So you thought writing the book was the hard part. And then you thought editing your own writing was the hard part. And then you thought that getting it all through the various self-publishing engines that kept rejecting it for no apparent reason was the hard part. And then having to proof it one last time and then finding all those typos because you actually never did bother to run spellcheck…?
Yeah, none of that was the hard part. The hard part about self-publishing is the PR. You have to be your own marketing machine, and if there’s one characteristic that is conspicuously missing from the middle of the venn diagram showing the personalities of people who like to sit alone at home writing all day and people whose job is literally about developing relationships with members of the public (yes – PR doesn’t just stand for proportional representation), it’s um, well, it’s probably most things. If you even got to the end of that sentence intact. My point is that writers tend to be introverts who don’t like to call people up and try to sell themselves or the very precious and personal fruits of their labours.
But if you self-publish and you’d like more people than your best friend and your parents to buy your book you have to be prepared to blow your own trumpet a bit. This is what I’ve learned about that part, so far.
- Have a product you’re legitimately proud of, from the outside cover to the inside writing. You can’t sell your work to someone if you’re saying “Well, I’d have liked it to be a bit better…” You have to go all out. That’s easier if you really do love it.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. Self-published is not a dirty word – many very well-regarded books are self-published these days. Many distributors take them on. Many bookstores sell them. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.
- Places that are not bookshops also sell books, and might be easier to get your book into. Depending on the subject matter, think outside the box about where you might offload a few. I have a friend who’s selling his book in the tourist information office in his town. My neighbourhood supermarket has a local authors’ display right by the shopping baskets.
- You can build a relationship with someone over the phone or email – you don’t have to be there in person. Be professional and friendly and don’t burn any bridges.
- Order copies for yourself and sell them to your friends. They save on shipping charges and you can sign them personally for them, just in case you end up famous. Your friends are lovely people who want to help you. Don’t give all your copies away.
- Christmas is a really good time to remind your friends that you wrote a book, because they can buy it again for someone else.
I know there are a million blogposts out there telling me how to market my book. And being me, I haven’t read any of them. I’ve purposely ignored them, because I hate being told what I should be doing. (Who me? Like my daughter? I don’t know what you’re talking about.) This is what I’ve done so far, since first publication in July. (Sure, snail’s pace. Don’t give out to me.)
- I happen to know someone who works in the county library system here. She offered to give a copy to her colleague who chooses the books. Her colleague put that one copy in my local library. Score.
- I emailed the person in charge of choosing books for the Dun Laoghaire library system in Dublin – where I would really like to see the book available, to kids who live where it’s set. She told me to contact their distributor, which I did. After a long wait and much to-ing and fro-ing it turned out that he’d like to carry it but his contract was being given to a UK multinational so he couldn’t. Then he might, but he doesn’t deal with CreateSpace. Then the lovely woman in the library said “Never mind, I’ve just ordered six copies from this other supplier we have.” Done and done.
- I contacted several local bookshops in Dublin – small ones, not big chains – to see if they would carry the book. Not a simple matter. Very few bookshops are truly independent, it seems, and they all told me that the book had to be distributed by Argosy Books or Eason Wholesale in order for them to be able to sell them. I sent a copy to Argosy but they passed. Eason wants to know all about my launch and publicity plans – which really isn’t something I can do much on, not being in the country, so I don’t think that’ll take off. You really do need a PR machine to get into bookshops, it seems.
- I sent a copy of the book and an article about writing and books and being an emigrant to the Books Supplement at the Irish Times. They haven’t selected it for review (yet) but they did run my article in the online edition, which was nice. I don’t know if it translated to any sales, but it gave me something to tell the distributors about publicity. I should try to do more of this with the other Irish papers.
- I submitted a the same article, more or less, to Writing.ie for their Writing & Me section, and I think they’ll run it soon. They didn’t mind that it had already been published elsewhere.
Being in a different place from where my target market is definitely hampers me. If I was in Dublin I could try to set something up in person with the library and maybe some local schools, and that might translate into enough local interest for the Argosy people to change their minds. Maybe I’ll manage that some day. I still do suffer from impostor syndrome to quite an extent, and feel that I’d be professing to be something I’m not if I did all that.
I think what I’m learning is that good writing might bring your readers back, but you have to set the machine in motion to get those readers in the first place. The distributors don’t read the book, I’m pretty sure: they look at it with a buyer’s eye – does it look professional (thanks to my awesome cover designer and CreateSpace, I have no worries on that front) and is there some buzz built up to get people to buy it.
This’ll have to be more of a slow burn than a buzz. But it’s all part of the learning process.