In this section of the 7 steps to Publishing Process I'll focus in on how to promote your book in store. This is no easy feat and you'll get very frustrated at least once before it's all done. Don't Fret - Just keep focusing on your end goals and you'll get there eventually.
The Press Packet. As previously stated a Press Packet is vital for pitching your book to Book Stores. Whereas with an Electronic Press Kit (Also known as EPK) you can have a standard PR angle, with book store mailers you should tailer each Press Kit to the individual chain or Independent Bookstore.
Some things you need to know about bookstores and how they stock:
- There are two major categories of Book Stores and 3 if you count Used Book Stores: Major Chains (i.e. B&N, Books a Million, Borders, Wal-Mart, Target, etc...) and Indies. Independents DISDAIN mega-chains as it cuts into locally owned bookstore profit as the Indies don't have the dollars to negotiate some of the distribution larger chains can utilize. There are roughly 1200 Independent bookstores, which are bound together in a coalition entitled IndieBound. It's very important to target Independents much differently than Mega Chains.
- Mega Chains won't stock in-store unless you allow returns. As previously discussed you might not be able to grab a foothold in chains without allowing for returns. I will discuss the issue of returns and tips for promoting with returns in a later entry. Independents might sell on consignment, but you will then have to pay for the books upfront and in turn supply them to the Indie Bookstore. The advantage is if they do sell you typically can receive a 60% royalty versus the typically 45% royalty, which buffers the costs.
Attracting Mega Chains:
As discussed in our distribution section, before you can be included in a mega chain you will have to have your book stocked with Baker and Taylor and Ingram. Once you have been added to their store website you are also available for in-store distribution. The only way that stores like B&N and BAM automatically stock a book in all stores is if you 1) are from a major publisher or 2) you are from a small-publisher who has sent a decent enough press packet an manuscript to the corporate office to entice B&N to add your book to their 777 stores. In the latter option they forbid stocking of self-published manuscripts and will not accept novels from Authorhouse or even their own imprint IUniverse. If you do opt to attempt to be stocked in all B&N stores then I suggest that you try to play the angle of a small publisher versus self-promoted author.
Since B&N is struggling in this economy they don't typically add new books from small publishers so your next option to get stocked in the likes of B&N is to attract the attention of individual store book buyers. It bottoms down to the fact that each chain store has a book buyer who has the freedom to stock a variety of books not automatically ordered by headquarters. The main issue in this is the fact book buyers won't stock a book unless it's returnable (corporate policy) - however they most likely will order in a copy or two if mail them a decent Press Kit outlining why your book will sell.
So what to include in a Press Kit tailored for a Mega-Chain? First you'll need a standard Press Release along with a cover letter. I recommend wording the letter to sound more like it's from the publisher versus you as an author. I've tried both angles and although I had a polished and professional kit with my angle as a writer - many stores automatically write you off as "self-published." I then tailored my campaign as a "New Release Packet from Lone Mountain Press" and saw much better results. Frankly I own L.M.P. so it wasn't dishonest to take that angle.
In the cover letter specifically explain pricing, distribution, plot synopsis, your marketing campaign breakdown (short but informative) and why stocking your book will help them make money. In my letter I explained that "Burden of Proof" is a topical thriller that has a 50% discount off the $18.95 Retail Rate and allows for returns. I also explained my marketing efforts and mentioned my charity drive from book sales. I explained that I was willing to offer promotional supplies for the book including postcards, bookmarks and contest information if they chose to stock "Burden of Proof."
In the Kit I also sent a few sample marketing flyers and postcards to help promote the book.
Independent Bookstores need to be treated on an individual basis as they pride themselves on locally owned service. You don't invite yourself to the Indies table, rather they invite you. Approach them with a confident humbleness and focus on the same individuality they pride themselves on as bookstore owners. This doesn't mean you have to write 1200 different cover-letters, but if you can find the book-buyer or manager's name then it's best to address the packet to them. Don't phone Independent Bookstores to speak with the book buyer about stocking your book - from my experience they'd rather be on the floor selling books than trying to play "Let's Make a Deal with You." The time to phone is when you are interested in setting up a book-signing. Don't focus so much on the stocking of your book in store as scheduling the event and why it would bring business into their store. Be polite and courteous anytime you choose to make a phone call whether it to Mega-Chain or Indies.
In the Indies Press Packet I sent the same Press Release (although you could tailor a more specific one to Indies and Indiebound). However my cover letter is slightly different. I put a strong focus on supporting local buying habits and promoting my book in THEIR store. I offer to send specific promotional items directing customers to "Shop Local" or "Buy IndieBound." I also have a bi-monthly contest, in which anyone who purchases "Burden of Proof" in an IndieBound Store can entered to win a $50 Indiebound Gift Card. I supply the book store with entry info and a SASE envelope to mail the slips back.
With Indies I also include a book signing form listed with dates I would be available to do a signing to promote the book and generate in-store sales in their area.
Information which needs to remain the same is where to order the book (Ingram, B&T, etc...) and whether or not you offer returns or consignment sales. Also describe the pricing and why this book would fit well in their particular store.
Other ways for publishers to promote via IndieBound: IB formerly known as Book Sense offers a wide range of opportunities for small/independent publishers (sorry this doesn't apply if you go the Vanity Press Route). Advance Access is a terrific way to break into Indies. It allows you to offer a certian number of Galley or first run print copies to IndieBound bookstores. Obviously there is the cost of the Galley, but it's a good way to show how good your book is and get it stocked in store. You can also sign up for mass mailings, in which IndieBound will mail your flyer or other promotional tools to all Indies. This is a little price, but might be an option once you've sold a couple hundred books and are looking to generate sales to the next level.
Because postage is not cheap and your mailers won't guarantee sales I suggest following a similar model, which I've utilized with "Burden of Proof" - divide bookstores and print media into target regions and only focus on one or more regions at a time for both Indies and Mega Chains. Aside from the monetary benefits of divisions this will also help you stay more organized an make promotion for in-store sales easier.
Every two months I designate one or two regions to focus on. It is during this time I send out Press Packets to all Mega Chains and Indies (two separate packets as discussed above). I then follow up with a postcard (I printed up "Burden of Proof" post cards) and/or a short phone call later. Phone calls should be respectful and placed during off-hours. I primarily only phone a bookstore if I'm interested in hosting a book signing.
During this time my print media efforts focus mostly on that region. For instance I will email a Press Release and short note (every Tuesday - that's the best day to get your PR read) with a brief note asking that they include a blurb on my novel. Most publications like to tie an event or a newsworthy story in order to publish it. If you don't have an event in the area try to find some type of news connection to tie your book to the paper. For instance I have sent Press Releases detailing how Kindle has helped small publishers or the fact that I am donating most of my profits to Haiti Relief (which makes it more important to make money off my book as the more sales I garner the more the reader and I can work together to give The American Red Cross.)
Often times papers won't reply. If you don't see your book on their online website within two weeks, send a short and polite follow-up email. If they don't respond - let it go until you can approach them with a new angle - such as an in town event.
I suggest focusing on 50 publications in an area such as papers, news stations (ask that they mention you their online site versus on-air - I've had more success that way), radio, etc...some local stations might be interested in having you on one of their talk shows.
I would advise 99% of you not to spend money advertising in Print Media. Although it sounds tempting to spend $2000 for a Print Ad in the NY Times or Denver Post most authors, both traditionally published and self-published I've spoken with says the Rate on Return isn't very good for such ads. Of course you can say you were "in the NY Times" - but if it doesn't garner you sales - does it matter - maybe if you had a review - but an ad doesn't have that prestige level. The only times it may be beneficial to invest in an in-print ad is in your local paper right as the book is released or if you are having a signing event in a large city and couldn't get the date added to the local calendar.
Reviews are both a blessing and a curse. I've learned the hard way what to and what not to do when it comes to a review. Reviews in print are nice, but the main place you'll want excellent reviews is on Amazon, where many buyers religiously follow even inaccurate poor reviews. I recommend only asking someone to post a review if they already told you they enjoyed the book and aren't just saying they enjoyed it because they are your friend. Perhaps someone who read the book prior to publishing or since distribution. Don't try to get the top reviewers on Amazon to review your book no matter what other promotional tip sites say. It could end well but often times it ends badly. Many reviewers on Amazon are decent, but others are overly opinionated and get joy out of bashing your book. An accurate review, albeit negative might actually help you become a better writer, but a negative review that is more about the reviewers animosity or misguided viewpoints isn't worth having and could harm your sales.
I have been lucky to have found several reviewers who enjoyed my work. These are people who up to that point didn't know me from Adam, and still liked the book. However I have one not so hot review, which in hindsight I might not have asked the reviewer to review my book due to their taste in fiction and her overt dislike for any political thrillers that have conspiracy plots. I'm not angry and learned a lesson in handling negative reviews and bettering my craft as a writer, but be warned - just because someone agrees to review your book doesn't mean they'll like it. Sometimes they have legitimate reasons that you should consider fixing and sometimes it's merely their opinion. My point: tread carefully with reviews.
Another important note - A galley copy accidentally got sent to a reviewer - DON'T let this happen to you! Many reviewers are very sensitive to errors and if they had already been changed in your novel, why get stars deducted for what looks like unpolished work, which you already finished polishing.
On that note let's get back to regional divisions. I recommend a two file folders for each division - one for Indies and the other for mega-chains...that way you can track your progress and know who has been sent packets and when.
How I Set Up my Regions:
Jan-March: Pacific NW: This includes Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Northern Wyoming and Washington State. I live in this area and I'm a days drive from these locations making it easy to garner regional interest out of my promotion.
Jan-March: Overlapping campaign with NC and Nashville TN as I was born and raised in Raleigh and my entire family is in North Carolina - I have familiarity to promote their fairly easily. I graduated from school in Nashville TN and therefore can promote to the media outlets there with the angle of a former resident.
Region Two: The Southeast: As I stated previously, I'm originally from the South. I know the area very well and I plan to do a signing tour there in the late summer early fall.
Region Three: California and Nevada
Region Four: The Mountain West: CO, AZ, UT, NM, SD
Region Five: Texas
Region Six: The Midwest i.e. KS, OK, Indiana, Missouri, and the Great Lakes States
Region Seven: New York and Pennslyvania
Region Eight: New England
That's a wrap for this edition of The Inkspot!
Upcoming entries will revolve around:
To Return or Not to Return
Press Packets and Press Releases
How to Host a Successful Book Signing