Mark Terry

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A New Skill

September 8, 2009
I have some bad news, boys and girls. This is not quite a revelation to me, but I articulated it to myself during my morning walk.

The bad news is: selling and marketing your books is a completely different skill set than writing them.

I know, I know, that seems rather obvious. Most of us who get published and stay published struggled for a while at it, learning our craft (and hopefully continue to hone and improve our craft).

Then you get a novel published and suddenly you're supposed to figure out how to appeal to the 10 or 11 people out there who like your type of books. You're told to make bookmarks (have you EVER bought a book because of a bookmark?), send out postcards, go to conferences, do book signings, go to book fairs, give interviews, and generally stand on the street corner naked screaming at passing cars that your book is available. And hell, why you're at it, throw in YouTube video trailers, websites, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and whatever social media is coming around the corner, because, for GOD SAKES, IF THERE'S ONE THING PEOPLE IN THE WORLD NEED MORE OF IT'S SOMEONE TRYING TO SELL THEM SOMETHING!!!!!

Some people come by this rather naturally. They're not usually writers, but sales people. Writers seem more comfortable by themselves in a room with a book or computer screen. Yes, book marketing may very well be God's way of punishing you for your writing dreams.

That said, maybe you're a gregarious type that loves nothing more than being in a crowd of people talking about yourself.

I think what sparked this particular thought was me wondering what the hell works. A few months back I had a teleconference with my publishing group and someone said, "Have you given much thought to marketing yet?" To which I then ran through a litany of things I'd done in the past with my somewhat cautious disclaimer that I had absolutely no clue what worked, but I had a pretty good idea what didn't. They more or less agreed with me on the "what didn't" notion, although there was a seemingly concerned silence on the line when I said, "I've done about everything in the past and can't tell what works and what doesn't." Of course, they weren't tripping over themselves to assure me that X, Y, and Z always sold bunches of books. The only thing in my experience that definitely sold books was a good review in Library Journal. It was a direct correlation, which, my friends, is astonishingly rare in publishing. My novel DIRTY DEEDS got a good review in LJ. Within a week or two there were a couple hundred orders from libraries. Astonishing. Do A, B happens.

Because when it comes to selling, it's more like Do A (book signing), maybe sell a book or books or even a lot of books, it's totally unpredictable, then, B, what happens? I've been told that this inspires the bookstores to handsell the rest of your books (uh-huh). I've been told that a book signing is all about selling your next book. I've been told that book signings are all about developing relationships with booksellers. So, by all those things, this comes to Do A, then maybe B, or C, or D, will happen, if something doesn't happen to distract along the way. Because, after all, it's not as if there's turnover at bookstores, right?

When it comes to book signings, it's useful to keep in mind as a writer that what the bookseller wants is to generate traffic in the store and to sell your books. If you're unknown, you probably don't do much of either, so although they may or may not be supportive of new authors, they may be doing you a favor when, instead, they're hoping you'll do them one. (I've also been told by some small bookstore owners that because it's so time-consuming and expensive to promote a book signing they don't like to do authors who are unknown; I find this curious, because I can't figure out what they're spending their time and money doing to promote an author. Mentioning it on their e-newsletter? Putting a poster up in the window? Do they actually run ads in the local newspapers? If they do, I've never seen them. But I'm assured it's time-consuming and expensive).

Oh well. Thoughts?

Mark Terry


Blogger Alan Orloff said...


So true, and yet...

...we've got books to promote!

8:22 AM  
Blogger Don said...

"Book marketing may very well be God's way of punishing you for your writing dreams."

This is the best thing I've read all day. Thanks!

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Christine said...

Good post. I had one book signing. As far as I could tell, the book store ran a free ad in the "bulletin board" section of the newspaper, had a hand-made sign up in their window, and asked me to provide a case of books so they could make a display in the front of the store, and another in the back, near where I was doing the signing. I provided the refreshments.

Maybe some publishing companies insist that that box of books be bought up front; thus the expense, but I'm thinking that's not the case. Regardless, it doesn't seem, to me, to be a huge expense for the bookstore.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I was going to highlight the same sentence Alan did. Man is that ever correct.

I guess I've already mentioned a million times that if I had a talent for and interest in sales I would have gone into sales.

I would suggest that the primary reason books take off is because of their content. Although it seems impossible to predict what content might turn the trick, that's what usually does it so why not concentrate on the content? And at least I am a lot better qualified to deal with that aspect whereas I have no sales skills at all.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Richmond Writer said...

It seems the "it's not my job," has now been passed from bookseller to book writer. It's not my job to sell your books. It's not my job to design a marketing strategy. It's not my job to do PR for your book. Even editing seems to have that taint. The only job not passed to the writer is the one the writer wants, to design the book cover.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I guess one of my gripes and I'm not pointing fingers at my publishers or anyone specific, but frankly, the advances for first novels and even 2nd, 3rd, etc., really aren't all that large in most cases. I'm not entirely sure it's better to get an advance of $1000 and have your publisher think you should spend money and time on marketing or to get $50,000 that you then think you can live on and have to spend money and time on marketing, but either way, I think it makes more sense for publishers to budget for marketing, otherwise it becomes a little difficult to figure out what publishers are necessary for aside from distribution and a stamp of approval.

5:56 AM  

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