The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
Front and Back Covers

Friday, April 8, 2011

Book Promotion: POD As A Marketing Strategy

There is no question that e-Books represent the future of publications. On March 21, 2011, The Association of American Publishers reported that e-sales more than doubled from $32.4 million in January 2010 to $69.9 million in January 2011. Meanwhile, hard cover sales fell from $55.4 million to $49.1 million, and mass market paperbacks, a format that's declining as baby boomers seek books with larger print, fell from $56.4 million to $39 million. E-book sales were as high as 50 percent of the total for some works, not just for commercial fiction, but even for so-called "midlist" books that depend on reviews and word of mouth. And there is a lot of evidence that sales of e-Books in children’s and YA genres are skyrocketing. That also stands to reason. Youth are more tech-savvy and comfortable with the hardware. They have no especially fondness for the recollected reading experiences of the over-forty crowd. Science fiction is also doing well because of the “techie, trekkie” connection.

We know that certain genres sell in e-Book format better than others. Romance and erotica do quite a flourishing business in e-Books. In December 2010, Sourcebooks, said that its third quarter reports showed that e-book sales accounted for 27-percent of its romance inventory even though total e-book sales account for around 10-percent of total book sales nationwide. E-book sales at Random jumped 250% in 2010 and accounted for 10% of sales in the U.S. (about $140 million). Penguin also had a big jump in e-book sales, 182%, which generated 6% of Penguin's worldwide sales, or $101. Simon & Schuster's e-book sales rose 122% last year, helping to offset a decline in book sales in the adult group, and e-books represented 8% of revenue, roughly $63 million. Hachette Book Group had strong e-book sales gains in 2010, the format accounting for 10% of its sales last year. Clearly, e-Books are set to outpace all print formats soon. Even the NY Times Book Review section has begun to take account of e-Book sales. 

There are also the travel and reference books that one used to lug around on vacations. Now it is more convenient to download them onto your Kindle of iPad, along with maps, itinerary, and foreign language dictionaries. (Like me, you may also want to download a Bible, Quran, or other useful cultural adjunct for your destination. They weigh nothing and these are available for free from the Gutenberg Project.) Marketing e-Books for these potential buyers just makes good common sense.

Do these statistics tell all? Part of the attraction for an e-Book is that the purchase can be made with relative anonymity. Books that once were kept behind the counter and sold in plain brown wrappers are right out there now in the e-Book world. It is not hard to envision that promotion of romance and erotica involves different strategies than other genres. 

But what if, like me, you have a traditional historical, or a murder/mystery, a cozy or a conventional thriller? Do the same considerations apply? Can I, with a historical thriller, simply ignore a print market? Should I, even when after sending out several promotional emails I received back responses from approximately 15% of the recipients saying they would wait for the print version?  This could amount, conservatively, to 20% of total sales alone, not counting potential sales at the kind of public events I described above and subsequent recommendations. 

To determine the value of POD as part of my marketing strategy, I have undertaken some research, which may be useful to others as well as to me. My investigation and conclusions though are not a universal endorsement of POD and come with a caveat: the usefulness of a POD as a marketing tool is genre-dependent. It may be totally inappropriate for a different genre. However, to cut to the chase, as they say, I conclude that for those seeking to promote literary fiction, traditional mysteries, who-done-its and straight historical novels, you may want to consider the POD instead of putting your money into a website ad.

I have come to the conclusion that investing in a POD version of The Flight of the Sorceress is probably the best promotional investment I can make. I am going to do it. It is not a question of vanity. The Flight of the Sorceress has a five star rating now on Amazon and plenty of good reviews. Since you are already reading this on the blog, you can easily see that the book is quality. The feedback from published authors has been great.

The Flight of the Sorceress was published in Oct. 2010s only as an e-Book. Previously, I published in print a semi-autobiographic novel, Bring The War Home! that sold approximately 1000 print copies and has somewhere over 2500 downloads in e-Book format, although most of those are give-aways. I currently have a list of folks who want a print version of The Flight of the Sorceress. I want to provide these people with a print version of The Flight of the Sorceress. But doing so requires an investment.

I began my inquiry by asking members of my writers’ groups what they thought. One told me he sells three e-Books for each print copy, but that he considered the POD version a mark of the credibility of his work. Another pointed out that the print version is essential for public appearances. This, he noted, did not include bookstores, where, after you deduct production costs and the bookstore cut and the publisher’s cut, leaves the author a meager royalty. On the other hand, there is profit to be made if the venue for readings is a solon, reading group, book party or something similar. I sold hundreds Bring the War Home! at such events, because I had a stack of books and a pen to autograph them. Both of these very fine writers agreed that the ability to deliver the product in multiple forms has an incremental value that ultimately enhances e-Book sales.
In July 2009, Bowker reported:
  • 57% of book buyers were women and purchased 65% of the books sold in the U.S.
  • Mystery books were the most popular genre for book club sales, with 17% of all purchases of mystery books coming directly from book clubs
  • Generation X consumers buy more books online than any other demographic group, with 30% of them buying their books through the Internet
  • 21% of book buyers said they became aware of a book through some sort of online promotion or ad
  • Women made the majority of the purchases in the paperback, hardcover and audio-book segments, but men accounted for 55% of e-book purchases
Admittedly, these statistics are stale. (I tried unsuccessfully to find on-line statistics on e-Book sales by genre. There are no charts or graphs to compare.) But, with respect to The Flight of the Sorceress, they remain relevant. The Flight of the Sorceress is a historical thriller and its two protagonists are heroic women, valiantly resisting the combined forces of church and state who are striving to even further subjugate women and to snuff out classical knowledge. 

I like to think I know my potential reader market. Older women are more likely to buy this book and are more likely to want to read it in print. They still like to browse in bookstores. They grew up reading books under the covers, using a flashlight to fool mom and dad. They tend to relish their Luddite-side. Though they are older, they are not dead and they tend to have disposable income when it comes to books. They are more likely to be members of book clubs and to participate in book groups. They talk to their friends about books and recommend books. The older they get, the more sedentary they become and the more books they read. So despite the trends overall in e-Book sales, there is a clear, residual market for print in my genre.

Earlier, I mentioned that one of the attractions of e-Books, especially with romance and erotica is the anonymity associated with the purchase and the reading experience. You can sit on a subway with your Kindle and read without anyone snickering at a cover displaying oiled-up six-packs and air-brushed silky breasts. My potential readership though may be quite different. They would not be at all embarrassed to read The Flight of the Sorceress on the subway.  I think of my cover as a mini-billboard. I want it to be seen, lying openly on an office desk for a week or so. I want my readers to carry it with them as they commute. I want them to show it to their book groups. Getting one of them to read my book would be the tip of a marketing iceberg. I want book buzz and there’s a lot to be said about the demographic that still reads print and talks about what they read. 

Another consideration one needs factor into a decision whether to go to print is reviews. Many reviewers will not accept an ARC in e-Book format. The Historical Novel Society, a natural review and promotional site for The Flight of the Sorceress is not e-Book friendly. And even though my novel delves deeply into the destruction of the great library at Alexandria, the ALA was not interested in reviewing it. Step-by-Step posts a list of reviewers. Many of them will not accept e-Books. See: Most newspapers will not review e-Books. Indeed, I have been unable to get The Flight of the Sorceress reviewed by Litseen in San Francisco, even though they eagerly reviewed my ten-year old novel Bring the War Home!  

Up to now, I have refrained from discussing bookstores. You know where things are headed with a business model when you see signs saying “Support Your Local _______” Fill in the blank. It could be drug store, appliance repair or blacksmith. Currently, it is bookstores. I have a wonderful local bookstore just down the street called Bird and Beckett. It is author-friendly when it comes to readings. It prominently displays local authors. It has jazz nights and poetry reading nights. It trades second-hand books. It is a wonderful, valued community resource and I am on a first-name basis with Eric, the proprietor. He will welcome a reading from me with a POD. He doesn’t want an e-Book reading. I respect that business decision. I also know that I wouldn’t make much money from a reading at Bird and Beckett. I would do worse at more distant and unfamiliar bookstores, the further I strayed from home, to the point where I’d end up driving a couple hours and spending $15 on gasoline for four hours away from family or other activities. Authors who go to bookstore events are very lucky to sell a couple dozen books. If that happens, they’ll make $25 and maybe net $10 while copping a headache from the cheap wine. I have been to some of these events to support friends who are fine, published authors. I have shared their disappointment as they stoically press forward, reading to five or six listeners, three of whom have already read draft versions of the work in their writers’ group. I have done bookstore appearances where I’ve sold as few as a single copy. 

Bookstores show very little upside for an author. We may lament this, but the bookstore, I am afraid, is a losing proposition for most authors. It is really a consignment business. They want to be able to return unsold books. They need at least 50% of retail to cover their overhead. Unless you have amazing clout, all that’s going to happen is that they will take one or two of your books and put them on a shelf, spine out, where they will languish before being returned. 

In my experience, the most profitable time an author can spend is at book parties, thrown by friends and acquaintances, or in cultivating book groups who will by your book and then recommend it to other readers as well as events such as San Francisco’s Litquake. Authors can also make the most money there because they can often purchase their POD books at an author’s discount from their publisher. At such events, each sale of a publisher-published book can earn the author as much as $6.00/book for a $15 retail product. Moreover, attendees are both readers and recommenders. There is potential for post-event buzz.

POD from the point of view of a marketing strategy that supports an e-Book marketing plan makes good sense. If you have a publisher your typical POD royalty should be no less than 15% of wholesale price or 7.5% of retail price, as determined by them. A book from that retails at $15 will wholesale for about $7.50. In either case the author should net about $1.125 per book. Publishers take care of the fulfillment. 

On the other hand, if you don’t have a publisher or if, for whatever reason, your publisher does not want to put your book into print, you still have an option, and it’s not a bad one —self-publishing. Lightning Source can print a good quality POD book with a full color cover for about $4.80. Amazon and B&N will want 55% of cover price to sell it. If the retail book price is $15, the author will get around $3.45 per book sale provided the author does the fulfillment and charges for delivery and packaging.This cost is about $3.00 per book, tacked on to the price.With a self-published POD book, an author can make $10.00+ per book at events and $3.45 through outlets like Amazon. Through a publisher, the author would receive a royalty of $1.125 on direct sales and slightly less on an Amazon or B&N sale. 

But even that is not the whole story. Having a reputable publisher adds value, including credibility, to the product. While POD can get an author in the door with more reviewers, having a reputable publisher opens the door even wider, and it creates consumer confidence that is essential to marketing. This combo of POD + publisher credibility stands a good chance of picking up the 20% readership that would not ever see the book, recommend it or ever talk about it. And that 20% may actually make the tipping point that we all want so desperately to reach. 

So if you are planning on investing in your marketing, you can choose conventional on-line ads. There are so many different blogs, websites and social networking sites that there is no point in making a cost/benefit analysis. Especially since demographics and genre have to be factored in. However, depending on your market, don’t overlook the POD market as a promotional opportunity. 

I view POD as a promotional expense, as valid as any other form of publicity. I think that for my book, The Flight of the Sorceress, I can generate more e-Book sales if I have a POD product available for public events. And I think that a physical book sells books because it is seen. Beyond that, with a print version, I even stand a chance of making money back in the process, rather than just seeing the cash flow out to websites and PR advisors who promise promotional exposure. 

For The Flight of the Sorceress I think it’s a better deal than an ad, and in any event, I wouldn’t spend money on an ad in an e-venue, unless I can sell in both formats. Why spend money on any promo that doesn’t sell your product in all its potential iterations? So, I look forward to producing the print version of The Flight of the Sorceress in the very near future.  

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