Ever wonder why it’s so hard to sell books? One clue comes in an Associated Press poll on consumer reading habits from back in 2007. According to the results, one in four Americans didn’t read a single book during the prior year, and the average number of books read was only seven. That doesn’t leave a lot of readers for your book, does it?
Even so, tens of thousands of fresh-faced, hopeful authors leap into the ranks of the published every year in the certainty that they will be the exceptions. Somehow, their books will surpass the dismal statistics and become huge successes. And therein lies the problem. By clinging to such misplaced optimism, 99 percent of those authors will become discouraged and quit promoting their books long before they have even a hope of turning a profit. That brings us to the second secret in our blog series designed to help first-time authors tackle book signings.
Secret 2: Selling books will always be ten times harder than you expect.
Often overconfidence and unrealistic expectations can cause authors to under-prepare and under- plan when building a marketing platform. You find your book fascinating because it’s your work. But it’s unlikely that anyone has been waiting with anticipation for the debut of your new novel. When you finally launch it on the Amazon Kindle store and send out emails and Facebook messages to your loyal fans, you know what’s going to happen on Amazon?
Not much. You might sell five copies, but even the people who claimed that they were excited about your new book probably won’t buy copies. It’s just not what marketers call “top of mind” for them. Unless you have a big platform—tens of thousands of Twitter followers, thousands of blog subscribers, etc.—and have created a big pre-launch buzz, the launch of your new book is likely to be a quiet, uneventful affair, and you’ve got to adjust your expectations in that direction.
Rule of Ten reflects this reality. It means that no matter what metric you have in your head for your book’s commercial success, the results are probably going to be worse by a factor of ten. So if you’re thinking now that you’ll be able to sell 5,000 copies of your book in the first year, you’re more likely to move 500. If you’re figuring that you’ll be able to book ten speaking engagements in the first six months, you should be happy if you land one.
By planning for the road to be steeply uphill from the beginning, you’ll steel yourself against early disappointment and build a long-term marketing and sales plan that will eventually yield results.
Follow this six-step process for creating a platform that not only accounts for the Rule of Ten, but turns it into an advantage. Note that these steps apply to the period after you launch your book:
STEP ONE: CREATE AND EXECUTE A LONG-TERM PLAN
Set up a platform plan that’s good for at least two years. That’s probably how long it will take you to find out if your book has “legs” (i.e., if it has an audience). This plan should include:
- A social network posting plan, including contests, invitations to private forums, possible issues to tweet about, or Instagram photo campaigns.
- A blog/podcast editorial calendar to cover about half your posts/episodes (the others will be real-time responses to news, requests, etc.)
- A media plan—who you’ll send press releases to, talking points for a three-minute interview, a list of publications and broadcast outlets to regularly solicit, media outlets in your local metropolitan area that you can “carpet bomb” with information about your book over time.
- A comprehensive list of all the potential speaking opportunities that might crop up in your metro area or your specialty. These might include professional associations, civic groups, nonprofits, your university alumni association, area companies, religious groups, or regional conferences like TED. This list should also include the names and contact information of the people who hire speakers.
“Work the plan” is the operative phrase here. You’re unlikely to see a glut of book sales or instant media fame, so don’t make your continued efforts contingent on big results. Marketing your book takes a little faith. You’re not seeing big results right away, but you keep going, trusting that your work and your strategies are solid.
STEP TWO: MARKET USING TOOLS YOU CAN SUSTAIN
When your book launches, you’re going to be excited. Marketing is going to be a pleasure because you’ll be talking or writing about your book. But that excitement will fade, especially as it becomes clear that you won’t be an overnight sensation. Remember, successful books are built over time, with repetitive, disciplined activity—doing the right things over and over.
But you won’t do those things if you don’t enjoy them or if they’re too difficult. So sustainability is key when you’re building your platform.
Sustainability comes down to three surprisingly simple factors:
- Do what you can afford. Use as many low-cost tools as you can. You’re going to have to spend money on a few things like a really nice website, your cover design and so on, but let’s be honest: if you can’t afford to market your book, you’re not going to sell books. Create a budget and stick to it.
- Do what you can manage. Do you have hours each day to post to social networks, write blog posts, send query emails to newspapers and do all the other things that a robust platform demands? We don’t. Think of your platform as a workout: if you do too much, you’re going to wind up exhausted and hurt. Figure out how much time you can spare each day for marketing activities and then choose the activities that have the maximum potential return on investment. Shelve the rest until you have an assistant…or willing kids who’ll pitch in.
- Do what you enjoy. If you hate speaking and panic at the thought of doing 15 minutes in front of an audience, all the cajoling in the world won’t get you to do it. So don’t. We put in the most effort for the things we like, so choose platform pieces that you enjoy. Love writing? Blog daily. Love speaking? Great, get as many engagements as you can, large and small. Love talking? Consider creating your own podcast or webinar. Don’t love marketing at all? Find something you don’t hate and do it.
STEP THREE: CRUSH YOUR LAUNCH
Your book launch—essentially, the first 60 days after you make your book available for purchase—is the most critical time in its life. It’s fresh, it’s new, and people who’ve been waiting for it are excited to read it. This is when your marketing should be intense. You’ve got to leverage the enthusiasm about your book. Some of the best ways to do that happen months before the book comes out:
- Build a tribe of fellow authors. You should be gathering a group of authors who all agree to cross-promote each other’s work. Find five, ten or 20 peers who all have books coming out in the next 12 months and have a plan. Agree to email, post, tweet and blog about each other’s books for the first 30 days after each comes out.
- Build up the excitement by making “countdown” posts on your social network feeds. Ten days until your book come out, five days and so on. Offer discounts or special incentives for people who pre-order it.
- Put on a publication party and book signing. It doesn’t have to be lavish, but it should be unique, because that will draw attention from the press and bloggers. We’ve seen authors put on scavenger hunts, haunted houses, costume balls, you name it. Invite local media types and bloggers to attend, sign books, and speak. After the event, post pictures and videos.
- Make sure you get reviews. Weeks before your book debuts, get as many commitments as you can from people who are willing to buy your book and give you a positive Amazon review. The more legit five-star reviews you get, the better. Never, ever, pay for canned reviews or ask people to post who haven’t read your book. It’s unethical.
- Arrange an “Amazon bestseller day.” This is a simple way to game the system a bit. Just get as many people as you can to agree to buy your book on Amazon on the same day. If 100 people buy your book on March 27, it will jump to the top of the Amazon rankings for its genre. Then you can legitimately claim that it’s an Amazon bestseller.
- Ask your friends, family and co-workers to utilize their social media platforms to talk about your book.
If you have to choose where to invest your resources and energy, invest them in your launch. A strong launch will create opportunities for you.
STEP FOUR: ESCALATE STEADILY
Sadly, the excitement surrounding the launch of any book fades. In order to keep sales rolling, try to market more aggressively, not less, as the months go by. If you were tweeting six times a day for the first three months, by month six you should be tweeting a dozen times. If you were sending a weekly e-newsletter to readers, send two a week. If you were reaching out to journalists once a month about getting coverage, do it every week. Be the squeaky wheel.
STEP FIVE: KEEP IT FRESH
Given Step Four, Step Five’s a tough one. You’re going to increase the frequency and intensity of your marketing, but in order to keep potential readers interested, you’ve also got to vary your marketing content—keep it fresh, original and interesting. You can’t keep posting “Buy my book” messages on Facebook month after month, can you? People will get bored, or worse, irritated with you.
In your two-year promotional plan, be sure to add new types of marketing material, messages and tools as time goes by so you can keep your audience guessing, engaged and entertained. Some examples:
- Contests and competitions. Something like “Come up with the best name for the main character in my next book”, perhaps?
- Discounts and coupons.
- Exclusive unreleased chapters for readers who share a special discount
- A sneak preview of your next book as it’s being written.
There’s really no limit to what you could add to your blog, podcast, social feeds, emails or website to keep things fresh. One key: know your audience. Target your fresh offerings to what you believe will engage and delight your most likely readers, and keep it coming. Remember, you’re probably in this for at least two years. You need enough unique, memorable marketing schemes, deals and stunts to keep people coming back for that long.
STEP SIX: GET PERSONAL
While you’re entertaining and engaging potential book buyers with coupons and funny videos, don’t forget to step up the personal connection. The thing that readers want most is a meaningful relationship with an author whose work they admire. Arrange meet-and-greets with readers in your area. Do Q&A sessions on your Facebook page. Share stories from your writing career on your blog.
A word of caution: don’t create a persona for yourself. Be the real you. Anyone who reads your book and likes it will want to get to know you as you are.
Make People Care
Don’t assume people will automatically care about your book. You’re an unknown, first-time author, so set your expectations accordingly. You have to make people care about it.
You do that by sharing, reaching out and connecting with prospective readers relentlessly, again and again and again, over months and years.
Say it out loud right now: “No one cares about my book. I have to make them care.” Good. Now go out and make it happen.
Stay tuned for Secret #3!
Can’t wait? Learn all ten secrets in the book How to Sell a Crapload of Books: 10 Secrets of a Killer Author Marketing Platform. Enter promo code Mascot2016 for 25% off!