The writing world is never short on advice for how to turn wild enthusiasm into 25,000 words that will alter the course of history.
Unfortunately, no one else has ever heard of you, much less your book. Not long after the final print ends up in your hands you might notice that you know how to write a book, but have no idea how to exchange it for money. Do you just get a FaceBook page? Start Twittering after people? Uploading your volume to Amazon?
You can. You should, really. But if that’s all you do, you’ll have a nice piece of virtual real estate and a few virtual friends, and not much else. Seriously, have you ever counted the number of volumes on sites like Book Locker or Amazon? Unless you’re a presidential candidate or a movie star, you absolutely will get lost in the mix because people will not buy the writings of people they have never heard of.
You don’t want to just write a book (if you did, you’d call it your diary and hide it under the bed when your little brother gets too close). You want to sell your book. You don’t want to be another writer who orders a bunch of copies of his or her own work and ends up with a set of very well-written coasters. You want to be able to re-order your book from the publisher. Multiple times. Because you keep running out.
If you really want to start moving copies, start by putting yourself and your work out there. And not just on a website where you hope it’ll catch Oprah’s eye; go out and be in front of actual people. That doesn’t mean networking and elevator pitches, it means going to local stores and meeting people live.
Bookstores have gone big-box, that’s for sure, but book people are still idealists at heart. They instinctively root for the underdog, and in the world of books, that is you. Local booksellers love to spotlight local talent. They want to be seen as valuable members of the community, they want the public to know they are connected. So the first thing you should do is call all the bookstores in your area – and it doesn’t just have to be a bookstore. Stores that carry products related to the subject of your book are also a great place to market your work. Are you writing about nutrition? Check out the local health food stores. Writing for women? Call the local gift boutique. Ask how you can go about setting up a Meet the Author night and give a little talk about your book. If you have never asked something like this, take comfort in the fact that most people, even executives and professionals, will usually say yes to polite requests. You’ll be surprised how many store managers will be glad to work with you.
When you shore up a few commitments you will have something you can pitch to press and media outlets in the areas local to each store you’ll be speaking at. Have a basic press release ready to go, and update it as needed.
You make yourself more marketable to papers and possibly even local radio stations when you have a dated, relevant local item for them. You become relevant to the press, and they in turn will be more likely to call on you because you now have an actual event in the community they serve.
Start local, and with small papers, popular local blogs, or online publications. News editors, believe it or not, still like to tell “hometown boy does good” stories.
Once you have a news story or two in the offing, use the dual momentum — get more bookstore dates by being in more papers, and get into more papers by having more dates. Editors are suckers for trends and tours. They are far more likely to cover someone who has been deemed worthy of coverage by other publications.
Remember, though, not to leave your marketing efforts to chance. Do not assume that just because you have a snappy, relevant press release you will get a call. Follow up. Media people get a lot of pitches, and most of them are faceless, multi-outlet blast emails that suffer fast dispatch to the trash bin. Calling an editor is often enough to get him to consider you. But be sure to take rejection in the spirit it is meant. Editors will not cover you if you have nothing to offer them, which is another way of saying that your subject does not fit the publication. If you’ve written a book about gardening, a sports magazine will not find a place for it.
Remember, too, that if you hit a wall with an editor, ask what you could do to make yourself relevant to his paper. But do not push. The surest route to an obscure existence in a house full of well-written coasters is to try to bully the people who can give you the exposure you need.
That goes for the booksellers too. If you push, they will be less likely to offer you time and space in their stores.