Point-of-sale and selling points: How to market a debut novel

Check out this checkout POSD

Allen & Unwin guru Jane Palfreyman sent me this photo of the Big W point-of-sale-display (POSD) for my client Fiona Higgins’ debut novel The Mothers’ Group. The POSD began as part of a Mothers’ Day push for the book, published in late March, and continues at some Big W department stores.

The novel continues to sell very strongly in print and ebook editions and is soon to be published in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and other French- and Spanish-speaking countries. Reorders from booksellers are strong, which indicates good word of mouth. Without divulging details, I am thrilled to say we have a hit on our hands.

Elements of a publisher’s successful marketing campaign
It’s fascinating to watch a book publisher roll out a major marketing campaign. There were clear steps for every month out from publication, beginning about five months out.

The publisher’s marketing and promotion plan included specific actions for every target audience, from their own sales team to booksellers, long-lead-time media outlets (women’s magazines, for example), key retail accounts (chain bookstores and major independents), relevant bloggers, banner ads, and reading groups.

On publication, the high-visibility tactics such as advertising, giveaways, extracts and promotions for book-friendly and parenting websites began.  The POSD above happened exactly when the publisher scheduled it to happen.

For all of that detailed, thoughtful and downright hard work, book publishing remains a lottery in which even the most well-marketed books can fail to translate into sales and word-of-mouth recommendations. Novels are difficult, and debut novels notoriously so.

Success story
I get a particular kick out of this success story. I came to publishing fresh from an intellectually satisfying but totally impractical PhD in English Literature and was rightly regarded with some skepticism by some of my more experienced colleagues. Little Miss Literary had no clue as to commerciality or the difficulties of getting attention for books or the implications of publishers’ tiny profit margins.

So I can’t help but be thrilled that readers are responding to the intelligence and honesty of this novel of contemporary Australian life, and that I recognised its commercial potential. Little Miss Literary certainly could not have done that.

An important reality check for authors
Publishers cannot and do not put the sort of resources behind every book that Allen & Unwin put into Fiona’s. Publishers take calculated risks every week, but they are not gamblers. Some books are deemed more equal than others. When I worked in-house, inevitably I seemed to edit the books consigned to the figurative scrap-heap. It infuriated me until I realised that every single company – just like each reader – makes decisions about where and how to spend their available dollars. It’s a harsh but necessary aspect of running a business in order to stay in business.

So here’s a question for you. Do you think authors have unrealistic expectations of what publishers can and should do for them in marketing and promoting their books?  I’d be curious to hear your questions about this aspect of book publishing. (NB I’ve deliberately not talked about authors’ own marketing and promotion activities – I’m hoping to leave that for a separate discussion.)

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hi Virginia

    I think inexperienced writers who consider themselves ‘serious’ ie not genre writers, have the idea that to be a real writer is to be shut away in a garret, doing the work. This might have been the case in the past but it’s becoming obvious to me day by day that it’s not how things roll now. It seems to me to be a partnership where there are several people involved, from publishers to writers, all working towards one end: To sell books.

    So yes I do think authors can have unrealistic expectations about promotion and marketing. I think writers should be ready to invest even their own money in the promotion of their work. I read an article recently where a debut writer said she paid for her own airfares to Tasmania and WA (from Melb I think it was) to appear at promo events. Good on her, I say. This to me is a writer serious about their work.

    Oops I can see this is an older post, you may not read this comment…

    1. Hi Jenny,
      Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. What you’re describing is the central dilemma of the writer’s life today: balancing the need to get the work done (the garret, whether that’s a desk in your bedroom or a dedicated office or a favourite cafe) with the need to establish some kind of public profile (promotion). I believe that writers’ priority should be to get the work of writing done. But just like in every other sort of professional life, there are mundane aspects to attend to. Depending on your level of interest in social media and blogging, these interactive channels can often feel tedious. I have grown to enjoy Twitter, for example, but in moderation. It’s important to focus on a goal for those activities so that you don’t burn yourself out. Authors these days are visible (or potentially visible) in a way that is profoundly different from even a decade ago. But it’s also true that just because an author is active on Twitter with a huge following that it will necessarily translate into sales. Also an author might be extremely serious about developing a writing career, but through financial or personal circumstances cannot pay their airfare to promotional events. You do what you can, and you make sure your publisher is doing their job too.

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