Marketing Ideas From a First Time Novelist

The day my first novel arrived, I awed at its creation.  I inspected the cover art, flipped through the heavy white pages, and held it proudly in my hand.  It wasn’t quite like holding a family child for the first time, but somehow it seemed overwhelming, a very proud moment, and an accomplishment I could never tire of talking about. 

However, the same politeness that comes with a new born baby does not come with a piece of literature.  When my first nephew was born (the first baby in our family), I was so proud to be a part of his life and endlessly made people endure digital pictures of him on my cell phone, bragged about his little accomplishments, and debated how his better features could be attributed to my side of the family.  As I spoke about the new baby in our family, people nodded, smiled, and acted interested in his first sounds, his small hands, and even my amazement at how well he spit out his food.  My first novel was not treated with nearly as much enthusiasm. 

When I started to hand out my book to family, friends, and colleagues, it was met with much less enthusiasm and politeness than I had expected. Some friends made excuses when I gave them the first edition of my book saying things like “I’m really busy right now and will read when I have time” or “I just started a book but I will eventually get around to it.”  Others simply put it on their bookshelf without any explanation and went on like I had just given them their old accounting text book.  My lonely book still adorns the shelves of some of my best friends and I wonder if they will ever get through the first chapter.  Once I handed a copy of my novel to one of my very best friends, who immediately turned and gave it to his girlfriend saying “tell me how it is,” I knew getting people to read my book would be difficult.  After all, thousands of new fiction books are published each year and no one person will ever have the time to read all the books that interest them. 

As authors it is our job to make our books stick out from the rest, and no matter how passionate we may feel about our writing, a certain amount of marketing must be done in order to let people know our book(s) are available and worth reading.  I’ve worked in sales and marketing for ten years and have some ideas of what works in software but know nothing about marketing my book to readers.  Still, I made a list of ideas, bought a 1001 Ways to Market Your Books from John Kremer, got advice from every person I respected, and started on my way.  Here are my notes on what I tried and how it has worked.  

  1. Blog, Twitter, and Facebook- Just two weeks after my book’s release, I posed the question “How do I market my book?” to an online writing community and got the same answer from seven people.  Every single person told me to start a blog and join a social network.  I did it.  I have a Twitter account as an author, a Facebook page, and a blog on Goodreads.  Setting all these things up is easy enough, but as with my book, the real challenge is getting people to read them.  The concept is practical: get people to read something small like a blog and then they will want to dedicate themselves to your book.  However, it could also be looked at as another layer. When I first started, I was just trying to get people to read my book and now I have multiple things I want them to read.  I made a goal for myself to post a comment on my Facebook page and Twitter page at least once a day and blog at least twice a week.  I’ve kept up with all three and have received much more success on Facebook than my blog and Twitter account.  On Facebook I have nearly 200 fans, and have been able to open dialogs that people comment on.  At least four confirmed people from my Facebook fans list have bought my book.  On Twitter, I have no one person following me and can only assume my posts are getting lost in space by the millions of other twitter users.  I have posted more than 20 writings on my blog and only one titled “Liquid Cocaine” has been viewed at least four times, even though I’m not sure by whom because no one commented.  So far Facebook gets a score of four, Twitter zero, and my blog zero. 
  2. Advertise on Facebook- Since I had some success at attracting a community of fans on Facebook, I decided to advertise my book to the millions of subscribers on Facebook.  Advertising with Facebook is easy.  I was able to pick my target market by age, gender, and even interests such as reading, fiction novels, writing, and other relative key words.  Better yet, the ad shows on the right side of the subscribers page and a simple click on my add will take them to the link provided (which was my Amazon page to buy the book) by me.  The advertisement is provided and designed by me and I only pay Facebook if someone clicks it.  After much debate and a conversation with my wife, I decided to create two different ads.  One ad would be targeted at men and one ad would be targeted at women.  I used the cover of my book as the image for both and used a different tagline for each gender.  Facebook asks you to pick a pay-per click price that will be charged to your account when someone clicks on your advertisement.  I picked a pay-per-click price that was much higher than the recommended price to assure my advertisements reached as many people as possible.  Over a month, I had my advertisement shown to more than 50,000 Facebook users, 135 clicks, and zero people bought my book.  In the end, I canceled the advertisement and spent a little over $200.  I figured I could give 20 books to 20 different people and create a better return rate than what I was getting with my Facebook ads. 
  3. Create a local ground swell- I’m a sucker for advice.  And at the advice of a marketing person who works at my company, I ditched the online marketing for awhile and started pounding the local pavement.  Books are sold one at a time and I figured if I could get 500 local people to buy my book and create a ground swell in Albuquerque, NM, where I reside, then I could branch out from there.  I essentially attacked the three different areas below:
    1. Local Bookstores- It’s sad but local bookstores are dying.  Most of the local bookstores in Albuquerque are either selling only text books to schools or used books to the few people who walk in their doors each day.  I found one bookstore that is an Albuquerque staple and has enough traffic that there is a chance at selling my book.  The owner was very nice and agreed to put my book on the shelf.  I gave her five copies and we made a deal.  If I sold all five copies within the next month, she would allow me to do a book signing in her store and she would help me market it to regulars who came in. I’ve sold three copies and will be sending my wife in to buy the final two if I can’t find anyone else.  My experience is that at a local bookstore, you can get people to make a decision much quicker than a major chain bookstore like my experience below. 
    2. Major Bookstores- The two largest chain bookstores in the country are undoubtedly Barnes and Noble and Border’s Books.  To say I had no strategy when it came to these two stores is a complete understatement.  I own a small company, have almost always worked for a small company, and self published my book.  I have no idea even how their entire corporate structure works.  But I am fearless and persistent when it comes to cold calling people or asking for someone at the store (especially when I’m charged on three cups of coffee).  I’ve really gotten nowhere with Barnes and Noble but the general manager at my local Borders has been very helpful.  Upon telling him I was a local author and I wanted my book on his shelves, he instantly wanted to know what was in it for him.  I made my pitch as he worked checking and scanning Charles Bukowski books.  I told him if it my novel was on his shelves then I would invite everyone I knew to his store, market the book in his store endlessly, and would offer to come into the store at least once to talk to customers about possibly buying my book.  He looked at me and said if I would come in and do a book signing then he would put it in his Southwest authors section (since I am a local New Mexican).  The deal couldn’t have worked out better because my next pitch was to convince him to allow me to do a book signing.  So short moral of the story; signings and local authors can bring in business to even large bookstores.  Don’t be afraid to speak with the manager. 
    3. Local Media- Books like 1001 Ways to Market Your Books talk a lot about press releases and creating media attention.  I have a degree in public relations and have spent some time with publicists.  I can tell you that emailing or sending a press release on your book without knowing the person you are sending it to will get you nowhere.  I spent some time talking to a news editor for one of the local Albuquerque stations about my book.  I’ve had a friendship with this person and thought she may be willing to pitch me as a possible story.  I was pretty much laughed out of the room.  She told me local authors always call wanting to get press, but unless you happen to be an expert on a particularly hot topic, you are politely asked not to call back.  So if you happen to be writing a book on serial killers as a serial killer happens to be tearing your city apart, then you might have a case.  However, I write fiction so I didn’t have much. 
  4. Virtual book clubs- Another market I’ve tackled is virtual book clubs, which can be found at sites such as www.meetup.com.  At meetup.com a member can simply type in a city to find all the book clubs that are in any location.  I stuck with cities in the Southwest, because I decided to make an offer to each book club that I would be willing to come to a meeting if they read my book.  The good news about virtual book clubs is that they usually have a lot of members and you can read about the club before contacting them.  The bad news is that all you get is the email address of the book club’s organizer and there are most likely hundreds of authors contacting them.  One meeting organizer I spoke with said she gets emails weekly from authors asking her to pitch their book for their next meeting.  She almost always deletes the email.  Perhaps that is why I have not heard back from the five groups I emailed.  The process is easy, and using a site like meetup.com gave me access to plenty of readers, but I have found my self in the same place as when I started with no results.
  5. Articles for on-line media sites- I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was having a hard time marketing my book.  The guy is sort of brilliant and without hesitation told me I should start writing editorials and submitting them to a famous on-line news site he reads every day.  I don’t know what about my writing made him think I would be good at that sort of thing, but it really is a good idea.  So I went to the site, cruised around their pages, and read some of their articles to get an idea of the kind of stories they publish.  Once I was confident I could submit something, I simply typed in “editorial piece” in their search bar.  Low and behold, the first thing that popped up was directions on how to submit an article or editorial to the web-site.  The rules for this site (and other sites I visited similar to it) say I can not openly promote my book and my editorial must be somewhat journalistic.  At the end of the piece I can state my name, occupation, and mention I am the author of Below Sunlight, a fiction novel.  I’m an endless pit of opinions but I stuck to writing an article on simply writing (I promise it’s a lot more entertaining than it sounds).  I submitted the article two weeks ago and unfortunately have not heard back.  So the score in this field is zero but I hope to have an idea of the success soon. 
  6. Give my book to anyone willing to read- Lastly, I stopped trying to sell my book and started giving it away.  I was tired of people promising to buy it and never doing it so I carried a copy with me everywhere I went and when someone mentioned it, I gave them a copy.  I was never in this to make money so giving away my art seemed like a good way to get people to read.  Surprisingly, this is the area I’ve had the most success.  Last week, I received an email from an acquaintance who I had given my book to and they had bought ten copies and are planning to give them to people they thing should read it.     

I still continue to come up with marketing ideas and try them.  If you have any please let me know.

Ryan Adam Smith  
Author of Below Sunlight

Comments

  1. Cindy says

    I think you have some good ideas and thank you for sharing them. I have written a novel, no publisher, and I developed a market plan. After the fact now but I believe that your marketing should have been in motion before the book was published. But I am still learning too. :O)