How many books are published to lackluster sales?
How many books fail to garner literary reviews?
How many authors go unnoticed?
The short answer: too many
More than a million new books are published every year in the United States. The number of self-published books has grown by more than 375% since 2010. This at a time when the average nonfiction title sells about 250 copies a year and about 2,500 copies over its life, and at a time when a book has a less than 1% chance of being stocked in a bookstore.*
These dismal statistics fail to thwart most writers, who, despite the odds, continue to pursue their dreams of becoming published authors.
So what’s a writer to do?
If you want your book to have any chance at all of not only getting published but also not dying on the vine, you have to look at your book as just one part of your overall plan. Call it a branding plan or a business plan or a publishing plan, but the book is only part of it.
This is probably the biggest failure I see authors succumb to. They have a good idea (it all starts with a good idea, of course) for a new title, they write a good manuscript, and they get their book published—and then they sit back and hope it sells.
Instead, your book, whether fiction or nonfiction, has to be part of your overall publishing strategy—and that strategy must include establishing yourself as a go-to subject-matter expert in whatever topic or genre you plan to publish your book.
The work of establishing yourself as that go-to SME speaks to your platform, that holy grail of publishing that gets agents, editors, publishers, bookstore buyers, reviewers, and—yes—even readers all hot and bothered about your book. That’s because becoming a subject-matter expert (or thought leader or guru or influencer or whatever the buzzword du jour is) is about building a community of loyal, dedicated fans, friends, and followers who not only recognize your name but also love your work and want to read more, more, more of it. That is, they are ready, willing, and able to shell out $19.95 or $24.95 or $27.95 or whatever to buy your book. They want to buy your book because you are the one expert they want to read, because you are saying something that no one else is saying, because you are important to them—and because they believe they are important to you.
Your book, then, is only part of your cachet as a subject-matter expert/thought leader/guru/influencer. Also crucial to building this cachet is publishing widely, in print or digital, in the same (or, at the very least, related) subject or genre you plan to publish your book. Every byline matters. Same goes for every presentation, speech, lecture, panel, and keynote you make. Every podcast and TED talk. Every course, workshop, or seminar you offer. Every related professional association you’re affiliated with as a member, every related organization for which you volunteer, every related conference you attend. Everyone who signs up for your newsletter or your RSS feed. Everyone who regularly visits your website or blog to see what you’ve been writing.
All of this matters. Why? Because it helps you build your community. Platform isn’t so much about the quantity of followers you have as it is about the quality of those followers. You can buy all the Tweeps you want, but not one of them is going to buy your book. You can amass thousands of anonymous followers on Instagram, but chances are that few of them will buy your book, either. Breadth is good—i.e., building community across various media and through various organizations. But even more important when it comes to book sales is depth—i.e., how loyal your community members are.
Because what you want are followers who absolutely simply cannot wait for your book to come out. What you want is to be known as the one person who should be read in whatever subject or genre you’re writing. You want to be that person who is recommended, who is buzzed about, who is listened to.
Becoming a subject-matter expert, building a community, and establishing your platform isn’t a one-and-done exercise. It begins well before you plan to publish your book, and it continues well after the book is published. The book is just part of it. Everything you do to establish yourself as a published writer is related. It has to happen before you publish, while the book is hitting bookstore shelves, and long after sales peak.
Remember: You’re not just promoting your book; you’re promoting yourself. In fact, you have to start with promoting yourself well before you can ever hope to have the chance to promote your book.
If you think of publishing your book as just one aspect of promoting yourself, your brand, and your message, you will be better positioned to publish a successful book. Your website, blog, and newsletter; your articles, essays, stories, white papers, and reports; your guest posts; your public appearances; your attendance at conferences; your presentations, workshops, and seminars; your networking meetings; your social media conversations—all of that goes to promoting yourself.
It’s all connected.
No one wants to publish a book only to see it sell fewer than 250 copies. No one wants to publish a book that can’t get stocked in a bookstore. When we publish books, we want them to sell, we want them to get reviewed, we want to see them in bookstores and libraries and everywhere fine books are sold. We want them to get into the hands of our readers, our many, loyal, dedicated readers.
But if we haven’t already established a loyal community of dedicated readers, it’s almost impossible to break through to become one of those few titles that sells many thousands of copies instead of a few hundred copies.
So think of your book as just one aspect of your overall publishing plan. Promote yourself and build a community of loyal fans who can’t wait to buy your book. Use every tool in your arsenal to reach that community and establish yourself as the writer they can’t wait to read.
August 29, 2017