"Ninety percent of books fail because authors fail to promote it."
That's what bestselling author Bob Mayer said at the 2011 Pacific Northwest Writer's Association conference.
"They think the publishers will do all that," Mayer said. "They can't."
Mayer is the author of more than 40 books, a West Point graduate and former Green Beret. He advocates that authors take their PR and publicity seriously, because unless you get a six-figure advance, publishers won't typically spend much promoting and publicizing your book.
This lack of publicity support has pushed many authors to lean hard on blogs, websites and social media. Mayer said this is a flaw in strategy.
"Have a purpose on social media," Mayer said. "Why are you on it?" He suggests setting concrete, measurable goals, not just with social media, but with anything an author spends time on.
There's a Youtube video featuring him that's had more than 100,000 hits, Mayer said. That's considered a lot. Most authors would love to have that. Yet as far as he can tell, those 100,000 hits have led to zero sales of his books.
Authors also make a mistake in using the cover art for their latest book as their Twitter avatar or Facebook profile photo, he said. Whatever you use online should be your head shot and your name. The brand is you, not a single book.
"Most writers try to sell the next book," Mayer said. "That's the extent of their goals." But that's not a strategy. Authors need a long term plan. "Are you trying to succeed or survive? An agent told me he's never seen an author with a plan."
Mayer said it's a mistake to set goals based on the market and what it apparently selling well. The publishing industry has a big time lag. Books written today may not get sold and published for two or three years.
"Do look at your competition," Mayer said. "Who else is doing it, and how can we do it better -- or differently?"
Mayer said there are three variables for authors: platform, product and promotion.
Platform is about the author as a brand.
- Do you have name recognition?
- Are you an expert in your field?
- Do you have a special background?
Product is everything you write or say.
- Your books.
- Your articles.
- The classes you teach.
Instead of using your blog to simply promote your books, Mayer said, put it to real use. Write a non-fiction book on your blog, one post a week, and at the end of the year, you've got 52 posts that make up a book.
Promotion is everything you do to get exposure.
- Access to media outlets.
- Social media.
The biggest mistake of his career, Mayer said, was not networking. He holed up at his desk, doing the hard work of writing. He never met his agent or editor face-to-face. Don't ignore your agent and editor, thinking you're doing them a favor by not bothering them. If you never talk to them, they'll forget about you.
While Mayer is a convert to the idea of e-books, he cautioned authors against seeing self-publishing as being free.
"Traditional publishing won't die," Mayer said. "It will drastically change. But I don't think there is such a thing as self-publishing." It's not a one-person job, he said. You have to hire an editor, a cover artist, a publicist -- you can't do it all yourself.