Booked At Book Clubs
Last night on the CBS Evening News, they carried a story called Book Beau which caught my attention. I was looking for more detail about this story—and read a hint of it several weeks earlier in a Publishers Weekly news brief. It’s a story of innovation and determination with a solid book product—something other authors should be watching and imitating (naturally with their own twist).
As background, there is a great deal of competition for readers in the book business. There are about 195,000 new books released into the market each year. Two years ago McPherson published Beneath the Marble Sky: A Novel of the Taj Mahal by John Shors. As a first-time author, Shors was pleased with the good reviews from trade journals and other publications. But his sales were modest by any standard and disappointing. In June, NAL Trade released the paperback of his book and the new edition gave Shors an opportunity. He included a letter to readers in the back of the book. He made a commitment to speak at book clubs and gave his email address. In three months, Shors has spoken to over 100 book clubs. In some cases, he “appears” to the book club on a speakerphone but Shors is committed to personally touching his readership. His book sales have taken off. According to the report on the CBS Evening News, Shors is currently booking into 2008. His profile has definitely climbed from being a first-time author to appearing on the CBS Evening News and also an article in the October 9th issue of Newsweek.
I’d call this marketing move from Shors innovative and gutsy. Book clubs are a growing effort across the United States. These clubs are honored to have an author willing to talk with them about the book. Each member of the group has purchased the book and normally read it prior to the meeting. Then they can discuss it—and if they can include the author in this discussion—why wouldn’t they go for it?
With the volume of books, there is a lot of noise in the marketplace. It’s hard to cut through the clutter—even for a good book. Authors can’t abdicate the total marketing effort to their publisher. If they do (and they are a first-time author) I suspect they will be disappointed with the results (read sales of their book). As an acquisitions editor, I’ve had to field some of those conversations with authors. It’s not easy and there are no simple reasons or answers. Yes, publishers want their books to succeed in the marketplace. But they have multiple books releasing at the same time—and limited energy for each one. The author has the greatest passion for their particular book. We need innovative authors who will incorporate some marketing efforts into their book plans. The marketing efforts can be something with very little return—and a lot of personal time and expense. The trick is to find the right balance between writing and marketing—and accomplish each one with creativity.