“What would your publishing house do to promote my book?” That’s a question I’m often asked by authors, and it’s a good one, especially given the rapidly evolving changes in today’s publishing industry. However, when I hear it, I take a deep breath and remind myself that what is often meant is, “How will you make people buy my book so I can sell a million and retire a millionaire?”
That isn’t to say that all, or even some, experienced authors think this way, but a growing number of new, young writers seem to, and that reminds me that there are many writers, and likewise what I call literary businesspersons, but amazingly few authors. And the distinction is critical for answering the question.
My company, Savant Books and Publications, is a strictly no-fee, royalty-paying print-on-demand (POD) publisher; and as I define the term, a writer is someone who records lyrical, poetic, or prose observations for him- or herself, commonly in a personal diary, journal, or blog. While the initial intent is most often innocuous, as soon as enough “content” is generated, the issues of “sharing” it with others and doing it for a “fee” almost always surface. “Promotion,” for example, of individual poems published in our yearly Savant poetry anthology typically spans individually sharing a work with others to sharing a work as widely as possible via Internet social media. It is at this point that writers not uncommonly take to conceiving of themselves as literary businesspersons.
Literary businesspersons assume that any and all information has monetary value, and they are typically interested in selling this “monetizable” information. Usually, they develop or reorient content in a single additional effort in response to a perceived “money-making” opportunity, or in stages, as, for example, in the form of a serialized public participation Internet and/or “flash fiction” effort consisting of one- or two- paragraph works of digested content.
Literary businesspersons today typically turn to social media Websites to monetize and sell their content quickly, and promotion usually means placing the work on the “right” social media sites; identifying the most effective structure for online sales, fulfillment, payment, and accounting; and/or “multiplying” the information/content on the Internet to funnel any possible interested parties to the “right” place.
An author, by contrast, composes from the beginning for others—usually a target audience—aiming to provide a work that will be a satisfying read for its audience. In this context, the function of promotion, at least from a publisher’s perspective, is threefold: (1) to make a well-composed author-centric work pleasingly reader-centric; (2) to arrange to offer the work to as many interested readers as possible, partly by transferring it into a form that is easily duplicated but, hopefully, not so easily pirated; and (3) to help establish author/title name recognition.
From an author’s perspective, the functions of promotion usually also include garnering author/title name recognition, termed “fame” by some, and establishing a regular income stream. As a traditional “book” publisher, Savant Books and Publications looks to publishing with authors rather than literary businesspersons or writers (although, as I mentioned, we do help writers make the transition to authors through our annual poetry anthology). Hence, when an author asks, “What is your publishing house going to do to promote my book?” I assume the author is referring directly or indirectly to all five functions.
Pipelines, Pop-Ups, and Publicity
For a book publisher, at the most fundamental level, promotion means opening all possible marketing and sales channels for a particular work. Today, of course, these channels involve e-books as well as printed copies. But even with new formats and delivery mechanisms, making books available is only the beginning. The main task of promotion is still encouraging—ideally, compelling—readers to purchase a particular work.
I have experimented with several ways to do this, and I am pleased with some results.
One thing we’ve done is create our own distribution company, Savant Distribution, which currently accounts for 25 percent of unit sales and 15 percent of dollar sales and offers large, small, established, and new retailers a variety of acquisition choices.
For example, we currently offer:
● no fee/no return online ordering of unlimited numbers of books at 50 percent off the suggested retail price (SRP), including shipping and handling
● a “traditional” option for acquiring our books and publications via a purchase order by email, fax, or post, with 60-day invoice after unsold books are returned, at 40 percent off the SRP (this option incurs a $25-per-year accounting fee)
● minimal-hassle, no-fee/no return, instant credit, online ordering of 5 to 10 books on a 30-day contract for 30 percent off the SRP (only one outstanding contract is allowed at a time)
We’ve also begun promoting our books by establishing “pop-up” outlet bookstores where Savant authors’ works are displayed face-out and presented to readers one-on-one by a staff member intimately knowledgeable about each. Savant Bookstore Honolulu is an example. It has both a revolving three-hour “brick-and-mortar” presence in a variety of different locations, and a 24/7 Internet presence. Both are sources of direct sales and direct consumer feedback on how best to present a particular work to readers, and we can use what we learn to help the distributors and retailers who sell our titles.
Savant Bookstores currently account for 50 percent of unit sales and 50 percent of dollar sales.
And, yes, I sometimes hire a marketing or publicity company to promote our books. After some unsatisfactory experiences, though, I now hire that sort of company only if the company guarantees full monetary return of my investment. This, I’ve learned, can be arranged in several ways.
My first choice is setting up a promotional code so that the monetary results of the company’s efforts can be documented. I pay a fixed or a sliding percentage of sales attributable directly to this promotional code. It can take a lot of time to make this kind of deal, but companies that are willing to back up their claims with their own money can, and often do, make considerably more for both of us in the end.
My second choice is having the marketing or PR company put up collateral equal to total fixed, predetermined fees and expenses, and agree to drawdowns paid in “stop-loss” fashion from a bonded escrow account. Oh, and I typically include agreed-upon monetary penalties for noncompliance and noncompletion, and bonuses for quicker compliance. I also favor making drawdowns unequal, with the last one considerably more substantial than earlier ones, to give the company an additional incentive to finish the campaign.
Helping Authors Help
A major aspect of promotion that works well for us entails helping authors learn what part they need to play in establishing author/title name recognition and income streams.
We offer all our authors specific marketing and publicity suggestions beginning three months before publication for up to two years afterward to help address both these issues. We also offer sales and prequel/sequel incentives to our authors, on the assumption that once we’ve successfully published an author, that author will be much more effectively engaged the next time . Finally, we encourage authors to work toward establishing publishing relationships with at least six active publishers .
This comes as a surprise to many, but we’ve found that in order to create a reliable income stream, new authors especially must publish, on the average, a book every two to three months, with the goal of maintaining at least 10 works at any time that are receiving royalty payments. On the average, we can publish about one work every six months (for experienced authors) to one book every 12 months (for “new” authors). Hence, using publishing experience with Savant Books and Publications to maintain multiple publishers makes sense from the professional author’s point of view. It also makes sense in that our authors begin to realize and appreciate what we do as a publisher.
Of course, I factor all of this into my answer to “What would your publishing house do to promote my book?” In the end, however, the largest part of my answer boils down to: We work closely with each individual author and actively promote every work we take on. If we accept a work, we believe in it and are willing to invest our time and money in its publication and promotion. In turn, we expect our authors to invest their time and energy intelligently in promotion as well.
Daniel S. Janik is a multiple award–winning author and educator turned publisher. His company, Savant Books and Publications, publishes previously unpublished “enduring, transformative literary works with a twist” for English readers throughout the world. To learn more, savantbooksandpublications.com; savantbookstorehonolulu.com; savantdistribution.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.