How To Promote Your Book Without Spending Any Money
B.J. Mendelson (and Fry) working on the proposal for Social Media Is Bullshit from his Glens Falls, New York, apartment in 2010.
This Fall, a giant wave of books are going to hit your local Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores. Hundreds of them. Unfortunately, most of those books sell fewer than 250 copies a year and less than 3,000 in their lifespan. So, for most of the authors in that wave who aren’t pre-existing celebrities, they’re screwed. That is, unless they stop what they’re doing right now, stop listening to their publisher, and start planning accordingly for the Fall.
Then those authors take what would otherwise be a snow ball’s chance in the Mojave of having a successful book, and upgrade it to about the same odds legendary Mets catcher, and noted heavy metal aficionado, Mike Piazza, has into getting elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame; Slim, but unlikely.
(My position on baseball players who allegedly used steroids being eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame are similar to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, “If you doped, you get noped”.
With Social Media Is Bullshit, I sold over 7,000 copies in seven months on zero budget. This was done despite delays, a national media blackout, numerous production problems (the most glaring of which I had to publicly address here on the book’s FAQ page), and my fear of upsetting the publisher.
I know. “Brandon Mendelson + Fear” isn’t exactly the image that comes to mind if you read these columns and think about how I go about my business, but it’s true. I did not want to upset the publisher, so when they told me not to go on tour, I listened. And when they freaked out after I called Conan to get myself on to promote the book, to the point where they said if I did any further press outreach myself they would never work with me again, I listened and did virtually nothing.
What scared me was that this book represented the culmination of five years worth of research (a quarter of the manuscript consists of footnotes, interviews, links, and references), and I had lost everything in the process of creating this book, specifically, my marriage, which coincidentally was officially and legally ended the same week the book came out. So, despite coming from the background of being a successful marketer, I was afraid of upsetting the publisher and did what they told me.
I will never make this mistake again, which is why Dracula And Kittens is going to be self-published. This way if Dracula And Kittens fails, I will have no one to blame but myself.
That brings me to you, fellow and future authors. Whether you plan on having your book traditionally published, or do what I’m doing and self-publish your next book, you need to listen very carefully because the easy thing to do these days is for someone, perhaps a social media marketer like Gary Vaynerchuk or Dave Kerpen, to come along and tell you that you need to build a “following” online using different platforms like Instagram or Facebook, and that in turn will lead to book sales offline. This is not true.
(Speaking of shady social media gurus, here’s a quick side note and fun fact: Of the 20% of books out there that are sold electronically, the majority of them are from the Adult Fiction genre. That little tidbit comes from Guy Kawasaki and his horrible book on self-publishing. You should not buy this book because, while the first part is interesting, it quickly turns into a rehash of Guy’s previous book where he blew the people at Google and Google+ for 200 pages. Anyone who tells you that Google+ is a platform you should use to sell books is not someone to be taken seriously, nor is anyone who writes a book about how wonderful Google+ is. By the way, Guy Kawasaki now works for Google. So if you ever wondered why that Google+ book exists in the first place, now you know.)
“Social Media” alone won’t help you sell books. In fact, it won’t help you sell many books at all. I have over a half million people following me on Twitter at @BJMendelson. I don’t think that follower count means shit, but just to go and show you why you can’t count on “social media” alone, at least 50% of those 500,000 Twitter followers are real. That means I have 250,000 actual followers. Of that 250,000? I can only directly attribute 28 copies sold of Social Media Is Bullshit through Twitter. That’s not to say there weren’t others, but I’ve only been able to identify 28 of the 7,200 or so that were sold as of 6.1.13
So while it is certainly true you can use these platforms to help sell anything, except Google+ because everyone hates Google+, it usually won’t be enough to justify your time, effort, and energy.
So what do you do?
I’m going to tell you exactly what you need to do to promote your book without spending any money so that you don’t make the mistakes I did. My book did well, but put in the right perspective, it also didn’t do “great”. The initial print run was 10,000, and with the age of the book (10 months old) and the national media blackout of the book here in America, I’m not sure I’ll reach 10,000. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying, but I’m also realistic about what I can do when you have numerous editors and producers who keep saying, “We love you, we love the book, but we just can’t cover it. We don’t want to be sued / it has a swear word in the title / we don’t want to lose access to Facebook, Google, and / or Twitter.”
You need your book to do better than “well”. You need your book to do great to make the whole process of writing and having a book published worth it in the first place. Having a book do “well” like mine means you get to play the traditional publishing game again, but you’re not better off than you were before the book came out in the first place. Having the book do “great”, regardless of whether it’s traditionally published or self-published, means life is going to be a lot easier for you, there will be more opportunities, and you’ll also have a nice income stream coming in.
Thankfully, there’s only two things you have to do in order to sell a lot of books, and surprise surprise, neither of them have anything to do with social media …
In part two, I’m going to tell you about the wonderful world of radio promotion, and in part three, I’ll tell you about how to tour and promote your book without spending any money. Hopefully armed with this advice, your book won’t get lost in that wave that’s about to hit stores, and if you self-publish, your book won’t get lost in the shuffle of the millions of other books released this year.
How To Promote Your Book Without Spending Any Money (Part 1) by B.J. Mendelson