Publish Your Book

tips and tools for writing, publishing, and marketing your book from Amelia & Pete Nikolai (Publisher at HarperCollins Christian Publishing - the parent company of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan)

Marketing for the 99% – Getting the Word Out Locally

Many new authors of Christian books ask what they can do to reach the Christian market. While there is a niche of Christian bookstores, online retailers, and media that focus specifically on Christian content, the majority of Christian books are sold through the same retailers that sell all other books since that is where Christian readers usually prefer to shop out of convenience.

Having said that, targeting the local Christian bookstores is a good tactic if your book is focused on Christian content. Getting your book on their shelves can be challenging since Christian bookstores, like all other bookstores, tend to be hesitant to purchase inventory that they are uncertain will sell. I was in sales here at Thomas Nelson for nearly ten years, so I can speak from experience when I say that the reasons bookstores usually order each Thomas Nelson book is because they recognize the author and they are provided a marketing plan that makes it clear how readers will be made aware of the book.

As a self-published author, you can use similar tactics to overcome the bookstore’s hesitancy. Your objective should be to make as many readers as possible aware of your book and to let those readers know that they can obtain the book from the bookstores you are targeting either from copies on hand or by having the store special order it if they do not currently have any copies. With millions of books in print, special orders are a sizable portion of a bookstore’s sales and are one of the factors used to determine which books are carried on the shelves. Once the store has special ordered a title repeatedly, they will usually order inventory to have on hand to meet additional demand. Another option is to offer the store a copy or two for free if they will agree to reorder as soon as each copy sells.

Self-publishing service providers offer a variety of marketing services to help you raise awareness of your book. I suggest taking it a step further by obtaining a printable press release and 50 printed copies of your book. Then you can create your marketing packet that includes your press release, your marketing plan with all your plans for raising awareness, your bio with photo, book cover image, book summary, and excerpt. In addition, create a mock flyer for each bookstore you will be targeting that lists their store and location to demonstrate one tactic you will be using to get the word out if they agree to host a signing (you would provide copies so the flyers could be placed in the bags of customers in the week leading up to the event). With your tools in hand, you are ready to do the following:

 

  1. Make a list of each local bookstore; visit each to review your marketing plan with the book buyer; offer two free copies of the print book and to mention the bookstore when you are promoting the book locally if the bookstore will agree to reorder a copy from Ingram for each copy sold; discuss your availability for a book signing and/or seminar (if nonfiction); if they seem receptive then leave them a marketing packet, obtain the business card of the person you speak with, and tell them the day and time you will call them to follow up
  2. Make a list of each local radio, TV, newspaper, magazine, and online media outlet; brainstorm a list of story ideas on topics related to your book; visit each with a copy of your book, a BookStub ebook card, your press release, and your list of story ideas; ask them to review your book and/or consider running a story; if they seem receptive then leave them a copy of whichever format of the book is preferred (print or BookStub) along with your press release and the list of story ideas, obtain the business card of the person you speak with, and tell them the day and time you will call them to follow up
  3. Make a list of each local organization that should have an affinity for the book’s topic; brainstorm cross-promotion ideas that would raise awareness of your book while also raising awareness of the organization and helping them meet their objectives (win-win); visit each with a copy of your book, a BookStub ebook card, your press release, and your list of cross-promotion ideas; discuss the cross-promotion ideas; if they seem receptive then leave them a copy of whichever format of the book is preferred (print or BookStub) along with your press release and the list of cross-promotion ideas, obtain the business card of the person you speak with, and tell them the day and time you will call them to follow up
  4. Make a list of each local book group that might be interested; visit the leader of each to discuss being available for two meetings with the group if they choose the book (presentation on background information before the group begins reading and Q&A after they finish); if they seem receptive then leave them a copy of whichever format of the book is preferred (print or BookStub) along with your press release, obtain the business card of the person you speak with, and tell them the day and time you will call them to follow up

How do you usually find out about the books you end up purchasing? How can your book be in a position to become known in similar ways?

4 Comments

  1. Pete: Excellent article. In point #1, you encourage us to make a list of local bookstores. How many should we expect to find? Haven’t most “mom and pop” stores died out? What is a proper expectation here?

    • Mark: Good questions! I would include all bookstores within a 50 mile radius. While many stores have closed there are usually at least a few within an hour’s drive or so. The issue with chain stores (and some local stores) is breaking through the gatekeeper’s defenses. Most authors find that if they can demonstrate that carrying their book will be profitable and drive traffic then the gatekeeper will be receptive. I suggest doing the Exceeding Expectations Two Step:
      1) Help the manager and/or book buyer develop realistic expectations for sales by telling them what you will do to drive sales (“I will send in my friends, family, church acquaintances, and blog readers so you can expect to sell a couple copies the first week and 1-2 copies each week for the next month or so”)
      2) Exceed those expectations by driving traffic to the store and asking those people to thank the store staff for carrying your book (which will also make those staff members more aware of your book so they suggest it to other customers)

      Every time a new author helps a local store be more profitable it opens the door for other new authors. However it is also true that each bad experience makes it more difficult for others—so it is also a good idea to encourage other authors to create good experiences. A local writers group that promotes best practices can raise the bar and contribute to a reading and writing community that welcomes and supports new authors.

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