I met Dumitru Sandru on The Passive Voice when I was a guest host. He left a unique comment on a blog post, so unique it stood out. I realized he’d given a lot of thought to the process of marketing books, why some books sell, why some don’t. I invited him to expand upon his ideas here. Julia
I am an author and Indie Publisher, and I’m always searching for better ways to market and sell my books. There is plenty of advice on how to sell books based on methods borrowed from selling other products. However, books are not necessities. Books belong to the business of entertainment, along with TV, movies, music, art and so on. Books sell if you manage your entertainment business using these four guiding principles:
- Sell in the right market,
- Provide emotional appeal,
- Author’s reputation/fame.
The right market. Do you think you would be able to sell ice cream on a hot day on a crowded street? You bet, because that is the right market for selling ice cream. What is the right market for books? It depends on two things: the subject of the book, and the place. It is imperative to find the right market for your book’s subject. The narrower the subject of your book, the easier is to find the book buyers who may be interested in your book. For non-fiction books you could join specific interest forums. For fiction you would have to join on-line book clubs such as Goodreads, Librarything, Shelfari, and many others. However, you must respect the policies of the club regarding advertising your book. The clubs are not intended for authors to peddle their books. However, your presence as an author and reader will increase your status and popularity among club members.
The best place to sell books is, or used to be the brick-and-mortar bookstores. The Indie Publishers have little access to those stores. They might as well not exist. However, an Indie Publisher can explore other venues for selling paper books such as book fairs. As a practical matter, make sure that you would be able to sell enough books to cover the book fair expenses.
The bookstores are vanishing fast and are being replaced by the virtual e-Bookstore, like Amazon. The e-Bookstore accepts all of us, Traditional and Indie Publishers alike. But there is a problem with the e-Bookstore. It is a virtual store and it is immense. The virtual bookstore may have more books than readers. A book might as well be a speck of dust in a dust cloud in this store. The old saying: if you build a better mousetrap people will beat a path to your door is not true. To be found your book must be known. That’s why advertising is important.
Advertise. After writing new books, advertising should be your next responsibility. Every time you are in front of an audience (e-audience) you must advertise your book(s.) If you advertise blatantly, in your face, the audience will be turned off and you’ll be booted out. You need to be subtle, which is a whole subject in itself. Practice subtle advertising. It pays.
Advertisements can be of the paid or free type. If you spend money for advertising, you must do it in the right place, for the right audience. Sometimes even if you think it is the right place it may not work. I placed a banner ad for my first book, Arboregal, for a week in a reputable forum with thousands of reader-viewers. It cost me $240 and I sold four (4) eBooks. Not cost effective. Also you must consider the time of the year for such advertising, some seasons are better than others.
Free advertising will require more of your time. The following list, and I’m sure there are a lot more, are places for free advertising:
- Press Releases. There is virtually no downside to press releases for your book. It is easy to do it yourself and it is free marketing. There is no need to pay for such services. The most successful press releases always include a catchy hook. If you don’t issue press releases, no one will know about your book, if you do, some people will read about it, so it is worth the effort. Check these sites about press release submissions: http://www.avangate.com/community/resources/article/press-release-distribution.htm and http://socialrealist.com/digital-pr/big-list-of-free-press-release-distribution-sites/
- Facebook and Twitter. They are called social media platforms. They are platforms for advertising, but remember to advertise subtly. When I released my last book Escape from Communism I announced it on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. People accept such announcements the first time because it is news. If I would remind people every week about my book, my announcement and I would become a nuisance.
- Blog or post-comments on other people’s blogs. I do not suggest that you should advertise for your book on them, but being involved and providing your thoughts will be helpful to your image as an author and Indie Publisher. The more helpful you are the more remembered and recognized you’ll be. In the least you’ll be advertising your name as an author. For example look at this blog. I’m writing this for Julia Barrett’s guest blog. How did Julia invite me to write this blog? She saw an interesting comment I made on Passive Voice to a blog about selling books. I hope it is beneficial to all of you. And, let’s not forget, Julia Barrett and Dumitru Sandru may receive some e-recognition.
- Your Website. Of course you need to pay to host your website, but it is your virtual store for the world to see. It is yours, it is free advertising, go bananas with your marketing on your website.
- On-line book clubs. People of a mind tend to congregate together, and so are readers. There are sites like Goodreads, Librarything, Shelfari and many others. Be careful about blatant advertising, because you’ll be kicked out. Most of these forums allow the author to post their author page, the book(s) you published, and invite people to chat with you. Some clubs give you the opportunity to offer a few of your books for free to interested readers, like via raffles. I offered five copies of my YA Fantasy book, and over 300 readers were interested in it. The winners were encouraged to offer a reviews after they read my book. There are no guaranties that you will receive reviews or good reviews, but what do you have to lose?
- YouTube. Have you noticed an increase in YouTube clips on the Passive Voice forum? If millions of people viewed a screaming child and made him famous, you could get at least a few thousands to know you via YouTube. And screaming is optional. YouTube is a great tool to advertise for free. YouTube is the equivalent of the “elevator speech.” It must be short, entertaining, informative, thought provoking, and point the viewer to your book. The video clip can be about yourself or your book in a book trailer. For example, currently I’m sketching the book trailer for my next book the Pregnant Pope, a paranormal thriller. The book is not finished, but I will release the trailer before the book is published. There is a benefit for working on the book trailer while the manuscript is in the draft stage. It will force me to concentrate the essence of the story in a few riveting sentences. Then I compare them to the story. Is the story as riveting? If not I’ll revise the story while I still can.
- Merchandising Products. This can be as simple as a T-shirt with the name of your book on it, even if you will be the only one wearing it. For my book, Arboregal, I painted a lot of cottages in the giant tree of the story. All this art is available as T-shirts, coffee mugs, caps and prints, among many other paraphernalia. If you want to be inspired check on the store links at my website: sandru.com
- Free e-Books. Caution: This subject creates heated discussions among authors. Free e-Books are free advertising. Which of two options would you choose?
- If my e-books don’t sell, I don’t make money, and I will be unknown.
- If I give my e-books away for free, I won’t make any money, but I will be known.
- If you choose free e-Books, consider the free e-Books as loss leaders, which eventually may inspire the readers to come back for more of your books.
- Reviews. Especially, good reviews for your books are free advertising. But if you don’t sell many books you will not get reviewed. It is a catch-22, no books sold, no reviews, no reviews, no books sold… . Amazon has clamped down on fake/paid for reviews; only buyers of books or e-Books can review them. Good reviews are needed for priming the book-selling pump. I realize that what I will suggest is sacrilegious to some writers, but ask people you know to read your book and post their reviews. If you don’t have those kinds of friends, participate in reading clubs and make some.
- Others. Business cards with your book title, or bookmarkers. At Halloween I give candies and bookmarkers advertising my YA Fantasy book. How about the back window of your car displaying your book title? Cheesy? Maybe. But how badly do you want to sell your books? (I confess I haven’t tried this)
Each one of the above will provide some degree of success over a period of time. Do some or all of them, but manage your time wisely. It is too easy to be swallowed by the e-Media advertising vortex.
Emotional Appeal. What is the bestselling genre? Romance, lots of emotional appeal. Even if it is not romance, there are plenty of books with women’s bare legs on covers. That may not be your or my choice for a book cover, but it’s hard to argue that it does not have some appeal. The emotional appeal is not limited in the genre or cover, but also in the title and the blurb on the back of the cover. A book that will generate emotional appeal should resemble the front page of a newspaper. Earlier I mentioned my next book “The Pregnant Pope,” is this title shocking? If it is it fulfills its purpose. Your book cover should not only be appealing but readable in a postage stamp size. That is how on-line buyers will see your cover most of the time.
For real stories and biographies (if not a famous celebrity) emotional appeal works as well. Following are samples from the blurb on the back cover of my book Escape from Communism: “Life under communism is cruel and inhumane…. It is a crime to escape by crossing the border illegally, and anyone caught is beaten and imprisoned, sometimes even shot…. However, I would rather have died than keep living as a communist slave. This is my story of what happened and how I reached freedom.” It is a real story about escaping from Hell.
For non-fiction books, the most successful approach is often to address a real or perceived problem and offer “most successful” solutions, usually as numbered tabulation, like I used in this writing.
The author’s reputation. As in your fame-quotient. How famous are you? Have you googled your name or book’ titles? How many hits do you get? As of January 2013, JK Rowling gets almost 36 million results on Google. I get… well, it’s a work in progress. The more times your name or book’s name appears on search engines the more famous you are.
Why do you think Snooki’s books sell? (Yes, she has more than one book.) How about Hillary Clinton? I admit Snooki and Hillary don’t belong together, but they both rely on their fame to sell their books. What sells Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Grisham, Stephenie Meyer, or E.L. James’ books? A good story helps but fame is what gets that book mass appeal. You need to work to expand your own fame, and you don’t have to become a guido or a guidette, (unless you want to.)
How do you get famous as an author? First, by advertising yourself and your books. Second, it is by doing what you love to do anyway. Write books. Your fame will increase by writing an outstanding book or write a lot of good books. Your books will get to be “good” the more you’ll write, but it will take time. You will create your own market through your fame as an author.
What happens if you wrote bad books, as it may have happened when you started? You pull them from publication, rewrite them, or re-edit, and re-publish them. If they were bad, not many readers bought them in the first place and the tarnished reputation is minimal. You must continuously improve your fame with more and better books.
Fame is like gravity. If we take the analogy of the dust cloud, eventually the dust particles will clump together and create a new center of gravity. Your fame created by your many good books would become that center of gravity. Your fame creates a new market and the readers will be attracted to it, especially if it grows into a planetoid.
Bottom line, as they say in business, you must sell your books, and you must think and act like a businessperson and marketer. I enjoy writing my books, but it is better when my books sell. How about you?
As an author and Indie publisher you are in the entertainment business. Your fame sells your books; write many books and work on your fame. Live, write and prosper.
Dumitru Sandru is an artist, composer, and author. He paints in the classical, surreal, and modern styles, and most of the music Dumitru composes is of the New Age flavor. As an author, he prefers to write science fiction, paranormal, and young adult fantasy novels, such as Arboregal, The Lorn Tree. Escape from Communism is his story of escaping from communist Romania when he was eighteen.
Dumitru resides in California with his wife. They have one daughter and two grandsons.