Chip MacGregor

August 28, 2012

What has to happen to make my book sell?


I thought it would be interesting to tell you all about a conversation I had with some marketing types while at a conference recently. I was particularly interested in what they perceived as being the components of a healthy novel marketing campaign (and if you’re a nonfiction writer, keep in mind that I was talking with these folks specifically about fiction marketing). We brainstormed what works and what doesn’t, talked about about the various issues involved, and in the end came down to just a half-dozen important steps…

1. Most successful marketing campaigns are focused on a high concept book. That means the book isn’t just another familiar story, but a BIG story, a BIG idea. People hear about it and immediately understand what the story will be focused on, and that it’s a big, over-the-top idea. Not every book you write will be in this category, but it’s worth understanding that a high concept idea can help you succeed in today’s market.

2. The second step we noted is that successful marketing campaigns usually have a book with a great cover — which is important to remember when dealing with your publisher. You see, your editor is going to get a couple sample covers from the art director, and is expected to pitch you on them. (One of the little secrets of publishing is that everyone wants to save money on art costs, so they’ll sometimes try to twist your arm to accept whatever they’ve got. It’s cheaper that way.) It’s why sometimes a book will come out with a terrible cover, and everyone is wondering “why in the world didn’t the author complain?” The reason is usually because someone at the publishing house told the author it was great, and to trust them, since they know how to craft great covers, etc. I think this speaks to the importance of educating yourself about covers — what makes a good cover, what makes a bad cover, what covers get noticed, etc. It also speaks to the importance of getting your publisher to actually show you the sample, and to cc me, as your agent. There’s an old saw about “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but readers do exactly that all the time. Improve your chances of success by pushing the publisher to create a dynamite cover.

3. The third important step is that Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble buy your print book, and you get highlighted somewhere on Amazon as an ebook. Um… you don’t have anything to say about this, of course. You’re trusting the sales team at your publishing house does a good job of pitching your book to Wal-Mart, but that means getting to know your sales people, keeping a healthy relationship with them, and expressing your appreciation for them so that they know who you are and want you to succeed. Your sales rep is walking into the appointment at B&N with a bag full of ideas to sell. What you want is to be the first idea he pulls out of his bag. (And I should add that we had some good discussions about other accounts. Certainly having Family Christian Stores commit to your Christian novel is necessary if you’re going to have a big impact in CBA.  And having Books-a-Million stock your Southern Fiction assures that you’ll begin to reach a wider audience. Having the folks at Amazon highlight your book means it’s going to be seen by the most readers possible.) The numbers make it clear: if you can get into Wal-Mart and a few other key retailers, your book will probably succeed.

More on this topic tomorrow, but I’m interested to know: What would you say helped sell the most copies of your novel? 

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  • Kimberly Rae says:

    Great post! Thanks for being willing to pass on helpful info! Because my suspense/romance novels are on a hot topic–human trafficking–I’m finding that the best way to sell is through speaking engagements. When people hear you in person, they feel they know you, and who doesn’t want a book written by somebody they know? =)

  • Cindy Valenti Scinto says:

    Most of my books sell when I speak in person or do radio and TV. Hmmmm, this is a thoughtful post. I don’t have the force behind me to do any marketing or promotion, so it’s me, myself, and I. I am having both my covers done new and love the edgy design. That will help a lot. You “can” judge a book by its cover–readers do when deciding to turn it over, read the back copy, and figure out if they want to read it. Cover is critical. Back matter is essential.

    I love to interact with people, so that helps when I speak and reach out to the audience. I wonder what a great big publicity campaign would do? It would be fun to have software to create a virtual RTS (real time strategy) world to test a book’s marketability. 8^)

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Cindy. I think for most authors it all falls back on their own shoulders, so you you’re in good company.

    • Cindy Valenti Scinto says:

      Not afraid of hard work. Grew up in a New York Italian family with 12 siblings. 8^) Good post!

  • Ed Hird says:

    Once again your practical advice is ‘spot on’. Thanks for so generously sharing your hard-won insights. May many get breakthroughs in this area.

    Ed Hird+

  • SharonALavy says:

    Chip, I am so glad you brought up the subject of covers. I am very concerned about this subject. And I know what I like. But what is selling? I need to be educated in this. I like many of the covers out there, but I always want to make sure I have all the knowledge I need in subjects that I am interested in. I even judge a publisher by their book covers. Example: When I used to only read secular novels I knew I could trust St.Martin Press.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      You know, covers are constantly changing, Sharon. Think of them like women’s fashions — you can spot a cover that’s out of date, because in just a few years tastes have changed. Keeping fresh on covers is definitely something to keep in mind when creating a marketing plan.

  • Katie Ganshert says:

    The awesome peeps at my pub house got my debut novel into Sam’s Club. During the three months it was there, there was definitely A LOT more sales.

  • Ted Summerfield says:

    My books aren’t in Wal-Mart but my ebooks are at Barnes & Noble and other ebook retailers like Apple and Kobo. I even published a few of my ebooks on Amazon.

    The most helpful thing for my ebook sales was writing an ebook which a reader liked enough to buy it and tell his/her friends about it. Word of mouth is the best marketing program.

    • CharityHawkins says:

      I agree. Word of mouth is the best. Kindle and Nook versions have done better than paperback for my book. Atypical cover art makes it stand out as different from typical Christian fiction. I think a study guide in the back has helped with a some group orders. Thanks!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yeah, I agree — nothing beats word of mouth advertising. Happy readers tend to tell other readers.

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