Finding fault with New York Times’ coverage of the book business is a beloved topic among editors and publishers. I’m sure many smirked at the Times’ August 15th piece, The Joys and Hazards of Self-Publishing on the Web—the options profiled have been well-known to book pros and aspiring authors for years. That said, newcomers will benefit from good advice on and links to digital and ebook publishers and their services.
I strongly agree with several of the article’s main findings: digital platforms have reduced the cost of self-publishing; these newer services give the author genuine control over their books; and the vast majority of self-published books barely sell at all. This last point, however, is always the skunk at the party in any self-publishing article.
Breakout self-published authors get a ton of media attention and make for good stories, but they represent the tiniest sliver of the self-published universe. What’s missing from this article and others similar to it is a common sense question: If global publishers with a century of business success struggle to sell more than a few thousand copies of a book, how does a self-published author market his/her book for the first time? What marketing strategies are particularly effective and actually work for “citizen authors”—as coined by my friend David Sterry?
I have a few principles I urge you to consider if you take the self-publishing path:
- Establish your book-selling goals: Roughly, how many books do you want to sell? This is a key question because your number will determine how much energy and effort you’ll have to expend when marketing your book.
- Research your target audience: Marketing your book through your personal network won’t be enough, you’ll need to engage communities who have an existing passion or professional interest in your fiction genre or nonfiction subject (See my post Fish Where the Fish Are). The key here is to research your market. If you’ve written a book about quilting, find out what quilters read and what websites they use; if it’s a fly fishing book, figure out how Fly Fisherman magazine engages anglers. Once you have identified your market is ask yourself this: Can I reach these people with my book?
- Create a marketing plan: Even if it is a grassroots effort, draft and implement (parts of) your marketing plan a year ahead of publication. If you want to be a Twitter powerhouse, you should know that building a few thousand Twitter followers will probably take at least a year. Are there annual conferences you might speak at? Take your marketing plan for a test drive and show it to your friends, fans, and followers (all potential buyers). Ask for their opinions: pose questions, show them a sample chapter, and seek their input in your decisions.
- Consider a publishing and marketing partner: Can you identify an organization, business, or colleague who would benefit from being associated with your book? One of my clients realized that to sell his book he needed access to more business seminar opportunities. He reached out to a well-established local management consultant he knew and offered him a co-authorship. The new co-author contributed useful new content without changing the book dramatically and gained a publication credit. In the end, the two authors developed a joint seminar program at local businesses.
- Skip Buying Ad Space: In my experience, generally online ads don’t work very well but consistent online and regular publicity does work. One client, for example, promoted her parenting book to specific bloggers over a three-month period, resulting in hundreds of hits to her website. However, there are absolutely situations where online and offline ads can sell a book–particularly where the audience is a microniche and can be targeted efficiently (scrapbooking, for example).
Remember: self-publishing is a big undertaking; it will cost money and require a lot of an author’s time. What results do you want for this investment?