How do you promote your self-published book?

So, you’ve written a book, and published it. Great.

The next and inevitable question is: how do you sell it? How do you find people who are willing to read it and recommend it to their friends? How do you–gasp–promote it?

I have to admit, I hate the word “promote”. It conjures up images of sleazy door-to-door salesmen, of people who constantly tweet about their books, people who send you direct messages about their book and otherwise bother you for something you might have been interested to check out, but are now no longer.

A myriad of marketing options are being dreamed up daily by all sorts of people, most of them with good intentions, but most of them with a poor understanding of how people decide to buy books. Every day, I see sites pop up where people can post their books. Visitors are then encouraged to “like” the page and the number of likes are given as a measure of success for the page. Some sites are quite elaborate, well-designed and pretty. Except… do they have ANY members at all who aren’t authors trying to sell their books?

Then what? Paid advertising? At some point you may decide to try paid advertising. It can be beneficial, but its benefits are almost always indirect, in other words, an ad gives you name recognition but few, if any, immediate sales. I consider paid advertising as a way to show my appreciation for sites that I like. They need to make money. I don’t mind giving them some, and as bonus, I get a pretty graphic on their page.

Tweeting, blogging, paid advertising are all auxilliary ways to market yourself, and highly time and/or money-consuming and inefficient ones at that.

Here is the quick and dirty on selling your books:

The first way to promote your book is to write a good book. People read it. They like it. They recommend it to friends. Word of mouth is still the way in which most people decide what to read. No, publishers don’t know how it works either. Invest your time and energy in writing, not blathering on social media (unless the blathering is in your off-time and it’s actually social). Spend your money on ways to improve your book rather than on ads.

The second way to promote your book is to write another book. Because when people like book 1, they can buy book 2. Spend your energy writing this book rather than arguing over/anguishing over or even just reading reviews of book 1. Book 1 is done and dusted. Reviews won’t change it and just as good reviews won’t sell a book, bad ones won’t make it tank either, if you’ve done your homework (see point 1).

The third way to promote you book, which is actually a long way down from points 1 and 2, is to be present and to be genuine. A whole host of stuff could fit into this point. Have a website, have a blog, be on Facebook or Twitter. Have places where people can find you, engage with you and find out about books you’re writing, cons you’re attending or backgrounds for your fiction. Encourage people to like your page, subscribe to your blog or newsletter. What is contained in this point will vary from writer to writer. It’s something you should feel comfortable doing, and something that shouldn’t take you away from writing.

The most important thing about selling your books is that it doesn’t happen overnight, but if you keep doing points 1, 2 and 3, your chances of doing well are greatly increased.

The future of shopping

A real-life post, but it does relate to books, I promise.

Christmas has come and gone and this means we’re in the biggest shopping time of the year. Many shops survive on the rush to Christmas and then the post-Christmas sales. I don’t like shopping, but today I had reason to venture into our local shopping centre and it was… rather quiet. Retailers are reporting OK, but lacklustre sales.

The reason I ventured into the shops after buying vacuum cleaner bags was that it is high time to replace my bikini. When you use it a lot, even chlorine-resistant swimwear doesn’t last all that long. Two years tops. And since the last time I bought a bikini, something has changed. See, I’m not a frilly type of person, and I’m definitely not for a floral bathing suit. I want a sporty bikini that has a reasonable chance of staying in place when one gets dumped by a wave. Sand in unimaginable places is enough to deal with, thank you very much. I don’t need to worry about my bikini top as well.

And–here comes the weird thing–none of the shops had any non-frilly, non-flimsy, chlorine resistant swimwear, not even the sports store. Last time I bought a bikini, there was plenty of choice.

So when I got home, grumpy, I decided to look on the internet. Guess what? Lots of choice.

So, do we have a Borders moment here? Borders who used to stock loads of interesting books until the rot set in and they just stocked the most popular ones, and often not even those? And then they went bust.

The clothing stores have obviously worked out that people buy these things online, so they don’t even bother stocking. The retailers I found online–most of them local, and a fair number made their clothes locally–didn’t look like their wares were carried by any stores.

This is similar to what happens in book retailing. I bought a couple of books in a bookshop the other day. It’s worth mentioning because I haven’t bought anything in a physical bookshop for a long time. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to, but that the books I wanted simply aren’t available in shops. Some perhaps could be ordered from publishers and distributors, but others–especially the specialist scientific books which were POD–probably not.

In any case, it would be much easier and cheaper for me to order the books myself through ABE. I strongly feel that the word “easier” is the operative here.

A lot of people have a quaint attachment to bookshops. They are cute and interesting places, and I wouldn’t really want them to disappear, but given the fact that they don’t often have what I want, what is the future for the bookshop? Or, for that matter, for the clothes stores, or non-fresh-food retail in general? We want more choice than local shops can provide, and we want it now. Some people advocate asking shops to order on their behalf, but that’s not a solution; that’s charity. And a pain in the butt besides.

I see retail diverging into two streams: high-volume popular items and specialist shops. The specialist shops will probably still do a lot of online trade and their shopfront will double as office. But that probably puts them under the line at which their income is going to pay the horrendous rent in shopping complexes, so the specialist shops will become backyard and warehouse-only operations.

The same with specialist clothing stores. They don’t need a shopfront.

So, does anyone need a shopfront, really? Anyone at all? Now there is a scary thought.

What about all these giant shopping complexes we’ve built over the past decades? When are we going to convert them into housing estates?

Or, will the shopping centre management lower the rents so that interesting shops can once again populate these palaces of materialism? Will we perhaps see specialist shopping centres?