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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

“Why isn’t it selling?”

Today I was telephoned by an acquaintance whose autobiography has been published as an e-book by a small press in UK. She despairs because the book hasn’t sold very well at all, barely getting into two figures.

I sympathised. I pointed out that no matter how well written, sadly, autobiographies by ‘unknowns’ – that is people who are not celebrities – will not sell well unless they’re aggressively marketed. Even then, it will be an uphill struggle; but I've seen it done. A small publisher will have little or no marketing budget. I would advise against paying large sums of money to advertise the book, too. I asked if she used the Internet. Her answer: no, but I have a friend who does…
Whether we authors like it or not, if we want readers, we usually have to get involved in marketing our work. And that means books published by publishers as much as those self-published.

‘If I could I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results.’ – Emily Bronte.
Most authors would prefer simply to create the next book. Now, that’s fine, but if the first one doesn’t get out there, a second one won’t necessarily do any better.

Things haven’t changed all that much, really, since the ‘good old days’.
Mid-list authors, like Jack Higgins who served his apprenticeship on crime and action fiction, were retained and nurtured in the hope of finding an audience that would not only follow them but also in the belief that the author would produce that breakout novel after years of honing his craft (as Higgins did, spectacularly, with The Eagle Has Landed) .

Mid-list authors didn’t sell in large numbers, as a rule, but gained a following as they added to their output. Reviews in the press for mid-list authors were virtually non-existent. Sales, not reviews, determined whether the mid-list author would be retained.
I’m generalising here, and there are always exceptions even to generalisations, but the trend seems to be along these lines.

Nowadays, publishers’ so-called mid-list authors are rarely maintained by the big five, since they’re considered uneconomical. They can’t afford the cost and time to nurture mid-listers.

Actually, mid-listers haven’t gone away, they’re read in the e-book world.  

E-book authors are also published in Print On Demand paperback format, but these are not mass market paperbacks, so they’re always going to be dearer to buy.

Print reviews of mid-list authors in e-book or POD are virtually non-existent.

Now, however, new authors and mid-list authors can market their books via the social media. Now, they can gain reviews online at online bookstores, and in various book blogs and Facebook groups. Indeed, mid-list authors can obtain reviews where before they never could.

You can probably see where this is heading.
‘A boy has to peddle his book.’ – Truman Capote.

Authors need to market online, because that’s where your book will be visible most.

Yes, authors love to have their books on bookshelves in bookstores. But stop to think about it. Unless you’re a big name, who commands considerable shelf-space, you’ll be lucky to see one or two copies of your book there – and they won’t be there long, because every week thousands more books are published, all fighting for that same limited shelf-space; your book’s life on the shop’s shelf is measured in weeks, if not days. Online shelf-space is slightly more egalitarian – new unknowns can rub shoulders with the famous by dint of the category or selection of the online browser.

I’m a writer, not a salesperson! That’s the cry of many authors. Fair comment. But it won’t wash in the floodtide of competition out there. You’ll just be sunk – almost without trace.
Primarily, I believe the majority of writers have to write because they want to be read; payment for honest toil is welcome, of course. But we need to be read – and unless we produce a tome that sells by word of mouth, we’re going to have to market it. No, don’t use the sales pitch of a snake-oil salesman – ‘a wonderful account of…’ Be honest about what your book offers; it won’t be for everyone – so think about the niche market it will appeal to, and try aiming your endeavours there. If you get honest reviews, quote them, because the reviewers have been good enough to read and comment on your work, after all.

‘A book is like a garden carried in the pocket’ – Chinese proverb.  Now, the author has to sow the seeds to see his book grow in popularity and readership.
This doesn’t mean posting a blatant sales pitch every day on Facebook. Besides being irritating to regular browsers, they’ll be deleted from email links without reading. You need to genuinely connect with your online readership. If a subject crops up that relates to your book’s theme or subject, fine, give it a plug, but don’t belabour the point. The most annoying adverts on TV are the ‘shout ads’ that demand you use this, buy that; I’m surprised they’re still around, surely they turn off most viewers?

Bear in mind what Isaac Asimov once said: ‘Writing is the most wonderful and satisfying task in the world, but it does have one or two significant flaws. Among those flaws is the fact that a writer can almost never make a living at it.’ You might, if you grasp the marketing nettle. If you don’t, then you probably won’t.


Anonymous said...

Great post Nik! Sad but true. I'm not fond of social networking-so time consuming-but I suffer through it for hours everyday.

Deon Christie said...

As an Internet Marketer, in my opinion, if it doesn't sell? You're getting too little Traffic, or too much Wrong Traffic. Conversion is the key, and if you're targeting the wrong're dead in the water.

Nik said...

Thanks, Mary. Time on the social network is the big issue - how much, how little, so there's time to devote to creative writing. I'm still grappling with that!
Deon, you're probably right. The main thrust of the article is aimed at authors who disdain the Internet Marketplace; they can't afford to, if they want to sell.

Nancy Jardine said...

Hi Nik. A little over 2 years ago I was on NO social media at all and was uncomfortable about putting myself out there (including my author avatar). I have bitten the bullet, joined eveything, have 2 blogs etc, and have spread myself thin. The main result I've had is that my main blog has suddenly got to around 400 blogger pageviews every day now and I haven't a clue what that might mean to my sales. I'm blogging every other day, quite a lot of that being guest appearances. Maybe time will tell although I've been useless at Tweeting!

womagwriter said...

Excellent post. Writing is like knitting. If you want to sell what you've created you'll need to set up a stall so you can reach the people who'll most likely want to buy it.

By 'stall' I mean blog/website/facebook account/twitter account etc, of course.

Anonymous said...

Great post Nik an oh so true. I still have so much to learn because it seems like I'm on the computer ALL THE TIME! But I keep truckin'

Penny Estelle

Pamela Kelt said...

PR is hard work and usually unrewarding. Probably sales would be worse if I didn't do it, but every day I calculate the pay-off. A chapter on the new book, or FB?

Frankly, I was never in it for the money. Recently, I've tended to writing the new chapter. Much more fun. Speaking of which, I've left my anti-hero in an invidious position ... Better get back and sort him out.

Nancy Wood said...

Great post Nik! It's the question for me -- how much time to devote to online marketing and social networking? It does take a lot of time, but it can also be fun and rewarding. It's challenging to figure out the balance between creative writing and marketing time.

Nan said...

Marketing is more difficult than writing, but it is essential. Nice post.

ChuckTyrell said...

I resemble your post. Furthermore, the habits of a lifetime (don't beat your own drum) are so difficult to overcome. I must go back to tweeting. So many tweets are blatant drum beating that I was just completely turned off. I suppose some of it comes from spending my adult life in Japan, where humility is prized.

Michael Parker said...

Too true, Nik, as I've learned over the last couple of years.

Nik said...

Hi Nancy, time will tell, indeed. Me too regarding Twitter, but I'll give it a go! Trying not to be blatant, wanting to converse about what interests us as writers - the reason for the book in fact! - may be the way to go.

Nik said...

Womagwriter, I like the knitting analogy, though I may end up getting tied in knots!
Penny - keep on truckin', you're doing all right as far as I can tell! Pamela, you've got good will power to get back to your WIP - I must do that today (said it yesterday, didn't happen!)

Nik said...

Hi Nancy Wood, I agree it takes time but it is rewarding when you receive feedback/response on pageviews. Yes, Nan, unless you're already into marketing, it seems very difficult, a minefield, even, but let's soldier on and crack it. Yes, Charlie, humility is to be treasured (not a lot of it about), but if we're proud of our work we should ensure that it gets seen (read). No pressure!