When your book isn’t selling…what’s an author to do?

6 March, 2018

There’s the exhilaration when your agent sells your book.  Suddenly, you are real!  You are going to be a published author. The contract comes.  Now it is truly official.  The manuscript is delivered, edited and accepted. Yes!  You send in answers to an exhaustive questionnaire listing every contact you have.  If you are one of the luckier authors, there comes a day when you are put in touch with the in-house publicist, or if you’re really lucky, the marketing and publicity “team.”  A lot of brainstorming ensues.  An early trade review appears.  A few appearances are booked.  Publication is looming.

And then it comes.  The quiet.  OK, there’s  a trickle of communications, but it doesn’t seem to be adding up to a much.  Panic ensues.  What’s an author to do?

This is a challenging moment, one that needs to be navigated with persistence and grace.  Of course, every situation is individual.  But in the moment of reckoning, you may find out that your book is not the most important book on your publisher’s list.  Your publicist is twelve years old and overwhelmed.  Copies of your book that were supposed to show up at a launch event went astray or the number of copies ordered is woefully inadequate.  Your publicist tells you that there the pages of the review media have shrunk.  The budget for sending an author around is nonexistent. The publisher’s response to every idea you have is “Great!” but it seems like you are the one doing all the heavy lifting.  You thought there was a marketing team, but maybe there isn’t?

At this point, if you have an agent, you may want to enlist her support while understanding that your agent really doesn’t hold the cards, but does have insight and should care about the long-term success of your book. Here are a few things to keep in mind.  You want to be smart, but you also want to be an author who is viewed as positive and a pleasure to work with.  Many things that your publisher is doing for you or has done for you are not that visible.  These days, publishers may put a lot of effort into positioning your book, enhancing the searchability of your book online and in-stores.  Your publisher is at the mercy of vendors.  For example, your publisher cannot update your Amazon listing with a new review–Amazon has to do the input–but they can send in that information in a timely manner to Amazon and follow up.  Your publisher cannot schedule a review of your book but they can send your book out for review or pitch a feature or interview with the author, and it is all about follow up.  We’re all screaming in the wilderness, trying to get attention.

So…do what you can.  By studying what other authors you admire, you will have a template of what can work for you and your book.

*Ask your publisher if they have marketing guidelines or a DIY guide to marketing your book.

*Make sure that your website is clearly designed and updated well before pub date and that your book is front and center on it.  Post early endorsements and reviews as they happen.  Inform readers of your upcoming appearances. Ask your publisher to weigh in on your website to make sure that it is effective in supporting you as an author–and focusing on your book.

*Choose one or two social media platforms that have more currency for you and use them wisely. It’s better to be really good at Instagram or Twitter than to try to be all things to all people and not be effective.  Build a community by interacting with others and being generous in your interest in their work.  Keep making noise about your book and your activities but not just in a way that is self-serving.  When using social media, speak often and always in your own voice.  It’s often transparent when a tweet, for example, is written by the actual author or by a proxy.  Ask your publisher for help.  For example, if you’re using Twitter, learn to use hashtags effectively so you are tying into your publisher and other supporters.

*Ensure that your Amazon author page is current.  Having a great author photo is essential.

*Communicate often with your publisher but keep the communications short and to the point.   Do not send long, detailed emails on a daily basis or invite your publisher to “brainstorm” with you.  Do not send these communications on holidays and weekends unless it is absolutely necessary.

*Thank your publishing team for all the good things that they do for you.  It’s easy to focus on what’s not happening and not on what is.  Letting your publisher know that you appreciate them will go a long way.  No one likes a whiny author. As with any relationship, folks at the publishing house will work that much harder for you if they like you and feel appreciated.

*Working in concert with your publisher, reach out to any and all contacts you have. For example, you may have a relationship with a local bookstore or organization that will partner with you to do an event to support your book.

*Take a long view.  Every day, wake up and say: Is there anything I can do today to help sell my book?

–Joelle Delbourgo