I thought it would be interesting to tell you all about a conversation I had with some marketing types while at a conference recently. I was particularly interested in what they perceived as being the components of a healthy novel marketing campaign (and if you’re a nonfiction writer, keep in mind that I was talking with these folks specifically about fiction marketing). We brainstormed what works and what doesn’t, talked about about the various issues involved, and in the end came down to just a half-dozen important steps…
1. Most successful marketing campaigns are focused on a high concept book. That means the book isn’t just another familiar story, but a BIG story, a BIG idea. People hear about it and immediately understand what the story will be focused on, and that it’s a big, over-the-top idea. Not every book you write will be in this category, but it’s worth understanding that a high concept idea can help you succeed in today’s market.
2. The second step we noted is that successful marketing campaigns usually have a book with a great cover — which is important to remember when dealing with your publisher. You see, your editor is going to get a couple sample covers from the art director, and is expected to pitch you on them. (One of the little secrets of publishing is that everyone wants to save money on art costs, so they’ll sometimes try to twist your arm to accept whatever they’ve got. It’s cheaper that way.) It’s why sometimes a book will come out with a terrible cover, and everyone is wondering “why in the world didn’t the author complain?” The reason is usually because someone at the publishing house told the author it was great, and to trust them, since they know how to craft great covers, etc. I think this speaks to the importance of educating yourself about covers — what makes a good cover, what makes a bad cover, what covers get noticed, etc. It also speaks to the importance of getting your publisher to actually show you the sample, and to cc me, as your agent. There’s an old saw about “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but readers do exactly that all the time. Improve your chances of success by pushing the publisher to create a dynamite cover.
3. The third important step is that Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble buy your print book, and you get highlighted somewhere on Amazon as an ebook. Um… you don’t have anything to say about this, of course. You’re trusting the sales team at your publishing house does a good job of pitching your book to Wal-Mart, but that means getting to know your sales people, keeping a healthy relationship with them, and expressing your appreciation for them so that they know who you are and want you to succeed. Your sales rep is walking into the appointment at B&N with a bag full of ideas to sell. What you want is to be the first idea he pulls out of his bag. (And I should add that we had some good discussions about other accounts. Certainly having Family Christian Stores commit to your Christian novel is necessary if you’re going to have a big impact in CBA. And having Books-a-Million stock your Southern Fiction assures that you’ll begin to reach a wider audience. Having the folks at Amazon highlight your book means it’s going to be seen by the most readers possible.) The numbers make it clear: if you can get into Wal-Mart and a few other key retailers, your book will probably succeed.
More on this topic tomorrow, but I’m interested to know: What would you say helped sell the most copies of your novel?