For some bizarre reason, I have a lot of people coming to me for advice on sales, distribution and Internet marketing for publishing – generally in regards to prose or comic book publishing. I say “for some bizarre reason” because I’ve been told I come across as a bit of an arrogant grump (although, my favorite description was “petulant”) when giving that advice.
The reason I may come off a bit short with people is because everything I’ve talked about for the past couple of years, all of the marketing advice I’ve written about or given, heck all of the consulting I’ve been paid to do by some of the comic book publishers, is all basic marketing and common sense. It’s all information that is out there and that tens of thousands of businesses do to stay in business. It’s all stuff you should have been doing from day 1 and isn’t anything you should have to think for one second about.
You run your business like a business or it’s just a hobby and you need to stop posturing otherwise.
My latest “call to action” for everyone out there – creators, authors and publishers alike – is one of the biggest “DUH” pieces I’ve ever written. It is also inspired by conversations I’ve been having with a couple of authors who write in the “New Pulp” genre, a group made up of self or small POD publishers for the most part – publishers who are infamous for their lack of a proper eBook presence.
I’m going to refrain from going off on a tangent skewering that group for their lack of business sense – really, it’s the exact same one that exists in the comic book industry. In fact, a lot of the “New Pulp” guys are active in comics as well. I do reserve the right, however, to come back and mock them at a later date.
Back to the “call to action.”
Creators and publishers, you’ve got about two weeks (potentially a month) to get ready for what is, essentially, your Super Bowl of Sales times: the Holiday Shopping Season. Almost every other business out there has already been preparing for it for the past few months and you should have been, too. For some reason, most creators, authors and publishers tend to ignore what should be the highest sales period of the year for them.
This particular holiday shopping season is an even more significant one for two very important reasons (well, one HUGE reason and one less so): the releases of the new Kindle Fire from Amazon and the new Nook Color 2 from Barnes & Noble.
Those two companies (and, again, Amazon moreso than BN.Com) represent the majority of book and eBook sales in the world. Realistically, if your books are not available for the Kindle on Amazon.com or the Nook on BN.com, then they’re not really available to the general public.
“But what about Smashwords?” you say.
Or “What about selling PDFs direct on my website?” you ask.
I love Smashwords, and some decent sales through them for my eBooks, but it is the tiniest fraction of what I get through Amazon and BN.com…and, to be honest, most of what I sell through Smashwords is from sales coupons and traffic I direct to them through my own giveaways. Smashwords is not the passive sales channel the big boys represent – sales there are the direct results of my own active sales techniques. The majority of e-reader owners buy their eBooks directly through Amazon or BN.Com and are not as likely to “side-load” material. Sure, some do, the majority do not.
Selling PDFs direct is a good practice for those of you who have a significant audience already, but since we’re talking about small publishers, self-publishers and unknown authors, this really isn’t a factor. Also, and this is an even more important thing to realize: PDFs generally don’t look all that good on the eReaders due to their size and the customer’s ability to change font size for ease of reading. PDFs really only look as you intend them to at the smallest of font sizes on an eReader, a size that almost always leaves them unreadable. When the fonts are increased, sentences don’t always line up, your formatting tends to disappear, blank pages appear and things generally look all “funk-a-fied.”
If you’ve got an active catalog at all (or even a backlist you can convert to e-format and begin selling anew), and you are wanting to be a viable publisher, then you need to make sure your books are available on the Kindle and Nook, and you need to get those books up through Amazon and BN.com over the next two weeks because, with the release of the new eReaders (the Kindle Fire and Nook Color 2), there are going to be huge numbers of new eReader owners looking for eBooks to read on their new toys. This next Holiday Shopping Season (November through the end of January) is going to be your best shot at grabbing new readers and a lot of new sales – better than any other time of the year just based on the sheer volume of potential customers out there actively looking to spend money RIGHT NOW!
If you do not spend the next few weeks getting ready for the new Holiday Shopping Season, then you are not serious about your business. And this goes for comic book publishers as well as prose publishers – there will be an insane number of buyers wanting new e-Comics for their new iPads or Kindle Fires. DC is pushing hard into the digital realm with their Amazon deal to push books onto the Kindle Fire. What that means for you is a lot of mainstream consumers who are being exposed to comics for the first time (or lapsed comic readers being re-exposed). Take advantage of the head of the Fire!
Get on the Kindle and Nook ASAP!
My advice for prose and comic publishers (and creators/authors) alike is to get your work up on Amazon and BN.com directly through their internal programs – don’t release your catalog to them through someone else’s system. This gives you more control over things like the product pages, sales analytics and even the formatting. It also gives you more control over your pricing. I’ve had a number of misinformed small publishers tell me that Amazon will not let them price a book under $2.99. This is absolutely not true. I’ve done it directly in Amazon’s KDP program a number of times for myself and others who needed assistance. You can price books free or at any price you want – I’ve done $.99 all the way up to $4.99. Amazon’s KDP program is fantastic, easy to use and has a lot of help built in to it.
Same for BN.com and it’s PubIt system.
Free Can Lead to Sales!
Make some of your material free for consumers for the Kindle and Nook. What that free material is going to be is up to you. Some suggestions are: the first novel in a series (or first issue of a comic series) or the first short story from a collection (first chapter of a comic book trade paperback works for comic publishers). Give away something that shows off the quality of you work and gives solid exposure of your property to new readers. You want to use the freebie to give a potential reader the easiest possible access to your work.
Keep in mind, you’re competing with a million other products, including a lot of top-notch, well-known properties by famous authors and creators. The freebie is your loss leader and allows potential new readers a no-cost entry point and a taste test.
Examine Your Pricing!
Examine the pricing of your corner of the industry. See what other companies in your niche have their pricing at and match or beat it. If you’re an unknown author it’s going to be infinitely more difficult to sell your first novel for $4.99 than it is for Stephen King. A proper, well thought out pricing strategy is one of the key ways to get potential customers to become paying customers.
This goes for print publishers, too. If you’re trying to sell a paperback book for $24.95 then you’re either insane, arrogant or aren’t really interested in selling books. Develop a realistic pricing plan based on your niche and you’ll see your sales increase.
Start Marketing and SEO!
This is a “duh” statement within a “duh” statement, so I’m not going ot get into what you should be doing. The point is, this is the most important time of year to let people know your work is out there. Make sure to properly SEO all of your product pages on Amazon and BN.com – both systems give you the ability to tweak the hell out of those pages. Make sure to sell your eBooks in the first paragraph – that is a reader’s first impression (after a well-designed cover image) and your only chance to grab them. Without a powerful first sales paragraph, you’ve already lost the battle for the buy. Now is the time to take a look at the product descriptions for all of your products and to update them with fresh, enticing content and exciting calls-to-action.
That’s it for the tips. The next few weeks should be busy ones for any publisher, author or creator out there looking to expand their sales and grow their business. Make sure to take advantage of the increased attention and buying habits of the holiday season – if you don’t you’re missing out on the most active selling period of the year and you’re leaving sales, and money, on the table for someone else to take.
The Holiday Shopping Season only comes around once a year, Don’t Miss It!
-Mat Nastos, Super Genius