Your Role in Helping Your Favorite Author Succeed

51F-00tiIfL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_I've been in the arena of book production and publishing since 2006, when I decided to form my own publishing firm to release Birth Pangs: Fidelis.  Since then, I've picked up about a dozen new authors, released a host of classics that needed to be dusted off, and launched a new model in book publishing, at Bard and Book.com.   I have since discovered that producing and distributing books is pretty easy (once you've mastered the technology);  marketing and selling books, on the other hand... that is where the real hard work is.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the traditional manner of promoting books has been turned upside down by 'print on demand' and ebook technologies.  In the previous model, publishers tried to print as many copies as possible at the front end to reduce the per-book cost and then they poured their marketing capital into the release, aiming to unload as many of those books as possible.  After the release, unless things went spectacularly well, the book was allowed to wither on the vine--even if the author was willing to push on.  In all this, it is important to observe that the book stores were willing accomplices in this model, raking in a huge discount off of the retail price of the book and basking in the glow of marketing dollars for a book having the effect of driving traffic through their doors;  oh, and any books they didn't sell?  They could just return them, and the publisher would eat the cost.

Now, this model is still active, and it is still effective to a degree.   Once Barnes and Noble dies, I don't know what the publishers will do, but for my part, I quickly ascertained that the traditional model just isn't going to work well for the small publisher.   In search of something else, I noticed that all of the avenues for marketing a book were geared towards the 'big splash' for the release, be it book reviews in newspapers or signings in book stores.  If you didn't have a pile of money in hand and have the book in front of a publicist 6-12 months before the release, no one had any idea any more how to promote the book!  (I remember reading a publicist's website saying that if the book had already been released, don't even bother contacting them.  There was nothing they could do for you.)  A core marketing fact emerged, and it was very simple:  the best promoter of a book is the author himself.

This cannot be emphasized enough.  Even in the 'new' models which I have adopted (which I refer to as the 'slow burn'), the chief promoter of a book is the one positioned to be its best advocate, and that's the author.  And I think this was always the case, even in the 'traditional' models.  Authors may not like it (I don't like it!) but it is simply the case.  But this article is not about that.  It's about the next best advocate, and that's the author's fans and supporters.

In the new environment, it must be understood that the same technology that has made it possible for everyone and their dog to get their book published (I hear there is even a dog with a blog!) has created a bewildering environment for book buyers, who find the market beyond saturated.  After all, every author is pouring all they've got into the very tiny bottleneck which is the 'big splash' marketing model--virtually the only thing available to anyone right now.  People don't know what books are worth their time.  They are bombarded by advertisements, press releases, social media plugs, etc.

But people are keen to pick up books written by people they know personally, if only to support them.  And if they like the book, they will naturally recommend it to friends.  This, so far, sounds like nothing more than 'word of mouth.'  But its more than that.  Since they know the author personally and thoroughly enjoyed the book, they are in a position to advocate for it in a way someone who does not know the author is able to.  The purpose of this article is to try to emphasize to an author's fan base their critical role in helping a book succeed.  Important note:  these items apply as much to the traditionally published author (small or large publisher) as to the self-publisher.  However, the impact for the small published author or self-publisher will be much more noticeable.

1. And the thing that should be on the top of the list is to not just buy the book, but buy 10, 20, 50, or even a 100 copies of the book.

You're wondering what you're going to do with all these books.  The reasoning behind this is multi-faceted.  From a marketing point of view, one of the chief goals is to simply get a book in front of as many eyeballs as possible.  The more people reading it and becoming enthusiastic about it, the better.  Let's face it, not every book will hit it off with every reader.  I tell people that if only 1% of readers like my book, that's still tens of millions of people--and now we're talking about a best seller!  But how to get the book in front of eyeballs... that's the question.  You giving away books like candy, with your own personal endorsement, extends the reach of the author's personal influence... and 'personal' sells books.

There are other important consequences, too.  These kinds of purchases are big shots in the arm for author and publisher alike.  Considering the fact that most publishers (even the traditional ones) consider 2,000 sales for 95% of their authors to be a success (they rely on the other 5% to bring home the bacon!), it does not take too many 'bulk' book buys by passionate fans to draw near to that level.  And this could make the difference between whether or not a publisher continues to back the author at all.  In cases where there are sequels in view, or a series, that kind of financial backing by readers might make the difference between whether or not a publisher will take on the next book... or the author will even take the time to write it.

I recognize in putting this forward I am asking more from a reader than the typical book lover typically bargains for.  There is obviously an expense in buying books, and that is certainly the case for larger orders.  However, if you are creative, you can probably think of some places where you were going to be spending some cash anyway.  You were already going to be tossing some money at something, so why not use it to back your favorite author?  Here are some examples:

  • Christmas Gifts
  • Birthday Gifts
  • Graduation Gifts
  • Corporate Gifts -- If your place of business or a business you are positioned to influence often gives out employee or customer appreciation gifts, working to have your favorite author's book given away as one of those gifts could be a huge windfall for author and publisher alike.  It's a financial shot in the arm, of course, but also puts the book in front of loads of eyeballs.

These were examples of places where you were going to spend money anyway, making it a win-win, but if you wanted to really go to bat, here are some places you could give away the books that could help get the word out:

  • Your local library
  • Your local reporters
  • Your local radio host
  • Area businesses that have books and magazines set out
  • Your own example?

What these ideas have in common is that the give away of the book is like the planting of a seed.  God willing, your local librarian, reporter, radio host, etc, will read the book, like it, and want to follow up with it.  If you do something like this, you may want to include a bookmark or piece of information with the book that contains contact information.

2.  Look for ways to personally introduce your favorite author to more people.

If the personal touch was instrumental in getting you involved, just think about the difference it would make if there were more you's involved!  By helping your favorite author make more personal relationships, it does several things.  There is the obvious:  people are more inclined to buy a book written by someone they know, so knowing more people increases sales.  There is the less obvious:  most authors have every intention of writing even more books.  By having a wider base of friends and loyal readers, that will make the marketing of the next book(s) that much more productive.

Examples:

  • Invite your favorite author to speak at your local civic organization (eg, Rotary, American Legion, etc)
  • Have your favorite author's book used at a book club you either join or create for that purpose (as a publisher, I have dreams of book clubs springing up across the country where each member of the club focuses on working through their favorite authors' books!).  Then, invite the author to attend one of the meetings!  
  •  Attempt to have the book introduced in a high school or college literacy class.  Give a free copy to the teacher/professor and tell them you have an 'in' with the author and could actually get them to come speak with the class.   In the best case scenario, this is a teacher or professor you have a personal relationship with.
  • In the same vein, and tying it together with #1, you could offer to donate enough copies of the book for each student in the class, if the teacher/professor would be willing to build it into the classroom some how.  Depending on the kind of book it is, this could pay dividends, because if the book is, say, a history book, and it effectively accomplishes one of the course objectives, the book could go on the 'required reading' list--which means a steady stream of purchases on a regular basis from that moment forward.  Score!
  • Have your favorite author over for coffee along with two to three friends they haven't met, and just let them all get to know each other.  Host the event in your kitchen or the local coffee house.

In light of these examples, you might now be saying, "Now, why should I be doing this?  Can't the author be doing these things?"  Indeed, I already said that the author is his best advocate.  However, many people find self-promotion distasteful and awkward, while conversely, many people find promoting someone else to be delightful and rewarding.   While it is true that in some of these cases, the author could have some success, but in still others, the author would be blown off ("Bah, another self-promoter!") or too shy to press his own case.  And then there is the logistical realities:  an author is just a regular person, and can't be in two places at the same time.  Moreover, he may have an 'in' with one teacher/professor, but it may not be the one that you know personally.  It's no good to blanket all of the book clubs, schools, libraries, etc, with marketing material promoting a book by a stranger.  There has got to be something else.  Big Traditional Publishers use credibility (eg, book reviews, billboards, etc).  The personal touch goes a long way where huge advertising budgets are not available.

3.  Leave reviews and facilitate the reviews of others!

Sharing and re-sharing links on Facebook and Twitter, with your personal recommendations, can never hurt.  However, the value of these avenues is changing.  On the one hand, there is the problem of saturation--you are not the only one sharing and re-sharing links!  On the other hand, Facebook is now charging page owners for the right to display their content to those who have 'liked' their page!  That means that if an authors posts a link on their Facebook page, with a thousand followers, only a small fraction will actually see that link--100, maybe.  Or 200.  Unless they pay, of course.   That makes your 'share' all the more critical.  But then, see above:  saturation.

What is still more wide open for effectiveness are reviews left on various websites.  Just think about what entices you to buy a book on Amazon, especially if it isn't someone you know, or one that you have only just stumbled on.  Those reviews can be what push you over the edge to make the purchase.    Other places to leave reviews include BarnesandNoble.com, Goodreads, Smashwords, Kobo, etc.  Hit them all up!

But your review must be credible.  Once people allow their eyes to move past the number of stars a book has to the reviews, they can usually tell which reviews come from the 'loyal fan' (or mother, brother, sister, friend, etc) and which comes from the 'dispassionate' stranger, coming across the book 'objectively.'  Rightly or wrongly, these types of reviews carry more weight than the ones that have the signs of being from a 'loyal fan,' and therefore 'biased.'  I hope no one thinks I believe enthusiastic reviews from loyal fans are unwarranted or untrustworthy, but we're thinking strategically here, about how we can best advance the book.  Your quest, then, is to leave a review that appears to be objective.  Leave the enthusiasm out of the Amazon review, and instead put it into your social media posting.

And then, after you've left a review, and after you've hooked someone else on the book, try to get them to leave a review, too.  Include the words of advice above.

It should go without mentioning that if you cannot honestly leave a review that is at least a 4 star or above, and you want to be helpful to the author, don't leave a review at all.  But I don't think you'd be doing all this work for a 3 (or less) star book.  :)

I should hasten to add that if you have your own outlet for expression, such as a blog, then posting your review and a link to the book's website, can't hurt.  I would say, in the more intimate realm of your own blog, somewhat more enthusiastic language would be appropriate.  :)  After all, your readers are already interested in knowing what excites you.  That's why they are there.  Still, you may want to heed this same advice.

4. Help obtain endorsements

A cover blurb endorsing the book is one of the 'filters' the traditional-book-buyer employed to help them determine which books were worth their time--and expenditure.  Speaking personally, I don't know how much weight I put on such endorsements when choosing a book.  For one thing, I'm often skeptical that the endorser actually read the book.  Or, for all I know, the endorser received compensation for allowing his name to be so used.  Anyway, there is still the 'white noise' problem:  nearly all authors and publishers attempt to put such blurbs on their books.  The effectiveness of the filter these days is significantly watered down, in my opinion.  Nonetheless, for certain readers, the endorsement can be what puts them over the edge.

You can help obtain endorsements for your favorite author if you happen to have a relationship with a "big name."  Obviously, the bigger the name, the bigger the endorsement, and (theoretically) the more weight is given to the filter.  Assuming this "big name" is a friend of yours, it probably wouldn't do to go all mercenary on him, hitting him up all the time for cover blurbs.  You will want to tread carefully.  Still, this relationship is something that the author or publisher does not have that perhaps you do have, so it might be a way to advance the cause available to you.

Two more things should be said.

First of all, before going down this road, you will want to make absolutely sure that the book will stand on its merits.  This is no time to let your personal affections blind you to the flaws in the work.  Or, perhaps you were fully aware of them but for other reasons--such as your personal relationship--they seemed less significant.  If you present a sub-par book to a "big name" with the implied hope that they might lend their name to it, you will likely erode your own credibility, if ever you wanted to do the same again.  So, be sure to be as objective as possible in your estimation of the work before venturing down this path.

Second of all, while I personally doubt the effectiveness of the "endorsement filter", the doubts fade away if the endorsement goes beyond a cover blurb, and instead is transmitted through the "big name's" own channels of communication.  For example, if your "big name" friend has a large following on the Internet, or a massive email list, or a television audience, or... you get the idea... we now have the endorsement plus the book cover and description in front of loads of eyeballs.  That is huge.  Even without an endorsement, a banner ad occupying coveted real estate on a well trafficked website is of great value.  The "big name" probably has people who would balk at giving away that space, but of course the "big name" will have the ability to facilitate such things, all the more if they also become "Superfans" like you.

Conclusion

You will observe that in the above, there is very little reference to what we might consider the 'traditional' means of marketing a book.  Aside from things like landing a radio interview for your favorite author, most of the others entail leveraging personal relationships to expand the author's own network of personal relationships, while seeking to get the book in front of the most eyeballs as possible.  The end goal is to generate a 'word of mouth' critical mass, so that there comes a point where the book takes off on its own, as if it has a life of its own, and the author can go back to writing!  You can rest, satisfied you've done more than your fair share in this rapidly changing market to help your favorite author along.

True, that critical mass might never come.  Maybe the book just isn't as good as you and the author thought.  Maybe it just hasn't found the right readers yet, that coveted 1%.  You know what, that's ok.  You know why?  Because I'm willing to bet that if an author is fortunate enough to have just 5-10 you's advocating for them, the book will still have outperformed 90% of the books out there, and made it possible for the author to write yet another book, where another turn at the wheel may at last produce that blockbuster that makes the Traditional Publisher's head turn.

If, at that point, there are any Traditional Publishers left, that is.

Anthony Horvath is the author of numerous books and the executive director of Athanatos Christian Ministries, where it releases books under the imprint of Athanatos Publishing Group.  He is the founder of Bard and Book Publishing.  This article may be copied and re-posted provided it is left wholly intact (links included), with attribution.  It may only be re-printed with permission;  Anthony can be reached at director@athanatosministries.org.

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