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The Importance of Book Sales
WordTech Communications is a bit different from most poetry publishers; we are a for-profit company that earns revenue only from book sales. We do not have contest reading fees, grants from government agencies or private foundations, or contributions from private individuals to underwrite the publication of our books. As such, we place a particular emphasis on selling a certain number of copies of each of our titles within the first year of their publication, and on small, recurring sales in subsequent years.
What We Do to Market Your Poetry Book
We have an extensive marketing program to increase audience awareness and drive sales of our titles. Our marketing activities are focused on cost-effective, measurable methods that directly and quickly increase sales. Our program includes the following:
Featuring of the book in a professionally-designed website. We maintain a large number of websites in support of our books--a site for each imprint, as well as our main "gateway" site--and we have spent many, many hours developing a professional, attractive look for each site. Furthermore, we manage our webhosting in-house, which reduces costs and gives more control over how our sites are handled. We want to provide your books with the best possible online stage for readers to find out about them, and based on what we see at a number of other poetry publishers, we feel we succeed in this area.
Making it easy to order your book. The most convenient way for individual readers to order your book is via online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and others. Because of our relationship with major wholesalers, all of our titles can be ordered through the major online vendors. Also, any of our books can be special-ordered by bookstores. We will also fill orders sent to us directly, if these other methods are not convenient for readers.
Development of promotional materials for each book, to be sent to author e-mail lists at our expense. This is probably our single largest marketing effort in terms of both time and cost, but it yields a measurable impact on sales. We create an attractive, professional-looking flyer to help sell your books, and they seem to be effective in helping to drive sales. We also will gladly provide you with copies of these flyers on request.
Submission of every book we publish to online poetry sites. We send every book we publish to sites such as Writer's Almanac, and we have had a number of our authors featured at each site. This exposure is beneficial for the authors, their books, and for the press.
Public relations contacts. We respond to many public relations inquries each week, putting our authors in touch with journalists, editors, and other professionals who want to feature their work.
As we hope this list makes clear, we strive to have a broad program of marketing support for the titles we publish. This program is also notable for what it does not include: advertising, for instance. (We have found that advertising our titles leads to no improvement in sales.) In the end, however, we regard the marketing of our poetry titles as a joint effort between the publisher and the author. It is the publisher's job to oversee the marketing efforts, complete a number of marketing-related tasks, and provide resources for the author to help market the book as well. It is the author's job to undertake a number of marketing-related tasks, especially arranging readings and similar events, to help promote the book.
How to Market Your Poetry Book
The purpose of this web page is to provide some tips to authors about marketing strategies and tactics that they can undertake to help promote their book. It is drawn from discussions with a number of our authors, who have been kind enough to share what works for them. The main part of selling a book is persistence and commitment; these suggestions can be adopted by anyone.
Tips for Marketing Your Book
We have spoken with a number of our authors whose books have been particularly successful--selling upwards of 500 copies--to share what has worked for them in helping to sell book copies, arrange events, and similar items. We have also looked at what works for us in helping to sell your books on our end. We hope that this list of ideas will prove useful.
Be prepared to do readings in support of your book from the outset.
Find any opportunity you can to do readings, from your publication date onward. A big launch reading is an excellent way to sell books,, but it does not stop there. Advance planning before your publication date is key to ensuring multiple readings and sales opportunities. There are many venues outside of bookstores, universities, and coffeehouses to do readings. Some of our authors are invited as guests to private poetry groups, which provides them an opportunity to discuss their work and sell some books. Others have developed regional reputations and attend conferences or writers' workshops in their part of the country on a regular basis. Other authors have done readings at art galleries, have performed their work in conjunction with musicians, and similar unusual venues. Still other authors do readings at libraries. The point is to be creative in looking for places where poetry would be a welcome feature or subject for discussion.
Always have copies of your books with you. This is surprisingly simple, but you never know when you might be speaking with someone, the subject of your book comes up, and they express interest in seeing it. A few of our authors sell individual books, clusters of books to people who want to use them as gifts, and sometimes to people who prefer not to purchase books over the Internet.
Write an op-ed piece, essay or article somehow related the topic of your book. Make sure "author of ____" is in your bio.
If you have friends or colleagues who teach, ask them to consider adopting your book for a course. Course adoptions are an excellent source of bulk sales. Some of our authors are periodic guest speakers at universities in their geographical area, where a professor has chosen their book to be discussed in a course on poetry or American literature.
Develop a PR kit tailored for your local media. The media kit should include the flyer/news release that we create for your book. You may want to include an author photograph and copies of earlier reviews of your work, if available. We suggest sending these to particular editors at local newspapers, NPR stations, and other appropriate outlets, accompanied by a nice cover letter that mentions your book is availble for review on request to us. We do not suggest sending review copies in these types of cases; let the editor request one if he or she is interested. Local exposure is very helpful as you try to arrange readings and venues in your geographic area. If you prefer, you can also provide us with the names and addresses of local media outlets in your mailing list and have us send the flyers to them.
Create a website that features your work. We put up a nicely-designed page on your book at our website, but a number of our authors have created personal websites that feature the the totality of their work beyond their book with us. It is not necessary to hire a professional designer to do your site. Creating a website, complete with your own domain name, is no more difficult than laying out the text in a word processor and saving it as HTML; many hosting services and ISPs, such as AOL or Yahoo, also provide site-building tools. Dedicated hosting is very inexpensive, running as low as $5.00 per month for basic websites. A site, with links that allow people to purchase your book over the Internet, is very useful because it may give potential readers more information about you and your work than can be gleaned from our website. Blog your book on your website (this draws in other writers and readers who are interested in what goes on behind the scenes).
Use other Internet tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, to get the word out about your books. Social networking sites can make a large "virtual" community aware of your book, which can translate into sales.
Make a list of people who are influential in your community who would love your book and would influence others to buy your book.
Ask your local library to order a copy, as well as the library of the college you attended, and, if applicable, the college where you teach. Many libraries make a policy of supporting local and alumni authors. This is a simple way to generate a few sales.
If you decide to invest some of your own resources in marketing materials, look for good, cost-effective solutions. For instance, if you prefer to have postcards printed rather than use our flyers--postcards can be handy for thank-you notes--then a service recommended by some of our authors is Vistaprint. You can have 500 color postcards printed for a reasonable cost.
Most importantly: Keep at it. Our most successful authors are those who understand that promoting their book is not something to do for a few months after the book is published. They are still actively doing readings and other promotions even two years later, and their sales profits (if they purchase copies from us with their author discount and sell the books at full price) or royalties (if all ordering comes directly to us) will reflect this effort.
The common thread of these suggestions is networking. If you are active in your local community, and active in the poetry world, then you are already active in cultivating your audience. The largest market for your book is your audience; your audience wants to read your book. It is very difficult to grow an audience overnight, and if this is a problem you face, then it will take additional persistence to sell copies of your book.
Strategies You Should Avoid
Don't send out tons of review copies. Reviews in publishing trade journals (discussed above) and major newspapers such as The Seattle Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer (where some of our titles have been discussed) can have a measurable impact on sales, because they reach large audiences in a timely fashion after the book's publication, when it is still newsworthy. However, reviews in the smaller literary journals where authors publish individual poems are more beneficial for the author's reputation than for book sales. Literary journals appear infrequently, often have very small readerships, and tend to publish reviews many months (or even years) after the book was published. We provide you with 10 free copies to send to these types of outlets, but we don't encourage you do purchase additional copies for this purpose.
Don't give away too many copies. This seems obvious, but many people to whom you give copies may be perfectly willing to buy them. It's perfectly fine to give away a few copies as gifts to loved ones or friends, and it also makes sense to provide free copies--to an events coordinator, for instance--if it has a reasonable chance in spurring additional sales opportunities. But provide free copies sparingly. Ask your library to order a copy instead of donating a copy. Tell your colleagues that copies can be purchased from us. And (see above) don't provide unsolicited review copies unless you feel strongly that you will gain a review in the process; we will provide a review copy to any editor who requests one in writing.
If the suggestions of what to do revolve around networking, then the suggestions of what not to do revolve around the smart use of your time and energy. Don't focus on tasks that present little opportunity to repay your investment of time or money. We certainly can't afford to do that, and we don't think you can, either.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, we have the same goals as you: to bring your books to the widest possible audience. If that happens, then everyone wins. Your books enjoy a good readership, and you earn royalties or profits from directly selling your book. And we earn enough revenue to pay our bills, and continue doing the work we love: publishing great poetry.