The Trauma of Publishing a Novel
(This is Installment 4 of An Author’s Enigma – The Trauma of Publishing a Novel, by Jonathan R. Husband, known to BAIPA members as John Cammidge. His book is An Unplanned Encounter: Two Lives Forever Changed an unforgettable heart-rending novel set against the backdrop of World War II England. The main characters are involved in a fifteen-minute unintended sexual event that has lasting ramifications in their lives for the next thirty years. Hope you learned from his observations and enjoyed the series. — Linda Jay, BAIPA Blog Feed Editor)
By Jonathan R. Husband
My final contribution to this author’s report comes after completing my initial publicity campaign and settling down to wait and witness its effects. Early results include book presentations, voluntary reviews of my novel, newspaper interest, radio shows, and published articles on boutique websites. Maybe I should have started my publicity and marketing campaign a little earlier, but now that I am deep into the process, I am satisfied that I waited. This component of indie publishing requires tenacity, creativity, patience, time commitment, flexibility, and a personality pleasing enough to sell your story, book by book.
I used outside help to advance my global campaign, an author-specific publicity firm based in New Jersey. It was expensive, but less than the amount quoted by Lulu.com, and at about the level that a well-published author had indicated to me would be a reasonable price. As best as I can assess, the firm has done a good job. If you imagine that this publicity and marketing phase of authorship is restful and straightforward, you need to rethink reality. There is so much to do. You need a publicity plan, you need to keep your website up-to-date, you need to continue blogging, and you need to think through where you want to sell the book and to whom, and to focus your marketing plan accordingly. In my case,f it is an international audience. While I can visit local “bricks and mortar” book stores and libraries, the big market is nationwide and also 5,300 miles away, in England. I needed help and a large dose of good luck. I also encountered a barrage of ideas and services, some free and some fee-based, to add uniqueness and user-friendliness to my author website. I am not sure how well these ideas work in terms of new sales, and therefore I adopted them cautiously and sparingly. I also continued to use Google Analytics to measure the traffic to my website and consider ways of increasing its visibility.
I started my campaign on three fronts. I wanted to be visible in local bookstores, libraries and non-traditional outlets, including speaking engagements. I wanted to adopt a “soft sell” process with friends, relatives and colleagues, and I needed a professional presence globally to publicize my book in all the right places. This global publicity needed to include book groups and reviewers, television, radio, newspaper and on-line media, and any other avenues that might lead to sales. Coverage in the UK was just as important as in the United States. And so we went to work.
Selling to friends and family has been fairly successful. Their feedback has been very kind and encouraging. However, there are a couple of important observations. I found myself lunching with groups of friends and sometimes triggered something close to panic to want to read my book. You expect them to rush home and immediately purchase the book on-line or from the nearby bookstore. I found that this doesn’t happen. Most will eventually purchase your book, but they take their time. Your novel isn’t the most important thing in their lives. The other trait that requires patience is that once they buy the book, or if you choose to give them a copy, they do not necessarily instantly read it. Some do, but most take their time. Think of thunder and lightning. You see the flash, but the thunder rolls in some seconds after the flash has disappeared. Nonetheless it was fun selling my first hardback copy in a pub in Oakland and several softcover copies to friends in downtown San Francisco.
Publicizing and selling your book through local book stores, libraries, etc. requires a very different approach. Here you need to partner with stores, be ready to give presentations and be willing to supply your novel on consignment. These partnerships can significantly increase your book’s visibility. You may donate to libraries or hope that they will purchase copies through their distributors. You may also speak at a library event and use back-of-room sales to distribute your novel. Non-traditional sales outlets may also require supply by consignment. This procedure is where the sales outlet agrees to carry your book for an agreed-upon share of the revenue, but you supply the copies and agree to take back copies that are not sold by the bookstore. A problem arises when authors choose a publisher that distributes via “Print on Demand,” where books are printed and shipped as the printer/distributor receives customer orders. There is no “book return” facility, which is what bookstores want to do with unsold books. As Lulu.com, my publisher, stated, “Lulu’s distribution services offer books as non-returnable print on demand products at this time. It is not possible to offer these books as returnable through Lulu’s distribution at this time.” My efforts to find an alternative solution to this barrier have so far proven unsuccessful.
Clearly, consignment sales can work satisfactorily for local bookstores, but having your book at more distant bookstores is probably not practical if you are using Print on Demand production. My experience of requesting local stores to carry my novel on consignment and having them offer book signings has been very good. You need to be tenacious with follow-up but all those bookstores that I have approached have fulfilled my ambitions. There is something satisfying about walking into a bookstore and observing your book on the sales table. Library presentations also help get out the message, and there are many other local organizations that may be interested in featuring you as a speaker and book presenter. My April 23rd presentation at Larkspur Library in front of a reasonably-sized audience allowed me to test my story and gain comfort with public speaking. Finally, making your book available at book fairs is another way I found to be helpful with publicity. Although a fee is likely to be involved, you do not know how many sales may be sponsored by this channel of publicity. As a result of placing priority importance on these two sales fronts, I always have several copies of my novel in my car.
My greatest potential for future sales, I believe, will come from addressing the third front of publicity and sales: the global marketplace. It is too early to tell, but indications have been encouraging. National and local newspapers and Salon.com are interested in running articles about my book, I have participated in radio talk shows, and it is exciting to read reviews on sites such as Amazon, even when I do not recognize the reviewer. So far the reviews have all been positive! Again, there are twists in the road to global publishing that you never anticipated. My book was converted into a pounds sterling book price for the UK; yet when I ordered a book supply for this marketplace, the books had the US dollar price printed on them. I was told that this was unavoidable, because I had chosen to have a price printed on the book cover. Again, I think I can accept this quirk in distribution but surprises will happen. The UK also operates a value-added tax system, and no one can tell me the impact on the sale price for books sold through the UK distribution channel. Fortunately, my Internet research investigation says that printed books are zero-rated.
I could at this stage go into more detail regarding individual transactions. However, each author’s challenge will depend on the content of their book, the likely audience or readers, and the affordable level of investment. Suffice to say that I feel that I am on a global journey, with no idea where I will end up. If nothing much else happens, it will have been a great learning experience. Right now I am sensing that the publicity campaign has begun to position or “spin” my book with multiple themes. Whether these will confuse a potential reader or increase the potential reader population, I am unsure. Some articles focus on how I discovered my birth origins and how I deal with the knowledge of being a child of rape, as well as illegitimate; other articles focus on my genealogical research and how I discovered the story of my father and my paternal siblings; and others stick with my original story, which is published as historical fiction based on true events.
But today it feels like July 4th; I see that the fireworks have been lit, and I now wait for the Technicolor show that should follow. Hopefully the sales of my novel will explode as well.