I believe that one of the biggest mistakes in any marketing endeavor is not defining a clear goal. It’s easy to get caught up in a clever idea while losing sight of what you wish to accomplish. As authors, we are all trying to market our books. The way in which you promote your work will depend greatly on what you’re trying to achieve. I have read a number of blog posts by self-published authors describing ways to get one’s book on retail shelves. Most of these articles, however, don’t answer that fundamental question … why? Why bother trying to get your title on a retail shelf?
There’s no doubt that walking into a bookstore and seeing your work on the shelves is a wonderful feeling and a worthwhile goal for any author. But that is a personal goal, not a marketing goal. If your marketing goal it is to have as many people as possible read your work, you may be better off first focusing your efforts elsewhere – not just on your local bookstore.
Self-published author and book designer Joel Friedlander echoes my sentiment about trying to get one’s book on retail shelves when he writes:
“My own opinion, after watching many self-publishers try to break through into this market, is that it’s rarely worth the effort unless the book has a really wide appeal and is produced from the beginning with retail sales as the ultimate goal.
Most self-publishers of nonfiction will be far better off building an online community, learning keyword research and how to market their book online, using print on demand for fulfillment.”
There are countless creative ways to use social media, blogs, forums and communication technology to promote your book from the comfort of your home. Many online options may help you reach your marketing goals more effectively than trying to get your book on retail shelves.
If your book does have “really wide appeal” and if you truly feel that you need to have your book in a bookstore, then I would recommend that you read the following post from Maria’s Bookshop — an independently owned and operated bookstore located in downtown Durango, Colorado. This shop does a nice job of outlining what they are looking for from authors wishing to be featured in their store. It does not matter if you live in Colorado, getting your title on retail shelves starts with contacting your local book seller. While all store policies may be different, Maria’s requirements can act as a helpful guide when you approach your local store. Doing so, can help you anticipate what book sellers are looking for and you can make sure that you at least satisfy some of the basics (ISBN, bar code, pricing, synopsis of book) before venturing off to pitch your book.
The point I wish to convey with this blog post is to be mindful of why you wish to have your book available on retail shelves as opposed to promoting it through other means. Sometimes, we can be distracted by our innate desires to have our work in brick and mortar locations that we forget that we have access to hundreds of millions of readers through an Internet connection and mostly free online tools.
Finally, it’s also good to remember the importance of a really clever marketing campaign. You may recall that in April of last year, Andrew Kessler, author of “Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days With the Phoenix Mars Mission” rented space in New York City’s West Village to sell 3,000 copies of one book … his own. Kessler’s little stunt was picked up my major news agencies like CNN, The Guardian, Time Magazine and The New York Times. Yes, most of us don’t have the means to pull off an act of this caliber, but it helps illustrate a point. Sure, Kessler could have gone to his local book seller to have them carry a few copies of his title, but he decided to take a different approach. If Kessler’s goal was to get as much exposure of his book as possible, I think it’s fair to say that he succeeded.
My advice: be creative, set goals, and market your books accordingly.