Thursday, May 03, 2012

On Slow Book Sales, Bookstores, and Book Marketing That Works

Sometimes I run Question and Answers a la Ann Landers in my Sharing with Writers newsletters. Sometimes I share the same ones here, though not all the time. If you want to get in on the free mini consultations, you'll just have to subscribe to my newsletter (and get a free e-booklet!) at  Here is one from one of my former students at UCLA.


HI Carolyn

I took one of your classes at UCLA a few years ago.

I've self-published a book called Peepeyes last March through Xlibris. Initially sales were good, but they've been trailing off to almost nothing. I'm trying to restart sales through greater exposure for the book, as I'm quite sure most readers haven't even heard of it yet.

The book is returnable through Ingram Book Distribution, but how do I get bookstores to carry it even though the risk is nothing since they can return unsold copies to Xlibris and lose nothing. I can't literally in-person visit all the bookstores across the country. I have postcarded all of them, including the libraries, to the tune of almost 5000 postcards. I've entered the book in a couple of national book award contests, but those aren't decided until later in the year. Xlibris provided an email marketing campaign on the book to their email list, and I've also emailed all the independent bookstores across the country about the book.

Any suggestions on getting the book greater exposure? Thanks.

Dwain Tucker, author of Peepeyes ( ),


Dwain, I remember you. Partially because of your name.

When I wrote my novel the Net wasn't what it was today and one really needed to do a lot of selling through bookstores to be even reasonably effective. Today that has changed. As a disclaimer, I want you to know that some genres do better than others with no bookstore exposure, or very little.

Having said that, it is so much easier for independent publishers and authors to make a big splash (meaning get their books seen and known) on the Web than ever before. And many titles (like my Frugal Book Promoter ( ) thrive on that kind of marketing. Novels do tend to do better if they also have brick-and-mortar visibility, but to do great they still need that online promotion. That is one reason that I updated The Frugal Book Promoter to include more on online promotion than it had before. (The first edition was written before the days of blogging and social networks and in the years intervening I experimented with new promotions including the online ones.)

You didn't say how much you were doing with promotion outside of bookstores, but here's the thing. No matter what genre we write in, bookstores are a hard nut to crack for a variety of reasons. An author or publisher has to work so much (MUCH!) harder to get into bookstores, much less be seen there. If your book is in a bookstore, it is usually displayed on a shelf, spine out, where very few would see it anyway. Getting a signing or workshop is difficult, too--as you know. That's mostly because bookstores mostly still operate on the assumption that indie books are somehow inferior. Besides that, "new" (meaning current books less that 90 days from release) are part of what they look at when they stock books.

I have one author friend who does well as an indie author. She spends at least one hour every morning contacting bookstores and the buyers for chains. She has published about 17 books. She talks about these books to buyers in terms of seasonal interests--her novel based on Irish history, as an example, before St. Pat's day. She has developed relationships with these buyers. But as successful as she is, I can't help but think that if she put that same effort into promoting online, how many more people she could reach in that time. (By the way, she does that, too!).

I have another friend who landed publicity so spectacular for her nonfiction book it should have been an overnight success. She was on a sort of panel on Oprah. Then she was featured on the cover of Money magazine. I kid you not. I saw it! And you know what? She still has a garage full of books. She actually said she knows she didn't sell more than a dozen or so books after each one of those publicity coups!

The upshot of all this is that the methods I talk about in The Frugal Book Promoter work. Podcasts. Streaming radio. Videos. Blogs. E-mailed newsletters. Really everything in the whole darn book! They work. And they work better than bookstores when one factors in the time and money spent. It's persistence that counts most--not flash-in-a-pan publicity.

It is, after all, online bookstores that are keeping books alive. In the old days, books in bookstores that were over 90 days old got sent back to publishers to be reissued for remainder piles. The next time they were sent back, they were shredded. That most of these "older" books are still available these days on Amazon tells us that online marketing is where the results are. Shouldn't we then support those who do that for us? And shouldn't we support our books by doing what is best for them?

Truly, this is only a fraction of what I could tell you on this topic. I do consult and we could talk about setting up a campaign for your book--specifically for all the angles (themes, characters, setting, genre, release date, EVERYTHNG) being taken into consideration. Literally map the possibilities for your book. But then, the Second Edition of The Frugal Book Promoter will help you do that much less expensively than my hourly rate--which is why I wrote it.

I do hope this helps. I wish the best for your book. Basically the two magic words are "perseverance" and "viral." I also like "frugal." You don't have to spend a lot of money to market books. But in order to market them frugally, you need to do most of the work yourself and know how to do it.

You can do it. When my novel (This Is the Place ( was published and my publisher did nothing, I dug in and did it myself. That same publisher eventually gave me their award for most books sold and best publicity campaign. That seems to be the only marketing they ever did other than try to sell me ridiculous packages that couldn't possibly have been effective. It took me another book with them to realize there are better ways to publish--and market. And since then, I've been exploring them all.


PS: Maybe it's a good idea now you've sent postcards to libraries and bookstores to follow up with a query letter proposing a workshop or seminar—at least to the local ones. Mention the postcard you sent in the query. And if you have their e-mail addresses, try an e-mail followup but targeted. By that, I mean, say, your story is set in New York. Send e-mails to the New York libraries saying your book is perfect for them because of the setting. In other words, play the angles.

----- Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second ediction of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog:

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