Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How to Sell Novels in Twelve Easy Steps

In fiction, nobody is really clear whether author marketing efforts translate to significantly greater sales or not. The prevailing wisdom is that it certainly doesn’t hurt. – Rachelle Gardner

Fiction and non-fiction are two different beasts. Non-fiction is ridiculously easy to sell, compared to fiction. For one thing, you can sell it using the title alone. If I were to post a page on my website promoting the book How to Sell Novels in Twelve Easy Steps, someone would buy the book. I don’t have a twelve step program for you, but I’m confident that some of the people reading this post got here because of a search engine hit on that title. Another thing about non-fiction is that we know where to find our audience and they tend to be in clusters.

If you look at the quote above, it seems like publishers are saying, “we don’t have a good way to sell fiction, but we might as well throw the author and the kitchen sink at the problem.” Even with some of the best selling books, only a small percentage of the population has read them. And those who do aren’t in nice little pockets. Most don’t gather in fan clubs and wait anxiously for a similar book. The closest thing to that is author loyalty, but that does nothing for new sales.

When I was in college, I had a summer job at a diaper factory. I worked for Charlie Brown, who was responsible for building maintenance. It was a big place and he could be anywhere at any given moment. If you went looking for him, you probably wouldn’t find him, but if you stood still and kept your eyes open, you would see him eventually. He might be on the other side of a large building, but you would see him.

Selling novels is a little like searching for Charlie. Readers who like our work are scattered. We can go looking for them and we may find a few, but as the quote above indicates, we aren’t sure that doing so provides a significant advantage over sitting in one spot and waiting for readers to come to us.

To put it in simple terms, the best way to sell non-fiction is through targeted marketing and the best way to sell fiction is through blanket marketing. But here are some other ideas that work:

- Visit the book signing of the well known author and hand out bookmarks for your own book.

- Frequent a bestselling author’s blog and post comments about your book.

- Self-publish your novel with the same cover as a bestselling novel. Be sure to change the barcode.

- Make a large box out of full sheets of plywood that looks like your book. Put the box in the middle of the major road nearest your local television station. You’re sure to make the news.

- Start a new denomination and tell people that if they don’t read your novel they’ll go to hell.

- Get special toilet paper printed with the cover of your book and donate it to local churches.

- Pull your books off the shelves at Barnes & Noble and redistribute them to prominent places throughout the store.

- Tell people there’s a hundred dollar bill hidden between pages 95 and 96.

- Grab the e-mail addresses from the To and CC fields of the SPAM you receive and add them to your e-mail newsletter mailing list.

- Sneak into the offices of another publisher and add your novel to their list of books to publish. Having more than one publisher promoting your book can only help.

- Give all of your villains the names of important political figures. Then put a notice in the front, “portions of this book are true.”

- Send a link to the blog post to ten people you know or your head will itch and you’ll never have a successful novel.

There’s your twelve steps. Have a great April Fools Day.