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It’s All Personal

We’ve written our best books. Now, how do we let people know this? How do we get people to buy our books? In my experience, it’s all personal. Let’s look at three writers I have known.

Joseph wrote eight novels. He couldn’t find an agent or a publisher. Confident in his own work, he invested almost a thousand dollars on self publishing, on paid reviews, and for on-line marketing of one of the books. He sold two copies. That didn’t work.

Charlie wrote a children’s book narrated by a Springer Spaniel living on an apple farm. He hired book consultants, a designer and an artist, and produced a full color, hard cover book on heavy paper with a dust jacket. He ordered a long first print run to keep the unit cost down. Charlie put $25,000 into the project before the first copy came from the printer. Charlie recovered his investment within three months, and after that his profits soared. His spin-offs include a comic book and a stuffed dog that looks just like Emmy, the star of the book, and he can’t keep the books and stuffed dogs in stock.

While Joseph’s book was lost in a sea of anonymous new authors, Charlie sold his book because he knows his market, and he has a personal touch to his sales.

Charlie owns the apple farm, and Emmy is a real dog. Charlie is also a retired school librarian with connections to teachers and school librarians throughout the region. He sells apples to the food service programs in the schools. He goes into elementary schools to read (but not sell) his book, trusting that some of the students will talk about his book and his farm when they get home. He reads in bookstores, and he brings Emmy to his readings. I’ve seen grandparents buy multiple copies at these readings. He sells his books, coloring books, and stuffed dogs off the back of his truck at farmers’ markets and at farm events in the fall. His apple farm supports the sale of the book, and the book promotes the farm. Key to Charlie’s success is his personal outreach at schools, at bookstores, at farmers’ markets, and at harvest events at the farm.

Michael writes creative non-fiction from a small Wisconsin town. He self-published collections of short works, and then had a full-length book picked up by one of the major publishing houses. He drove across the country with a trunk full of books to early morning interviews on local radio stations and poorly attended bookstore signings. Michael’s best market is near home, in the Upper Midwest. An independent bookstore advertises his local readings. I’ve been to three readings where there were 100 or more people in attendance. I bought books too, books that I never would have picked up in a bookstore. Michael’s now shares the stage with his own acoustic rock band, and he hosts a seasonal weekly entertainment show that is broadcast live by NPR.

Michael continues to write. He has a website and a long email list of fans. Most of his sales are to people who have heard him read or seen him perform in person. The personal touch sells his books.

I have finished my first novel, but it is not my first effort at writing. I have had short stories and essays appear in small literary journals and magazines. This builds a writer’s credentials, so say the experts, and builds a publisher’s confidence in the writer. A small traditional publisher of fishing-related books (and how I found and wooed the publisher is another story,) took a chance on me and published two collections of my short stories. I have little of my own money in the project, and the royalty structure is very good. Marketing the books, however, falls to me.

Online bookstores have resulted in few sales for me. Discussion boards where I am a known participant have been better. Some of the members of these discussion boards have given me unsolicited and very positive reviews, for which I am grateful. I can now say that I have an appreciative though small readership that stretches, thinly, from Hawaii to Finland.

I have sold dozens of books through local shops. Not bookstores, but shops where the owner is willing to display my books for a share of the revenue. This requires direct selling to the owner. Telephone contact doesn’t work; I have to walk in the front door with the books in my hands.

I asked the editor of a community events newspaper to carry an article about my first book. He said he would print an article if I would write it, and he added pictures. I was later drafted to be a columnist for the paper, which pays a little for each article, and keeps my name in front of local readers.

I was asked to speak at a meeting of a regional environmental group. My presentation was not about my books, but I had a box of them along. I prepared carefully, tried to be entertaining, finished my presentation by reading a story, and sold a few hundred dollars worth of books when the meeting was over. That was a good day for me.

This spring I was invited to read at a reception for the contributors of the literary journal of a local college. I accepted of course; personal appearances can’t be bad.

None of this easy for me. I have to work hard to sell myself and my books. But it is what works best.

I told my publisher that my novel doesn’t fit with the kind of books he handles. He offered his help in finding another publisher for the novel, another example of the power of personal relationships.

When the novel is released, what should I do to find readers? I believe that successful marketing, especially for emerging writers, is all personal.

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14 thoughts on “It’s All Personal

  1. GD Deckard says:

    Excellent blog, Perry! Experience based information on selling books is the best because its factual, credible and something we can all relate to. And as you say, it’s personal. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. mimispeike says:

    This is all good sense. And exhausting to contemplate. An outgoing personality (which I do not have) would seem to be essential.

    I would love to take a look at Emmy and the Apple Farm. Is it for sale on Amazon? A hard copy illustrated children’s book is the route I’d like to take for two of my short stories. An apple farm (pick your own?), for all I know a busy enterprise, gift shop, etc., like at my favorite nearby nursery, the star of the story in residence, for the kids to meet, what a splendid idea. A natural sales point. Sure to get you (at least local) coverage.

    This is a stickier wicket than the sticky wicket I already thought it was. Thanks for posting. Hope to hear more from you.

    Who was the (eventually) super-successful author who early on sold his books out of the back of a pickup? Anybody know?

    This is probably way off, but the name Faulkner comes to mind. I read of this not too long ago, almost certainly in an introduction. I’ll try to track it down.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perry Palin says:

      Mimi,

      My own Meyers-Briggs type is I-I-I-I. My best days are thse I spend alone. I do go out in public sometimes, and that has been necessary for me to sell the books.

      Amazon.com lists Emmy of Whistling Well Farm by Charlie Johnson. The farm has its own website which you can google; the farm is not open for customers most fo the year but in the fall he has pick-your-own, and also sells apples in various markets. Also pumpkins, mums, maybe honey, and a few other things. Charlie is a long time personal friend, a great guy, and he is not an introvert like me.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. GD Deckard says:

    Faulkner also said he wrote most of “As I Lay Dying” on a wheelbarrow in the university powerhouse where he was firing boilers. Makes me suspect I have nothing to whine about.

    Like

  4. mimispeike says:

    Whine away! If we can’t whine here, among friends, where can we? It takes folks also in the trenches to lay hands on some sincere sympathy.

    Too many people (my sister, for one) have the attitude, if it’s so damn hard, just stop doing it. They don’t get that we can’t. We’re blessed, or cursed, with a fine madness. To my family, I am the coo-coo bird who’s turned out to be even nuttier than they’d thought. I get no support from any of them.

    Thank God, my husband is behind me one hundred percent. His problem is a different one. He thinks my thing is perfect as is. Publish, already!

    The video-game playing, reality-TV watching yoyo’s should be so lucky. They’re the broke-brains, is my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • GD Deckard says:

      I wouldn’t know of course but I strongly suspect that your husband is exactly right, Mimi. You could be like those painters who forever re-dab finished works. 🙂 Ask hubby if maybe you might have a Sisyphus Complex?

      Like

  5. atthysgage says:

    Nicely said, Perry. I have no doubts about the power of the personal connection. The one bookstore signing I’ve done was easily the best experience I’ve had with what might be called marketing, because all I had to do was be present and talk to people about whatever, not even the books necessarily. It wasn’t huge numbers, but every interchange had value, and most of the people who actually spoke to me bought books (or so it seemed. I didn’t count.)

    I live in a fairly remote area with two bookstores in a twenty mile radius. It’s hundreds of miles to the next substantially populated area. My life right now doesn’t include the possibility of driving around with a station wagon full of books (as John Grisham did for his first book, which nobody wanted at first.) So the big question is whether it’s possible to generate this kind of personal rapport (or something analogous) with folks online. I know there are plenty of online communities and discussion groups out there, though most of the ones I interact with are either other writers or social groups like Facebook (which has not been an effective place for reaching new readers.) So it’s pretty damned frustrating.

    I hope you have better luck. I look forward to hearing more.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      Atthys,

      I had a good friend, since passed, who wrote a delightful non-fiction book and traveled around to readings and signings, some of which resulted in only one or two copies sold. He was always upbeat about the events, figuring that even one book sold might get the word out to other buyers.

      I live in a rural area and have to drive an hour to a city of any size. There are some local resources that I have not fully utilized including various organizations (not necessarily book clubs) that are always looking for speakers for their meetings, there are libarians that are happy to set up readings and signings, there are town festivals that have craft and art fairs, that sort of thing. I thought of getting a table at the local weekly farmers’ market to sell garden produce, homemade fishing tackle, birdhouses, and books.

      My non-writer online communities are organized around environmental issues and trout fishing. These people will read fiction too, and when they’ve gotten to know me on-line, some have become my readers.

      Perry

      Liked by 2 people

  6. mimispeike says:

    I am impressed/horrified/amazed that Charlie was brave/flush enough to put twenty-five thousand into his roll of the dice. Perhaps part of that was chalked up as coming out of the advertising budget, or somesuch. I’m thinking, five-thousand, maybe! Tops! The cover is quite nice. But I have to think it’s a bit of a novelty item: visit the farm, meet Emmy, buy the book.

    But many timeless tales were first self-published, including Peter Rabbit. The story may have real charm. I’m curious enough to buy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perry Palin says:

      Mimi,

      As a retired librarian, Charlie knew books, but he didn’t know how to produce a book. He worked with a reputable, local company selling services to authors. They described the options, and he made the decisions. We bought a copy for our grandaughter when she was four, and at the age of seven it’s still one of her favorites whe she comes to visit at Camp Grandpa.

      Charlie is not rich, but he could have lost the 25K without losing any sleep over it. You’d kinda have to know him.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. If I sunk that kind of money, I’d lose a lot of sleep! But promoting without spending seems difficult – how to get that elusive word of mouth going? Thanks for the post, Perry. A lot of food for thought there.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Pingback: QUOTES 2016 | writersco-op

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