Nothing beats the thrill of shelving your book next to all of your favorites. Victory is sweet. Your story is printed and bound, and those endless hours of plotting, outlining, drafting, editing, and rewriting have finally paid off. Or have they? After publication your heart might be full, but your wallet is probably still empty.
Don’t get me wrong—publishing is a big deal! So when you’ve done it, take time to celebrate: put on your party dress and uncork the champagne. But once the party’s over and you want to sell some copies (to people you don’t know), come back and learn how to stop being a writer.
Yes, I said stop being a writer.
Once you publish, your job as a writer ends, and your job as a salesperson begins. To create success, you must become an Authorpreneur, a writer who thinks and acts like a businessperson. This means thinking strategically about your product and brand, and taking smart actions to market yourself and your work.
This is an especially big job for self-publishers. (Read my last post for some tough love on this topic.) But as the publishing world evolves, business savvy is becoming important for everyone who wants to make a living by writing. Shifting gears from writer to businessperson can be tough, so the rest of this post will discuss good places to start.
First, learn to view your book as a product. The more objective you can become, the better. Collect opinions, reviews, and feedback like a fiend. If someone doesn’t like your book, that’s great! They’ve helped you zero in on your target market by removing themselves from it.
Second, develop a top-notch elevator pitch. If a stranger asks what your book is about, you should be able to tell them in a handful of words. And, most importantly, in a way that makes them want to know more. Your elevator pitch makes or breaks the success of your promotional interactions—take time to perfect it.
Then, armed with a pitch that will knock ‘em dead, step away from your writing desk and go talk to people about your book. Remember: the only money you’ll see from this project is likely the money you bring in yourself. To start those nickels rolling in, work through any blocks you have about self-promotion, and get cranking.
So, where do you begin?
Dream big, but start small. Yes, you want that international distribution deal. Yes, you want your book on the New York Times bestsellers list. But too often, we obsess about standing on the peak of a mountain, and we neglect to hike through the foothills. Cool your jets. Remember Lao Tzu’s words of wisdom: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Start with your favorite independent bookstore. Local booksellers are usually receptive to stocking work from local writers. (Especially if they have a great elevator pitch!)
To get the scoop, I chatted with Wyatt Wegrzyn, owner of Bookworks, my favorite independent bookstore in Albuquerque.
My question to Wyatt: how do booksellers decide whether or not to stock a book?
“A bookseller likes two types of books,” Wyatt grinned. “Good books that sell…and bad books that sell.” He explained that booksellers are inundated with options; in fact, for the fall season alone he might scan a list of 5,000 new titles. To make your book stand out, you have to create a relationship with a bookstore, and prove why your book will sell like hotcakes.
“As a self-published author, you’re engaging people to be an ambassador for your product,” Wyatt explained. “How can you explain the hook of your book to me, so that I’ll be able to sell it to someone else in 30 seconds?”
The good news: good ideas spread. If your bookseller likes it, and stocks it…then suggests it to a customer, and sells it…and they read it, and tell a friend…suddenly your audience is growing. But you have to make that first connection.
Here are some tips from Wyatt about how to approach a bookseller:
- Make sure any unsold copies will be returnable to the print on demand seller. If a bookstore can return a book that doesn’t sell, they’re more likely to take a chance on it.
- Be familiar with the bookstore, and show sensitivity to how your book fits with their current market. Be able to say: “You carry this book and that book, and mine is similar because…”
- In your writing circles, try making sales pitches for each other’s books as an exercise. It helps show you what other people think is cool about your book.
Once your local bookstore agrees to stock your book, keep working! Remember to:
- Stay in touch with the bookstore. Call or visit periodically to keep the relationship active.
- Instruct everyone who you send to the bookstore to tell the clerks that YOU sent them. When a bookstore knows you’re bringing in business, you and your book will stay on their radar.
Ultimately, it’s about creating a relationship with the people who sell your books. If my interview with Wyatt showed me one thing, it’s that starting this conversation is easier than you think. Whip up some basic promo materials (business cards, bookmarks, or anything else with your book/name on it), and open with a friendly handshake.
With each new step, you’ll gain perspectives and experience that will strengthen your strategies. Chances are, you wrote your book because it’s a story you wanted to share. So let that be your guide. Work toward unifying and balancing these two sides of yourself: the writer who loves the craft, and the person who loves sharing it with people.