This article was originally posted on my site in 2006. However,I believe the points I made then remain valid today and are worth considering.
I began writing my first manuscript in 1996 and self-published the book in 1998. After the book was printed I learned there was another aspect of the writing business that needed to be addressed if I wanted to be a success: it’s called marketing. Due to my failure to research the business of writing ahead of time I was unprepared for that reality. So I found myself with a published book and absolutely no idea how to get it into the hands of readers. I had no marketing experience and a very limited budget to spend on promotion. But unless I was content to limit my book sales to family and friends, I had to find a way to get the word out; I had to become a marketer.
A Dose of Reality
I’ve heard it said that some people are gluttons for punishment. You can count me as being in that category eight years ago. Even when I became aware that I had to do something to sell my book, I didn’t research marketing methods. Instead, I decided on what seemed to be the easy way out: tell the local book stores about my new book and that I would be willing to do a signing at their facility. I assumed they would jump at the chance, order my books, and aggressively promote my appearance.
I was sure I was on the right track when I placed calls to the local Barnes & Noble and Borders to share the good news: Denny Griffin was willing to give them a chance to host a signing for his soon-to-be best seller. However, my confidence began to fade when my initial and follow-up calls weren’t returned. I next visited the stores in person. When I did I got another dose of reality. One of the managers took the time to explain to me that unknown authors with self-published, print on demand (POD) books weren’t exactly a hot commodity. On the contrary, the store held events for authors like me a couple of times a year. We had to appear in a group, provide our own books, and split the sales revenues with the store. If we wanted we could leave a few books on consignment after the event, but the store wouldn’t order or stock the books.
When I left that book store I was depressed to say the least. But their local author’s night was right around the corner and I had signed up to participate. I did two of these events at two different stores over the next couple of weeks, and the results were dismal. No promotion by the stores and only a couple of books sold. Immediately following these failures I was convinced that I should give up on writing. I probably would have quit if not for the intervention of my family. They told me not to make a quick decision, to let my emotions calm down and then evaluate the situation. I did, and concluded that although I had some things against me (unknown, self-published, and POD) I hadn’t exhausted my marketing options. In fact, I hadn’t even really explored them. It was time to roll to my sleeves and get to work.
Trial and Error
I want to say up front that I don’t believe marketing a book is a one size fits all proposition. We are all individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses. What works for me won’t necessarily be productive for someone else.
I began my concentration on marketing by visiting writing-related sites online. I monitored the message boards and continue to do so. I found that there were a number of authors who were, or had been, in the same position as I was. Many of them shared what they had done to get their book sales moving. Some of their ideas appealed to me while others didn’t. I tried several of the strategies that sounded promising and discarded the ones that weren’t a good fit. The things I ended up pursuing further included joining writers groups and seeking venues for events other than chain book stores.
An online search produced the names of the writers groups in my area, a brief description of what they offered, and contact information. I eventually joined two groups; one of them meets weekly and the other gets together monthly. The total annual membership dues are $77.
These groups have been extremely beneficial to me in several ways. The weekly group allows members to read up to eight pages of their work followed by a critique by their fellow authors. I’ve learned a lot about writing during these sessions. The other group concentrates more on doing writing exercises and frequently has guest speakers. I’ve also come away from these meetings with a lot of knowledge.
From a marketing perspective, both of them provide excellent networking opportunities. I have made many, many contacts through my membership in these groups. Those contacts have resulted in one ghost writing job and numerous chances for free publicity. I highly recommend being a member of at least one writers group.
Libraries and Coffee Shops
I previously mentioned my experience with chain store book signings. I still do those events, but only when I appear alone and the store agrees to order the necessary books and to publicize my appearance. Before you write me off as being arrogant, please understand that I budget both my money and my time. I won’t waste either by doing events in which I’m in direct competition with several other authors for very few potential customers. I do supply my own books for events at some venues, but not at book stores.
One of the reasons I give book stores such a low priority is that I’ve found other outlets that work much better for me. One of them is my public library system. I live in Las Vegas, and the Las Vegas – Clark County Library District has several branches. I’ve done library events in the past that have given me exposure and credibility, such as appearing on panels and participating in reading and discussion groups. I have also discussed and signed my own books. I have four appearances scheduled starting in October in conjunction with my new book, The Battle for Las Vegas – The Law vs. the Mob. This book tells the inside story of the Tony Spilotro era in Vegas that was dramatized in the 1995 movie Casino. My program consists of playing the movie, followed by a Q&A session, and then a signing. I have been fortunate enough to get one of the contributors to the book, the former FBI case agent for the Spilotro investigations, to agree to appear with me. The library district is very excited about the presentation and so am I. As a result of the exposure I’ve received through the library I’ve been booked for speaking engagements before several business and literary groups.
I believe that a new or unknown author who ignores the potential offered by their library is making a mistake. And the price is right: it’s free.
Another venue I utilize is coffee shops. So far I’ve done events only at independently owned businesses. In fact, one of them has become my unofficial headquarters. They sell my books and host events on a regular basis.
I’ve found that the coffee houses I’ve dealt with are eager to have special events and will advertise. The atmosphere is generally relaxed and comfortable. As with libraries, this is a free venue you shouldn’t ignore.