Willy Lohman or Ronald Reagan?

Prior to becoming an author, I spent 40 years in sales and marketing. I never felt as though I were a Death of a Salesman type of guy, Willie Lohman, but more of a Ronald Reagan, Great Communicator type. That’s really a stretch, comparing myself to a past president, but…

The point is that if we look at sales not as being in-authentic and an arm-twister, but as an informant, newscaster role, then it doesn’t have the salesy connotation of sleaze, but more of an “above the fray” information dissemination role. In that context, we are merely communication, not selling. People then decide on their own whether to buy or not.

Be that as it may, I am beginning to recognize the gap in the book business that the traditional, vanity or hybrid publishing houses don’t want paying customers to know. That the heavy lifting isn’t in the writing of the book, but in the sales and marketing arena.

This past weekend five writers joined me at my Retreat2Write workshop held at my lake cabin in Northern Minnesota. The purpose of the retreat is to identify writing goals, focus on where writing fits in our lives, and applying the Marketing P’s as a framework to “sell” our work.

The framework is comprised of the four P’s that classical marketing adheres to:

  • Product (or Service)
  • Price
  • Placement
  • Promotion

I have always felt that there were important areas missing when using only the above four P’s and added the following three:

  • Position

In the book business, it became apparent that the industry also recognized the importance of an author having a strong social media presence, and describes it as the author platform.

  • Platform

And finally, the question begs, who is going to DO all of the work required above?

  • Production

In this whole process of book writing, the hardest part for many of us is the sales and marketing of the book. We look at the stack of books that have been shipped, and after the initial euphoria wears off, the question begs, what do I do with these boxes of books??? One of the women at the retreat had just signed a book deal where the publisher was handling all of the marketing. She let out a sigh of relief. But the rest of us are confronted with the challenge of how to get the word out.

The Marketing P’s help focus limited resources–often a single person, the author—and how best to deploy those resources. For an author of a book on entomology, the distribution may be easier than for a general fiction. The bug book just has to find people interested in bugs. The fiction book has a much broader audience to address, and trying to reach every single reader interested in fiction would be a huge effort. The fiction audience can be broken down to smaller units—historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, etc. To speak to everyone means many receiving your message don’t care.

That’s where understanding the audience of people who would enjoy the book is fundamentally key, and the audience becomes a part of price, placement, promotion, position and platform.

At first glance, the product seems straightforward: it’s the book, right? But even that isn’t what it seems. People often buy a book based on the author’s background, history, other works. An author’s product is the book, but it may also be what is often referred to as the “brand.” The author, author’s other works, personality, other offerings. It all becomes who and what the author is and represents. William Shatner may sell his memoir at the Trekkie convention, even though his memoir may not include much about Captain Kirk or Star Trek.

That brand, or product as it is referred to here, is what we sell, and how that product is perceived determines what kind of price we can set.

And while many factors go into setting the price of our books, an easy way to think of it is the auto industry. Cars are a form of transportation. All cars can get a person from point A to point B. So why do we pay more for a Cadillac than a Chevrolet? Some would say books are different, but are they? All product prices are constrained by something. For a Cadillac or Chevrolet, it would be alternative options—Cadillac can’t price itself too high, or it will chase its customers to consider a BMW. A Chevrolet can’t be too expensive or its buyers might begin to look at public transportation where the inconvenience is offset by its cheap price.

Books are likewise constrained. If books are priced too high, a reader might choose to go to a movie, or a concert. Books by well-known authors can price higher than those by no-names. In the case of audio books, the largest distributor of audio books, Audible, has developed its own pricing model based on how long the book is. The longer the book, the more expensive it is. Audible carries so much clout in the audio world that their model has become the industry standard. The price is also influenced by the position a product has in the marketplace.

The Boston Consulting Group’s market share analysis classifies products as Stars, Dogs, Cash Cows or Question Marks. This model assumes you have multiple products or services, and each is plotted on a graph with market share on one axis and market growth on the other. Most of us start with low market share, either Dogs are Question Marks. Our challenge is to move our Dogs or Question Marks up the share side, whether in slow growing markets or expanding markets so that they become Stars or Cash Cows. An example of a growing market in the book world is the series. Not that long ago, books with a sequel or prequel were rare. Now book releases of a series are commonplace. And it makes sense. If a reader likes a book, the likelihood of buying the next book in the series is higher than going out and finding an unknown entity.

An author may wonder what the BCG model has to do with them. It goes back to an author’s brand. The book is one product. But many authors also develop a speaking business, workshops, consulting, promotional items. Cheryl Sandberg, who wrote Lean In has trademarked the name and created a huge network of Lean In chapters, career guides, and speaking engagements. Lean In has become the brand behind all the offerings. And if she were to plot all her revenue generative ventures on the BCG matrix, it would give her a guide to what products/services are generating the most revenues, what areas she may want to pump money into, or products she may want to drop.

The next post will include information on placement, promotion and platform. That’s all for now.


2 thoughts on “Willy Lohman or Ronald Reagan?

  1. Ann McGuire says:

    My best friend since kindergarten is a writer. She experienced the same thing when she published her first book, (shameless plug) “Red House” by Sarah Messer. This was years ago. Being my helpful self, I told her I’d send Oprah a copy. That’ll do it!


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