During the time I have worked in the publishing industry, I have heard a lot of different ideas and statements about how to market books. Some of them are pretty good. Others might seem like a good idea to someone new to the industry, but in actuality they don't work at all. Those are the ideas I'm going to address in this post, but only because they come up so often. I probably hear these ideas or comments on a weekly basis. So, here they are, in no particular order: The 10 Terrible Truths of Book Marketing, along with the marketing requests or comments which generally accompany them.
1. My book will sell itself. No book sells itself. Selling books happens to be a lot of work, but it can also be a lot of fun. But no, books do not sell themselves. If they did, I wouldn't have a job.
2. Celebrities will help me sell my book. I have had requests to send review copies to President Obama, Joel Osteen, Sean Hannity and Larry the Cable Guy, among other celebrities. I'm not sure what authors think these people are going to do with their books, and I think President Obama has his hands full without taking on a book marketing project (other than his own book). Besides, most celebrities are more concerned with selling THEIR books than that of another author.
3. I'm an author, not a book salesman (or salesperson). Well, of course you're an author first, but along with that title comes a certain responsibility to help promote and sell your book. For some authors, this means doing book tours and making media appearances. For others, it means speaking to Rotary Clubs and eating rubber chicken dinners at speaking engagements. But make no mistake, authors must be involved in promoting their book, or it will collect dust on the shelf.
4. (From children's book authors) Let's sell my books through Scholastic Book Fairs. They sell a lot of books. Yes, Scholastic Book Fairs do sell lots of children's books...millions of dollars worth each year, in fact. But, if you and your book aren't known and already have some kind of track record of sales, your book is less likely to be picked up by Scholastic.
5. If I could just get on Oprah (or some other national TV show) my book will be a bestseller. I have worked with authors who have been on numerous national TV shows. There is no denying it is fantastic exposure, and it's the kind of exposure I work toward for my authors every day. However, making one appearance on a TV show does not guarantee bestseller status.
6. If we buy an ad on (Facebook, YouTube, Drudge Report or some other web site) my book will sell thousands of copies. Millions of people use these sites. It is true that these are high-traffic sites, attracting millions and millions of users. But hits on a web site don't necessarily transfer into sales. Think about it: when is the last time you purchased something as a result of seeing an ad for it on one of these sites? If you're like most people, the answer is probably "never." If you do sell a few copies, it is unlikely you would make back the amount of money spent on the ad. Even after I tell people this, they still insist on spending the money, only to later call and tell me they shouldn't have done it.
7. I'm just going to set up a web site and sell all of my books online. Having a web site should certainly be a part of any author's marketing strategy, but it's only one part of an overall strategy. Authors should also use other social media sites, do book signing events, niche marketing, media appearances, etc. One web site alone won't help an author sell a lot of books.
8. My book appeals to everybody. Unfortunately, no book appeals to everybody. Take a look at the New York Times bestsellers list. I'll bet there are books on that list you have no interest in reading. This is why it is crucial to specifically target your book's niche market.
9. Once my book is released, I'll be able to quit my day job and work at writing full time. This is every author's dream, but unfortunately few writers are able to make a full time living from doing nothing but writing. Many of them have day jobs, teach writing courses, teach book marketing courses, take freelance writing jobs, write for newspapers or magazines, etc. Most authors make $1-$2 in royalties for every book that is sold. If they received an advance, they don't receive those royalties until the publishing company sells enough books to recoup the advance. In those cases, it could take years for an author to see their first actual royalty check, if they get one at all. If a book isn't a success, the advance may be the only cash an author receives for their book. If authors can't purchase books from their publisher at a steep discount for resale, they may be waiting a long time to see any real money from their book.
10. If my publisher believed in my book, they would spend a lot of money to market it. The fact is, your publisher has already taken a chance on your book by agreeing to publish it. They have already paid for editing, layout, cover design, printing, distribution, shipping, and marketing. However, not every title gets a big ad budget. In fact, few books get ad budgets, period. These are usually reserved for authors who already have a reputation for producing books that sell. These are authors who have a platform, a fan base that wants to read the books that they write. Now more than ever, publishers are depending upon authors to deliver the fans that will buy their books.
In most of these instances, there is a belief or a misconception that if the author or publisher "just did this ONE thing, the book would REALLY take off!" What I'm trying to convey with this list is there is no magic bullet when it comes to book sales. There is no "one thing" that will deliver the sales the author wants. It takes a lot of things: hard work, persistence, patience, and of course, writing great books, to achieve success in the publishing industry. So tell everyone about your book, consistently promote it, work hard, don't give up, and great things CAN happen!