On Marketing Your Books

I’ve never been one to learn things the easy way; the school environment just taught me to hate the school environment. I learn best by doing a bit of research – talking to people and asking questions, mainly, and then by doing, testing and fine-tuning. And even sometimes deciding the project did not work out the way I’d intended and going back to step 1 and starting all over again (with the added knowledge gained from my previous experience as guide, of course).

So what little I do know about book marketing is knowledge well-earned through hands (and money) on experience over several years.

If you have got a book out in the market, you’re one step ahead of everyone else who is still sitting comfortably and thinking about writing a book. If you have two or three books in the market you may already know much of what I am going to present here. But it never hurts to have your own conclusions confirmed by the experience of another, so read on, please.

Only a few minutes ago I was browsing through Facebook posts and came upon a photo of new book by a very popular talk radio/TV personality. Several copies of that book had been placed on a display rack in the feminine products aisle of a drug store. I didn’t bother to read the accompanying text, but I am willing to bet very good money those books sold out in a hurry, contrary to the hopes of whoever put them there.

That is a very bizarre example of incorrect product placement that may well have been an act of twisted genius (or karma).

But if you are a new author, I suggest you follow a more reliable and less risky path; gain some knowledge about the types of readers in your market group and how to reach them. If you write romance novels, do not invest any of your time and money on newspaper ads marketing to lonely sailors on desert islands. What newspapers they do get are several years out of date, they probably don’t have any money and are most likely spending what little they do have on survival manuals or paleo diet cook books.

If you do have only one book (in any genre), do not waste a single penny on advertising your book. Not a penny. If you have one book, you probably have very few readers, unless your name is J.K. Rowling. In which case, you have a large and influential publishing house backing you up and paying for the marketing and promotion.

But you probably don’t. So listen closely; before you begin to market your book, you must learn to market yourself as an author. Take a piece of paper and a pen and write down the names of your favorite authors. All of them. Once you have that done, write down the titles of their books. I guarantee you will have more than a few author’s names with no titles next to them. That is normal, and that is how it should be. People recall authors long after their titles fade from memory.

So sell yourself. Brand yourself. Come up with a short sentence that both describes you and sets you apart from (or groups you with)  the other authors who currently rule your chosen genre. Make yourself unique. You ARE unique, so make sure potential readers know that. Incorporate your ‘Brand’ into your signature line in every email you send out. Make certain that brand appears on every page of your web site, very close to the top of the page. Put that brand on your blog page, as well.

Since it is difficult if not impossible to put your brand all over your web site and your blog page if you don’t have them, you will have to build yourself a web site and set up a blog. And then use them, frequently.

Your brand IS you to the rest of the world. Do NOT ever change your brand, and once you have your web site up and running be sure that you do not ever change the text on your home page. You can change anything on the other pages, but leave the text on your home page alone.

The home page on your web site is the first image people will see of you, and the information you place there (at least on the top half of that page), is perhaps all they will carry away with them when they leave. The average visitor will spend perhaps 30 seconds looking at the top half of your home page before moving on to another web site. What that visitor sees in that time, what he or she takes away with them when they leave, is up to you. Whatever else they take with them, make sure it is an image of your brand. Make it short attractive and memorable.

Set up a Bio page on your site. Make it interesting and memorable. Use humor; if you can get the reader to laugh or even smile you have made a friend for life. You have succeeded in selling yourself as a friendly, even approachable author.

Your blog posts should closely follow your genre. Host fellow writers and offer to post guest appearances on other blogs favored by readers of your genre. You do this to increase awareness among readers of your genre and to create links on the web. Search engines use links to measure popularity, relevance and importance. Those engines are also aware of ‘fake’ links; those made by people simply to increase the number of links bearing their name and web site address. As far as the search engines are concerned this practice is considered as rude and uncouth as paying for reviews of your book. Do not do this.

Personal appearances to sell copies of your book(s) at local events – library appearances, local clubs and fairs, are wonderful for meeting people, usually one at a time. I strongly suggest that all new authors spend as much time as they can during the first few years of their writing career in personal appearances. If this idea makes you nervous (most writers are by nature introverts), that is all the more reason to put yourself out there. If you feel the need, reach out to your local chapter of Toastmasters International. You will have a ball, meet lots of very interesting people and put your fears to rest. I promise.

I push personal appearances because it forces you to sell yourself as an author whose work has value to the reader.

But personal appearances are a very slow way to increase sales. You may well sell a few hundred copies of your book (signed, of course) during the course of a year, and it may make you feel really good, but you can’t pay your bills that way. Just keep in mind that you are NOT doing this to sell books; you ARE doing this to grow as an author and as a business person. You need to learn how to sell yourself before you can ever hope to sell your books. You need to learn how to sell; how to present yourself, how to get your message across in a very few words and how to show a potential buyer that you – and by extension your writing – has value to him (or her).

You need a national audience to make a living as a writer. That is why you set up a web site, that is why you fine-tune the keywords and meta tags on your home page and every page of your web site. That is why you need to ‘Brand’ yourself as a writer and that is why you post blogs and guest host for other bloggers.

Sell yourself to readers and they will buy your books.

There is a very good understanding among marketing folks that a potential customer must see your brand at least seven times before he or she becomes aware of you and begins to trust your brand, becomes to trust you. Give yourself a year or two to get your brand before potential readers; don’t give up on this. It’s not rocket science, boys and girls. You have to produce additional books – a minimum of three – AND build your brand at the same time.

Every new book you release WILL lead readers to purchase you previous work, I promise. Don’t give up.

The life of an independent author requires that you wear at several hats; author, business person and marketing guru. And, if you have the time, teacher. I add that last because my experience has taught me that you will learn far more by teaching than you ever did by learning.

Feel free to browse through the archives on this blog page. I have lots of posts on marketing scattered in there, and even a few on actually writing stuff.

Whatever else you may ever do in your life, wherever your life may lead you, do not ever quit on yourself.


About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. Those words were written a few years ago. Frankly speaking, the literary well has dried up. I now live in Dunnellon, Fl, where I amworking as the caretaker on a horse farm and looking to build a workshop here on the property where I can get back to building furniture. With any luck I will be sinking piers some time early in November and hope to have the floor joists ready for flooring by the end of the month. I'll get back to you on that.
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