Monday, April 18, 2011

HOW TO SELL 70 MILLION BOOKS-A CONVERSATION WITH JERRY JENKINS

We were delighted to have Jerry Jenkins visit Tate Publishing last week to discuss his future books, The Christian Writers Guild and Guide, and several other possibilities. We were honored he chose to come and discuss with us numerous options.

When it comes to selling books in the Christian publishing market, you won't find a much bigger name than Jerry B. Jenkins , co-author of the Left Behind series of books. Along with his co-author, Tim LaHaye, Jenkins has had 16 bestsellers in the series, with more than 70 million copies sold. To say Jenkins knows something about selling books is like saying a fish knows something about being wet.

Jenkins also heads the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, which offers courses geared toward helping aspiring writers perfect their craft. It was in this role that Jenkins visited the offices of Tate Publishing today to take a tour and see what our company was all about. It's not everyday you get to do a Q & A with an author who has sold 70 million books about what it takes to sell those books. Surely, there must be some secret, right?

When I am given the opportunity to ask an author like Jenkins questions about book promotion and marketing, I try to do it from the standpoint of an author trying to make it in the industry, not as someone who sells books for a living. With this introduction now out of the way, I will let Jenkins explain how things work in the publishing industry, in his own words (from notes taken during our meetings).

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

"Too many authors think everything starts with their book. Starting your writing career with a book is like a five year old starting graduate school. Writers need to work up to their first book by writing articles and short stories and perfecting their craft."

What kind of expectations should a new author have with their first book?

"(New) authors are thoroughly unrealistic. They think that "if my book was just in a bookstore it would become a bestseller. If only I could get on Oprah." It takes word of mouth, telling people about your book, attending conferences, doing speaking engagements and getting the word out. Authors are going to do most of the work, and they need to. Publishers count on authors being the Number One salesperson. Nobody knows more about their book and can speak about it with more passion than the author."

Something that appeals to me about Tate Publishing is the personal attention they offer. This is a tough game, and if you are intimidated by the odds of making it in the publishing industry, this may not be the game for you. Use those long odds as a challenge to be one of the authors who do make it."

What is the difference between marketing your first book and promoting your more recent books?

"It really doesn't change. When Left Behind became a bestseller and was doing so well we just held on for dear life. Look at bestsellers as a season. They don't last, and one bestseller doesn't mean your next book is going to be a bestseller. Just because a book has my name on it or I wrote Left Behind doesn't mean it's automatically going to be a bestseller. It always takes work, speaking engagements and conferences. The work doesn't change regardless of success."

At this point, Jenkins' wife of 40 years, Dianna, pointed out that Jenkins hires his own publicists when it's time to promote another book.

What advice do you have for authors who are struggling with book sales?

Most authors miss it. They think most of the promotion starts at the beginning when the book is released. Most publishers stop promoting a book after six months to a year. New York publishers stop promoting after three months or less if the book doesn't take off. Then it's all on the author. When you still have 1,000 or 2,000 books left to sell, THAT'S the time to really start promoting. Hire a publicist. Get interviews. Speak at conferences. Connect with the audience with which you are an expert. Even if there are only 50 people there, that's 49 more people than you are talking to right now.

Nothing is going to happen automatically. Word of mouth is the best sales tool, and that should come from the author. There are no shortcuts."

Jenkins stated "If you are intimidated by the odds, you are in the wrong profession. It should be a motivation."

We were delighted to have Jerry here touring our campus, speaking to our staff, and sharing with us his visions and dreams. We look forward to working with him in the coming days.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

TATE PUBLISHING AND THE FACTS ABOUT "YOG'S LAW"

Followers,

A few years ago an individual created out of thin air a concept he called "Yog's Law." I have no idea who "Yog" is or what planet he may be from but just like Superman there is "kryptonite" in this concept and that "kryptonite" is the facts. His over-simplistic “Money always flows to the writer” is his central argument. The problem with that concept is that he makes it sound like a movie script. Write a book, ask mom how good she thinks it is, send it to a publisher, they take it and make you a millionaire while you sit at home and watch TV. Of course writers should make money for their work, but the premise that they will never have to spend money if they publish, promote or market their books is incredibly na├»ve. I am close friends with several New York literary agents. I was speaking with one last week who has been in that business for decades. She was informing me of the high profile clients she represents who have to take their money to promote and buy their own books. She said that the publishers she works with are the bank and that they see their authors as having to do the work and are small businesses. At Tate Publishing we create for every first-time author an incredible opportunity to succeed. The support they get is over-the-top excellent and the few authors we sign out of the tens of thousands of unsolicited manuscripts we receive each year get the best product and support in the industry.

I have interviewed authors with other publishers for my own interest and we have a staff member in our marketing division who has shared some of his work and research with me as well. Here is a brief synopsis of their experience with those publishers:

Suzy Spencer: NYT bestselling author. In Suzy’s words: “I’ve had four books published. Of those four, I’ve had little marketing support from my publishers. I’ve never been allowed any contact with the sales teams, though I understand some publishers encourage such. As for public relations support, for my first book Wasted, which became a New York Times bestseller, I believe my publisher sent out a few review copies. By that I mean I provided names and addresses of friends in the media and my publisher mailed them copies of the book and, from what I understand, a note that said here’s a book by Suzy Spencer. There was no publicity packet included. No sales pitch of what the book was about or why they would be interested in it.” Suzy herself hired a publicist and mailed out push cards.

Tom Llewellyn: Tom stated that his book The Tilting House sold about 8,000 copies. His marketing support, in his words: “Not as much as I expected (he says, while hoping he sounds grateful to be published at all). They sent out promotional copies, distributed the book in their catalog, blogged about it and sent me a whole bunch of customized bookmarks. A very talented designer friend of mine built a cool website (www.thetiltinghouse.com) and created a book trailer you can see there as well. I setup and completed interviews in local newspapers. I held a pretty massive book launch party—about which the publisher’s rep said it was the biggest launch party she’d ever seen. I’ve done a whole bunch of author talks at local schools and still continue to do them. And I’ve done a whole bunch of blog interviews—kind of like this one.” Tom paid for his own marketing, the construction of his web site and his own book launch party. By the way, after the interview, discontinued the imprint, and Tom has no publisher at all.

My favorite: Sheila Kelly, NYT bestselling author of Twilight Fall. You can see a copy of one of her royalty statements here: http://i259.photobucket.com/albums/hh289/LynnViehl/TFRoyaltyStatement1.jpg Sheila was actually paid an advance of $50,000 for her book. She did not receive a third of that until the book was published. Her agent got $7,500 of the advance. Uncle Sam took $15,000 in taxes. After her other expenses, she actually received $26,000 of her $50,000 advance. Her net earnings from her royalty statement in the link are about $27,000, after returns and holdbacks. Because her publisher has not yet recouped the advance they kept their share, so her net earnings from this royalty statement were, wait for it, $0. That’s right, she sold $46,000 worth of books the quarter she became a NYT bestseller and didn’t receive any of it. Her credited earnings on her next royalty statement were about $2,500, which her publisher also kept to repay her advance.
In Sheila’s words: “My income per book always reminds me of how tough it is to make at living at this gig, especially for writers who only produce one book per year. If I did the same, and my one book performed as well as TF, and my family of four were solely dependent on my income, my net would be only around $2500.00 over the income level considered to be the U.S. poverty threshold (based on 2008 figures.) Yep, we’d almost qualify for food stamps.” To date, she has made about $24,000 off Twilight Fall, mainly from her advance. She didn’t expect to see any actual royalties from her book for another 1-2 years.

In contrast, one of our authors, who is not a NYT bestselling author, has made at least $75,000 off the sales of her three titles with us, and that all went into her pocket.
Money flows to the author? Authors with other publishers pay plenty, and don’t have it nearly as well as our authors do. Sure, J.K. Rowling and James Patterson are multi-millionaires, but they have each cranked out several books, have movie deals, and have to sell an incredible volume of books. They are in the extreme minority, of which I am certain Mr. Yog’s Law is not a member.