Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

To Market, to market

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One of the most common questions I get asked when I tell people I'm an author is "Where can I buy your book?" I suppose it's a legitimate question, like, I might say, "Out of the trunk of my car." Which wouldn't be the worst thing I could do -- that's how author Lisa Genova first sold her now bestseller (and inspiration for the soon to be widely released film starring Julianne Moore).

But it's easier to sell more books if you don't have to rely on driving around the city, shouting that you've got books in your trunk, hoping someone wants one. But once your book is written, how does anyone find out about it? Marketing.

Today I’m talking to Erin Creasey, the Sales & Marketing Director at ECW Press. Erin’s been at ECW for almost seven years.

When a publisher is buying a book, at what point are you involved?

EC: At ECW, I’m involved pretty early on in the process – but the extent of that varies from book to book. Every Monday morning we have what we call a Spaghetti Meeting, where anyone is welcome to throw out some ideas and see what sticks. That’s also where we talk about manuscripts that are being seriously considered. I might look at some comparable titles at that stage, or seek feedback from a few of our sales reps in Canada and the U.S., depending on what kind of book it is, and where we expect to find the market for the book. Sometimes, I prepare overview marketing plans before we acquire the book.

I read pretty much every book we acquire when it’s time to work on sales materials and marketing plans, so my reading pile is pretty full with books that are officially on the schedule. This means that it’s more rare that I read manuscripts under consideration in their entirety, even though I’d like to read more.

Once a new book is on the schedule, I’m in touch with the author to talk a little bit more about ideas and timelines, and this ramps up significantly a year ahead of the pub date. Our authors have tons of ideas as they work on their books (and these ideas are very, very welcomed by me), so I’m the person they bounce stuff off of in the lead-up to formalizing the marketing plan for the book. About six months ahead of the pub date, our authors start to work more closely with their publicist.

What aspects of marketing do you love?

My favourite thing about marketing is that it’s a collective activity, and that there are so many interesting and unique ideas that you could try something new almost every day. I love working with authors and my colleagues on crafting marketing plans, and exploring cool new ideas to see what works. I’m also really interested in pursuing larger-scale ideas and opportunities with my colleagues in the Canadian publishing industry. There’s a top-notch group of Canadian publishers and marketers, and we have lots of forums through industry groups to share ideas and put large-scale projects into play that impact all of our authors. For example, the Ontario Book Publishers Organization runs OpenBook, and the Association of Canadian Publishers, of which I am the current President of the board, developed 49thShelf.com, in addition to a host of other targeted marketing activities.

What aspects do you wish you had more time for?

Oh, everything. I teach sales & marketing at Ryerson in the book publishing program, and I always tell my students that marketing is one aspect of the life of a book that is simply never over. There’s always one more thing, or one more idea, that we could try. If a book has met the goals we set out, I’m satisfied. If not, I’ll look for another avenue to pursue for as long as I can. Personally, I wish I had more time set aside to look outside the book industry to help dream up new marketing initiatives.

How have you seen marketing change over the years?

Social media would be the obvious answer, and to some extent, that does signal the biggest change. A whole world opened up when our readers became easier to directly reach out to, and much more visible to us. I’m a big fan of Twitter and Goodreads. But I know that the readers of lots of our books aren’t on social media, so the challenge is really figuring out where to find a niche audience, and the best way to reach them, when many traditional media outlets don’t have as much book coverage as they once did, and when many bricks and mortar stores don’t carry the wide diversity of titles they did when I started in the industry.

What aspects of marketing used to fall on the publisher and now are shifting toward the author?

I don’t actually see a shift, per se. Marketing, in the most basic sense, means getting the book to market. Publishers still sell the books into stores, arrange promotions and merchandising in stores, book author tours, advertise, publicize, and more. However, we also know that the author knows their book about 1000x better than we ever could. If it’s non-fiction, the author is our best source on who is going to read the book, and we definitely rely on their expertise and connections to their audience. Whatever the genre, we look to reach the author’s readers with their help.

When it comes to marketing and your ideal author, what would you like to see your author doing?

I want to see our author doing what he or she is comfortable with, and wants to do. Throwing an author on to Twitter is a waste of energy if they don’t want to be there. Starting a blog just to promote a book is always a flop. Forcing someone shy to sit at a table in a mall store signing books is just going to waste their time. But, there is something everyone can do to market their book, we just have to figure out what it is. My ideal author has an open mind, is enthusiastic about their subject and the book they’ve written, and is willing to talk through tons of ideas to find the best ones.

What is the most frustrating aspect of marketing books/authors?

That things don’t always go according to plan. Luckily, we have lots of contingency plans, but we’re at the mercy of so many outside forces — from what buyers like for certain stores to a hot news item that takes away coverage of our book.

What is the best marketing plan you've seen implemented for a book or author?

Impossible to pick one! I think a marketing plan is a success if it the book reaches its audience, and sales expectations are met or exceeded. I’ll use an example from many years ago, when I worked at NeWest. We published a book called Big Rig: Comic Tales of a Long-Haul Trucker. It was a series of entertaining stories from a retired trucker, a man with a big personality and bigger vocab of trucker lingo. The book was a departure for us, and we had to craft a marketing plan that would reach a different audience than our usual literary fare. We had a launch at a trucking yard, where people could climb in a rig for a photo, and the author did an interview with the Wheels section of the Edmonton Journal, which got picked up across Canada. The CBC morning show in Alberta ran a different story from the book every Saturday for two months. The book became a national bestseller, and was on the front tables of bookstores across Canada. It was a great moment of everything coming together perfectly.

How much does marketing come into play when you’re deciding whether or not to sign an author?

In the acquisitions stage, it really depends on what kind of book we are talking about. Ultimately, an editor is going to decide that they want to work on the book or not, and the extent to which marketing comes into play varies. But an author with a great network and a plan for marketing is always an asset — this gets back to my description on an ideal author.

What can an author do when their book is being considered by a publisher to make them more attractive to a publisher from a marketing standpoint?

Include an overview of comparable titles in your pitch letter. If it’s fiction, this can point to your influences and expectations. If readers of Sarah Dessen will like your book, that immediately tells me something about the type of book and the size of audience you envision. Describe your market, and describe a few marketing strategies. It doesn’t have to be much — we don’t expect you to be the expert — but a few ideas are definitely helpful. If we acquire your book, it’s because we see the value in reaching a wide audience with your work, and selling copies! If you have some ideas about how we can do that, make sure you tell us.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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