It’s all about the marketing…

Marketing (and by extension publicity) have always been an important part of the success of any book, but as we move into an era where most independent publishers’ biggest customer is Amazon the need for stronger consumer awareness of books has never been higher. At every publication meeting I attend, when it comes down to the brass tacks section of how many do we think we can sell each of our channels: UK, Export, USA and Rights/Co-edition will chorus ‘it depends on the marketing’ and all eyes at the table turn to me.

Suddenly marketing isn’t a cog in the wheel of success of a book, now we are the sole difference between a 1,500 copy and a 5,000 copy initial print run. This is the reason why creating agile and targeted marketing plans are the root to how we can succeed in keeping indie publishing relevant, successful and the trend setters for our larger colleagues to follow.

So why has marketing become so vital? Well you just have to look at the number of books available – in the UK according to Nielsen there were just over 630,000 different titles which had some sales in the last quarter – to realise that the stats are against people lucking into finding you, especially on long tail specialists like Amazon.

Because of this there are certain things you need to think about:

  • Make sure that every piece of copy you publish about your book maximises it’s ability to be found, but is still a piece of useful, informative text for the reader
  • Identify your key reader types and make sure you are where they are, whether that’s PR coverage in their magazines, giveaways on relevant blogs or websites, or promotional positions in key retailers
  • Make sure your communications have a benefit to the readers, whether it’s entertaining or useful
  • Keep your language relevant to your target market and go back to freshen it up when you can
  • Categorisation is key: BIC and BISAC codes may be labour intensive (and when you have a multi-category-spanning title seem like you are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole) but they will give browsers the chance to find your book
  • Keep your marketing going, if you are hoping to get on the Sunday Times bestseller list that you should have all your PR and marketing activity happening on publication but if what you want is a healthy publication and strong sell-through then make sure you pace it out

One of the best things I have heard all year was at this year’s Bookseller Marketing Day when the very talented Alice Shortland discussed her hugely successful campaign for Polpo and said ‘instead of worrying about the size of my budget I took stock of the assets that I had’. What a really refreshing, and for me, inspiring peace of advice – so now when I am starting a campaign or evaluating the prospects of a new book proposal I take stock of what assets there are for the project, and then consider what I can do with that and how I can leverage those assets to get the most exposure.

When you have small, sometimes non-existent, budgets this is a brilliant tool for getting the most out of your campaign – and it certainly something that I have found helped me a great deal.

So whilst every department under the sun likes to now use the phrase ‘it all depends on the marketing’ I now say ‘it all depends on the assets that this project has’. The book business is very tough, and as marketers, publicists and those of us who span both disciplines, we have to think of ourselves as the voices for the book, speaking loudly, clearly and to the right people.

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Change is hard … no really it is!

We have just passed a year of being part of Osprey Group and there have been a great many changes at Watkins Publishing. We have a new MD, we have two new publishers, we have a clear editorial strategy for both our imprints, we have new computers (mmm lovely new macs all round) and we have a new publishing management system.

I can’t lie and say each of the changes has been easy, some have been simpler to implement than others, some have breathed fresh and invigorating new air into the business and some have just plain hurt!

But each change has had a clear benefit, each one was designed to make us a better (and more effective) publishing house and at the end of the day nothing stays the same and we all have to look forward. To quote Meet the Robinson’s (and Walt Disney), you have to ‘keep moving forward’.

We are all now faced with a difficult new frontier of publishing, one is which retailers and authors are often way ahead of us, and the path to glory for the indies isn’t paved with million-copy selling books – but what we can’t forget is that whilst change is hard and not everyone is suited to it – the changes, the difficulties and the rapid shift of power is just an opportunity waiting for us to wake up and make it happen!

It’s all in the interpretation

What do our readers want? What will our readers pay for? Which of those verticals should we develop? and finally (and for me most importantly) How do we connect with our readers?

These are all great questions, questions that we have been spending a lot of time looking into and will continue to invest time and energy into. It’s all too easy to get the 2012 bookscan figures but that’s all about what has happened, we are gazing into our crystal ball and thinking about what will our readers want in the next 24 months. For me this means gathering data; whether that’s from our readers, from our authors, or from purchasable surveys.

But gathering the information is just the first task, once you have that data that’s when the hard work begins – now you have to interpret it.

For example part of our research found that for the majority the title of the book isn’t that important – now this can be interpreted two ways (depending on who you are):

  1. Let the author call the book whatever they like the audience don’t care
  2. Since readers don’t care about the title make sure that it works hard to reinforce the subject (which is of most important to the readers) and maximises SEO results

So today I spent 4 hours with some incredible data on the wonderful world of the mind, body, spirit book buyer – and what I discovered was that I need more data! More data to help me finesse my results, more data to clarify some of the muddied points, more data to dig deeper into the broader responses and more data because finding out about the people we bring insight and inspiration to is addictive.

But everything I learn about them is merely my own interpretation of the data points, my own unique translation of the graphs, charts and tables that make up our knowledge and all I can hope is that I am as good a translator of data as I think I am!

Happy 2013 – and now for some resolutions!

It’s been a while since I have posted a blog post, family life (and work – mainly work) have meant I have neglected this little part of my social life but that is about to change! In 2013 I plan on spending a little more time on my relationships, be that with my family (extended and close), my friends (new and old) and on creating a little more content to share with my friends and followers on my blog.

So I will be blogging about publishing, books I’m reading, life as a working mother and my geeky loves (films, tv shows and comics), so please do keep looking out for my weekly posts (possibly even more frequently). My first one for this week will be things that I learnt about digital publishing last year and what I am looking forward to this year – so keep your eyes peeled for that one!

Publishing is dead, long live publishing

Hardly a day goes by when we aren’t woken to a headline saying ‘publishing is dead’ – but in the last two weeks I have seen some wonderful, innovative insights into an evolving, inspiring and, if the makers are to be believed, thriving publishing industry moving with ever-surer footing into the digital age.

Because far from being the ‘death of publishing’ the digital revolution and the rise of the tablet is offering publishers a way to create products that compete, for the first time, directly with games and movies for the attention of the mass-market audience, by creating immersive book-like products that inspire, enlighten and entertain (to steal DBPs own USP).

Anyone who has seen Heuristic Media’s London – A City Through Time cannot fail but understand the  opportunities now afforded to the publishing industry, particularly we illustrated non-fiction publishers who have been looking for a way to connect with the digital-user but have lacked a viable ebook solution. What Heuristic have done is create an expansive app, that offers people incredible amounts of history, personal story, video, audio and text but in a user-friendly environment, breaking it down for them so they aren’t overwhelmed.

Children’s publishing has already been moving in this direction, Nosy Crow a fine example of making apps that children (and their parents) enjoy using and come back to time and again – but who also make it work financially by treating their apps like any other IP and successfully selling foreign rights licences. And I must make a quick mention of Magic Town (mainly because my son adores this app) which creates a rich, engaging and imagination-inspiring world from which children can explore a wide range of books from a range of publishers – the app is free and has some free books but you can subscribe to give your child access to the full range of books available that month.

I personally left these two presentations (The Appside and The Lit Platform/Futurebook Innovation Workshop) reminded and rejuvenated about the inspiring, engaging and entertaining industry we work in. And personally I have mentally taken some of our most recent pitches from editors that might not be books and moved them squarely into my ‘potential digital product’ pile.

Publishing is dead, long live publishing!

What I learnt while digitising our list (an old post of mine from FutureBook)

This was originally posted on www.futurebook.net, I will be adding a new post soon to let people know what I have learnt in the 5 months since this article was published.

Maybe you will think I am naive, or just hopefully optimistic, but when I took on the challenge of heading up the digital development of DBP I thought that we could have our entire monochrome backlist converted into ebooks and on sale within 6 months, and then we could start on our illustrated list. Now as we approach the end of the year (some 8 months after I began this adventure) I am about halfway through the list and this is what I learned….

The first, most important thing I learnt, was that as simple as ePublishing seems in your head it’s really quite involved and always more complex than you or anyone else in your company thinks it will be.

To start with the logistics of publishing an ebook are not filled with the most efficient processes, there are different formats, each with their own limitations and eccentricities, there are lots of retailers out there with their own requirements for metadata and even bookdata have their own specifications on filling out a bibliographic entry, it really isn’t enough to say it’s an ebook in the format field.

Then there are the internal difficulties, someone needs to gather the files (making sure for backlist titles they are the most up-to-date version), then you need to assign isbns for each type of eBook, and then you need to check that any images you bought for the jacket have been cleared for digital editions (and create a new jacket if it hasn’t) – all this before you even begin the conversion process.

When it comes to the actual conversion I honestly thought that if you sent someone the inDesign or PDF of the book then the eBook you got back would be relatively clean, but sadly that’s rarely the case so you need internal resources to check the eBook thoroughly (if you want to produce good eBooks). You also need a good relationship with your conversion house to make sure that they understand the errors you want correcting and you understand the limitations of the eBook format.

So you add extra into your production budget for the checking of the files and a extra couple of weeks to the schedule but once you have the books it’s all plain sailing right? Well then you have to upload your books to the retailers and each has there own special way of doing that, from submitting the files named a certain way and including an excel grid of their required metadata to filling in an online form and finding the file on your computer. This also sounds pretty easy but when you are uploading 30+ books in one go it can get a little frustrating.

Now I could use an aggregator to do a lot of this for me, and in hindsight I can see the benefits more than I did back when we were strategising our move to digital. But what stops me are the middle of the month reports that show me how all of this pulling together as a team at our offices (and the steep learning curve for me) have resulted in ever growing sales, and I haven’t started my marketing campaign yet (I’ll save that for another blog post).

So to all you other small independent publishers looking to go digital what I learnt is that to plan how to get your ebooks from print edition to eRetailer you have to consider every single aspect, that you need to spend a lot of time creating metadata (and there is lots of it if you want to sell off all the major retailer websites), and that you need one person to co-ordinate everything but the whole office on board to help you, because this seemingly simple job will always be more complicated than any of you imagine.

Small Publish, Self-Publish?

I read a blog post today that was about whether as an author you should go with a small, independent publisher or self-publish. Written from an author/agent perspective I was surprised at how negative it was about the strengths of an independent publisher – not the first time in the last couple of weeks I have felt a little insulted by blogs that seemed to cast doubt on the professionalism and the ability of small independent publishers.

So I thought I would write a post about what we do for our authors.

Firstly lets start at the beginning, we have a talented and dedicated team of editors always on the look out for books with passion,committed authors and subjects that will resonate with readers. They will then work with those authors to shape their project and through the writing process, as well as professionally editing the manuscript. Our in house designers layout the books stylishly and create jackets that are stunning, marketable and always include some level of collaboration with our authors.

Our production department work on creating really stunning products, liaising with printers to come up with great looking books and making the electronic versions of the books.

We have a marketing and publicity team who have contacts at the major publications, radio shows and tv shows as well as links to an ever growing number of bloggers. But we can’t do all the promotion alone though, and like every other publisher in the country, we actively encourage and support our authors in social networking activities, bookshop events and creating their own links with the media (locally and nationally).

We moved our UK sales distribution a few years ago from a team of freelance sales reps and in house direct links with the head office buyers to working with the lovely people over at Simon & Schuster. This means that we can offer our authors great opportunities for promotion in the high street, supermarkets and with online retailers. We also have international distribution in the UK with Sterling (giving us fantastic access to Barnes & Noble) and in Australia once again through the Simon & Schuster. With our eBooks we distribute them from our offices to all the major retailers.

With all of this we are, I believe, a great opportunity for authors who want to come to a publisher where they will be the lead title (rather than possibly mid-list at one of the big six). We are also a perfect choice for a book in one of the genres in which we are renowned (cookery, MBS, esoteric) and an author can benefit from a fast growing reputation in the book trade for quality products.

So I would say to authors out there who are looking to go outside of the big six (whether by their own choice or not) there are small independent publishing houses out there that help you achieve great sales and exposure – just go out there and look.

Does Apple want to kill the eBook?

So yesterday I updated my kobo app as they have bowed to the pressure of having to pay apple 30% of any books sold ‘in app’ and removed the direct link to their site.

My kindle app still works as previously but I don’t know how much longer they can prevent the apple juggernaut from ruining great apps. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what Apple say about an iPad/iPhone app being a gateway and that they should get a cut for linking consumer with product but why such a big percentage and surely this only applies to standalone apps. (update) the kindle app has now had it’s in-app purchasing removed.

After all if you take the kindle app for example users also have the same app on their android phones and personal computer and many may also have a kindle (I do). This means that rather than being the sole link between the consumer and their content, the iPhone/iPad app is just one of many.

Also though Apple provides the platform to make a connection between store and reader they don’t do any actually linking, the bookstore is the one who markets their app, develops their app, markets their content and deals with publishers to get that content. Rather than charging in app purchases what apple are entitled to is a cut of that initial connection – the app, now if they were to insist that these gateway apps carried a cost then I think that would be fair. I certainly would pay a one off fee of £1.79 for each of my eReaders.

If apple really want to take a cut of ebook revenue then I suggest that they look at how they can improve their own bookstore, perhaps an iBook reader for other platforms and operating systems? Maybe they could compete then on an even footing, but to do that they need to make it easier for publishers to upload and promote their content on their platform – because an app is only as good as it’s content no matter how pretty it looks.

The future starts now

This week we took delivery of our first 12 ePub editions of our books!! So I spent the day feeling really good about things, then a quick chat with the new man in charge and I was worried that I wasn’t being creative enough!

When I know I have a limited budget I find being creative easier, because I know that I have to come up with something innovative in order to stand out but being told to just come up with ideas without worrying about the cost – suddenly it seems quite overwhelming. Add on to that the fact that we are just about to launch our biggest book of the year and I am feeling distinctly over-burdened in terms of being creative.

Still there is something wonderful about finally feeling like you can really innovate without someone shaking their head about expenditure, there is also something incredibly invigorating about doing new things, like looking to promote your books in the US, Australia and other English language markets – something which before we left to our distributors but for eBooks we are the distributors.

I have so much going on in my head it’s difficult to get it all down, it may be great to work with massive authors, but I have been there and done that – the only purpose of those campaigns is topubli keep them at the top – the really fulfilling challenge comes in convincing people to try something new.

The future of our little publishing company is just starting to be planned and I for one can’t wait!!

How much can we actually make on eBook sales?

Today I spent the best part of 5 hours doing a detailed breakdown of our expected eBook sales for the next 6 months as we prepare to launch our digital publishing program. I am INCREDIBLY excited about this launch, it has been on my ‘push’ list at publishing meetings for at least 18 months, but after 6 months of hard graft in getting things in place we are there … but only for our unillustrated list for now.

So from August onwards all books in our Watkins Publishing list will have simulaneous print anddigital launches – GREAT! I have even set some pretty generous eBook prices, most are under a fiver and 90% are under seven quid.

Which leads me back into my grid, you see we are what’s known as a niche publisher, don’t get me wrong niche is nice, but niche doesn’t sell like Steig Larsson, so I was realistic, some of our backlist titles I imagine will sell one or two copies a month, our bigger ones I target for much stronger sales.

So it turns out trying to do this can get complicated – you take:
Retail price (less VAT) – discount – author royalty = a lot less than I was expecting.

Then I had to put in expected sales figures for each title for each month (there are 120 titles) and then came the all important totals…

Success – after 5 hours of ‘conservative’ estimations I was REALLY pleased to see that my total and that set by the MD were pretty damn close, and that was without even trying. But as I look at the grid and the fact that for some books the monthly return is £2.00 it makes you focus hard on the fact that if you want to make sales you have got to get the word out, once again marketing is the key. So after 5 hours of really hard work on a spreadsheet, only 4 people will see or use, I was left feeling overwhelmed with a massive list of books I needed to think about how to re-market in a digital world.

So now I am sat at home trying to think of some innovative way to promote books that I hope will once again carve their way into our nice niche readerships… and also thinking about next years development of our illustrated list, the fun really never stops for me.