Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ghosts in the Machines

I'm writing from a blog workshop I signed up for. It seemed appropriate. I have another post on marketing drafted, for Marian who thought they were interesting. Speaking of marketing, I have a test on it this afternoon. I actually studied for a change. It still doesn't mean I'll get a decent grade but as long as I pass, I'll be happy. I do have a massive headache but I think that might be from all the sugar I had yesterday, I don't react well to it. It feels like a bad hangovers.

So, as previously mentionned, I've been doing work experience on mondays. This week was my second time. The first week, I proofread some publicity sheets (basically a paper with the titles of books coming up to get people all excited about them), worked out some discounts on order forms and then...was asked to print and photocopy. There must be some sort of AI in charge of the machines at VF. I was working on a mac that froze and refused to save my files and when it did, it changed the name. The printer refused to print half the time and the photocopier... We ended up printing out 145 BAD copies of work I had updated but had not saved correctly. I was soooo embarassed. I also accidentally printed out 14 copies of something instead of 4. I might have killed a couple of forests.

This week though, work went beautifully all day. The mac was more cooperative although it froze a couple of times anyway (was it testing me? teasing me?). I did more publicity sheets and review requests. I did this for both the important series. I learnt that the distributor (ours is Marston something) gets a letter requesting them to send out free review copies. We include the letters to the reviewers and labels (and occasionally flyers) but the distributors send them with the book. On the more expensive series, we only sent out a small amount of free copies (totally 500£) and send letters and flyers to people who might be interested in reviewing and can contact us for copies.

I had everything I needed, the prints were perfect, I had all the signatures I needed and then...photocopying. The paper jammed and the woman who had to sign everything was gone. I panicked a little then manually smoothed the paper and phtocopied them again. The copies came out perfect. I had beat the machine! Then, I sent everything out to where it belonged with no guidance whatsoever. I'm so proud of myself. I didn't make any mistakes (I think). In fact, my bosses are somewhat impressed with my tech skills (I don't know how they got that idea).

I have to say it's very satisfying to be working on things that are actually needed and will go somewhere. Those pesky order forms from last week were all folded (by hand, by me) into flyers that were sent the next day to the US to a conference where most people will probably just toss them into the trash without a second thought. But hey, I may have sold a couple of books.

I mentionned to one of my bosses I was very interested in women's studies and women's history. She's decided we're going to come up with a project for me on it. She asked me to research it online whenever she's busy and I'm between tasks. Yes, I got myself more work. Also, I've asked for extra work experience for study week next week. I'll be working with the Bod on the Electronic Enlightenment project which is something of a partnership with VF. It sounds very interesting.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More Marketing just for Marian :D

Last post on marketing for a little while :) I'll go on to other fascinating things like "the purpose of page numbers" or "what tables of content are for" or how "a book needs a spine". Yup, we talked about these in class.


Now that I've been doing some actual marketing work on mondays, the kind that someone will actually profit by, I'm starting to understand some things in a more instinctive way. Don't talk to me about PEST and SWOT and crazy spreadsheets though.
I've mostly been doing research, making sure the journals we mail review copies or review invitations too are appropriate for the book we're trying to sell. With a small academic publisher, the list is fairly small but it can be pretty confusing because there's a lot of crossover between subjects.
However, it is crucial that you send the right book to the right place. First, because you want them to be read by people who are interested in the subject, second because you don't want to send expensive books to people who will not review them (or return them). If your books is under 15 GBP, you have a bit of room but if the book is over 100GBP and your print-run is about 250 copies, every single one counts.

Even so, marketing is expensive. I mentioned in another post that for one of the books we do, we sent out 5 copies, totaling about 500GBP. Then there is the paper and all the fliers we sent out to conferences, the order forms (with discounts!), the going to the conferences... This is why authors can't be expected to do the marketing of their own books themselves. They play their part but there's only so much they can do and so far they can go. No publisher can survive by selling their books only in the immediate vicinity of the author. It wouldn't even make up the costs of printing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Books are made by marketers

So, as promised, a post about marketing. By the way, thanks to the people who have commented on recent posts, it's good to know the voices in my head aren't all imaginary. I've been thinking about the environment since the talk and I think I might do some more posts on that. It really bothers me that the world has to suffer so I can have my beloved books. I'm going to do some research first though. So, if you're interested in the subject, stick around.


Now, back to the topic at hand. Marketing.

At first I thought the practical side of selling books would be incredibly boring. I like the idea of brainstorming to come up with creative ideas to make people see why they should buy my product but the actual number juggling? Ew.

Learning about PEST and SWOT analyses has not helped to tell the truth (nor reading through a MINTEL report on publishing - dry and painful). But overall, it's not so bad. I find I can enjoy it on a different level (do not quote Joey Tribiani at me!). For the record, PEST stands for "political, environmental, social, technological" and SWOT is ... I forgot. I'll get back to you on that one. Basically, you find factors that affect your company and the product you're trying to sell, both external and internal.

Oh! SWOT is "strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats". Go me!

Anyway, all of this is important because marketing basically is publishing nowadays. Supposedly, this doesn't mean it is the end of creativity and literary quality in favor of cash. Books compete with a lot of other more or less necessary (or made to seem so) products and unless publishing is really effective in its marketing, books will quickly be left behind. You don't need books to survive, even if us bookworms think so.

Marketing is customer driven. You concentrate on them and their needs and try to find what aspect of your product is going to convince them to shell out their money for it. Therefore, it can sometimes seem that marketing is all about pushing people to buy things unwillingly. This is not so. You can't sell someone something they really do not want. I'll quote Alison Baverstock's book "How to Market Books":

"Marketing is about offering:
- the right people
- the right product by saying
- the right things in
- the right way
- at the right time and
- in the right place."

Most of those are fairly self-explanatory. What is meant by "the right things" is that you don't list every single benefit to owning your product. Instead, you pick the few most relevant. Does it come with extra items (CD/CD-Rom etc)? Will it make you smarter/prettier/more popular? etc. And this has to be said "the right way". This means you have to figure out what will convey your message more clearly. Is it in a poster? With what type of font? Writing or images only?

All of this takes a ridiculous amount of research. First, on your product. What is it? What does it do? etc. Then, on the market. Who's your target audience? What do they need? How much money do they have? You have to know the market really well and this means doing the legwork. Go to bookstores and see what people are buying. Do online surveys or paper surveys to ask people's opinions. Get a focus group going (although this costs money and we don't like that in the industry ;) ) and surf the websites of your competition to see what they are doing and how to beat them.

I have some homework to do now. I'll post more on the subject if anyone is interested :)

The Three Marketeers

I like the word "marketeer", sounds exciting. Makes marketing sounds like it might be an adventure. I guess it is for the people who've chosen to make it their career. It seems interesting, don't get me wrong, but sooooo hard! How do they juggle so many things at once?

I'm about to find out, I suppose as I just got offered a work experience placement at a local small publisher which is going to be mostly marketing with some editorial. It'll be the first time in years that I do 9-5 and the first time at all that said hours are not school related. Oh yeah, I went to the interview yesterday, I was so nervous and unprepared but my secret superpower is looking more confident the less confident I feel. It's actually very useful as far as lame superpowers go.

Hopefully, I will be able to do the job. I didn't understand exactly what they were talking about when they were explaining the job. I guess I'll find out next monday (ugh, will have to wake up extra early to catch the bus).

Work experience is a great thing. Especially when you have never had any kind of job before, like me. The professors say that even without any, just going through the Brookes M.A. in Publishing will get us a job. "You will all get a job," she said. It's very encouraging and the stats say 96% of us get a job. I don't know what's up with the last 4%, did they die or something? With the epidemic of fresher's flu that's going on, I wouldn't be that surprised.

I have to go to have breakfast - er, change first, my jammies do not entirely cover all of that should be - and then class but I'll write more about marketing this afternoon unless the birthday/block party starts earlier than I expect. Yeah, studying publishing is so hard. There's all these parties to attend...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dirty little marks, Publishing and the Environment

Last Tursday, I attended a talk on "Greening your Publishing". The presentation was supposed to be about how you can make publishing more eco-friendly. Let's face it, it's one of the worst industries that way. I'm all for being greener even if I'm often too lazy to separate my trash. I do buy organic as much as possible and avoid wasting energy and water. It's a first step. I'll get better.

Anyway, I and most of the classmates that showed up were pretty dissapointed. The presentations didn't really propose anything new and there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm from the already employed audience and presenters. I understand that publishing is a business and that books are absolutely necessary or I wouldn't be studying this but trying to be eco-friendly is good. Token gestures to be politically-correct or for good PR is pointless. Basically what they were saying is "try to buy recycled paper or from legal wood farms but if it's too expensive, whatever, the buyers aren't going to care anyway".

We did learn a few interesting things though.

We had no idea just how much paper was involved in the publishing business. Obviously we knew it was a lot, duh, but what goes in books is only part of it. Aside from the obvious waste of paper in offices (unnecessary photocopies, printing etc), the practice is to print about twice as long a run as is likely to sell which means that half of the books printed end up being pulped. The problem is, once pulped, that paper can't be recycled into book grade paper again.

What do they do with those books? Sell them for cheap to tissue/toilet paper companies. In the words of one of our presenters, "I happen to know for a fact that we are XXXX loo paper." So now you know, you're wiping your bottom with someone's deathless prose.

There are some publishers making more of an effort than others, Earthscan is the leading publisher on all things environmental and apparently they're doing their best to be carbon neutral, whatever that really means for the environment.

POD might help though. There really is no need for gigantic print runs when you can do several small runs fast and affordably. We touched a little on ink but not much. One of the things they didn't discuss until someone asked was about water. Lots of talk of paper but no water. This brought out the fact that the paper industry is TERRIBLE for water. They are finding ways now to use the toxic remains of making paper but from what was not said, I assume it's not going great. Plus, there's the social aspect. A lot of paper is bought from poor Asian countries where people are displaced so they can grow more trees, everywhere ancient forests are cut down, companies illegally cut down trees they are not supposed to touch etc.

There are organisations that research companies and vouch for their practices but the problem is that the paper is expensive. Also, the term "recycled" paper is used for virgin paper that's gone through the process again and some companies "recycle" their own paper just to put the label on it and get an automatic pass.

We also learned that the price of paper is going up all the time. The world basically runs on it, think about it. Paper is everywhere and in everything. It takes a long time for a tree to grow and there are almost not enough of them to keep up. Publishing relies on paper so the more expensive it becomes, the less careful we're going to be about where we're getting it. Depressing.

Books are a necessity but so is nature. I promise I'll be as eco-conscious a publisher as I can. Publishing isn't the whole guilty party though, paper is much more important to us than to many other industries. If they would please lower their consumption of it, maybe there'll be more of it (and the good kind) for the rest of us?