having others involved is great while it lasts, but we don’t rely on it. In fact, as independent bookstores have closed in large numbers, and other publishers have reacted by laying people off and shrinking production, Tate Publishing has added staff and increased production. June was a record month for book sales at Tate even as the economy sank again. Authors who follow our plan are succeeding. If you are following our plan, Borders closing means very little to you personally.

The second thought is this: There are some major points in the article linked above that I’ve been saying for a long time. Here’s one: most traditional publishers don’t have a plan beyond bookstores. Consider this quote from the article:

“It saddens me tremendously because it was a wonderful chain of bookstores that sold our books very well,” said Morgan Entrekin, the president and publisher of Grove/Atlantic, an independent publisher. “It’s part of the whole change that we’re dealing with, which is very confusing.”

It’s only confusing if your plan relies on things you can’t control. We’ve long told authors that they need to focus on the things they can control. Any author that spends any energy on trying to move bookstores without moving people to those stores is putting their fate and the fate of their book in someone else’s hands. With this in mind, Borders closing is a reminder to focus now more than ever on what you as the author can control.

Here’s another quote from the article:
The news exposed one of publishers’ deepest fears: that bookstores will go the way of the record store, leaving potential customers without the experience of stumbling upon a book and making an impulse purchase. In the most grim scenario, publishers have worried that without a clear place to browse for books, consumers could turn to one of the many other forms of entertainment available and leave books behind.

Not only has Tate NOT shared this fear, we’ve been saying this very thing for over a year. The experience of “stumbling upon a book” is alive and well on Amazon.com. While this is welcome news, I’ve never thought that any good plan includes much reliance on “stumbling”. Apparently most publishers haven’t noticed that consumers have been turning to many other forms of entertainment for decades. That doesn’t mean no one is reading books. It just means that they are less likely to choose them first. What does this mean to an author? That books, in and of themselves, are not as much of a draw as they used to be. Another mantra of mine stems from this: “Don’t lead with your book.” When seeking speaking engagements, focus on what you have to offer the audience in terms of your message. If they buy you and your message when you’re speaking, they’ll buy your book when you’re finished.

Finally, there’s this:

Publishers said with Borders gone, they would plan for smaller print runs and shipments.

This is yet another area where Tate is ahead of the curve. We’ve pioneered the business model of smaller print runs and shipments. The days of publishers killing thousands of trees with books they are just going to throw away may finally be coming to an end.

So if you published your book with Tate, be confident that your publisher has been prepared for this for a long time. In fact, if you go back to the emails you’ve received from your marketing rep and replay their phone conversations with you in your head, you’ll realize that your publisher has been preparing you for this for a long time. And don’t forget that we’re here to help you implement the plan.

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