There is a raging debate in the world of independent authordom, (and sometimes even in our house), about the value of print books in an independent author’s marketing plan. While there is no clear winner in my opinion (and it depends heavily on your long term goals), I do believe that getting your books in print and working very hard to get them in and keep them in brick and mortar stores (and everywhere else you can) has real value.
In the short run, I believe an author has a better chance of scraping out a positive return by NOT doing print books at all. If you are an indie with little visibility and your sole venture into the print book world is Amazon with expanded distribution, I think you have little chance of ever recovering your formatting, book cover and initial fees. And you get to enjoy the pleasure of seeing that poor thing ranked #4,342,334 with very little you can do about it.
There are many indie authors who add print books to their portfolio simply for romantic reasons. They love the smell and feel of a print book. They want to put one in the hands of their mother who will never get a Nook or iPad, or maybe in the hands of that naysayer that told them they would never make it (the book) happen. In today’s world of low cost print-on-demand, those are often reasons enough. However, I personally believe print books can play a much larger role.
First, though, the cases in which is does not make sense to do print:
- You have a very limited budget and want to focus whatever money you have on one format.
- You are not comfortable with amount of “putting yourself out there” necessary to market your book to stores, conduct books signings, and do interviews. There is no shame in this. It is a very difficult thing to do, and do well.
- You have only written one book and you’re not sure if you plan to write another.
- You are allergic to paper.
Now the reasons why, if you can do print well, you should.
Your book cover is your calling card, your trade mark, your brand. Print books have a long life. They can be passed around by friends, sold to discount books stores and resold, and donated to libraries. All of these things lead to the possibility that someone will read it, love it and tell others about it. For an author, marketing is the business of generating fans who love your book so much they will pay for your NEXT book. You don’t generate fans by telling people on Twitter that your book is really good. You generate fans by having them read and love your book. Therefore you must make your books as accessible as possible.
If you have an issue with giving away your books, get over it. You need to do it, a lot. Now, as best as you can try to attach a string to the gift (like requesting a review in trade for the free book); however, expect a very low percentage actually will. If you have the funds, buy your book in bulk through Lightning Source to get volume discounts that make these giveaways less painful, and make your direct sales at speeches and appearances more lucrative.
Probably the most often asked question of us at SkipJack is, “How did you get Pamela’s books in Barnes and Nobles and will you do that for me, too”? There is no recipe to follow, no simple answer that results in that Nirvana. Pamela is the hardest working person you will ever meet, and she has a team that believes in her and together they put in an incredible amount of effort. And it still is an every day battle to keep them on the shelves. I will not go into it all here, if you want to learn what she did, read LOSER. Suffice to stay it takes blood sweat tears luck and money.
Has it paid for itself yet? In pure balance sheet figures, heck no. HOWEVER, many wonderful things have happened for Pamela since we started down this path. Interviews, radio shows, invitations to speak on Panels with NYT-bestselling authors, newspaper articles and Book Signing events that set store records. Most of these, if not all, were the direct result of having print books. And while all this stuff was going on, she sold and incredible number of eBooks. Would she have sold all those eBooks if it weren’t for the events that I mentioned? Who knows? But I doubt it.
Statistics show that on average people do not purchase an item until they have seen that particular item at least five times. So even if you manage to crack Amazon’s secret algorithm code and your eBook flashes in front of a potential reader, it is unlikely that they will buy it that first time (or the second). But maybe if that see it a couple of times in a coffee shop first, in the arms of one of your readers who is carrying it around, and then in an advertisement about your booksigning, maybe, if you are lucky, they will click “add to cart.”
We have had Hastings and Barnes and Noble managers tell us directly that people come into the stores with their Kindles, Nooks and iPads fired up. They troll the shelves flipping through books ‘til they identify ones they like . . . and then buy the eBook on their devices! (Bookstores, I feel your pain).
Those of you that have been at this a while know that having “life changing” success as an author is a long shot with odds roughly equivalent of winning the lottery. The “success” of your book is dependent on that random chance of it being photographed in the hands of a celebrity, read by a producer, or “discovered” by some media heavyweight. Every book on the shelf in a store, in a library or left on a table at a coffee shop is a lottery ticket. If your book is great and you believe in it, why not buy every lottery ticket you can?
Eric R. Hutchins is the owner of SkipJack Publishing
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