After 30 years in publishing I wrote my first novel. I worked hard to write and edit it and the reviews for Cuts Like a Knifehave been gratifying. The process has been rewarding, but not just because of the joy of creating something, but also because of significant insights I've acquired on sales and marketing as a new author.
I'm not sure any points below are new to me - and probably not to you - but the importance of each dynamic has been intensified through this experience.
On today's topic I'll start with the negative, the main reason fiction readers don't want to try fiction from new fiction writers. In a word new fiction writers are unknown. Unknown can mean several things that block a reader from picking up your book: not very good; not my style; and not available where I buy books. Bottom line, you arenot who they already know and like!
You might not be able to overcome "not available" in all sales channels - retail buyers will always stock the "known" before the "unknown" - but in a crowded marketplace you can work to overcome the other obstacles of not being known.
1. BRANDING - From your personal photograph to a unified design across social media platforms to your public messages - are you careful to present yourself the way you want to be perceived? I have political views but don't broadcast all of them - and not just because of book sales but because I don't want to spend my life in debates with people who have made up their minds differently than me! If you want to keep your personal life personal, make sure you have set up blog and social media accounts for your public persona.
2. REVIEWS - More reviews mean more sales, but don't limit the value of reviews to that. Ultimately, this is where you do a reality-check and ask yourself if you gave yourself your best chance to succeed based on the quality of your product. If your reviews are good but there aren't very many on the various book sites - time to ask friends and family to get busy! Organic is better but sometimes you have to gig the process. Make sure book bloggers know your book is coming or available. Make sure your book is listed on the major reader sites like Good Reads.
3. PACKAGING - I am grateful to my publisher for creating a very striking cover for Cuts Like a Knife. If you have sold a title to a publisher, it is a good idea to leave them alone to do their work - but there's nothing wrong with taking pictures of covers that you think capture the tone and genre of your book and sending to them early in the development process. If you are self-publishing and designing a cover on a small budget, at least get a good feel for the kinds of covers that work in your category with online and in-store personal surveys. Because I've been in publishing so long I have friends that assume I directed the design on Cuts Like a Knife. That's not true. I did take a walk through a couple bookstores with the marketing and acquisitions team to discuss design ideas. But my next involvement was to say "thanks, that looks great."
4. PROMOTION - A lot of your promotion will happen online, so make sure you have read best practice articles for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Amazon - and the other great online vendors like CBD.com, BarnesandNoble.com andBooksAMillion. There are a lot of social media gurus with services to sell you - like gaining 5,000 Twitter followers in a day - and I would be wary before pulling the credit card out. If you don't personally engage, "social" media doesn't usually work. Read and observe what others have done - but then get busy and learn through trial and error.
5. CONSISTENT MESSAGING - It might be time to dust off your blog site - Blogger and WordPress are great free starting points - and start posting regularly again. In Mike Hyatt's new book Platform he points out that you can blog too seldom and too often to gain and retain readers. That holds just as true for other messaging as well - for example, every two or three days is usually all the frequency you want to promote on Facebook, whereas 20 times a day is probably required on Twitter.
6. THE ELEVATOR SPEECH - I've recently done a series of book signings. I'm not a famous author so people ambling into the front doors of stores aren't automatically lining up for my autograph. I bet I've been asked 20 times, "What's your book about?" I know what it's about, but that can be a problem. I know too much. No one wants to hear more than a 20-30 second overview. Time yourself. Can you do it?
7. SAMPLES - If it is an important strategy in grocery stores and price clubs on new food items - and people are less resistant to buying food than a book from a new author - then it's even more important to provide samples for a first-time fiction author. By the way, if you haven't tried Cuts Like a Knife yet - click here!
If none of the above has you sold, then just simply ask yourself this question:What was the last novel I bought from a first-time novelist - and why did I buy it?
If it takes you more than 10 seconds to come up with an answer other than it was already a New York Times bestseller - read above again!