Before radio buttons and “buy here,” Big 5 Trade Book Publishers used pinback buttons in their book promotions.
Take a peek at my collection.
“Hey girl, when are you gonna pick up your copy of my book?” wrote the author-turned publisher. I looked at the note in my inbox like a dog looks at his master when he wants praise for chewing up a new shoe.
She was kidding me, right? Why the heck would I buy her book when I had my own book for sale and at the same price? Plus, I’m an avid reader of Sci-Fi/Supernatural/Thrillers, not urban fiction romance. She would have known that if she would have bothered to read my Myspace profile page.
I wrote back, “Sure, when you pick up my book.” She wrote, “I’m sorry, I thought you were my friend Mel from North Carolina. Good luck with your book.” “Thanks, you too,” I offered.
She knew good, and well, I wasn’t “Mel from North Carolina.” But I knew she was a writer who suffered from the same affliction most author-publishers suffer from: “I don’t know my readers.”
Possibly this lack of business planning is reaching epidemic proportions in the Literati because an author is an artist, a creative type who may or may not have a proclivity for business. Therefore, the last thing on the creative entrepreneur’s mind is pinpointing a group of people with similar wants and needs that may want your product.
In fact, most entrepreneurs suffer from the same syndrome and fail to acquire enough customers to keep them in business. Does that mean there aren’t enough prospects? Heck no! There are 300 million people here in the United States alone, and that’s plenty of prospects.
What? Did someone say all those people can’t be considered prospects? By Jove, you got it. No one’s market consists of 300 million people in the US unless she sells the air we breathe. Therefore, why do most entrepreneurs think that they can sell to anyone in-ear or eye-shot of their pitch? They can’t. They can only sell to people who are receptive to their product.
There are two ways to find out which prospects will buy your product; knock on many doors and ask to make a sale or figuratively prepare a buffet, set the table, and see who shows up hungry. You may not know what your dinner guests need to eat, but you know what they want. In this case, they want to satisfy their hunger. Now that you have the home-field advantage, you can find out your guests’ wants and needs through observation and communication.
In determining who will most likely buy your product (in this scenario, your book), you must first determine:
If you’re not interested in making a full-blown strategic marketing proposal, at least answer those questions.
When you determine who your book helps, it will reveal other businesses already helping the group. This information will allow you to form a partnership and go through the back door to sell to their ready-made market. Also, your research will reveal your competition and under the right conditions. Those competitors could become allies.
Finally, once you know who is in your audience, you’ll know how to communicate with them. You’ll know what they want and need and how you can be of assistance in helping them get it.
The latter is the foundation to developing a solid relationship with your customers and potential stakeholders, those who will eventually form a sustainable network for your book business.
(c) 2009 MH
Update 2016: As for the author-turned-publisher I mentioned initially, I heard she now has a thriving publishing business. I didn't say knocking on many doors doesn't work - it just may take longer.