How much impact does your author platform have on book sales? People ask me this all the time — they want hard numbers.
Author: If I tweet about this or that for three months, if I post on my Facebook page about my book or share a few reviews, if I share a recipe board on Pinterest…how many books will I sell?
Me: There’s no way I can give you a hard number. There are too many factors to consider.
Author: So, 10? 50? 100?
(One person told me that even though she’s writing a book, she’s “not an author,” so she won’t need to market it; though she fully expects people to “just know to buy it.” Um, okay.)
It doesn’t work like that: there’s no easy button. Let’s deconstruct.
Pardon me while I’m a bit indelicate here, but please, take your head out of your ass for a second. Why do people believe that a few tweets will equal book sales? It boggles my mind. Writing is great — I love it. I encourage anyone who feels they have the talent to pursue the craft, work with professionals, and create an amazing book which will have the greatest chance of catching the eye of a reader to do so.
But there’s the rub: how to catch the eye of a reader. With 1,000 books released daily in the US (Source, UNESCO via Wikipedia), how will readers, book bloggers, book clubs, and book reviewers find your book at all? By marketing! Marketing is a function of business. And publishing is a business.
If your business plan is to twiddle around on Facebook and whine about how your book isn’t selling because you’re not doing any marketing, then that’s your problem. I’ve written exhaustively about what you need to create your author platform, and how to build relationships with readers, as have experts like Jane Friedman and Joanna Penn, who are amazing. Read, research, and do the work.
Tip: Being aggressive with readers, book bloggers, and book reviewers will get you nowhere, except banned. Book bloggers, especially, talk to each other. Be polite, use your inside voice, learn your environment and the culture (whether that’s bloggers, social media, or book clubs). Golden rule applies.
Building relationships takes time, sometimes years. I met my current editor back when I first started on Twitter in 2009, and we met in real life at a conference when I visited New York City in 2012. Not once did I hit her up to represent me, nor did I pitch her my books. She did become my confidante and mentor, and when the timing was right, I was thrilled that she jumped at the chance to present me to Lisa Hagan, literary agent, who signed me on the spot (this was after I self-published my first three books, developed a large author platform, sexual abuse advocacy, signed with a (now-defunct) hybrid publisher, wrote another book, directed an imprint, and have two works in progress and another series in the hopper).
Relationships don’t happen overnight, despite your impression that someone got lucky with their first book. Sure, it happens to that rare author, but 99% of the time, that author has been writing for many years, and in all likelihood, knows someone who knows someone whose grandmother’s first cousin worked for the agent’s cleaning lady. I’m not saying it’s nepotism, not at all — we earn our stripes through talent. But those relationships can open a firmly closed door.
Write more books. Most authors who find success have written several books before they get picked up by an agent or publisher. Build more relationships, especially with readers. Be authentically you.
Rushing into publishing to make a ton of money quickly is usually a losing proposition which reeks of desperation. Readers know that you’re churning out formulaic books every month and rarely stick around. (Big names who do that already have a huge following, publicists, and unlimited budgets.)
Tip: stop following only other authors on Twitter and Facebook. Connect with readers, book clubs, book bloggers, and book reviewers. Then, talk to them. Not at them. Don’t pitch them. Don’t sell them. Talk to them, ya know, like people.
Think of the planks of a platform or the spokes of a bicycle — they all have to work together to form your author platform, which in turn helps you sell books (but can’t guarantee sales). Why no guarantee?
As a consultant, I can do (or help you do) everything I’m going to mention below and your sales can still be awful. Why? Maybe your book just isn’t that well written — that’s a hard truth. You may think it’s the best book ever, but the reviews are brutal. That’s a sure sign to pull it, work with a professional editor, perhaps redesign the cover with a professional graphic designer, and try again.
Or maybe the book is truly wonderful, but you refuse to do any social media, blogging, or advertising. How then will people know about your book? Maybe the price is outrageously high. What makes your book stand out form the sea of 30,000 new releases every month? If you can’t answer that, then you really need to decide if writing is for you, because writing is only half of the equation.
Here’s a simple analogy:
You decide to sell lemonade. You make the lemonade, investing in all the best ingredients. You set up outside on a hot day, knowing people will be thirsty, with a table, chairs, and a large umbrella you borrowed from the nice old lady next door. However, you ran out of time and supplies, so you have no signs. Oh well, people will see you and know that you have lemonade. You’re sure of it.
Kenny from across the street also is selling lemonade. His dad helped him make huge signs “KENNY’S LEMONADE 50c” which they’ve tacked up all over the neighborhood and in bright neon on his booth. Kenny’s booth is super swamped, while nobody is coming over to yours. Mrs. McDoogle even grabbed her umbrella and took it over to Kenny. That made you sad.
Marketing and selling books is no different. You have to make the signs.
Reality check: Listen, I get the feeling of selling our souls. I’m a creative, too. How do we do this business stuff when we hate doing the business stuff? You just do it. You need to accept that books are a commodity, something people purchase. Books are a product for sale. Books are a product that you would like to make money from. Money = business. That’s the world we live in.
For more detailed information on your author platform, here’s a great, affordable guide by Barb Drozdowich, The Author’s Platform: A Beginner’s Guide (Amazon, $2.99). Learn free book marketing every week during my weekly #BookMarketingChat on Twitter (6pm pst/9pm est). Not a Twitter fan? Fine — read the free summaries on Facebook.
So, will you sell fifty books per month if you do All The Things? Who knows? I guarantee that if you have a plan, and you work the plan, you will sell more than if you didn’t do any of it. (That is, unless you’re annoying and spammy, and then you’re on your own.)
If you want to just write, then just write; don’t do any of what I mentioned above. However, if you want to sell books, then learn how to market your books. Balance the creative with the business and do the work.
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All content © 2017 by BadRedhead Media aka Rachel Thompson, author, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to use short quotes provided a link back to this page and proper attribution is given to me as the original author.
Rachel Thompson is the author of newly released BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge: How to energize your book sales in a month - created to help authors market their book. She is also the author of Broken Places (one of IndieReader's "Best of 2015" top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in the San Francisco Book Festival), and the multi award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. Rachel is published by Shadow Teams NYC and represented by Lisa Hagan Books. She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, IndieReader.com, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly. Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs, #BookMarketingChat (co-hosted with Melissa Flickinger) and #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish all live Twitter chats. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.