Fauzia Burke

Author . Book Publicist . Publishing Consultant . Speaker

Selling More Books... Even During a Crisis

I was recently published in the Independent Book Publishers Association's (IBPA) Independent. My article, "Selling More Books... Even During a Crisis" is about how it is, in fact, possible to get published and sell books during a crisis — and for your book to even thrive. If you got to read the print article, I hope you enjoyed it. Here's to selling more books, no matter what the market throws at us. You can also  read it below.

One of the best ways publishers can sell more books is to help their authors become better marketers. Some publishers have already figured out that their best marketing assets are their authors. Of course, publishers need to do all the things that work on scale—distribution, general marketing, publicity to mainstream publications, radio, and TV. However, authors have a unique advantage. They bring their deep subject matter knowledge, professional networks, and local community connections to the table. All of these are more important than ever as we see disruption in the traditional sales and marketing channels due to coronavirus.

As we know, most authors don’t like marketing. They want to write their books and let the marketing and salespeople do the marketing and selling. I don’t blame them. I have been publicizing books my entire career, first at Wiley and Henry Holt, and then in my own company, FSB Associates. Publicity is a lot of work but without the guarantee of sales—this is as frustrating for us as it is for authors. Yet, it is an essential part of book promotion. 

Publicity is crucial for gaining credibility via book reviews, demonstrating subject area expertise through interviews, and building the dreaded author platform. While it may sound intimidating, an author's platform is nothing more than a way for an author to connect with their readers. 

Here are some of the common ways authors can build their platforms: 
 
  • Digital: website, email list/newsletter, blogs, and social media
  • Local: writing op-eds in regional publications, speaking (in-person or virtually) at events and libraries, joining local chapters of literary and professional groups
  • Personal: reaching out to personal and professional networks for help in spreading the word about their book, for invitations to speaking events, bulk orders, and reviews.

For most authors, this is an overwhelming amount of work and they simply don’t have the tools to do it. Yet it is probably the best way to sell more books. Smart publishers are finding ways to support their authors by helping them develop their platforms and giving them guidance as to how best to tap into their networks.

One of the fastest-growing independent publishers in the U.S., Oceanview Publishing is recognized as one of the country’s preeminent independent publishers of original mystery, thriller, and suspense titles. They stay in regular contact with their authors and provide them with guidance and marketing resources through a document called “Oceanview Author Checklist”. It contains a robust list of things authors can do themselves, all with links and instructions for further exploration. Their advice is to “Remember that the success of your novel depends primarily on continually promoting yourself and your book. It needs to be a daily commitment; those authors who do this, succeed; those who don’t, are much less successful. This has always been true, but much more so now as the number of books published each year has skyrocketed.”

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, well known in the industry for being author-centric, is committed to helping their authors succeed. Historically, they sponsored an author day, where the author joins the BK team in their Oakland office and meets everyone involved with their book (they plan to move the idea online for the time being). They also do regular calls for months leading up to a publication to give updates and to answer any questions. They also help organize an annual BK Authors Book Marketing Workshop.

If you are thinking that sounds like a lot of work, you would be right. I asked Kristen Frantz, VP of Sales and Marketing, why they decided to organize and host the event. “The BK Authors Book Marketing Workshop was an outgrowth of our founder, Steven Piersanti, encouraging our authors to get together and organize. As a result, they have formed their nonprofit benefit corporation, BK Authors, Inc. The authors ended up wanting to do an event to share best practices with each other on how to market their books.” 

This year’s workshop was scheduled to be in Princeton, NJ, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced the event to be moved online. The change in format ended up being a bigger success as authors who would have otherwise been unable to attend due to the travel joined for the online conference. Frantz explains the quick turnaround from in-person to an online event: “It became clear in mid-March that we weren’t going to be able to do an in-person event due to the coronavirus. Luckily, we were able to shift and move the event online as a Zoom meeting for two days with the generous support of our speakers. As a result, we had an amazing event where we were able to teach book marketing and also build community. I loved how we were able to have even more authors participate since it was online. And utilizing the chatbox and break out rooms made it possible for participants to get to know each other. The sessions included the basics of book marketing, how to build your platform, influencer marketing, how to make your videos, how to maximize your ad dollars, advice from bestselling BK authors, the best digital tools to use, and more.”

To continue to help authors, BK has made the course available to all. Anyone can now gain access to presenter slide decks and more. You can find out more about the sessions that it includes and the agenda here.

It is no surprise that the advice from most book marketing people is for authors to build their platforms and get educated about book marketing. But most authors get that advice and don’t know where to turn. Some spend hours and days searching through resources online. I recommend all publishers create an “author-relations” department and build ways to help authors become better marketers with training, resources, and communication. Many authors I work with tell me they were willing to do the work but did not get any guidance from their publishers. 

To fill that gap, Bill Gladstone, a writer, agent, and book publisher, has also developed an online course for new and experienced authors called The Power of Publishing [insert link]. Presented so that it benefits first-time authors, as well as those writing their second or third books, authors will learn XXX, YYY, and ZZZ

By now all authors understand they need to be better at marketing their books. But what they desperately need is direction and guidance to improve their marketing acumen. If the publishers take on that role, they will undoubtedly sell more books, while also keeping their authors happy.