How Books Sell

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There are now 52 million books on Amazon. How will you sell yours?

It’s a big question, and to answer it, you have to remember the three pillars of selling books, said Peter Hildick-Smith, president of Codex Group. He was speaking at last weekend’s Publishing University, an annual event held by the IBPA, the Independent Book Publishers Association.

To sell successfully, you have to win on all three parts of the marketing challenge:

  • Do I know the book exists?
  • Do I care? Will I buy?
  • Is the book there when I want it?

Codex has done tons of research on the first pillar, discovery. Bookstores used to be the dominant way that people discovered books, Hildick-Smith said. They’d browse and pick up a book they liked. Now with the shrinkage of retail stores, their power to introduce readers to books has declined. Stores are still significant venues for discovery but they’re not as important as they used to be. And here’s a surprising finding from Codex: In the last few years, online sellers like amazon have not increased their clout as a place to discover books. Why? There are too many books for sale online.

The challenge of discovery — of letting people know about your book — varies according to the books and the author, Hildick-Smith said. Authors with an audience can let potential customers know about an upcoming book through pre-orders. Books that have been on the market for a few years tend to be discovered through personal recommendations. For readers over age 55, PR is an important way to get out the word. For younger readers, social media is the way to go.

What makes a reader want to buy your book? Once again, Hildick-Smith has the numbers.

Author brand is crucial, he said. Readers are 15 times more likely to buy from a branded author than from someone they don’t know. That’s why unpublished celebrities are a big catch for book publishers.

In non-fiction, though, the book message is crucial. Message accounts for 33 per cent of buys in narrative non-fiction and 41 per cent in the how-to market. The message, by the way, is communicated by the cover, and you’ve got two seconds to win over a reader before he or she moves on.

If you’ve convinced your prospect to buy the book, can she? Is the book available on amazon, and not out of print? Is it on display in the local bookstore? Distribution is crucial. If you do not have a publisher such as Barlow Book Publishing with a distribution network, you will have a hard time getting your books on the shelves of stores. Then you’ll have to figure out how to stand out in a crowd of 52 million.