marketing

How I sell books (Part 2) – A guest post by David McLain

Now that I’ve scared off half the readers talking about what hasn’t worked, let’s talk about what has. (See Part 1 here.)

So far nothing I’ve said has anything to do with you as a writer. I don’t know you, but if you are reading this, you’ve made it as far as finding my publisher’s blog. That’s a good thing- It means that you’ve probably figured out that self-publishing is, well, a crappy idea. Good for you. So, skipping ahead a moment, I can tell you that roughly 20 weekends a year I can be found sitting at either a booth or a table at either an art show, a steampunk convention, or a comic con, with copies of my last two books, in paperback and hardcover. This is the long, slow grind of indie book sales. People who come over to look at my book nearly always pick up the hardcover copy, admire it, and then buy the softcover, if anything. This is actually by design.

When you are working a show, you need to be able to explain your book in a sentence or two. This is called the strap line. It’s preferable if the strap line makes for a pretty good bit of dialogue, and I think it’s usually best if you keep the number buzzwords to a minimum.

Guy dressed as the tenth doctor: What’s this?

Me: That’s my book, The Traveller’s Resort and Museum.

10 Doc Guy: What’s it about?

Me: It’s the story of a Time Traveller who falls in love with three men- one from the present, one from the past, and one from the future. She misjudges them all.

I feel this compares pretty well with the line the guy at the next booth over was giving people: Okay, so strong female protagonist. Epic fantasy. Some steampunk. It’s a hero’s quest. The dwarves have lost the jewel of…. or something. I don’t remember. I don’t know how the book was written, but the pitch was surprisingly devoid of complete sentences.

coverimagettrmAt this point I have an advantage in that my book is surprisingly beautiful. It as a beautiful painting of a woman with red hair drinking tea and holding a pet triceratops on a leash on the cover. It has two dozen black and white pictures in it, and every chapter begins with a font indicating the location the chapter is set in- so if the chapter is set in the Stone Age the first two words look like carved stone. (By the way, people don’t judge books by their covers. But they do judge book covers by the pictures on them, and when they first pick up the book, all they have is the picture and the title.)

Now, if you ever been to one of these shows, you might have seen someone doing this. Most of them are going it alone, and have basically opened the one author book store. This is a good way to distribute your books to the public and attract a little attention for your work. It’s also financial suicide. So, to make this work, you’re going to need to have something else to sell along with your books. I don’t know what that is, you need to figure that out yourself. If you’re at my booth, you’re usually more likely to buy one of my wife’s embroidered bags with steampunk animals on them than my book. This is OK. The bags are the reason my wife doesn’t have another job, and that I can keep doing this. They’ve made the whole thing sustainable. Sustainability, and a good quality book is the reason I am still signing copies of my second book five years after it came out.

So, someone is holding a book of mine, they’ve looked at my beautiful cover, and they’ve heard my pitch. Maybe they’ve read the back of the book. (This is good. The back of my book is pretty funny.)

They now get that idea in their head- I can get this signed by the author. I think a lot of people picture themselves on the antiques roadshow. “I bought this copy of The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum from David McLain in 2017 at the East Aurora Barn Art Festival, and I got both him and his wife to sign it. She did the cover.”

And then they buy it! Although I must admit, they don’t usually buy it in huge quantities. I don’t care though. My book gets out there, little by little, and I get to go to shows, and sign copies of my book, and do readings, and sometimes, just sometimes, meet a fan. A real genuine honest to goodness fan, who thinks my work is awesome and wants to read more. Not only that, but over time, the money adds up. Sales of my books are already over 7000.00 gross in the last five years. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot to you, but would you turn it down if someone handed it to you? I thought not. I wouldn’t either.

When I go to shows, I frequently ask other writers about the best line from their work, their ‘To be or not to be’ if you will. You know what the most common answer is? ‘I don’t know.’ Think about that. ‘I don’t know.’ I would suggest that means something- that we’re all making this up as we go. Writing isn’t easy. Even Shakespeare quit and became a landlord. Keep at it, and good luck.

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David McLain studied writing at the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of the two novels: Dragonbait, and The Life of a Thief. His stories have been published in the anthologies Metastasis, Penny Dread II, and the upcoming Doctor Who Anthology Time Shadows, as well as over two dozen magazines, including Harvard’s Dudley Review. He has been featured on NPR’s Off the Page and the History of England podcast. He lives in New York.

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How I sell books (Part 1) – A Guest Post by David McLain

coverimagettrm(Spoiler: It doesn’t involve the internet much)

Hello, for those of you who don’t know me, I’m David McLain. I’m the author of, among other things, the Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum, available from Mirror World. I made enough money last year off of the sale of books to make maybe two payments on the mortgage on my house, not that we necessarily spent the money that way. I’ll let you make of that what you will. Usually, when I go out with other writers, someone scoffs at- frequently in spite of the fact that they’ve never published anything in their entire lives. All the books that I’ve ever written will never compare to all the books in their head just waiting to come out, someday.

As an independent writer who has never landed a book with a major publisher, I can’t tell you how to become a bestselling author. Nobody can. There are a few unpleasant but obvious truths I’m going to have to mention here, and the first one is that if you met JK Rowling, and asked her how to become a famous author, the most honest answer she could give would be ‘I don’t know.’  People like that are just lucky, and luck is considerably more difficult to predict than lightning strikes. Having that kind of luck should not be your goal in life, no matter you are trying to achieve.  What I can tell you how to do is how to make two mortgage payments a year with book money. You can decide for yourself if that’s worth it. What say next may be a little more surprising- it doesn’t involve the internet very much.

I’ve been a writer for a long time now, and I’ve seen people do a lot of strange things in the interest of self-promotion. Once, many years ago, I was part of an online writing group where a young man created an account under a fake name so that he could review his own story. His glowing review of his own work was enough to project him onto the board’s list of the best reviewed stories of the month. (It wasn’t a very big board.) he then logged in under the fake name and congratulated himself for getting such a good review, and then logged out again, logged back in as himself, and congratulated himself for thanking himself. I googled his name shortly thereafter. I found a list he written of ‘The Top Ten People to Watch in 2005.’ It was a list of nine celebrities and himself.

The young man was suffering, I believe, from two of the more popular delusions among writers. The first, and most common, is the mistaken notion that the place your book occupies in the world will be similar to the very, very large space it occupies in your head. The second, and only slightly less common mistake is the idea that internet traffic will somehow reach a critical mass that will end up with the author achieving best seller status. Now, it’s possible you might be doing something, anything that might generate a lot of interest in you as a person, meaning people want to buy a book from you. However, and I take no pleasure pointing this out, to the best of my knowledge no novel has ever gone viral on the internet, ever. The closet anyone has ever come was when three unpublished stories by JD Salinger came out a few years ago. That was JD Salinger, someone who originally got very, very lucky, and even then, calling it viral is kind of a stretch. Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of things to generate sales online- I’ve guest hosted a podcast called the history of England several times, I had my friend Jeff Mach promote my book on the Steampunk World’s Fair Page, which gets thousands of visitors. I have a Facebook group for fans, a Goodreads page, an author page on Amazon, and a blog. My biggest online success was the time I got a like and a follow from the actress Carrie Fisher on Twitter right before she died. This involved no sales but I did get to strut around my regular job all day like I owned the place. In short, I’ve tried probably everything you’re probably thinking of doing to create an online presence, and by and large it hasn’t worked, at least so far. This generally has to do with the internet’s inverse relationship between interest and effort, as demonstrated in the following graph:

chart

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David McLain studied writing at the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of: The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum, Dragonbait, and The Life of a Thief. His stories have been published in the anthologies Metastasis, Penny Dread II, and the upcoming Doctor Who Anthology Time Shadows, as well as over two dozen magazines, including Harvard’s Dudley Review. He has been featured on NPR’s Off the Page and the History of England podcast. He lives in New York.

To be continued… Subscribe or check back next week for Part 2 of this guest post!!!