When I recently held my first ever book signing, I was surprised when I was asked by the bookstore to promote my own event to bring in customers, as a condition of them giving me, a rather unknown local author, this opportunity.
It’s not that I blamed them. It’s just that the thought hadn’t occurred to me.
If you’re a self-published author and have dreams of getting your foot in the door at a bookstore to “have it made,” you better think again. It’s not so much that the bookstore is promoting you, it’s rather the opposite. They are just as much looking for new customers among the following a new author might bring into their doors, as you and your book are eager to be put in front of the customers they already have.
So you better brace yourself for it. You self-publish your book, and you self-promote and self-pretty-much-anything-else to increase your readership. Nobody will do that for you. As my favorite author on the subject of self-publishing, Catherine Ryan Howard, puts it: “No one gives a tiny rat’s arse about our book.”
When you first have the idea of writing a book, and then again when you’ve put the final touches on the first one, you might indulge in a little fantasy. Like, “everyone will want to read my book.” Well, I’ve got news for you: they don’t. Your mother will read it, if she’s still alive, and a few good friends will too. Your husband, frankly, has had the same novel on his nightstand for the last seven months, with the bookmark stuck on page 43, so even he is an unlikely prospect. Your kids are horrified that you wrote about them and will go out of their way not reading or talking about your book, ever.
Just because people might see your book somewhere, or have been told about it by a friend, or heard about it, doesn’t mean they’ll buy it. Even if their book club requires it. And even if it’s only $3.99. The money almost doesn’t matter. It’s their time you’re asking them to sacrifice by reading it, and as a writer you should be the first to know that time is precious. We’re not going to give it to some venture we’re not absolutely sure will entertain or educate us, or both.
Which means our job doesn’t stop when we hit that “publish” button on Kindle Direct Publishing or CreateSpace. It is only just beginning. We have to market our book, i.e. keep it in front of people’s eyes, get it to be talked about and written about, make people want to click on a link we provide, bring people to our website so they can find out more that maybe makes them want to buy it, create quality content so that people come to our website, be active on social media where readers (and writers) might hang out, etc. etc. The list is endless. And, of course, we have to do all this while busily drafting book #2, because everyone knows it’s virtually impossible to become a successful author with just one book.
It’s a long and rocky road of self-promotion to create a wider readership, and much like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, it’s a road best taken one step at a time. Pole pole. It’s a slow process, one new reader (and sometimes, if you’re lucky, one entire book club) at a time.