happily boosting book sales
Posted By Seth Watts Posted On

Sensible solutions for happily boosting book sales

OK, you’ve signed a contract with a publisher and now you can relax. No way. Unless you get out there and help your publisher promote your book, you might just as well have left the disk in the computer.

Publishers, no matter how enthusiastic or well-meaning, simply do not have enough people to get to the right markets, media, groups, and gathering places for any given book.

You’ve got to toot your own horn. Many writers have a hard time talking about their work. They feel that having written the book is enough and someone else should do the commercial stuff. It would be nice if it worked that way, but it doesn’t, as even bestselling authors and agents know. In fact, the Sensible Solutions clients who’ve learned this hard lesson best are the ones who’ve had lots of books published.

So you’d better prepare yourself.

Here are just a few of the many steps you can take to give your book its very best shot.

Rev up for reviews

If you want to attract your book’s best and biggest audiences, start by remembering that many of the people at your publishing house may never have read the book. In fact, you’d do well to assume that the publicist and others in charge of selling it will know nothing more about it than its central subject. Thus, if your title is History of Fitness Fads, they’ll realize it would be smart to alert health and fitness groups and periodicals to forthcoming publication, but because they won’t have read the chapter on next year’s Be Fit Fair in Cleveland, they won’t be able to develop potential there.

You could, though; you know every chapter, every scene, every sentence, and if you assess them as candidates for fairly standard promotional efforts, they can give you quite a lot of mileage.

Consider, for example, review copies. Most publicity departments have a list of review media that runs just a page or two and includes trade journals like Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, American Library Association magazines, and Kirkus Reviews along with major newspapers and magazines. As each new title gets to them, they earmark it for certain periodicals on that list, and off it goes. Some houses will also send review copies to selected columnists, special-interest magazines and Web sites.

But unless you’re working with a small, highly specialized house — and sometimes even then — there’s no way the publicity department can identify all the people who figure to cover your book. It becomes your job, therefore, to create a supplementary list. Include small-town papers and neighborhood throwaways published in places you’ve mentioned in the book, along with pertinent special-interest periodicals and relevant sites on the Web; supply contact names whenever possible, and mention any relevant relationships you have.

As a general rule, between 100 and 500 copies of a new title go out for review. Though the number of press releases regularly issued by publishers varies at least as wide, they too constitute powerful selling tools for any sort of book. You should be able to think of good places to send them by creating appropriate conclusions for the sentence that starts, “This book will be of special interest to you because…”

Rev up the reps

It’s important to get your book presented favorably at the sales conference because if the reps sense that it’s a loser they’ll classify it mentally as a “skip book” (one they can use to build confidence with booksellers by saying, “Between you and me, you can skip this”); and a loser is what it will be.

Since more than a hundred titles may be presented at each sales meeting and since each sales rep will have about twenty seconds to sell a book in the stores, it’s a good idea to create a “handle” for yours. “Handle” is the first heading on one publisher’s Editorial Fact Sheet because it’s what the reps need most. The term, as one rep explained, means “keywords or phrases that will be sure to catch the attention of the retailer.”

What the retailer wants to know, of course, is whether the book will attract readers, so the best handles are those that emphasize benefits. Think in terms of what your book will contribute to readers’ lives rather than what material it contains.

Sell in more places than bookstores

For a variety of reasons, many people never set foot in a bookstore. They do, however, watch television (including shopping channels), surf the Web (with stops at Amazon.com and other bookselling sites) and go to stores that cater to their special interests (which sell books along with sporting goods, yarn, toys, health food and a host of other products). Moreover, all sorts of people regularly hear about and buy books through periodicals, associations, catalogs and conferences. Reaching readers through these and other special interests, “nontraditional” channels is a primary goal for smaller publishers and increasingly important for larger firms.
Often, the responsibility falls to special sales departments, which can bring in sizable amounts of money — more, for some books, than bookstores ever will. Suggestions from authors are usually welcome in this area, so find out who handles it for your publisher, get up a memo pinpointing channels the publisher could use to get your book directly to its natural readership, and explore opportunities until they’re ripe for action on the publisher’s part.

Did the local paper report that a big company will be setting up headquarters in your area? Maybe the human relations VP would buy cartons of your regional guidebook to help employees get adjusted. Is repainting high on the list of your book’s decorating tips? Sound out local paint store managers about adding it to their stock mix. Could you host an AOL chat group about your book’s subject or interact with visitors to your own Web site? Investigate ways to tie in with existing sites (including your publisher’s) and service providers (including the one you use).