Travels with Myself

A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author

23.4 Sustaining Drive, and Marketing Books 2

In my previous post I spoke of the need for stamina and persistence for achieving any worthwhile endeavour. Being an author – and getting read – is one such challenging endeavour.

Writing may be challenging enough but marketing and promoting one’s book is anathema. And most marketing these days is done through social media – a living hell.

Many authors seek to avoid all this marketing hell. Instead of getting into the market and promoting their books themselves they direct their energies to finding an agent, who in turn will find them a publisher who will do all this marketing and promotion for them. Maybe.

If you don’t have a publisher (and even if you do have one – that’s no assurance your books will be aggressively promoted to bookstores) you need to get your books into readers’ hands yourself.

The retailing of books – and that doesn’t mean Bookstores

Used to be that most books were sold in bookstores. Imagine that. Authors needed to find publishers who had connections with bookstores which in turn would agree, or be incentivized (what an awful word), to sell their books. Then along came Amazon.

Amazon, through an amazing distribution strategy and the internet, have captured about 80%+ of the retail market for books in Canada, possibly the world. Large scale retailers (think Borders in the USA and even Chapters in Canada, and chains of small stores (think W H Smith Books) have largely disappeared under the Amazon on-slot. Indie bookstores struggled, and their demise was widely predicted. Amazon originally were merely a gigantic warehouse for distributing books; now they have become a manufacturer of books. Indie authors are pretty much obliged to get their books listed on Amazon, either as the direct distributor/printer, or at least included in the General Distribution network through another printing company. Even so, you still have to promote your books to potential buyers. 

Not only have on-line distributors taken over the book retail business, the format of books themselves (think e-books and audio books) has gouged out big chunks of the traditional market for print books. An even bigger gouge appears to be that fewer and fewer people are actually readers. People these days get their entertainment from video devices: Netflix, podcasts and video platforms (You Tube, Tik Tok) and on-line games. It’s a shrinking market for books; and with a growing list of available books from all those aspiring indie authors (see our previous article), it’s little wonder Indie authors face huge obstacles getting their books into the hands of readers, even the willing readers.

Print-on-demand press companies have made it possible for independent authors to have their books printed and cashiered simply and inexpensively – you no longer have to buy a thousand copies from the printer for you to store in your basement; you can of course choose to keep a supply on hand but it can be as few as a couple of copies. Now your customer goes to your press company, or distribution company (Amazon), places her order, and the press produces a copy (or copies!) for shipping. Your unit costs are higher – and that may cut significantly into your net margin when you take into account price elasticity – but that’s better than having boxes of books in your home warehouse.

These publishing/press companies do the same for the e-book version of your book (except for the physical inventory!). The customer simply goes to his distributor of choice, presses ‘Buy’, and downloads the book. Voila!

Audio-books are much more complicated to produce and so far are done in separate channels from conventional publishers and press companies. Most audiobooks are produced at speciality studios and then distributed through retail and podcast channels. ‘Audible’ is the leading producer and distributor of audiobooks in Canada – it’s another Amazon division. Friesen Press is a Canadian publisher/printer of books since 1907 and now has a division for helping indie authors produce audio books and distribute them through audio-book channels. Penguin Random House, the world’s largest publishing company (but are struggling with profitability), distributes audio-books through its network of retailers but, as far as I know, doesn’t produce audio-books themselves. Even so, most of this market goes to apple and google via on-line podcasts.   

Lulu is my printer and distributor. They take care of the whole process of order receipt, collecting payment, printing and shipping my books; e-books too. They do not produce audiobooks. (Hey, maybe I should investigate Friesen.) They have a huge catalogue of subscribers’ (i.e., authors) books; customers could browse their catalogue but people seem to find little joy in that. They do almost no promotion of those books. The author has to do that himself.

So you put up a website with pictures of your books, and nice enticing blurbs, with links to your distributor (lulu, amazon); you produce author profiles on bookish sites (Goodreads, amazon, Lulu); you create a newsletter and recruit as many subscribers as you can; you set up social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, twitter, and dozens more I don’t even know) and invite followers, you post regularly, you add images because you’re told pictures attract more attention than mere words and hope something might go viral; you eschew videos as just too challenging; you notice other authors’ social media stats with thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of followers, and you wonder, how the devil did they do it? Promoting on sm is a lot of work. You begin to think sm actually stands for sado-masochism.

In desperation you fall prey to claims that you can reach thousands of people through on-line advertisements. You give Facebook $25 and run an ad, which produces nothing; partly this is because Facebook thinks you are a local dry cleaning company and the ‘reach’ is 50,000 people within 25 miles, or maybe 50 miles if you pay more. You wonder how you can sell your books to the English speaking world. You try again, perhaps with multiple platforms, wary of the truism that advertising is successful, not so much for a brilliant ad, but because of repetition. So you run an ad again. You watch your bank account go down.

There’s got to be a better sm platform to promote AFS Publishing. TikTok?

More on stamina and marketing next post.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata, Canada. © Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

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