So I was in the midst of book marketing, when another author came to visit.
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to sell my book.”
“But that’s the publisher’s job.”
Well, yes. But not really. If you’re a big name, and you have a big publisher, they might pull out a spread in the Christian Century or something. But, I was a very tiny name. I knew that the good folks at Alban would do all they could, but the bulk of it would be up to me. And, lucky for me, my husband got into the act, and did a great job of it.
If you know me personally, then you’re probably laughing right now. Because the fact is, I kind of suck at marketing my own book. Half of my own congregation probably doesn’t know that I wrote a book. Ask me what my book is about and I’ll mumble something incoherent to you. My friend Tara Spuhler McCabe reminds me of how bad I am about every time I see her….
Let me assure you that I’m not a natural sales person. And promoting my own work feels about as comfortable as pulling my own molars out. But… I did something right. The book sold more than expected. I’m on my publisher’s bestseller list, right under some very established authors. So, in case there are some budding authors out there, I thought I’d let you know what I did.
But, I may have to begin with an explanation, because people look at book prices and assume that the author’s taking home a pile of change. When, actually, authors often make about 8-12 percent of the cover. And most books sell about a thousand copies. So, you can do the math. If an author makes 10 percent on a book that costs $15, and she sells 1,000 copies, then she will make $1,500.
Most people think that marketing a book is about making lots of money, but there are only a handful of people who are making an actual living on books alone. A friend of mine was at the Cathedral a couple of weeks ago with Barbara Brown Taylor, Nora Gallager, and Lauren Winner. Three huge names in our little publishing corner–and they all have day jobs.
Book marketing is less about making money, and more about the small hope that someone just might actually read what you’ve written. And…okay…it’s a little bit about making money…because after spending a good year neglecting your family, it is kind of nice to take your husband out to eat with the royalty check.
I’ll start with what didn’t work. But let me do it with the caveat that you have to try anything and everything.
I had a book table at my Presbytery, and I might have sold two books. It was kind of embarrassing.
Then, we made postcards and mailed them out, but it was very expensive. To get a couple hundred one-sided, color postcards, it costs a couple hundred dollars. And, remember, we’re talking about $1,500. So in the end, I figured that spending $400 on junk mail wasn’t the best way to go about it.
The main thing that I did was try to get it out on the web as much as possible. And the two things that worked were this blog and sending out personal emails. Since you’re here, I assume you know about the blog. Other bloggers were really the key. I got wonderful reviews from them. (Thank you sooo much! And please, let me know what I can do to return the favor.)
I put together an email, with an electronic version of the postcard, and went about the pain-staking business of sending them out to everyone I could think of. First it was family. Then it was friends. Then it was leaders in progressive mainline organizations. Brian compiled the lists, and I wrote personal messages in each one, and sent them out individually, hoping that they wouldn’t be deleted as spam. I did this for the first six months, every time my Amazon ranking got lower than 100,000.
I didn’t get a response from most of the people. But, it was amazing how many wonderful replies I did get. I even formed some good relationships through it.
It is strange who will buy the book and who will promote it. Many of my family members didn’t buy it. Only a couple members of my congregation have read it. The editor whom I knew personally didn’t include a review in his publication. And then others, people I never met, jumped on reviews. Some people who knew me well (like the good people at my seminary), bent over backwards to promote it, others paid no attention to it.
All of this was interesting. I mean, when a friend of mine writes a book, I’m on the publisher’s waiting list. I can’t wait to read it and spread the news. Hhmmm…. is all this saying something about how unimpressive I am personally? Maybe.
Or maybe it’s just how it is. It’s a strange mix between “it’s who you know” and “a prophet is without honor in her hometown.” (Not saying that I’m a prophet…just saying those words of Jesus were quite comforting at times.)
The traveling is really fun, and I started out going anywhere, at any time, at any price. But then my calendar filled up, and I realized how hard it can be on the family. Plus, I still have a full-time pastorate, and my job description has only gotten bigger. So, where I’ve been willing to travel at cost, I’m at the place now where I need to start asking for an honorarium. You know. There are only 24 hours in a day. It’s the time factor. I guess I shouldn’t feel so bad, though. I know people in this business who charge for phone calls!
The emergent church guys are doing something interesting. You see, I go to conferences, get paid for travel and an honorarium. Then, I hope that I can sell a few books in the process. But it seems that they are eschewing that model and inventing a new one. They’re renting their own spaces, or finding churches that will host them. They put together their own conferences and book promo shows. Then they sell tickets, and sell books on top of that. With the small amount that authors make, I wonder if this is the model we’ll all be going to soon.
So, questions for y’all. I’ve had a couple authors whom I don’t know friend me on facebook. And now their status updates only include information on book tours. On one hand, I shrug and think, Whatever it takes. When my book came out, I posted it on the wall of groups that I was a part of… but… on the other hand, it does seem like there’s a line somewhere between good marketing and bad taste. Where’s the line? When did you think it was crossed? When is it good use of social networking, and when is it using your friends to sell books? What annoys you about book marketing? What works?