You’ve done it—and your buyers are waiting. The book is finished and you’re ready to present it to the world. You’ve had this book in your mind for who knows how long, and the connect-to-buyers moment is finally here. You’re a talented creator and writer, now is the time to cross the finish line with your work!
However with the variety of publishing paths (indie, hybrid, traditional) to choose from, you might be feeling like you’re back at the starting line. At Lulu, we’re passionate about helping creators connect to buyers. I’m hoping I can answer some key questions about bookselling, and in particular about making decisions and setting goals for where to connect and sell your book.
Who are your buyers?
It’s not everyone and anyone.
For non-fiction it’s simple, your book solves a problem for someone else. You’ve written the ultimate guide to [insert your niche expertise here] and need to share it with others seeking answers.
For fiction, it’s not so simple. Typically, your readers should be lovers and enthusiasts of the genre, but think outside the box on this one. Maybe you’ve penned a historical fiction novel about French impressionist painters. Not only would you want to connect with lovers of historical fiction, but your work could also appeal to art enthusiasts, or those traveling to France.
Or maybe you have a built-in following on social media. Anyone who appreciates your work might be excited to read something you’ve written even if it’s not books they would typically pick up.
Where do your buyers purchase books?
This might be an unanswered question until you have some sales data, but you can absolutely remove as many barriers to buying as possible. In essence, make your book available in as many places as possible. As an online indie author/publisher, this means you should have your book available through major online distribution channels as well as on your online store.
Yes, YOUR online store. Ecommerce and selling direct-to-consumers over the internet are practical options for positioning the author as the merchant.
With easy to use tools available you can create an online store through a platform like Shopify and sell books directly to your consumers. The nice thing about this method is that you gain insights into who is buying your book. The platform’s built-in data and analytics about your buyers might lead you to discover the insights you need to connect with more buyers. If you select a platform that integrates with social media—and most do—selling via social media is a great way to take advantage of the mobile commerce trend.
With an array of selling opportunities, you can start wide—and once data is available about where your book is selling—you can make decisions around which channels are most beneficial for you as a creator. With data around revenue, reviews, and customer engagement, you might see how some channels spark sales more than others.
Distribution: Can you get on the shelf?
When it comes to launching your book, if you’re thinking big, that can be a great motivator, but you need to have a good understanding of where to focus your efforts based on what’s possible and realistic.
How does it work?
Interested in having your buyers find you in bookstores, airports, or at Costco, Target, and Walmart? A relationship with a middleman distributor or major publisher can connect you to these types of outlets. Books on shelves is possible with traditional or hybrid publishing, but even that method does not guarantee it.
Traditional and hybrid publishing is entirely different business models wherein you submit a book proposal to the publisher and they take you under their proverbial wing with one major component in mind—your book will sell.
With this method, you might have marketing and publicity resources at your disposal. Even major publishing houses don’t have in-house resources to promote all of their titles equally, they focus on what the market demands—their “A list.”
What about Independent Local Bookstores?
Everyone loves local bookstores, they seem to be about everything good in the world; reading, local economies, connection, discovery, you get the gist. Local bookstores get approached all the time by indie authors. They can spot you when you walk in with a few copies of your book, a smiling face approaching the counter, and sell sheets in hand.
They turn away most, so if you do approach your local bookstore, have a more than compelling reason for them to sell your book. Are you having an event nearby? Is there a commemorative day coming up that relates to your book? Is there something in your book that contains local history? Do you have a specific endorsement of a local celeb? Do you have any upcoming media coverage that would compel readers to buy the book?
Also, be willing to consign your books, this is a popular method as returnability can be a factor.
Think outside the box: Not only bookstores sell books. Consider approaching other types of retail shops: gift shops, travel stores, toy stores, etc… Maybe you’re a yoga teacher with a non-fiction niche book about something in the wellness category, and you should absolutely approach local wellness stores or yoga studios if they sell merch.
Let’s get back to the buyers
Buyers are looking for authenticity, transparency, and integrity when it comes to a brand. You as the author are your brand. So gimmicky sales tactics and the “this is for everyone, everywhere” strategy rarely work.
For books, reviews and social proof matter. The influence of others who can describe what they got out of the experience can equate to author gold, especially if it’s positive. Having your book available to buyers in more than one place means there is more room for online reviews and the influence of others.
An interesting phenomenon that takes place is buyers finding reviews on major merchant sites (like Amazon) and then buying local/direct if available. If your book is listed in major online distribution channels, polish up your Amazon author page to include other ways to find you. These breadcrumbs help those seeking the indie buying experience (and allow big merchant owners to get back to colonizing space).
Finally when it comes to connecting with buyers, it’s important to set realistic goals. This might be the number of books you want to sell, the number of reviews to generate, or the variety of platforms you use to reach buyers.
Using SMART goals is a simple way to stay attached to the data and performance of your book.
- Stretch your goal to connect with buyers. Go a little outside your comfort zone by thinking of a new channel that relates to your audience. Successful performance expands your reach little by little.
- Set Measurable goals. Your objective should not be to “sell more books than last year.” Put a number on it.
- Set Actionable goals. What actions are you going to take to achieve your goals? Create a new platform for direct selling? Set a calendar to blog or generate valuable posts on social media?
- Be Realistic. For now, let’s not think Bestsellers lists or millions of books sold. Hoping I didn’t burst your bubble, I want to see you succeed. Start with something attainable and build from there.
- Set Time-oriented deadlines. Put some dates on this! Begin with an annual deadline, but also set interim goals (three, six, nine months) to monitor your progress and make necessary changes.
Selling books isn’t easy—and is more of a marathon than a sprint. Removing any barriers to connecting with your audience and buyers is key. From there, understanding who they are and their buying habits can increase your reach overall and the potential to connect with new buyers. Selling your book through distribution and on your own website will add credibility to you as an author and assist with your discovery as a bookseller.
Sarah is the Ecommerce Marketing Manager at Lulu. Her primary role is to educate and help those who would benefit from our direct-to-consumer tools. Sarah is passionate about helping authors and publishers find ways to connect with their audience. In previous roles, she led public relations campaigns for over 75 authors and coached many more in preparation for their book launches. When not in the office, you’ll likely find her in the bleachers at her boys’ baseball games or cheering on the UGA Bulldogs.