[Editor’s note: In this author-of-the-month series, we ask writers who have a proven sales history to give us a few tips and tricks on how they attracted attention to their book, and how they converted that attention into sales. Not all of their advice will apply to you, but you might find a few good promotion ideas you haven’t tried yet.]
BookBaby has been kind enough to ask me to contribute to their blog and feature me as their “Author of the Month.” Specifically I have been asked to give advice on how authors, especially authors who are self-published, can sell more books. Before I get to the brass tacks side of “moving units,” I would like to address what I believe is of much greater importance than just selling books.
As I explain in the introduction of The 50 Greatest Guitar Books:
I own a lot of guitar books. The problem is not all of the books have served me well. That is not to say that any of these books are fundamentally bad. I have found hidden bits of wisdom in even the most ignoble of books. But why should the beginner without much time on his hands, the intermediate player anxious for instant gratification, or the advanced player looking for serious works to complement their vast experience suffer through the unexceptional when there are plenty of magnificent, mind-expanding books waiting earnestly for the serious guitar student?
Indeed my book is a reference I wish I had when I first started playing guitar some 25 years ago. So every time I sat down to write a new chapter, I knew my audience. My audience was me! And thousands of others just like me. We are guitar players hungry for knowledge; guitar players interested in more than just scales, chords, technical exercises, and imitating others; guitar players striving to become the best musicians we possibly can. And while there is the small possibility you could do this all by yourself – or with Internet videos, or with private lessons – why would any smart, ambitious, and enterprising musician neglect the huge body of brilliant guitar literature that exists? Especially if they knew the best places to start. They wouldn’t. And I knew that.
So I did the research and wrote my book (and all the musical examples) for myself. All the time knowing that there was a legion of guitar players just like me looking for help and direction.
So my advice to writers on how to build a following – a following that wants to support you and buy your books – is simple: Know your audience and write something to help them lead a better life.
If I were writing a purely philosophical essay on how to sell more books I would have stopped with that last paragraph. But I know that many of you want more practical information, because we all know that even if you do write a good book that helps people, those people have to know about it to buy it.
Here are the three most important things I have done to let people know my book exists. At first glance, you might think this advice doesn’t pertain to you because of the fact that I am a guitar player first and a writer second. But whatever your specialization as a writer – non-fiction with expertise in another field, or genre fiction – the premise remains the same: reach out to your audience, friends, colleagues, and connections with your specialized writing skills.
1. Cultivate an audience.
Prior to publishing The 50 Greatest Guitar Books I had released several CDs, taught thousands of students, and written articles for several guitar magazines, as well as many blog posts. So I had managed to build an audience over the years. How can you do this?
Before you publish a book, write some shorter articles or blog posts to get your name and your work out into the world. The Internet can make you famous overnight, but that is not what we are aiming for. Use the Internet (or a magazine or newspaper if you can make those connections) to refine your writing. The early pieces I submitted to magazines were pretty mediocre. It was only after I had written many rejected articles that I finally developed some skill, and a rhythm and voice to use consistently in my work.
Finally an article got accepted by a magazine, and then, of course, a professional editor edited that and I was able to see what someone else could do to enhance my writing.
So work on some shorter pieces that will allow you to develop as a writer and to also start building a following.
2. Make connections and ask for help.
Over the years I have been very fortunate to make some connections with various music publishers, instrument and accessory manufactures, writers, and other guitar players. Many of these people are good friends, others are people I know only from one or two email exchanges, phone calls, or maybe we met at a gig.
No matter how large or small the bond I might have with these people, when my book came out, I asked for their help. Not only were most of them willing to lend a hand, many went far out of their way to suggest great ideas I had never even considered. From running contests to promote my book, to offering dust jacket quotes of praise, to suggesting stores that might carry my book (and providing me with letters of introduction), most of my guitar colleagues were eager and happy to help me promote my book. So ask for help.
Do keep one thing in mind, if someone can’t help, that’s okay. Don’t be put off. As long as you are nice when you ask, and grateful when they respond (even if they respond negatively), you’ll know you’ve done what you can.
3. Keep it going and find something unique to promote.
My book was a joy to write. I loved every minute of it. Even the editing was fun most of the time. But I tried to keep some perspective about all the pleasure I was receiving from the writing by reminding myself that promoting and marketing the book was going to be a lot of work. While that has proven to be true, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much fun promoting can also be. I have a fun book; telling others about it should be fun, and it is.
Since publishing my book I do all things you’ve heard a thousand times that you are supposed to do. I maintain a daily presence on Facebook and Twitter, write a bi-weekly blog, and send out emails to my mailing list.
I also do two things that are specific to my book’s audience: 1) I’ve created short video guitar lessons for the Internet and 2) I’ve been giving guitar workshops/book talks at music stores.
The videos lessons gives readers, and potential readers, a small sample of what they can learn from the book (the videos even come with free sheet music) – a petite appetizer to whet their appetite for the 50-course meal. The workshops also introduce the book to guitarists, but even more importantly they provide real-time feedback from readers and students that I wouldn’t otherwise get. Workshops are a chance to interact with my audience and learn more about what they want and need as guitar players. Are there similar forums specific to what you are writing about?
Of course these three tips will only be helpful if your book provides readers with real value. So write the book you want to read, the book that makes you feel good, the book that inspires you to greater things. That’s the best way to sell more books.
— The End
Shawn’s book, The 50 Greatest Guitar Books (pictured above), was designed and formatted by BookBaby. If you need assistance with your book cover design or interior formatting, BookBaby is happy to help.