Selling Yourself

I sent an email to my editor the other day, listing the events I’ve got scheduled to promote my book and the ones in the works. He wrote me back saying how pleased and impressed he was that I was working so hard to support the book.

I can’t imagine an author who wouldn’t do the same thing… but, apparently, there are.

The way I look at it, writing the book is only half the job… you have to sell it to. Unless you’re already a bestselling author, or can afford a high-powered publicist, you have to go out there and sell yourself.

A lot of people cringe at the idea. Sell myself? How tacky.

The idea of promoting yourself, of actually selling your work, can make some authors hyperventilate.

But if you want your books to sell, you have to write booksellers, call booksellers, go out and meet booksellers… months before your novel actually comes out. You need to convince them, first and foremost, the stock your book… and then, perhaps, invite you in for a signing.

If you’re a new author, or a mid-list author like myself, you probably ask yourself why anyone would bother booking you for a signing. Who the hell is going to come to see me? I’m not Elmore Leonard.

But I learned a valuable lesson years ago… it’s not the books you sell at your signing that counts, but the books that are sold in the days and weeks after you leave. And you can’t beat the advertising a signing gives your books… without an event scheduled, you’re just six copies, spine out, on a shelf among thousands of other titles in the store. If the store is having you for a signing, you get a highly visible display of dozens of books, cover out, for days in advance of your appearannce… as well as days afterward. Think of it as in-store advertising. You will stand out in a way you wouldn’t without booking the event, whether a single person shows up or not. More importantly, you will get to know the bookseller who, if you’re lucky, will like you and your novel enough to recommend it to shoppers ie “hand-sell” it to customers.

I did a signing once where no one showed up… I sat in the store for two hours chatting with the owners and signed all the stock. A month later, they drop-shipped another box of books for me to sign… they’d sold out of their stock. (Of course, you want people to show up… that’s the best thing of all!)

It isn’t enough to simply schedule a signing… you have to let people know it’s happening. You need to promote yourself as well as sell yourself. Especially now, in this rough publishing climate. That means sending out mailings… establishing a website… and sending out press releases.

You also need to just get out there and network… that means going conventions, book festivals, and events in your genre (MWA events if you’re a mystery writer, for example).

Of course, you can go to far… and get the rep as a blatant self promoting whore. It’s a fine line… but one any writer who hopes to stay in print has to walk.

3 thoughts on “Selling Yourself”

  1. Lee, you are absolutely correct on this one. There have been several times where I shown up for a signing where there are two or more authors signing and I have walked of the store with all of their books. It was the author and the passion for their work that sold me.
    Are you bringing the TV set out on this next round too?

  2. How is it I found out about several of my favorite authors? They were signing at a local mystery store, and they’re book sounded interesting. Then I made a point of reading it so I’d know if I wanted to get book two. Honestly, that’s what got me to buy and read your first DM book as well. I’m proof positive that everything you’ve just said works!

  3. Another part of it is to simply take on faith that you’re making an impression. You have no idea who might be talking to whom, who picks up your book and decides to recommend it to someone else and where a review might appear.
    I’ve told this before: when I was reviewing books at a small S.C. newspaper, I would send a copy to a small wire service. When Scripps Howard acquired it, I placed a few with them, but not many. I didn’t pursue it because I didn’t know if anyone even knew what I was reviewing. Might as well toss them into the ocean for all the good it was doing me.
    About a year after quitting, the newspaper received Lexus-Nexus access, so being the egotistical bastid that I am, I ego-checked. Bam! Twenty-five hits. Big newspapers and small newspapers. A small impression in the ocean of words that newspapers publish, but there it was. So you never, never know, and all you can do is take it on faith that what you’re doing is having an effect, because it is.


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