Getting Some Strange
The Challenge of Convincing Complete Strangers to Buy Your Novel
I spent the weekend of my novel’s release eagerly refreshing my Internet browser, and examining my sales rank on Amazon Author Central. I got encouraging feedback from my friends on Facebook. I felt warm and happy. I imagined my novel ascending the bestseller charts, overcoming its small publisher label, and becoming an overnight success. I theorized about which actors would play which characters when I inevitably sold the movie rights to a major studio. I was on Cloud Nine, which should be renamed Cloud Delusion.
Shortly after its release on Amazon, sales dissipated. To be more accurate, they flatlined. Enter darkness. Enter despair. I’m the worst author ever. My novel sucks.
(Hits refresh on sales figures on Author Central).
My novel still sucks. I suck. I’ll never be a writer.
About a month later, the cheaper e-book was released on Amazon, and I saw a brief bump in sales. Those also flatlined. I came to a sobering realization.
Writing is hard. Selling might be harder.
With so many options out there, visibility is minimal. The general public didn’t care about my book. Millions of potential readers were out there, but they didn’t even know my book existed. How could they? Even if they narrowed down their browsing by genre, there are still tens of thousands of books to scroll through in the United States alone.
So here we are. Six months later. It’s winter, but my sales have picked up a little bit. Not through any marketing miracles. Not through a random tweet with a link going viral. No. To sell a book, an author has to grind it out the hard way through old-fashioned work and a lot of patience.
The Facebook Well Will Run Dry
The first thing that happened between Point A and Point B was annoying my Facebook friends with numerous posts about my novel. I was advised by my author friends to keep my book posts to under 10% of my total posts.
The problem is-that’s still a lot of posts. You’re also advised as an author to stay active, engage with others on social media, post a lot of thoughts, and talk about your life. If you’re posting multiple times a day, 1/10 posts will still add up. I’ve likely been muted by a lot of my friends, and rightly so.
I created a new author profile, and an author FB page. I did my best to push most of my book stuff to those locations. But I still would sneak in an occasional share to my main personal page. That’s the one with over 800 people that I’ve friended since I first created a profile as a college sophomore in 2004. I don’t know how Facebook’s algorithms work. Maybe a girl I went on a few dates with a decade ago would see my book, and buy it out of curiosity. Maybe some random bro I met at a random party during graduate school is a huge fan of dystopian fiction, and after clicking the link and reading the book preview, would immediately rush-order a copy on Amazon Prime.
Those were daydreams. The facts are these. Most family, friends, and friends of friends who will buy your book will buy it during the first month or so that it’s on the market. I was annoying everyone else.
I’m also really sorry about that. Many authors are shy people. I’ve grown more introverted over recent years. Authors are self-conscious about their work and hate trying to promote it. I also really would like to do this for a living, so that leaves me in a Catch-22. If I want to do this for a living, I have to increase the visibility of my book. To increase the visibility of my book, I have to engage with people online and post about my book. Which means I have to talk about my book and overcome my self-conscious doubts about the strength of my writing.
In short, sorry to anyone who’s been annoyed by those posts. That well is dry. I realize even that recommended 10% mark on book posts is too high. To increase visibility, the pathway isn’t bombarding your Facebook friends. Within a month or so, they’re well aware you’ve published a book.
The pathway is getting some strange.
Getting Some Strange (Readers/Potential buyers)
I am still very much a novice in this department. But I’ve been getting some slow, steady sales using a few methods that will hopefully give my poor Facebook friends a break.
A.) Face-to-Face on the Road
I made a hundred business cards. When I travel, and hit up local bars/restaurants, I have one handy. If I talk to someone, and mention my book, I can give them a card and tell them to check it out. People are more likely to buy a book if they have a personal contact with the author. I’ve made a few sales (and a few friends!) by stepping out of my shell and talking to people directly.
B.) Providing Samples to Indie Bookstores & Libraries
This one will sting a little, because it costs money. But it’s vital to get books on shelves. I’m mailing out free signed samples to small bookstores across the country. Included in the package is an order form for them to buy more copies if those books sell. I’m also providing books to libraries, to get them in the hands of new readers. Trips to the library were a treat for me as a teenager. I’d like to spark some of that same excitement by getting my book on the library shelves. While most of my business has been via the Internet (especially Amazon), growth opportunities for me (which will hopefully boomerang into more online sales) are physical copies on bookshelves.
C.) Pushing all my Book Posts onto my Facebook Author Page, and Creating Sponsored Ads
A former student helped me set up my author website, and showed me how to create posts and sponsored/boosted posts. I’m still learning how to narrow my targeting to get my book in front of the readers who are likely to click/buy, but this is a cheap way to increase the visibility of the book. Much cheaper than buying physical copies and mailing them to bookstores/libraries.
I’ve seen my page visits go from a few dozen people (my loyal friends/family who actually enjoy my annoying posts enough to like my page), to over 5,000 a week. That’s still not where it needs to be for any tangible sales, but it’s resulted in a few. I noticed a small sales spike after two old Canadian ladies made snarky comments about my sponsored post, calling it “nonsense”.
Any publicity is good publicity. When they called my book link “nonsense”, they put it in front of the eyes of all their Facebook friends. Maybe they have a grandson who wants to piss Grandma Crankypants off by reading my nonsense novel. Either way, I increase the visibility of the book, avoid annoying my beleaguered friends and family, and reach new readers. It’s actually really fun as well to select the exact metropolitan areas/target demographics to put my book in front of. It turns an annoying task (marketing) into a game.
The game is simple. If 1-500 people will click, and of those people, 1-25 will buy, I need to get it in front of several thousand people every week to get those sales. I’m still figuring it out, but I don’t hate it. This part is fun.
Twitter isn’t an effective way to actually sell books. Authors who buy followers and create profiles that blast their books 24/7 are muted quickly. Or straight-up unfollowed.
What it’s given me is a community. By engaging with other authors, I learn about the industry, marketing, writing, and even get to talk with a few literary agents, who could provide the ticket to mainstream success.
Writing is lonely. Selling is lonely, and also makes me feel slightly dirty. Talking to other writers provides humor, encouragement, and education about this field. While I’d prefer a community in my town, and the ability to talk about books over coffee/pints of beer, Twitter erases state and national borders. My community is everywhere my phone is. I can’t emphasize enough how valuable that’s been to me.
Patience is necessary. For my book to reach commercial success, I need strangers to buy my book, talk about it with other strangers, engage with me on my social media sites to reach more strangers, and create enough interest for bookstores to make orders. That’s the path for me to eventually get signed by a literary agent and secure a contract with a mainstream publisher.
I’ve already sold more copies than most indie/small press first time authors, despite all my bumbling and mistakes. That tells me that I have a good story, in spite of my self-conscious doubts.
I have control over A-D on this list, but E is the variable that will provide the most impact.
In conclusion, writing this book was a personal journey, and attempting to sell it has been an educating and humbling process. I really hope to get some strange (sales) soon, and get my book in the hands of new readers. If any of you older, wiser authors (or younger and wiser authors!) have any tips, I’d be happy to hear them. For any of my fans out there who are looking for advice, I hope that this post has been helpful to you.
To all of you out there reading this, have a joyful holiday season. My cat is crawling all over me and meowing, and might soon eat this computer, so I’m going to publish this post and sign off now.