Tuesday, June 12, 2018

359. How I Market My Books


This is a post that I did as a guest author contributing to a blog in the UK about book marketing.  It turns out that book marketing -- and the problems it involves -- aren't so different in the UK.  To see the post as presented in the UK, go here.

                                How I Market My Books

                                   by Clifford Browder


Let me say right off that I’m not a bestselling author with hundreds of book sales to my credit.  I’m a small-press and self-published author who, like most authors today, has to do a lot of self-promotion, even if it goes against the grain.  I’ve never owned a television or a cell phone or (not surprising for a New Yorker) a car, which is probably irrelevant when it comes to marketing my books.  This post is about what does – and doesn’t – work for me.  I speak only for the U.S.; I don’t know how things are in Britain.


Clifford Browder



An eye-catching title and cover     

A book has to be marketable.  Assuming the content is of value, that means a title and cover to attract buyers, and a blurb on the back cover to hook them.  For my nonfiction I use descriptive subtitles:

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World.

Fascinating New Yorkers / Power Freaks, Mobsters, Liberated Women, Creators, Queers and Crazies

Some authors do this for fiction titles also, but so far I have not.  But when presenting my fiction titles, I always mention that they are part of my Metropolis series of historical fiction set in nineteenth-century New York.  If readers like one of them, they may want to read the others.

         As for cover illustrations, all my small presses have served me well.  But of all my books, the cover that reaches out and grabs people is the self-published collection of posts from my blog cited above: No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World. 
                                    No Place for Normal: New York
                           
The bright colors and the bold words NEW YORK do the trick.  

         Not every cover has to be this striking at a distance; if people come to this book and others are there beside it, they’ll look at the others as well.  Here are covers of two of my novels, both of them attractive when seen up close.

Bill Hope: His Story

                               












Dark Knowledge


          Bill Hope is the story of a likable street kid turned pickpocket who is in and out of jail four times, escaping once in a coffin.  The cover relates to his confinement in Sing Sing Prison, where he is savagely beaten.  

          Dark Knowledge tells how a young man suspects that some of his family may have been involved in the North Atlantic slave trade.  Appalled, he sets out to learn the truth and encounters lies, evasions, and threats from those who fear exposure.  The cover shows the New York waterfront and, below, a slave ship's interior.  (For more about my books, including reviews and sales links, see the BROWDERBOOKS section at the end of any recent post on my blog, No Place for Normal: New York.)

Know who your readers are

I learned this at book fairs (see below).  The more specific your target audience, the more effective your marketing can be.  For my nonfiction, my readers are older people (i.e., not millennials) who have visited or would like to visit New York and want a literary souvenir of the city.  Also, residents who want to know more about their city, past and present.  A longtime resident, I am a storyteller eager to inform and entertain, to share with others my impressions and reminiscences of life in New York, a city like no other, a city where anything goes. 

         My fiction is historical fiction set in nineteenth-century New York, for which I have done extensive research, using primary sources whenever possible.  The audience, similar in age to that for my nonfiction, is readers who like fast-paced action/ adventure.  Also, schoolteachers, librarians, and parents who want their kids to read something of literary value, with a good bit of history thrown in.

Social media

Authors have to have a presence here.  My blog, No Place for Normal: New York, serves as my website.  Every week I publish a new post dealing with New York City, past and present.  I have a small but faithful following, many of whom buy my books.

         I also have an Author Central page on Amazon that even lists some earlier books now out of print, and a page on Facebook and Goodreads.  But most of my energy goes into the blog.

         What I don’t do, online or off, is advertise.  Advertising works only when repeated endlessly, and this can be expensive.

Pre-publication giveaways

For each of my books I did a series of giveaways on Goodreads, the huge book readers’ website, which made several hundred members aware of my new title.  Each giveaway attracted more people.  And of course I have my own page there, with a listing of the books I’ve read or am currently reading.  One negative: I couldn’t do a giveaway for my most recent title, because Goodreads had no record of it!  Also, Goodreads giveaways used to be free; now they aren’t.  Do I know for sure that these giveaways resulted in sales?  No.  One only hopes.

E-mail lists

Authors must constantly be building a list of e-mail addresses of people who might buy their book.  I started with friends and relations, but that was only a start.  I learned to mention casually to people I met that I’m an author.  If they don’t show an interest, I don’t push it.  But if they ask what kind of books I write, I tell them in a few short words.  That often prompts more questions – about my books and about New York (everyone has an opinion, fiercely good or bad, about New York), in which case I give them my card with my e-mail address and the name of my blog.  If they give me their card or contact me by e-mail, I add their e-mail address to my list.  Surprising sales result.  My dentist buys my books, as does my partner’s doctor.  And a young man I met at a gathering took my card, began following my blog, and is now an avid reader of my novels. 

Media releases

So what do I do with all those e-mail addresses?  Above all, I use them in a media release.  A media release is a way to get the attention of media people who may help promote your book.  At this point I’m not ready to approach the media, so I use media releases to tell people that I have a new book being published, or that I’ll be exhibiting at a book fair.  I start with a catchy title, linked if possible to current events, then a brief statement.  Here is what I’m doing for my most recent book:

This Crowd Can Out-Trump Trump

Clifford Browder’s Fascinating New Yorkers: Power Freaks, Mobsters, Liberated Women, Creators, Queers and Crazies is being released by Black Rose Writing on July 26.






The cover gives a blurred impression of people striding, quite appropriate for New Yorkers, whose pace is notoriously fast.  Then a description of the book: “You think Donald Trump has been giving New York City a bad name?  Wait till you meet this crowd.”  Etc., etc.  A bio follows, then links to where the book can be obtained.  I try to keep the release to one page and end it with ###

         And who does the release go out to?  To the followers of my blog, in case they need a reminder.  And to everyone on my e-mail lists (I in fact have several), including the editors of my high school and college alumni bulletins, which have a Book Shelf page.  Many of the recipients – maybe most – won’t buy the book, but some will, and I may be surprised.  In my release for my historical novel Dark Knowledge, about the slave trade in New York, I included the addresses of some people on the staff of my college whom I knew only through e-mails, and one of them said she would buy the book at once.  Likewise a friend who usually buys and reviews my books, but who in this case needed a nudge.  That’s how it goes: no big orders, just one sale here and one sale there. 

Reviews

You’ve got to get them, and the more the better.  Even bad ones.  It’s hard for new authors to grasp, but better a bad review than no review at all; a bad review at least means that someone has read, or tried to read, your book.  But today, thanks to POD (print on demand), it’s easier than ever to get published; there are lots of small presses filling the gap left by the big U.S. publishers, who are hard for new writers to access.  Also, it’s easy to self-publish.  The result: hundreds of new books every year, competing fiercely for reviews.  The big publications like Publishers’ Weekly and Library Journal are swamped with queries, as are book bloggers who like to review new books.  For me, it’s easier to get published than to get meaningful reviews.  What to do?  Have your publisher offer e-books to readers on LibraryThing in exchange for pre-publication reviews; this has worked quite well for me.  Ask friends and acquaintances who have read your book to do a review, and emphasize that a review can be as short as two or three sentences.  The more reader reviews you have on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the better.  But don’t be surprised if some of your friends don’t buy any of your books; they haven’t signed a contract to do so.  Some of my friends buy all my books, some buy none, and some by some but not others.  And that is fine by me.

Book fairs

Here is a way to meet your readers and find out who they are.  When I exhibited at the Rainbow Book Fair in 2012, I had just one book to present: my only gay-themed novel, The Pleasuring of Men. 


It’s about about a respectably raised young man who decides to become a male prostitute  servicing the city’s elite, then falls in love with his most difficult client: gay romance.  I only sold a few copies, but I learned who the readers for that book are: older gay men.  Since then the book has been read and reviewed by women; again, be prepared for surprises.  Certainly the cover doesn’t hurt.

         Since that first book fair I’ve exhibited twice at BookCon, the biggest book event in the country, at the Javits Convention Center here in New York.  It’s a two-day book extravaganza where, in its own words, “storytelling collides with pop culture,” and what a collision it is – a book event on steroids.  It primarily attracts young women in their late teens and early twenties who read romance, science fiction, and fantasy – not my genres – and are eager to meet their favorite authors and get them to sign their books.  I went knowing this, hoping to connect with older readers.  At BookCon 2017 I sold 26 books – less than I had hoped – but I confirmed my assumption that my readers are older people – older women (i.e., not millennials) and, to a slightly lesser extent, older men.  To boost sales, I offered “Buy two, get one free,” which some buyers took me up on.

         At BookCon 2018 I knew to dress up my booth with a sign in front, NEW YORK STORIES, telling attendees what kind of books I was offering, and a big bookstand that held twelve books – four copies of three books each. 



I sold only 22 books – again, a disappointment --  but I knew that my booth attracted every potential buyer who happened to come down that aisle.  I met some interesting people, and among the buyers were two young women, one of whom asked to have her photo taken with the author.  Yet again, a surprise.  At BookCon 2017 I had offered free candy, but in 2018 I targeted my older audience not with candy but with smaller signs

A BOOK IS A HOUSE OF GOLD – Chinese proverb

READ, LEARN, EXPLORE

LIFE WOUNDS, BOOKS HEAL

But it was the big sign in front, followed up by the bookstand, that drew people to my booth. 

         Among my neighbors at BookCon 2018 were several first-time exhibitors who had yet to learn how to sell at a book fair.  You can’t just sit quietly at your booth, with your books lying flat on the table; nobody will come to you.  You have to look bright and friendly and make your booth sexy, appealing, exciting.  I and my young assistant had done this, and we’ll do it again when we exhibit at the one-day Brooklyn Book Festival in September, where we’ll get a more typical crowd of New Yorkers, with less emphasis on female millennials. 

         *                *                *                *                *                *


Such are my ways to market my books.  My marketing efforts are a work in progress; I still have a lot to learn.  Book marketing has to be done consistently over a period of years.  You try this, then that, and slowly find what works best for you.  It’s work, but it’s also – sometimes – fun.