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.

Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does?

Do You Know What a Book Publicist DoesDO YOU KNOW WHAT A BOOK PUBLICIST DOES?
A Guide for Creating Your Own Campaigns
By Claire McKinney

For more information on the book visit our Plum Bay Publishing page or on Amazon.

Book publishing is an ever-changing industry—between technological advancements, the emergence of self-publishing, and the rise of social media, how can an author distinguish their book from the competition? Whether traditional or self-published, authors can be left in the dark when it comes to promoting and marketing their books.

Book publicity expert Claire McKinney has found that the lack of information on how book promotion works has left most authors without a clear idea of how they can contribute to their campaigns. Her new book DO YOU KNOW WHAT A BOOK PUBLICIST DOES? A Guide for Creating Your Own Campaigns, stems from over twenty years of experience in the field.

In her book, McKinney exposes the depth of extensive campaigning necessary for successful promotion. From this, authors can begin to understand the everyday workings of their in-house publicist—and for indie authors, how they can improve their own promotional efforts.

Book promotion can be rife with opportunities to make or break an author’s career, and McKinney examines these pitfalls. Showing writers how to brand themselves and identify their professional goals to properly prepare their books for success, McKinney also dives deep into important topics such as creating a personal image, writing press kits, and the importance of building momentum through media with unique insight that could only be provided by a seasoned industry professional.

Combining professional advice with charts and case studies, authors will see the inner workings of book publicity at every angle from initial idea generation to event planning.

In DO YOU KNOW WHAT A BOOK PUBLICIST DOES? authors will learn:

• How to promote their book to the media
• How to create their own media contact list
• How to write press release materials and how to use them
• How to create a timeline and plan a campaign on their own
• How to pitch, who to pitch, and when
• How to talk to their publisher about publicity

With McKinney’s clear voice, readers will be equipped with the tools they need to create a campaign from scratch, and have fun in the process. DO YOU KNOW WHAT A BOOK PUBLICIST DOES? serves as a comprehensive step-by-step guide that every author should have in their arsenal.

About the Author
Claire McKinney is twenty-year veteran of the publishing industry. She has worked for major publishers, including Little, Brown and Company, Putnam, and Disney Publishing Claire has appeared on CSPAN and on the Today Show as an expert on self-publishing. She travels regularly to speak to authors and audiences about book promotion, publishing, and social media marketing. Visit her at www.clairemckinneypr.com.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT A BOOK PUBLICIST DOES?
A Guide for Creating Your Own Campaigns
Claire McKinney
Plum Bay Publishing, LLC
Publication Date: June 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9988617-0-8
Paperback
Price $11.99
146 pp

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Book Marketing101: 10 Things You Need To Know About Bestsellers Lists

NYT BestsellersI’ve been doing book publicity and marketing for a long time.  I keep doing it because I haven’t lost that kernel of idealism and drive that truly believes in the potential for success of a good idea, book, and/or person who has something to contribute to the conversation in the world.  Coming up with a strategy that makes these things work and makes my clients happy is immensely gratifying.  But (and you knew this was coming), I do raise a caution flag when I get into a conversation about books and bestsellers lists.  I hear all kinds of myths about the “right” way to do this and although there can be exceptions to every rule, there are certain realities we all have to know.

Amazon BestsellersAll of the lists are generated by proprietary algorithms based on quantity, rate of sale, range of sale, date, time, etc.  No one, except the people who wrote these things, knows for certain how they work, and I’ve been told that they are tweaked occasionally when it looks like someone out there is trying to be smarter than the system.  You can’t buy a thousand copies of your book the day before pub date.  You can’t tell a hundred friends to visit your book online or click through to anything.  The numbers are based on actual sales, POS (point of sale) whether online or in person at a cash register.

There are many reasons why or how a book can “list”, as the biz folks say.  If you are traditionally published here are five things you will need to have a shot at the New York Times or other national “print” bestsellers list (physical books sold).

Traditionally Published Authors:

  1. A brand name (meaning you are a known entity to a book buying or commercial audience)
  2. A marketing plan with the right jacket image; front of store placement at Barnes & Noble; and money spent on premiums on etailer sites like Amazon.
  3. Distribution across all sales channels.  This means Amazon has a bunch of copies, Barnes & Noble has a good quantity available to its stores, and the wholesalers like Ingram and Baker & Taylor have bought a solid quantity.  It would help if Target, Walmart, Costco and other “club” stores also had some, but you don’t necessarily need it if you don’t care how high you go on the list.
  4. A traditional and online publicity campaign that gets the word out about the book leading up to and during the first week of publication.
  5. A publication date that is in line with the level of author/book.  I mean that the most books are sold during October – December so if you aren’t able to compete with the titles being released in this time frame, then you don’t have a chance.  You would have to sell twice as many or more copies in order to achieve the same result you would, say, in February.  But again it does depend on the topic and your level of “celebrity” .  (See our article on when to publish.)

If you are an indie author through a small press or on your own without a nationally recognized brand on your score card, and you utilize the print-on-demand technology for your physical books, you will not jump on a bestseller list within a week or even a month of your book being available for sale.  This is an entirely different publication model when it comes to print copies because you are not distributed in stores.  However, you can achieve the coveted rank of bestseller on digital  or ebook lists, especially USA Today and different category rankings on Amazon.

Check out this list of five dos for the indie ebook:

  1. If you have a dedicated audience that is awaiting your next book you need a digital marketing plan via content and social channels that lets your audience know your book will be available for sale.
  2. If you are a new author, you need to work several months in advance at building an audience on social media or through your own personal networking channels that creates anticipation and awareness of the upcoming title.
  3. A great jacket, branding, and messaging that speaks directly to the audience that is the primary market for the book.  This is about generating a “need” for your product.
  4. Error free Amazon page for the book and “buy buttons” on your website or book page so there are no issues when it comes to making a sale.
  5. A traditional and online publicity campaign that provides opportunities for reviews and interviews and reaches your audience(s), creates awareness, and generates positive reviews that lure people to buy!

I also need to be clear and to say that all of the above is about creating the best possibile circumstances to get on a list within a couple of weeks of publication.   You can build a bestseller, but it takes time, attracting a bigger and bigger audience, getting name recognition, having a topic take hold, a news cycle item that brings your idea to the forefront of the zeitgeist, and other things that would take a lot longer to explain.

Ultimately everything is about the book itself and what’s between the covers (or on the Kindle, Nook, etc.).   I think it can be self-defeating to only look at what is on the bestsellers lists and to consider that the ultimate goal.  Does it help?  Sure, but it also can be very short-lived.  Steady sales over a longer term that show a rate of growth are way more valuable than a week on a list and a deep dive down to nearly nothing.  Grow an audience, market your book, and find every opportunity you can to let people know about it.  That is likely to be the best, most rewarding, and most lucrative path to success.

Case Studies 3: Accepting the Audience that Wants Your Book and Reaping the Benefits

You have an MFA in Creative Writing from a respected program/university.  You have been carefully crafting your story and verbiage to create the best literary debut you can. Now for promotion and the audience that comes with it—Paris Review?  The New Yorker? Tin House? New York Times Book Review? Not likely.

Whether you are published by a traditional publisher with a lot of muscle, a small independent press, or your own book production venture, no one can count on that kind of coverage for literary novels.  For one thing, there just aren’t enough venues anymore.  The other problem is that there are too many books and too little time, and frankly, if you are not published by Knopf or Simon & Schuster, you just won’t command the kind of attention you need to get into one of those classic publications.

Whatever you do, don’t stop writing and don’t give up hope for promotion!  We need great writing and great books, and while you can’t market a work of serious fiction as a chick lit novel, you can consider what other audiences might be interested in your story.

Recently we worked with an author and a novel.  It was definitely a literary book, but it also had different attributes that gave it potential in some niche audiences that were actually bigger than the more esoteric fiction readers that serious writers like to reach. The author had supported herself in non-traditional ways while working on her writing and had achieved a position as a teacher and founder of a charity that promotes writing for children in underdeveloped countries. She definitely had the credentials of a writer.

Since we specialize in promoting fiction across multiple genres and niches, we maximized our focus to include media that covered fiction, literary fiction, romance, christian fiction, debut novelists, philanthropy, and New York City settings.  We approached bloggers, websites, print, radio, and when warranted, television.

We were pretty happy with the coverage from the general fiction audiences and the publisher secured a review in the top trade, but what really paid off was a review on USAToday.com from a reviewer interested in the romance/womens fiction angle.  This review was not only a good one, but it did a couple of things that benefitted the author in a number of ways.  First of all when it ran there was a spike in sales on Amazon.com.  We were able to use the review and its national print-to-online paper status to secure additional media including a local television station in one of her home markets.  Was she happy about the review?  Well, at first not so enthusiastic because she was concerned that she would be “pigeon holed” as a romance writer.  I say “who cares?” as long as you sell books at this stage of the game.

Now I am also a branding strategist, so I do know that is important to avoid being classified as something that isn’t appropriate for you or your career.  However, one review for a debut novel isn’t going to determine your path.  It is a milestone that needs to be appreciated for what it is and to be used in as many positive ways as possible.

One of the best things she got from the deal? She was able to get a Bookbub promotion on the first try.  If any of you have tried to secure a slot on this infamous discounted book marketing site, you may have tried two or three times and perhaps did not even get accepted in the end.  One of their requirements is that they have legitimate reviews or news coverage of a book, whether traditionally or self-published and USAToday.com definitely can help put you over the top in terms of qualifying.

Her promotion ran, and her Amazon rank went from five figures to the lower threes, somewhere around 300, which is a major leap in ranking.  Sales activity like this will increase her audience; garner more Amazon/Goodreads reviews and ratings; generate additional full price sales; and will help along with the press coverage when she wants to bring out her next book and is searching for a publisher.

A couple of lessons here: Try to find every possible way to promote your fiction even if it doesn’t lead you to the coveted New York Times review.  When you do get a big nod that isn’t exactly what you wanted, revel in it, celebrate, do the ten second dance of joy, take a breath…and get back to work.

Publish, Release, Launch: Some of The What and When of Book Publishing

james pattersonI will let you in on a secret: no one, not even the big publishers, know exactly when to publish a book.  Yes, there are some givens, like making sure you are able to get into holiday and other promotions like Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. Then there are books by authors that consumers are trained to buy in a certain month based on its availability.  I’m talking about Michael Connelly, James Patterson, and others who write at least one book per year.

I should also mention the reason a book is usually published on a certain date is because of marketing and publicity reasons.  We try to get books out there when they will be featured most prominently and when the media are interested in what the titles and authors have to say. 

For self-published authors I recommend that they publish the book as soon as it is ready.  I call this a “soft publication.”   Your “media date” or “hard publication” can be  whenever you think the stars are going to align with media coverage and the success of your marketing—or when you think you can sell the most books!

I’m going to try to break down what the norms are in terms of publication months, but first I need to address some lingo that is tossed around and needs to be clarified.

Publication: This means that your book is on the market and available for sale via any and all distribution channels.

Release: This usually means the date that books are shipped from a distribution center to online and retail stores.  However, I’ve seen it used interchangeably with “publication” but for some people it means something different.  I’m not saying you are wrong for using the word, but knowing that there are other meanings out there might help clear up some confusion.

Launch: This term is a pet peeve of mine, because using this word implies there is some kind of event attached to the publication of your book.  If you are a celebrity or famous person and/or your book has breaking news that is going to dictate an entire news cycle, then perhaps “launch” is a good word to use.  But I caution people about calling publication a launch, because I think there are inherent expectations associated with using the word that can potentially be cause for disappointment.  

* * *

Having said all of this, here are some monthly breakdowns that I have generally experienced as the accepted publication patterns:

January (Or “New Year, New You”)

Self-help; diet; inspirational; business—if you fit into this category, this is what the media are generally interested in, and it’s what consumers are thinking about.

February 

Self-help associated with relationships; debut authors; business; fiction—if you are a debut author, this month is not as full of new titles and there may be more promotion and media opportunities for you as a result.

March

Debut authors; mysteries; fiction

April

Women’s fiction

May

Beach reads; women’s fiction; biographies; books on mountain climbing

June

More beach reads; women’s fiction; biographies or other non-fiction that will appeal to male readers on vacation or for Father’s Day

July

Quieter month better for debut authors; more of what you saw in June

August

Debut authors; education related titles; narrative non-fiction by lesser known writers

September

Public affairs and politics; serial authors in fiction and non-fiction; cooking; highly publicized titles by debut authors

October

More politics; cooking; big non-fiction titles by well-known personalities and writers; higher end photography books; art books

November

Photography; art; gift books; big names; and anything else you can think of that will sell in the current budget year

December

Good month for lesser known authors.  A variety of books are published including late comers for Christmas or those titles that people want to get a jump on for January

* * *

You may notice that the categories are not always dictated firmly in one month or another—this is what I mean about the secret.  In the end what everyone wants to do is get the book out there at the best possible moment.  But you need to consider what you can control and what you can’t.  After you make your best educated decision, you have to go with it and plan as if it will be the biggest “launch” you’ve ever seen! 😉