Print. Write. Sell. Chapter Twelve

PWS workbook chapter twelve


One of the most overwhelming things many authors find about writing a book is actually selling it. Most authors are such introverts that the thought of ‘being out there’, pushing ourselves forwards is horrific. Unfortunately without doing just that, your book won’t sell. Many are drawn to traditional publishing because they feel the company will do all of that marketing for them. That just isn’t the case now. Even a traditional publishing company will expect you to have a website and mailing list and be active on social media before they will even look at your book. This is because profile with active participants equals sales. Getting the book in front of eyes. A book, which will convert to sales has to have the following, a good cover, good reviews, be well priced, have a cover blurb that hooks readers straight away and as soon as readers flick through the book, either on the first few pages option online, or in the bookshop, it needs to grab them instantly. Personally. If I have to do all of that yucky sales stuff, I may as well be the one reaping all of the benefit.

There are many places to sell your book, both e-book and hard copy. It was thought at one time that e-books would take over the market, the life of the hardcopy book was over as far as forecasters predicted. However, that hasn’t happened and probably never will. There will always be those who prefer e-readers and those who prefer the feel and smell even of ‘proper’ books. Equally there are just as many who will used both, paper versions for every day and perhaps an e-reader when they are on holiday or travelling to cut down on the weight which has to be hauled around. Youngsters are just as likely to read either, so the death knoll for the paper copy won’t be heard any time soon.

There are a multitude of places where books can be sold. Amazon of course, which offers readers and authors great options if they read, or publish exclusively with the company. This suits some readers and authors, but ‘going wide’ is equally popular with books being made available on a wide range of websites. Barnes and Noble have a physical books shop where books can be ordered from, Amazon’s Createspace can supply copies of books to customers through its print on demand service. There are a multitude of sites which offer different sales options and as these change and come online constantly it is easier to search online for these, rather than me date this book by giving specifics.

Once you have made that decision the next one is how to market. And when. The when is easy, start as soon as you can. Who too?

Anyone who intends making a career out of writing and certainly who has more than one book in mind should have a website. These can currently be obtained cheaply and easily. First buy a domain name, preferably your own, or one that suits your career path and is easy to remember. Usually though readers will see your name and assume that is the name of your website.

Once bought you now own that name and will pay an annual fee for it. A simple website can equally be bought quite cheaply and with a little knowledge designed to look perfectly suitable. Don’t go to the bother of paying to have one custom made as at the beginning of a career it is an unnecessary expense. There are various sites which offer options for the user to paste text into boxes, add images and headlines and press save and the site is live.

There are only a few options that are essential, although there are numerous ones which can be added which aren’t. Firstly you need a page which tells readers about you. No need to make this too personal, just something about your books, your career to date or even the book you are writing. You then need a page which details the books you have for sale, this needs to have the options of a picture, to show the cover, the book blurb, plus links to the main sales sites. Then you need a way for readers to be able to contact you, to sign up for your mailing list.

There are two schools of thought which differ, some authors prefer to have a sign up box on the front of their website which ‘forces’ readers to join their mailing list in exchange for a free book, others prefer to have a sign up box which is not quite so obvious so that their mailing list will grow organically and people will only join if they are genuinely interested in the books and hearing about them. This is a decision only you can make, but, like everything else in marketing, its not set in stone you can change your idea and the sign up box position as your career develops.

One thing that is definitely much needed and something you need to work on is your mailing list. This is your fan base, this is the way you have of keeping your fans interested in your books, so they are ready to buy as soon as the next one comes out. It is also something you need just in case, in the unlikely event the online sales platforms suddenly change what they are doing, you are still able to contact your readers and pitch your next book to them.

As well as a website, you need to have a social media presence, this is a useful sales tool and a way of keeping in touch with your readers. The days of a writer being an unseen presence are gone, now your fans want to interact with you. That is what will sell your books.

Grow your mailing list, either organically, through occasional sign ups on your website, or via stronger marketing on your sign up box, offering a free book, alternatively you can work with Facebook advertising to grow your mailing list through paid advertising.

Keep in touch with your fans. No matter how small your mailing list, schedule regular updates to keep them informed about your writing progress, or when your next book is available. Keep the tone of your newsletter light, as if you were writing to a close friend, chat about whatever, the weather, the seasons, your cat. No need to get deeply into your health, or the politics of the day. There are companies who offer a mailing list service, which will store your addresses, you can make different lists for different subjects. There are companies which will allow you go delve deeply into creating different lists by being able to split them up into separate interests and again it is worth checking this out online, but in the beginning of your career its probably an expense you don’t need. The basic ones are free initially and will serve you just fine until you are making enough money to be able to invest it back into your business.

If you go down the traditional publishing route there will be the ubiquitous book tour and signings. Don’t expect to be snowed under by a queue of expectant readers, not unless you are on a level of readership as Nora Roberts or Wilbur Smith, otherwise, expect to be given a table and chair somewhere at the back of the shop and expect a long, boring day, where you’ll be fielding book enquiries from customers and not about your own. Most publishers now save authors the ordeal of this and book signings are done quickly with the author standing beside a heap of their books, autographing them and then watching them be put out on the shelves with a ‘signed by the author’ sticker on.

Even if you don’t have a mailing list you can grow one quite easily, start by mailing your contacts and friends, be friendly, but professional, tell them what you are doing, what your book is about and ask them if they are interested to let you know. Sign them up to your mailing list. I found when I did this the response was terrible, and it is perhaps easier to say you are going to send them a mail and ask for them to tell you if they don’t want too. Ask them to let you know of friends of theirs who might be interested in the book. You’ll grow a small mailing list like this. You can then set up a landing page which will offer one of your books for free in exchange for an email address. Set up an advert on Facebook which will put this in front of many interested readers. Their algorithms will find the people. Once you have the addresses and they’ve read your free book, then hopefully they’ll be interested enough to buy your next book. Remember, this is a long term career, nothing is going to happen overnight, you have to be prepared to write a few books, give some away free to capture your readers, show them how good you are and then gradually have them get around to the idea of buying your books.

Reviews are a great way of selling books. Unfortunately, like a chicken and egg you need sales to get reviews and you need reviews to get sales. Its time then to go back to your core mailing list, those loyal supporters. As for readers, and politely request they leave a review. It is against Amazon’s rules for anyone to ask directly for a review, or for them to be paid for, but asking politely for one to be left if the reader wouldn’t mind is permissible. Ask too for a review to be as honest as possible. While it is lovely to get five star reviews and glowing comments about the book, you will find that no one – no writer, no matter how good has consistently good reviews. Having a few ‘bad’ ones make the book seem more realistic. You can’t please everyone all the time. While we are on the subject – don’t read your reviews. Unless you have the hide of a rhino. The good ones of course will have you walking on a cloud, but the bad ones will really hurt. Most writers have very fragile egos so it is just not worth taking the risk. If you do look and disagree then don’t respond. It is fine to write and tell the reviewer how much you appreciate them reading the book and apologise for its failings. If there are issues with the book, editing or proofing problems you can and must address these, but if the reviewer just didn’t like the book you can’t change that. Occasionally there are authors who have replied to comments regarding reviews and have managed to turn the reviewer around into a fan, but personally I don’t think its worth it. Just stay away from review sites.

When your next book is under way you can set this for pre-order, making some sales before the book is even released. This helps position your book in the rankings and again will help create more sales. The mosr visible you are the more visible you will stay. The task of marketing is all about gaining that momentum and once gained, keeping it going. It is easy to market and have fun with your audience once you have one, the hard part is to keep going at the beginning when it feels as if you are sending newsletters and sending your books out into a void. But don’t get discouraged, keep going. This is a long term career, no matter what you hear or read there are actually very few authors who make a decent amount of money from one book. It takes time, during this time you will gain more readers, gain confidence and more exposure, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t and above all you will, provided you are giving your readers a good product, you will make money.

Once you begin to gain readers, effectively a fan base who are interested in your books, you can begin to make traction with your career. At this stage it is important to be able to release books regularly. Those fans, while eager to read your next book once they are keen on what you do, will soon leave you and head off to another writer if you are too slow releasing your next book.

It is hard to keep that traction going, where do the ideas come from, where do you find the time to write, when do you know your career is going well enough to support you financially if you quit your day job and make this your whole life. These are all questions that only you can answer. I wouldn’t advise anyone to quit their day job on the strength of one book idea, no matter how well it sells. However now you have the background, the knowledge of what it takes to plan a book, how to carve out the time to write it, how to make it as good as it needs to be, how to make it a professional product and how to market it, so building up a backlist which will increase your sales is just a case of write, publish, sell, repeat.

Not everyone will want to make writing a career. It is a long, lonely road, there may just be one story burning in your imagination, one subject you are longing to share with a wider audience and that is fine. It is a huge achievement for anyone to write a book, to take something from a tiny grain of an idea into a finished product is no small feat. Equally there may be readers of this who have longed to write since childhood. Those whose parent’s memory boxes are filled with home made books you made and whose day is filled with half written stories. Those of you will probably never be totally happy and fulfilled until you are sharing those stories with a wider audience.

Once you have got that traction of a book being published and another in the process of being written and another at the planning stage then you can begin to market your books before they are published. This will give your career and sales a boost. At the present time it is possible to have a book listed on Amazon as a pre-order up to a year before it is published. This can give you great traction as once it is launched it will already have been picked up  by the algorithms and will appear higher up the charts than if you had just done a soft launch.

There are a number of book promotion sites where you can launch your book and offer it to readers for free with the aim of increasing your readership. Don’t do this though until you have a few books available.

It is a tough road, one that is easy to fall off. It is amazing how important minor jobs will become once you start writing and how terrifying a blank computer screen can be. Keep going. This book will be your guide to getting that process started and getting the book finished.