We are a non-denominational publishing house, but if we were to have a house deity, it would have to be goddess Chattera, who controls the mysterious forces of word of mouth.
Few books are successful without at least some element of word of mouth. Definitions differ, but to my thinking word of mouth is everyone that hears about the book and is inspired to purchase it without any intervention on our, or our authors’, part.
So books sold due to publicity, the author’s twitter followers, speaking, placement, corporate buys, advertising, and a million other things we do are not word of mouth sales. Word of mouth sales comes when someone – someone we don’t know and didn’t ask – recommends a book to a friend, whether directly, or via their blog, or twitter feed or any other means.
Surveys (which are of questionable accuracy, but let’s allow it) say that over half of books purchased are due to word of mouth, and these surveys are only asking about face to face recommendations. With everyone’s word of mouth amplified via social media, it seems to me that goddess Chattera is only becoming more powerful.
So in publishing we all pray to this goddess, whose ways are irritatingly mysterious. Sometimes our prayers are answered, but more often not. So is there anything, besides prayer, we can do?
I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve come up with three things. If you know a fourth, I’d love to hear about it.
The first is to remember that word of mouth is narrowcasting. I don’t talk to some friends about books I love dearly because I know they won’t like them. A good book appeals strongly to a niche; the right people love the book and most people could care less. In editing and marketing the book, clarity about the niche the book is aimed at is critical. Writing/editing/marketing better for the niche (as opposed to trying to make the book more broadly appealing) supports word of mouth.
The second is in the construction of a marketing plan that has two purposes – to sell books and drive word of mouth. Sometimes the second is forgotten. (Actually sometimes the first is and marketing plans are designed to get media or make the author happy. But our authors are happiest when they are selling books. Aren’t you?) Selling books into the target market is more likely to drive word of mouth than selling outside it (easier too). This might sound obvious but many – authors included – want to position themselves and their books to the broadest possible market. In my opinion this is usually a mistake (remember, success in the niche can be broadened – failure goes nowhere.)
The third is, simply, quality. I get very few authors (exact number: zero) who say “please take a year to edit this book so that it’s as strong as it can possibly be when it comes out.” Authors, understandably, want to get their books out right away. But getting it right – especially right for the target market – is so essential. This is why I love to publish books that represent an author’s passion and life’s work. There are marketing benefits but there are also quality issues – these authors want to get the books right.
So that’s all I got on appeasing the great goddess Chattera. Oh, and a little prayer doesn’t hurt.
Next I want to discuss PR, and why we spend too much time thinking about it.