Book marketing

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?

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12 thoughts on “Book marketing

  1. First, you are NOT “personally unimpressive.” You are just the opposite. (And I don’t know you in person, just so people will know I’m not your best friend, or your mother’s.)
    I saw a piece on CNN the other day about the “Jesus for President” tour. That must be good for the author, right? One would assume. I already have the book on my stack waiting to be read, but I wonder if the story would have gotten me to order a book. It might well not have, since I came away feeling like a person as liberal/progressive as I am would not relate to his thinking, despite the veggie oil running his bus. That’s subjective. And subjectivity is what it’s all about. If a friend wrote a book, I would buy it, even if I didn’t ever read it! That’s my subjective lens.
    Anyway, I’m looking forward to your next book.

  2. Yeah… CNN would certainly help! I’ve seen Doug Pagitt and Rob Bell on CNN as well.

    Shane Claiborne was at Church Unbound a couple weeks ago. He was very inspiring. I’m glad he’s getting some press.

    The thing that liberals might learn from him is having actual contact with the poor. You know, we’re really good at writing checks, but our communities are so segregated, that we don’t have a lot of relationships with poor people.

  3. I wait for the new book also. I see it like this, why pimp yourself out to sell books? I am tired of the onslaught of “emergent/emerging” authors out there. It seems to me that if you slap on the cover a hip name and slather it with some new buzz word and have all of your buddies comment on it, it sells. It is a club.

    I say this with the hopes of getting a book published one day. A book about God, theology, hope, faith, & Iron Maiden. That is my plug. So we are all searching for a place to be, a place to lie our heads. Where is the line between punk and punker than you?

    This is a question that only God knows. We try the best we can. We exploit folks around us. We search for the other to abandon the other when we arrive. We fail, day in and day out.

    Book marketing is akin to movie trailers. After a time of action and fast paced what not’s you tune them out because you understand that the best they had to offer was wrapped up in that little 60 second clip.

  4. Good points. I would say as long as they are not using the social network or email list ONLY for promoting their own book, then it is ok. You are supposed to be “friends” and therefore presumptively would be interested in what they are up to. But that is not ALL you care about. I’m interested in the person, not just their book. But like you say, it is a fine line.

  5. Well, I don’t have your book, but since we run in the same circles, I started reading your blog, which has made me WANT your book. Once I get past a busy spell and get to make some new-fiscal-year book purchases, yours is definitely on the list.

    I recommend becoming a GoodReads author. It’s such a great website, your book is on it, and it’s a great, non-awkward place to market your book.

  6. Carol- I’m teaching Intro to CE this fall at United Seminary in Dayton, OH (UMC with groups of Presbys, AA Baptists and a smattering of others). Looking for books to share with students which help them think outside the box about Christian Education.
    Since I approach CE more as a process of ESFI (enculturation, socialization, formation and instruction), your book might have some good possibility for jump starting conversation and deepening an understanding of CE. Is it possible for me to get a review copy if you think there are appropriate treasures to be mined in your book?
    Thanks.
    Elder Jacqueline Nowak, DMin
    Director, Institute for Applied Theology
    Adjunct Faculty
    United Seminary

  7. Well, I guess you already know my advice. Give your book away as a free download online. Many authors who have tried this (with the exception of Real Live Preacher, whose book wasn’t really a book, but a collection of blog entries) have experienced increased book sales, despite the conventional wisdom to the contrary. People who are likely to buy your book will still be most likely to buy it. People who aren’t likely to buy your book will be at least more likely to start reading a few chapters, and then might be enticed to buy it. People who don’t ever intend to buy it, still won’t buy it, but they might read it–and possibly recommend it to someone who will buy it.

    Derek Webb is doing an interesting thing with his new album “The Ringing Bell.” You can either pay to download it…OR…you can submit emails of three friends you think might like the album, and then you can download it for free. He did this with his last album, Mockingbird, and it went viral. I downloaded it for free…and then bought a copy, too. I’ve often suspected this might work for a book, too.

    But I also suspect that the big “wall” might be the publisher. Do they own the rights to your book? Publishers are generally conservative, slow to jump on new trends in marketing and publishing, and very, VERY spooked by words like “free.”

    If that’s the case, what happens when your book goes out of print? Can you buy back the rights then, or at that point convince them to let you put it online for free, in the hopes that renewed interest in your out-of-print book might generate interest (and sales) for your current one?

    But alas, I’m probably beating a dead horse again. And while I’m more than willing to play the guinea pig with my own book, now that I’m immersed in seminary it might be awhile before that gets finished, let alone published…

  8. Not a dead horse! You’re thinking about the future, Neal. And probably the present… I’m just not there yet…

    The idea’s definitely spreading though. I met with a group of authors, recently, and they were talking about it.

  9. This blog is one of your best “marketing” tools! And I think seminaries are another great way to go. Does Rodger N. use the book in any of his classes?

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