Friday, March 27, 2009

What Can Authors Do to Sell Books

I suspect that after query letters, the most frequently asked question authors have and the most well-attended workshops at writers conferences are those about publicity. What does an author have to do or what can an author do to help sell books?

When asking around you are going to hear a million and one answers to this question. You are going to hear that you need to spend at least your entire advance on publicity or that you have to have bookmarks. You’re going to hear that a Web site is a must and blogging is essential. Well, do you want to know what I think? I think that no one, not one person out there, knows what works and what doesn’t. What everyone can do is speculate that what they did either worked or didn’t, but the truth is that no one knows for sure whether there is a correlation between what the author did and what actually sold books.

I do think a Web site is essential. I don’t think it needs to cost you thousands and thousands of dollars, but it does need to look professional and it does need to be updated regularly. So yes, it will cost some money. Web sites are where a fan base will first start searching for you. If a reader finishes your book and enjoys it, the first thing she’ll probably do is Google your name, and in any situation the best thing you can do is ensure in a Google search that you provide what the readers what. Every single author Web site should include:

  • jpegs of book covers
  • review blurbs
  • information on upcoming projects
  • author bio
  • contact information for fan mail
Other bonus material that I think readers will enjoy and others might find useful
  • a photo of the author and covers in a downloadable file with high enough resolution that reviewers can use it if needed
  • fun facts, recipes, games, etc., related to the book
  • updates on the author’s progress
  • links to other sources that might relate to your book
Whether or not you join a blog or group blog is entirely up to you. I think guest blogging can be useful and maybe more useful than your own blog, since it will hopefully reach out to people who don’t yet know you. A blog should only be done if you really know you can and want to commit to it. I’m here to tell you firsthand how time-consuming they can be, and the last thing you want to do is spend time writing a blog when what you should really be doing is writing your next book. So yes, go ahead and start or join a blog if it’s something you really want to do, but not because you feel like you have to.

Bookmarks, pens, postcards, and other handouts are only useful if you use them. I don’t think that shipping postcards or pens all around the country or the world to conferences so they can sit on tables and be tossed in the trash later is useful. I do, however, think that if you use your promotional item, whatever it might be, as a way to introduce yourself and make a personal connection with readers, they are worth the money. A client once asked me if I thought she should reorder her promotional items and my response was that she really seemed to enjoy her items. She loved passing them out to readers and potential readers and using them as a way of introduction. She agreed. To her they were fun. She reordered. Promotional items don’t do any good without a personal connection. If they are simply picked up off the table they only become another pen at the bottom of a purse.

Video trailers and other multimedia promotion are something I never understood. I know authors love them and certainly they are a fun way to present your book, but do they really work? You tell me. Have any of you ever bought a book based on a trailer. I think they can be a great addition to your Web site and certainly a different way of presenting the book, but unless you are really going to spend the money and make sure they shine and get out there to the public they are just another thing sitting on your computer.

So what is my feeling on what you can do to sell your book? The truth is that the best thing you can do is write the best book of your life and follow it up with an even better book. The rest, the Web site, the blog, the pens, the postcards . . . should only be done if they are fun for you. If you use them to make a personal connection with potential readers. Remember, the point of promotion is not just to pass things out to those who love you and your work already, it’s to introduce yourself to someone new.