Amazon Books? Four reasons why booksellers can remain calm

Amazon Books
From my visit at the Amazon Books location at the The Shops at Columbus Circle.

It is ironic, and for some it may seem odd, that in the midst of decades of brick-and-mortar bookstores closing their doors, a hugely successful e-tailer like Amazon would decide to venture into the concrete bookstore business with Amazon Books.  Or is it?

I have seen the demise of Borders/Waldenbooks, Joseph Beth Booksellers, and the rise and fall of Barnes & Noble stores; the feuds between the independents and the chains when wonderful stores like BookPeople in Austin, TX thought they were doomed; when Costco and other giant stores started selling large quantities of bestsellers at deep discounts, perhaps underselling the competition; and the power of e-commerce, with Amazon presiding over the field.  Every change in the book business makes the publishing community anxious. Clearly, with some businesses succeeding and others failing, there is a need to be able to roll with the punches.  But perhaps if we take a wide angle view of things we might be able to hold onto a few constants that will create paths of opportunity and assure people that although some things look different, the basic precepts of the marketplace and sales still prevail.

  1. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are not dying.  Yes, chains like Borders are long gone and Barnes & Noble may not be able to support a store every ten miles, but independents are going strong.  According to this article on Quartz, between 2009 and 2015 the number of independent bookstores increased by 35%.
  2. E-book sales are falling flat.  Many sources have been reporting that e-books are falling out of their previous favor.  Let’s face it, devices may be convenient but they have their issues.  Batteries lose their charge and if you don’t have an active WiFi connection you can’t download a new book whenever you want one.  And, if you are reading for content, it’s very difficult to highlight sections and go back to them in the same manner as you would mark or dog-ear a page you need to reference later.
  3. Selling in person is better than selling online.  I attribute this principle to the increase in the success of independents over the past several years.   Real readers, who actually support the majority of the book business front and back list, like to be able to browse and get recommendations for books.  They also like to hang out with other like-minded individuals.  The innovations in indie stores that now offer seating, coffee, parties, and more, have brought customers in and kept this business sector alive.
  4. Amazon Books, while competing in bookstore form, is not doing things like everyone else.  Amazon became a huge success online, and it makes sense that it would not try to duplicate what others have already done on the ground.  Why should it?  I recently visited one of their Amazon Books stores, and it was not like most of the ones I frequent. As a reader, I probably wouldn’t shop there on a regular basis.  The main reason was that there was a smaller number of titles available.  For indie presses and authors this was a benefit because the inventory was a more curated list that covered the usual suspects but also featured books from unknown publishers.  And, because curating titles meant that additional shelf space was available, the books were primarily face out, which can be a boon for publishers without a lot of marketing dollars to spend.  I could also forgo the other products that the store had for sale, like coffee makers and gadgets.  These things diluted the atmosphere and were a distraction.

I got the distinct impression that the Amazon Books location was trying to market to Millennials, which is a big “buzz” word for everyone in any industry these days.  The funny thing is that I meet a lot of younger people who fit this bill, and the ones I know who are real readers prefer the same traditional bookstores I’ve loved forever.  Maybe rather than believing we need to rethink everything we’ve ever known in this business because of change, we should try to anticipate, adapt, and remind people of the core elements of books and buying books that many people share.  It might eliminate some of the hysteria so we can all get back to business (and reading of course).

Have you been to an Amazon Books? Tell us your thoughts on Twitter.

Publicity 101: Your Publicity Calendar

publicity calendarWhen it comes to your public relations campaign and your publicity calendar, what is important to remember is that the campaign starts before the book, with proper preparation and set up. You want to be able to take advantage of every opportunity, so being organized and having access to all the information you need is going to give you an edge over the competition.

Some dates to mark on your publicity calendar (besides your publication date) are:

Events and appearances: Record the dates for any readings or speaking engagements where you can promote or sell your book. Start as early as the six-month mark so you can have a postcard or business card made to pass out to audiences or potential contacts.

Pitching Magazines: In general, there is a four-month lead time for book coverage in glossy magazines, and even longer for features. You can try finding out on the magazines’ websites what their requirements are, but in the absence of any information, plan to approach editors four months ahead of your official publication/media date.

Pitching National Broadcast: Usually three months is enough time for most shows, but talk shows like The Dr. Oz Show or Steve Harvey could tape your segment and not air it for months. You don’t have complete control over this, but I recommend you get in touch with these outlets as soon as your materials, like your press kit and review copies, are ready.

Pitching Radio: Radio tends to book between two to six weeks ahead of time, and then there are those stations that will ask you to be on tomorrow. I like to start my radio work about four to six weeks ahead of time and if I’m contacting the station too early, I make a note to follow up at a later date.

The months following your publication date are for building on the media you get, making appearances at outlets or events, and new pitches. Keeping a written publicity calendar on paper, or in Outlook that dings when you have an upcoming event or deadline, is going to make your process a lot easier…and more effective!

Publishing 101: 3 Things I’ve Learned About Book Production

book production cmprOn the heels of my post about selling and the little guy, here is some information about things I’ve learned about the book production process from publishing on my own.  I’ve worked with many independent authors and have tried to help them through various parts of the book production process, including getting an editor, a book designer, jacket designer, etc.  But there is nothing like experiencing a process first hand to find out how things REALLY work.

A few basic things I found about the book production process are:

  1. It doesn’t cost a fortune to hire a decent jacket designer.  You do need to make sure the person you work with can do the kind of jacket you need produced, but my designer has done fiction and non-fiction and I’m happy with his work.
  2. Copyeditors are not that expensive and a must for a professionally produced book.  Twenty-five dollars an hour, folks.  If you have the next version of War and Peace, I’m sure that will rack up the hours quickly.  For my book there are many sections, fact checking items, and other things that took time even though it’s only 175 pages.  Still, not that pricey and very important to do.
  3. It will take at least a month from the time you finish the book to the time you are able to submit your files to your printer/publisher.  This is even a pretty tight time frame and doesn’t allow for vacations, family emergencies, your ability to make the changes the editor sends your way, and anything else you can think of that will hold you up.  I was clear about the direction my book was taking, and in advance of the copyedit, two people I consider members of “the grammar police” read and critiqued it for me.  That saved me time with the professional editing process.

As I continue this journey, I will try to provide things I’ve learned that may be helpful.  If you want to send me questions directly, you can do so at claire@clairemckinneypr.com or on Twitter @McKinneyPR.  Thank you for reading!

P.S. The last Amazon listing I checked in reference to my book said “9 copies left, more on the way.”  I guess that’s a good thing.

Publishing 101: When the “Little Guy” Struggles to Sell a Book

Ingram vs Amazon Self Publishing 101 Claire McKinneyIt’s hard for a person to figure out how to publish, market, and publicize her work on her own, and it is even more difficult to simply make the book available for sale.  Among all of the e-retailers out there, we know that Amazon ranks king in the world of online sales—which is where most of an indie publisher’s books will sell.  If you go through CreateSpace, an Amazon company, you will have a much easier time of getting your book on their site and available without too much fuss.  If you decide to start a new business and imprint, like I did, and choose to go through the Ingram platform IngramSpark instead, well, that’s where more problems can occur.

It can take a month for the information about your book on Ingram to be completely reflected on Amazon.  Ingram sends it in an instant, but Amazon goes through a process that takes time.  During this period your book might be listed as “out of stock”, “ships in 2-4 weeks”, “ships in 2-5 weeks”, or nothing much at all.  I’m okay with that, because it’s common knowledge if you read all the print, fine and otherwise, on Ingram and Amazon.  I also know from working with authors, that this is a standard. 

What I don’t understand is what’s happened to my book since its publication date, which was June 6, 2017.   Since then it’s been listed as “ships in 2-5 weeks”, “out-of-stock”, “ships in 1-2 weeks”, and lately with a random future availability date that Amazon pulled out of a hat.  My first line of defense was to call Ingram.

Here is an approximate run down of what happened with Ingram:

Me: “Hi, I’m calling because I don’t understand why my book, Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?, isn’t immediately for sale on Amazon, especially given it is a print-on-demand title.  Theoretically it should be available almost immediately with shipping being the only issue.”

Ingram: “Hmmm, well I don’t see anything wrong with your account or what we sent.  You know, Amazon sometimes will hold individual customer orders for POD and submit them all at once.  This is why the book may not listed as available.”

Me: “What?! You mean if someone orders my book, the order could be held with several other titles ordered by different people until Amazon feels like sending them over to Ingram?”

Ingram: “Yes, that’s possible and we have no idea of why Amazon does that.  In fact, we have no idea of how or why Amazon does what it does and we’ve given up trying to figure it out.”

Me: “Right, and they won’t tell you why because it’s an algorithm thing or something like that.”

Ingram: “Correct.  But, you do have your ‘BUY’ button, that’s a good sign.”

Me: “My ‘BUY’ button?  You mean they could take that off whenever they want?”

Ingram: “Yes.  And again, we don’t know why they do that, but we get a lot of calls from authors who have that problem.  There isn’t anything we can do except send the title information to Amazon again and hope that jars something for them.”

Me (thinking): This sounds like the kick the vending machine way of getting results, but what do I know?

Me: “Well, thank you for your help.  I understand you are doing what you can.”

Ingram: “Good luck.”

Good luck, indeed.  Since I published the book to help people who need a resource and can’t afford to hire a publicist, and because I have a day job, I can let some of this slide without worrying about missed sales opportunities.  But what about writers who are expecting to earn a living, or are currently earning a living from their books?

I’m hoping that the more titles you publish the more influence you have with Amazon and the more seamless the process gets.  For now, I can only say keep an eye on your BUY button and watch what happens with other titles you know.  Maybe there is an order to this that we aren’t aware of, kind of like the universe.  On second thought—Amazon-the universe—I hope not.

Publication Day

I wrote a book, it is releasing today, and I can hardly believe it.

It’s called Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does? A Guide For Creating Your Own Campaigns and the actual publication of it has been a pretty scary endeavor.  Not so much because of the mechanisms of publishing, but more so because it is very humbling to put your own words out there for everyone to read (and criticize).   So far, the feedback I’ve received has been good. I’ve even been told that the book will help a lot of authors, which is my ultimate goal.

I wrote the book because I know that all kinds of authors need information.  They need to know what book promotion is and how it works.  So many people come to me either after they’ve been taken advantage of by someone else, or when they simply have no idea of what comes next.  This book is for them.

I also am hoping my colleagues will appreciate that what we do and the amount of work it takes is now organized in a readable form.  Some people will definitely use the book to organize their own promotion efforts, which is terrific.  Others who have the means to will hire their own publicists.  Great!  I plan to give it to entry level people I hire for my business who need to learn about campaigns.  The process I’ve described and the stories contained in the book are all things I’ve told people I’ve trained along the way and I am happy to say that my previous staff members have moved onward and upward in their careers.

The methods and skill set we use as publicists are not a secret, and the stories we provide are all around us.  How we do our jobs can be transparent as well.  Now we can let others decide what it takes to promote a book, and maybe working together we will all have even greater successes.

Thank you for your readership and if you do delve into the book, I hope you will leave a comment here, tweet at me @McKinneyPR, or put a review on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.  Enjoy!