Monday, February 26, 2007

Influencing the Book World

I had a rather relaxing weekend, not entirely by choice. I finished this round of revisions on book 4 Friday night (yay!), and my body promptly decided that I would be taking the weekend off. Back in the days when I had an office job, I always seemed to get sick when I visited my parents, like it knew I was finally safe and could let go. I get the same way now when I finish a book. So, there was a lot of TV watching while lying on the sofa. I didn't even turn on the computer Saturday. I finally watched the Masterpiece Theater version of Jane Eyre (swoon), and I watched Casablanca for the zillionth time. That is such a perfect movie, every little detail. I did not watch the Oscars, as I haven't seen most of the nominated films and found myself paralyzed by not caring very much (to paraphrase Spike). Now I want to give the book one more read-through, but I'm not as tense because I know I could probably turn it in as-is, which means I can meet my deadline.

There was a question in response to my post Friday whining about success about what readers can do to help promote books. I used to have something about this on my web site but it got deleted in the latest redesign because I was afraid it sounded a bit whiny and self-serving. But, since you asked ... :-) And really, these techniques can be used to promote any book, kind of book or author, or even just the idea of reading in general. You could probably adapt these techniques to promote things like TV series or movies, but it's harder to have a big impact there. The cool thing about books is that the consumer has so much more power. With TV, even if you could directly or indirectly influence thousands of viewers to give a show a try, unless some of them are measured by the ratings, it doesn't matter at all. With movies, there's so much money at stake that except for really small films, getting even a few thousand extra people into theaters won't make a blip on the box office. But for rank-and-file authors other than the mega bestsellers -- people like me and most of the authors I talk about here -- you'd be surprised at the impact you can have. The numbers are small enough that even a few hundred books will have a noticeable impact. If a hundred copies of Enchanted, Inc. or Once Upon Stilettos beyond the usual sales suddenly sold this week nationwide at B&N or Borders, they would sit up and take notice. It would be a huge blip, and then the publisher would know because they'd likely have to re-order. My publisher was pleased with selling about 400 copies at a single chain in the first six weeks of release. Depending on the kind of book and what the competition did, there are times when a book that sells a thousand copies in a single week can make some bestseller lists. So, you can see where even one person who tells a few people about a book can affect that book's sales. If a hundred people each got 10 people to buy a book, you might be able to get a book onto a bestseller list. Do you feel powerful now?

Here are some things you can do to help support a book (and if you have more ideas, please share!):
1. The biggest is to buy the book new (used book sales are invisible to publishers, and the author earns no money). They usually look most closely at numbers in the first month of release, and that's generally when books are most likely to hit a bestseller list, but they're also interested in books that continue to sell well for months or even years after release (which proves that word of mouth is working). Those long "legs" are what's been impressing my publisher, as the books continue to sell pretty steadily.
2. Tell people about the books you like. Give books as gifts (that's particularly good with the first book in a series -- get them hooked!).
3. If you have a blog, mention the book in your blog. Multiple mentions are better -- like with advertising, repetition works. Mention what you're looking forward to reading, mention what you've bought, mention what you are reading, discuss it after you read it, mention it in comparison to other books you mention later, mention it in year-end wrap ups. You get the picture.
4. Mention where relevant on various message boards you frequent (but don't spam!). If someone asks for a book recommendation in a community or on a message board, make one. If there's an open forum part of a message board (like on the Meet Market threads at Television Without Pity), talk about what you're reading (talking about books and reading in general is a good way to promote books and reading, which benefits all books and authors). Post reviews on relevant LJ book communities.
5. If you don't find a book you want in a store, ask about it -- especially if you're looking for it because you want to buy it, though I know of people who make a habit out of asking about favorite books whenever they're in a store and don't see it on the shelf, just to keep booksellers aware of the book. Don't order it and then not pick it up. Just ask about it nicely, talk about having heard about it, and express disappointment at not finding it in a polite way.
6. Before the next book by a favorite author comes out, it doesn't hurt to ask your local bookstore when/if they'll be getting it in. That gives you a chance to talk about the book to them so they'll be looking for it when they get it. Visiting the store on release day and asking about the book may make it more likely for the store to get it on the shelf where other people can buy it instead of letting it sit in the storeroom.
7. Write a review to post to Amazon or B& List the book among your collection on Library Thing and post a review there.
8. If your local library doesn't carry the book, turn in a request for it. Librarians do take these seriously, and libraries buy a lot of books. Or donate a copy to the library -- again, the first book in a series is a good way to hook people who might buy later books.
9. Include the book or author in your list of interests at places like MySpace or LJ, and put a link to the author's web site on your site or on your blog.
10. Read the book in public with the cover visible. I heard about a British publisher that promoted a book with a flash mob, where they arranged for people to be on a particular train at a particular time on a particular day, all reading copies of the book. Commuters couldn't help but notice. Even without that kind of mass action, if people see others reading a book, it might eventually stick in their brain.
11. Recommend the book for any book clubs you're in, or if it doesn't fit the club, you can still talk about it at meetings (if it's anything like the book groups I've been in, you spend a quarter of the time talking about the book, and then the rest of the time talking about other random stuff).

Those are the kinds of things I try to do when I'm really jazzed about a book or author, but some of my readers have been even more innovative. Any other ideas?

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