Jun 042010


It’s an email I receive often from new ebook authors: “What can I do to improve my book’s sales?”

I, as a publisher, do what I can. We try to give books covers we have reason to think will help them sell. And sometimes titles we think have a similar quality. We also send out copies for review to various book review sites on the web. We take “cover ads” and banner ads and bookmark ads on many of those same sites. And we get writers the occasional blog or chatroom tour. Other than that, and the occasional promotional activity, there isn’t much more publisher’s can do.

The truth is that for the past several decades research reported in Publisher’s Weekly and other journals has consistently shown that a publisher’s promotional efforts and advertising don’t sell books, ebooks or print. Advertisements in the New York Times Review of Books, People, or wherever, don’t play any significant role in influencing someone’s decision about whether or not to buy a particular book.

So why do the big publishers spend so much money on full-page ads in various publications? According to the late Richard F. X. O’Connor, former marketing director for Doubleday’s book publishing division and for Walden books, the more successful progenitor of today’s Border’s chain, the big publishers take out big splashy ads to make their top-selling writers feel important and to show everyone that the publisher is successful enough to afford such ads.

So what does sell books? And here we are talking about all kinds of books, ebooks, paperbacks, and hard covers, be they mystery, romance, historical novel, presidential biography, self-help, or even erotica. One thing, O’Connor says, sells books and one thing only. Word of mouth!

Yes, word of mouth. Or, to put it another way, reader excitement. Readers are special people. There aren’t a lot of them, and they tend to hang out with each other so they have someone to talk about books with. They even tend to congregate with people who like to read the same type of books they do. Science fiction readers often have friends who also read science fiction. The same can be said for romance readers, who are often heard discussing the newest book by the bestselling romance author of the time.

So when a reader of contemporary fantasy, say, really likes an author or book so much, she or he can barely contain his or her excitement and has to tell someone else about it, so they tell other readers of contemporary fantasy. If those readers like it, they tell other readers of contemporary fantasy, and the word spreads very rapidly by mouth. Hence, word of mouth.

The same thing happens today on the internet, only much faster with Facebook, Twitter, blogs. I call this “word of web.” If someone is wowed by a book or author, they Twitter it, blog it, email it, and maybe Google group it; and if a sufficient number of other people read it and like it, the lucky author’s reputation and sales are on the way up.

So, when it comes to selling books, the object is not so much to merely expose the title or idea of a book to readers, many publisher’s are advertising or promoting many books, and a reader’s disposable income for book purchases is limited. What decides which books they are willing to invest their limited book budget in is an enthusiastic recommendation or mention by another reader of similar ilk. So when it comes to selling books, the focus should be on developing ways to generate reader enthusiasm for an author’s work.

While some readers can work up some enthusiasm for publishers, they never-the-less respond a lot more warmly and enthusiastically to authors than they do to publishing companies. That’s a no brainer.

So, in the internet era, a larger share of the burden of winning readers over falls on the author. Or, to look at it another way, today the internet provides incredibly powerful tools that allow an author anywhere in the world to have an unprecedented influence on the marketing and reader reception of their own books. And, more, via all the social networking tools, the author essentially can have something a lot like the direct, personal interaction of a bookstore signing or reading with readers every day.

When readers get to know an author personally, they are far more likely to buy that author’s work. The internet makes it possible for you to help readers get to know and like you. If they do they will share their positive regard for you with other readers, and you are on your way to becoming known.

If you want to create or build a loyal audience of readers eager to read each story or book that comes out, you must have an exciting site that makes people want to come back. You must use it to promote your books and yourself as a writer. Look up the sites of some successful authors of erotica and see what they are like. Emulate what they do. You can’t go wrong.

Once you have readers coming to your site, you want to communicate with them directly, give them a sense of who you are. This is your chance to establish a bond that will carry over into sales. That’s what blogs are for. In a blog you can share your opinions, likes and dislikes, and just about whatever of what you think of and about as you are willing to share. There are many sites that tell you how to build blog traffic. Look them up and follow their advice.

Twitter is also a powerful aid to selling your book, instantly sharing news about it through widening networks of people. And the use of Facebook or some variant like Myspace is also essential.

It’s no coincidence that the writers I know with the best sites, who work the hardest to make use of all their available internet tools have the best sales over all.


  One Response to ““WHAT CAN I DO TO IMPROVE MY SALES?””

  1. Interesting post, thank you. I wonder, do publishers generally provide technical or financial support for authors websites, or is it up to the author to do their own coding and such? I realize anyone can throw up a blog at this point, but my (possibly incorrect) assumption has always been that once you add things like forums and flash things got more complicated. From your post it seems like authors are on their own with this, but if that’s the case why don’t the publishers spend the money that doesn’t get results (ads, banners, etc.) on the things that do (websites) and hire a web programmer to help their authors with web pages? Or is it just an instance of publishers taking out ads in venues owned by the same parent company and moving money from one pocket to another?

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