MARKETING YOUR BOOK
ONE FICTION WRITER’S PERSPECTIVE
by John Wemlinger, author of Winter’s Bloom and Operation Light Switch
In a perfect world, I would spend all of my time writing. The hard, cold truth of the matter, however, is that if you want your work to be read by others, it must be marketed. And no one can market your book(s) better than you.
Transparency requires me to disclose that my books are self-published rather than traditionally published. Here’s why:
1. An agent will likely take at least 15% of any publishing contract you get.
2. I dislike the process of finding an agent. The query letter is a pain in the @#^. I prefer to craft good stories, not letters.
3. Unless you are John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, David Baldacci, etc., don’t expect a large marketing budget. Always remember, publishing is a business. In particular, for fiction writers, larger marketing budgets accrue to those authors who continue to land their books on the New York Times Best-Sellers list.
4. Traditional publishing takes too long! I saved myself two or three years by self-publishing my first book, Winter’s Bloom, in 2016. Had I gone the traditional route, that book might not yet be in print. Instead, I used my time wisely. As 2018 winds down, I am on the cusp of publishing my third novel.
BEFORE GOING FURTHER, I OFFER YOU THIS OBVIOUS, BUT OFTEN OVERLOOKED, OBSERVATION: BEFORE YOU START LABORING OVER MARKETING, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A QUALITY BOOK TO SELL!
WHAT DO I MEAN BY QUALITY? PLEASE CONSIDER THESE POINTS:
1. If you have not had your manuscript professionally edited, it likely is not as good as it could be.
2. Unless you are an illustrator or graphic designer yourself, chances are your book’s cover will not have the pizzazz it needs to sell on line or in bookstores.
3. Customer reviews on sites like Amazon.com are essential. Generally speaking, the more customer reviews a book has received, the better, as long as those reviews are four or five stars. REMEMBER, this is a very competitive environment. One-, two- or three-star reviews will likely indicate that your book is being poorly received, and you should reconsider points 1 and 2 above.
MARKETING: DRUDGERY OR DELIGHT?
I enjoy writing, BUT I also thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to talk with readers or prospective readers. I am willing to travel fairly good distances to do this. In the three or four years that my books have been in the marketplace, I can recall turning down only one opportunity to talk to a group about my book … and that was because of a terrible snowstorm that made the 75-mile drive to their location simply impossible. We rescheduled.
THE TRICK IS CREATING OPPORTUNITIES TO TALK ABOUT YOUR BOOK(S) AND YOUR WRITING WITH READERS OR PROSPECTIVE READERS. SO, HERE’S HOW I DO THAT:
1. Prospective readers must be able to access your book. Simply put, if your book isn’t on Amazon as a paperback and ebook, then you aren’t really in the marketplace.
2. As a general rule, I do not charge a speaking fee or an honorarium. I think I have a good sense of “who I am” and that dictates this rule, though a few groups have given me gift cards for talking to them. While these were much appreciated, they were not necessary. As a writer, I learn as much from them as they do from me.
3. I use as many of my “ins” as possible. An “in” is anything that might get you a “foot in the door.” For example, I am a retired army officer and I write about veterans, so I use that to leverage opportunities with military groups like The Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, etc. I am also a past-president of a Rotary Club. There are LOTS OF ROTARY CLUBS, so I contact them, offer them my background and then ask if they might be looking for an interesting program. There are many other service clubs that are constantly looking for programs. As you publish additional books, and assuming you provided an interesting program the first time around, an email should get you a quick invitation to return. ONE HINT: Be sure to ask if it would be OK for you to offer your book(s) for sale to their club’s membership after you’ve spoken to them. Not only is this the courteous thing to do, but a few clubs prohibit solicitation at their meetings. Even if that is their rule, I still gladly go to speak to the group, and I freely distribute my business cards among those in attendance.
4. There are lots of book clubs. NEVER TURN DOWN A BOOK CLUB OPPORTUNITY, because one book club visit can generate other book club visits. Book clubs are a lot of fun for several reasons. First of all, people who join book clubs are more serious readers. Second, everyone there will have read your book, so you can talk about everything, including the surprise ending. In other groups, you must protect against the “spoiler alert.” Third, and this is just a personal belief, so not anything I can statistically prove, you stand a better chance of garnering reviews from book club members because they are more serious readers.
5. You should schedule book signings as an “up and coming author.” Consider these points:
a. You will have to contact independent bookstores and arrange the dates and times. So, I have a process to do this. First, I will visit the bookstore to see if they would like to carry my book. Independent book stores will almost always do this gladly. Some will pay you outright a 60/40 split of the retail cost of your book … you get the 60%. Others will want to take your books on consignment. Be careful with consignment. It will be up to you to check back periodically with that store to see how many books they have sold, to secure payment for sold books, and to ask about restocking. My experience has been that if your books produce sales, they will quickly revert to paying you outright for books as they receive them. If a bookstore takes my books, I will immediately try to set up a book signing event. If they are reluctant, I will follow up, especially if my book sells at their store.
b. Sadly, the big chain bookstores are much less willing to deal with you than are the smaller, independent stores. My experience is that Barnes and Noble won’t stock your book unless there is a sufficient customer demand for it. Schulers, a large book seller in the Grand Rapids area, will take your book on consignment, but will charge you a fee for their administrative processing of your consignment contract. I have paid this fee, but have not done a book signing at Schulers.
c. I have business cards for each of my books. One side contains the book’s cover, the back side contains contact info, my website URL, and the title(s) of my other books. I put one of these in every book I sign and ask the reader to contact me and let me know what they thought of the book. In the event they do not buy the book, I give them a card, let them know they may visit my website and read the first four chapters of any of my books for free, and then order the book on line as either a paperback or ebook.
d. Keep the “Events Tab” of your website up to date with info about who, what, where and when you will be appearing.
e. Always ask anyone who purchases your book at a book signing to consider doing a review on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. The more reviews an author gets, the more Amazon, Goodreads, etc., will advertise that book.
f. An odd place I have had very good success at selling books is local craft fairs. Chances are, you will be the only vendor there selling books. In the summer, Michigan is a treasure trove of these kinds of events. Simply Google “Michigan Craft Fairs” to find the ones that you think you might consider. Most of these charge manageable registration fees.
g. A final note on book signings: set achievable goals for yourself as far as sales at these events are concerned. My goal … if I sell five books at one of these, I consider it a success. Again, I think this is because I have a good sense of “who I am.”
6. As an author, you must have a presence on social media. I have an author’s FaceBook page. I don’t post every day to it … in fact, far from it. I post when something happens in my writing life that is notable, and then I am sure to keep the post short and sweet. FaceBook is an inexpensive, yet effective way to reach a lot of people. You can “boost” your post. You select the audience you are trying to reach. In my case, because most of my books are set in northwestern Michigan, I boost to surrounding states, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and, of course, Michigan. Because I only post when there is something significant to say, I boost nearly all of my posts to these states.
7. I would strongly urge you to develop or, have developed for you, a website. Your book(s)’ cover(s) should be prominently displayed there. I would also urge you to put the first three or four chapters of your books there for people to read for free. Other important website items should be: a way to message you with comments or requests to speak or appear; a calendar of the events at which you will be speaking or appearing. It is also a good idea to include some pictures of past events on this tab as well. Have a tab for reviews that you have received. Finally, make sure that visitors to your website may conveniently be transferred to Amazon should they be sufficiently interested by what they’ve read.
8. Something I have not done, wished I had, and must begin: Have a “Contact Me Log” at every book club, every book signing, every speaking engagement that you do. Encourage people to put their name and email address on it. Then, when you have an important event in your writing life, like the launch of a new book, email all of them to let them know the book is now out and how they can find out about it.
9. Professional book reviews: I have had both of my current books reviewed by Foreword Reviews. You can Google them. They work exclusively with independent presses, like university presses, as well as self-publishing houses and independent authors, like me. There is a fee for their review of your book; it is not inexpensive, and there is no guarantee that the reviewer will give your book a favorable review. In my case, Winter’s Bloom received a four-star review (out of five) and Operation Light Switch received a five-star review. I have posted both those reviews on my website for readers to see. Through my publisher, Mission Pont Press, I was also fortunate to have Winter’s Bloom reviewed by Tom Powers on his blog, Michigan in Books. Tom only reviews books that are pertinent to Michigan, and his comments about Winter’s Bloom were very flattering. He has in turn posted his review on Amazon, and I have posted it on my website as well.
10. Writing Contests: These are not for the faint of heart. I have entered national contests sponsored by Writers Digest and Foreword Reviews. You must pay to enter these contests, provide multiple copies of your books for reviewers to read, and hitch up your pants for what they are apt to say about your book. Quite frankly, I think these things are highly subjective, very dependent upon the reviewer(s) assigned to read your book, and sometimes when you finally get to see their comments, you may be dismayed, as I was, that they didn’t get some of the facts in the story straight, leaving you to ask yourself, Did they even read the book?!?! However, having said that, I am not sorry I entered any of them. In fact, Operation Light Switch was a finalist in Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Contest this year in two categories. While it didn’t win in either category, I take pride in its selection as a finalist in a field of over 2,000 books entered and only 160 selected as finalists. See what I mean when I say, “It is a highly competitive business”?
FINAL COMMENT: Selling your book(s), may, at first, seem like shameless self-promotion, but give it some time. Selling your book(s) doesn’t have to be drudgery. Most people are truly impressed, some even envious, of what you have accomplished by getting your book published. Now that you’ve done that, take pride in it, have confidence in your work, and remember that It’s you who has written this book and, so, it is you who readers want to hear from, want to get to know, and will ask, “What’s your next book going to be about?”
For a writer who takes his/her craft seriously, these are just a few of the high points that make it so much fun and so worthwhile to be a published author, regardless if you have a contract with a major New York publishing house, or you if self-published through a small press. I heartily recommend you check out the good people at Mission Point Press.
Find out more about John Wemlinger’s books at www.johnwemlinger.com.