sales

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!!!