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Building Book Sales One Unique Customer at a Time
by Alice J. Wisler

Copies of your first novel are out on the shelves of bookstores and the “autographed copy” stickers sparkle on each one. Ah, success. You bask in a dream come true.

“We’ve only just begun,” the song says and your heart resonates with the words. You know you need to get those books sold. To real live people.

Customers are your readers which make up your audience. Every author needs a following—those who buy your book and recommend it to others. These are not some out-there-folk. No, these people live in your neighborhood, go to your church, and share office space with you. Of course, you think, everyone should be clamoring to purchase my book. Reviews have rated it highly, it’s entertaining, well-written, and my mother likes it.

There are ways to build your sales, and as a new novelist, it can seem like you are holding each customer’s hand and walking them toward your book. There’s the reluctant woman at the book event, and you have to convince her that yes, your book is suited for her because she likes stories with a little mystery. Then there’s the woman who wonders if her sister would like it and you tell her of course, she will. The main character has an aquarium of marine fish, and her sister has a large fish tank, doesn’t she? You listen to the man who wants a copy for his wife. But she only likes Southern literature. You smile, and tell him, your book is set in North Carolina.

As much as you would like everyone to buy a copy of your book, you know that not everyone is a reader. Not everyone enjoys fiction. With a sigh, these types of customers you completely dismiss. Yet, this is where you need to be most careful.

My kids wanted to hold a yard sale one Saturday and along with their out-grown clothing and toys, I placed my new novel Rain Song on a little table, stuck a sign that read: “Local Author, purchase an autographed copy for $13.99”, and hoped.

Along came a car filled with barstools from a neighbor’s yard sale. The couple, complete with Mama squeezed in the back seat, inquired about my husband. I was just about to say that I’m divorced and spouseless, when I realized she meant the blue stuffed pillow used as a back rest. I came down on the sticker price and they took it, all the while her own husband emphasizing that they were hillbillies. My boyfriend told them I was an author and had a book released. He’s in sales and I knew he was trying, but I was sure he was wasting his time. Hillbillies don’t read. Just then the woman pulled a crumpled bill from her shirt pocket and bought my book. Just like that.

What I learned from this is never underestimate anyone. If you have an idea in your mind what your audience should or could look like, remember that your view may be much too narrow. Since then I have sold books to poker players, lawn care men, a belly dancer, and even a woman with leopard -skinned pants who asked me to sign her book, “To the lady who doesn’t read, but will give this a try.” (This reader, by the way, emailed when she finished Rain Song to say she was hooked and couldn’t wait for my next novel.)

I have overlooked people and not invited them to a book signing until the eleventh hour. “I’m sorry I’m late,” one friend said as she slipped into a chair at Barnes and Noble. “But I just read your email announcing your event.” Truthfully, I didn’t think she would be able to attend; she had just finished a series of chemotherapy.

As a new novelist, building your sales and audience can seem tedious and tiresome. Put on a smile and enjoy the adventure. Rome wasn’t built in a day, they tell us. Little by little, people will get to know you and appreciate your book. Next thing you know, they will be recommending it to others and you’ll watch sales increase. By the time your next novel hits the market, you’ll have some eager customers. So tell everyone about your book— don’t limit those who sit in your audience.

Inexpensive ways to announce your book:

  • Place a flier on your local library bulletin board.
  • Send email messages periodically to those in your address book.
  • Host a party based on a theme from you novel .
  • Call talk radio stations and ask to be a guest.
  • Call your local newspaper and ask to be interviewed.
  • Host a book event at your church, bookstore, or community center.
  • Invite neighbors over for coffee and dessert or wine and cheese.
  • Hand out postcards with your book cover, a description about it, and ordering information to everyone everywhere.
  • Have a contraption like those used to place fliers in front of homes for sale. Stick the stand by your mailbox so that passersby can pick up a flier and learn about how to order your novel.

© Copyright 2008, Alice J. Wisler

Alice J. Wisler, author of the Southern novels Rain Song, How Sweet It Is, Hatteras Girl and A Wedding Invitation (Bethany House), lives and writes in Durham, NC. On sunny days, she places her decorative tri-fold poster board with pictures and information about her novels out by her mail box. Email her for more ways to build your sales at wisler@mindspring.com. Visit her website at http://www.alicewisler.com

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