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Selling Books Without Bookstores

Be the Kudzu, Not the Orchid.

Writers are book people, so we love bookstores. But sadly, bookstores are not the best place to sell a self-published book.

Where then?

The Web, of course. Getting a book listed on Amazon.com or BN.com is relatively simple - publish through any reputable self publishing company that lists with Ingram, and presto, your book appears for sale in hundreds of places, worldwide.

Along with several million other books.

So the obvious problem is: How do you get people to notice your book among all the noise? What sets your book apart? What makes someone want to go to the internet and search for it in the first place? And once there, why would they want to buy it rather than one of the other zillion books that hit the street today?

The answer is 'buzz.' Flash-bang. Shock and awe. Call it what you will, the trick is to get noticed.

First, make your work fresh and interesting. Once you get them talking about your book, you don't want them to be disappointed that they actually bought it. Tell a new kind of story; give them a new take on an old topic. Fiction and non-fiction call for different approaches certainly, but rule number one is: Give them something worth reading.

Next, identify your niche. Every book has one. If it's general fiction, that's a pretty big niche and you'll need to cast a pretty wide net. If it's about, say, billiards, that's a crowd that's going to be a lot easier to reach. Either way, rule two is: Know your audience. What they like, where they shop, how they talk, what will interest them.

So how do you get their attention?

You start by selling yourself, then your book. People buy mediocre books from interesting people all the time. But they're seldom interested in a book written by a boring author. Mostly because they never get far enough into the 'conversation' to wonder about the book in the first place. Be the expert; be the voice of your generation. Be the one with something to say. So you're not Hemingway - neither was he, so to speak, when he started.

Get the word out there. Plant seeds in as many places as possible. Be the kudzu, not the orchid. Every market has radio, television, local access tv, newspapers, magazines, reading groups, a literary guild. By the time your book appears on Amazon, every one of them should have heard about you and your book, gotten the press release, the advance copy, and know that you're available for interviews and appearances. They don't ask for an interview? Then write the story for them. Small-town newspapers and radio stations love cutting and pasting straight out of releases sent to them. It saves them work. Turn up the heat. 'Dear Sir, would you read my book?' vs. 'Controversial new work by local author exposes vampires in our midst.' You get the idea.

Speaking of controversy: As they say in Hollywood, there's no such thing as bad publicity. Better ten people who hate your book and want to see it burned than a thousand who read it and say 'not too bad.' Emphasize the odd or controversial elements. If there's a spark in your work, start a fire.

Learn to use the social media. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, blogs, writer's bulletin boards. It takes commitment to work the virtual world, but no more than beating the pavement going bookstore to bookstore with your hat in your hand. If you're selling books through the web, you have to be a part of it. And every time you're out there, find a reason to plug your book. Don't sign yourself as Frank Fitzgerald. Your signature is now F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby. Your name should never appear again without the name of your book attached to it.

Amazon has the Search Inside feature; Google has Google Book Search - we can set you up with both. Take every opportunity to make search engines tally a hit on your book. More hits mean more exposure means more sales.

And since the web is going to be your primary marketplace, design your book for it to begin with. The cover doesn't have to be electric orange, but know what it's going to look like in web listings - not at its 6 x 9 print size, but at the one and a half inches Amazon is going to give it. Make the cover readable and noticeable on the computer screen. Same for description. The back cover is precious real estate on a book shelf. But in cyberspace they can't see the back, so give them a killer description. Make it 200 words of the best writing you've ever done.

All those reviews and recommendations you garnered from reviewers, friends, etc? Post those on the web as well. Get fifty people to write a review on Amazon. People buy on recommendation, and they frequently don't stop to see who's doing the reviewing. They just know that somebody else liked it and they might too.

Get business cards, bookmarks, postcards. Never be caught without a copy of your book at hand. Be willing to sell them, or give them, to strangers. Become excited about being the person who wrote that book.

My favorite example of the guy who put it all together is Chicago-based comedian Ian Coburn. Ian sells a lot of books. He's a funny guy, and he wrote a very funny book called God is a Woman. Rather than asking people to read his book, Ian became the expert on dating. He blogged, he went on television, he gave hilarious advice, much of it contrary to conventional thinking, about how to pick up women, how to do it right and how to do it wrong. He bought ads on the side of buses in downtown Chicago. He's now a columnist online and in print, and both men and women go to his shows because they know he's going to crack them up with his fresh take on dating. And he's not just Ian Coburn. He's 'Ian Coburn, author of God is a Woman.'

By David O'Neill Design