A book travels only as far as its readers. Assuming that you've written, polished, and published a book that will appeal to some quantifiable group of readers--be they fantasy fans, middle-aged divorcees, lolcat enthusiasts, or dolphin fetishists--how will your book reach them?
Marketing. It's called marketing. I know, it's a scary, ugly word, especially for all us special snowflake creative types. Fear not! Marketing does not require a turtleneck sweater or 'synergy', no matter what your course syllabus told you. Marketing is simply the process of uniting product and consumer--and since those words are too sales-oriented for some, we'll just call them "book" and "reader".
There are ENDLESS resources for authors of all sizes hoping to reach readers of all shapes. To learn about most of them, you must first cut your day job hours by half, arrange for some form of intravenous caffeine delivery, and spend the next year perusing and auto-refreshing handy sources like:
And many, many more . . .
OR you can just figure out a few resources and strategies that sound both effective and feasible, given your skills and budget. Make a shortlist, and put your full effort into that shortlist. Experiment, see what works, change things up, and continue the marketing activities which seem to work the best for you and your book.
Here are the things which have worked best for me:
Bound galleys are imperfect copies of your book printed prior to publication (more on how to produce galley copies here.) Sometime amid the editing process (ideally 3 months before publication), have some galleys printed--I did 40 copies. You will use these to send to reviewers, for giveaways, and to give to your proofreaders.
Success? I've used all 40, and gotten great reviews.
GoodReads is like Facebook for avid readers. Make SURE your book is listed on GoodReads. Users rate and review books, and see constant updates of what their friends are reading. Authors can set up an Author Page and connect with current and potential readers in all kinds of ways: book club forums, Author Q&A's, polls, quizzes, and a fabulous self-serve advertising system.
Success? Vessel currently has 21 reviews on GR. 280 people have added it to their 'to-read' list.
GoodReads First Reads Giveaways
Remember those galley copies? This is an excellent place to use at least half of them. List the number available, and readers can request a free copy. GR will automatically choose winners and give you the addresses.
Success? I've done two giveaways. In the first one, about 260 people requested Vessel. Out of the 10 winners, half got around to posting reviews--highly positive ones--both to GoodReads and their personal blogs. The second giveaway? Over 800 people requested Vessel, because of those reviews. The gift keeps giving. Trust me.
People love a good book review. If a blog review of your book goes up, then someone out there will read it and download your book, easy as pie. So how do you get reviewers? Focus on reviews by actual readers, not magazines, newspapers, or online equivalents. The best place to start is a GoodReads giveaway, and also your own friends and reading circle. Then, search for book review blogs written by people who enjoy your genre, and email them. Send free copies to those who respond, or offer them a free e-book download when you run out of galley copies (any serious bookaholic has an e-reader by now!). If someone emails you to tell you how much they loved your book, thank them, and tell them that a quick Amazon or GoodReads review may draw in others who might love the book just as much. People love giving their opinions--I know I do!
Seriously planning on publishing that book? Make a Facebook Page for it. Now.
Success? I created Vessel's Facebook Page two years before the book was published. By the time the publication date rolled around, the book had over 300 fans. Without them, I would not have had the encouragement which pushed me to follow through with publication. And I would not have had such a dedicated (and large!) first wave of readers.
I'm still figuring this one out, but I know that it works. Twitter gives people a quick look at you. If that quick look reveals that you're an author, then it gives your book that much more visibility. Don't sell, sell, sell. Just be yourself. Share. Participate. If you find something useful or funny online, serve it up. In that same vein, you'll see lots of tips/helpful articles posted by others.
Success? 58 followers and counting. And when Danielle Corsetto of Girls With Slingshots tweeted about Vessel, I instantly got orders for the book.
Same as Twitter. Offer what you have to give, even if it's just your thoughts on underwear sizing. Blog, and they will come. And when they come, they might just check out your book.
Bottom line: your book (or books) needs a website, one that is updated frequently. If you can't design one yourself, and if you can't afford a web designer, buy a hosting plan and use an updatable website template that works for you.
Not Giving Up
Sales may suck one month, then pick up the next. Don't get discouraged. Keep trying new things, stay confident, stay visible, and keep producing quality work while you're at it. This isn't a race; you've indie-published, so there's no limit to how long your book will be available. Whatever you're doing, you're doing it great because you're still at it.
Like I said, those are the things that have proven effective for me. You may only have time or energy for a few of them, or you may find that other things that work for you. Here are some things that didn't work for me (and things which you may not want to waste your time with, either):
|Shelf life. Thug life.|
1. Bookstores. I know. I KNOW. You're a writer; it's your dream to see your book on the store shelves, but believe me. I've fought this battle, and it's not worth the craploads of time it takes to reach these people individually, however awesome they are. My advice: Focus on a select handful of independent stores in your hometown or current city, play hard but professionally, and they may take you in. Vessel is stocked at Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle, and at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, WV, and that's good enough for me. At this stage in the game, you need readers. Readers readers readers readers readers, you hear me? Calling and emailing bookstores is just time you're spending not reaching out to your readers.
2. Contests. Do you know how many people enter these things? And they want you to pay to enter? Hah. Hah, hah.
3. Mailings (to bookstores, libraries, book clubs, etc). Costly, and you're competing with so many other titles.
4. Publicist's/Marketing Gurus. Until I find one who will accept commission based on sales directly driven by their handiwork, then I'm staying faaaaar away from these people.
And there you have it. Why I did it, how I did it, and what I did. I realize these posts are ass-tastically long, and I don't expect anyone to read them unless they've first e-mailed me asking for publishing advice, at which point I will point them this way (so I will not have to write them an ass-tastically long e-mail). So if you've made it this far, my hat's off to you. And if you're a Vessel reader, then my entire hat rack just hit the deck. Thank you for keeping me going.