by Terry Nathan
Ideas to Toss When You Want Trade Distribution
According to Bowker, 300,000 books were published in 2006. From what I have seen, there is no sign that the flood of titles will let up anytime soon. With all those books going across buyers’ desks, how will yours measure up?
Having just returned from the Trade Distribution Program meeting, where buyers from the major chains and wholesalers and other book-industry professionals consider books for representation by a national distributor, I couldn’t help thinking about my behind-the-scenes look at the buying process, and about the recurring reasons books were turned down for sale through bookstores.
Here are some of the misconceptions that seem to be in many publishers’ minds as they try for trade distribution.
Misconception #1:Design is a cinch; my sister-in-law is an excellent artist.
I’m sure she is, but does she know the way book design works? Whether we want to believe it or not, a book’s package is the most important part of the selling process. Yes, content is what the book is delivering to the reader. But what will entice a potential buyer to pick a book up? The design.
Designing a book is an art unto itself. Book covers and interiors need to be designed by professional book designers. Period. I have seen many beautiful drawings and paintings on book covers, but if they have not been worked into an effective cover design, forget it.
Your book must have the title on the spine. It must have an ISBN and barcode on the back cover. The title must be legible both on the front cover and on the spine. And these are just a few of the cover-design musts.
One P.S.: If your sister-in-law does the necessary work to discover what booksellers—and readers—want on the cover and what guidelines should govern interior design, then maybe using her will work. But if it does, it will be because she has learned enough about the art of book design.
Misconception #2: My title can’t miss; it’s so clever.
It may be the cleverest title of all time, but if I can’t tell what your book is about in a couple of seconds, you’ve lost me. Yes, if I took the time to think about it, I might appreciate or even enjoy the cleverness, but I am already on to the next book. Many excellent books go unnoticed (and unsold) because a potential buyer has no idea what they are about. Be very clear and concise in phrasing your book’s title, and, if necessary, add a descriptive subtitle.
Misconception #3:The audience is assured; my son’s third-grade teacher loves the book.
Perhaps she does, but who cares? It certainly is meaningful and important that people love your book, but you need to get people of prominence to love it, and to say so. When they do, let everyone know. Put testimonials on the cover of the book and include them in your marketing materials.
Testimonials are very important in realizing a book’s potential. Getting them requires doing a lot of legwork and giving away a lot of books, but in the end, if you get the right testimonials, all that will pay off.
Misconception #4: Editing is under control; my neighbor’s doing it, and he has an advanced degree in literature.
Having spent too many years in college, I applaud him. But is he trained to edit a book? Even the best writer who ever set foot on this planet needs a professional editor. I guarantee you a book buyer can smell an unedited book a mile away. Make the extra effort and have your book professionally edited and professionally proofread. It will be worth it in the long run.
Misconception #5: My book is the only one of its kind.
Can’t be, at least not in all ways. There should be and probably is something that makes your book better than comparable books, and your challenge as a publisher is to make its special qualities obvious to buyers.
Know exactly what makes your book stand out from its competition, and then trumpet the differences loud and clear. For example, do you have just another parenting book, or do you have a book that helps parents cope when infants have acid reflux?
Misconception #6: Everyone will want to read my book.
Even the best books need a marketing plan to succeed. Your plan should be focused and concise and—most important—it should identify your target audience. Aiming at “everyone” is a good way to ensure failure.
Focus hard on who your target audience is and learn everything you can about it. When you prepare any marketing materials, keep your well-defined target market in the front of your mind. If your book blossoms and sales ripple out from the target market, that will be a bonus. Even the publisher of Harry Potter had a target market in mind.
Misconception #7: I must sell my book through bookstores.
Reaching buyers for some books means using sales channels that don’t involve bookstores. I know a lot of publishers that are very successful at selling books outside the book trade.
Keep in mind that nontrade channels offer some very nice perks, including lower discounts, fewer (or no) returns, and the ability to reach your target audience directly, to name just a few.
Truth to Tell
I understand that much of what I have said may seem a bit harsh, and perhaps even a bit discouraging. Look deeper. I encourage each and every one of you to produce a high-level, professional product, identify its unique qualities, and pinpoint its target market. Stay focused and stay true to what makes your book stand out from the rest. If you do, it will have a much better chance of success.
There are a lot of books out there. Probably too many. With so many books, it seems to me that buyers are looking for reasons to kick books out, rather than take them in. And to be honest, I can’t blame them.