Recent reports about some of this autumn’s biggest book promotions – the 75th edition of The Hobbit and the 25th anniversary of Where’s Wally? – made me reconsider one piece of book promotion advice often given to aspiring self-published authors: to start promoting your book long before it’s published. Better still, some say, to start marketing it before you’ve even finished writing it. This kind of pressure is enough to put any new writer off his proofs.
It’s all very well for a confident author who knows precisely where he is going with his work. It’s fine for those who know that what they set out to write will be exactly what they produce. And of course it’s sensible advice for anyone whose book has a limited window of opportunity for sales, such as a guide to the London 2012 Olympics.
But it’s a less realistic expectation if you’re a new writer who needs to concentrate on the creative process before you dare reveal your work to the world. It’s also unhelpful if, like most debut authors, you’re very pressed for time, juggling your writing with a day-job, family life and other responsibilities. It may be all you can do to set down your allotted number of words every day without being expected to multi-task as a marketing expert. If this sounds like you, don’t be afraid to say no. Follow your instincts and prioritise. Write your book, hone it, polish it. Make sure it’s the best it can be. Only then tackle the topic of book promotion.
Time Is On Your Side
The modern digital age has reduced the self-published author’s financial imperative to make urgent, early sales. In the olden days, self-published authors needed to send their books flying off the shelves as soon as the ink was dry to recover the very large sum of money they had invested up front in print costs.
Digital technology eliminates the need to buy hundreds of hard copies in advance of sales. Yes, there’s still the set-up charge to pay, but that is a fraction of the overall cost of book production. The print costs can be paid off as the books are sold, provided that you “print on demand”. This means each book is printed to order, called off from the printer in response to an actual or imminent sale.
Digital print runs can be very small – in single figures or even just one book at a time, if that’s what your sales pattern dictates. And if there are no orders outstanding, you don’t need to print (or pay for) any books at all. Easy. Of course, there is one slight disadvantage – the cost per copy is slightly more than if you were printing hundreds at a time. But at least you don’t have to invest in unsold stock.
With e-books, the solution is even easier: once you’ve paid for the master file to be converted into digital format, there is (to state the obvious) no printing cost involved at all. You just sit back and take your commission as new downloads are made.
The End of Obsolesence
These aren’t the only advantages of the digital age. You also no longer have to worry about obsolesence. In the olden days, a publisher would print however many copies he hoped to sell and be prepared to store and market them for a given time. If sales slowed down, he’d get rid of old stocks to make way for newer acquisitions, from which he’d hope to make more profit. Slow-selling authors’ books would be sold at reduced prices, remaindered or even pulped – the publishing industry’s equivalent of selling for scrap. The hot metal type compiled to make the plates would be dismantled so the type could be reused for other more lucrative works. The condemned title would be delisted from the publisher’s catalogue, to be forever “out of print” – the death knell of any author’s hope – unless a radical change of fashion called for its resuscitation as a new edition.
On Your Way to Immortality
Your book, by contrast, will be immortal, no matter how many or how few copies you sell. Why would a print-on-demand book be out of print when you don’t have printed stocks to find room for? Just call off another copy whenever you like, and you’re back in business in a matter of hours. How can an e-book become extinct when it ties up no capital equipment? It can’t. It can live in the ether forever.
So if you’ve been anxious about the book promotion clock ticking away, relax. It’s true that in the ideal world, the sooner you start promoting your book, the better chance you’ll have of making early sales. But if you need to take it more slowly to do it properly, do one thing at a time. It’s not a race. There’s no sell-by date on your digital file. Be realistic about what you can do, and do what you can to the best of your ability, and in time you will do justice to your book. The only way you can fail is to give up trying.
To help you plan a realistic and achievable marketing campaign for your self-published or indie book, here’s a preview of “Sell Your Books!”, which will be available from October. And follow this blog!