Three Lessons from Six Years!

Six years! Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) celebrated its sixth birthday this month.

CSPA begin in January of 2004, just six years ago, with three small publishers just starting down the track of producing materials for the Christian marketplace. These three publishers came together to do what they each could not do alone; mainly afford to promote their books within the niche Christian market. By the end of 2009, CSPA had grown to over 80 publisher members, all producing materials for the Christian marketplace.

CSPA’s goal is to help small publishers market their materials in the Christian market. Through joining together, small publishers can extend their reach through cooperative marketing efforts.

As the director of CSPA, I have learned three important lessons over the last six years.

1. Distribution is crucial.

Bookstore and library sales won’t happen without distribution. I am always surprised at how many new publishers want to skip this step because they “can’t afford” it. Publishers must take into consideration the large discount distributors require when setting the price of a book. The more channels a book is available for consumers to purchase it, the more sales will occur. Publishers and authors who do not make their books available through national distribution lose out on sales.

2. Marketing should start long before a book is published.

Many publishers and self-publishers I come in contact with don’t even start to think about marketing their book until they actually have the book in hand. By this time, these individuals have lost many opportunities for marketing including reviews, endorsements, developing an audience to sell the book to, and pre-orders. Marketing should be an integral part of every piece of a book’s development including the cover design and sell text.

3. Many new publishers producing materials for the Christian marketplace lack a basic understanding of how the Christian market differs from the general book industry.

A number of great resources for learning how to publish and market books are readily available to any new publisher or author embarking on the journey of producing a book. The sad part is that most of these resources lack information about the Christian marketplace. That is why I developed Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace. This book is a handbook for any new publisher or author producing Christian materials. This essential resource gives an overview of how the Christian marketplace is unique and what resources exist to market into this segment of the book industry.

CSPA’s mission is to help small publishers be successful in the Christian marketplace. It is the heartbeat of the organization. If you are a small publisher producing materials for Christians, I encourage you to consider membership with Christian Small Publishers Association.

Ecclesiastes 4:9&12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Let’s support each other on this journey.

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Don’t Ignore Social Media

I still run into publishers who think they can run an effective book promotion campaign without using social media. I believe that they can.

I also believe that any book promotion campaign is more effective if it includes a social media component.

Social media is not a fad. It is a force. Social media opens doors to publicity and promotion that traditional avenues don’t.

Thomas Nelson recently released data in relation to top publishing houses that they track. The data looked at which 10 Christian publishers hold the lion’s share of the Christian book market based on revenue. In other words, which Christian publishers are selling the most books?

Thomas Nelson maintains that they are the number one Christian publisher with the highest revenues. They report that their share of the Christian market grew from 29.3 percent in 2008 to 32.6 percent in 2009. Zondervan and Tyndale were in second and third place respectively and Thomas Nelson’s study reported that both these publishers lost some market share. Baker Publishing Group was in fourth place with their sales remaining flat.

What was notable in this data was that B&H Publishing Group climbed from number seven in 2008 to number five in 2009. Thomas Nelson thought this might be largely propelled by sales of The Love Dare book.

What I find interesting is that the two publishing companies whose sales increased from 2008 to 2009 have both embraced social media and use it to promote their books.

Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson, has been a leading voice in the use of social media for the Christian publishing community. His blog is quite the authority on how and why to use social media. Thomas Nelson also recently launched a new website, BookSneeze, which gives away free copies of their books to any blogger who agrees to write a review on their blog as well as post the review on one other consumer website.

B&H is also aggressively promoting their books using social media. They have embraced promotional book videos. A book trailer is created for every book that B&H publishes. The company widely distributes these videos on the Internet and places marketing dollars behind them.

I believe the increase in sales for both these publishers is directly tied into their willingness to embrace social media and use it to promote their books.

As someone who provides social media services for small businesses who don’t have the time to spend on social media (or who need the technical help), I have found that social media is extremely effective. One of my clients, an art gallery, more than doubled their website traffic within two months of creating a Facebook account, a Twitter account, and starting a blog.

Those who think they can ignore social media and still grow their publishing business should think again.

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Swap Books to Sell More

Dale Beaumont, a best-selling author in Australia, has a great Internet program called GetPublishedTV. On his program, he uses videos to discuss all aspects of writing, publishing, and marketing books.

In the video below, Dale has a great idea for authors to sell more books. The idea is simple, but not new: Swap books with other authors to sell more books. Then sell these books at your speaking engagements and on your website.

Such a simple concept, yet so many authors are reluctant to do this because they fear selling other people’s books will cause their own books to not sell as well.

Actually, the opposite is true. Swapping books with other authors gets more exposure for everyone’s books. After all, Philippians 2:4 says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,” or as Eugene Peterson says in the Message, “Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.” What the Biblical writers understood was that God’s economy operates different from the world’s economy. Through looking after the interests of other authors, your own interests will also be taken care of.

Check out what Dale has to say on the subject of swapping books to make more sales.

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The Latest Casualty of the Publishing Industry

For the past few years, large publishing houses have consistently cut their number of annual title releases. As book sales struggle, publishers have struggled right along to find ways to continue to make money in this difficult business.

One of the casualties of this publishing dilemma is authors; especially well-reviewed authors who don’t have stellar sales. While their books may sell well, they don’t garner the blockbuster sales. In order to keep publishing sales up, publishing houses are cutting back to established, best-selling authors and new authors with single book test-runs they hope will immediately become best-sellers.

Take David Fulmer. Fulmer is a mystery author originally published by Poisoned Pen, he received a contract from Harcourt Houghton Mifflin for a three-book deal. After his third book was released, Harcourt Houghton Mifflin did not offer him a new contract. All three of his books received great reviews from national publications and at least one was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best Novel.

David Fulmer found himself in a bind. He wanted to continue to advance his writing career but none of the large publishing houses were giving his literary agent the time of day. David did not want to self-publish, yet he wanted to release another book in 2010.

Fulmer ended up taking the same route as William P. Young, author of the best-selling book, The Shack. Finding two individuals to partner with him, the three created their own publishing company, Five Stones Press. David’s seventh mystery novel will be released in March 2010, published by this new publishing house.

Fulmer’s story is not unique. This scenario is becoming more common in both the general and the Christian publishing industry. Mid-level authors are being squeezed out and new publishing companies are accommodating these authors’ desires to continue to bring out new titles.

New publishing houses like Summerside Press, who publishes a line of Christian romance novels titled Love Finds You in …, and Sheaf House, who also publishes Christian novels, are picking up these solid, mid-list authors.

The tide is slowly turning. Large publishing houses’ grip on the publishing world has slackened. New, smaller presses are taking up the call to arms. The publishing industry may yet follow in the footsteps of Ma Bell.

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Who’s Buying Books?

Bowker, the international ISBN organization and publisher of Books in Print, recently teamed with Great Britain’s BML to produce a side-by-side comparison of consumer buying habits in the two largest English-speaking countries.

I think the most interesting finding in the study was that, in both the United Kingdom and the United States, older buyers accounted for two-thirds of all book purchases.

Wow! Well over half of all books are purchased by adults over the age of 42!

This finding has a number of implications for authors and publishers producing and selling books. I wonder if it also holds a sad and scary prediction for the future of book sales as the Boomer generation ages and leaves this earth.

Why is it that two-thirds of all books are sold to people over 42 years of age? Is it because this age group is the wealthiest generation in history? Or is it because this group reads more books than younger generations? Or does it have to do with the fact that 24 percent of the population in the United States is over the age of 55?

Regardless of the answer to these questions, as an author or publisher, you need to know how to target this older age group to maximize your sales.

Steve Howard has written a book called Boomer Selling:  Helping the Wealthiest Generation in History Own Your Premium Products and Services. Howard asserts that traditional sales methods do not work with Boomers. Instead, he believes that successful selling to Boomers includes connecting with the buyer and speaking to their desires and fears.

Howard says that this type of selling is important because Boomers are emotional and relational. They have discretionary spending dollars that they spend on their children and grandchildren.

I suggest that, when you are designing your promotional campaigns, you keep in mind that the majority of your buyers will be Boomers. If your book is for younger people, most likely the Boomer will be purchasing your book to give to a child or grandchild.

I still think the best advice for selling to people over the age of 42 is the same as selling to any age. Show them their need and then tell them how your book meets their need.

Keep in mind, the majority of the people in this age group are not using the Internet to social network and many are not Internet savvy. Some of your marketing to this age group needs to be through more traditional avenues to catch those who are not using the Internet.

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