I used to think that if you published a book, you could count on spending a lot of time in limousines going to interviews, attending signing events, and leveraging studios against each other for the movie rights. In my case, I think I’d insist on filming the the whole thing in Aruba. A really creative director could overcome the obvious obstacle that the book is set in Indiana.
But when I started researching the marketing process, I quickly found out that unless you’re already famous, most of the responsibility for selling books falls on the author. Actually, since Thirty-Two Minutes in March was produced by a print-on-demand publisher, all of the responsibility falls on me. But friends who’ve worked with traditional publishing houses tell me their marketing support is minimal. The publisher might set up a couple of signing events and send out a press release, but unless you’re John Grisham or Lady Gaga, you’re mostly on your own.
(Note to self: email Lady Gaga about ghost-writing her autobiography. If successful, insert obscure references in the text that make fun of Purdue basketball.)
It’s hard to fault the publishing companies for their lack of support. There are something like a million books printed every year. If they aggressively marketed every product, they’d need thousands of salespeople for the effort. And books aren’t the primary entertainment source they used to be, so each tome competes for an ever-shrinking audience.
Pete Cava has two books out through traditional publishers, and while I was writing the book we met for lunch a few times so I could get some advice. Every time we discussed marketing, Pete would pause, look over his glasses at me and say “Matt – you gotta put yourself out there.”
For a closet introvert like me, this doesn’t come easily. (A closet introvert being somebody who is embarrassed about being an introvert.) I went to one of Pete’s signing events, and he graciously introduced me to the owner of the store and told her about my book. She gave me a business card and asked me to email her with the details. I just nodded, said “OK, I will. Thanks.”
When we were out on the sidewalk, my wife Theresa turned to face me.
“Why didn’t you talk to her and tell her about the book? She was interested. You could have set up a signing right then…”
She’s right, of course. I’m just not used to selling a product, especially on the spur of the moment. And I’m probably overly sensitive to rejection. It’s easy for me to talk to dozens of people in a group setting and make jokes about buying the book as a shower gift. It’s much harder to stick out my hand, smile, make eye contact and ask a stranger to fork over $18.95 or make arrangements for me to hold an event.
The good news is that I’m getting used to it. I’ve found that I get a little jolt of satisfaction every time I sell a copy. Especially when a stranger buys one. Not that I don’t appreciate the family and friends who bought a copy. It’s just that I feel like they’re mostly doing me a favor. But when a stranger buys a copy, I mentally note a reduction in the gap between my costs and sales, and it really buoys my spirit.
My publisher (booklocker.com) provides authors with a 90-day plan for marketing books, which has been a big help. My family has also given me some great ideas.
Theresa suggested holding an event at a coffee house near one of the schools, and I’ve set that up. My son Conor suggested a book release party at Fountain Square Brewery (where my son Patrick works), and that’s now on the schedule. (Buy a book and get a free pint of craft beer!) I’ve got other events at various stages of development, and I’m sure at least some of them will pan out. It’s gradually getting easier for me to “put myself out there”.
When I was getting started on this project, I told myself that I didn’t really care about sales. I was writing the book for my own satisfaction, and publishing it as a retirement gift to myself. Just seeing the thing in print was enough for me, and if, by chance, I sold enough copies to break even, I’d be gratified. As long as I could somehow arrange a tax-deductible trip to Las Vegas. (See you at the Nike Basketball Coaches Clinic in April!)
But it’s gradually become more important to me to sell copies. And it’s not even mostly about the money. I think it’s more about overcoming my reluctance to engage strangers and developing new skills as I age. Like Bill Farney said, “If you sit around, you get old.”