How to Turn Even a Minor Award into Major Sales
by Cynthia Frank
A book you published has just won an award. Here’s how to turn that award into increased sales, even if the award is regional, even if the award was bronze rather than gold.
First, you celebrate! Call the author right away. Get the word out immediately. Everywhere.
The Spread-the-Word Checklist
• Notify your distribution network, including wholesalers, top stores, library lists, and special-sales accounts. We add a notice about the awards to our Amazon page, to Ingram’s iPage Suppliway Publicity Updates, and to Powells.com and other book sites that allow such posts. A simple announcement with the name of the award, the date, and the awarding agency will spur your distributor’s marketing manager if you have an exclusive distribution network, or your buyers at Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Partners/West, and so on, if you have a nonexclusive arrangement. They’ll know just what to do with the information.
• Let translation-rights scouts, agencies, and publishers know about the award too.
• Resubmit to sales venues that have previously taken a pass. For instance, if Barnes & Noble turned down your title, now is a great time to resubmit to the New York office. Along with your award announcement and invitation to reconsider the title, tell Marcella Smith (director, Small Press and Vendor Relations—and gatekeeper to all the category buyers) all that you’ll be doing to get the word out to the reading public about the award. As one publisher said, “Winning awards is like having a new copyright date. You get new sales from every avenue.”
• Send a more extensive press release to the local media—radio and TV, and Internet too, not just the newspapers. Make sure you know which of your local and regional media have national news connections: Gannett, The New York Times, network affiliates, and so forth. Encourage the author to send a notice to friends, family, and colleagues, as well as to stores and other venues that hosted author programs.
Be sure to create a strong release, complete with snappy headline, for the media. Make it quotable, excerptable, and eminently steal-able. We know we’ve done a good job when one of our press releases appears in a newspaper or magazine under someone else’s byline. And we can now attribute the review quote (which we wrote) to the publication and use it in our critical acclaim sheets, a shelf-talker, or perhaps on the cover of the reprint. If you need inspiration in writing your release, I encourage you to visit DirectContactPR.com and read some of Paul Krupin’s great articles. Back issues of PMA Independent are also a wonderful resource.
• If the award is from a small or regional organization, association, or publication, call and find out what they’re doing to spread the word. Be sure to get a copy of anything they issue that mentions the award. And even if the book is “just” a finalist, promote that news while awaiting word on the ultimate results (some organizations offer “Finalist” stickers).
• When an award comes with a beautiful sticker—PMA’s Ben Franklin awards, the ForeWord awards, and the Before Columbus awards, for example—we use these on the book covers, reproduce them on flyers, and add them to posters and tent cards for display at trade shows too. In one instance, when an organization didn’t have stickers, we pooled efforts with other publishers that had won its awards and displayed the winning titles at the same trade and retail shows. And sometimes, when smaller awards don’t provide stickers, we create our own. Be sure to get permission from the awarding organization before duplicating their logo, of course. Among the many good label companies out there, we particularly like LabelWorks (labelworks.com). Your printer can affix book stickers for you at the next printing, or you can do this yourself. Also consider incorporating a banner or lead line on the cover of the reprint.
• Consider point-of-sale promotion. We’ve recently started making “shelf talkers” and “book talkers” for our winning titles (and for titles that have received prominent endorsements or reviews). These simple announcements, printed on index stock, note the award and can be folded to stick up from the top of the book (a book talker) or placed under a book, so they hang down from the shelf (a shelf talker). Bookstores love them because they help sell titles, which makes their job easier. To view examples, do a Google image search on “shelf talker” books.
• Spread the news on the Internet. We announce awards on the home page of our Web site, and we encourage our authors to mention them in their blogs.
• Use awards in followup. If you’re in the midst of calls following up on other marketing and promotion tasks, you’re no longer just checking on the status of a review or story; you can now talk about the award and provide an additional reason to write about the book, the author, and the press.
• Be sure send a thank-you note to the staff of the awarding organization. Handling submissions, jurying, publicity, and the awards ceremony all add up to a big job.
Cynthia Frank, president of Cypress House, has 20 years of experience in writing, publishing, editing, and teaching, and received an IPPY Award as one of Ten Outstanding Women of Independent Publishing. A member of the education committee for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, she has presented workshops for PMA University, the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver, and the National Association of Science Writers, among other groups. To learn more, visit www.cypresshouse.com.
Write your mini-speech notes for awards ceremonies ahead of time. Be sure to thank everyone you can: the awarding organization, the author (if someone other than you, of course!), the editor, the designer, the publisher, the typesetter, the printer, Mom, your spouse, your cat, and your marketing director.
Be prepared–even if you don’t think your book has a chance of winning. I got caught heart-poundingly flat-footed at a Ben Franklin awards ceremony one year when one of our consulting clients won an award, but he hadn’t reached the hall yet because of a delayed flight. Now, my little three-by-five card full of thank-you notes is always in my pocket when I go to an awards ceremony. And more than once, I’ve filled it out at the table and given it to an author on her way to the podium.
Some awards come with copies of the jurors’ notes, whether or not your book wins. These notes can be fascinating, confounding, or both. Since jurors may be first-time authors, readers with no particular expertise in publishing, marvelous typographers and designers, or nationally known authors and marketers with a specialty in your field, you might find clear, cogent feedback on your title, your typography, and your cover design–or you might merely learn one individual’s personal response to your book’s content.
We’ve noticed that experienced jurors expect the cover and the title page of a book to match; and that a compelling and informative title and subtitle–which focuses on the market (and isn’t too long)–can mean a lot.
If jurors’ sheets are provided, read them thoroughly. There might be a promotional gem in the commentary. We’ve gotten some great endorsements, which we’ve used in our promotional materials, from the PMA jurors’ sheets. (And yes, we ask permission before using such quotes.)
Offer to be a juror. You’ll learn a lot about the work that goes into creating a reputable award, and about design preferences, back-cover descriptions (the good, the bad, the horrific), how authors and publishers match intent with effect (or don’t), new-to-you production values, text stocks and binding options, and the importance of attention to detail in presenting a book for an award. When I was a juror for the Mendocino Book Festival awards, one of the finalist manuscripts was so stinky from mildew and old cigarette smoke that it had to be read outside! Each of the 23 jurors took a turn reviewing the manuscript on our porch, and I’m sure its unfortunate redolence didn’t boost its chances.
Steer Clear of Suspect Awards
See “The Rewards of Awards: Submissions and Scams” in the January PMA Independent and at pma-online.org for a checklist that will help you figure out which awards are legitimate—and pluses for promotion—and which seem to exist primarily to collect hefty entry fees.