How to Grade an Author's Marketing Ability
Every publisher has endured the horror of paying an author a big advance – only to watch that author do little marketing and sabotage their book launch. It’s a costly mistake that can quickly erode revenue and profits if the problem happens too often.
Recently, I worked with a first-time author who received a six-figure advance from his publisher. But, halfway through writing the book, the author decided he no longer felt interested in the process, turned in a bland manuscript, changed jobs, ignored the book’s release, and cost the publisher thousands of dollars.
I share this story because I see too many publishers incorrectly assess an author’s platform and actual marketing aptitude. The mistake typically revolves around placing incorrect emphasis on the author’s social media statistics or past performance. However, as people on Wall Street are keen to say, “Past performance is not indicative of future results.”
Examining an author’s social media popularity is like assigning grades to students based on their accent or physical attractiveness. It’s subjective and largely unrelated to the actual skillset needed to succeed. There is little correlation between the amount of Facebook followers an author displays and the amount of actual book sales they can generate. Here are three reasons why:
1. An author could have thousands of followers, but few of whom will purchase a book because their connection to the author is shallow and they only want free content.
2. Social media followers can be easily bought and faked. Some authors will plant their Facebook and Twitter accounts with thousands of “followers” purchased on eBay and other sites. Try using free online tools, such as Fake Follower Check, which help reveal the amount of fake and inactive Twitter followers in someone’s account.
3. Even though social media gets more headlines, recent studies by Custora and McKinsey Consulting revealed that email is 12 - 40 times more effective than all social media combined at acquiring new customers.
Despite these reasons, I still hear publishers place too much importance on shaky metrics, such as an author’s social media following, personality traits, or their “personal network.”
Convincing someone to buy a book will always be a subjective process. Yet, publishers have access to objective marketing data about what works and what doesn’t. Informed publishers should focus greater attention on numbers that reveal more confidence about an author’s actual marketing ability. I recommend these four metrics:
1. Email list size and performance
The size of an author’s email list is a better number to objectively grade an author’s marketing skills. It’s one thing to get someone to “like” something on Facebook; it’s a bigger challenge to get people to voluntarily register for an email list and consistently open the emails they receive. And, as I just mentioned above, email has been shown to be 12 - 40 times more effective than social media at acquiring customers.
2. Monthly website visitors
Social media numbers can be faked, but an author’s website traffic is difficult to falsify. Google Analytics is free and easy for authors and publishers to run reports and gather this data. At the very least, publishers should request information from authors on the amount of monthly unique sessions, total users, and page views to their site. In addition, they should ask for reports that show traffic dating back 18 months. Don’t just look at the present numbers; look at how the author is trending.
3. Speaking schedule and webinar participants
Authors who get face-to-face with their readers tend to be better marketers than those who hide behind their computers. Publishers should ask authors to provide a history and upcoming itinerary of speaking engagements and book signing events. Online webinars and livestream webcasts can also provide indications of an author’s presentation prowess and audience size. It’s a good idea to ask for figures of yearly webinar frequency and average number of participants.
4. Previous book sales history
Some authors know how to generate a lot of activity, but it doesn’t translate into a lot of book sales. Most publishers wisely check an author’s past sales history using BookScan (authors can check their own BookScan numbers using Amazon’s Author Central account). An author’s sales history can be the most objective number available and should be given important weight.
When acquisition editors assess an author’s ability to market a book, let’s not forget what’s at stake. They are offering someone a legal contract and taking a big financial risk. Appropriate due diligence might take a bit longer, but it helps bring more clarity and confidence to the decision.
Instead of assigning subjective grades to authors based on their dubious social media popularity, publishers can make better decisions by reviewing the four types of objective data described above. This information provides a better picture of an author’s marketing skills and gives a clearer sense of an author’s true capabilities.
Armed with better data, publishers can peer into the future with more certainty and envision an author’s performance when the book launch day arrives. That’s a day you want every author to get a passing grade.