Selling books is difficult. There is a lot of advice — good advice — available about what you should do to increase your likelihood of selling books. You can read it and apply it. And you should. I have. But in the end you may still not sell many books. Like me.
But I don’t want you to get the impression this post is self-pitying in any way. That is not my purpose. What I am conveying to you is that being an author is hard (on many fronts) and requires perseverance. I am going to tell you that you may do all the right things, all the things the author business books tell you to do, and still not sell many books. Why? Because as Steven Pressfield wrote, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t.
No one wants to read what you’ve written … unless you give them a reason to (more on that later). But giving them a reason involves enabling potential buyers to hear your message first.
Here’s What I’ve Done to Share My Message
I’ve read several books about the business of selling books. There are four that I found most practical and useful.
- Joanna Penn’s Successful Self-Publishing
- Honoree Corder and Ben Hale’s Write, Publish, & Market Like a Boss
- Tim Grahl’s Your First 1000 Copies
- James Scott Bell’s How to Make a Living as a Writer
In promoting both Building a Better Law Practice and Stop Putting Out Fires, I did a good job of implementing the strategies those authors suggest for selling books. So I want to share with you what I did, even though you know by now that even if you do these things, you are not guaranteed to sell many books. But you at least have a better chance at launching a successful book.
- Have a website. You need a website where people can go to learn more about your book. For each of my books, I bought URLs that are derived from the book titles and just have them auto-redirected to pages on my law blog website: stopputtingoutfires.com and betterlawpractice.com.
- Have a mailing list. These are people who voluntarily sign up to receive content from you. They are interested in what you have to say. So they are more likely to buy the things you’re selling. The larger your mailing list, the greater your opportunity to sell more books.
- Appear on podcasts. What’s great about podcasts is they are a place where people go to receive a particular kind of content. Whatever topic you’ve written about, it’s likely there is a podcast out there with someone talking about it. Do some research to find the people who are discussing what you’re writing about. Then email or DM them on social media asking if you can be on their show and why what you have to say will be of interest to them and their audience. For Building a Better Law Practice, I did five podcast interviews. I’ve only done two for Stop Putting Out Fires, and I definitely need to schedule more. If you’re interested, you can find those podcast interviews from the books’ websites (above).
- Have others review your book. If there are bloggers, Instagramers, YouTubers, or book reviewers doing reviews about the types of things you’re writing about, reach out to them and send them a free copy of the book. I’ve sent out several copies for review. So far, only one blogger has reviewed it, but I have assurances that another is on the way. This is another area that I need to put more effort into.
- Give it away for free. I gave out a dozen copies of Stop Putting Out Fires to law firm leaders and managing partners to they could read it to see if it’s something they wanted to buy for their associates. These were all people I know-ish from an industry organization, not folks who I cold-called. Now I need to follow up with them, since I sent the books a couple of months ago, to see if they want to place any bulk orders at a discount, which is one of the benefits of indie publishing.
- Promote your book on social media. Hopefully, you’re active and have an audience on social media. There are many platforms that can absorb much of your time — I focus my energies on Twitter and LinkedIn. Make sure your social media following knows you have a book, but don’t just SPAM your channels with pedaling your wares.
- Do book promotions and giveaways. During launch week for Stop Putting Out Fires, I ran a giveaway on my social media accounts. For the the first nine folks who bought the book and posted a copy of their order confirmation to the feed, I sent them a free copy of my first book, Building a Better Law Practice. I ended up giving away 6 books that way.
- Put together an advance reader team. Several months before launch day, I messaged my email list and social media following about their interest in being a part of my advance reader team. I had 15 people say they wanted to be involved. I sent them a copy of the book after it was substantially completed so they had time to read it before launch and could post a reviews and help promote the book on launch day. I think only one person actually followed through with this. A bigger crew would certainly increase the likelihood of greater involvement, and I will work to increase my team numbers before the next book launch.
- Use your network. Several of my friends on social media have significantly larger followings than I do. Since I have real relationships with these people, I asked them to read Stop Putting Out Fires and, if they were comfortable with it, share it with their followers. Several did so, and my network of friends are responsible for more than half my book sales.
While doing the things above (and plenty of others that I haven’t mentioned here) doesn’t guarantee book sales, it gives you a better chance than not doing them.
Give Potential Readers a Reason to Care
People don’t care what you have written, unless you give them a reason to care. That may be the hardest part of the whole thing. Why do they need to read what you’ve written? Your topic or argument has to be compelling. It has to meet some need — mental, emotional, financial, entertainment, etc. — your potential reader has. And you have to grab their attention and communicate this to them in a way that induces them to spend their money on your book.
That’s the part I’m still actively working on. I know my most recent book, Stop Putting Out Fires, has important content for lawyers. I know it can deliver on its promise of making them more efficient and profitable. I know this because I’ve affected my own law practice by my implementing the ideas I’ve later written about. Other lawyers I know have multiplied their profitability by, in part, employing tactics I encourage.
But my knowing that is only half the battle. I expect every author believes in what they’re writing about. But the successful authors figure out ways to convey their messages to potential readers, cause readers to care about the author’s ideas, and achieve the goal of selling a book to the reader. Or better yet, selling lots of books to lots of readers.
You Didn’t Sell Many Books. So What. Persevere!
Keep writing. Keep putting out more books. That’s my plan. I don’t expect to hit any of the big best seller lists. But I don’t need to do that to be successful. I just need to find the audience that’s right for me and my work. And I need to identify for them why my work is right for them and share it in such a way that I compel them to buy what I’m selling.
I encourage you to do the same.
Photo by Tom Waterhouse.