The Big Picture
by Marcus Nannini
Be forewarned: The following is my opinion and is based upon my experience.
There is a long road to travel when a book is published by an “indie” publisher, and it’s much longer still if it is “self-published.” In either event, I adopt a large-scale view on obtaining recognition and book sales. By large scale, I mean I look at worldwide sales rather than focusing on local sales.
I will begin by stating that my book, Chameleons, An Untold World War II Story, is available in libraries from Ontario, Toronto in Canada, to Scottsdale, Arizona, and points in between. Just about all indie bookstores either carry it or offer it for “immediate” delivery. My book was published by an indie publisher in Texas in June 2017.
From the first day, the expenditure of my time (which is irreplaceable) has been focused on national and international book sales. I have performed some local presentations, but frankly, I’ve come to determine that the time investment is not warranted by concomitant book sales. My time is better spent focusing on the big picture.
Book reviews are important, but book reviews are not created equal. Say you decide to pay up to $575 for a Kirkus review. Really? They will review ANYONE who pays them, so just what do you think the value of such a review will be for you? You could have entered your book into seven or eight really good book contests for that money. If your book is truly exceptional, you will score some wins or honorable mentions which increase your web presence and may garner some additional sales.
As of this writing, my book has won the Military Book category at the 2017 International Book Excellence Awards, and while awaiting determination of their grand-prize winner, they have provided me, at no additional cost to me (there is an entry fee for the contest), a webpage for my book and a second webpage for me as the author. Nice exposure.
I am also enjoying a substantial lead for Historical Fiction Book of the Year at OnlineBookClub.org which broadcasts to hundreds of thousands of book buyers on a daily basis. The cost for both of the above was nominal.
But you want to be in libraries, so here is the one-two punch you need to follow:
First, you will request a free review from the prestigious Midwest Book Review. This is a quote from their home page:
“Established in 1976, the Midwest Book Review is an organization committed to promoting literacy, library usage, and small press publishing. The MBR publishes … monthly book review magazines specifically designed for community and academic librarians, booksellers, and the general reading public…”
Librarians throughout the English-speaking world read the monthly publications of Midwest Book Review when determining their book purchases. You must be able to achieve a good review from this source, but beware, they apparently accept fewer than five percent of the books submitted for review. However, if accepted, Midwest Book Review offers FREE reviews of your indie-published or self-published book! I media-mailed them the required two books, a cover letter, a copy of one of my press releases, and my publisher information. A few months later I was notified that my book had been reviewed as “Very Highly Recommended.” About two-and-a-half months later, I began finding it in libraries. It cost me two books, about four dollars in postage, fit into my global marketing program, and is garnering sales.
A second extremely powerful reviewer is Publishers Weekly. Again, they only review a handful of submitted books. In their words, they review the “very best books.” This is an important marketing tool, and they don’t charge a fee, either. You might have noticed the best reviews are FREE. A few weeks following my submission, PW emailed and advised me that Chameleons had passed initial screening. Next thing I knew, they published a great review on October 2, 2017. My book has since been picked up by international booksellers, including the critical IndieBound.org, “A Community of Independent Local Bookstores.”
With much less impact, I also sought reviews from Goodreads (5 stars) and just about every other free review site I could find. However, after what I consider to be the BIG TWO, named above, the only other reviews which could seriously impact sales and offer me a reasonable chance at actually being reviewed would be those written by newspapers. As for newspapers, I think big and small. I carefully research their individual requirements, which is usually not as easy as it sounds. If you are at least a few months from publication, The New York Times might review your manuscript, so try it. There is nothing to lose, other than your time and resources in printing and mailing. They do not want a bound copy.
You could catch the eye of local newspaper editors via a well-distributed press release (aka media release) and, from experience, I can testify that this method will garner you reviews. Laura Orsini has an excellent source-list for Arizona based media outlets you can approach directly. If you engage her services, you will discover that a great deal more access ports exist.
By all means, do not overlook the sale of your book rights for publication in non-English speaking countries. Most publisher contracts will include a clause whereby proceeds of international rights sales are split with the publisher, but it is the rare publisher who will pursue such a sale. Go after the sale yourself and try to engage someone other than a U.S.-based literary agent for the rights sale. They will charge you a commission of 15 to 20 percent, thus significantly reducing your share of the net proceeds, after the split with your publisher.
Prior to commencing your international book rights search, drop your publisher an email advising them as to your intention and assuring them that you are aware of the clause protecting their share of the sales proceeds. Then get busy!
Which countries may be fertile grounds for your book? Decide on them and then begin researching literary agencies based in those countries. I felt there could be a strong market for my first book in Japan, a country of avid readers. I made a pitch to the senior agent at the most prestigious literary agency in the country, and within one week I had a contract with a 10 percent commission rate. Now they have accepted my second book as well.
I have been attempting to secure a source in China and have discovered it is a nearly closed market. My inquiries, some subtle, others not as subtle, have so far produced nothing. However, I continue to pursue this country and a handful of others. Let’s face it: it costs time, but not money, and I believe applying my time in pursuit of international book sales is time well spent. Your publisher is unlikely to expend its time in such a pursuit, but the payoff is potentially huge, so do it yourself.
I have nothing against targeting personal appearances in front of groups of 40 to 100 individuals. I simply am convinced that expending my time elsewhere will produce much larger returns and have the evidence to support my opinion. Whatever you decide, do it and stick to it.
Happy New Year!
Marcus Nannini began his journalistic career when he published his own newspaper in the sixth grade, charging 25 cents for the privilege of reading the only printed copy of each edition. During his undergraduate years, Nannini was a paid reporter and worked three semesters as the research assistant for journalism professor and published author Richard Stocks Carlson, Ph.D. Nannini is a life-long history buff with a particular interest in World War II and the Pearl Harbor attack. His continuing curiosity over several Japanese aerial photographs and the turtling of the U.S.S. Oklahoma lead him to write Chameleons, first as a screenplay and now as a full-length novel.