I recently had lunch with the single most important executive at Penguin Random House.
And during our time together, we discussed a specific question: what is the absolute most critical asset for an author marketing his or her book?
How does an author get actual sales?
Now, this person isn’t the president of PRH, or even one of the publishers of its many imprints. While these folks are indeed important, there’s someone else who plays the most pivotal role in the largest trade book publishing company in the world.
This person is the head of digital sales.
Essentially, this person is in charge of making PRH viable in the 21st century.
A pretty big job.
And given how hard it is to get someone to buy a book in the 21st century, it’s the most important one as well.
The simple fact is that book publishing is not what it once was. Gone are the days of full-page print ads for first-time authors, extensive book tours for, well, any authors, and endless nights of wining and dining when an author makes a pilgrimage to New York City. Sure, maybe you’ve heard of some exceptions, but for the most part, not only must an author be the primary advocate for their books, but attracting book buyers among the noise of the 21st century is a borderline impossible task.
My recent lunch companion knows all of this, and this person’s entire job is based on working with online retailers like Amazon to make sure that PRH’s books find their way into buyers’ hands. And while having things like Facebook parties, book clubs, and even advertising through relevant online channels can help, these are not the most critical asset for making sure people buy your book.
These were not the methods endorsed by Penguin Random House’s head of digital sales.
The absolute most critical asset for an author marketing his or her books is…
…an email list.
This is a list of people who have consciously, deliberately decided to give you their email address because they in some way believe that doing so will build further value in their lives. Whether you are a fiction or memoir author, in that you publish content that is meant to entertain, or you are a non-fiction author who publishes content meant to inform or instruct, you in theory have something that certain people in this world will absolutely benefit from reading.
But before they buy your book, they have to believe that that’s actually true.
This is why connecting with them through your email list is of such vital importance. Ads and virtual parties are great, but by opting in to your email list, the person in question has not only already decided that you have something of value to them, but when you send them an email you have unparalleled access to their attention span. And when you use that attention span to first build trust with them through valuable content and then tell them about your book, they may actually buy a copy. My lunch companion’s team takes their own steps to build the company’s list, and then sends emails to specific members as based on whichever books are being published at any given time.
And yet, this isn’t what most authors do. Most of the time, they believe their job is to buy ads in their local paper, spots on their local radio station, and, of course, book tours. But all of these things not only cost significant amounts of time and money to implement, it’s nearly impossible to determine how effective these campaigns are – or at least, until it’s too late.
Most authors make the key mistake of publishing a book without first building a list and then using viable, deliberate strategies to ensure the viability of that list. But the viability of your book’s publication will rest on the viability of your email list. If you plan to publish a book and would prefer that no one actually buy it, then buy all means refrain from building this aspect of your platform. But if you would like to live your life having made a legitimate literary impression on the world, then it’s time to get that work going.
Curious about whether to pursue a traditional deal or self-publish? Check out my cheat sheet here.