The Ripple Effect: Sell Books by Throwing Rocks

ripples.jpgI firmly believe that you should always start a book campaign in your own backyard pond, regardless of the topic, theme, or focus of the book. Use your local connections and grow from there. Remember that rocks thrown into a pond will create ripples that can reach faraway shores.

Plunk the Rocks into These Ponds First

  • The author’s hometown (both current and past ones)
  • Places where the author was educated, even an elementary school
  • Places where the author’s past and present employers are located
  • Groups in which the author is a member
  • Other locations mentioned in or relevant to the book

Prepare personalized versions of your basic book press release for each entry on the list of primary ponds. For example, for Backroads of Minnesota, we were successful in getting good regional coverage in both the author’s and the photographer’s hometowns and alumni publications during the launch of the book, and again after it won a Ben Franklin Award.

Sometimes your backyard pond is a topic rather than a place. For Helen Kelley’s Every Quilt Tells a Story, we have aggressively pursued the quilting market via magazines, guilds, stores, and state and national conventions. The author has signed books at the national quilt show in Paducah, Kentucky; the Minnesota state show; and several quilt shops. She will also be at the biggest quilt show of all in Houston this fall. Kelley consistently signs more than 100 books at each event. This book has a very specialized, targeted audience; but in this case, the rock in the pond is creating waves.

Is One Rock Enough? How Big Does It Need to Be?

A big rock might make an initial splash, but then just sink to the bottom of the pond; sometimes lots of little pebbles can create the expanding ripples you seek. The key is repetition, repetition, repetition. Find as many ways as possible to get your message out–over and over again.

For our pictorial guide New Orleans, we pitched the local author, Jan Arrigo, to radio, TV, and newspaper again and again–pre and post Mardi Gras–and whenever she had an appearance event scheduled. Book events can give you another reason for making contact with the media. New Orleans received a great review in the Times Picayune, plus multiple radio interviews and one segment on local TV. The Times Picayune print review helped land signings, and the signings brought radio spots; nothing stands alone. Synergy created our waves–and sales.

Ponds for two of our other titles include Harley-Davidson dealerships, thanks to Jean Davidson, author of Growing Up Harley-Davidson and Jean Davidson’s Harley-Davidson Family Album. Jean spends her weekends on the road and her arrival becomes an event which the dealers advertise via local radio, TV, and print. They host special invitation-only programs for their HOG (Harley Owners Group) chapter members. Jean sells books, usually 200 to 300 a weekend. These targeted bookselling events even landed Voyageur Press a story in Publishers Weekly.

Do You Need a Gimmicky Sparkling Rock to Throw?

Making yourself and your book stand out does help. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Wrap your book in something distinctive, like bright tissue paper. I’ll be using paper with a snowflake design for the holiday gift book The Snowflake: Winter’s Secret Beauty.
  • Send something along with the book. We’re including a CD of snowflake images with copies of The Snowflake that will be going to TV meteorologists. For This Old Guitar: Making Music and Memories from Country to Jazz, Blues to Rock, I will be sending small inflatable toy guitars with review copies to selected editors; I think they’ll remember the book when I do my follow-up contacts.
  • Tie your book–old or new–to an upcoming event. Susan Roth was successful in getting excerpts from her book Tastes of Jewish Tradition (published by another publisher in our pond, JCC Milwaukee) into several national magazines for issue dates tied to Jewish holidays. To find events related to your book, check www.earthcalendar.net; www.celebratetoday.com; www.webholidays.com; John Kremer’s www.bookmarket.com; and Chase’s calendar listings at www.chases.com. You can even create a holiday of your own!

To Sign or Not to Sign, or Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Signing events take time to set up, and to do. Often you don’t sell many books, and many authors wonder if it was all worth it. Consider these benefits:

  • Your book gets pulled out of the mass and is, at least for a couple of hours, front and center–not only with customers, but with bookstore staff. Remember, booksellers are also book buyers; if they discover and like your book, they will sell it to others long after you’re gone.
  • Books events are an excuse to contact the local papers and radio stations–again. And signings can spark feature coverage along with sales. In Minnesota, the Panera Bakery Cafes have started an “Authors on the Rise” program. Local authors display and sell their books every Monday; many report daily sales of 20 or more. Local papers have covered the program, and authors have made radio and TV appearances connected to their Panera visits.
  • You can make a big splash in a small pond, especially if you do something different. Robert O. Barclay selected the small southern Minnesota town of Chatfield as the setting for his third self-published book, The Ponder Legacy, and he decided to hold his debut party at the local library there. More than 50 people, including the editor of the local paper and a producer from the local cable TV station, showed up. Bob is now a major celebrity in Chatfield!

Throw Rocks on the Road

Planning to travel and promote your book? Look for new ponds to target. Try www.epodunk.com to identify promising cities, festivals, colleges, you name it–this is an excellent resource. Once you have selected a few cities, use Yahoo’s yellow pages. Enter the city and state location, then search for bookstores, or newspapers, or radio stations. You’ll get a quick list of addresses and phone numbers.

Good luck making waves!

Dorothy Molstad is President of Molstad Marketing and PR. She is available for advice and action in all areas of your marketing and public relations campaigns. Contact Dorothy at dendoor (at) aol (dot) com.