Marketing your self-published book

Pick up a book created by a POD company, turn it over in your hands and compare it to trade paperbacks published by the big houses. Maybe the paper feels a little different, the binding a little stiffer – but it’s a close facsimile.

The technology makes it possible for an average writer (or at least one with a day job) to turn his manuscript into a book, and that radical notion is what POD companies are selling. It’s a worthy notion. It also sells the POD companies’ marketing kits, but at some point you have to ask the million-dollar question: how do I really get people to buy my book?

You might be able to bribe Random House’s publicity department with Vosges chocolate, strawberry cupcakes and a very winning smile, but then again, you may not. This article might give you some ideas in the meantime.

I asked Ken Boire, one of my clients, how he successfully marketed his self-published novel, Inherit the Tide . The novel started at the bottom of the sales list at the end of October, with about 1.2 million titles between it and the top. By mid-December, it slipped into the 26,266 spot – over 98% of the way up the list.

He said, “Nothing special, just common sense.” (Ken’s a humble guy.) But he was kind enough to elaborate, and offered these bullet points. In his own words:

I wrote a press release. A hometown newspaper featured the book by picking up on the release.
The largest newspaper in Alaska responded to a direct contact and will be featuring the book in its Sunday magazine. [The novel is set in the Pacific Northwest.]
Spreading the news through professional trade circles resulted in a book announcement being sent out to several thousand contacts by way of a company newsletter.
A paid advertisement was planned for the weekend issue of the Seattle Times. It was to capitalize on the holiday shopping patterns of the weekend edition’s 1 million readers.
A free copy to Northwest Writers resulted in a review and a web posting.
Twenty free copies were spread around to friends with active networks, and resulted in recommendations to hundreds of others.
Twenty books were sent to newspapers with review sections.
Explored a connection with a book distributor. If you are willing to pay for the press run up front (about $4000), it can save some money in the long run.
Sent mailers to about thirty independent bookstores in Washington and Alaska. Got one very positive reaction from a large outlet.
The aforementioned press release was posted on the Internet in several places.
The book has a website through the publisher, two of my own, and has been picked up by several other sites.
Sent e-mail flyers to all my contacts.
Paid to show it at booksellers’ trade fairs in Seattle and New York.
Don’t give any free books to friends and neighbors – tell them to buy it.
The cover is a stand-out presentation by itself.
He also attributes sales to the fact that the book is carried by many online outlets, and that major brick-and-mortar stores such as Borders and Barnes & Noble make no bones about ordering it for customers. The day after the book’s release, it was picked up by Borders, Barnes & Noble,, Powell’s Books, 1BookStreet, Blackwell’s, Al Books, Booksamillion Club,, and others.

Other clients who have enjoyed success with their self-published and POD books also suggest holding readings at local bookstores and throwing a book launch party. Always keep a book or two in your car (or bike basket – hey, I live in Portland), handy for selling.

The average number of lifetime sales for books in America is only 2,000. There are thousands that sell just a few and just a few dozen that become bestsellers. This number accounts for all books, not just self-published and POD titles. It might be safe to say that the first rule of thumb for success can be offered somewhat dryly: write a good book that people want to read. After which, you’ll find that the hurdle between your book and the people who would buy it is not impossibly high.

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