How does one promote a book which is not carried by book stores and which is not advertised? For me, this has been the question, since my publisher does not wish to sell to bookstores and does not advertise books for its authors. Selling to bookstores is a problem, because the large chains demand big discounts and all bookstores insist on full refunds for copies which go unsold. (The online booksellers demand big discounts, but they buy their stock outright.) Some publishers (the large, famous ones) work on a ‘push strategy’ where they advertise heavily and insist that the bookstores carry stock. Other publishers (like mine) operate on a ‘pull strategy’, which means that they depend on the author to create demand.
How can an author create demand? I have offered to do book signings on the basis that one can at least sell the autographed copies. But, it’s not easy to find bookstores that are interested in arranging signings for authors that aren’t yet famous. At one time, my publisher was arranging book signings for its authors, and I asked for half a dozen bookstores in strategic cities. None was interested, but there was one bookstore in Bangor, Maine (somewhat out of my way) that volunteered to take me. I declined: the travel expenses would have dwarfed my royalties.
Then, I tried to persuade small, independent bookstores to carry my books on the basis that I would own the books until they were sold and would replenish them on demand. None was interested. They are very protective of their shelf space.
My publisher is now emphasizing the sale of foreign rights at big trade shows around the world. They take their portfolio of authors to book shows, and sell distribution rights (usually of ebook copies) within the various countries. I’m going to give this a try next year. My publisher also recommends that its authors have a blog (like this) and a website (I have one), as well as postings on social media. I’m not convinced that Twitter and Facebook add value above and beyond a blog and a website.
Of course, I let all my friends and business contacts know about a new book when it is published, and, in the case of Efraim’s Eye, I have sent copies to the literary editors of the major UK newspapers. They should be interested. The central plot involves an attack on the London Eye, and much of the setting is in England. We shall see.
One can hope that a novel one has written will go ‘viral’ like Fifty Shades of Gray or Thursdays in the Park, the new ‘Granny Sex’ novel. My wife has read both these novels; she says they are badly written. But in each case they have a secret appeal. In the case of Fifty Shades of Gray, the appeal is sado-masochistic love, and in the case of Thursdays in the Park, it’s about a woman in her sixties falling in love again and having sex. Neither book was strongly promoted by its publisher, but Fifty Shades of Gray has sold something like 50,000,000 copies, and Thursdays in the Park probably won’t be far behind. For someone who tries to write quality literature, these examples are (mildly) frustrating, but I’m not about to seek a kinky theme for the sake of sales volume.
It is interesting to note that Pippa Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister and sister-in-law of Prince William, has obtained an enormous amount of publicity lately. In addition to the photographs of her (she is a very attractive young woman), she is quoted as offering tips from her recently published book, Celebrate: A Year of Festivities with Family and Friends. The book, unfortunately, has been panned by the critics and is reportedly not selling well. Pippa’s publisher must be gnashing his teeth, having paid Pippa (it is rumoured) an advance of £400.000 and now having to shell out for publicity shoots. Moral of the story: promotion isn’t enough; one has to offer something that the public wants.