2 Questions About Book Marketing

Over on Tumblr, I got a couple of questions that seemed to go together:

kayla-bird asked:

Do you have any book promotion tips for young authors? I recently published a book about queer teenage girls who fight evil with magic, and lately I’ve been wondering how more established writers sell so many copies.

endlessdreamer13 asked:

I’m trying to decide if I should keep querying agents or start looking into self publishing. I’ve always wanted to walk into a bookstore and see my book. Self-Publishing wouldn’t get it on the bookshelves, but people would be able to read it. I have no idea how to go about marketing it though and I’m afraid that it would fade in with the thousands of other self-pubbed books. How can I know if it’s my market, my story, or my query that’s the problem?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. The reason that “more established writers” are able to sell books is because they’re established. They’ve published a number of books, built up a base of readers, and continued to deliver what those readers want book after book. There’s no short cut here. A first-time novelist does not have an established track record, so they will have to put in the time to develop one. Just remember: Once those established authors were newbies, too. Everybody starts from somewhere.
  2. If you’re self-publishing your novel, you will have a steeper hill to climb, marketing-wise, than traditionally published authors, because the key to selling a lot of copies is having those copies widely available to be bought on a whim. That is: distribution. Think about walking into a bookstore (or even Costco or Target) and seeing a bunch of books on display. You might be going there to find a particular book, but you’re probably going to be open to browsing. That’s why eye-catching book covers and jacket copy are so important — their goal is to hook the impulse buyer. Self-published books can rarely do that in the real world.
  3. That said, self-published books in some particular categories sell very well as ebooks online. If you’re writing sexy contemporary romance (sometimes known as new adult), the market is thriving online and you may not even need to sell any paper copies. However, I know next to nothing about how to access this market. The good thing is, there are plenty of resources online if you want to self-publish a sexy contemporary romance. Go forth and google — and good luck!
  4. “How can I know if it’s my market, my story, or my query that’s the problem?” This is a question that has made authors freak out for hundreds of years, because nobody knows what makes a book successful. (“Successful” is different than “well-written.”) Sure, you can work your ass off and write a damn good novel, but if your book doesn’t get into Barnes & Noble (not every traditionally published book will be carried by B&N), you’re basically screwed. Sometimes a genre novel doesn’t quite fit the expectations of readers who read that genre, and that can mess things up too. Of course, sometimes the book just isn’t very good — and that’s something that you can only determine by working hard at your craft, reading widely, seeking feedback from critique partners, and listening to how readers respond to your work. It’s hard and can be super anxiety-inducing and frankly, writers are generally an anxious bunch to start off with, so you have my sympathies. I’m trying to answer that question too!
  5. And yes, I do have some book promotion tips, but keep in mind (I’m sounding like a broken record): there are no short cuts. (Unless Oprah relaunches her book club on network television and features you in her book club! One can always hope.) Here’s a post I wrote on how to curate your online presence as an author.

Good luck!