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.