There’s something every published or publishing writer can learn from salespeople. Whether you’ve signed a contract with a publishing house or you plan on publishing your books yourself, the techniques used by salespeople can benefit you.
A little background: I started a sales job six weeks ago that involves being on the phone pretty much all day (when I’m not interviewing people, which I do for 2-3 hours each day). For 50 hours a week, with no lunch break except the fifteen minutes I spend eating at my desk while reading the news, I cold-call people and companies to find jobs for computer programmers, software engineers, tech support people, and IT managers.
I can honestly say that after six weeks of doing this kind of work (and strangely enough I love every minute of it) I’ve learned a ton about being a self-published writer that I would not have learned otherwise.
First of all, there are a TON of people out there. It sounds obvious, right? There are billions of people on this planet. But that’s not what I’m trying to say. I mean that there are so many different kinds of people out there, in so many different kinds of situations, with so many different backgrounds and interests and talents, that trying to identify “demographics” and “audiences” as a writer is just USELESS. Don’t even do it. Write the kind of book you find interesting, and believe me, if it’s decently written and edited, there will be an audience for it. Go ahead and write a horror-romance with elements of black comedy. If the characters and the story are compelling enough, it’ll sell a lot of copies. Forget about targeting a specific audience because most of the time, you won’t know the first thing about the audience for the book. Your brain just can’t comprehend that kind of diversity or quantity.
The second thing I’ve learned at my day job is that selling (assuming you having a quality product or service) is all about volume. This works in two ways for writers: a lot of content and a lot of exposure.
You NEED to have a lot of books out there. Self-publishing legends like Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and JA Konrath had multiple books (Hocking had more than a dozen written) before they started publishing and putting their work out there. Obviously your books have to be solid, presentable, polished. But having ONE solid, presentable, published book out there–even if its awesome–is not enough. To really make it in this game, you’ve got to put out a lot of content to increase the chances of people finding it.
Then there’s exposure. People need to hear about your book multiple times before they buy it. Very few people buy a book after hearing just one good thing about it. This is why “word of mouth” advertising is so effective. When you hear a lot of different people talking about a book/movie/TV show, it piques your interest. You want to see what all the hype is about.
In order to expose your book to as many people as possible, make sure to publish it with EVERY OUTLET that will allow it. Don’t just stick to Amazon (a mistake I’m making right now by enrolling my books with KDP Select, which makes them exclusive to Amazon). Publish them on Smashwords, B&N, Kobo, Diesel, the iTunes store, etc. etc. etc. Put them up on Goodreads, LibraryThing, Wattpad. Make a Facebook author page, then a book page, then make a Twitter account where you talk about subjects related to your book.
Don’t be in people’s faces by constantly pimping out your books. Promote something of value besides your books.
In my day job, I have to call dozens of companies a day and try to get them to work with my employer by giving us job orders (after which they pay us if they hire one of our candidates). I don’t just call the company and ask for a job order. I go in there with the resume of a person I’ve interviewed whom I believe could be a fit for the job. Then I promote the person, not myself or my company. I bring something of value to the table.
Additionally, when I call people who are looking for work, I don’t just tell them I can find them a job–I show them the job I think they might like to have. I call hundreds of people and companies a week. If only 10% of them agree to work with me, I make an awesome commission. Your books can work for you in a similar way.
Volume and exposure. Write lots of quality books and publish them everywhere. Create hundreds of blog articles a year, link to those posts as well as entertaining and informative articles and videos all over the web. Get people to visit your blog by establishing a reputation for posting quality stuff, then watch them click on your book advertisements in the side bar. When they see you have multiple books published they’ll know you’re for real, and they’ll be excited to read all of your stuff instead of just one book that could be a one-hit wonder.
Do this for four or five books and after a while you’ll start to see sales.
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