The funny thing is, nobody really knows what works when it comes to selling a book. Because everything publicity-wise is done simultaneously with publication, when they do a NY Times ad or a New Yorker crossword puzzle or a country-wide flying banner, there’e2’80’99s no discernible bump in the numbers to show the result of that particular action. Who knows, the book might have sold just as well without the extra event?
In the end, after sixteen books, twelve years of being published, and thirteen book tours, I’e2’80’99ve decided that promoting a book is a bit like parenting: The main thing is showing up. In parenting, the idea of ‘e2’80’9cquality time’e2’80’9d is a delusion of busy adults, who imagine that there is any short cut around the quantity of time it takes to raise a kid. In publishing, writers like to imagine that there’e2’80’99s a short cut around the well-worn path to establishing a writer, if only they can find it, or their publisher would let them in on it.
I’e2’80’99m afraid that for the majority of us, those who haven’e2’80’99t been born with a famous name or are personal friends with Oprah or have been dropped into circumstances that catch the imagination of a vast slice of the reading public, there simply are no short cuts. You write a book, the best book you possibly can; you manage to sell it to a real publisher; the book sells enough copies to make your publisher interested in the next one, which they buy, and to which they commit a handful of promotion dollars. That one sells a few more, but you still concentrate on writing the very best book you possibly can.
This isn’e2’80’99t to say there isn’e2’80’99t promotional work to be done by the book’e2’80’99s writer. The first book will benefit by personal, local contact’e2’80’94not a nation-wide tour, not big ads, but you, dropping in to booksellers, particularly the independents, in your area during a slack time of their day, carrying a copy of your book and maybe a nicely printed review or bio or something, and shaking the hands of the manager, the buyer, and anyone else who stands still for you. Friendly, chatty, not in the least pushy, just telling them that you’e2’80’99re local, that you set the book in the area, that you have friends and family there. No need to finish the sentence:”…who will come in and buy it.”
You are one of a thousand new writers that manager will come across in the next few months: You can stand out by being obnoxious (‘e2’80’9cYou really need to have some copies of my books up front.’e2’80’9d) or by being really nice. Guess which approach will get that manager to look at the flyer you hand her, and which will spin the flyer into the nearest bin without a glance?
Your local independent will generally do you an event, possibly a group signing with other local writers. Your family will show up, your friends will buy a copy, and you shake the hands of everyone you see and graciously introduce yourself, thanking them for coming.
Next year: repeat.
One reader at a time. One bookstore at a time. It’s mostly a matter of showing up. Go to your local writers group if you like, particularly if you can volunteer some time there. Go to conferences if you can afford it, shake hands and see how other people do it (both the writing thing and the promotion thing.) Be the best writer you can’e2’80’94and the most dependable. A book a year, year in and year out, lovingly written, agonizingly polished, is what it’e2’80’99s about.
One book at a time, one reader at a time. With determination, with luck, with an unending willingness to learn, your readership grows along with your backlist.