Sunday, December 4, 2016

Writer's Dilemma: Making Sales Or Finding Readers?

I had an interesting conversation with another writer at the San Mateo Harvest Festival, where I was exhibiting books in November. (Note that I've been singing the praises of such festivals for years. In the beginning, I was the only writer. This time, there were 4 writers. All sold books! Did they pay their expenses or even make money? I don't know. But they made a lasting impression on readers! And that is what this blog post is about.)

Anyway, our question was whether a writer should focus on selling books or finding readers. The two concepts are different in important ways, and the other writer agreed that focusing on finding readers is more important than focusing on making sales.

Let's break it down. Selling books is obviously important, for it can help pay for everything, including the books the writer is hauling around in the trunk of their car. Selling books provides money for marketing and gives an author an important sense that they are doing something valuable. It also moves one toward quitting the day job, which, when it happens, opens up a whole world of possibilities, not the least of which is the time to write more books!

The ring of the cash register is a powerful reinforcement that one's writing is valuable.

By contrast, focusing on finding readers gives a writer a new way to look at their career. A focus on finding readers draws an author to libraries and book clubs and encourages one to send out review copies. None of those pursuits will generate much, if any, in direct sales. But they are powerful ways of building a career.

Finding readers is the critical part of building a writing career. The sales will follow.
Unfortunately, some writers try these things and then decide it wasn't worth it because they didn't make many sales.

Let me elaborate. Let's say you send out a bunch of review copies of your books. It will cost you the price of the books, plus the postage, plus packing, plus a lot of time in finding addresses of potential reviewers. And some of the people you send review copies to will not review them. Some will even turn around and sell them on eBay or on Amazon Marketplace. You will be tempted to feel outraged. You sent off a free book, and someone else turns it into money! Not fair!

But stop for a moment and think about it. Some of the reviewers or maybe even most of them will review your book and post the review on Goodreads or Amazon or in their local newspaper. There is nothing better for a writing career than reviews. And the ones who are trying to sell your book for a quick few dollars? They are giving you free advertising! Every person who sees those listings gets a small, subliminal impression of your book! Imagine a reader looking up your book on Amazon and seeing that 25 copies are for sale from Marketplace sellers. Without articulating it to themselves, they think that this is a popular book. How else did all these people end up with copies?!

Let's think about book clubs and library appearances. When I started out, I took every opportunity to participate in those whenever I could. Sometimes I would sell a few books. But usually it wasn't enough to do more than pay for gas. But here's a secret... While readers will forget the author of that bestseller they read 18 months ago, they'll never forget the author who came to their book club and talked books while he or she sipped some wine with them. Meeting people and spending a little time with them is the most powerful thing an author can do. It's even more important than the quality of your book! And when those book club members are trying to think of a book to give people on their gift list, they will often think of yours, simply because you charmed them in person. And when they order your book on Amazon, they'll tell the recipient that they met the author. Your book becomes special as a result.

Lets do some numbers. Imagine that you put the word out that you are available and eager to visit book clubs and libraries. (You do this on your social media and you send out an email to your list and you make it prominent on your website, and you put on nice clothes and take your book postcard into libraries and introduce yourself and tell them you love to visit book clubs and libraries.) After you have a few books out, you'll start getting requests. (The reason is that an author with a bunch of books seems like a "real" writer compared to the person with 1 book.)

Give yourself a goal of visiting 12 book clubs or library groups a year. The average group might be only 10 people. That's 120 people who will always remember you and your books. Now do that for 10 years. That's 1200 people. You might say, "Are you telling me this is going to take ten years?!" No. But what else are you going to do for your writing career over the next 10 years? This is a "why not" scenario.

When 1200 people potentially think of you every time they want a new book, that adds up to measurable sales. And many of those people will tell other readers about you. In fact, after a time, you'll discover that many people who were at those book clubs have become your cheer leading squad, telling everybody about this author they know.

What about all the other authors out there? As an author, you have almost uncountable colleagues who have published books and are hoping to sell them. But most of those authors won't take the simple steps of visiting reading groups and libraries, i.e., reaching out to readers. Most won't send out review copies. Most will just sit back with an attitude of, 'I built it, but no one is coming. What's wrong that I don't have readers?'

If, unlike those writers, you focus on finding readers, if you persist in this process, you will build an audience. And that audience will buy each new book you write. (Visit my other blog posts on writing to see the importance of writing multiple books and keeping a regular production schedule.)

Remember what Einstein said. Persistence trumps genius. Keep at it, and never give up.

Oh, and get to work writing on that next book!

We build a writing career one reader at a time. Get your books into the hands of readers, and they will spread the word...

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