Thursday, September 8, 2011

Words To Sell By

When you look at how things are sold you begin to wonder: What are the things authors and publishers can do to influence someone to buy a particular book?

I read the other day that ad time for the Super Bowl is already sold out, but you’d never see an ad on TV for a book when the ad costs millions of dollars to air.  You see ads in movie theaters, usually for local stores or for upcoming TV shows and movies.  I don’t recall seeing a book advertised there.  How about a roadside billboard?  Nope, not the typical spot for a book advertisement.

So just what would work for books, given their low price point, overwhelming competition, and targeted consumer profile?

1.      Word-of-mouth.  Write a good and useful book and those who read it will sell it to others.

2.      Great reviews.  Stores and libraries influence their orders based on reviews.  Individuals also read reviews in magazines, newspapers and online.

3.      News media exposure with interviews on radio and television and in websites, newspapers and magazines.

4.      Articles written by or about the author, online and in print.

Ok, the list can go on and on and many of you know it – speaking engagements, key word ads, etc.  But these are all venues or opportunities to sell a book, directly or indirectly.  What I am curious about is what will actually influence a person to buy, whether they stumble upon your book in a store, hear you speak somewhere, or check out your Web site after a friend tells them about your book.  Just what will trigger a purchase?

It probably depends on who does the talking and which actual words are used to sell it.  For instance, the more trusted and respected the source, the more likely a sale will take place.  So whom do people look up to when it comes to books?  In no set order, here are the influencers:

1.      Professors and teachers
2.      Librarians
3.      Book store workers
4.      Reviews by established Web sites, newspapers, and magazines.
5.      Celebrities/Pro Athletes/Rock Stars
6.      TV talk show hosts
7.      Radio talk show hosts
8.      Family members and our children
9.      Friends
10.  Someone in the industry that is relevant to the book’s subject matter
11.  Author who wrote the book
12.  Political leaders
13.  Associations
14.  Non-profits
15.  Best-selling authors of other books.

Sure, we’re also influenced by Madison Avenue hype, strategic product placement and point-of-purchase selling. We’re drawn to cool covers, catchy titles, funny jacket copy, top-notch testimonials, and attractive page design.  But all that aside, what can someone tell another that would enlist a sale?

Every book needs a tag line, a short catch-phrase that truly sums up a book and provides a visual that entices others.  Every book, regardless of genre or format, can be summarized in a sentence or two and needs to be if it has any chance at commercial success.  If you can’t come up with a good tag line you shouldn’t publish the book or waste your time and resources in trying to sell it.

There’s no magic formula to coming up with a great catch phrase and no two phrases should be exactly alike. You may even alter the phrase, depending on the circumstance surrounding your sales opportunity.  The phrase needs to accurately represent the book’s subject matter and content but it should be expressed in an idealized way.  You can’t be conservative or merely factual here – you need to make people like you, laugh with you, feel empowered, feel inspired, feel loved, feel hopeful…feel something.  It helps if the catch phrase offers a payoff:  “The book that’s worth more than its weight in gold” or “Losing weight with every page.” or “The book that guarantees you’ll laugh-out loud or send you to the ER trying to hold the laughter in.”

The key to developing a good catch phrase is to make it:

·         Short and to the point.
·         Something funny or daring or provocative.
·         A play on words.
·         Similar to a political slogan.
·         A question that answers itself
·         Current, timely and relevant
·         Offer a reward, bonus, or payoff.

Madison Avenue spends millions of dollars in search of the right phrases, jingles, and headlines, but you don’t have to do what they do to launch major product lines. You are a wordsmith and all that you have to do is think like your customer/reader. 

How will they interpret your message? How will it compare to the others they hear?  How true will the message be to what your book is about and is it catchy enough to sustain their interest?  The litmus test is:  Will this catch phrase move someone to take an action step? If not, retool the message and find the hook that catches them.

Your sale depends on this.

Interview With Osprey Publishing Sales & Marketing Director John Tintera

1. Where do you think book publishing is heading? I think there’s a major shift underway, but it has more to do with our aging population than with ebooks. My father just turned 66. He was never a big reader, but he probably purchased or had purchased for him 2-3 books per year. I bought him a copy of the Power of Now for Father’s Day, but that will probably be the last book I buy him. His reading career is pretty much over since he lost sight in his left eye a couple of years ago. My mom, who is 64, used to be a voracious reader, but stopped buying books years ago. I think my parents are a microcosm of a larger cultural and economic movement. Publishing in its present form, like so many industries, is shrinking and will continue to shrink for some time. Publishers may diversify and the big corporations like News Group may divest their publishing operations. That said, I firmly believe that the activity we call publishing--whether it’s a physical book, an ebook, a vook, or whatever--will continue indefinitely. And I have to say, I’d rather have this gig than be working for BP or Bank of America.

2. What do you love about being a part of the industry? I recently became a father, so I’ve been thinking a lot about my own parents lately. What I love about this industry is that, like my dad, I have been able to make a living around what would otherwise have been a hobby--my love of books. My dad is a muscle car enthusiast and has spent the last 40 years in the automotive industry. Finding a job at Osprey has been a very welcome surprise for me. I didn’t have any background in history publishing, much less military history, but I have met some of most amazing people in my current position. I know this is a cliche, but in particular I have been blown away by the veterans of our armed forces that have crossed my path. I have worked closely on promotion for a book called “Tonight We Die as Men” which tells the story of a forgotten band of brothers from D-Day. The veteran who has been our spokesperson said to me when we first started collaborating, “Son, have you read my book yet?” “No, sir,” I said. “Well you better get reading!” he said. He said it with such authority--it was a “direct order” so to speak and I realized I had crossed some sort of happy line.

3. What are the challenges/rewards of the current sales landscape for books? Having chosen the sales & marketing career path over the editorial when I was just out of college, I have always felt that I had a gaping hole in my resume for not having ever been assigned to sell to Barnes & Noble or Borders. Instead, I spent several years doing special markets. Now I see it as providential. Barnes & Noble is now more important than ever, but so are special markets. For the first time in four years, our business with hobby stores is actually on the rise and we expect that will be the case for the foreseeable future. In addition, our crack mid-Atlantic rep just put one of our merchandising racks into an indie bookstore near the beach in Delaware and we expect that channel will expand for us too. I also believe that as the “flash store” market matures, there will be more opportunities to sell “books for guys” like we publish.

4. How do you feel smaller presses are positioned to do in the publishing marketplace today? I don’t think there’s anything more challenging or exciting than being a “midlist” publisher today. The challenge is that I probably have a 1 in 10,000 chance of getting one of my authors on ‘The Daily Show.’ The exciting part is that there are still a million other ways to market books and, because our lists are small, we’re able to give individual attention to all of our authors.

5. What advice do you have for authors in terms of how they can promote and market their books?  Last year Osprey purchased a start-up called Angry Robot which specializes in mass market science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Many of the authors I’ve worked with there have huge engine rooms when it comes to marketing. They are active bloggers, they’re Twitter fiends, they attend conferences, they ask us to send review copies to every person they’ve ever met, they spend their own money to create book trailers, etc. We even had an author call in some favors so that she could get a soundtrack and merchandise created for her book launch. She even got herself booked on NPR’s Studio 360! In other words, they are creative, engaged, and entrepreneurial. I’m in the process of tutoring some of our military history authors in the lessons I’ve learned from Angry Robot. One resource that I have found to be invaluable is the book “Crush it” by Gary Vaynerchuck--he has incredible advice for anyone looking to build their personal brand.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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