A few days ago I talked about a dilemma facing many self-published authors trying to market books. I mentioned that many self-publishing service or assistance companies offer products and services that enable the self-publisher to overcome those obstacles to selling books. Beyond placing one’s books into distribution networks and offering a returns policy, the company I work with has a complete line of marketing, publicity, and promotional products. Through them I can have my book available in many e-book formats, entered in several book contests, garner reviews, track down celebrity endorsements, and have my writing efforts showcased at major book fairs. I can have custom, professionally designed business cards, posters, T-shirts, and even postage stamps made. All this costs of course, which means that I have to decide which, if any, of these services are worth it to me. I could easily spend as much, if not more, to market my book as I did to publish it.
The publishing package I chose comes with the services of a marketing coach. After my book came out; I got a daily e-mail that pointed out things I could do to help sell it. As time passed, the frequency of the e-mails lessened, and now I get one or two a week. Many promote services the company provides, but some are common sense, low cost, or no cost ideas that can be used to sell a book. For the remainder of this post, and quite possibly into the next, I’d like to look in more detail at some of the things a writer can do to market a book and not have to spend a fortune doing it.
To begin, let’s establish what we mean by marketing. Others might see it differently, but I believe marketing is the combination and application of publicity, advertising, and promotion that generates, sustains, and increases the sales of a product. In this case, we are talking about the sale of books.
The sales pattern for self-published books differs from those published in the traditional manner. When a book is released by a traditional publisher, it often seems that the entire world knows of its arrival. If the author is well known, sales can soon be counted in the thousands or tens of thousands. Conversely, a self-published author might be the only one immediately aware of his book’s availability. Sales start slowly, with a copy sold here and there, perhaps to family members, friends, or co-workers. Ideally, with time, awareness of the author and his book will increase, resulting in a growing number of sales.
One of a self-publishing author’s primary marketing functions is establishing an awareness of himself and his book. This process should be well underway, long before the book is published. Some writers might prefer to work in secret, not telling anyone of their literary aspirations until their books have been published and are in the stores. They might dream of a day when a friend says, “Hey, at the bookstore I saw a book by someone with the same name as you. The author on the back cover even looked like you! Did you write a book?”
“Yeah, it was a little project that kept me busy for the past few years. It’s nearly on the best seller list, now.”
“You wrote a book! Oh my God! You wrote a book!”
This is fanciful thinking, to say the least. The writing process just doesn’t work that way in real life. Even the most secretive writer is bound to tell someone, and will soon find he needs the help and support of other writers, not to mention the services of professionals in the literary community. Don’t be afraid to join with other writers. Allow them to read and critique, even as you do the same for them. Seek out those who can edit and suggest revisions and improvements, all the while making sure they know who you are and what you are writing. Share your experiences in writing and getting published, perhaps with a blog or other forms of on-line presence. Study and learn all you can about writing and the publishing industry. Ask questions and connect with those who provide advice and guidance.
Immediately after completing the first draft of Beyond the Ocean’s Edge: A Stone Island Sea Story, I joined Spokane Authors and Self-Publishers, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and later became a part of a small critique group. Quite unintended, I ended up with a Live Journal page and began to post a bit about my progress towards publication. I also did internet research to find out about the publishing process, from things like writing effective query letters to ensuring one’s work is in standard manuscript format. If I didn’t understand the advice given, I asked questions. In one case in particular, I established a professional relationship with the advice giver, a relationship that later paid off when she generously created some great publicity for me and my book.
Beyond that, I also printed up business cards. I gave, and still give these to those with even a trifling interest in my writing efforts. I also give them to folks who need my contact information, hoping they might check out the information about my writing. I advertised my writing and forthcoming book in the car club newsletter which I edit. Rates for commercial or non-automotive related ads are minimal, so every year I pay my dues plus the ad fee, and each month’s issue has a bit in it about my book. Membership in this club is quite small, but the newsletter goes out to many other clubs, helping spread word of my writing and my book.
Next time we’ll look at some of the low cost/no cost things that a self-published author can do, once his book has been published.