This is the way it is: if your book does not enjoy extensive publicity, it will not sell.
This is not a hard and fast rule–miracles do happen through word of mouth–but the odds favor ads in this word of white noise that we live in. Sure, Moby Dick is a classic now–but it was a flop in Melville’s lifetime, even though he had already published two bestsellers! He lived out his days working a desk job in the local customs office. A good ad campaign, on the other hand, has sold many a lousy tome. I don’t hesitate to say this, as I have read–or tried to read–a number of such. Including a book by the wife of a well-known mystery writer who was certainly riding the coattails of her husband’s fame, as trying to grind though her work was the literary equivalent of eating cardboard. It could be done, but why? Yet people bought the book: fame made it a bestseller.
So, as the Bible says, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.” If you have faith in your book, shout it out!
Or pay others to shout it out for you.
What are the essentials of selling yourself?
- Use multiple channels. Use every form of social media you can stomach–bring them all into play. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat if your book aims at younger readers, LinkedIn if it bears on business, and whatever Cool New Thing shows up next week. (But research each one’s reach and audience first!) Google ads can help as well. And of course set up a blog and try to build a personal mailing list through it. But study first! There are plenty of instructional pages and vids around these days. Do your homework! And don’t neglect print ads, which are generally more effective. Even Facebook acknowledges this, though not openly. Yes, Facebook!–which relentlessly sells itself as the Great Ad Platform of the World. But what do I see as I wander around Los Angeles, the City that Boosting Built? Facebook print ads on bus shelters, touting their new anti-spam efforts. Yes, Facebook , addressing its own users, chose to deploy paid print ads on bus shelters in the most media-centric city on earth!
Think about it: many people follow dozens to thousands of Twitter feeds. Now, if Twitter users post just once a week, and your potential customer follows, say, twelve hundred feeds (not unusual in my own Twitterverse), that still swamps them with over 170 tweets per day. And many Twitter users, if not most, post daily, or several times a day. Try to time your own posts for your likeliest audience’s working hours, when they’re cheating the boss by checking their personal accounts. Showing up on someone’s feed at 3AM may not be helpful.
In other words, use social media, but don’t expect too much from it, unless you have the budget to flood the internet with your ads. Most of them will sink into the Great Tsunami of Promotion without attracting the slightest notice. Just remember that if you have the money to do that, you have the money for a good print presence.
…When I had a clothing business, making dressy clothes for bike commuters with office jobs, I was once asked to provide a sample of my wares to a writer scribing a roundup of bike fashion for the New York Times. This cost me some inventory, and I almost didn’t do it. Then the ad appeared on the back page of the lifestyle section of one issue of the Times. A single paragraph and a grainy photo.
The next day I grossed $3500. Even minus the $80 the sample cost me to make and mail (the tester kept it), it was pretty much worth the trouble.
Which brings us to the next item….
- Get reviews. If someone asks for a review copy of your book let them have it. If no one asks, then you should ask them. Offer free copies–digital if they’ll take them, print if they won’t. Professional reviewers if you can get them, part-time bloggers if you can’t. There is no such thing as too much publicity in this world. There are lists of reviewers all over the internet. Read through them, make sure they review your genre of book, and make very sure that they are tolerant of self-published books if yours is such. If you have an actual trade publisher, bear in mind that they may not make much effort for a first-time author, and you may still have to do most of the legwork. Consider paying for a Kirkus review.
Although paid reviewers have a generally bad rep, Kirkus seems to have kept its integrity, and will not give you a glowing review just because you forked over some cash. This means you may be out the money for nothing. But if your book is seriously flawed, and your editor didn’t help you fix it, you will have bought a worthwhile lesson. I have not tried this myself yet, as I am more or less impecunious right now, but when I can, I will. Meanwhile. do your research: find honest reviewers you can afford on the internet, and hope for the best.
- Get out into the world. Go to open mic events, cozy up to all the small-time impresarios who host readings at bookstores and coffeehouses, join book clubs and writing groups…and if you don’t find any in your area, became said small-time impresario yourself. Practice reading your own work, and persuade yourself to ham it up. Although I am a good public speaker, I am not a great one, yet I have sold books at every reading I have arranged myself. Plus, I met the editor of Switchblade Magazine at an open mic event put on by someone else, and said anthology has published two of my short stories so far. And paid! Not much, but they paid.
You can’t hide in your basement these days, unless you have a particularly nurturing trade publisher–but if you did, you wouldn’t be reading this. And most trade publishers these days expect you to stand at the podium anyway, so get used to it. People always want to meet their heroes, even if they don’t know you’re their hero yet.
- Remember the Holy Scripture of the ad world: “Repetition, repetition, repetition.” Truer now than it ever was.
It won’t be easy, and it will take work. May as well start now. Time doesn’t stop because you’re broke or nervous. Get out and sell that book!