Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every week, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS
Publishing & Technology: Don’t Call it a Comeback
This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about the return of the independent bookstore, the potential return of the not-so-independent bookstore, and the settling of the e-book market.
Last week the New York Times published an article in its Media section titled “Why Barnes & Noble Isn’t Going Away Yet.” In this article, Alexandra Alter primarily credits Barnes & Noble’s diversification at the retail level for them having another “not-so-bad quarter.” But with the BBC reporting the very next day that Barnes & Noble are shutting down their UK digital storefront for the UK and essentially pulling out of the UK ebook market, it may be a bit early to call it a comeback.
The Beginning of the End for the Ebook?
In the Times article, Alter goes on to give credit for Barnes & Noble’s “not-so-bad quarter,” and a larger resurgence for local independent book retailers, to a generally sagging overall ebook market, quoting Association of American Publishers’ statistics showing ebook sales dropping by a little over twelve percent in the first ten months of 2015 while paperback sales grew roughly the same amount.
The Return of the Local Bookstore?
Bookstores as a segment of the retail industry did see growth last year for the first time in eight years. Barnes & Noble closed less stores last year than they have since before the turn of the Millenium. Even independent bookstores have seen gains over the last five years adding just over 300 stores nationwide. But for all the good news, it still seems a bit early to declare a sea change, or anything resembling a return to the days before ebooks and the market
OK, nonfiction writers. You’ve heard it before. If you really want to impress an agent or a publisher, make sure you have three things: a great idea, great writing, and a great author platform.
But more and more, platform is becoming THE way to secure a book deal.
This is because while writing can be fixed or edited and the idea can be tweaked, platform has to happen organically.
It can’t happen by chance. It can’t be bought. It’s about hard work over a period of time and it’s something that only the author can bring to the table.
So what do impressive social media stats look like?
Brace yourselves. Winter is coming.
A decent nonfiction author platform has a handful of the following components:
If you have a website or blog your monthly unique visitor count should be at least 30,000
(a unique visitor number of 100,000 is likely to secure a book deal)
If you have a Twitter account your followers should be at least 10,000 (and you should have stats that show considerable growth over the past six months)
If you have a Facebook page you should have at least 8,000 likes (along with Insights that show your past and projected growth)
If you’re a public speaker you should speak at least 30 times a year and you should shoot for a newsletter list of at least 10,000
Publishing Is More Competitive Than Ever
Needless to say, these numbers aren’t easy to achieve, and I’ve seen a number of authors who HAVE these numbers come away without a book deal.
But on the flip side, I’ve seen authors with the bare minimum of the above components land a book deal because they also had great writing and a great idea.
So yes. Platform is HUGE. It’s an absolute must if you write fiction. But never underestimate the power of strong, moving writing and a great,
Continuing my series on literary devices, I’m talking less today about how to use a specific literary device and more about how to avoid using one, specifically an often-criticized device known as “deus ex machina.”
Deus ex machina is probably one of those literary devices that ring a vague bell from your high school literature class. Literally translated as “the god in the machine” (or “the god from the machine”), deus ex machina refers to a plot device or development that serves to almost supernaturally resolve tangled conflict or rescue characters when all hope seems lost and no other solution seems possible. Its name comes from the days of ancient Greek theater when a divine character would be lowered into the middle of the climax by a crane or similar “machine” to right all the wrongs, punish the bad, reward the good, and straighten out what otherwise appeared to be a hopelessly complicated plot. And from its first uses, deus ex machina has been criticized as the crutch used by lazy or unskilled authors who either don’t care enough to figure out a realistic solution to their characters’ problems or who failed to construct a plot that can be resolved believably (in the universe of the story).
In modern literature, deus ex machina occurs when an author brings in a completely unlooked-for solution to what seems like an otherwise hopeless problem or plot tangle. For example, the main character in a suspense novel is backed into a corner at gunpoint in a concrete bunker 100 feet underground, the police don’t know where he is, the bad guy is about to pull the trigger– and an earthquake occurs, knocking the bad guy to his feet and unconscious, breaking down the concrete door, and making a clear path to the exit. The word “earthquake” has never been used before this point in the novel, no one has mentioned fault lines or cave-ins,
Now that you know what your brand is, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what goals you’re trying to reach, and who your target market is, you need to make some specific choices. What are the basic strategies you’re going to use to market your book? There are a million things you COULD do. Maybe you’ve picked up a couple of marketing books that offer “101 marketing ideas,” or you’ve attended a seminar and heard other authors talk about a bunch of ideas they’ve tried. You can’t do them all… so what steps will you choose?‘Will you focus on blog tours? Give away a lot of copies? Talk with reading groups? Redesign your website? Do some conference speaking? Distribute press kits? Try to get on a bunch of radio programs? Spend a lot of time placing articles with magazines and e-zines? Develop podcasts? Solicit dozens of reviews? Dig deep into the various Amazon tools? Network with key people? Focus on your blog readership? Use your associations or groups to get the word out? Develop a bunch of give-aways? Focus on broadcast media? Spend a lot of time at libraries? Visit targeted groups around the country? Participate in direct mail? Get involved in trade shows and conventions? Rely on key endorsements and recommendations? Do an author tour? Buy advertisements on the best websites? Try to steer sales to your website?‘You can’t do them all. In fact, you don’t want to do them all, since they wouldn’t all prove effective for your book. So as you think about your target market, what are the basic strategies that make sense? As you think about your strengths and weaknesses, what are the strategies you definitely need to consider? What are the strategies you probably need to forget about? At this step, you’re simply picking the basic areas in which you plan to work.‘And remember, most marketing gurus will
If you were taking a class in marketing, this is the process you’d go through in order to create a marketing plan. So once you “know yourself,” “know your strengths and weaknesses,” and “know your goal,” the fourth step you’ll need to complete is to know your target audience.Who are your readers? What are they like? What is their age? Their sex? What are their interests? What do they like and dislike? What do they find interesting? Where do they hang out? What memberships do they have? What is their socio-economic status? If you could describe your readers, what words would you use? What do they all share in common? What you’re trying to do here is to identify the similarities among those who will be interested in your book. Beginning writers tend to say, “Everyone will like my book! It appeals to young and old, men and women, Republicans and Democrats, religious and nonreligious…” Except marketing has proven that’s not true. Groups of people tend to like a product, while other groups tend to ignore that same product. So who is your group? How would you describe them? As your grandma used to say, “Birds of a feather flock together.” So… who is your flock?‘And where are they? Geography can have a lot to do with marketing your books. Where do they congregate? If they tend to reside in the South, that dictates where you’ll market. If they tend to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, that helps you know how best to market your work. If they tend to travel a lot, that says something about where you’ll find them, and how you can reach out to them. So don’t skip this part of the plan — spend time thinking through who your reader is, what he or she is like, and where they tend to go.You want to think through
No matter what publishers may tell you, not everyone needs a blog.
But you all should be on blogs.
Here’s the difference: keeping up your own blog is a lot of work, and depending on your genre of writing, it may be difficult to write a blog that will naturally attract and retain visitors.
It’s much less work to write posts on blogs that are already up and running. As my agent Chip MacGregor likes to say, “the secret to good marketing is figuring out where people already are and go and stand in front of them.”
Rather than creating your own blog where you try to catch people’s attention, write on someone else’s blog who has already captured that attention. It’s a lot easier!
I write a large blog in the Christian marriage and sex niche, and I have a lot of people guest posting for me. There’s a big difference, though, between the guest posts that actually work for the authors and those that don’t really reap very many benefits for those authors. Here’s how to get the most benefit for all your work crafting a great guest post.
1: Know What Your Aim Is
It’s very difficult to sell a book directly from a guest post, especially if you’re a novelist. Before people buy the book they often have to hear about you several times. That’s why your aim, when you are guest posting, should not be to sell your book. It should be to get more readers onto your newsletter list.
That’s right–you need a newsletter! I have a blog that gets over 40,000 people on it a day, but I can tell you that the vast majority of my book sales come from emails, not from blog posts. It’s the people who get an email from me in their inbox who become loyal followers.
You can have a newsletter without having a blog (perhaps
With all this marketing you’re going to be doing for your book, what are you trying to achieve? And that leads to the third step in marketing your book: Asking yourself, “What’s the goal of your marketing plan?”
My experience is that many authors have a vague goal… sort of a sense that “they want people to hear about my book somehow.”
That won’t cut it. When you create your marketing plan, you should have some specific, measurable goals in mind. What do you want to accomplish? How will you determine success? Don’t just say, “I want to speak at conferences and retreats.” Instead, say something like, “I want to be in front of 100,000 people total over the course of the next year,” then start looking for venues that will add up to that number. Don’t just say, “I’d like to do some radio.” Instead, give yourself a number of interviews you’d like to do, a number of cities you’d like to reach, a number of listeners you’d like to be in front of. With social media, are you trying to simply get in front of people? Increase your engagement? Establish relationships? Are you trying to boost word of mouth?
Look, all marketing is trying to do two things: Try to get noticed, and try to boost sales. I’ve often said that the core of marketing is to figure out where your audience is, then go stand in front of them. So your marketing plan is your way to start working toward that goal. If you create clear expectations, you’ll know what success is. And if you set a firm number on the various activities you plan to involve yourself in, you’ll discover you’ve turned your plan into something measurable, rather than something ethereal.
It’s amazing how a number turns vague ideas into crystal clear plans. What are you trying to achieve through your marketing?
Welcome back (after a short hiatus) to my series on using literary devices in the real world. After my post on tone, reader Laurie brought up the subject of voice– “Voice is something, like tone, that has always felt a little elusive to me.” Based on the number of questions we at the blog get about voice, Laurie’s not alone! I understand the frustration some authors have with the mystique that sometimes surrounds the concept of “voice” in writing – I’m as guilty as the next agent or editor who rhapsodizes about a “great writing voice” or fantasizes about finding the next great “voice” without spending a lot of time talking about this seemingly indefinable quality. That’s probably because author voice is a tricky quality to talk about without being too prescriptive. My favorite definition of voice is “the personality of the author as revealed through the writing.” That said, it’s hard for an agent to give specific advice about voice without sounding like we’re suggesting you change your personality/writing style, or without sounding as if we’re dictating what that should be. In reality, all we really want is for your voice to present more clearly and strongly on the page.
In my last post, I talked about tone, tone being the author’s attitude towards his subject, whether that’s flippant, derisive, sentimental, etc. Because tone is a quality that can be very personal/distinctive, it’s often confused with voice– tone contributes to voice, certainly, but it’s just one of the many ways an author reveals his personality on the page. When it’s done well, voice tells me in the first couple of paragraphs what the author’s style of humor is, how intellectual his writing is, what tone he’s taking, how seriously she takes herself, what she’s “rated–” PG or R?– etc. Regardless of the type of book being written, the answers to these questions about the author’s personality can
I was talking to an author a couple years ago who said she was going to hire a freelance publicist to help land her a bunch of radio interviews. Knowing she (1) hates talking in public, and (2) has what could charitably be termed a shrill voice, I simply asked her, “Uh… why?” She rolled her eyes. “Because that’s what everyone EXPECTS, Chip. I need to be on the radio, blathering about my book!”
I suggested that was a lousy idea. She’s uncomfortable with the whole thing, it wouldn’t put her in the best light, and I didn’t see how it was going to help her sell her book, which was a traditional romance novel. The author remained unconvinced, so if you were driving down the street and listening to an author blather uncomfortably in a voice that sounds like fingers on a chalkboard, you’ll know who it was….
Why do some people seem to think they must do some marketing activities just because some other author did those marketing activities? Look, once you know what your strengths are (both the strengths of your book as well as the strengths of your marketing abilities), you need to take an honest look at what your weaknesses are. Who does your book NOT appeal to? (You can skip those websites and e-zines.) Who will NOT find your topic fascinating? (No sense trying to get in front of them.) What are you not good at? (Maybe you could focus the bulk of your efforts on areas in which you shine.)
Strategic planning types used to do what they called their “SWOT” analysis — where they would make a list of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Doing this while creating a marketing plan can help you determine what to do, and remember what NOT to do. Where are you strong? Where are you weak? What will you enjoy? Where will you struggle? What
We’ve been asked a bunch of times about marketing your own book, and while Amanda does this amazingly well every Thursday, I thought I’d jump in with a few thoughts of my own. If you were to take a class in marketing, the first thing they’d tell you is that you have to KNOW YOUR PRODUCT. Since you’re writing books, that means you have to know yourself and your manuscripts. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you do a good job with? What comes to mind when people see your book?
Look at it this way… If I say to you, “Mercedes,” what comes to mind? (Quality? Luxury? Expense?) Now if I say to you, “Toyota,” what comes to mind? (Dependability? Value? Middle-of-the-road-working cars?) And if I say to you, “Yugo,” what comes to mind? (Junk? Breakdowns? El-cheapo?)
You see, each of those auto manufacturers have a brand, and that brand sticks in your head. In fact, you might have solid impressions of those three car brands, even if you’ve never owned any of them. Why? Because the auto manufacturers have spent a lot of time thinking about the brand, how they want to shape it and express it. And you’ve had a number of exposures to those brands through TV commercials, reviews, articles, online discussion groups, and word of mouth from people you trust. With all those inputs, you have some sense of what the “brand” of each car is.
Your books also have a brand. One marketing guru has said that every brand offers a promise – so Mercedes promises luxury, Toyota promises dependability, and Yugo promised the cheapest car on the market. Now put that to work with your writing career… What promise do you offer your readers? What can they expect every time they come into contact with your words? I mean, for years if you saw a John Grisham book, you