Effective Author Promotion
by Gordon Burgett
Our authors are our best salesfolk, by far, but that didn’t just happen. It happened for four reasons:
1. The writers have something valuable (and/or compelling) to say.
2. Their books look good and read well.
3. We, as the publisher, provide a solid selling support system.
4. All of us joyously row in the same direction.
And yes, all this is much easier and more profitable if you’re working a niche field, in part because you can test ideas, titles, prices, and authors before you commit to publishing particular books.
We learned the process (and I wrote Niche Publishing about it) when we published standard operating procedures books for dentists. Then I sold that imprint five years ago, and we started again with books for K–12 school administrators, principals, and teachers. Bingo. It’s worked even better.
To get authors with something to say in a specific field, go straight to the leaders in that field. Just ask what book they would immediately buy that doesn’t exist. Write down the problems that book would solve, the processes it could facilitate, and the other benefits it would bring. Then find a title that tells all, like What Every Superintendent and Principal Needs to Know.
That title summed up the first book idea that a trio of top educators from Illinois proposed to us. We all gathered for a day in St. Louis to see how we could create a win-win document, and how the educators could earn many times more than most authors do (mostly by speaking). We found 12 need-based areas for the book’s contents; each author wrote about four of the topics (a chapter apiece, with related case studies); and we got the prose to print—after a pretest that showed we were on a profitable track.
Why go to the leaders? Because they can get invited (individually or collectively) to speak to the top associations and gatherings in their field, and their colleagues will read their articles, books, and related commentary. They keep the speaking or writing fees; we send boxes of books, one per attendee or lots for book signings. Graduate-level instructors also hear these leaders speak and often pick their books as texts for their classes.
We give each author the usual comp copies but also a 40 percent discount for back-of-the-room or all-attendee book buys at presentations they arrange for themselves. We also have an affiliate order-filling system (run through 1 Shopping Cart and PayPal) that lets the authors give their listeners or contacts a magic Web link (which includes a cookie to record their sales), and we fulfill individual orders, paying them 50 percent for digital purchases (downloaded in seconds) or 40 percent for any version (usually bound or audio) that we must mail (and we send books out within 24 hours).
Also, we provide a full public-access Web site for each book (including sample chapters, the table of contents, and author bios) plus a quick-sale landing page that leads directly to the affiliate sales.
We encourage the authors to have their own Web sites too, and we provide copies of book covers, affiliate links, and any ad copy they wish, plus testimonials and related articles.
The authors of What Every Superintendent and Principal Needs to Know subsequently wrote The Perfect School, and one of the trio (who I’m proud to admit is my brother, Jim) also wrote Teachers Change Lives 24/7 (and is just finishing Principals Change Lives 24/7), plus he co-authored Finding Middle Ground in K–12 Education: Balancing Best Practices and the Law.
Each book helps sell the others, and the authors get the same discounts on each new issue. (Of course, all four also receive the usual rather pitiful royalties.)
Jim spurs sales in other ways as well. “When a school or organization indicates that they are purchasing books to study, I usually do two things,” he reports. “First, I suggest they go to the Teachers Change Lives Web site and download the section called “Book Club.” I tell them it has a clear, concise suggested format for studying the book. (See this at teacherschangelives.com/bookclub.htm. The Web site for this book is at teacherschangelives.com, and the affiliate landing page is at teacherschangelives24-7.com.)
“Next, I offer a free one-hour phone session with the study group, to help in any way possible—we usually talk about specific chapters, or I answer questions, clarify content, listen to their plans, or just give them inspiration. If they order lots of books, I offer to meet with them more than once, if that would be helpful.
“And if I haven’t spoken at their school or district, I offer to send them information about how we can rectify that oversight! I limit my selling from the stage to a quick mention of one or several books during the presentation. I dwell a bit longer when I’m speaking to administrators—but I don’t sell to teachers. I ask the principal to do the pitch; that works better.”
All four authors tell their teaching friends about the book’s applicability as a text, and the authors tell me about any selling opportunities that are more appropriate for a publisher to pursue. If his listeners don’t have cash or a check with them, Jim will even have them fill out an authorization form, give them the books, and bill them later. “I’ve only been stiffed once,” he confesses, “and it was for one book. The buyer may have frozen to death. She was from Yukon, Alaska.”
The Bottom Line
We still do what other publishers do—the pretesting, editing, cover prep, layout and design, printing and e-book modification, promotion, distribution, storage, and direct selling, plus we maintain steady contact and support with the authors.
There’s nothing better than having the authors selling from day one. It’s a lot easier, more fun, and more profitable for all the rowers in today’s choppy economic seas when we are all pulling together.
Gordon Burgett helps writers, speakers, publishers, and product developers with niche publishing, ancillary publishing, and empire-building. The author of How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days and 38 other books, he owns and directs two publishing firms. To learn more: email@example.com; P.O. Box 845, Novato, CA 94948; 800/563-1454; fax 415/883-5707; or gordonburgett.com (where you can sign up for a free monthly newsletter).