Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
The publishing business is one of the few industries with the audacity to create a lot of new products without testing them on consumers first. Imagine running a restaurant and never taste-testing new recipes before serving them to customers. Or imagine automobile companies trying to sell cars without test-driving the vehicle first. What if Hollywood never pre-screened their movies before opening night? You get my point. Failing to test new products on consumers before launching them is a risky business move.
Yet authors and publishers continually pump out thousands of books each year and rarely test their content on readers before publication. Are they successful? The answer depends on your definition of success. Sure, publishers are selling millions of books. But they’re also potentially leaving millions of dollars on the table by not pre-testing their books on consumers. How can you consider yourself successful when you never give your products a chance to reach their full potential? Would you be happy selling 20,000 copies of a book knowing that you could have sold 100,000 copies with a little “taste-testing” beforehand?
It’s not difficult for authors and publishers to test their manuscripts on potential readers before launching a new book. Yet most never solicit legitimate feedback from target readers. Why? For the most part, the industry is too under-staffed to handle its workload. The current mentality is quantity over quality. Others believe that their editors or the marketing personnel serve as adequate test readers. That’s wishful thinking, though, because those folks are too busy or too deep in the industry to represent most mainstream readers.
This business approach makes no sense in the face of shrinking margins, falling prices and withering shelf space among consolidating book retailers. Why leave so much money on the table when you can keep it by testing a book before it launches? Why wait until after you publish a book to learn that a few simple changes could have captured more readers and dramatically increased sales? Obviously, you can send out free copies to reviewers and influencers. By then, though, it’s too late to make the significant manuscript changes that might be necessary.
With today’s technology, however, it’s never been easier to solicit reader feedback earlier in the development process, incorporate it into a manuscript and strengthen a book’s true sales potential. We live in a digital era where authors and publishers can allow test readers to review, comment on and help improve manuscripts with incredible speed. Even better, you can get this feedback without incurring additional costs.
It’s common practice for authors and publishers to give away hundreds of finished galleys and pre-release copies to book reviewers for marketing purposes. That’s a smart promotional strategy, but an even smarter one would be to apply the same idea earlier in the writing process. Assemble a group of test readers who represent a book’s target audience and give them access to critique unfinished manuscripts. The goal is to learn what resonates with readers and use their feedback to improve your marketing messages.
You don’t have to try to guess what readers will like. Instead, test books on them, and let them convey what works and what areas need improvement. Gathering this kind of specific information will help improve sales, as it’s easier to incite word of mouth when you use the consumers’ own language to communicate a book’s value.
If you don’t believe me, consider this case study: I recently consulted with an author who had previously published 13 books. On average, his titles sold around 50,000 copies each. However, as he wrote his 14th book, I critiqued his work and helped him form a focus group of 20 to 30 readers who served as test subjects for his content. As the author received their feedback, he made revisions to strengthen his manuscript. In addition, the test readers provided success stories and marketing examples that explained how the book helped improve their lives. Utilizing this feedback didn’t cost the author or publisher any extra money or time.
When this author’s new book released, it sold more than 225,000 copies in the first year and hit the New York Times bestseller list for more than 25 weeks. In addition, the publisher grossed an additional $1,000,000 in unexpected sales over the author’s previous sale figures.
Several factors influenced this book’s success. But chief among them, in my view, was how the author intentionally sought reader feedback before the book was completed. If he and his publisher had avoided this step, they would have lost a lot of sales and left a ton of money on the table.
Restaurants, automakers, computer manufacturers, movie studios and almost every other industry solicits consumer feedback before launching new products. It’s just smart business and common sense. The digital age of reading now enables publishers to take advantage of the same approach better than ever. So taste-test your books on readers just like great chefs taste-test their new menus. Why leave money on the table? These days, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
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