Marketing: How to Break Through the Noise

By Elisabeth N Wilkes, on 18 May 2016

In 2014, the UK officially published more books per capita than any other country in the world, with over 184,000 books published in just one year (Flood). This is great because who doesn’t want a world full of books? It also, however, poses a big challenge to making a book stand out. This isn’t just little fish in a big pond. This is little fish in an ocean, making it seem as hopeless as Marlin’s quest at the beginning of Finding Nemo.

This challenge has been met with a slow shift in publishing to put a lot of focus on discoverability, which has made Marketing become a much bigger player in the process than ever before. It is a field that requires as much creativity as the books they are selling, and where some of the most exciting advancement in the industry are coming from.

In last month’s blog we talked about how Publicity works to bring this book to the readers, but Marketing does this in a way that requires slightly different skills. Here are just a few:

1. Know how to budget– You will have more money to work with than Publicity, but not much more. Unless you are a big publishing house working with a brand name author, you will be expected to do a lot for a book with very little funding. So if you have expensive taste and wild expectations, you might want to learn how to tone them down a touch.

2. Be a good researcher– Because you will be given money, you will have to be able to justify your plans to many people along the way. You might have a wonderful plan that looks great on paper, but you have to be reasonably sure it will reach the right people and will encourage them to act. So be ready to back up everything you suggest to the finance team.

3. Understand the reader– It used to be that the main selling relationship was between the publisher and the bookseller, who in turn would know how to sell to their customer. Now that more direct publisher to reader interaction is viable, due mainly to the introduction of the Internet, it is much more important to understand the readers directly. Your marketing plan will have to reflect reader’s behaviour and likes and dislikes, so knowing them is crucial.

4. Have a good head for planning– Like many sections of the industry, you will not be working on one title at a time. Perhaps a big name will force you to put a lot on the back burner, but most of the time you will be juggling many campaigns at once. Not only will you have to keep all of your projects straight, but you will have to be able to give them each their due amount of energy. So be ready to have multiple checklists and find some helpful apps to keep everything straight.

5. Be creative and innovative– You cannot do what everyone else is doing or even what has always done. First, each book has its own purpose, audience, and voice, which would make any cookie cutter marketing plans forced. Second, we are bombarded by advertisements and other marketing ploys everyday, and it’s not just books competing for our attention. If you are bland or safe, your book will just become part of the background. Finding different angles that fits what your title is and how to inform the people who would care about it is key to discoverability.

For those who also have the skills above, you really should consider this segment of the industry. If not, check out what will be the final blog in this series, International Publishing and Licensing!

Publicity: Magicians of Free Press

By Elisabeth N Wilkes, on 20 April 2016

Why pay for what you can get for free? In the publishing industry, where marketing budgets are usually tight or practically nonexistent, this question has given people in Publicity space to work their magic.

For a long time, Marketing and Publicity were handled under the same leadership, if not the same handful of people, as their aim were similar. They were to get the publisher’s titles out into the public eye and noticed. However, more and more publishers are splitting the group into two separate teams in an attempt to divide and conquer.

While it is not a perfect definition, the main difference between Marketing and Publicity is often cited as promotion that cost money (i.e. adverts, window displays, etc.) and promotions that do not cost money (i.e. interviews, reviews, etc.). The Internet has been a huge game changer, because as Ella Gascoigne, founder of The Book Publicist, explains that with “online media and social media we have so many more ways that we can promote a book” (The Guardian). It is certainly an exciting time to be a publicist. 

If you are interested in pursuing Publicity, here are a few skills that are necessary for success.

  1. Know your way around social media—Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr… and so on, are places where people can run into your books and, if done right, cost little to no money to use as a tool for promotion. If you know how your potential readers use these platforms and what contest, images, or interaction will grab their attention, you are bound to go far.
  1. Good people skills—You will be working with a lot of different types of people, from the authors that you have to usher to events, to journalists that you have to convince your book is worth their time, to members of the media who may or may not care about books at all. Understanding people and being able to connect to them is completely vital to navigating through your work.
  1. Be assertive and persistent—Publicity involves a lot of pushing to have your book on top of the pile of books for reviewing and constant friendly reminders to newspapers of their promises to feature you in their edition. There is a fine line between being enthusiastic and being annoying, but if you don’t push, your job will not get done. It’s a tricky balance, but when it’s done right, you’d be amazed at how willing people are to work with you and just how much unexpected promotion you can earn for your book.  
  1. Have some tough skin—There will be times when you worked very hard to secure an interview for your author, and the journalist possibly has it written and ready for print only to have it end up on the cutting room floor when a bigger and better story comes along. It is hard to see all that work come to nothing, but deals fall through and promises are not always kept. It is very easy to get frustrated or discouraged, so be prepared to go to plan B, C, and D at any moment.   

Publicity can truly be an amazing part of the industry for those who really care about books and know how to connect with people. However, if Publicity doesn’t sound like quite the right fit, check out its other half, Marketing, next month!

Tackling a Dissertation: Baby Steps

By Sarah L Osborne, on 6 April 2016

As briefly mentioned in my previous commuter series, I have found temporary relief from cramped train journeys, but I am now plagued with dissertation worries. Therefore I am starting a new series called Tackling a Dissertation. Its aim is to walk students (particularly MA students) through the helpful tips and steps I have taken in order to ensure dissertation success.

I admit I’m certainly no expert when it comes to dissertations and this is my first (I was lucky to escape it during my BA), but I hope I can somewhat prepare you in the run up to putting pen to paper. I will begin with five key ‘baby steps’ I believe are important before whole-heartedly settling on a chosen topic.

1.Pick a topic you are interested in.

It’s not going to be an enjoyable few months otherwise!

Additionally, choose a topic that will put you in the spotlight of your potential dream employer. For example, there would be little point in me writing on academic publishing when I am strongly interested in trade.

2.Think about the argument early.

I tried to stick to this rule myself, flicking through articles and jotting down sentences on which topics interested me most. I committed about ten minutes a week to doing this for about 3 months in advance of the deadline. In hindsight, I wish I had committed more time and done some deeper research to check whether my topic could be expanded enough to fulfil the word count.

3.Use bibliographies to your advantage.

Bibliographies – ah! – often the bane of my life, yet now my saviour. If you find an essay/article/journal on a topic you are interested in, then pay close attention to its bibliography. They are rich in relevant content and will keep your mind active on the subject!

4.Be prepared to stumble upon information when you least expect it.

This has happened to me a few times whilst reading for other classes. I was nearly always tempted by laziness and so wanted to pretend I hadn’t seen the information. Don’t be lazy! Set up a word document or dedicate a page in your notebook for jotting down important sources, otherwise you will regret it!

5.WARNING: An MA dissertation is not the same as a BA dissertation.

Tutors have emphasised this fact heavily, and although it’s difficult for me to compare (given the fact that I didn’t do one during my BA), I think it’s a key point I should warn you about if you are embarking upon a MA dissertation. Here is a chart that demonstrates some of these potential differences! https://www.ukessays.com/dissertation/masters/differences-between-undergraduate-dissertation-and-a-masters-dissertation.php

I would love to write more but I believe I will develop more detailed advice the further into the dissertation process I go. I hope these first ‘baby steps’ are useful for future and current students. I will have more tips next month so do not fret. We do have until September after all (although don’t get carried away with procrastination on that thought)!

Five Waterstones (sort of) Myths Explained… by Isabel Popple

By Sarah L Osborne, on 26 February 2016

I can’t quite believe it, but I’ve worked for Waterstones for over ten years. A decade. Yikes, that makes me feel old. But in that time, I’ve seen a lot of changes, a lot of good things, quite a few bad things, ups and downs. I’m sure you don’t want all the nitty gritty, suffice to say that, the era of James Daunt is most definitely part of the good and very much an ‘up’ on the great retail rollercoaster.

As someone who’s been a bookseller for so long, though, it’s easy for me to forget that much of the inner workings of this part of the publishing industry are often hidden from view. So, sometimes, I get a little alarmed by some of the things that are said about how the system works – a lot of what we’re told in class is true, but occasionally – just occasionally – they’re not entirely true of Waterstones. Waterstones is a company that is trying its absolute hardest to do the best for all its customers: the readers, the publishers, and the writers – and to re-address some of the old industry sticking points.

So here are five things about how Waterstones works that I hope will surprise you. And if you have any other questions you’d like to ask, tweet me @bookythought

1. Publishers pay for their books to go in the chart and the windows

False. This used to be true. It isn’t any more. Each shop’s booksellers choose which books go in their windows, and their chart is based purely on that store’s sales.

There are guidelines, of course, but nothing is dictated – for instance, we’d be expected to have a really bright children’s display for half term holidays that emphasises a ‘buy one get one half price’ offer, and almost always to have a display that promotes one of our books of the month. But it’s up to us which of these books we want to shout about. Why? Because each shop is different, and each community it serves is different. And that’s how, in my old stomping ground of Truro, Cornish writers frequently make it into the chart – because we champion and support them and because our community wants books written by its own.

2. Discounting…

True. Yes, discounting is expected. Of course it is. Waterstones would never be able to pay my wage otherwise. And they’d never be able to pass those discounts on to customers through ‘money off’ or ‘multibuy’ offers.

When James Daunt became Managing Director he renegotiated discounting terms with many, many publishers. It caused a bit of a furore at the time, because he essentially asked everyone to provide a flat rate discount. On top of this, he told them they could no longer pay for their books to feature prominently at the front of store or in our windows. So why would the publishers acquiesce? Well, that’s partly between them and him, but as I understand it, it is because (a) Waterstones is the last surviving highstreet bookshop chain and we’re important and necessary to publishers, and (b) because he offered them a compromise. The compromise? Returns (more on this below).

And when the books hit the stores, again it’s up to the booksellers in each shop which books will be put on offer. There is an exception to this: our half price offers. The discounting for these is negotiated on a case-by-case basis with publishers, so it’s important to be consistent across the company. Often, the extra terms are agreed on the basis of promising the publisher that we’ll sell a certain number of copies, a number that might only be fulfilled by selling the title at half price.

3. Books are bought on a sale or return basis

True. But it’s not as bad it’s been made out to be, not in Waterstones today, anyway. We call this process ‘returns’; it’s where bookshops don’t pay for the books they buy from publishers until three or more months down the line. It enables us to send back excess unsold stock.

At one point, my main role in the shop was picking and processing returns, they were such a big part of the business. These were the ‘pile ‘em high’ days of bookselling. Not any more. When those discounting contracts were renegotiated, so were the returns procedures. We still send books back, absolutely we do, but we send back far, far fewer than we did pre-Daunt. This is because stock is managed far more carefully today: (a) less copies of each book are sent to each store (therefore, we’re more likely to sell all the copies we have), and (b) our warehouse (the ‘hub’) enables stock to be recycled around the company (if Shop A isn’t selling Book 1, but Shop B can’t keep it on their shelves, Shop A can send Shop B their unwanted stock. Bingo). Better for Waterstones, better for publishers.

Books do still get returned. We can’t always get it right! But they’re more likely to be old editions, or one or two copies of books we’ve had on the shelf for an age and nobody’s bought, rather than fifty copies of something that was overbought.

4. Signed copies of books are bad

False. This is the most bizarre bookselling myth I’ve ever come across. Any shop that rejects an author request to sign copies of their book would have to be out of their mind. And never, in my ten years, have I heard of a publisher rejecting to the return of signed copies on the basis that they are damaged goods. The publisher will want to support their author, and a book is almost always more likely to sell if it has been signed. It’s just such a nice extra that almost everyone will always appreciate. Who can say no to that?

5. Layout…

So Mal Peachey, Editor-in-chief at Rocket 88, suggested that the typical layout of a bookshop was back-to-front; that the biggest titles should be at the back of the shop to make customers walk past all the other stuff to get there. It’s an interesting idea.

But: people are inherently lazy. Bookish people will go to the other sections naturally – brilliant. But those people are probably going to come in and browse and buy anyway. One key to increasing sales (other than getting bookish people to buy more than they might have been planning to) is to get those non-bookish people through the door. This is most likely to happen if they spy something interesting in the window. And if they spy something interesting in the window, they’re going to want to find it quickly and easily because they’re not used to bookshops. That’s one reason why we have ‘front of store’ – that space right by the doors where the biggest offers go, the new books, the books everyone is talking about, or that we want everyone start talking about. If they can’t find what they want straight away, they’re going to go and buy it online instead. And we definitely don’t want that.

By Isabel Popple – @bookythought

Working in Rights: Calling All Extroverts

By Elisabeth N Wilkes, on 24 February 2016

As a proud introvert, I must admit that the idea of working with books, which I often turn to recharge from too much social interaction, comforted me. While I knew (and even welcomed)  that socialisation would be involved with working in the publishing industry, I dreamed of the precious alone time, reading and thinking critically about the works my publishing house would be presenting to the world.

Despite introverts stereotypically holding the monopoly on being ‘bookworms,’ extroverts can love books just as much as they do. In fact, there are many bibliophiles that are energised by crowds and excitement instead of drained by over exposure.

And let me tell you, the book industry needs those extroverts. We need them in all segments to balance a workforce that typically attracts more introverts by the very nature of what they produce.

One section of publishing that you extroverts might want to check out is Rights. Below, I outline a few reasons why:

  1.     It doesn’t involve a law degree – Despite what it might sound like, this section of the industry has far less to do with copyright law and contracts than it does with selling. Of course, you have to be aware of the copyright and trade laws to know what you can and cannot negotiate, but your main duty is to “maximize a book’s financial potential – whether it’s selling translation … rights, merchandising, serial or book club rights, or even film rights” (Working in Publishing).
  2.     You may have the chance to travel – If you have a strong sense of wanderlust and love traveling the world and talking to people from different cultures, you should definitely look into selling foreign and translation rights. Not only are you often sent to the major book fairs (London, Frankfurt, BookExpo, etc.), but also to individual companies in many different countries all over the world.
  1.     You get to talk – a lot – This part of the industry requires a lot of relationship building between people both outside of your company and outside of your industry. If you work in serial, your interactions will be with the media, and if you work in film rights you’re talking to film producers. While there is a place for ‘getting down to business’ when making these negotiations, a major contribution to success is mastering small talk and lively conversations. It is a socialites dream, where they not only sell and promote a product they love, but also meet different types of people and build fast connections.  

This all being said, many introverts love socialising, travelling, and networking. If this is you, please consider Rights if it sounds up your alley. I only highlight Rights for extroverts because it is one of the more natural fits for extroverts wanting to be part of the book industry, but is less thought of than, say, Marketing or Sales. If any of these points interest you, please consider positions in Rights.

If, however, you have more of an artistic side that you feel needs feeding, check out next month’s post on Design to see if it may be a better fit for you.