Friday, August 31, 2012

How to sell a million books without breaking a sweat

by Meredith Cole

Now that I've got your attention with my newest best selling book title, I'll be completely upfront.  I have no idea how to sell million books or I would have done it and would now be sitting on bags of money on a beautiful and remote island.

These days, it seems like everywhere you turn, someone wants to tell you their brilliant idea for how to sell more books. The people with the most ideas are usually trying to sell you something (like their PR services). So what really works? Facebook? Twitter? Blogging? Guest blogging? Goodreads? Great reviews? Personal appearances?

I'm ashamed to say, since I work in marketing as my day job, that I don't have the magic solution for all authors. But neither do publishers, or PR people, or even best selling authors. They're all trying whatever they can and hoping they'll get great results. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't.

But here's what I and everyone else knows for sure sells a lot of books: that elusive word of mouth. People telling other people that they have to read your book. The trouble is, how do you reach those first people who fall in love with your book? If you don't have a heavy-hitting publisher that's invested in your career and is putting you on one of the front tables at Barnes and Noble, and if you aren't able to get reviewed because you're self-published or because newspapers/magazines, etc., are all shrinking their review space, how do you find readers?

Authors and publishers have clearly decided that the way to find readers is through the web. Authors have joined social network sites everywhere and try to push their books on everyone. Some may feel they have success, and others may feel it's a waste of time--but the truth is it's mostly free (except for an author's valuable time and energy). And if done incorrectly, it can really annoy a lot of people.

But here's an inescapable truth about selling lots and lots of books: You have to write a great book that people want to read. If you're off spending 10 hours a day guest blogging, tweeting and Facebooking, you'd better have something to talk about. And all that marketing is bound to eventually interfere with writing your next book. A recipe for author burnout if there ever was one.

So, really now, what's a poor author to do? First, write a great book. Then tell everyone in a way that isn't obnoxious. Then spend a period of time marketing it in ways that you enjoy. Hope your book finds readers who love it. And then go write another book, even better than the last. Repeat.

I know, I know. Easy for me to say. But when you get yourself tied in knots about what you think you should be doing and how little promotion your publisher is doing for you, ask yourself--what will the following (tweet, guest blog, expensive self-funded book tour, etc.) really do for my career? And if the answer is "diddly-squat" or "I'd rather grind glass into my forehead than do x", skip it. Go write your next book instead. And tell them I told you that you could.

8 comments:

Chris said...

In high school, one of our social studies teachers taught a mandatory econ class for seniors. Manage your money wisely, and all that. As teachers go, he was fine, but he pretended at having vast stores of secret knowledge as to the inner workings of the stock market. I couldn't help but think, "If you're some kind of genius stock-whisperer, why are you driving a beat-up Chevette?" And so it is with most folks who try to sell you their tried-and-true marketing methods...

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Wonderful post, Meredith. It still all boils down to writing the best book you can. And great point, Chris. I'm always being dogged by self-published authors who try to convince me I could be making much more money going independent. And maybe I can. But when I ask them what THEY make on their books, it's usually not that much different than what I make or even less. Not sure why they feel the need to proselytize. We should all choose what works best for us in publishing and marketing.

Maureen Hayes said...

Excellent post and you are right on the head with your theory of writing great books. As an avid reader, that is what will getme to read your books, not all the social media stuff. I don't have the time or energy to keep up with all the authors I like via Facebook, Twitter, etc. . . And still be able to read their books! I would rather read and then tell people how much I loved the book, than know what one of my fav authors had for lunch that day, etc. . . Via Twitter. . .lol!

I think the "secret" is the same no matter what line of work you are in, do the best job you can, and people will notice and appreciate it. Write good books and people will want to read them. If you write mediocre books but spend tons of time on social media, you might sell one book, but as soon as people start to read it and don't love it, they won't be tempted to buy the next one.

Alan Orloff said...

Nice post, Meredith! I'm going to follow your suggestion and start telling people that you said I could go write my next book instead of grinding glass into my forehead (or something like that--I get a little fuzzy on the details sometimes!).

Hilary Davidson said...

"You have to write a great book that people want to read" — truer words have not been spoken. All the social-media promo in the word can't make up for a book that doesn't pull people in from the start. Thanks for a great post, Meredith!

Jack Getze said...

I think this is a lesson every writer learns eventually. It's not about Facebook and other websites, it's not about book tours and conventions, contacts or finding that top agent. Everything helps a career, but only a big book can make it take off, and only word of mouth can make a big book. A writer's time needs to be 90% writing. Write the best book you can write -- every time.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for coming by to comment! I ran off to California for a family wedding and am now just getting back online. Loved hearing what everyone had to say about marketing books last week--glad you're off writing Alan. And I wouldn't trust that teacher with my stock portfolio either, Chris.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for coming by to comment! I ran off to California for a family wedding and am now just getting back online. Loved hearing what everyone had to say about marketing books last week--glad you're off writing Alan. And I wouldn't trust that teacher with my stock portfolio either, Chris.