So what do I know about the inner workings of marketing in a publishing house? Probably not all that much, but I’m willing to tell you what to do know. Or at least think I know. If I make a mistake and somebody out there knows I’m wrong—please do set me straight.
1. There are different strata of authors in a house. Some get more marketing dollars than others. You’d think this would be chalked up to mere seniority—who’s been publishing with the house the longest. Ain’t necessarily so. For whatever reason (and the reasons are myriad) some newcomer might really strike the house’s fancy with a first-time book. The house will think the book’s the best thing since sliced bread and decide they can sell more than the usual amount for a new novelist. End result—more marketing dollars. On the other hand, an author can be with a house for a long time, loyally writing one book after another, and for some reason, the house just doesn’t get all that enthused. Result—same amount of marketing dollars for each book, probably closer to the lower level.
I wish I could say it’s as cut and dry as writing a fresh, incredible story. Not that writing a fresh, incredible story won’t help excite the house. It’s just that this isn’t always the case. And neither are the books that are given the lower marketing dollars necessarily the more mediocre books. We’ve all read books we think should sell better, and we’ve all read books that sell great, and we wonder why. Could well be due to the amount of marketing dollars put behind the book.
2. I think the best thing my house can do for me is buy the ad placements in flyers for chain stores such as Lifeway, Family Christian, Mardel and Parable. The stores have large databases of their clients, and they send these flyers to them. So first, these ads mean advertising to targeted readers. Second, often the stores will sell the books at a discount—maybe a couple dollars off. Lemma tell ya somethin’—in CBA, cheap sells. Third and most important, ads in these flyers often mean that the stores will give special placement to the book. Often it’s a pull-out placement at the front of the store. That’s to-die-for space, ladies and gents. Special placement sells more books than probably anything else. The customer—who might not even be there to buy your book—is face-to-face with your cover as he/she enters the store.
The promotion in each chain runs the life of the flyer, which is about a month. Some stores print flyers often, and all the flyers ain’t created equal. For example, Parable may print about 10 flyers a year, but there are only two that all Parable stores are required to use—the spring one (around Easter) and a fall one. So for max effect, you want your book run in one of those two flyers.
It’s best, if you’re going for multiple chain placement, to have the book featured in flyers for the various chains at the same time. Soon after the book comes out. This gives the splash nationwide. In an area where there’s no Mardel, there may be a Family or Lifeway, etc. The more customers are buying your book all in a given month, the more likely you are to hit the bestseller list.
3. Other authors may disagree with me, but I think the bestseller list is a big deal. I’m always very grateful when I hit it, and disappointed when I don’t. The bestseller list for the Christian market is based on actual sales in certain Christian bookstores in the U.S. and Canada. Not every store reports its STATS sales for the list. Sort of like the Neilson ratings for TV, a certain number of stores are meant to be a sampling of what’s going on in the nation. I think it’s about 1500 stores. At any rate, “actual sales” means when a customer buys the book. It does not mean how many books the stores buy to place on their shelves. Major difference. This bestseller list only includes sales from Christian bookstores, so sales from all the secular stores like B&N, etc., don’t count toward it. (By the same token, secular bestseller lists like the New York Times don’t include sales from Christian bookstores. This is why it’s really amazing when a Christian book hits the New York Times bestseller list, because so many of the sales aren’t even counted.) Because the CBA list doesn't report secular sales, a book can be selling very well through alternative sources—chains like B&N, Borders, etc.; “big box” stores like WalMart and Costco; and online, such as amazon.com—and still not make the Christian bestseller list.
I think making the list is important because it begets more publicity. Christian bookstores pay more attention to books on the list, particularly the top 10. They may be pulled out for special placement as “bestsellers.” Clerks are more likely to be aware of them and handsell them. Secular bookstores pay more attention to books on the Christian bestseller list, too. They're more likely to stock copies of bestsellers in their Christian sections. The bestselling book is also listed on the CBA Web site as a bestseller (www.cbaonline.org) , and in market magazines. In short, making the list can start a positive cycle. Sell books and make the list, which helps you sell more books, which puts you on the list, etc. If you want to do the most for a Christian author, buy his/her book at a Christian bookstore (and hope that store is one that reports STATS for the bestseller list.)
The fiction bestseller list for the Christian market has seen its share of changes. About, oh, four or so years ago, we had two lists—paperback and hardback. Problem was, there aren’t that many hardback novels in CBA. (There were even less then.) The paperback list went to 15, and the hardback list went only to 5. Then the lists changed to three—one for romance, one for historical, and one for everything else. No delineation between hardback and soft. A crazy bunch of lists, if you ask me. Romance and historical needed their own lists? Three lists made it kind of too easy to get on any one of them, and I think making the list lost some of its oomph. About a year ago the lists changed again—this time to just one, going up to #20. Hardback and paperback lumped together. Now it’s downright hard to make the list. You’re not likely to do it with spot marketing. It’s gonna take a concentrated effort to get those books specially placed in lots of Christian bookstores at once in order to have a chance at making the list.
4. Ironically (to some, anyway), the more books an author sells, the bigger the marketing package for that author. The house will always be looking to push the author to even higher sales while keeping the ground that author has already gained.
Questions/comments? If I can find more in my brain to pull out for tomorrow, I will.
Read Part 9