What’s a Book Worth?

As the debate rages within the publishing industry over how much information is worth, a May 3rd Sotheby’s auction yielded a $170 million windfall for 44 works of art. There was one painting—a Picasso—that sold for $21.3 million. It made me wonder why we don’t value the written word the same way.

Now, granted, books, other than ancient or rare manuscripts, will never fetch millions of dollars, but why is information today being devalued in the marketplace?

The Internet poses many challenges to information peddlers. Book publishers, newspapers, magazines, and websites are still searching for the ideal pricing model. Part of the problem is there’s so much information out there and a lot of it is free. But the art of writing should not be commoditized, where we weigh words by the pound. It’s the quality, more than the quantity, of content that should count.

As it is, many authors fail to earn much from their work. Publishers Weekly reported on a study performed last year that showed 7% of all books published generate 87% of the sales revenue. Further, 93% of all published books sold less than 1,000 copies each. In fairness, many sales happen off the radar (via authors’ sites, seminars, bulk organization sales, etc.) and thus there are probably more successful authors thank this study shows, but still, these are sobering statistics.

Book publishers have made a tactical error in making ebooks so cheap. As a result, they undercut the perceived value of all published writings. It’s a model that, the longer it persists, will be harder to reverse. I would prefer they give extra value to a higher purchase price, rather than lower the price.

There are many factors weighing on the pricing of information, including the following:

  • We’re still in a recessionary mode and for some, buying a book or subscribing to a magazine poses some challenges.
  • Publishers are playing follow the leader, letting Amazon, Apple, or Walmart dictate terms. If a publisher tries to push its own model, it has to compete against what the vast majority has established.
  • All information is competing with each other, so people are choosing what to spend money on—while also reading free blogs, posts on social networking sites, and tweets.
  • More than ever before, people are spending time creating content and writing and, therefore, devote less time reading and buying the works of others. Our nation is moving from consumers to producers of content.
  • Aside from free and purchasable information, there is a competition for time and mindshare. People also devote hours and hours to television, radio, video games, on-demand video, and a host of other entertainment forms.
  • As the number of e-readers increases, more people will secure information digitally, and thus, the printed version of content is likely to suffer lower sales.
  • Global competition online. Walking into a bookstore used to confront you with hundreds of thousands of choices but online, the choices extend to the millions. Books never go out of print online and no boundary of store or country stands in the way of your accessing materials from around the globe.

 

In time, the dust will settle. I would venture a guess that in a few years a clearer model of pricing will develop and the lines will blur as to what even constitutes a book. Information will merge and the distinction of what’s a book, a magazine, a newspaper, or a blog will become less clear.

Just look at television and movies. The boundaries of distinction are decreasing. Not long ago the major TV networks produced content and then syndicated reruns were shown on cable stations. Now cable stations produce original shows. Netflix used to rent old TV shows and movies. Now it’s getting into the game of airing shows that didn’t air elsewhere first. More importantly, people are not going to movie theaters as often as they used to and not buying DVDs as often as they used to. They watch it on TV or through streaming online video, for free or little charge. Even worse, millions of homes are off the TV grid.

Nielsen reported that 3.5% of all homes do not own a single TV. Some of it is attributed to the recession, although TV-based entertainment is cheaper than almost all other forms. Some of it is attributed to the switch two years ago over the elimination of antennas, thus requiring transition to cable or the purchase of a converter box. Others may simply believe TV offers nothing of redeeming value and avoid it. But the real culprit may be the Internet. People are watching TV for free online.

So what does all of this add up to when it comes to pricing books? I would suggest publishers stop lowering their prices and curtail all of the free content to a degree. Or else look for ways to trumpet the uniqueness of a book. Authors devote their lives to their writing. Shouldn’t they get paid more than what comes out to below-minimum-wage royalties? This is true for self-publishers and print-on-demand authors: don’t devalue your own work. Once we’re all on the same page, the market shall improve.

But if writing doesn’t pay off for you, consider investing in art. I hear there’s money to be made there.

 

Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer of Planned Television Arts (rebranded as Media Connect), the nation’s largest and oldest book promotions firm. Brian has worked in the promoting industry since 1989 and has worked with clients of varied professions such as magician David Copperfield and best-selling author Og Mandino.

Coming Soon: Memoir of a Six-Year-Old

My six-year-old recently asked me if I can “advertise” a book that he plans to write. He doesn’t exactly know what I do for a living even though I tell him that I promote authors to the news media and market their books. But he knows enough to see that anyone—even a kid—has access to cheap technology that can create a book (regardless of the quality of the content), and he knows that the book can sell with the right promotions.

I didn’t ask him what his book would be about or why he thought others would want to buy it. I wanted to applaud him for thinking this up, but I didn’t want to encourage him because I knew it would mean I’d have to promote it. Not that I’m lazy or disinterested in supporting his efforts. It’s just that I wasn’t sure how I’d explain to him all the things many adult authors seem to miss the boat on.

Too many authors think like my kid does—slap together a book and promote it. Then count the sales, right? It’s not that easy. Just as almost any healthy under-40 adult can have a kid, provided they have unprotected sex, that doesn’t mean he or she will be a good parent. And so it goes with publishing. Almost anyone can get a book published, but it doesn’t mean the book is any good. And even if it’s a gem, it will need smart, relentless promoting or it will just die a quiet death.

I suppose if I did encourage my son, Benjamin Feinblum (I put his full name here so he can find himself online), to pursue his dream of getting published, selling lots of books, and becoming famous, I’d first help him think through what he plans to do. I’d want him to think about how his book will be written, designed, and presented. Image is becoming just as important as content. I’d ask him to define his marketplace: Who does he envision as his customers or readers? Why will they buy from him, and at what price point? Lastly, he should tell me how he’ll promote it. Yes, a six-year-old with a business plan!

That may be a tall order to ask of a six-year-old. Many adults fail to answer those questions or to deliver as promised on the answers they provide. There’s a lesson here, I think. Technology allows us to get a book published instantly. It also creates a marketplace and a means to promote. But behind all of the button-pushing, we still can’t lose sight of the basics: you still need a compelling book; lots of energy, time, money, and creativity to promote it; and a readership that can be targeted to with the right offer.

Ben has already convinced me to participate in his other money-making schemes: a car wash, cupcake sale, lemonade stand, to name a few. Maybe publishing and marketing a book for a kid these days will become the new norm. I’m sure some other six-year-old is asking his parent to help with blogging or creating a website as we sit here now.

One thing my son has that most adult authors don’t is his innocence. He has charm and personality. Who’s going to turn down a smiling six-year-old peddling a cute little book for a couple of bucks? Maybe he should write about dogs, happiness, money, or chocolate—a big percentage of the population supports each of those things. Throw in a charity tie-in (Let’s raise money for the homeless, maybe?), and you have a neat little package.

For publicity, do I need much of an angle beyond “Six-year-old publishes memoir; nation’s largest book PR firm promotes it”? Too bad Oprah is gone, but I can see a Publisher’s Weekly interview, New York Times profile, and a Today Show segment (albeit, hour number eight) in the cards. At least that’s what we’ll write on the galley copy’s back cover. His mom can give a great testimonial though his three-year-old sister, Olivia, can’t quite use her crayon to write neatly.

Say, the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to see why my son suggested his publishing foray in the first place. He has me sold on it.

 

Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer of Planned Television Arts (rebranded as Media Connect), the nation’s largest and oldest book promotions firm. Brian has worked in the promoting industry since 1989 and has worked with clients of varied professions such as magician David Copperfield and best-selling author Og Mandino.

Read a Few Thousand Good Books Lately?

Imagine being sequestered somewhere for about a year, getting paid to do what you may love the most: read books. Lots of them. Every day. Non-stop. A marathon of books, books, and more books. Could you do it?

The equivalent for sports watching is taking place right now. Major League Baseball, in its infinite marketing wisdom, is paying two guys to watch baseball day and night throughout the season. They will watch 2,450 regular season games and then the playoffs and the World Series. They are on display to the public—you can go to their first-floor “fan cave” in a space formerly famous for occupying the original Tower Records on East 4th Street in Manhattan.

Besides watching games, the two superfans film a reality show that airs on www.MLB.com. These unabashed baseball addicts interest me because they call into question the old adage: too much of a good thing is not so good. I wonder after it is all done if they will ever want to watch another game, or will they come away as addicted as ever?

Can publishing houses sponsor some gimmick like this? Can Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, or St. Martin’s Press host a read-a-thon by its best authors? Would Amazon sponsor a book-a-thon to highlight the readings of its best customers? Should Barnes & Noble pay someone to read as many books on its Nook as possible over the summer? Maybe someone wants to set a Guinness Book of World Records mark for most books read and blogged about in one month?

The writing profession does get its due. There are many book and author awards out there. There are a number of best-seller lists one can make. There’s attention drawn to a book by reviewers and bloggers. There are public book signings. And there is countless coverage on social networking sites. But maybe the industry, as a whole, needs some fanfare. It’s been a rough few years with layoffs and consolidations, shrinking sales, and store closings.

It’s time to celebrate the profession and art of writing. Go buy a book—or read one.

Or a few thousand of them.

 

Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer of Planned Television Arts (rebranded as Media Connect), the nation’s largest and oldest book promotions firm. Brian has worked in the promoting industry since 1989 and has worked with clients of varied professions such as magician David Copperfield and best-selling author Og Mandino.

Tips for a Successful Book Launch

Have you ever wondered what makes one good book a huge success while another, equally good book falls by the wayside? The simple answer is usually poor marketing, beginning with not having a strong launch. The successful launch of a book can be the catalyst for success or the lack thereof, the recipe for disaster.

Whether you’ve written the next great how-to guide or released your inner poet and turned out an inspiring new book of sonnets, if you don’t launch your book properly, it’s likely not to do as well as it could or as well as you might hope.

The key to a successful launch is in the planning. While it does take a lot of pre-planning to make your launch a success, there is a silver lining. Once you get through the pre-launch work, it can be used throughout the campaign so you don’t have to go back and do it again.

Pre-planning involves a well-developed plan that is thorough and detailed. When done properly, it will result in less stress and ensure a higher success rate. The following tips will be well worth your initial effort and set you up for a successful book launch.

 

Be Out There

Your marketing strategy should begin months in advance of your launch. So many make the mistake of waiting too long and the results will lead to not only loss of sales, but also loss of momentum in the book launch. That’s why when planning your launch have a countdown calendar and start outlining what needs to be done month by month. It truly works to keep things going in a positive direction.

 

Develop a Marketing Plan

When you write your material, it helps to be able to get multiple purposes out of it. For example, you can create a pitch that can be personalized for multiple uses by tweaking it for the audience and purpose. Think about your media kit, press releases, pitches, articles, web copy, newsletter, and autoresponder series.

 

Post on Social Media

Establish a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other social communities where you can generate curiosity and share your enthusiasm for your book. And don’t just set them up, decide on a plan of action to keep them active.

 

Get Book Reviews

Start early by creating not only the pitch to send out to get reviews, but also the database to send to. Also, now is the time to call on those friends and associates who appreciate your work. Contact them to see if they might be interested in helping you out with an honest review. Request that they not only post it on Amazon, their site, etc., but also post it to their social media accounts. The more reviews, the more people will be talking about your book.

 

Set Up Blog Tours / Contests

Plan now if you want to do a book blog tour and how you plan on doing it. That pre-planning makes all the difference in the success of your launch.

 

Develop a Distribution Method

Who will you be distributing the above media to? Develop databases to pitch to keep in mind your specific target market including radio, TV, newspapers, and blog sites. Cision is a paid database system that can help tremendously.

Decide where you will be keeping all these databases. Consider online options such as Batchbook.

 

Message Consistency

Nothing is more confusing than inconsistent messages. Pick a basic theme for your marketing campaign and stick with it. Your marketing materials should send your message loud and clear and be consistent. Keep it informative enough to let your audience know what your book is about and enticing enough to make your audience want to learn more.

It can be overwhelming when you plan a book launch, but done right can be one of the greatest accomplishments. Hopefully these tips will ensure smooth sailing and a launch that sets the standard for this book and any further books you might write.

 

Diana Ennen is the president of Virtual Word Publishing, specializing in PR and marketing, and author of VA the Series: Become a Highly Successful Sought After Virtual Assistant. She was NAIWE’s 2012 marketing expert.

The Importance of Being Visible

One of the common pieces of wisdom that always floats around the freelance-o-sphere is that you should always be marketing. Market when you’re slow, market when you’re busy, market when you’re in Goldilocks territory. But let’s be real: Do you really feel like doing that when you’re swamped with multiple deadlines during a 60-hour week?

I sure don’t.

The key is to be as visible as possible to potential clients when you’re not actively marketing, while being prepared to ramp up when you need to put in the effort.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the foundation of everyday visibility starts with a well-designed website with all of your contact information, as well as a comprehensive, professional-looking profile on LinkedIn. Depending on the professional associations you belong to (such as NAIWE!), you might have several locations where you can put your skills and experience into the public sphere.

But then what? Alas, just because you’ve done the basics doesn’t guarantee anything is going to appear in your inbox. When you’ve got the time and energy, where should you apply your efforts? When I’m looking at my calendar and seeing an upcoming gap, these are my go-to strategies to ramp up my visibility:

  • Reach out to existing clients. As a rule, I use any excuse I can to make contact with the people I already have good relationships with. Every time I get a payment, I send a personal, handwritten thank-you note. I also send a note when I receive a referral. If I see a story on the web that might be of personal or professional interest, I’ll forward it. (The website Help A Reporter Out [https://www.helpareporter.com] is a terrific excuse to contact a client who has expertise in a given topic.) In any case, it’s amazing how often those small gestures will generate an email or a phone call.
  • Reconnect with older contacts. I keep a folder named “dormant” on my computer, where I move old client jobs after a year or so of inactivity. Not all of them are people I’d want to work with again—but for the ones who are, it’s a matter of sending a quick note to reopen the lines of communication. Maybe I saw something about their company in the news or heard about a trend in their industry. If they’re in town, I’ll offer to buy them a cup of coffee or lunch as a chance to catch up.
  • Play rolodex roulette. In addition to being part of the everyday visibility part of the equation, LinkedIn is a treasure trove of past coworkers, many of whom have moved into positions where they might want to hire you. (If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to swap stories about the good ol’ days.)
  • Tap connections in my mastermind group. This is a long-term investment in my business, being part of a diverse group of businesspeople that meets once a month. We don’t directly solicit business from each other, but we’re open and honest about how our businesses are doing—and we’re all interested in helping each other succeed.
  • Dial up my cold-contact activity. Finally, I’ll spend a few minutes each day researching categories of businesses that I have the best success with, such as graphic designers, web designers, and trade publications. Then it’s a matter of crafting targeted emails to connect and see if we might partner.

None of these steps are difficult, painful, or expensive, and all of them have a much better likelihood of producing a decent project than trolling through a bunch of bidding sites. It hardly even feels like marketing if you’re authentic about why you’re contacting someone.

Jake Poinier made the leap into freelance writing and editing in 1999 after a decade of positions in the publishing industry, giving him key insights from both sides of the desk. As the founder and owner of Boomvang Creative Group, he has worked with a diverse array of Fortune 500 and small businesses, consumer and trade magazines, and independent authors. Jake is committed to helping freelancers improve their businesses and shares his knowledge and experiences frequently as a speaker at industry conferences, through webinars, and on his blog.