Several times a week I will hear from writers who say, “I’m putting my book online today. I just want to put it up and see what happens.” I’ll let you in on a secret: Nothing will “just” happen.
This year an estimated one million people will put books up online, and if you don’t distinguish yourself from the crowd you won’t get noticed.
The single best way to distinguish yourself, as Tom Doherty, President of Tor Books says, is to “Get some real estate.” In other words, a hardbound copy of your book placed in bookstores is the surest way to get sales. The book, if it is sitting with the cover faced out, is sure to get noticed.
Now, the publishers usually pay a fee to the stores for real estate. For example, if you want to get big notice for a book, then you could go so far as to buy a window display in all of the Barnes and Nobles, along with other chains. That alone will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But there is other great real estate out there. You can buy displays behind the counters at a bookstore, on the islands at the front of the bookstore, in the “new releases” section, in the new releases for your genre, and so on. With some of these forms of advertising, called “cooperative advertising,” the bookstore simply takes an extra premium from the sales, so that no up-front money is paid. Thus, a title that is purchased off of a new release section will pay the bookstore a couple of extra dollars for distribution.
Every major publisher wants to advertise their books, and so they compete with each other over buying that retail space. If Simon and Schuster doesn’t get a prime spot for its November release, then someone else will.
As a self-published author, I doubt that there is any way in the world that you can get your own hardcover advertised in a bookstore with “cooperative advertising.” And without having books on the shelf, you’re at a serious disadvantage.
You see, when people buy e-books, they will often see a book at a grocery store or in a bookstore and scan the cover so that they can purchase the e-book. Thus, the books on the shelves act as billboards, drawing in e-readers.
So, imagine that you are self-publishing your e-book. If you just throw it up and don’t tell anyone about it, your sales will be piddling. But even if you do try to talk about it—let’s say you blog and put it up on Facebook and even spend money for advertisements, you’re still at a disadvantage.
Why? Because you’ve still don’t have real estate. Your efforts might get your book to climb onto Amazon’s bestseller list, but a spike won’t help much. For example, when my son Ben had his accident, we put out ads for my novel Nightingale. So many people bought it and shared the Facebook ads that we hit #8 on Amazon for a day, but within three days the numbers dropped dramatically. We didn’t have the real estate in the bookstores that would lead to sustained sales.
I’m convinced that it’s a good book. It won numerous awards and made a lot of fans, but we just weren’t able to push it properly as independents. My distributor botched the release, failing to get it into the major chains, and at that point we were fighting an impossible uphill battle.
So what can you do to push your books?
Bookstores, whether they be online stores or brick-and-mortar, gauge a book by its sales velocity. When a sales rep from a major publisher visits a bookstore, the first question the store owner asks is “What’s hot?” He doesn’t care about the million books that aren’t selling—he wants to know what has the buzz. The books that get high velocity are the only ones that matter to the store owners.
Here are a few things you can do now to increase your velocity:
- Write a beautiful book for a wide audience.
- Get a beautiful cover.
- Find celebrities to give you cover quotes.
- Write superb back copy.
- Create a huge list of fans and send email announcements for your releases.
- Get book reviews in newspapers and magazines.
- Keep your website up to date.
- Do blogging tours, radio tours, and television interviews.
- Properly release your book and set up signing events.
- Join a writer’s ring (a group of like-minded writers who will cross-promote).
If you do these things properly, you may be able to attain enough velocity to push a book and make a profit. You might even get a runaway bestseller. In fact, in certain genres—particularly in romance—it’s quite possible to hit high on the bestseller lists without owning real estate in a bookstore.
Last year I wrote a book on how to launch a book through book signings. As a new author, I struggled with getting fans to show up at my signings—just as every new author does. But in 1999 I broke the Guinness World Record for the largest book signing, and I’ve had a lot of very successful launches since. The book, called Million Dollar Book Signings,, is available through Wordfire Press. But wait! For national novel writing month, it will be available as an e-book in a massive writing bundle. You will be able to buy a dozen books on writing for the price of one. The bundle goes up in about three weeks, and I’ll be telling you more about it then.
So plan your book release well. Do the hard work necessary to achieve maximum velocity. Don’t just “throw it up and see what happens.”
And thank you to all of you who helped out in that effort with Ben. You really saved us! Ben has recovered well from his brain injury and is now in college.
I’ve got some great books to tell you about today!
My friend Brandon Sanderson’s latest book Shadows of Self is out—Brandon says, “It’s like if Clint Eastwood had magical gunslinging powers, and starred in a 1910s New York City version of CSI.” Buy it on Amazon.
The third book in Charlie Pulsipher’s The Lost Shards series is out! Buy each on on Amazon—and be sure to leave Charlie a review when you’re finished. That’s another way to build velocity—by getting as many reviews on your book as possible. The Crystal Bridge (Book 1), Obsidian Threads (Book 2), and Shadowed Glass (Book 3).