Novel Novelties: How and Why You Need to Sell Your Book in Interesting Places
by Aaron Goldfarb
You don’t realize this, but here’s how you’re going to promote your new book. During the first month, you’ll sit around your apartment all day obsessively checking your Amazon ranking, you’ll spam your friends with lots of Facebook posts and Tweets, you’ll have a big release party in the city you live in at the one bar a friend of a friend owns, then appear at a few off-the-beaten-path bookstores your publisher booked for you, do a few interviews with minor newspapers, radio stations, and websites, and just hope and pray.
Just a few months after release, the only time you’ll sell a copy is if you get introduced at a party and someone says, “This is the guy with a book!” “Oh really? Where can I get a copy???”
Often, in moments of laziness, I get jealous of Cervantes. Jealous he could sit around writing all day and not have to worry about marketing. So he’d finish “Don Quixote,” hand it off to the one guy who owned the one Guttenberg press in town, and that guy would make enough copies for the few hundred people in the few hundred square miles who could read (and who, not coincidentally, were the few people with money) and they would buy his book.
Rinse and repeat with the next book and the next and the next.
And this is the way it worked for Dickens and Twain and Steinbeck and King, all the way up till the last decade or so.
That doesn't cut it any more.
Consider a book like The Ask by Sam Lipsyte. This was a much ballyhooed major publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) release that was instantly considered a classic, written up in just about every single print and online resource around, promoted heavily, had the best bookstore placement money could buy, and...which sold only a few thousand copies in its first months of release.
I was a non-ballyhooed author with a non-ballyhooed book (How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide) from a non-ballyhooed publisher that was so non-ballyhooed all around, my book never had a shot to be either critically acclaimed or critically panned because no critics were ever going to read it, if even know about it, right from the get-go. What chance did I have?
No major bookstores in primo locations were going to promote me, give me good table and shelf placement, or invite me to speak, and I knew this too. But I didn't care. I wrote How to Failfor certain kind of people, and they aren't reading The New York Times Book Review (they’re probably reading blogs), and they aren't going to bookstores on Friday nights (they're probably out drinking). So I took the book to these people and created 30 Bars in 30 Days, a book tour up and down the east coast where I appeared at watering holes instead of bookstores.
And it worked!
I'm not sure if it's scientific or anecdotal, but it is oft-repeated that if you just sell 1000 copies of a book then that book is in the 99th percentile of all books sold in this county. A bit of an indictment on American literacy perhaps, but more so proof that most books released do not sell well. As we saw with The Ask, regardless of quality, it's simply hard for average people to know about one book amongst millions released per year. Especially when most people read just one book per year. It can be tough if you're not Stephen King, JK Rowling, Jonathan Franzen, or...Snooki.
Well, because of my bar tour, I quickly achieved that "genius" 99th percentile. Not because I appeared on "Conan," not because Time Magazine wrote about me, not because I got major bookings at major bookstores, not because my publisher shelled out some serious loot for print ads or got me a billboard in Times Square, not because one of my blog posts went viral and got picked up by College Humor, re-tweeted by Tim Ferriss and Tucker Max. No, if I'd sat around depending on any of that stuff to happen in order to sell books, I would have never sold any. I would have merely sold a few dozen copies to friends and family. Pity buys. Which is what many authors get.
Luckily, I refused to do that, and I had the prescience to know what would happen if I did do that. So I made my own luck and took How to Fail to the people and we sold it to these (sometimes drunk) people, and these people loved it and continue to love it. In many cases it's the first book they've bought and read in a decade! That would not have happened if I'd gone the traditional route. Non-traditional books need to be sold in non-traditional ways, obviously, but nowadays so do traditional books.
You need to do the same thing with your book. Figure out when and where is the best place you can sell it. Did you write a crime thriller? Why not try selling it at the gun range? You could try selling your chick lit novel at women’s shoe stores. Or your historical war novel at local museums. Hell, maybe the bookstore is the best place for your book. But maybe not. Why would you want to compete with 100,000 other shelved books if you don’t have to?
Be like me. I’m the one guy that sells books at the bar.
If I still haven’t convinced you, I’ll give you one more thing to chew on:
The bar and the gun range and the women’s shoe store and the museum don’t take 55% of your profits. They don’t take any.
But I want you to take as much control over selling your books as you can. I promise you will succeed.
Aaron Goldfarb is the author of the satirical novel How to Fail: the Self-hurt Guide, the world's first self-hurt guide, the opposite of a self-help guide. He has a short story collection about the sexes, sex, and sexiness in New York, The Cheat Sheet. In November and December 2010 he embarked on a unique 30 Bars in 30 Days book tour. He also writes screen and stageplays, most notably The Honey Trap. Visit his daily blog at aarongoldfarb.com or follow him on Twitter.