Friday, October 22, 2010

Hurdling The Obstacles: Book Sales

It's getting trite to say the following, but it seems to need repeating: long gone are the days when an author could just sit back after the publication of their book and let their publisher and book sellers sell their work. Today, authors are expected to sell their books from the trunks of their cars, off their websites, promote it from their various social networking sites and blogs, and quite literally place it in the hands of a book buyer.

The publishing business has continued to shift in the last ten years from considerably nice advances in the mid five figures (or a bit more or less) or lots more, if they're banking on your book being a bestseller, with an equally impressive print run to today's more conservative, low advance...lower five figures or less with an equally conservative print run. I know this seems dismal, but really, writers, this helps you in the long run. Earning back a low advance and running through your first print run in a short amount of time (under a year), makes you look like a rock star! After all, the first thing a publisher will look for in an author with a second book is: did they earn back their advance; and how many print runs has their first book gone through.

I know selling your own book seems intimidating. Many of you are uncomfortable with self-promotion, but it's the expectation of your publisher that you, the author, will use your best efforts and resources to sell your book. You want to publish again, don't you? And you love your book! So does your publisher! Be confident about the successes you've enjoyed this far and let that confidence carry through to your salesmanship. This is where it gets FUN!

Let's look at a few opportunities for promotion and sales.

1. Event sales. Most authors I know do the obligatory book signings at a few book stores, but more are thinking outside the box and holding special signing events in more and more unique places. Art galleries, retail stores relating to their subject matter, restaurants, clubs, coffee shops, bars, art walks, festivals and other outdoor community gatherings, schools, vacation destinations, just about anywhere public.

Really, you want to exhaust all possible ideas for ideal locales for your book signing. Let's say you have a YA novel where the protagonist is a hot shot soccer player. In most cities, youth sports is an enormous market. Volunteer to speak to as many soccer clubs as you can, talk about your book and your characters, get to know your audience, and by the way, bring a box of books to sign and sell. Get to know your market then sell them your book. This approach pretty much works across the board from youth events and clubs to the more literary circles to genre loving groups to a wide panoply of opportunities nonfiction authors have available to them. Make friends, sell books, repeat.
Now, yes, you will get so tired of talking about your book. I had one client, who to this day, is out selling her books on a monthly basis (the books were published early/mid 2000). After her book had been out for about a year, she was tired of hearing herself talk about her book and herself. Understandable. But she eventually got over this...she is a very successful full time freelancer, after all. She knows it's another part of her job...what keeps her in print and doing what she loves doing - writing for a living!

Book store signings. I have mixed feelings. I've attended signings at large chain book stores and indie book stores and have heard many, many stories from my past clients and other writers about the ones that went horribly bad and the ones that were a hit. If you're going to do a signing at a large, chain book store, it's up to you to promote the heck out of it because they don't have any advertising dollars in their budgets for promoting your event. Remember all those friends you made speaking to those special groups, clubs and organizations? Send them info about your signing, follow up with them, get thee to all your social networking sites and tweet, chat, blip about your book signing. Leave no stone uncovered when it comes to inviting people to your event. When you're there, ignore all the stories you've heard about the lonely author who sat for 4 hours with a tepid cup of coffee and only sold 5 copies of their family members. Avoid that doomed fate and become the bookseller! Relax and have fun. Chat up the customers and...make friends! Yes! You will be doing a lot of this so it's time to get personable.

Now, book signings with independent book stores, in my experience, seem to always turn out well. The more established the store, the better you'll do. I'm going to pick on Village Books in Pacific Palisades. This is a community that loves their local and only book store, where patrons know when the signing/reading events are because the bookseller has a vested interest in keeping their customers informed, interested and coming back! They've worked hard to build a community. Anyway, when we arrived, the store was packed with people we didn't know (we did minimal advertising...but you should follow the leave-no-stone-unturned standard above)...with two cozy Queen Anne style arm chairs set up for the authors...and warm cookies to boot! We were immediately welcomed and made to feel so at home. My clients were not New York Times bestselling authors, but they were treated like a community where a multitude of Hollywood's finest live atop the Santa Monica Mountains with a killer ocean view. I've heard many similar tales from authors across the country who've done events with local indie booksellers who've offered just as much warmth and community.

Special events. These are usually book/literary fairs or festivals your publisher has arranged your involvement with or you have independently. You may speak on a panel and/or you'll most likely sit or stand near a table of your books and talk to interested (and interesting) folks. Again, focus on making a connection, a new friend. People are more apt to buy your book if you crack a smile and aren't afraid to chat. Or you'll meet someone who'll lead you to other wonderful opportunities. Will you be doing some hard core selling? It depends. Do what you're comfortable with. These events help you gain exposure and make you look like a rock star. Go with it. Again, it's all about making friends. Are you sick of hearing that yet?
This effort needs to come from the heart, writers. Approach this business of selling your books proactively but authentically.

Now, it's your turn. Published authors, tell us what's worked for you! You can even promote your book or provide a link to your site/blog. This IS about book sales, after all.

Your Action: For those of you who are published, think of at least 5 events you'd like to hold from now through the holidays to sell some books! Perfect time to have events, right? The season for giving is around the corner.

Yet-to-be-published writers, imagine you're looking through the greatest book signing event scenario catalog. Which events can you see yourself in? Start making a list (and saving some money for advertising and other promotional purposes) of where you'd like to hold events. Get to know your local booksellers be they in the big chains or indies. Build relationships now so you'll have a little less ground to cover when you're book is out.

Have a fabulous, enjoyable weekend, my dears.



  1. Gotta be honest when I say, unfortunately, this stuff scares the hell outta me...

  2. Yep, I know it does. It's totally outside a lot of people's comfort zone. That's why it's so important to prep yourself for this reality before you publish.

    The more you push aside your fears and practice doing what scares you, the easier it will become. Visualize yourself doing these events successfully and let your brain form a positive groove. Do this constantly.

    If you're able to head into most public situations with confidence, you know you've covered your bases with PR and marketing, the book sales will follow.

  3. Great post, Erin.

    My book came out in March. I had 3 launches. One in a very large bookstore where the independent bookseller did a tremendous job of selling books. There was great interest & attendance. The second launch was organized by a small bookseller in my local community. Small and cosy. Good for the local profile. And the 3rd launch was held at the B&B run by friends of mine. That was the best of all as it was informal & really gave me a chance to mingle with attendees. Sales were good, too!

    Regarding speaking engagements, I just did 2 at a regional Word Fest. Although attendance at the event was small (it was their 1st year,) interest in my book was terrific, I got asked to come back next year, asked to present at another event, and to join a board (my book is about non-profit boards.) So even though the event was small, it raised my profile, enabled to to sell some books, and get some future opportunities that otherwise may not have come my way.

    It's really important for us writers to get out there and promote ourselves -- and our books.

  4. Fantastic comments, Doreen! Thanks for sharing your experience. You're a great example of a book signing/event is what you make it.


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