You Are Your Product. Be Proud of It.

Cover of Stephen King

For the last few days I have been thinking more and more about my book sales. I could say that it has to do with the 1099’s I received from Amazon and Createspace this week, but to be honest I was thinking about it long before I got those oh so disappointing tax documents. After a robust October, my dales have declined dramatically. I know that part of that has been my not spending as much time promoting it. As an independent author, it is my responsibility to promote my work and to be the public face of my brand. It sounds silly, I know, but writers have to be more than their work in today’s market. People buy books as much for the personality of the writer as for the book itself. When an author reaches the lofty heights of a James Patterson or a Stephen King they can rely on their name to sell the books they write. Even a poorly written work will receive a decent amount of sales, just because of the author’s fans. I am nowhere near that level of fame and fortune, so I need to do more to make sure my book sells.

I like to think of myself as an outgoing person, and I am, but I am not very good at self promotion. I have never been good at tooting my own horn. I am uncomfortable telling people how awesome I am, or how incredible my writing is. This past summer I participated in a local authors showcase at the Mooresville Public Library. I was excited about the event and spent a little of my hard earned royalty money on promotional materials (ie. bookmarks, flyers, informational sheets and a promotional video playing in a loop on my laptop) for the event. I was nervous about going there, not because I didn’t belong amongst the other local authors, but because I would have to talk up my book. I got there early and set up my half a table and waited. I talked with some of the other participants and helped people set up while the opening time crept ever closer.

To my left was a lovely woman who wrote non-fiction books about the West Virgina mountain folk. She was brilliant and gregarious and did a masterful job talking up her books and her connection to the topic. At one point she even bumped me with her elbow and told me I needed to talk more. All she had for her table was a reference sheet for her Amazon page and a few copies of her books (I believe she had written three). She sold most of the books she brought with her and seemed pleased with the outcome. To my right was a well established fiction writer who had two books published. He had an easel with a big poster board picture of his latest book’s cover. He had a couple boxes of books, business cards and bookmarks on his table. He rarely sat down and he made sure to stop every person who even came close to his table. He talked up his book, his life, and whatever else he could in order to keep them in front of him a little bit longer. It was pretty incredible to watch. He was as much a salesman as an author and it seemed to pay off. He sold some books and gave away some more (even one to me). Watching him work was a definite learning experience.

So how did I do? Well I was certainly overshadowed by the personalities beside me, but I can’t blame my performance on them. I sold three books that day, and all of those were to friends and acquaintances who came to the event to support me (Thank you so much. I so appreciate you taking the time out of your weekend to come to the event). I spent most of my time sitting at my table, waiting for someone to come by and ask questions or to talk to me. I gave out some bookmarks (with coupons on them even), but I did not manage to sell a single copy to anyone I did not know. I could have been more outgoing and stopped everyone who came even close to my table, but I didn’t. I was there. I know my book is good and I am a generally confident person, so how come I fell so flat on my face? I have thought about this question for some time now and I think I have a few answers. I haven’t had a chance to try them out yet, but I hope by writing it out here I will inspire myself, and maybe some others, to give it a try.

The first problem was my unwillingness to put myself out there to people I did not know. I have got to overcome this shortcoming if I ever want to make it as an independent writer. I am not afraid of rejection (there is a reason a lot of my short stories end up here instead of in magazines), but I am uncomfortable talking about myself in a way that seems boastful. Getting over this is job one. I need to be able to walk up to a complete stranger and say, “Have you read Apocalypse Rising? No? Well you should! This book is great, and I should know. I’m the guy who wrote it.” The mere thought makes me cringe, but no one said progress wouldn’t be painful. The effort I put into this will hopefully allow me to do the same sort of thing with the owners/managers of the places that might sell my book.

The second problem is that I am unsure how to even talk about my book. I’m sure this sounds a little odd given that I wrote it, so I should be able to describe/explain what it is all about. How can I possibly work on marketing my book when this step eludes me? I could just memorize the blurb on the back of the book and rattle it off verbatim, but that seems so dry to me. Writing the book was an emotional experience that I poured myself into. Why shouldn’t my description be just as emotional? This is something that will take a bit more concentrated effort. Perhaps I should read the book, not as its author, but as a reader, so that I can reconnect with the story and be able to share the book from that perspective. I am also going to ask some of my readers to help me with this one. Perhaps I’ll even offer a reward for the best description.

I am sure there may have been more factors involved in my sub-par performance (more, bigger, better displays maybe?), but these two areas seem like the big hurdles I need to get over if I am going to a better job at marketing myself and my book. I have not attended any other events since that one and I need to spend some time looking for more author friendly venues, but until then I can work on fixing these tow problems so that when the next opportunity arises I will be ready for it.

Next week I’ll talk more about marketing and getting your name out there. Heck, I’ll even talk a bit about where out there even is. Until then, hug your local independent author. I guarantee he or she could use it.

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