Friday, December 16, 2011

New-Fashioned: How to (Maybe) Sell Books in the Digital Age

By Jenny Milchman


Maybe it’s the time of year, but a lot of writers seem to feel weighed down lately with the effort of trying to sell books. I’m getting emails about how impossible it is to fit everything in, we need thirty hours in a day, that kind of thing.

And I understand. Look at the range of things there are to do—places there are to be—if an author wants to try and cover all the bases.

Blog, guest blog, blog tour. Tweet, update statuses, figure out what the heck Google + is all about. Maintain a website, solicit reviews, host giveaways, try and arrange for book signings, travel to conferences or book fairs. And the list could on. Way on.

As more writers publish independently or with small presses, and as major houses cut back on marketing budgets, it seems that a great deal is resting on the author’s shoulders besides writing the next book.

Even worse than trying to do all of the above, is the fact that nobody really knows what works. Should you kill yourself taking part in a twenty stop blog tour if this doesn’t sell a single copy? It begs the question—what, in the end, are we doing all of this for?

This is a time of year when I think that taking a step back is often required. The holiday bustle sometimes requires a breather. And book marketing is the same. What I’m going to suggest may sound radical. And I’m not going to promise that you’ll wind up selling more books than ever. But you may sell as many as you would by running all across cyberspace, hoping FB friends will spread the word about a great review.

So why don’t we all do this for the next couple of weeks. Let’s stop marketing.

I don’t mean stop tweeting, updating, and posting. I mean stop doing all of that with any intention of selling books. Let’s use social media to be social—to connect. Spend the end of the year trying to catch up on what friends have written. And spreading the word about their books.

Let’s go to sites and talk with readers about which books they loved this year. Read the “Best Of” lists on listservs like DorothyL, and look for books you might have missed. Then weigh in on the discussions about them. Go to GoodReads and join a group that has nothing to do with the genre in which you write. Chat with the people there. If you’re traditionally published, go to a Kindle board and get to know what people who love their e books are saying. If you’re digitally published, go hang out at a bookstore, and talk to the booksellers about what they envision for their stores and e books.

In other words, immerse yourself in this writing/reading life for the pure joy of communing with people who love what you do. Make new friends, and rediscover the pleasure of an unread book.

Then, if you want to, blog or tweet or post about what you did. Start a conversation about what happens when we put down what we’re told to do, or think we have to do, and just partake in what brought us here in the first place.

A shared love of story.

Who knows? You may even sell a book or two in the process.

Happy holidays, and merry reading!

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer from New Jersey. Her short story ‘The Very Old Man’ has been an Amazon bestseller, and another short piece will appear in the anthology ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II in fall 2012. Jenny is the Chair of International Thriller Writers' Debut Authors Program. She is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and the Made It Moments forum on her blog. Jenny teaches writing and publishing for New York Writers Workshop and has designed curricula to teach writing to children. Her debut novel, COVER OF SNOW, will be published by Ballantine in early 2013.

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