The world of publishing is going through enormous changes. Big publishing houses are consolidating, marketing budgets are shrinking. Online book selling is here to stay and the old business model of distribution-driven book selling is working less and less. Simultaneously, there is an explosion of authors and readers are spoilt for choice: the classic scenario of supply far exceeding demand. In such a scenario how can a newbie author hope to build her brand?
I asked a friend who has been working in the publishing, marketing and media space for more than two decades. Saanjay Sethi is the former Managing Director of Wolters Kluwer and the former Publisher of Macmillan Education ELT. He has done long stints with Times TV and Sony Entertainment. Currently, as founder of Leapfrong Publishing Consultants he advises authors on marketing and brand building strategies. Over to Saanjay….
#1. A traditional publisher’s role is not to market an author’s books but to distribute them
Publishing is a distribution-driven business. Always has been this way. The large FMCG companies like Unilever or a P&G would at best launch 5 to15 products a year. However a publisher introduces hundreds of books in a year. There is no way the publisher can promote and market every book. The 80-20 rule applies to publishing—20% of books earn 80% of revenues. Therefore, they will back the authors that are already selling. Or in the case of new authors take a call based on their judgement of which one is likely to become a big seller and promote that.
#2. The distribution-driven model is under threat
In the good old days of publishing, there were limited number of reading choices and infotainment opportunities. Today, consumers are spoilt for choices. They have limited time and money to spend on books. With more and more book stores closing down the visibility factor has also gone down. Books have become an impulse purchase. Gone are the days of going to a bookstore, browsing books and making a purchase. Instant gratification and easy availability are being provided by online stores.
#3. An author has to build her brand first
Marketing has always been the author’s job. She has to reach out to readers through bookshops. Authors have to build themselves as brands even before their first title comes out. Shiv Khera is an example. He was already a household name before he wrote his first book. Lee Iacocca was a turnaround manager before he became a bestselling author.
#4. A bestselling debut author is a rare phenomenon
Fiction books are a bit like movies. Rarely does the first movie made by an actor or a director become a huge hit. Overnight successes are rare. An author has to invest in her own brand by investing in her writing. By getting timely advice from professionals in the business. If you are a romance author get your writing critically reviewed by professionals who have written successful books in the genre or publishing professionals. Get help about marketing and brand building from professionals who can give you expert advice.
Only 50% of those who visit lit-fests are interested in books. For the rest, it is a trendy thing to do. It’s a place to hang out, a photo opportunity. Some organisers are doing it for the sponsorship money, or for social climbing or for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with books. It has also become a marketing gimmick. Though I would say it is a positive one.
#6. Aspiring authors can learn what not to write at lit-fests
Every writer who wants to be published should visit lit-fests. To check out what are the books that are being published; what’s selling. But when she starts writing her book, it shouldn’t be a copy of some bestselling book. She should think about how she can bring a new take; innovate ideas; do a new treatment on an old idea. 80% of Hollywood goes to the Cannes festival—to see what ideas have already been made so that they don’t make the same kind of movies. That’s how lit-fests should be used by writers. Lit-fests celebrate the established author…not the aspiring author.
#7. Smart authors use social marketing to attract readers.
Online blogging/reviewing offers a great opportunity for authors to connect with new readers. Increasingly, bloggers who have a large reach are monetising their blogs and thus charging for reviews. However, smart authors can build their own web presence; use their Facebook and Twitter accounts to post excerpts. Every author who has become a big brand has made an effort to be among the top 20% that publishing companies crave for.
#8. Splashy book-launch events do little to help authors’ brand recall
Have you ever thought why Pepsi and Coke continue to spend on advertising even though they are household brand names? For brand recall. But throwing money on grand book launches at five star hotels and getting an actor to come for the event is not the way to do it. Few people will remember the book after the event is over and done with. Instead what is needed is consistent promotion—not only during the release of a book. Most authors promote their books for a few months and stop. What stops them from using social media and engaging with readers on a consistent basis and building brand recall over a number of years?
#9. Top 3 Mistakes that wannabe authors make
– Show contempt for another writer/author.
– Try to run down books by successful authors.
– Try to write a me-too book. Or, copy a successful book with a similar story.
#10. Writers need to be aware of publishing trends
Authors need to reinvent themselves and figure out what will make their books more attractive to today’s reader. Hint: shorter formats work better as more people are reading on tablets, e-readers and smartphones. Rather than write that thick 400-page book, novellas, short stories work better. A writer needs to think of herself as a movie director. If you are writing a romance, think of how to make it different from every other romance: give it a different treatment, a different narrative style, something that will make it stand out from the clutter. Today, the supply of manuscripts far exceeds the demand for them and publishers have become very selective of what they publish. Writers would do well to seek professional advice if they are serious about their writing and getting published.