Sunday, March 4, 2012

Selling Books in a Depressed Economy

I’ve heard rumors that the economy is improving, although you couldn’t prove it to me by looking around my neighborhood. I live in middle class suburbs in what is considered the metro New Orleans area. We live in an area not hit that hard by Katrina, but we’ve seen a lot more people moving away over the last two years, either because they’ve lost their homes to foreclosure or are in danger of losing their homes.

We’ve also noticed a lot more people getting served with papers by the sheriff, which in our neighborhood usually means service of foreclosure or service of a credit card company lawsuit for defaulting on credit card payments. These are working homeowners, many own their own small businesses, the others are mostly professionals. We have school teachers, police officers, managers of businesses, executives, and office workers, among other professions.

Watching the financial troubles of people I know unfold I have to feel sorry for them, but I also have to wonder how this troubled economy is affecting book sales.

How can you expect people to pay for books when they can’t make their house note or credit card payments? And when people do get a little extra money, how can you convince them that your book, out of all of the books out there, is the one they should spend their luxury dollars on?

I think pricing is a part of it–I know I’ll wait for the new Evanovich or Sandford or Patterson until someone has it on ebay or an individual seller has it on Amazon for cheap–but even if you price reasonably, you’re still in competition with other similarly priced books.

I don’t know if I have a solution, although I do have some ideas. One thing is to make sure that everything I do to promote my books is done with the same care and thought I put into writing them in the first place, so that people who haven’t read them not only think the books sound interesting, but also think I'm probably an articulate writer.

Another idea is to appeal to as large an audience as logically fits my book. While I wouldn’t try to promote my mystery series on a non-fiction science website, I might try it on a romance writers site, because my novels do have an element of romance in them. Or I might try to appeal to sites devoted to thrillers or sub-genres other than just straight mysteries, to try to grab a larger audience. I can target an audience, but I can make it a broader targeted audience than just mystery lovers.

My final idea is to make sure I take great pains to be professional and courteous when promoting, whether in person or online. If someone makes a face or a comment–especially a comment such as they don’t read mysteries or something like that– I refrain from saying what I’m really thinking. While this person might never be one of my customers, others standing nearby might be. For online promotion, I always try to remember to thank the person for the opportunity and for any review they may have written, regardless of whether I agree with what they've written or not.

I have no proof that any of these ideas actually increase sales. Ultimately, none of us will ever know for certain if some particular action we took caused someone to decide to spend his or her limited budget on one of our books. We can guesstimate by comparing promotional opportunities we took advantage of to how our book sold at that time, but for all we know the book we sell today could be the result of something we did months ago, something someone else did, or pure randomness.

I guess as long as we’re doing something to try to stand out from the crowd, we can feel satisfied that we’ve done what we can to try to snag those limited book purchase dollars out there waiting to be spent.

And who knows? Maybe the rumors are true and the economy is actually improving.

Holli Castillo

Jambalaya Justice
Gumbo Justice


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Ah, Holli, another well-thought out post. And I certainly agree, we need to always put our best "face" forward and be careful what we say. There are three rather famous authors whose books I will not buy because of their horrible attitude toward lesser known authors.

Patricia Gligor said...

I loved what you wrote about not always saying what you think when responding to someone's not so nice comment. I think that's called "biting your tongue" and I agree that, as writers trying to promote our books, we need to do that in "public" situations. I tend to be outspoken and I've learned to curb my natural instinct to zing someone back because it could turn around and zing me!

William Doonan said...

Great post, Holli. This is the toughest mile in the writing journey - how to entice readers to take a chance on you. I don't know how to do it either, but part of what can work includes remembering to thank every last person who helps you in any way. And you can always be sure to help out other writers as well.

William Doonan

Sunny Frazier said...

One of my goals is to concentrate on e-book marketing. There's got to be a way to market to that audience more effectively than what I've been doing.

Also, be generous. I often give away two books when I speak to get the crowd on my side. I even put a few copies on the give-away shelf at conferences. That way I make sure somebody shows at my signing!

C.K.Crigger said...

Excellent post, Holli. Sometimes keeping a positive attitude at the sales table is difficult, however. One of my pet peeves? The "I don't have time to read" group who walk out of the store with five movies in hand to watch that night. Or the, "I only read non-fiction," group, who sound as fiction is a dirty word. Sigh.

Keep smiling, ya'all. Because there are a few rare ones who'll even come to your house to pick up your latest.

books said...

Great post, Holli. This is the toughest mile in the writing journey - how to entice readers to take a chance on you.thanks sharing.....

James R. Callan said...

Hi Holli,

Good advice, well put. If you're ever in northeast Texas, I'd love to have you speak to the Northeast Texas Writers' Organization (NETWO). Thanks for a good blog.

Jim Callan
Posse member