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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Authors are product managers-- it's totally okay to act like it

We authors are writers first and product managers second. And it's a close second.

Saundra Mitchell has an excellent blog post on just how flibbertigibbet the publishing industry has gone over Amazon providing, in an easy little web tool, Nielsen Bookscan numbers. It's a limited exposure, of course-- authors can track their sales for the past four weeks, and get a handy graph of their amazon ranking for a much longer period. That's Bookscan sales-- meaning sales reported at brick-and-mortar stores with a few exceptions, sometimes big exceptions, such as e-books and direct sales to libraries, which can matter to those whose books are often found in schools.

This is all big news because it's traditionally fairly difficult for authors to get sales data. I don't actually think the data is shielded from authors for any dark purpose or to put the author in a lower position. I think the data has been hard to share because sharing sales data in the old days wasn't part of the system.

But the publishing industry in the past decade or so has changed drastically, and today authors are expected to do more than "just write." Today they are also expected to help market. We're expected not to compete with our publisher's marketing team but augment it. It's tough, and professional things generally are tough-- you the author have only yourself to promote, while your marketing department has a whole product line.

But one thing everyone can benefit from is data. If I have data, daily data, I can see what makes a difference. For instance the data I got from Amazon this morning tells me that my best sales in the past month have been in San Antonio-- which is also where I just did a lot of school visits. This kind of data helps us sell products and meet goals because it helps us try marketing techniques and discard or ramp up as needed.

But if the data isn't accurate, then let this just be the beginning. I think that authors and publishers should have regular sales meetings to review the numbers, and the author should have to come to the meeting with his own action plans for what he's going to do for his books. It's not about harassing the publisher.

The author is a product manager. He manages the lifecycle of his books, he judges new opportunities, he develops a strategy, and he begrudges every minute, every hour and every second that isn't contributing to the business.

I am thrilled at these new developments. Let the market come in.

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