Book Marketing

Author Insider: How to Sell Your Book with Susan Levine

As I’m sure our readers know (because I haven’t been able to stop talking about it for weeks), our newest children’s book, Harriett’s Homecoming: A High-Flying Tour of Cincinnati, comes out next week! The author, Susan Levine, is a marketing powerhouse, and I thought it would be a great resource for our commercial and custom authors alike to hear about her unique promotion tactics. As she will tell you herself, it’s all about personal relationships, so I spent a while on the phone with her this morning gleaning her wisdom. Here is the condensed version:

1. Start with questions: You have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes to understand the audience.  Why do they want my book? How is my book different than any other book they could buy? I knew my audience would be engaged parents and grandparents—people that are taking their kids around the city to see these places. My audience is also librarians and teachers. It is required by state education standards to teach elementary-aged children about Ohio history. This is the perfect book for them—an illustrated children’s picture book about a great Ohio city.

And it’s not just the end consumer—you have to think about the distributors who will move your book along to the customer. Who wants to sell my book? How is this different than any other book they sell? What can I do to get it to them? How can I get them excited about my book? I knew I should approach the highlighted places in the book, and then hone in on specialty book and toy stores. When I was promoting my first book, Packard Takes Flight: A Bird’s Eye View of Columbus, I approached Larson’s Toys and Games in Columbus about carrying it. I stopped in every few weeks, I brought them Graeter’s Ice Cream coupons as a thank-you when they bent over backwards to help me—I built a personal relationship with them. And the result? They have had my book on the counter for over two years now, and they’ve personally sold hundreds of copies.

2. Network: I worked with the places featured in the book for months ahead of time—researching, building relationships, getting permission for inclusion and pictures and history, etc. I will be dropping off a thank-you copy of the book to every single one of these places, asking them to pass it around and tell their friends.

3. Know your seller: Niche markets want something people can’t find many other places. When I am doing a book on a particular city, I will go to every neighborhood in that city and walk through all of the specialty book and gift stores. Once I’ve figured out which one is the best fit for my book, I go in and talk to a manager, explain to them how perfect their store is for my book and pitch it to them to stock it. But, I will only offer it to their store, and I make it clear that they would be the exclusive seller in that neighborhood.  It then becomes mutually beneficial.

And once you have your book stocked somewhere you can’t just stop there. Specialty book and gift shops don’t operate like your franchised Barnes & Noble: they don’t have books on automatic replenishment. You have to go in every six months and check on your book—do they have enough copies, do they need any more signed, is the book displayed well and correctly? This is where an author has a lot of pull in keeping their book stocked and displayed.

4. Be Assertive: You have to be confident, and you have to be proactive. Talk personally with booksellers, know the Kids’ Lead at your local Barnes & Noble, ask them if they need to place a new order, ask them how to get a staff-pick for your book or how to get better bookshelf placement.

5. Social Media is Powerful: I’m still learning how to optimize social media, but I am learning just how effective it can be. When I was doing Packard Takes Flight, a natural resources/falcon conservancy blog posted about the book and linked to my web store. Within days orders were rolling in online—and these were just from peregrine falcon enthusiasts! Never underestimate what online buzz in a niche industry can do for you.

6. Do Complimentary Programs and Speaking Engagements: Our greatest success with both Packard Takes Flight and Harriett’s Homecoming has been our interactive, engaging, and multi-disciplinary school program. I’ve had so many school librarians who’ve told me it’s the best program they’ve ever been a part of. My favorite was an older librarian who told me: “This is the best author visit we’ve ever seen…and I’ve seen a lot.” And it’s effective because it keeps the kids engaged, learning, and moving.  We talk about architecture, about cities, about falcons, about how books are made. They get to meet Erin, the illustrator, and learn about the artwork and they get to meet the falcon and learn about a native species. It’s really fun and fast-paced, and it moves more books than anything else.

Speaking engagements are also important because they help expose you to your niche audiences. They are never a direct sales pitch, but they enable you to talk about what you’re best at, and you can use your experience and your book as an example. I’ve spoken for the Audubon Society, the Ohio Libraries Conference, the Columbus Historical Society—the list goes on.

7. Make sure you are filling an unmet need with your book: Write a book that fills a need that you are uniquely qualified to fill, and then tell people about it. 

A big thank-you to Susan for her insight!

Six tips for selling your self-published book


We have many different clients who have published custom books with us. I have compiled a list of things they have done that helped make their books a success.

1) Schedule events and schedule them where it makes sense. We have a client who scheduled an event at a local ice cream parlor. But it made sense to do this because the store was mentioned in her book. As a result she sold seventy-seven copies at this one location. However, she also scheduled fifteen more events at different locations around the city and was equally successful—and not just because they served ice cream.

2) Use the old-fashioned sales approach. You still need to knock on doors and make that personal connection with potential customers. Bookstores aren’t the only place to sell books. Gift shops are good places, too. Don’t be afraid to solicit gift shops but if they do end up purchasing from you, make sure you get paid up front. Gift shops can close without warning and leave you stuck with an unpaid invoice, lost merchandise, and a personal vendetta.

3) Have a web presence. You don’t necessarily need a web page to sell your book but it is a good idea to have a presence in an online store. Amazon is our first choice but if it won’t pick up your book, see if the publisher has an online store. If it doesn’t, why did you publish with them in the first place?

4) Facebook is an easy way to keep friends updated on book signings and news surrounding your book. Be mindful and don’t overpost. Every other day, share some news about your book or publicize an event or report how an event went. Subtle reminders are the best approach. Overpost and you are likely to land in the ‘I can’t take it anymore!’ zone—the place where annoying ‘friends’ are sent because they have over- shared inane information, gotten way too religious, or posted non stop about their cat.

5) Go to parties. Yes, party like a rock star, er, author. What I really mean by this is: don’t sit at home hoping someone will find your book. Your book cannot walk or talk so you have to be its voice and its legs. When you are at that holiday party, don’t be afraid to talk about your book. And also talk about the process that went into making it. Talk about what you have learned through writing and publishing it. People have a romantic notion about writing. Take advantage of it. Deep down inside, they want to know how they can get their book published, too.

6) Get some old-fashioned media attention. You know your topic. Is there a reporter who might be interested in what you have written about? (If it is a cookbook, you don’t want to contact the guy who writes the obits.) Once you have found the reporter who matches your topic, you can usually find his/her email address on the newspaper’s website. I would advise against pitching your book via telephone unless you’ve received no response to your emails. But be prepared for them to tell you to ‘Make it quick, I’m on a deadline.’ Which is true, but who needs that sort of pressure?

Your book is your business, literally. You have just created a product. How will you let the world know it exists? This is the question that every business owner must answer, from the gal at the farmers market selling pins made out of corn husks to the owner of Walmart. If you don’t have the energy to sell, re-think the idea of self-publishing; as your success is up to you. Most important, have fun. But leave the clowns at the circus. Nine times out of ten, they are terrifying




Eight Things You Can Only Get at Book Signings


In light of the newly announced Kindlegraph, a service that allows authors to sign fans’ books digitally, I’ve been feeling nostalgic about our book signings. Here are eight things I know you get only at book signings.

1) Face time with your favorite author. They may only say hello and thank you but now you can tell your friends that you met someone famous. They might also blow you off entirely but even being blown off by someone famous qualifies as a memorable moment.

2) You might even get your photo taken with the author. Sometimes photos are not allowed because there is such a long line. Other times they are. Just ask. But if the author or bookseller says no, don’t push. Who wants a photo of a pissed off author? Okay, maybe you’re in that risk-taking percentile that does.

3) Cry and you might get a kiss. One woman was so overwhelmed at being in Johnny Bench’s presence that she was in tears. Johnny is a sucker for women who adore him. She asked to kiss him and he said yes. He then signed her #5 jersey. She almost fainted. I thought I was going to have to call an ambulance.

4) Create a moment for yourself. The woman above did not know that Johnny never ever signed memorabilia at book signings. He was adamant about only signing books. The fact that he signed her jersey was monumental. I almost fainted and needed an ambulance.

5) Authors accept mementos. How fun it can be to hand an author a pumpkin with his name carved in it, birthday cards when it is not his birthday, a gold necklace, candy, or hand drawn photos. These are now in my closet, sans the pumpkin that rotted on the desk of Erika, our intern. (I did not say they kept the things you gave them.)

6) Get a part of your body signed. One lucky fellow got his arm signed by one of our famous authors. We still don’t know if he’s washed and that was four years ago.

7) Watch your favorite author suffer a complete mental collapse. No names mentioned here, but wow. Those photos went straight into the scrapbook.

8) Events are fun. Can you make a night out of an author signing your book via Kindle? Maybe with the cat and a glass of wine, but wouldn’t it be exciting to get out of the house and away from the computer and your e-reader? Sometimes bookstores go over the top for an author. Books N’ More, a local bookstore across the street from our office, had the city shut down an entire block of a state highway not for just one, but for two of our authors. They had games, contests, food vendors, and fun stuff for kids. I know you don’t want to go out. The world is a scary place. But it can be mind–blowingly fun, too.

Put that Kindle down and go to a book signing. It might be the best time you never thought you’d have.