Selling books at a literary festival makes sense but not cents, according to author Bruce Hartman, who was there with his novels. He came to Bookstock from Philadelphia, he said, because he used to live near Woodstock, and he thought he’d see some old friends. He was also offering his books at a discount – and still hoping to earn back the cost of renting a table under the tent.
With all the new technologies for print-on-demand (POD) and self-publishing (eBooks), it’s easy to break into print, but the difficulties of finding outlets at which to sell your books are great. This is the other reason to “know your audience.” The first reason, is to write for that audience.
Generally, it’s easier to sell non-fiction than fiction, especially if you have a special niche – a how-to, a travel narrative, a memoir with a certain slant (epiphany, recovery, rags-to-riches success).
But fiction has its own niches, too. First, there’s genre for those who write mysteries, sci-fi, romances and the like. Then there’s the issue of subject. Personally, I love novels that not only entertain, but also teach me about something, the way Dick Francis explains horses and racing.
But marketing, like aging, isn’t for sissies. And these days, even writers with publishers are expected to do their own marketing. That was certainly the
case for me, when I was out stumping for Into the Wilderness.
Originally published by a micropress, the book was not a candidate for any big-name reviews. But because the book included a lot of Vermont social and political history, a lot about chamber music, and a love story between a Jewish woman and a Vermont bachelor in middle age, I was able to score reviews in Vermont newspapers and magazines, on some music sites, in some Jewish newspapers, and in some magazines for retirees, as well on book reviewers’ blogs.
In addition to reviews, I sought interviews, especially in advance of a reading – to make sure there would be potential customers at each venue. Speaking to reading groups proved even better than reading at libraries or bookstores. I spoke anywhere I was invited, including synagogues and retirement homes.
I also spoke about my publishing and marketing experience at writers’ conferences and about history to local and state history groups, all of which promoted the event to their entire memberships and not just those who were able to attend. In fact, I’m a speaker for the Vermont Humanities Council’s Speaker’s Bureau, and I’ll be talking about Vermont in 1964 next week at a mid-state library – making use of all the research behind the novel to educate, entertain and – yes – sell books. (Not incidentally, I’ll also be collecting an honorarium equivalent to the royalties on a hundred eBooks.)
“Back of the room” and “Hand sales” – where the author sells each copy to each reader – is exhausting and has limited sales potential. In the world of book marketing, it’s good to pitch a book to an interested crowd, but it’s even better to find others who will pitch the book for you, including bookstore owners and on-line reviewers who have a wider reach.
Best of all is writing a book readers love so much they talk about it to all their friends. For this to happen – and for the effort of marketing to make sense – brings us back to the most important part of publishing, and that is writing the best book you possibly can.
Deborah Lee Luskin writes fiction set in Vermont and is a regular commentator for Vermont Public Radio.