Posts Tagged ‘marketing’

"Iris," by Bodie Parkhurst. Poster available in a variety of styles and sizes.

Back when The Boy was four and we were newly arrived in Portland and poor I worked for a time at Cinnabon. When I first got the job I was embarrassed. I mean, here I was, with my Master’s degree in English and mad writing and design and illustration skills, baking cinnamon rolls in an alcove at Fred Meyer’s.

Working at Cinnabon is hard, hot work. You’re on your feet nonstop, working in close proximity to ovens that are ON. The cinnamon that Cinnabon uses is so very intense that the one and only time I let it get on my arms I got hives. On the other hand, I have a long and loving history with cinnamon rolls. One of my earliest memories is of standing in the a cabin in a logging camp, watching Iris, a woman who would become a dear friend once I learned to talk, take a pan of cinnamon rolls out of the oven.

Yes, I was under-employed, but I arrived home smelling delicious, and once I mastered the cash register it didn’t take me long to start thinking in marketing terms. I’m not talking Marketing, which has to do with demographics, banners, and pricing, but marketing, which concerns itself with one simple little question: What are you selling?

About the third day in I realized that the obvious answer–cinnamon rolls–wasn’t the obvious one. It was the customers who clued me in. “This smells so good,” they would say. “Or, this reminds me of my Grandma’s house when I was little,” or, “I wish I could have one, but can’t, not on my diet.”

I realized that what I was selling was not cinnamon rolls, but memory–or maybe a fantasy–of a slower, simpler time when one could walk into a kitchen smelling of baking, sit at the table, and have a grandmotherly woman in an apron bustle around giving food, love, and comfort. I was selling soul food in its purest sense.

And that changed the way that I approached my job. Instead of seeing customers as marks from whom I needed to extract as much money as I could I saw them as battered people seeking the comfort of being wrapped in the fragrance of cinnamon, sugar, and yeast, people who needed to know that there are still women in aprons who greet you with a smile, slide a spatula under a warm cinnamon roll, slather frosting over it, and set it before you with a, “Here, honey, you look like you could use this.”

Women on diets became the customers to whom I offered the tiniest of the minibons as a way to get the taste and comfort without the guilt , high school students on tight budgets got the big minibons, the better to fill the adolescent belly. Big Cinnabons became treats for friends to share. And always, with the sweet, the offer of a drink, hot in the winter, cold in the summer.

I didn’t work at Cinnabon long; I got some big contracts in, and it turned out that by the time I had paid for my uniforms and paid the nice lady who watched The Boy while I worked that I was actually losing money. And that was too bad, because baking at Cinnabon was something I was darned good at not because I was the fastest at rolling and baking, but because while I was feeding and coddling the weary shoppers who walked by on the other side of the sneeze guard I was feeding that part of myself that remembered Iris in her cabin, and needed to believe that women like her still exist–even if I had to become that woman myself.

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Things are very exciting around here. I’ve gotten my proofs back from the printer (it’s CreateSpace, so this also serves as my final proofreading/approvals copy) and the results are mixed. I’m producing this book in two formats, for two audiences. The first format is straight-up text; the second is an illustrated gift version. Why? Because I think it’s smart from a marketing point of view. The illustrated gift version is quite lovely (I’m including the cover below) but all that loveliness costs money. To capture the more penny-wise folks I’m producing a small, economical, text-only version, suitable for tucking into a purse (or a diaper bag).

I still have to get the proofreaders’ reports, but from a graphic standpoint the results are mixed. I really like the gift book cover; the economy model, not so much. So it’s back to the drawing board on that one. The nice thing is that it’ll only cost me the price of a proof (which I’ll need, anyhow, once I make my text changes). The cover on the small book just isn’t gelling for me. And that brings up a really, really good point. You. Cannot. Trust. Your. Monitor. Don’t ever, ever sign off on a print job without seeing a proof–and if it’s a color job, insist on a color-calibrated proof. This cover looked lovely and soft and elegant on my monitor. when I held it in my hand it just looked lame. So, now’s the time to fix it. The gift book version is working, so I’ll go with that look as the basis for the small book art.

The other thing I don’t like about the little book is that it’s not little enough. I set it at 8.5 x 5.5, which I thought would look small and cute. It doesn’t. It’s not big enough to make a statement, or small enough to be charming. It’s just lukewarm, fit only to be spewed out of my mouth. Or re-designed, in this case. Thank goodness this is a short book. I went back into the CreateSpace options and chose the smallest trim size they offer–it’s a bit over 5×7.5–and tweaked my copy to fit that. It’ll increase my page count slightly, and therefore my cost, but by judicious layout adjustments I’ve been able to pretty much hold the length. Here’s hoping the next proof comes out better.

Speaking of proofs, CreateSpace is offering a great new pilot program, and they invited me to participate. They now offer an option to waive your proof. This option should address one of my pet peeves with the CreateSpace system–that they don’t allow me to bleed certain types of graphics off the page. My proofs look pretty good; a few of the images were layered improperly, but I can see them in the proof, and have already fixed them. It’s now a million times easier than it was before, when I just got a terse little note telling me my whole book was unprintable, which left me cursing and trying to fix the problem by guess and by gosh.

So anyhow, it’s been a good, productive day, which brings me to marketing, which I plan to get locked down this weekend. I’m doing something special to market this book. Instead of just selling the book, I’ve developed a line of mom- and baby-related products on CafePress. I’ve put together a gift basket’s worth of samples–a maternity t-shirt, baby shirts, blankets, and hats, coffee mugs, birth announcements, shower announcements, a journal, thank-you notes–all sorts of things geared toward the expectant mom and her baby. Add the memoir, and it’s a gift tailor-made for single mothers and mothers-to-be. I’ve got another book in mind for the baby, but I won’t go into that now.

So, without further ado, here’s a peek at the impending book cover–a literary ultrasound, if you will:

Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, it’ll be out in the next month or so.

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Good question. It used to be that self publishing was seen as the “easy way out” for books that couldn’t make the grade at mainstream publishing houses. For years, saying someone had self-published led to barely-suppressed smirks. Of course a self-published book would be sub-standard, went the reasoning. If it had been good enough to be profitable, a publisher would have taken it. Right? Somehow we all assumed that a book was good only if lots of people wanted to read it. There is a grain of truth in this; publishers, like responsible businesses everywhere, must keep a healthy bottom line, or they cease to exist. Clearly they have a responsibility to select the best books that they believe will appeal to the widest audience, and generate the greatest returns on their considerable investment in time and resources.

But what about the wonderful books that may address a desperate need in a comparatively small audience? Books that don’t seem likely to meet the benchmark for sales are often simply rejected by mainstream publishers, no matter what their literary or social merit may be, because they simply don’t offer adequate returns on the publisher’s investment.

The recent advances in self-publishing have changed all that. The proliferation of self-publishing and digital publishing, combined with Amazon and the major book-sellers’ online sales and distribution outlets, have largely removed the bottom line as a criteria in determining book production. At this point in history, for probably the first time ever, anybody who has about fifty dollars can produce and distribute a book for worldwide sale–or for an audience of one.

The upside to this is that now all those wonderful books for niche markets stand a chance of actually seeing the light of day. The downside is that it’s awfully easy to make a damfool of one’s self in print, and on a worldwide stage. It’s a scary thought. Self-publishing is great. I do it regularly. It offers me a way to maintain control of production and quality to a degree that authors who work with traditional publishers only dream of. Call me a control freak, but I like that.

But the decision to self-publish shouldn’t be make lightly. Before you select that pdf file and hit “send,” consider the following:

1. Are you considering self-publishing because you don’t think your book will appeal to a mainstream publisher? Why not? If you’re dealing with a limited subject with a limited audience, and you doubt that your book would pull enough market share to earn back a publisher’s substantial investment in getting your book from your manuscript onto the shelves in Borders, self-publishing might be right for you.

If you’re considering self-publishing because you think it’s an easy way out of doing all the editing a conventional publisher would require, maybe the question isn’t self-publishing or mainstream publishing, but whether you’re ready to publish at all. Though the requirements for self-publishing are different, and to a great degree driven by the author’s own standards, self-publishing is no substitute for good workmanship.

2. Have you done your homework? Most self-publishers offer a variety of packages. Each package includes a variety of services. The quality of those services can vary wildly from very good to very, very bad.

Take, for example, the matter of editing. Some self-publishing companies hire qualified editors, who do sterling work. Others seem to hire first-graders and provide them with a checklist of grammar rules. I’ve seen “corrections” that edited errors into the manuscript. And any attempt to clarify the finer points of grammar for the “editor” was met with mulish insistence on following the list.

If you’re doubtful about the quality of the services the self-publishing company offers, run far and run fast. If you must use them, consider hiring your own skilled editors and, if the self-publishing company allows it, designers. Some, like XLibris, require customers to choose from a limited palette of designs, and all design and editing must be done in-house. Others, like CreateSpace, provide templates, and allow customers to set up their own books, and use their own editors and designers.

Again, there’s an upside and a downside to this. For the writer who happens also to be a skilled typesetter such a system allows for far better quality control. For someone who is stumbling through the process, the system allows for those aforementioned unparalleled opportunities to embarrass one’s self.

Self-publishing can offer an amazing opportunity to produce the book you want, and get it to the audience you want to reach. But before you make your decision, ask yourself if you feel confident that you, experts to whom you have access, or the company you have chosen can reasonably be expected to produce a book of which you can be proud.

If you want to typeset your own book and design your own cover, take the time to educate yourself in some of the finer points of the tasks. Consider that there are people who actually go to school to learn how to do this. If you have doubts about your ability, check out some of the blogs on the blogroll; there are several run by excellent editors. There are some book designers here, too (stands up and waves hand).

3. Do you know how you will distribute your book? Most self-publishing companies offer to produce your book for you, and to offer it for sale–on their site, and perhaps on an affiliated site. Look for the ones that offer broader distribution. Some, like CreateSpace, will make your book available internationally through Amazon, if you wish, as well as through one of the major mainstream book distribution houses. What this means is that your book is available not only to people who know about and visit the self-publisher’s website, but to millions. A stranger across the nation can walk into a Barnes & Noble store and order my book–and get it. Make no mistake, one of the key factors in your book sales is the distribution system you choose.

5. Marketing. I’m planning a more detailed look at book marketing shortly, so I won’t go into great detail except to say that whether you publish with a mainstream publishing house or a self-publishing company, you should plan to market if you plan to sell books. Shrinking marketing dollars must be spent where they can be expected to earn the most return. If you’re a first-time writer, unless you have a dynamite book on a dynamite topic, this is quite likely not  your book. Publishers openly acknowledge that the books that sell the best are those in which the author is most actively engaged in promotions. There should be nobody who works harder than you do to make sure your book sells. That’s true across the board.

So–what about it? Are you ready to self-publish?

If you’d like to find out more about self-publishing through sites like CreateSpace (no, I’m not sleeping with anyone who works there, but I’ve tried several online publishers and I like their services the best) visit them online. If you’d like to see what I’ve done with within their very generous parameters visit my Amazon Author’s page. If you’d like a closer look at my work, email me for samples.

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Susan Wittig Albert

NYT Bestselling Author


WRITER, memoir teacher, knitter, quilter, happy trail walker...

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