Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lightning Source Tips and Tools by Denise Camacho (Return or Not to Return)

I was recently asked about whether authors should make books returnable, as opposed to non-returnable.

Cons - it could cost you postage to have them returned.

Pros - If you don't make them returnable no mainstream bookstore will order them.

If you don't allow returns the bookstores will not stock your book. Bookstores will not even consider ordering books that are non returnable. However, there are some tips that might help to keep the bookstores from over ordering and having to return those that didn't sell during the signing.

Talk with the person ordering the books and suggest the amount of books they order. I would certainly recommend they not order more than say 15. If you sell out great, but if you don't then there is less to return. Austin likes being able to state in his newsletter that he sold out at a book signing and he can do that if he only had as few as 5 or as many as 50. Also, when you are done with your signing, offer to sign the books that they have left, but only if there are only a few left. You don't want to sign books that might eventually get returned, but regardless, all of the books will come back to you, not Lightning Source or Ingram, they will get shipped to you so you can hand sell them. I strongly suggest you make your book returnable or you really will not be able to sell them at most stores.

Also, and this is the biggest point to make to new authors, don't let your ego get in the way of your profits. Rarely will you sell more than 15-20 books at a bookstore signing unless you are a popular author or you have really got a huge fan base and following. Austin typically will sell more than most, but it is because he is really great at hand selling. And if you think that the bookstore won't return your books you're dead wrong. They can't keep them in stock if they aren't going to sell them. If you aren't there to push them and are not a recognized author they are going to return them. That's why I say if there are just a few books left go ahead and sign them if you can and they will probably dispaly them in the "Local Authors" place, but not forever, so your sales job is not done. You still have to market your books to get people to go to that store to buy them.

If you are at a signing and you are not willing to stand up and talk to every single person that comes into the store you won't sell anything anyway. You have to become a seller/performer to have a really successful signing at a mainstream bookstore. So be prepared to be engaging without attacking.

I welcome your comments and questions.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Family publishing

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. This one reminded me that not every writer wants to be published as a bestseller.

I thought you might be kind enough to give me some suggestions as to how I would find a printer to print my childhood memoirs. I am only printing less than a hundred for the extended family. But I want to add pictures, which seems to be a problem with some of the potential solutions.

I can’t be a lot of help with this basic question because I have no experience in finding a printer for a short run of books. I’ve worked with Print-on-Demand publishers, and there are a number of publish on demand options available. I think the best are listed here. Most of these companies will handle pictures. In fact Lulu publishes quite a few cookbooks which are very picture intensive. Costs vary though, and that route could cost you several hundred dollars before the cost of books.

I’ve printed thru Lightning Source, but their books are intended for general release. If you don’t care if your book sells in stores you won’t need an ISBN number or bar code, which will make this a pretty inexpensive option (set up is $38.)

For a project such as you are working on, I would recommend you first contact 2 or 3 local printers and explain your intent. Then compare their estimates with what you might be able to get at Sir Speedy or Kinkos. Either of them can handle pictures as well as words since they would be offset printing anyway.

The primary point is that you have several options open to you and I strongly recommend that you explore them thoroughly before handing someone several hundred dollars for your family book project.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Poster Boy for Marketing

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. Not all the questions I get are deep or heavy. Consider this inquiry for straightforward marketing detail.

“When you send stores those 11x17 posters for book signing publicity, are they laminated, dry mounted, or anything other than a sheet of legal-sized paper? Do you make them up at work, home, or a printer's?”

First you should understand the importance I put on those posters. I learned quite quickly that many booksellers make no effort whatsoever to attract attention to the fact that they have an author signing books in their store until he or she arrives (and often not even then.) It’s a special event to them, so they carry on, business as usual. Then when no one shows up they say, “See? Book signings are pointless.”

Once I figured out that store managers couldn’t be bothered to even put a sign up in their windows I started supplying a couple of signs myself. They feature my face, my book cover and some words like “Meet The Author!” with the name of the store, the day, date and time of my appearance. I send the posters 2 weeks in advance and beg the manager to put them in prominent places. If nothing else it lets the staff know something is happening.

Managers soon figure out that it really does impact how many books move if you act like it’s a special treat to have an author in the house. I combine this with a stack of brochures or bookmarks which I tell them to hand out or use as bag stuffers BEFORE the day. And I ask them to set up the table and stacks of books before I arrive – it builds a little anticipation.

The point is that most people don’t know who a celebrity is or what a special event is. We have to tell them, in both overt and subtle ways. The bottom line is, it sells books.

And to answer the actual question: I get simple, color posters, 11” by 17” not laminated, dry mounted, or anything special. Kinko’s makes them up for about two dollars a piece. It costs more to mail them to the stores. It’s a small investment in making my appearance look a little like a big deal.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

On the Edge

Just two days before my big book release party I feel as if I’m poised on the edge of a knife with spectacular success on one side and abysmal failure on the other. I’m not worried, exactly, but there is a certain amount of uncertainty. Anxiety? Maybe apprehension. A lot of time and effort has gone in to getting to this day but now we’ve reached the point where it’s too late to do more, too late to make a difference. Nothing left to do for now but wait. Will the Washington Metro area turn out to cheer my successful book launch, or will I be listening to crickets chirp and my wife’s sobbing while hundreds of dollars worth of wine and h’or douvres go to waste?

My lovely wife Denise put much time, sweat and tears into setting up a fabulous event in a fabulous place, to attract the local literary leadership. This event will be a bellwether, an indictor of how well I can expect to do at the first bookstore event, at the Borders Superstore in Waldorf, Maryland. And THAT event will be an indicator of the life Russian Roulette will have.

Russian Roulette, my latest novel, was a labor of love. The Fifth in my Hannibal Jones mystery series, the book allowed me to continue the rising and advancing of my protagonist’s spirit and I want to share that experience with as many people as possible. Goodness knows I’ve done all I could think of to make the book explode onto the scene. I’ve tried old school paper marketing, internet marketing, and personal appearances.The old school way begins with free books. After mailing out review copies to all the usual suspects I gave away another stack of books to anyone who would promise to post a review in four different places on line.

I got a bunch of blurbs from favorite mystery writers who are also pals. I bought print ads in Mystery Scene and Crimespree Magazine. I bought a list of 5,000 mystery readers so I can send each of them a postcard announcing the new novel. And I sent personal letters to each of the 47 bookstores in this country that specialize in mystery fiction informing them of the imminent release of Russian Roulette and respectfully asking (alright, begging them) to order a few copies. I also promised them a pizza party for their staff if they sell 50 or more copies of Russian Roulette. Yeah, I’m shameless.

For the on line audience I got a book trailer produced and made a promotional video for Russian Roulette myself. I launched a blog tour, appearing on several mystery and literary blogs, and I’ll be on 10 more (at least) in June. That is not my favorite kind of writing, but it is essential in the 21st Century to get the buzz mill running.And I’ve arranged for a dozen personal appearances at writers’ clubs and book stores. That’s the easiest part for me. I love being face-to-face with readers, explaining my books and discussing their favorites to find if my work is a good fit. Writing aside, this is the best part of being an author. And every hand I shake is another potential fan for the whole series. Someday, that could even make this writing addiction evolve into a decent living.

Sometimes I feel as if the marketing is the tail wagging the dog. My wife Denise is very supportive but sometimes I think she misses the point. I don’t get discouraged if a book doesn’t sell a million copies because it’s not about the sales. It’s about the writing. It’s about that process that spins random straw thoughts and ideas into golden chapters.I know I won’t get rich from sales of Russian Roulette, but the book deserves its fair share of attention. It isn’t simply a good story with a social conscience, putting good characters into a complex puzzle of a plot. It is the distilled embodiment of all the hours I could have spent with my lovely wife Denise but instead chose to give a keyboard my attention. It is the concentrated essence of her hopes that I will one day achieve my dream. At its core are the lunch hours I spent creating instead of relaxing, the early mornings, the late nights, the surreptitiously stolen moments when no one was looking. It deserves the eyes of an appreciative public, and I want so badly to give the book what it deserves.

But the ugly truth is that a book does not become popular in the marketplace just because the author wants it to be. No matter how good it is, you can’t force a book into buyers’ hands. You can’t will a novel onto the best seller list. You can only do your best to draw attention to your baby and hope that you stumble upon that magical combination of writing quality, buzz, distribution and timing that will raise your literary voice above the din of the thousands of worthy contestants whose fiction enters the lists every year.So here I sit, three days before the kickoff of my own big game, poised on the edge of night. But is that dusk I see approaching, or the glow of dawn?