Saturday, March 28, 2009

Need a platform?

Here's a response we got back that says a lot about what we are up against: "While the concept is unique and interesting, I don't believe (the author) has the credentials, network contacts, and appeal we're striving for."

It goes to show in today's economy how important platform is to sell a book. What are we bringing to the table? Do they perceive us as someone that is going to just hand them a book and expect them to get it sold? Or do they perceive us as a capable partner, one that is gaining visibility, expanding contacts, who has access to markets that we (and they) can use to sell books? When we are putting proposals together we tend to just give some sort of afterthought to putting comparables and market info and particularly to our own plan for marketing (platform). More and more responses that I'm getting back rejections are being based on lack of platform.

It was pointed out that more and more this is driving authors to self publishing. That can be the right answer, but only if we’ve accepted what that really means. One writer said, “If these companies not only expect the author to write the book, probably do most of the editing, submit it and then have a plan to help sell it, why not go to one of those co-op self-publishing things, if it isn't too expensive?”

Why indeed, the stats show that most self published books sell less than a hundred copies. The author makes the lion’s share on the sales that way. The harder they work the more it sells, but even if the book is offered online or thorough a recognized distributor, somebody has to make the sale and in that case that someone is the author, period. I have a friend that has several self-published books and he makes 6 figure income from them, has for years, but his sales routine would daunt most professional salesmen. The bulk of the sales will continue to go to the companies set up with sales staffs and distribution. They are the ones who will continue to go into the bookstores and the libraries because no single individual has the structure and the ability to do that.

Major publishers want that author busy generating visibility and promotion but for the most part will count on their own sales staff and distribution channels for the bulk of the sales. They know, however, that even though they have the ability to get the books into stores and onto shelves that they are likely to be returned if that author is not out helping create a buzz so people will react to the title and try the book. The name identification of the author sells books. Nothing else is as important. People browse the bookracks looking for names they recognize and trust. Houses invest each year in a few new names to see if they have the ability to become a known quantity. To the extent that we can show them we already have a lot of name identification and have the ability to produce even more if they will help, that is what really starts making us appeal to them. They will sell far more books than the author can, but only if the author is doing their job creating name identification.

Large sales numbers are hard to get without books being in bookstores and individual authors have little chance of getting into stores without publisher support. But publishers find it almost impossible to build a name identification for an author without the authors help. Maybe it used to be that platform was much more important for a non-fiction book than for fiction, but these days all publishers want to know they are going to get that help from an author and to see some demonstration of how capable the author may be in doing it.


Sharon A. Lavy said...

And yet it seems that what the average writer can do, even with blogs and twitter and etc. Is peanuts. How much does the publisher expect? Is it really doable.

Looking for a little hope here. = )

Mary Cunningham said...

Interesting post, Terry, especially with so many writers self-publishing.

Bobbie Hineman (The Knot Fairy), is one self-published author who has been successful. She works relentlessly and doesn't waste energy on promotion that doesn't work.

I think you hit on an important factor about name recognition, and what part do major reviews play?


Terry Burns said...

Speaking to both comments I do think it is do-able, and it is the number of people self-publishing that makes it difficult, but cream does rise to the top. How much does a publisher expect? A tangeble demonstration that the author can create a buzz. Difficult to do before the product is available to work with. There are successful self-published authors, but getting up above five digits in sales is very, very difficult. Good reviews can be very important particularly if they are in publications bookstore owners depend on or different publications that librarians depend on, etc.

TS Twilight said...

Hi my name is Tiffany Stewart and I'm a student at Western Kentucky University. I’ve started a blog for my Research in Advertising and PR class and for my topic I chose something that really interests me; the book publishing industry. It's not much at the moment. I only have two posts but you are welcome to look at it. I was hoping you could answer a few of my questions. (It would really help me out)

I recently did some research over the book publishing industry and found that many are worried. I also read a blog that sited you and a speech you gave after you interviewed a large number of people in the book publishing business. From your interviews and in you opinion Is the book publishing industry in trouble?

What do you predict is the future for book publishing?

How easy is it to get a job in publishing?

What are the qualifications you need to work in this field? Degree? Talent? Personality?

For example, if I have a Bachelor of Arts and my major was Interactive Advertising and my minor was Writing, could I get a job in publishing and if so, what positions would I be suitable for?

How would I get my foot in the door?

Do you have to live in a major city in order to do book publishing?

Why do you blog about book publishing? What interests you most?

Is there anything else you’d like to share about the publishing world?

Thank You, Tiffany Stewart

TS Twilight said...

Hi, I'm really sorry about that. I'm new to this blogging thing :) My e-mail is Thanks for responding :) Tiffany Stewart