Location, Location, Location

[November 2009] My newest book was the inspiration for my February essay (Book packagers) and also influenced other essays throughout 2009. It’s called The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, published by Fall River Press.

“Who’s that?” I hear someone in the back ask. Fall River Press is part of Sterling Publishing, a conglomerate that encompasses dozens of imprints including Gollancz, Hearst, Metro Books, Orion, SparkNotes and the San Francisco Chronicle. Sterling is a wholly owned subsidiary of Barnes & Noble.

My work on this project was enlisted by becker&mayer!, a book packager in Seattle hired by Barnes & Noble to produce the companion. Their previous works included companions on Poe (winner of a 2009 Edgar Award, written by a distant relative of Poe) and Jane Austen (written by an Austen scholar). They contacted me to develop the outline and write the text because of my previous work on The Road to the Dark Tower.

As I wrote back in February, book packagers are full-service publishers who produce books that have intensive design requirements. Mainstream publishers often farm out these kinds of project to them. I can see why—from inception to publication, becker&mayer! put together in nine months a gorgeous volume that has been receiving nothing but praise for its high production value.

After preparing a detailed outline, I wrote the text in January and February, and received the edited manuscript for revisions in March. The becker&mayer! documents specialist used my manuscript to gather complementary photographs and archival material in March. I received the copyeditor’s report in early April and the first page proofs shortly thereafter. I wrote captions for the photographs and included documents, and did the first pass on proofing the laid-out document by tax time.

The proofreader did her extensive review in early May, and I tidied up any remaining errors and omissions the same week. The final pass page proofs were delivered to me in mid-May and the files were sent to the printer at the end of the month. The finished books arrived at Barnes & Noble warehouses in late September, and I received a couple of boxes of contributor copies at about the same time. Nine months after I wrote the first words. This lavish hardcover, chock full of fascinating and faithfully reproduced memorabilia that few people had ever seen before, was priced at less than $25.

Throughout the process, the editors at Barnes & Noble stayed at arm’s length. They had final approval on everything, but their input was filtered to me through becker&mayer! I had no direct contact with them. By all reports, they were (and continue to be) very happy with the results.

However, here’s where the main difference between this and other types of publications kicks in. Since this is a B&N exclusive, it wasn’t marketed in the same way as books from traditional publishers. For one thing, the publisher doesn’t need to market it to booksellers, since they’re one and the same. They don’t need to get advance reviews to encourage bookstores to buy more copies up front. All they need to do is ship the books to their stores and put them on their shelves. Publishers don’t need to pay for product placement within the store. If a regional B&N manager decides he wants to put a big rack (a dump bin) of these books at the front of the store, he is free to do so.

I did what I could to promote the book on my own. I sent out press releases to all the usual suspects, and conducted a few follow-up interviews. Since I’m an active member on message boards, I spread the news about the book within the King fan and collector community. This was a strong case for the power of social networking. The book went on sale at the B&N web site two weeks before it was available in stores. Since there was no other promotion for the book up to that point, I figure that my bush beating was responsible for a large number of the early sales.

I was pleased with the results. Shortly after the book became available, it reached a sales rank of 317. Unlike Amazon’s mystical number, the B&N sales rank is literally a book’s position on the overall combined bestseller list, including hardcovers, paperbacks, videos, music, e-books—everything the store sells online. Thanks to B&N’s reasonable international shipping charges, the book became instantly available around the world, and I heard from fans as far abroad as Poland, Italy and The Netherlands who purchased it online.

There wasn’t a specific publication date. I was told that it would be up to local store managers to decide when to shelve the book and how. That was a little frustrating. One of my coworkers pre-ordered a copy from the store nearest to us, and picked it up at the information desk, but when I went to the store a couple of days later no one could find the book, even though it showed up on their computers as being in stock.

There was one published review of the book, in a Las Vegas paper, and a number of blog posts about it. News about the book spread mostly by word of mouth. It settled in to a comfortable and unremarkable position.

Until November 10, 2009, that is, which happened be my wedding anniversary. It also happened to be the publication date for Under the Dome by Stephen King. Unbeknownst to me, Barnes & Noble set out a flier to its club members that day, discounting Under the Dome and featuring a prominent link to my book as well.

And here’s where today’s title comes from. That promotional ad wasn’t the only location I benefited from. Many stores featured my book in a dump bin next to Under the Dome. Publishers pay good money for that kind of promotion. It didn’t happen in every store—the one nearest to me shelved it in the Bargain Books section—but I had reports from New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania and California, some accompanied by photo, one of which accompanies this essay.

Over the course of that day, my sales rank went from about 8000 to #132. It was selling at only a slightly slower pace than preorders for the next Michael Crichton, and orders for the latest Michael Connelly and Patrick Swayze’s autobiography. A heady feeling, for sure. I held secret hopes of cracking the top 100, but that was not meant to be. Nevertheless, a good day.

So, how do you sell a bunch of copies of a book? Make sure a bunch of people who might be interested in buying it know about it. That’s all.

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