Poetry: A Difficult Genre to Sell

The other day I had a conversation with an author who was looking to produce an ebook of an existing print book. In an attempt to rejuvenate interest in her book and increase sale, she was thinking about introducing a digital version of the book.

poetry

This author’s questions for me revolved around marketing an ebook. She wanted to understand the differences in marketing an ebook versus a print book, so she could come up with a plan.

I told this author that marketing an ebook is very similar to marketing a print book. All the same elements are important in both types of book promotion campaigns. These include:

  • Distribution
  • Endorsements
  • Reviews
  • Connecting with readers
  • Conveying the need your book meets for readers
  • Repeated exposure

Selling any book is hard work. Whether you are promoting an ebook or a print book, just because you write and publish a book does not mean that it will sell. Authors must find their target market, connect with these readers in a way that engages and hooks their interest, and then, convince them to invest their time and money in the book.

As we talked, this author told me that her book was a book of poems. I really felt for this author because selling a self-published book is hard work. Selling poetry is even more difficult.

I do not have much experience with selling poetry books. Don’t get me wrong, there is an audience for poetry. After all, the United States has a national Poet Laureate, poetry is taught in schools, a poem is read at every presidential inauguration, and many bookstores do host a small poetry section.

However, poetry has a very niche audience. In mainstream publishing there’s a small market for poetry books. Even established poets don’t sell thousands of books – maybe not even hundreds. Christian poetry is even a smaller niche audience.

When I talk with authors of Christian poetry books, I usually refer them to an organization called Utmost Christian Writers. Utmost Christian Writers is based in Canada. However, they provide a valuable service to Christian poets. The group hosts an annual poetry contest, hosts reviews of poetry books on their website, and provides additional resources to Christian poets. If you write poetry, I encourage you to check this group out.

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A Half-Million Self-Published Books

Last week was a week for new book publishing and selling statistics. On Monday, I reported on the Nielson book selling figures that came out for the first half of 2014. Today, I am writing about the new analysis of self-publishing in the United States conducted by Bowker.

raining books

Bowker has released a new Report on Self-Publishing in the United States. In the report, Bowker analyzes the number of self-published titles from 2008 through 2013. Here are some of the findings in Bowker’s report:

  • The number of self-published titles in 2013 increased to 458,564, up 16.5% from 2012.
  • There were 302,622 titles that were self-published as print books in 2013, a 28.8% increase over 2012.
  • On the other hand, the number of self-published ebook titles decreased 1.6% in 2013 to just 155,942.

Interestingly, while Bowker is calling these titles “self-published”, the company is including small publishers in this report. According to the report, small publishers as a whole registered 46,654 ISBNs in 2013, placing them fourth among companies that registered ISBNs.

The top three self-publishing companies registering ISBNs in 2013 with Bowker were (in order): CreateSpace, Smashwords, and Lulu. CreateSpace registered 186,926 ISBNs—all for print books. On the other hand, Smashwords registered 85,500—all for ebooks.

These figures reveal that, for 2013, the growth in self-publishing came not from ebooks, but from print books. These figures compliment the Nielson book sales stats that show that 67% of all books sold in the first six months of 2014 were print books. Many self-publishers understand that it is still by and large a print book world.

Half a million books! That figure is staggering. Self-published authors and small presses produced half a million books in 2013! Remember, Bowker is only counting the books that were registered with ISBNs. I believe that there are many more books that were self-published via the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform that never acquired an ISBN (Amazon does not require an ISBN to publish an ebook via their KDP system). Afterall, a new ebook is added to Amazon just about every five minutes.

Self-publishing has definitely come into its own. If you are considering self-publishing, I encourage you to go for it. Many authors have found it fulfilling and worthwhile to maintain control of the entire process from manuscript to book to marketing.

The other thing these numbers reveal is that competition for books keeps getting stiffer. The more books that are published, the more options people have. Why should they choose your book? Now is the time to hone your pitch. Make sure your message is unique and lets your readers know why they should choose your book over all the other books out there.

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Learning from the Numbers

The newest figures from book sales (new, not used books) for the first half of 2014 (January to June) were released last week. I find this book sales data interesting and relevant for authors and publishers as you plan your publishing endeavors.

First, Nielson released book sales data for the first six months of 2014. This data is showing that ebook sales are not growing. In fact, it appears that ebook sales have become fairly stagnant between 2013 and 2014. For the first six months of this year, Nielson data shows that:

Book Sales

  • 42% of book purchases were paperback print books
  • 25% of book purchases were hardcover print books
  • 23% of book purchases were ebooks

Basically, these numbers show that hardcover books are still outselling ebooks and paperback books are still outselling ebooks. In fact, print books are outselling ebooks three to one.

If you noticed that these numbers do not add up to 100%, you are astute. I don’t have an answer for why. I am just repeating the information that Publishers Weekly reported. They did not account for the missing 10 percent. Maybe someone at Nielson didn’t do their math right.

This data continues to back up my assertion that your best practice in publishing a book right now is to produce both a print version and a digital version. Making your book available in both formats ensures that you garner the highest number of sales possible.

Second, the Nielson data reported where these books are being purchased. Not surprisingly, online stores (e-tailers) sold 39% of all books. Bookstores chains came in second place, selling 21% of books, while independent bookstores only made 3% of the total book sales. Mass merchandisers made up 8% of book sales, as did book clubs and fairs.

What this data shows is that the top two places for selling books is online bookstores and brick-and-mortar bookstores. In your book marketing efforts, don’t bypass the brick-and-mortar bookstores. Yes, they are difficult to get into, but if you do an author event or booksigning in a couple local stores, this can help you get additional exposure and your foot in the door with bookstores.

Third, this recent Nielson Books and Consumer report showed how consumers learned about the books they decided to purchase. Interestingly, more consumers reported learning about the books they purchased through in-store displays than through word-of-mouth. The report revealed that 12% of book buyers said they learned about the titles they purchased through in-store displays while only 10% of consumers said that they heard about the books they purchased from friends and relatives. Another 8% reported that they discovered the titles they purchased by browsing the website of online retailers.

In real estate, the selling mantra is location, location, location. For selling books, your motto should be discovery, discovery, discovery. We don’t buy products we don’t know exist. Consumers must discover your books. Whether your readers are finding you online, in a bookstore, or through word-of-mouth, they must know about your book to buy it. After all, marketing is the most important part of selling books.

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Sampling: An Effective Marketing Tool

One of the things I really enjoy about my monthly trip to Costco is all the samples I get to munch on while I peruse the aisles and shop. A few of these samples have even convinced me to buy the products being hawked.

mcds

Last month, McDonalds promoted their own sampling program. From September 16th to 19th, they offered free small coffees. McDonalds offered this free coffee to convince consumers that their coffee is worth purchasing on a regular basis. I am sure they won many new coffee customers with this offer.

Sampling is a great marketing tool. Offering consumers a “taste” of what they will get should they purchase a product has been proven time and again to draw customers in. Take David McConnell for example. David started selling books door-to-door when he was just 16-years-old. He struggled to gain customers interest and sell the books. So, David decided to offer an incentive to get prospective customers to look at his books. The incentive was a sample vial of a perfume that he had developed with the help of a local pharmacist. It soon became clear that customers loved and preferred the perfume over the books. David quit selling books to concentrate full-time on selling his perfume. The company he started eventually became Avon Cosmetics.

The Avon Cosmetics story and many others demonstrate the effectiveness of offering samples to convince consumers to buy a product. As an author or publisher, you can also use sampling to sell more books.

Here are a few ways you can offer a sample of your book:

  • Offer a free chapter or three for interested readers to read. Put the chapters on the book’s or author’s website and make it easily accessible for site visitors.
  • Blog excerpts from your book.
  • Write articles using excerpts from your book and make these articles available to other bloggers and ezines through article banks.
  • Tweet excerpts from your book.
  • Enable the “Search Inside” feature for your book on Amazon.com.

Allowing customers to sample what you are asking them to spend their money on helps give them the confidence to invest their money.

I offer a sample of what you can expect when you purchase my book Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace. The sample is available on the book’s website. Feel free to stop by and take a read.

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