Overcoming Roadblocks to Marketing

The numbers vary, but they are usually small. The average nonfiction book sells around 250 copies per year and around 2,000 copies over its lifetime. The vast majority of indie published books sell far fewer than 200 copies over their lifetime with one large self-publishing house sales averaging 41 copies per title published.

Why the poor sales? I believe there are three main reasons:

1. A glut of books.
No other industry introduces as many new products every year as the book industry. Each year in the United States alone over 750,000 new titles are introduced.

2. Poor quality.
Sadly, many indie published books are inferior in quality—either in writing or design. This hurts sales.

3. Lack of marketing.
Many indie and self-published authors are focused on getting their book to print. Marketing is an afterthought and an activity that many authors despise and don’t understand.

For those indie authors serious about marketing, a number of roadblocks make success difficult. Following are the two biggest obstacles that indie authors face in marketing a book.

1. Scarcity of funds.

Few indie authors have deep pockets. Many sink most of their available money into creating their book through paying for editing and cover design. Few funds then remain to put into marketing.

Enter creative marketing. It is possible to substitute time for dollars in creating a good marketing campaign. There are many no- to low-cost strategies for marketing a book. I outline many in my book Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace. Following are two strategies to get you started:

  • Get influencers to talk about your book. Find bloggers to review your book, interview you or host a guest post by you. Seek out interview opportunities on podcasts and internet radio shows that speak to your target audience.
  • Build an email list by offering quality material in exchange for people’s email addresses. An email list is a great marketing tool. It offers a great way to garner sales by offering coupons, discounts, and specials to your subscribers.

2. Stretched too thin.

While you can substitute time for money in creating an effective marketing plan, most indie and self-published authors simply don’t have much time because they are already stretched too thin. Most already have full-time jobs and families, not to mention church responsibilities. In addition, as an indie author, all the tasks involved in bringing a book to production and marketing fall on you. Most authors simply don’t have much time to invest in marketing.

Enter time management. Just as you must decide to dedicate time to writing to be able to actually pen a book, you must also dedicate time to marketing to effectively promote your book. Either set aside a specified amount of time each day that you are going to dedicate to marketing tasks or determine to do a certain number of marketing tasks each day. Unless you make it a priority, it won’t happen.

Every author faces roadblocks. Your challenge is not to let these obstacles detour you, but to rise above and persevere. Then you will continually move toward your goal of selling your books.

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Are You Shouldering This Responsibility?

Are you an author or a publisher of books? Ask yourself:
Which do I spend more time doing: reading books or watching videos or TV?

While you might not think this is an important question, it is. Since you are in the business of making books, you should also be involved in the consumption of books.

I am in the process of updating my book Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace. While working on the Fourth Edition, I was surprised to discover that it’s not just bookstores that are on the decline. I already knew that reading rates were holding steady while the number of books published each year grows, but I was saddened by another trend I discovered.

Everyone knows that readers have begun buying more books online than they do in physical stores. As a result, bookstores are declining. After all, the largest Christian bookstore chain, Family Christian, shuttered the doors to its 240 stores in February of this year. The fourth largest general market bookstore chain, Book World, which operates 45 stores in the Midwest, will close all their stores in January 2018.

But it’s not just bookstores that are struggling. What surprised me is that church libraries are becoming nonexistent. This year, two of the largest church library associations shuttered their doors. Both associations cite declining membership and lack of interest in church libraries.

My first thought was maybe most churches were simply shuttering their libraries in exchange for church bookstores. However, research shows that this is not the case. While church bookstores thrived in the early part of the century, the number has actually shrunk over the past five years.

Here is the point. If we are publishing books and we want people to read these books, we must also be putting effort into helping people see the benefit of reading and encouraging them to read more.

How do we do this? We start by first modeling—being an example. That means that as an author or publisher you spend time reading books and talking about them with people. Then we move on to encouraging others to read. There are many ways that we can do this. Here are six ideas to get you started:

1. Regularly recommend books to people.
Don’t just recommend the books you write or publish, but talk about any good Christian title that will enrich people’s lives. Give these recommendations in person, on your blog, and on your social media sites.

2. Give books as gifts.
Books have the power to change people’s lives. Give them as gifts to encourage reading.

3. Start a lending library at your church.
If your church does not have a lending library, start one. It does not have to be large, simply a shelf or bookcase will do. Start with your own titles and books by other local Christian authors.

4. Make sure your church’s children’s ministry is stocked with good books.
Check out the children’s ministry rooms in your church. Are they stocked with good Christian books for the kids to engage with? If not, donate some or get others in the church to donate books to the Children’s ministry.

5. Start a book group.
Start a book group in your church or community. Gather interested people to read and discuss a good book once a month.

6. Put up a Little Free Library in your neighborhood.
Little Free Libraries encourage reading. You can find information on how to build or purchase a Little Free Library box on the organization’s website.

I believe that if we write and publish books, we also need to be about the business of promoting reading. Unless we encourage reading on a regular basis, we may wake up one day to find nobody reads books anymore.

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Christian Retail is Struggling

This past year has been a tough year for Christian bookstores. Family Christian Stores closed all 240 of its stores earlier this year. Only about 20 of those stores have been purchased by other entities and will continue to operate under new names.

According to CBA’s recent State of the Industry report, 45 independent Christian bookstores closed in 2016, while only 20 new stores opened. This represents a net loss of 25 independent retail stores (not including the 220 store closures from Family Christian Stores). Within the same period, there has been a 6 percent decline in sales of Christian retail, according to the same CBA report.

I have been attending CBA’s International Christian Retail Show now CBA Unite, with Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) for the past fourteen years. Each year I have watched the show grow smaller. This year’s show was by far the smallest with the fewest attendees that I have experienced, reflecting the industry’s struggle.

At CBA Unite 2017, I noticed:

  • Fewer vendors
  • Fewer book buying attendees
  • Fewer international attendees
  • Fewer author appearances
  • Fewer exhibitor sponsored evening events (there was one this year)
  • Fewer educational opportunities
  • Only a couple big-name personalities appearances including best-selling authors, music artists, or actors (as compared to multiple in previous years)
  • Lack of a show smart phone app (as offered in previous years)

CBA is not releasing official attendee or exhibitor numbers this year—indicating that the numbers were poor. Publishers Weekly reports that attendance at the CBA Unite show dropped 43 percent from 2014 to 2016, and observations from the floor this year indicate that 2017’s turnout continued to fall. While BookExpo, the industry book trade show for the general market, reported that their trade attendance was significantly up this year from last year’s show in Chicago, that show’s attendance is still significantly down from 20,895 attendees in 2015 to 7,425 in 2017.

Authors attending CBA Unite with Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) this year still received exposure for their books. Additionally, most were able to score quite a few media interviews since they were not competing with big name authors for these spots. You can watch the video featuring pictures of CSPA’s booth and author book signings at the show below:

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It’s Never Too Late

Last week, I presented a six-hour training session on “You Can Indie Publish and Market Your Book” at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference (I will be presenting it again at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference this summer). One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Louise Looney.

I had the opportunity to meet and get to know this lovely lady. Louise embodies the statement “It’s never too late.”

You see, Louise began writing at age 79. In the past six years, she has written three books. Not only has she penned three books, she has independently published her Christian books through Createspace.

Louise sells most of her books through her speaking engagements. However, she wanted to expand her audience and her reach. Her goal is to reach nonChristians with her message to draw them to Christ. To attain this goal, this octogenarian began a YouTube channel. Now, she posts weekly videos on her Looney Tidbits channel.

Louise is inspiring. As an almost 80-year-old, she did not let the “It’s too late” mindset win. You don’t have to be old to have this mindset. I’ve seen much younger authors with this mindset. Sometimes discouragement creates this attitude. I have seen authors who have done very little or no marketing get discouraged when their books do not sell, and they develop this mindset. They think: “It’s too late now. I should have started earlier.”

It’s never too late. It’s never too late to start eating healthier. It’s never too late to start exercising more. It’s never too late to take the time to build better connections with family members. It’s never too late to get right with God—and, it’s never too late to start a new marketing endeavor.

You can start new marketing endeavors at any point, even years after your book has been published if the material is still relevant. So, if you are struggling with marketing and selling your book, take heart. Like Louise, you too can learn a new marketing technique and implement it. Maybe now is the time to:

1. Start a blog.
2. Start a YouTube channel.
3. Get active on social media.
4. Start a podcast.
5. Request to be a guest on podcasts and radio shows speaking to your audience.
6. Volunteer to speak at local churches and other venues.
7. Seek out more book reviews.
8. Go on a blog tour.

The ideas are endless. Take a risk. Start something new to either jump start your books’ sales or to enlarge your audience to increase your reach and your sales.

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Photo courtesy of Wil Stewart.

Award to the Wise

As the Director of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA), the author of the award-winning Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace, and the author of this blog on marketing Christian books, I try to follow my own marketing advice.

Now admittedly, I don’t follow my advice as well as I should. (Aren’t we all guilty of this? It is so much easier to give advice then to follow it.) I really should put more effort into marketing than I do. Sadly, it is primarily time constraints that keep me from doing more.

One area that I have taken my own advice seriously is in pursuing book awards. I am pleased to announce that my book, Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace, has won another book award! It is the recipient of the Book Excellence Awards in the writing/publishing category.

book-excellence-award-for-blog

Now in its third edition, Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace has now garnered five book awards. This book is truly a useful guide for authors and publishers producing Christian books.

I was surprised to discover that this most recent award program, Book Excellence Awards, charges a license fee of $149.99 to winners who want to use their award seal. This means that if I want to put the award seal on any marketing material or on the cover of my book, I must pay the licensing fee.

Now, licensing fees are not unheard of in book award programs. However, most book award programs geared toward small publishers and independently published authors do not charge a license fee to use their award seal. In fact, none of the other awards my book has won have charged a license fee.

What makes this more surprising to me is that the Book Excellence Award is brand-new. This means that this award is not yet well-known or well-recognized in the industry. Even widely known and prestigious awards like IBPA’s Benjamin Franklin Award or the IPPY Awards (Independent Publisher Awards) do not charge a licensing fee to use their award seal.

Additionally, Christian Small Publisher Association’s book award program, Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year Award, does not charge winners a fee to use the award seal in their marketing materials or on their book covers. That’s one more reason for you to nominate your Christian book for this award. Nominations are open through November 15, 2016, at www.bookoftheyear.net.

The Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year Award does charge for book stickers, but this is because book stickers are a physical commodity that cost money to produce.

If you have not yet pursued book awards for your book, I suggest that you do. Book awards are a great tool for additional exposure for your book and a boon to your marketing efforts when you win!

Update:  In 2017, the Book Excellence Awards decided to provide their book award seal free to the winners of the award.

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