As the Christmas Season approaches, I’m reminded of how many times new writers underestimate the power of Santa.
I first noticed it in 1987. I was working as an editor at Brigham Young University, helping professors get published. One woman came to me with a book about her dog, a poodle that had recently died of cancer. I edited her memoir as best I could, trying to bring the story of her dog to life. When I finished, she asked, “Do you think I can sell it to a publisher?”
I had recently been to a writing conference where a panel of editors had talked about “dog books.” They’d pointed out that “People don’t read books about dogs, but for some reason, writers like cats, and so cat stories sell fine.” I remember thinking that this sounded wrong-headed. As a teen, I’d loved the stories of Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, and so on. In fact, dog movies are doing great even today. So we talked about the possibilities.
She decided not to even bother going to publishers. She took her book to a small regional printer with the plan of printing up some copies for her family members, when something odd happened. The printer asked, “Can we put this out as a Christmas book?”
She gave them permission, and a couple of months later, the first week of January, she called me to her office where she waved a large check under my nose–$70,000, which would be like closer to $200,000 in today’s market.
Her printer had taken a picture of a white puppy and put it on a green background, with a big red Christmas bow around its neck, and anyone who had ever owned a poodle bought the book either for themselves or as a gift. I was delighted for her.
A few years later, when I was writing little Star Wars novels for Scholastic, I was asked to help pick a book to push big for the coming year. I looked through a box of about 40 books and selected one I hadn’t heard of—Harry Potter.
Now, at that time, there had never been a Middle Grade novel that had become a New York Times #1 bestseller, so I prepared an argument that explained why I thought that we could turn it into one. The president of the company liked my ideas, but then she threw me for a loop. She asked, “How do we market it?”
Well, I pointed out that a middle-grade reader would have to rely upon parents or grandparents to buy the book, and the best time to sell to them would be at the Christmas season. So, “We’d have to see if we can push it big during the Christmas season. That means buying advertising space in the front window, back walls, and placing floor displays in the major chains. If you want to do it right, you’d have to buy advertising for the months of November and December.”
Getting that kind of advertising space is an expensive proposition. It’s doubly hard because all of the major publishers are vying for it. The president of the company said, “We’re a small publisher, and we’ve never been able to get that kind of advertising space before. How would you propose we do it?”
I suggested “Take all of your sales reps and bus them to the headquarters of the major chains (Barnes and Noble and Borders) to give a presentation on your plan.”
She said, “That’s crazy! They wouldn’t even fit in the office.”
“That’s the point,” I said. “It is crazy. Let them know that you’re crazy about this book!”
So Scholastic did, and three years later I began reading articles saying that the author of Harry Potter was richer than the Queen of England. But guess what? The publisher typically makes more money than the author, so Scholastic did fine.
But one of my favorite Christmas sale stories had nothing to do with me. It had to do with a young romance author, Amanda Hocking, just a few years ago. The new Kindle e-readers were just coming out, and sales on Amazon looked promising. Amanda was writing romance and doing well.
I read a newspaper article shortly after she’d released her second book, telling how her first book had sold some 10,000 copies and a new book was just coming out. Now, I thought, “It’s not likely that a journalist wrote this article. This is probably one created by the author and sent out through a Press Release service as a covert advertisement.” You need to understand that as an author you can create “newsy” articles like this about your book and put out press releases, but it will cost you about $3500 to buy a package that lets you put out half a dozen of them. Then you have to hope that newspapers will pick up the articles and print them.
A few weeks later, I saw a follow-up article that said she had sold 25,000 books and was doing gangbusters. I thought, “Yeah, this looks like a nice strategy. She’s using the ‘rags-to-riches’ story in order to garner interest in her book.”
Four weeks later I saw a third article, and in about late October I saw a sixth. In each article her sales were climbing, and I thought, “Is she making a Christmas run? Is she that smart, so that she planned these press releases nearly a year in advance?”
Sure enough, on Christmas Day, Amanda was #1 on the Amazon Bestseller list. So when people opened their Christmas presents that morning and found e-readers, guess whose book was at the top of the list on Amazon? According to one report that I read, Amanda made over a million sales in a single day—which translated into over $2,000,000—on a day when every bookstore in America was closed!
I can tell more stories about seasonal sales—Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween. But if you’re an Indie author, it’s not too late. You can set up your own holiday sales or design a special cover for your books. Just remember, “It ain’t over until the Fat Man sings!”
Speaking of sales, I have three of them:
David Farland’s Writers Bundle—This Holiday Season, if there is a writer in your life that you want to buy for, pick up the Writer’s Bundle for an insanely low price. Some people have suggested that my price is too low, but if I just sell a million of them, like Amanda Hocking did, I can retire to Tasmania.
Writer’s Peak—Do you need to get your mental gears greased up so that you can write faster or better? Or simply to help you get started writing a big new project? This is the workshop for you, and we’ll be recording it worldwide. If I can sell only 150 million of them, like J.K Rowling did, I can retire to Hawaii.
National Novel Writing Month Book Bundle—In this bundle, you can get fourteen books on writing and set your own price. That’s an unbeatable deal. And if I can sell only a million of these bundles, like … hmmm, I don’t know anyone who has sold a million book bundles. But if I sold that many, I’d pay off my kid’s medical bills.
Hurry, these offers end soon!