One Electronic Thingie an Indie Author Can’t Do Without….

It’s been another strange week, in a strange year.  The wholesale adoption of the previously (all through the “dark ages”) shunned Print On Demand production model by the mainstream publishing industry continues unchecked.  The last reported Big Publisher to succumb is Hatchette as reported in Publisher’s Weekly.  Soon, I’m sure at least publishers and agents will have to admit that POD alone is not sufficient grounds to disregard a writer’s work!  But then, I’m not here to rant on…

As technology, especially communications technology continues to spin out new and improved ways to spread the word, Indie Authors may face a dilemma.  What gear do I really need to promote and sell my work? 

Now I’ve been called a gear-head by my wife – repeatedly – and something of a luddite by younger friends.  If a Blackberry or I-Phone is on your horizon, don’t let me stop you.  There are plenty of blogs and articles out there explaining how to use these devices along with web-based social networking sites and Twitter.  I don’t tweet.  At least not yet, and not in mixed company.

Today, I want to discuss adding traditional, consumer-targeted promotion tools to your arsenal.  We’ll assume relative computer literacy – you’re reading this online, after all.  You have a computer, can operate some photo editing/design software and probably a laser printer to handle the manuscript printing and submission letters, but do you have a photo printer?

Now I don’t mean one of those tiny, snapshot machines, although they do have some promotional applications.  I’m speaking of an inkjet or dye sublimation printer sufficiently large to handle at least letter sized stock.  The current crop of offerings by most manufacturers produce beautiful results – good looking photo prints, but they can also be used to produce excellent point-of-sale tools and mailers.  Important, for most of us, they are not terribly expensive. Be sure to choose one for which you can get supplies (ink, paper) locally. My favorite online gear seller is Tiger Direct, but there are many out there who discount quality hardware.

I use a Canon PIXMA ip6600D a few years old, which prints up to letter size, full bleed (no white borders) images on up to 10 point (fairly stiff) coated card stock.  It has helped me secure bookstore accounts for my first novel.  Along with a sample copy of the book and a nice, to the point cover letter offering direct sales with a good margin based upon the cover price, I enclose a counter postcard. This is made from the book cover graphic, and includes a very truncated pitch. At the bottom is a space that says simply, “Bookseller’s Imprint Here”.  I offer these, customized with the seller’s logo and contact info, free to the bookseller, the same as a book distributer would offer.  The last part of the package is a letter-sized full color poster of the book cover & blurb for the bookseller to use wherever it fits.  Letter size is actually better than larger for most booksellers as space for display is often at a serious premium. 

By using my photo printer to produce collateral promotional materials, customized for the bookseller, I improve my chances in two ways.  First, it makes my sales pitch more professional and businesslike. It shows that I’m serious about helping the bookseller make money with my work – not a small idea. Most independent booksellers are “Mom & Pop” operations that need any help they can get in stretching their profits.  If your promotional items are used, it will give your book better recognition with readers, and not just while they’re in the book store. 

As readers enter the visual clutter of a bookstore, they’ll be bombarded by images – hundreds of them, from posters to book jackets.  Despite the apparent confusion, marketing tests have shown that our human brains may not recall exact words, but a good image will be retained.  A color image, is retained much better than a black and white or grey-scale image.  An image displaying excellent composition and a clear subject focus are the very best. Like an excellent jacket cover design.  Retained images (of your excellent jacket cover) will come in handy when the shopper passes the table or shelf where your book is displayed, and ..something…calls out to them to pick it up.  That’s where recognition comes in very handy.  Of course, once they’ve picked up the book, your writing skills are put to their biggest test: presenting the pitch a reader can’t say no to.

If they drop your gorgeous, full color postcard into a pocketbook or briefcase, it will surely surface again, often where others can be exposed to its wonderfully insidious pitch and presentation.  Think: Ralphie with the ad for the Red Ryder BB Gun stuck in Mommy’s magazine, heh! heh!. Hopefully, as long as it gets passed around (intentionally or not) it can pitch your book and establish recognition.  This continues until it finally enters the trash bin.  We can discuss the green implications at a later time, if you think it’s important.  For my money, it sure beats a bumper sticker on a Hummer. 

We operate a small – tiny, really – online and mail-order company.  That’s where I got the idea, initially for the cards.  Using 4×6 photo glossy sheets, I began printing postcards years ago, with our store images and information to pack inside of each sale shipment.  Now when one of our customers opens their shipping box, they not only get a nice full-color store promotional card, but another card which offers “A Fine Addition to Your Fall Reading List”. As the seasons change, it will be easily revised to read: Winter, etc. 

My first book sales, outside of immediate friends and family came directly from these cards.  You may have your own business, or not, but you may be able to approach your employer about including a book postcard in shipments or correspondence.  It may not be possible, but it may, and it’s worth the risk to inquire.

There is another use for the photo printer that I’ve found very important.  Business cards.  You can purchase letter-sized sheets of glossy or matte card-stock that are pre-perforated, actually scored.  Each sheet can produce 20 beautiful business cards that you break apart with no ragged edges at all.  They look just like the ones I used to have printed by a color gang press in Texas. The really neat thing is, if I need a card with my personal contact information on it, as opposed to our business info, I can print whatever I need. They even make up fold-over cards that can make nice gift attachment notes, etc.  Small, full-color cards also make excellent postings for community bulletin boards, often found in bookstores and libraries.  I’m not too proud to hang my shingle and promote my book wherever I can. 

Now, you might be thinking that this doesn’t sound like what a successful author should have to do, but Indie Authors must wear at least two hats: writer as well as book promoter and publicist.  Also, try to get used to the idea of being a manufacturer of a product.  Once the writing is over, your job is to sell product.  It will put you in a very exclusive club with members such as Samuel Clements who, writing a short novelette under the name Mark Twain – his first commercial fiction work – resorted to distributing handbills himself to sell copies of The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

He lost his shirt in the effort, but he didn’t have a color photo printer, did he?

Next Time: My Tips for Designing & Proofing a Cover with Impact! Nuts & Bolts 101

The Indie Curmudgeon is Richard Sutton, Indie Novelist, graphic designer, marketing consultant, guitar picker, Indian Trader and online retail merchant since 1995.