[This blog post began life as a thread on Twitter]
Here is a somewhat anecdotal thread about the power of merchandising and bookshop displays when it comes to selling books.
We hear a lot in the book world about the importance of word-of-mouth and recommendation, and I truly believe these are the most powerful factors in the success of a book. But sometimes just sticking a book in front of people is enough.
Take this recent example. Consider it a case study, if you will.
In February, at @EyeAndLightning, we published The Antipodeans by Greg McGee. It had been a huge hit in New Zealand, spending 49 weeks in the bestseller charts there. No mean feat in any country. The picture on the right shows what our edition looks like.
We wanted to create as commercial a package as we could. We wanted it to appeal to booksellers and readers alike. I think the cover, designed by @warrendates, does the job really well, and we were fortunate to get some wonderful quotes.
But the author is not very well known in the UK, and we are a small indie publisher, so we anticipated modest initial support from bookshops.
And that is what we got. A welcome smattering of orders from indies, a small order from Amazon, and nothing much from the high street chains. No complaints from us. Pretty much what we expected. You always hope for more, of course, but it pays to be realistic.
But we did get one very tasty order from Smiths Travel.
Smiths Travel, if you don't know, are the branches of WH Smith that are located in train stations, motorway services and the like, and they buy their books separately from the high street shops.
They ordered a little over 1,000 copies. Ten times what the rest of retail had ordered combined. They liked the book's provenance, thought the cover was bang on the money and felt it would appeal to their customers. We were, naturally, delighted.
So, the stock situation on publication was this:
– None on high street
– Some copies stocked by indies
– Available to buy on Amazon
– 1,000+ across the country in train stations etc.
In the first month of publication we sold over 600 copies. Now, that is not an earth-shattering number. No one will be retiring on the proceeds from that. But most publishers will tell you that to sell 600 copies of a debut novel in one month is pretty bloody good.
‘Most publishers will tell you that to sell 600 copies of a debut novel in one month is pretty bloody good'
During that month the book received no press reviews, it was not featured in any magazines or radio shows, and we cannot pretend that Twitter was alight with loads of people talking about it.
It did get some wonderful support from a small number of bloggers and tweeters, for which we are eternally grateful. This was one such example, from @bookkaz:
But my point is, readers were not being bombarded with recommendations. It was not a book with a big buzz behind it. It was not a book displayed in lots of bookshops. It was, however, a book that was promoted in a bunch of Smiths Travel branches. Where it looked like the picutre on the right.
Now, with all due respect to Smiths Travel, their shops stocking our book are not staffed by booksellers. They don't have people hand-selling, or recommending books to customers. The books are put on shelves and then the merchandising and promo offer does the job.
We have sold over 600 copies of this book in one month, not down to the power of PR, or the power of word-of-mouth, or the power of bookshop recommendations (most bookshops didn't have it), or the power of Amazon (it isn't selling there)...
We have sold them because of the power of merchandising and in-store promotion. If you put a book in front of people, and it looks like their sort of thing, they are highly likely to pick it up. Simple as that.
‘If you put a book in front of people, and it looks like their sort of thing, they are highly likely to pick it up. Simple as that'
The (albeit modest) success of The Antipodeans in its first month has not gone unnoticed. We now have orders coming in from high street chains and more indies. You are far more likely to see it in your local bookshop next week than you were a couple of weeks ago.
And all because one retailer, a retailer that doesn't get mentioned much online and doesn't often get the credit for helping to make books a success, got behind a novel from an little-known author, published by a small press, and stuck it in front of potential readers.
I would like to point out that this thread is not intended to criticise the shops that did not stock it initially – they have loads of books to choose from and we got the orders we expected – more to point out how the merchandising of one set of shops can make a huge difference.
It was a surprise. We did not expect to sell anywhere near as many that quickly. We thought this was going to be a long slow burn. We tend to concentrate these days on other ways to sell books, when just sticking them in front of people is the most simple and direct way to do so.
There you have it. An example of one book where the vast majority of sales are down to just making it visible. If only publishing and selling all books could be that simple.
If you are a bookseller or a blogger and fancy a copy of The Antipodeans to read, just let me know. I can get an ebook version to you pretty much immediately. A print version will take a few days because, you know, the postal system.
Scott Pack is editor-at-large at Eye & Lightning Books