A big question from non-writers and budding authors is this: How many books have you sold?
I think another way to look at it is this: How much and what kinds of promo do you do?
Because it’s a simple fact: if people don’t know your work is out there, how will they read it?
Marketing is always a bit of a gamble. My daughter learned something about sales this weekend, when she set up a lemonade stand on our front lawn and then, the following morning, added a yard sale. “Where are the people?” she kept asking. “Why isn’t anyone coming? Did you tell the people?”
Meaning, did I post her yard sale on Facebook?
But as I said to her, just putting the word out isn’t necessarily enough to tempt people into coming and checking out your stuff. We don’t know what their plans are, whether they’re in town, or even if they are interested in her toys. In fact, she had more response to her lemonade than her things — the nice hot day helped with that. She had a sign in front of her table, but we didn’t put signage up on either end of the street (for some yard sales, it’s not uncommon to see the signs blocks away, often with balloons for attention). I also suggested to her that it might help if she tried again when her dad wants to have a yard sale, because people tend to stop when there is a large amount of stuff to look through.
There are two kinds of people, I told her: those who will slow down and look closely at what you might be offering, to decide whether stopping and buying is an idea, and those who just keep on going.
All of this can come right back to promoting and selling books.
There is no formula for bringing the browsers and potential buyers to the table. Just like with yard sales, there are individuals out there who love to cruise for deals and treasures, sometimes planning their routes and bookmarking places they want to look at again. My husband is one of them! And I do the same — my Amazon wish list is massive. The hard part is encouraging someone who is considering the purchase to take the plunge.
And letting them know that the plunge is there, to begin with.
Yard sale advertising is relatively easy. There’s the posters, newspaper ads (if you care to pay for them), and online methods: for example, Hubby runs a community page for yard sales on Facebook, one of several groups doing the same. His caters specifically to yard and garage sales, though — if anyone tries to advertise a product or a service, he boots them off.
Advertising for a novel is more challenging because of cost. Book posters can add up, even if you design them yourself, and then they need to be distributed to places where your target audience is going to see them. That requires either shipping them to friendly stores and libraries with a nice note asking if they’ll put them up, or physically visiting the locations (I recommend the latter) to do the same. And bringing a few sample books along to see if they can be put on a shelf. Other swag that indie authors can invest in and distribute include bookmarks, business cards, mugs, magnets, notebooks, t-shirts, pens — your basic corporate promo items. Recently, I started considering unconventional swag as well, like making business cards with teabags, exploring buisness cards that can transform with embedded seeds into flowering plants, things like that. It’s also important to send out copies of your work to reviewers (although if it’s a print, shipping can add up). And then there are the free things, like Facebook parties, interviews, and blog posts (hey!).
See, the problem is that just like the yard sales, there is competition out there. Weekends in our small town see yard sale signs pop up like dandelions. Indie author promos are like that, cropping up in busy numbers and waves on Twitter and the rest of the social media gang. Too many tweets, and followers get annoyed. Too few, and — well, then, nothing. Better to have a voice in the chorus than to sit quietly and twiddle thumbs.
Because there are readers on the hunt for their next great read, just as there are pickers looking for their next big find. Every time you wear a t-shirt with your book cover emblazoned on it, or get your poster in a window, or say something about your work somewhere online, you are putting out the energy into the universe that someone somewhere is ready to receive. Someone will want to check out your stuff, and pass the word on to someone else.
Two hours after Bridget had tidied up her sale, two people on Facebook posted interest in her project — one wanted to know if she was still going so she could buy a cup of lemonade, and the other was interested in a yard sale item. Would they have come by if she had still been out there, peddling her wares? Maybe. But just the fact that they’d commented showed that word was spreading and nibbles were there.
Even if there are no guarantees, the marketing effort is absolutely necessary. It’s an investment in yourself.