The world of book publishing is ever-changing. The ways authors effectively reached readers five years ago are different today. These changes aren’t new. But to succeed in book publishing requires continuous learning.
I encourage you to locate and read former Simon and Schuster Editor-in-Chief Michael Korda’s Making the List, A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900-1999. Publishers, editors and agents are always trying to pick books and authors that will sell enough copies to make the bestseller list.
What Books Become Bestsellers?
“The bestseller list is full of surprises, too. Publishers have always bemoaned the fate of the dreaded “first novel,” but the bestseller lists are full of first novels by unknown authors that sold hundreds of thousands of copies—even millions of copies—and made their author, and publisher, rich and famous; Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind is the example that comes to everybody’s mind,” Korda writes (p. xiii). And a little later, “Editors cling to the advice that’s always worked for them, when dealing with authors—‘Concentrate on story, story, story!’ ‘Show, don’t tell!’” (p. xxv).
Now as an acquisitions editor, authors often want me to predict whether their book will be a bestseller. While I can recognize a well-written book, I learned years ago it is unwise to predict which books will bomb and which will become bestsellers.
As we tell our Morgan James authors, every bookstore buys books based on their perception of what the author is going to be doing to promote the book. We have a system established to regularly take the reports from our authors and feed it to the bookstores to keep our books selling in the stores. I recommend every author find out how to report their regular activity to their publisher.
Learn to Build Your Digital Footprint
My watershed moment as an author came at Mega Book Marketing University in 2007. I attended as a literary agent and listened carefully to each session. I had written over 55 books with traditional publishers yet I was doing almost nothing to promote my books. Yes I had a personal website but I had no teleseminars, a few entries in my blog and no twitter followers. I decided to change and take action. I became actively involved in the promotion of my books and building an audience of readers with a newsletter and regular communication. I would not delegate or outsource this activity to a designer or a webmaster but I did it myself. I’ve built a large digital footprint—and here’s the good news: you can do it, too.
Every author is surrounded with opportunity (even if you don’t know it). The activities to build an audience don’t have to consume your life or prevent your writing—but you do need to take consistent action. I am constantly learning about publishing, bookselling and marketing. There is always more to learn and I will never figure it all out.
9 Ways to Engage Your Market
Here are nine principles I’ve used to engage the market (and expanded on in Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams):
- Always be prepared.
- Decide to be consistent.
- Decide to be generous and help others.
- Count the cost of new activities.
- Gain knowledge before you leap into an activity.
- Look for ways to automate.
- Be open to new tools.
- Don’t neglect old fashion print tools.
- Create a clear goal for each new tool.
I wish I could say that I have it all figured out—but I don’t. I’m still growing in my daily knowledge of this publishing business. I wouldn’t have it any other way because I have chosen to follow my passion for the printed page every day. I know books change lives. Many years ago, reading a book changed my life.
What principles have you learned that help you engage the marketplace?
About the Author
W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor lives in Colorado. A former magazine editor and former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams and Billy Graham. To help writers catch the attention of editors and agents, Terry wrote his bestselling Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. Check out his free Ebook, Platform Building Ideas for Every Author. His website is located at: www.terrywhalin.com. Connect with Terry on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
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