Friday, January 10, 2014

It's Distribution Not Marketing That Is Key

We have talked a lot here about how authors need to be marketing gurus. It is so crucial to get the word out about your latest book and how amazing it is. Authors, I do believe, are doing a pretty darn good job about this. They do blog tours, they get their book out to as many review sites as possible. They Tweet. They Facebook... All of this is really good.

But here's the catch.

Regardless of how much work the author does, if the reader cannot get to the book, if that book, in one way or another is unavailable to the readers, all of that hard work was for nothing. Unfortunately, for many authors, this is becoming an increasingly harder challenge with so many of the bookstores that we used to love going to, closing their doors.

Now here is the other twist to the story and one that really makes it frustrating as an agent. When we sit down with the publishers to negotiate a new book deal for an author, the publishers will return to the "sales figures." These "golden numbers" tell all. I get it. You certainly don't want to sell a product that no one wants to buy. But here is the part we seem to be missing. It isn't that the readers don't want to buy the product; it is that the reader can't buy the product due to availability.

Let me give you two examples from Greyhaus authors that were directly affected by this. One author had an amazing run with her first book. The editor loved, the publisher loved it. And yet, when it was time for the second book to come out, the author found herself in the middle of an argument between the publisher and a major bookbuyer. A similar situation would be a kid in the middle of a custody battle. The result was devastating for the author. Her books remained in a warehouse and never made it to the readers. Advance reviews of the books were incredible. People were begging for the book. The author was receiving a ton of feedback on email, snail mail and her blog complaining they couldn't get the book. Unfortunately, when it was time for the next book contract, the publisher returned to those golden numbers, said sales were down and that was it. We showed them the rationale but in the end, it was only the numbers.

A second example came when Borders shut down. In this case, another author had her book coming out, unfortunately, the week Borders decided to shut the doors. That was 50% in sales and the same thing happened to her.

Publishers seem to think that moving to the "digital realm" will solve all of this. Now the books are available 24/7. But, once again, while this might sound like a great idea, we seem to be forgetting that e-book sales are only about 20% of the total book sales. We aren't talking about "outselling" but simply the total number sold.

This same issue also extends to all of the authors out there doing it on their own. Look, if you produce your book in print or digitally, are your readers even getting to the books? Again, this is not an issue of telling them about it, but more about how they are going to get the darn book. Readers are, unfortunately, pretty darn lazy. If there's this great book they hear about, they want it NOW, not when it finally makes it to them. If they have to work too hard to get the book, they will simply not buy it. This was one of the great benefits of the book store. You were in the story and you could walk out with it. You didn't have to rely on "having the right technology" to read it, or a wi-fi connections to download it; or knowing which website to go to; or navigating the sometimes confusing online retailers just to find the book. You found it on the shelf and bought it.

I bring this up because there are publishers out there, in an attempt to "save money" are shifting models to remove books from bookshelves and put those titles in other formats (primarily digital). This is hurting authors. Instead, maybe the approach would be to push for making those books more available. In other words, sell more. By doing so, the money starts coming in to everyone.

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to add discoverability as a key challenge facing writers.