Marketing a Book: Post from team member Brett Matthew Axel, author of the published children’s book Goblinheart


When​ ​my​ ​first​ ​book​ ​was​ ​coming​ ​out,​ ​I​ ​got​ ​some​ ​good​ ​advice​ ​from​ ​Steve​ ​Cannon,​ ​the director​ ​of​ ​A​ ​Gathering​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Tribes,​ ​the​ ​non​ profit​ ​organization​ ​that​ ​was​ ​releasing​ ​my​ ​book.​ ​​ ​He told​ ​me​ ​that​ ​the​ ​hardest​ ​thing​ ​to​ ​get​ ​in​ ​this​ ​industry​ ​was​ ​a​ ​second​ ​book​ ​deal.

The​ ​first​ ​is​ ​not​ ​so​ ​easy.​ ​​ ​There​ ​are​ ​hundreds​ ​of​ ​aspiring​ ​authors​ ​making submissions​ ​and​ ​collecting​ ​rejection​ ​slips​ ​for​ ​every​ ​one​ ​that​ ​ever​ ​sees​ ​a​ ​book​ ​in​ ​print. He​ ​explained​ ​that​ ​when​ ​you​ ​have​ ​had​ ​no​ ​book​ ​out​ ​you​ ​are​ ​an​ ​unknown​ ​quantity.​ ​​ ​You have​ ​no​ ​track​ ​record.​ ​​ ​But​ ​once​ ​you​ ​have​ ​had​ ​a​ ​book​ ​out​ ​your​ ​next​ ​book​ ​will​ ​always​ ​be​ ​judged by​ ​how​ ​well​ ​your​ ​last​ ​book​ ​performed. It’s​ ​true.​ ​​ ​Most​ ​first​ ​books​ ​fail​ ​and​ ​if​ ​your​ ​last​ ​book​ ​failed​ ​you​ ​are​ ​a​ ​pariah.

I​ ​got​ ​lucky.​ ​​ ​My​ ​first​ ​book​ ​took​ ​so​ ​long​ ​from​ ​contract​ ​to​ ​release​ ​(over​ ​two​ ​years)​ ​that​ ​I had​ ​a​ ​second​ ​book​ ​contract​ ​with​ ​a​ ​different​ ​publisher​ ​by​ ​the​ ​time​ ​the​ ​first​ ​one​ ​came​ ​out. My​ ​first​ ​book​ ​did​ ​fail. 1500​ ​copies​ ​were​ ​printed​ ​and​ ​after​ ​a​ ​year​ ​there​ ​were​ ​900​ ​copies​ ​left. That’s​ ​after​ ​close​ ​to​ ​100​ ​review​ ​copies​ ​and​ ​promotional​ ​copies​ ​were​ ​handed​ ​out. That​ ​book​ ​got​ ​a​ ​grand​ ​total​ ​of​ ​zero​ ​reviews​ ​despite​ ​many​ ​review​ ​copies​ ​being​ ​provided to​ ​reviewers. 500​ ​copies​ ​sold.​ ​That​ ​was​ ​failure.​ ​

What​ ​is​ ​success? For​ ​a​ ​small​ ​press,​ ​a​ ​success​ ​is​ ​5000​ ​copies.​ ​​ ​That​ ​is​ ​the​ ​approximate​ ​point​ ​at​ ​which​ ​a publisher​ ​breaks​ ​even​ ​for​ ​the​ ​cost​ ​of​ ​releasing​ ​a​ ​book. I​ ​was​ ​lucky​ ​that​ ​my​ ​first​ ​book’s​ ​failure​ ​didn’t​ ​keep​ ​me​ ​from​ ​a​ ​second​ ​book​ ​deal​ ​because​ ​I already​ ​had​ ​one.​ ​​ ​Nine​ ​months​ ​after​ ​my​ ​first​ ​book​ ​came​ ​out,​ ​my​ ​second​ ​book​ ​was​ ​in​ ​print.​ ​​ ​My second​ ​book​ ​sold​ ​very​ ​well.​ ​​ ​10,000​ ​in​ ​its​ ​first​ ​year,​ ​24,000​ ​in​ ​the​ ​three​ ​years​ ​it​ ​was​ ​in​ ​print. I​ ​still​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​what​ ​made​ ​one​ ​successful​ ​and​ ​the​ ​other​ ​not. My​ ​third​ ​book​ ​was​ ​out​ ​3​ ​years​ ​later​ ​and​ ​it​ ​did​ ​even​ ​better.​ ​​ ​28,000​ ​copies.​ ​​ ​And​ ​then​ ​my fourth,​ ​two​ ​years​ ​later,​ ​fell​ ​flat.​ ​​ ​Less​ ​than​ ​900​ ​copies​ ​sold​ ​in​ ​6​ ​months.​ ​​ ​My​ ​previous​ ​books​ ​were outselling​ ​my​ ​new​ ​book​ ​every​ ​month.

It​ ​was​ ​2004​ ​and​ ​I​ ​got​ ​serious​ ​about​ ​learning​ ​what​ ​made​ ​one​ ​book​ ​succeed​ ​and​ ​another fail.​ ​​ ​I​ ​had​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​time​ ​to​ ​work​ ​on​ ​it.​ ​​ ​It​ ​was​ ​5​ ​years​ ​before​ ​I​ ​signed​ ​another​ ​book​ ​deal,​ ​8​ ​years before​ ​I​ ​had​ ​another​ ​book​ ​in​ ​print. During​ ​that​ ​time​ ​I​ ​was​ ​helping​ ​other​ ​people​ ​with​ ​their​ ​books.​ ​​ ​At​ ​first​ ​just​ ​friends​ ​but​ ​word spread​ ​and​ ​in​ ​a​ ​little​ ​while​ ​I​ ​was​ ​doing​ ​marketing​ ​work​ ​freelance​ ​which​ ​ultimately​ ​landed​ ​me​ ​a job​ ​with​ ​authors​ ​Large​ ​and​ ​Small.

I’m​ ​by​ ​no​ ​means​ ​an​ ​authority,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​have​ ​learned​ ​quite​ ​a​ ​few​ ​things​ ​along​ ​the​ ​way. The​ ​first​ ​is​ ​have​ ​a​ ​good​ ​book. All​ ​marketing,​ ​publicity,​ ​and​ ​advertising​ ​can​ ​do​ ​is​ ​get​ ​a​ ​potential​ ​reader​ ​to​ ​take​ ​a​ ​peek inside​ ​the​ ​book.​ ​​ ​That​ ​reader​ ​may​ ​open​ ​the​ ​book​ ​to​ ​any​ ​page​ ​and​ ​read​ ​two​ ​of​ ​three​ ​sentences. Then​ ​they​ ​decide​ ​if​ ​they​ ​are​ ​going​ ​to​ ​buy​ ​that​ ​book​ ​or​ ​not. It​ ​doesn’t​ ​matter​ ​if​ ​the​ ​book​ ​contains​ ​the​ ​greatest​ ​two​ ​of​ ​three​ ​sentences​ ​ever​ ​written​ ​if those​ ​are​ ​not​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​that​ ​potential​ ​reader​ ​tries.​ ​​ ​It​ ​doesn’t​ ​matter​ ​to​ ​the​ ​success​ ​of​ ​that​ ​book how​ ​great​ ​the​ ​greatest​ ​thing​ ​in​ ​the​ ​book​ ​is,​ ​the​ ​final​ ​decision​ ​comes​ ​down​ ​to​ ​how​ ​great​ ​any random​ ​segment​ ​on​ ​any​ ​page​ ​is. Step​ ​one​ ​is​ ​to​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​that​ ​any​ ​paragraph​ ​on​ ​any​ ​page​ ​in​ ​the​ ​book,​ ​standing​ ​alone, will​ ​sell​ ​that​ ​book​ ​to​ ​the​ ​reader​ ​who​ ​happens​ ​to​ ​open​ ​to​ ​that​ ​one​ ​to​ ​check​ ​it​ ​out.
How​ ​good​ ​that​ ​book​ ​ends​ ​up​ ​being​ ​will​ ​sell​ ​the​ ​author’s​ ​next​ ​book. My​ ​fourth​ ​book​ ​failed​ ​because​ ​my​ ​third​ ​book​ ​wasn’t​ ​very​ ​good.​ ​​ ​Lots​ ​of​ ​people​ ​knew​ ​my third​ ​book​ ​wasn’t​ ​very​ ​good​ ​because​ ​lots​ ​of​ ​people​ ​bought​ ​it.​ ​​ ​And​ ​lots​ ​of​ ​people​ ​bought​ ​it because​ ​my​ ​second​ ​book​ ​was​ ​good​ ​and​ ​buyers​ ​expected​ ​the​ ​third​ ​to​ ​be. My​ ​fifth​ ​book​ ​was​ ​in​ ​a​ ​new​ ​genre.​ ​​ ​I​ ​went​ ​from​ ​poetry​ ​to​ ​children’s.​ ​​ ​That​ ​meant​ ​a​ ​whole new​ ​audience​ ​to​ ​try​ ​to​ ​reach. That​ ​book​ ​is​ ​still​ ​in​ ​print.​ ​​ ​It​ ​has​ ​sold​ ​about​ ​7500​ ​copies​ ​in​ ​hardcover​ ​so​ ​far​ ​and​ ​looks​ ​like it​ ​will​ ​get​ ​up​ ​to​ ​9000​ ​before​ ​it​ ​goes​ ​to​ ​paperback.​ ​​ ​Not​ ​28,000​ ​but​ ​still​ ​not​ ​bad.​ ​​ ​My​ ​sixth​ ​book comes​ ​out​ ​soon​ ​and​ ​we​ ​will​ ​see​ ​how​ ​well​ ​it​ ​does.

Having​ ​a​ ​good​ ​book​ ​is​ ​not​ ​just​ ​up​ ​to​ ​your​ ​luck​ ​and​ ​your​ ​skill.​ ​​ ​I​ ​had​ ​a​ ​good​ ​book​ ​with​ ​my second​ ​and​ ​it​ ​sold​ ​my​ ​third,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​a​ ​bad​ ​book​ ​with​ ​my​ ​third​ ​and​ ​it​ ​torpedoed​ ​my​ ​fourth.​ ​​ ​The difference​ ​was​ ​a​ ​good​ ​editor​ ​and​ ​enough​ ​time. To​ ​be​ ​sure​ ​you​ ​have​ ​a​ ​good​ ​book,​ ​use​ ​a​ ​good​ ​editor​ ​and​ ​take​ ​the​ ​time​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​go over​ ​the​ ​book​ ​again​ ​and​ ​again. In​ ​the​ ​years​ ​since​ ​my​ ​first​ ​book​ ​came​ ​out​ ​the​ ​industry​ ​has​ ​moved​ ​in​ ​the​ ​exact​ ​opposite direction.​ ​​ ​Self​ ​publishing​ ​has​ ​never​ ​been​ ​easier.​ ​​ ​

Books​ ​go​ ​from​ ​idea​ ​to​ ​first​ ​draft​ ​to​ ​print​ ​so quickly​ ​that​ ​readers​ ​get​ ​books​ ​in​ ​their​ ​hands​ ​that​ ​they​ ​might​ ​have​ ​loved​ ​had​ ​they​ ​been​ ​edited and​ ​polished,​ ​but​ ​instead​ ​they​ ​say,​ ​meh. The​ ​good​ ​side​ ​of​ ​this​ ​is​ ​that​ ​it​ ​gives​ ​you​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​stand​ ​out​ ​by​ ​being​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​few that​ ​put​ ​in​ ​the​ ​time​ ​and​ ​effort​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​make​ ​your​ ​book​ ​a​ ​gem. The​ ​second​ ​thing​ ​I​ ​would​ ​suggest​ ​is​ ​don’t​ ​wait​ ​until​ ​the​ ​book​ ​has​ ​a​ ​release​ ​date​ ​to​ ​get your​ ​publicist​ ​working.​ ​​ ​Your​ ​book​ ​will​ ​do​ ​better​ ​if​ ​we​ ​see​ ​it​ ​in​ ​its​ ​rough​ ​draft​ ​stage​ ​and​ ​can​ ​point out​ ​details​ ​that​ ​will​ ​help​ ​or​ ​hurt​ ​its​ ​marketing​ ​along​ ​the​ ​way.​ ​​ ​

Of​ ​course,​ ​don’t​ ​compromise​ ​the integrity​ ​of​ ​your​ ​work​ ​to​ ​make​ ​it​ ​more​ ​salable,​ ​but​ ​being​ ​more​ ​salable​ ​is​ ​important.​ ​​ ​Do​ ​consider every​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​make​ ​your​ ​book​ ​more​ ​salable​ ​that​ ​does​ ​not​ ​compromise​ ​your​ ​integrity. Maybe​ ​you​ ​want​ ​your​ ​book​ ​to​ ​change​ ​the​ ​world,​ ​maybe​ ​you​ ​want​ ​it​ ​to​ ​comfort​ ​those​ ​in pain​ ​or​ ​teach​ ​a​ ​valuable​ ​lesson​ ​or​ ​even​ ​just​ ​make​ ​people​ ​smile​ ​or​ ​laugh.​ ​​ ​It​ ​can’t​ ​do​ ​any​ ​of​ ​that if​ ​it​ ​doesn’t​ ​get​ ​read​ ​and​ ​it​ ​won’t​ ​get​ ​read​ ​if​ ​it​ ​doesn’t​ ​get​ ​sold.

At​ ​this​ ​point​ ​you​ ​may​ ​be​ ​expecting​ ​a​ ​check​ ​list​ ​of​ ​things​ ​to​ ​do​ ​to​ ​market​ ​your​ ​book.​ ​​ ​I could​ ​make​ ​a​ ​list​ ​of​ ​things​ ​one​ ​can​ ​do,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​would​ ​be​ ​like​ ​writing​ ​out​ ​a​ ​list​ ​of​ ​possible​ ​medical procedures​ ​a​ ​doctor​ ​can​ ​prescribe​ ​for​ ​an​ ​ailment.​ ​​ ​A​ ​cast​ ​might​ ​work​ ​great​ ​for​ ​a​ ​broken​ ​leg​ ​but do​ ​nothing​ ​for​ ​an​ ​ear​ ​infection. No​ ​two​ ​marketing​ ​campaigns​ ​are​ ​exactly​ ​alike​ ​nor​ ​should​ ​be.​ ​​ ​One​ ​thing​ ​you​ ​want​ ​your book​ ​to​ ​do​ ​is​ ​stand​ ​out,​ ​so​ ​if​ ​every​ ​book​ ​got​ ​the​ ​same​ ​treatment,​ ​none​ ​would​ ​stand​ ​out.​ ​​ ​The best​ ​marketing​ ​are​ ​customized​ ​for​ ​your​ ​book.

Brett Axel’s Goblinheart is available here.