Monday, September 3, 2012

The Biggest Secret of Successful Authors

Bill Clinton Book Signing, 2004
In my years in the book industry, one truth has been absolutely clear when it comes to book sales and success. Want to know what it is? It is simple, and it should come as no surprise.

Here it is:

Active authors sell books, inactive authors don't.

Pretty profound, huh?

And yet it stands to reason that with more than 1.5 million new books released into the marketplace every year, every author must work incredibly hard to stand out from the pack.

Standing out can't be done by the publisher and publicist alone or by simply having a very good book. After all, every author claims their book is terrific and needs to be set apart. This can be incredibly difficult if you are not a household name like the author in my picture above. Even if you don't admire him (I actually don't agree with his politics or personal decisions at all, but he does know how to sell books), I think you may recognize him. But you know what he didn't do? He didn't sit back and expect his publisher to sell books for him. He understood that the success of his book would rise and fall on his ability to generate interest and engage his audience, as we see him doing above.

If Bill Clinton - who stood as the leader of the free world for 8 years - needs to promote his book, be the face of his book, and engage people personally in order to sell books and be a successful author, then I don't know of a single author that can afford to not do the very same.

Along with the calling to write a book comes the calling to promote and sell it. You cannot separate the two, and very few (if any) writers can simply afford to only write and leave the selling to someone else.

Stephen King on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson", 2012
This summer I watched Stephen King make an appearance on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" to promote his most recent book. It can be argued that there is not a more famous or prolific writer in the last century than Stephen King, and whether you like his writing or not, the reality is that he understands and knows the need to be visible and actively promote his work in order to sell books and be successful.

The overall point is something I've been discussing with the Founder of Tate Publishing, Dr. Richard Tate. He recently said to me, "We're simply seeing more and more in this industry that it's not just about the book - it's about the author." In other words, having a good book isn't enough. But if you couple an excellent product with an author that will be active and visible, the results can be terrific.

You might think it's easy for authors like Bill Clinton and Stephen King to sell books due to their name recognition, and certainly they may have opportunities that non-celebrity authors may never have. But both worked to build their platforms for years and years - engaging people, building an audience, and developing a following. At one point in their lives and careers, both authors were entirely unknown and had to start building influence and growing a platform in their respective fields. It didn't happen overnight for either of them.

If you don't know where to start and are a Tate Publishing author, you have an advantage that most authors in the book industry never have in your assigned Marketing Representative. This person can brainstorm with you and direct our team of publicists on your behalf to make contacts and pursue events and opportunities for sales. And at the same time, you can be building your audience, making contacts, and pursuing your own events for our team to publicize as well. The more active you are, the more books will be sold.

This summer alone, our marketing department at Tate Publishing scheduled, publicized, and promoted nearly 3000 events nationwide for our authors. These events include speaking engagements, retail bookstore signings, craft fairs, church and school events, book festivals - pretty much anywhere and everywhere that authors can find people to engage and sell books. According to recent reports from Publisher's Weekly, only 30% of books sold are sold in brick and mortar bookstores in today's market, so authors must take advantage of opportunities for events in as many locations as possible, finding out where their target audience is located and taking the books straight to those potential readers.

If you aren't active, the best time to become active is right now. If you have been an inactive author, make a decision to become active and to purposefully be the face of your book. The results will be seen quickly, and though it is hard work, it can be extremely rewarding (and even fun!) in the long run.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Author Interview: Laura Eckroat

From time to time I hear great success stories (contact me if you'd like to share yours!) from authors that are selling books, reaching readers, and having a blast doing so. To me, this is absolutely how every author should approach spreading the word about their books. When you find that fit, replicate it, engage readers personally, and have fun!

Author Laura Eckroat has three titles with Tate Publishing, and you can find her books here. I recently asked Laura some questions about her success in growing visibility over the years...

Congratulations on the success, Laura. It seems like almost every day I am hearing from you about another successful event you’ve just had or another one scheduled. What is the best promotional strategy you have pursued as an author?

I have found that people really enjoy meeting the characters in my books -- When I have brought Ashley (AJ in A Simpler Time) and Muffin (from my latest book Went Out To Get a Donut...), people connect with them and want to take pictures with them.  They tell me that when they read the story to the child that the book is for, they love showing the pictures of who the book is about.   

What has been the least effective strategy?

Sitting at home and not being at an event! I believe that getting in front of as many people as you can is very effective.     

How has niche marketing been a part of your plan?

Niche marketing has been a huge part of my plan. Each of my books is uniquely different, but also very much intertwined.  The underlying theme of my first two books is science and nature.  I am able to do presentations, workshops, school visits, and other programs teaching kids about nature and creative writing.  But I also have found distinctly different programs for each book, too -- like grief groups, mother/daughter events, and now pet spas and bakeries!  I have learned something at each and every event and believe it is all part of the big plan and enjoy each and every one!  If people like one of your books, they will most likely enjoy one of the other ones or they may suggest one of your other titles to someone else.

How is the book industry different than you imagined before becoming a professional author?

I wasn't sure what to expect, but I guess it actually is more fun than I thought!  I am glad that I have been able to experience so many venues and met so many different people -- from being the Grand Marshall in my hometown's Easter parade & winning the North Texas Book Festival for The Life of Bud in 2010, to meeting James Warhola (Andy Warhol's brother) at the Baltimore Book Festival (and him liking my book!); to having Ted Kerasote endorse my 2nd book and keeping in contact with me and him inviting me to meet him at his book event in Austin and us exchanging books!; to now being chosen to have my 3rd book featured in Fort Worth Texas Magazine in the June edition.  Each event and venue and contact have built on each other, and I feel I've actually gotten fairly far in a short amount of time. I can't even imagine where I will end up in a few more years!

What is the one bit of advice you would give to new authors getting started?

You need to try and experience as many different venues and events as possible and be open to traveling.  Don't get discouraged when you are at an event and may sell only 1 book; think of it as touching one person at a time.  I love seeing children's faces light up when I read my books to them or when their parents tell them that I'm the author and am signing the book for them -- that is PRICELESS and reminds me of why I write. So think about why you write...and remember that reason, when and if you get discouraged.  And my final word of advice -- ENJOY THE JOURNEY!

Monday, April 30, 2012

It's a Marathon...

Yesterday I ran the team relay in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, which is an annual event here to remember those affected by the horror of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in OKC back in 1995. This marathon is attended by thousands from all over the world and the U.S., and it has become a highlight of the spring for many.

As I ran yesterday, I began thinking of how many things in life take time. It seemed like my leg of the relay would never end, and it was miniscule in comparison to the entire 26.2 miles.

The streets were lined with spectators cheering, and it wasn't long before I started spotting some along the way. Even the encouragement of strangers lifted me as I continued running...and running...and running. Yes, I had to resort to walking some. But I never stopped, never quit. My calves cramped a bit, and it was uncomfortable. But I kept going, kept my legs moving, and knew I had a goal to reach.

At one point I connected with our CEO and President, Ryan Tate. He was running the entire marathon, as he does nearly every year. Seeing him and spending just a few short moments with him lifted my spirits incredibly, something I have heard happens to marathon runners. A familiar face, a few words of encouragement, and my pace picked up. I finished strong and handed off at the next station to my next relay teammate, who happened to be my wife.

My mind drifted to many things as I ran, including how similar running a marathon is to marketing books. It is always difficult, it involves hard work, and persistence and patience is needed. There are highs and lows. Some make it, and some don't finish. The finish line always seems an eternity away.

But in marketing a book there are familiar faces that can lift you - family, friends, and even your publisher and marketing team. At Tate Publishing, every author works with a Marketing Representative, and that person can brainstorm, offer encouragement, and provide the needed lift to help you push on through. When running a marathon, there are unexpected problems...a loose shoelace, a rain shower, not drinking enough water beforehand to be properly hydrated, etc. Marketing your book can offer frustrations as well.

But the key is to never stop moving, never stop going forward. Look for a few familiar faces for encouragement, and just keep going.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Are We Having Fun Yet?

When it comes to selling books, something is wrong if you are not having fun. Very wrong.

Think about it. You have taken your book from an idea, to a manuscript, now to a published work. No one knows it inside and out like you do, and no one will be more passionate about sharing your message than you will.

Doing that should be fun, just like it's fun to show off your new car, your new baby, or your new home. I'm not talking about bragging and being obnoxious, but about genuinely being excited and passing along that enthusiasm. Remember, enthusiasm can be contagious, and nothing is better for a book than that kind of organic, grassroots excitement.

Not all phases will be fun, and there will likely be failures along the way. That's life, and nothing that is worth anything in life comes easy. Publishing a book is not for the weak at heart. You will face rejection, frustration, and trouble. That's par for the course and shouldn't discourage you. Resistance on the path to success makes you stronger, and as an author, a huge part of the process is finding out what works - and what doesn't - for you and your book. That takes time, and it is done by trial and error. But breaking through after hard work can be extremely rewarding.

Once you find what does work, replicate it to death. Have fun with it, be a blessing to others, and find a way to help people by using your book. Whether it is fund-raising, taking your children's book to schools and seeing the kids' faces light up, or challenging someone with exactly what they need from your book, these opportunities can be fun and provide a terrific outlet for spreading the word.

If doing this has become painful and is no longer fun, it's time to re-evaluate what you are pursuing. There are always new directions and possibilities to pursue. And if you are a Tate author, contact your Marketing Representative. That person has years of experience in helping authors find their best fit, and we can help you breathe new life - and fun - back into marketing your book.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Don't Give Up!

One of the best parts of my job is seeing hard work pay off. When authors follow our plan, team with us, stay active, and pursue any and every option they can, success can be found.

The flip side of that is the frustration of seeing some authors throw in the towel too soon. Publishing can be a frustrating and defeating business. Expectations go unmet, or the journey is tougher than the author thought it might be, and the author gives up, never allowing his or her book to truly reach its potential.

For the authors that are persistent - and patient - success can certainly be found. But publishing a book is not a "get rich quick" scheme. Those that expect their book to light the world on fire just because it is available often fail to see the hard work and years of labor that bestselling authors put into their work. It doesn't happen overnight, and there are usually failures and disappointments along the way.

But disappointment can lead to great joy - and make that joy sweeter - when the successes do finally come. The author that gives up and quits promoting when resistance is met or the bookstore sales dry up is going to miss that joy and the great satisfaction of seeing their persistence and patience pay off.

Some of our most successful authors are seeing their best sales and success two or three years after their release date. They have gone through trial and error and have had their share of ups and downs - but here are three traits they all have in common:

1. They did not sit back to "see what someone else was going to do." They were aggressive and remained aggressive, and they took ownership of their book and their marketing. That's what successful authors do.
2. They kept in close communication with their Tate Marketing Representative. They followed up on leads, made contacts in conjunction with our team, and brainstormed often with their rep for new avenues and ideas.
3. They DID...NOT...QUIT.

When frustrations inevitably occur, it is time to get busy...not time to get angry and give up.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Tale of Two Authors...and Opposing Views

One of the best parts of my job is working with a variety of people and meeting authors from all over the country. Every author I meet is passionate about their work, and they should be. In fact, I can't imagine why an author would even write a book if they weren't extremely excited and motivated concerning the topic of his or her book.

When it comes to marketing and selling books, I also see a wide array of attitudes and beliefs. Just this week I have come across two extremes that are at opposite ends of the author spectrum.

On one hand, I heard from an author that is just overflowing with events in her community, having signings and readings everywhere from her local McDonald's restaurant to her nearby Hampton Inn Hotel, local schools, libraries, and pharmacies. How did she get in there? you might ask. Simple...she personally visited these local establishments, showed the managers her book, and politely asked. She didn't go through corporate headquarters, worry about submitting to buyers, or jump through many hoops. She is proud of her work and is excited about it, and it shows. She's had other venues in her area decline hosting her for events, but she didn't let that discourage her. This author hasn't even reached her official release date yet, when her book will be available through online retailers and when we will begin approaching bookstores for events on her behalf. Although for this author, she may beat us to the punch, and I have no doubt the bookstores will be receptive to events for her. She is excited for every opportunity and is always looking for more. So far this author has had more than a dozen events, and we are blitzing the area radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers for each and every event for additional promotion and publicity. Best of all, this author is having the time of her life meeting people and sharing her book with others.

On the other hand, I heard from another author this week with an opposite viewpoint that said he had no marketing plans and stated that it was up to the publisher to do all his marketing and get his book into stores so it would sell. He said his job is to write, and it is the publisher's job to do everything else for him. Unfortunately for him, that model simply does not exist anymore. This is now true industry-wide, regardless of the publisher. This author is unwilling to work, won't make contacts, won't engage people, and quite honestly, doesn't seem to have much enthusiasm for spreading the news about the very book he decided to write.

There is a very sharp contrast between these two authors, and after reading this, you likely fall somewhere in between. That's fine...every author must determine how active they intend to be. But the fact remains that active authors sell books. Inactive authors do not.

The reality of marketing a book in today's marketplace is that you - the author - are the face of your book. And with over three million books released in 2010 (2011 numbers have not yet been released), the truth is that each author must be highly involved in the marketing of his or her book in order to find success.

Of course, this really is nothing new. Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield, authors and creators of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, sold books at every Chamber of Commerce luncheon and Lion's Club meeting they could find for years and years before their brand became a household name. Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose Driven Life," sold books from the trunk of his car for more than a decade before his book grew into a bestseller. Country music star Lee Greenwood, whose book with Tate Publishing will be released later this year, stated, "It only took 20 years for me to become an overnight success."

This doesn't mean authors have to do everything on their own, but they do have to work hard, network, meet people, and engage their audience. The authors that do so have two things in common - they sell the most books and have the time of their lives doing it.

A new year brings about new ideas, resolutions, etc. If you are a Tate Publishing author, I would encourage you to resolve to be active this year, to contact your marketing representative at Tate Publishing to brainstorm and discuss ideas, and to determine to be involved in promoting your work in a new way this year. Think back to why you wrote the book and consider how to engage those that need it most. It may have nothing to do with bookstores but instead with taking your book to your audience, rather than hoping your audience somehow finds you in the existing crowded sea of books. There is a team in place here to help you that the majority of authors in this industry only wish they had access to, and we are ready to partner with you to pursue your success. But it won't happen without you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Serving to Sell

Every author in the book industry has to work hard to achieve sales and success. That is non-negotiable, and if you show me an author that isn't active and working, I'll show you an author that is frustrated with the lack of sales for their book.

Bookstores alone aren't going to do it for you, and celebrities and other authors aren't going to sell your books for you. In today's market, authors must be particularly proactive in building a following, engaging their audience, and getting their books in front of people.

But at the same time, this doesn't mean going door-to-door selling your book. In fact, people don't like to be "sold." But they are interested in buying, especially if it will benefit them or someone they care for.

This is why it is crucial for you as an author to plug in to your community and find a way to serve others. If you can meet needs, it will open doors.

Here are three ways to do so, and none of them involve leading with your book.

  1. Find a cause worth giving to, and use your book as a fundraiser. Whether it is a church with an upcoming mission trip, a school with a building project, or some other community need (funding a new local park or opening a homeless shelter), there are always worthy causes around you. Find those causes, contact those overseeing the project, and tell them you want to help raise money. You can then hold an event or fundraiser and donate a portion from each book sold to the cause you choose. (Hint: The area media may not care about your book, but they might care about a local author serving the community and raising money creatively.)
  2. Plug in to libraries or local literacy programs and organize an event of your own with other local authors to raise money or awareness. This can lead to sales, but more importantly, it can also be a great networking opportunity that can lead to additional projects and events...which, in turn, can lead to sales.
  3. Develop your public speaking skills, and share your story in a way that benefits others. Don't know what to speak about? Start with what motivated you to write your book and why it is important to you. Remember, your book is an extension of you, and often the book-buying public will make a decision about you before they make a decision about your book. Lead with a cause, lead with your passion, and let your book accompany you.
Remember, the immediate goal is meeting needs and finding ways to serve others. Lead with a helping hand, not your book. If you can meet a need and find ways to serve others, book sales might not be the first step, but they can instead become the natural overflow of your efforts.