If You Want Readers, You Have To Work At Selling

Sometimes it’s best to hear the truth from writers in the trenches.

Here’s a guest post from Marcia Kemp Sterling, who’s just self-published her first novel. She came to one of my Stanford classes looking for advice on her book project. Since she launched, she’s had good success getting her book noticed. Here’s how she did it…


Author Marcia Kemp Sterling portraitGuest Blog by Marcia Kemp Sterling,
author of One Summer in Arkansas

Most of us writers hate being told that we must pry ourselves away from the computer and go out into the world to promote ourselves and our work.   

But in today’s market for books, whether you are self-published or not, your story is not likely to be read outside your own circle of friends and family without a heavy investment of sweat equity.

The industry is in upheaval.    Publishers, bookstores and agents are struggling to survive. Except for Amazon and a handful of lucky “winner takes all” established Cover of One Summer in Arkansas, a novel by Marcia Kemp Sterlingwriters, nobody is making money.    Although virtually anybody can publish a book (whether they can put together a sentence or not), there are no longer effective mechanisms to separate the wheat from the chaff.   

You’ve written a book you’re proud of and you want it to be read.    What is a modest, scholarly, introverted writer to do?

Website and Blog:    Invest upfront in an appealing website and learn how to write a blog.    Trust me, there are plenty of bloggers who can’t write and it’s a natural platform for anyone who can.    I have become a regular blogger and continue to work at getting followers and putting up notices on Facebook and Twitter when I post a new blog.

Network:    In an Internet-connected world with traditional channels for books weakened, you need to tap into networks of friends, old business colleagues, relatives and new contacts to create momentum for your book.    I formed a new book publicity company and hired daughters-in-law, nieces and young adult children of friends to help me.       Each of them worked their connections to bloggers, to regional contacts where the book might attract interest, to people-who-knew-people.    I posted notices about any new book happenings on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and my website, always featuring images of the cover.    The publicity girls would pick up my postings and repeat them on their own social media sites.

Amazon:    Most books today are purchased from Amazon and you have to understand their system, develop an effective Amazon presence, get help to activate search engine key words, solicit reviews and guide people there through your website or otherwise.    Their system rewards success with success.

Distribution and Warehousing:    Even if you keep a stock of books to sell directly, you need a distributor for a chance at placement in bookstores and libraries.    They keep a portion of the profit, but it’s worth it.

Events:    The formula for arranging events is straightforward.    Bookstores are struggling to make a profit and you have to both (i) make it easy for them and (ii) essentially guarantee you can turn out 30 or more people for the event.    For that reason, you should work on venues in locations where you have personal contacts who will help.    Local advertising (cheap in small local papers) brings a double benefit: it gets people out to the event and publicizes the book to others who may not show up but may go to Amazon and purchase anyway.

Giveways:    If you care about readers, you need plenty of books to give away — to bookstores, to reviewers, to influencers, to bloggers, through Goodreads, etc.

This sounds daunting, but do not despair.    I am not a “people person” and have never been even remotely entrepreneurial.    But I am finding a good deal of personal satisfaction in building a business from scratch and am deeply gratified to be getting positive feedback from readers.

For a look at an excellent example of an author website–the one Marcia built to promote her book–click here.

1 thought on “If You Want Readers, You Have To Work At Selling”

  1. Thank you Marcia for writing an informative article. I began independent publishing in 1990.I published a handful of other authors and wrote books on natural health. Back then, things were very different for authors. The market was wide open and receptive to new books. In 2004, I transferred the books to another pub house in the Midwest and took a long hiatus. My latest book came out in 2012 and I discovered I had to learn the industry all over again.

    I wish you well.


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