Saturday, September 24, 2005

Libraries #2

So here's the deal.

The multi-talented and multi-award winning Julia Spencer-Fleming and I will be sending out promo packages to more than 6300 libraries in 28 states.

For those who haven't read Julia yet, she writes the highly entertaining mystery thriller series featuring the unlikely team of Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne and Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson. The action takes place in the Adirondack town of Millers Kill, NY.

Four books so far, beginning with the wonderful IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER. Her latest, TO DARKNESS AND TO DEATH, is her best yet, and all the action takes place in a single day--a nifty high-concept idea that I'm going to use for FUZZY NAVEL, Jack Daniels #5 (after DIRTY MARTINI, which I'm working on right now).

Buy Julia's books. You'll like them. And check out her website, She's one of a handful of authors who is as insane about self-promotion as I am.

Included in out library package will be:
  1. A two page interview with me and Julia
  2. A double-sided brochure for the Miller's Kill series
  3. A double-side brochure for the Jack Daniels series
  4. A postcard/coaster from each of us, autographed

Now let's crunch numbers and see how this works.

Printing costs will be about $300 each. Shipping will be about $2300, and envelopes about $200. I'm sprining for shipping and envelopes, because Julia is the one who painstakingly gathered all of the library addresses.

So I'll be into this for about $2800.

I make 55 cents on a paperback sale, $3.00 on a hardcover sale, and about $6.00 on an audiobook sale.

Through my efforts, I'll need to sell 5090 paperbacks, or 933 hardcovers, or 466 audiobooks to break even. Or some combination thereof.

That seems very doable. If only one out of six libraries buys an audiobook, I've made back my investment.

I'm hoping that the personal touch---which includes a signed coaster and information on how to enter a library contest---will prompt those librarians who have never ordered my books to give them a try, and those librarians who have ordered my books before to buy the newest book in larger numbers, or more copies of my backlist.

Though I only have two books out (with the third coming in May) I have an astonishing 16 products available to purchase. They include:

Whiskey Sour:
Unabridged cassette 978-1-59355-487-7
Unabridged CDs 978-1-59355-489-3
Unabridged MP3-CD 978-1-59335-479-7
Unabridged Download 978-1-59335-976-2 Through OverDrive
Hardcover 1-4013-0087-1
Paperback 0-7868-9072-X

Bloody Mary:
Unabridged cassette 978-1-59355-491-0
Unabridged CDs 978-1-59355-493-4
Unabridged MP3-CD 978-1-59335-866-2
Unabridged Download 978-1-59335-088-5 Through OverDrive
Hardcover 1-4013-0089-8
Paperback 0-7868-9074-6

Rusty Nail:
Unabridged CDs 978-1-59355-497-2
Unabridged MP3-CD 978-1-59335-867-9
Unabridged Download 978-1-59335-658-0 Through OverDrive
Hardcover 1-4013-0088-X

So I should be able to at least break even, don't you think? I don't believe many libraries hear from authors directly, and I'm hoping this will spur them on to give me and Julia a shot.

Your thoughts?

I haven't included the Adobe and Microsoft Reader text download editions in the brochure, because I'm not sure libraries use these. Can some librarian reading this let me know?

Even if I don't see any immediate results of this campaign, it can't hurt getting my name and book titles in front of librarians. They may not order immediately, but when the next Ingram r Bake & Taylor catalog comes around, maybe the they'll be more apt to buy me.

Plus, I'll write the expense off.

When I get the complete package together, I'll make it available on my website for download, so people can take a look.

On an unrelated note, I'm somewhat sad to see yet another audio format rendered obsolete during my lifetime.

First 8-tracks. Then vinyl. Now, finally, cassettes are going the way of the dinosaur. According to Brilliance, my audio publisher, stores are no longer going to stock books on tape---only on CD and MP3. So Rusty Nail will be without a cassette release.

On another unrelated note, my books are now in 6 foreign countries: Japan, France, Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Thailand. The markets I really want to crack--England, Germany, and Australia--remain elusive.


Anonymous said...

Have you talked to any libraries about the idea--and I don't mean the librarians. I do not wish to throw cold water on it--I'm a big believer in libraries getting the word out, or in this case, the book out. However, in the library where I work, it is not a librarian that handles the mail--ever. We get a lot of freebie magazines, lots of flyers and other stuff. MOST of it gets thrown away without a glance. Free magazines, unless they include a yearly subscription, get thrown away without being looked at. IF there is a free yearly subscription flyer with the magazine in a visible place, that magazine will get sent on to a librarian or other resource to determine if we want to carry the magazine. Most promo material--and granted I haven't seen any from authors--gets thrown away with no more than a cursory glance to make sure it isn't material we ordered or is part of our usual deliveries.

mapletree7 said...

My thoughts are that if you got one out of 6 recipients to respond to any mass mailing that will be a world record.

In my experience the best you can hope for is MAYBE 1 in 20. And a 'good' response would be 1 in 100.

If you really want to maximize your return from this mailing, the way to do it is to CALL each library, get the book buyer on the phone, pitch the book, let them know the packet is coming, and then follow up with another call to make sure they received it.

Hey, you can get unlimited long-distance for about $40 a month these days....

JA Konrath said...

Good suggestions.

The mailings will be addressed to the Aquisitions Librarian in a regular white envelope. They'll look like letters.

I get postcards and mailers all the time, and throw them away. But every once and a while, a clever marketer will disguise their ad to look like a regular letter, and I always open it. This is what I'm hoping for at the libraries.

As for 1 out of 6, or 1 out of 20, keep in mind that this is niche marketing in its purest form.

Libraries are looking to buy books. Libraries love to hear from real authors. The signed postcards/coasters will show that this isn't a mass mailing---it's direct mailing from some minor celebrities.

Julia has been mailing postcards to her library list for a few years, and her library numbers are very good compared to other authors.

I'm hoping this campaign has a greater impact because it's personalized, fun, direct, and doesn't look like advertising.

(Incidentally, the plain white envelope approach is how I got an agent---people open correspondence)

Calling 6000 libraries? Figure ten minutes per, so 60,000 minutes, or 1000 hours. That's 25 weeks of eight hour days. Not possible.

And the 1 out of 6 applies only if each library buys one audiobook. If 1 out of 20 libraries buys 3 or more books, I'm still doing well.

I expect some who haven't heard of me to buy a few copies. I expect others who already have the hardcovers to pick up a few audiobooks, or some extra paperbacks.

Compared to advertising in magazines or newspapers, $2800 is cheap. And I think this will be more effective than an ad.

Will some get thrown away? Of course.

But will some libraries get excited receiving personal correspondence from two rising authors?

That's what we're banking on.

Anonymous said...

Very savvy move, teaming up with Julia. Not only is she one of the best authors in the genre to emerge in the past few years, she's also one of the most well-liked and respected people.

It sounds like an interesting idea, with a fairly modest investment of money (and not a lot of time, either). It's got to be more successful than many of the other strategies I've seen.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Did you research the process publishers use to sell their books to libraries and by which libraries decide which books to purchase?

Doesn't your publisher's sales department have a standard outreach program through which they have already sold or tried to sell your books to libraries? If so, aren't you knocking on a closed door?

JA Konrath said...

Publishers have sales staff that specifically target the library market.

They focus on working with Ingram and Baker & Taylor (the distributors where libraries buy many of their books), advertising in their catalogs, and giving away Advance Reading Copies to selected libraries.

Plus my publisher makes sure I have reviews in the periodicals libraries read---PW, Kirkus, LJ, and Booklist.

Which is a big deal, and I don't discount those efforts.

But if you received a catalog in the mail with 100 books in it, would you buy every single book?

If you read a review in a magazine with 3000 other reivews, would you seek out the book?

No, you'd still be choosy. And the one paragraph of catalog copy, or a few sentences of glowing review, won't stick out as much as the mail package I'm proposing.

Jim said...

Joe, I have a variation on the theme. Get your hands on some mass market copies of Whiskey Sour. Send those with a brochure announcing that Whiskey Sour and Bloody Mary are available in hardcover and CD. Target the top 200-500 or so biggest libraries. Librarians like books better than letters and are less likely to chuck it. Tell them to give it to anyone they want. You'll probably want to mark ARC on the cover so they don't get return to B&N for credit. Anyway, all this kind of stuff helps. My experience with direct letter marketing (at least in the law field) is that there is a very low hit rate, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1%.

Anonymous said...

How do you know what libraries do and don't carry your stuff?

Is this something your publisher provides or did you research it or ??

Steven said...

At $2800, it might be a longshot breaking even any time soon, but it could, for some libraries, be one of those mentions that accumulate and add up to a sale -- once, they've seen your name in a few places and figure you're important enough for them to sned part of their very limited budget on.

I worked in five different libraries in NYC -- I think the librarians I worked with would want to know how your book fit in with their LOCAL scene. THat is, unless they thought you had global appeal.

Good luck though, sounds like a worthwhile project especially if you know you're not getting into the libraries at a good rate already.

Peter L. Winkler said...

I hate to piss on your parade, but your plan seems overly optimistic and weakly researched.

Did you speak with a few acquisition librarians to see whether they would bother to even glance at a direct mailing, and what their reaction would be? I'd bet you are hardly the first author to think of this. By now, acq. librarians may have seen hundreds of direct solicitations, especially from self-published authors. They've probably developed a very dismissive policy towards campaigns like yours.

May you prove me wrong...

Anonymous said...

PK the Bookeemonster:
You're on the right track but reconsider the phone calls and other methods. Just finished my Masters in Biz (with ebiz emphasis), where it was stressed that it takes three to eight contacts with your target before it makes an impact. Phone call, mailing, second phone call, email flyer (no postage so good thing), etc. Don't waste a first contact by not following up to cement it in their brains.

Anonymous said...

One source to find what libraries carry one's book is worldcatlibraries. Just punch in worldcat and the name of a book in a search engine and it should direct you to to the worldcatlibraries page. It's not comprehensive; many libraries are not members of this cooperative, but it will give you some sense of what libraries are acquiring your book.

Jeff Savage said...

Actually, some of the stats being thrown around are not applicable to this situation. The average response to a mass mail campaign is about 2%.

However, this is not a typical mass mailing campaign. When you do a mass mailing, no matter how targeted your list, you are going to get a majority of people who are not potential customers for any number of reasons.

In this case, every person who opens an envelope is a potential customer. Maybe not THE potential customer, meaning the acquisitions librarian, but someone in the library.

In addition, the top 100 libraries could be your worst prospects. They probably do have a screener that opens letters and throws them away. It's the little library in Spanish Fork, Utah, that's going to say, "Wow, look what we got in the mail." And there are a lot of those libraries out there.

Finally, you are packing a lot of bang for your bucks. No way could you send out a book, but a simple postcard really doesn't cut it either. I'm sure you'll let us know how it goes.

Stacey Cochran said...


Have you ever thought of doing a massive campaign like this with NPR Member radio stations?

It seems like one of the things challenging you, at this point in your career, is that mainstream Americans haven't heard of you.

While establishing a base of library and bookstore support should come first, marketing yourself to media outlets who have the capacity to reach tens of thousands of people in a single interview might be wise, too.

I'm sure you've thought about it.

There are roughly 900 NPR Member Radio Stations around the country. Also, there are roughly 3,500 US Daily and Weekly Newspapers. For every city where you do a bookstore signing, you should be contacting News Editors at newspapers and Program Directors at radio stations.

Check out for an incredible portal to most US newspapers small and large.