Writers write; authors sell what they write. The two functions involve separate skill sets. I’m working assiduously on my marketing skills. I set aside 2016 not to add another novel but to focus on selling.
Marketing is not something I was born with. I had to develop it. With the shifting world of publishing and book selling, most publishers don’t have big budgets for author promotion. It’s left to the author. There really isn’t training universally available to learn to sell books. What sells itself to some extent are a few genres: mystery, thriller, and romance. My writing is from my passion—prehistoric fiction. Not exactly the top of the public interest list. To help the ignorant author there is a lot of merchandizing available for purchase. I’d say, BEWARE! The products can become black holes for expense and not contribute positively.
Besides genre, one way for authors to cash in is to self-publish. I don’t have those skills, and I haven’t wanted to learn them. I’m happy to contract with a small publisher on a royalty contract. He excels at what he does, and I do the best I can doing what I do. It works.
One of the first things that comes to mind for book sales is book signings. Book signings intimidated me until I actually did one. Then, I discovered to my delight, it’s just conversing with strangers about my passion. Well, that was fun! Plenty of people told me they wanted to read the book but couldn’t afford to buy a copy. I suggested they go to their closest library. To me that’s common sense. Speaking events can feel threatening, but it’s a great way to get known. Fortunately for me, speaking to groups wasn’t intimidating at all. I had that skill set for eons.
Writing to genre, book signings, and speaking events are great, but in my case I wasn’t by any means making real money on my books. Others encouraged me to do my own publishing. I still lacked interest. Down deep inside I felt that my novel series, so heavily researched in science, needed to be in libraries. My publisher discouraged me. I had the intuitive sense that I needed to try. I sent out a pitch letter to libraries, and not a single response came back. Demoralizing but instructive. I sent a single copy of my first novel, Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC to every library in the borough in which I live. The result, silence.
I continued on bungling my way through marketing. I’m not embarrassed to admit it. I think I’m in good company. I attended craft shows. One of these was in a library and to my surprise, they were displaying Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC. I was astounded. For me the art/craft shows are tough. I’m old. Carrying boxes of books hurts my shoulders. It does usually bring in more than the entry fee. Still not great for sales.
This summer, years after the craft show when I saw my book displayed in a library, I learned that in the borough all my books are now available. How interesting that the donation resulted in making four other books available. The librarian with whom I talked made it clear, people are reading them!
One day I was talking to Tammy Gray, a member of the local Women In Business groups. She’s wonderful for sharing. When she realized I was looking for space to do book signings along with a couple of other local authors, she offered space for three opportunities. I was delighted for the chance. My publisher provided me with “invitations” to attach to community bulletin boards and countertops. We three authors will paper the area with these “invitations.” I keep going back to places I put them. I find they’ve been removed by interested people, just as I hoped. I replace them. It’s busy work, but necessary. Taking the information to local radio stations is also helpful as is posting the event in the local newspaper.
It was Tammy Gray who waked me up when it came to focus. While doing my first book signing at her place of business, she said, “You’ve gotta go where your target group is.” She was asking about demographics with respect to my readers. She offered some suggestions of local businesses where their clientele might be reachable. I was shocked. I’d overlooked the thing I knew. You always consider your target and their goals. What planet had I parked myself on?
Tammy Gray made me acutely aware of the intuitive focus I’d had since the beginning. My books belonged in libraries. I’d had the same experience my publisher had with libraries. I sensed there was a key, and I didn’t know what the key was. I was focused on reader goals, not librarian goals.
I tried again. In my state there is a list of libraries. I emailed them, but the way I did it was to try to consolidate the addresses on my email. Every single one came back. I was utterly demoralized. How could this be? The books were legitimate library books. Every novel had won an award. There was a to-die-for novel series review from Midwest Book Review. The judge on my last book, the same judge who judged all the others, called me “America’s preeminent writer of prehistoric fiction.” Why so hard to reach the libraries?
People told me you had to have your book noticed by “Library Journal” or this place or that. It seemed overwhelming. It also didn’t help that I’d sent out all those emails, and all had come back because I didn’t use the technology correctly. What a waste of time. But also a learning opportunity. And, as life frequently presents, a blessing in disguise.
One morning just after the emails were all returned, I opened my email to find an invitation to a webinar that focused on selling to libraries. I laughed out loud when I saw the header. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I planned the time and attended the webinar. I was bowled over. I had been doing what I knew better than to do. My pitch to libraries had been my own focus, not looking at it from their view. How utterly stupid of me!
So, I listened carefully. I bought the course they sell. It’s expensive, at least to me it’s expensive. I followed their advice and put together a package for the LIBRARIAN. Now, I’m ready to try again. Whether this time will be successful, I have no way to know. I know it’s better than what I’ve tried in the past.
I’m seizing this opportunity to follow my intuition. The insight Tammy Gray provided has hopefully steered me in the right direction. Now, with this opportunity to follow the solid guidance of how to approach librarians, I’ll have success. If not, it adds to my learning. Give me about three or four months, maybe six, and if there’s good news to report, I’ll share with you what course I took to break through. I have lots of hope and enthusiasm this time. Something just feels as if I’m finally getting the tools put into the right context to turn opportunity to a new success for those I try to reach and myself.