May 28, 2008
An Author's View from Behind the Book Table
Arthur Paul Boers, author of The Way Is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago, is our guest blogger for today, giving us a literal "behind a table of books" view. Over the years he's gained helpful insights on his role as an author in promoting his books. By utilizing multiple avenues available to him, he's helped us market his book to a wide range of people. Here's a brief overview of what he's learned. --Cindy Bunch
Several years ago I conducted a small, informal experiment in book promotion. I regularly speak at various events and always set up a table and try to sell some of my books. But I used to feel bashful about making too much of my work. During previous presentations, I usually didn't refer directly to the books. I arranged them as attractively as possible and then assumed that they spoke for themselves; I thought, The books are there. If people are interested, they can see them.
But then I grew curious. So I alternated my approach. At one event, I said nothing about the books. At the next event, I mentioned them--not saying much, just acknowledging that they were there and available, and explaining how they connected to the topic I was addressing. At a third event, I was quiet again. And so on. The results were predictable: I consistently sold more books at events where I mentioned that they were available for sale.
And so I learned that if I want my books to get in as many hands and homes as possible, then I must take responsibility for promoting them.
In the months after The Way Is Made by Walking was released, I had a lot of travel scheduled for research and speaking. I decided to build on to those events and occasions by adding opportunities (mostly book signings) for promoting the book. Of course, I also had signings at local independent and chain bookstores (four within twenty miles of where I live). In addition, I was aware of a funky independent bookstore forty-five miles away in Michigan; the bookseller there was glad to host an event. My public speaking engagements and research took me to a number of locations, so I ended up having book signings in Missoula (Montana) and Pittsburgh, and in Windsor, Toronto, London, Mississauga and St. Catharines (all in Ontario).
Book signings can be hit-and-miss. At the most disappointing event, only one book sold. But on several occasions I sold thirty or forty copies. (A number of booksellers have told me that they often expect to sell only half a dozen or so.) A few times, bookstores sold out of the books. Happily, I always carry extra copies so that no one was turned away empty-handed. (As an author, you should always bring extra books. At one store, the manager had somehow not gotten in any books at all!)
I promote book signings in several ways. It’s a big help when you can get local media to announce an event. I send them press releases, and IVP does as well. The press often need several nudges before responding. If there are local connections, mention that when you approach the press. I pointed out to one paper that I was born in their city, to another paper that I went to its local university and lived there during my first year of marriage, to other papers that I pastored in their town, and to another that I had connections to a famous local hiking trail. Of course, if you have contacts or connections, use those as well. I once wrote articles about a famous Canadian writer who was then happy to connect me with a columnist at a prominent Canadian newspaper. Another time I asked a friend about good contacts at his local paper and he mentioned a columnist who he thought would like my ideas. I emailed that columnist and voilà--he was happy to do a piece, and what he wrote was great.
I also contact everyone I can think of who lives in the area I'm promoting the book in to invite them to the event: friends, former congregants and fellow church members, colleagues, relatives, etc. Here I overcome my aversion to self-promotion. I encourage my contacts to invite others. I email local churches that I have some connection with, especially if they are from my denomination. Sometimes I just go ahead and email all the churches in the area and explain why my book might be of interest (local author, Canadian content, Christian writer--whatever seems most applicable).
My best media coverage came through others making recommendations, such as the famous Canadian writer I mentioned who recommended me to a columnist. I appeared on Canada's 100 Huntley Street television program because a woman heard me preach as a guest at her church and liked what I said; she mentioned that she knew a producer at the show. My appearance on an hourlong national Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio program, amazingly enough, was the result of a reader (whom I had never met) taking the initiative and emailing the program about my book.
In addition to all these avenues, I try to dream up other events. In the near future, I'm traveling to Winnipeg, Manitoba, to speak at a conference. I managed to add to that trip a radio interview, a book reading and signing at one of Winnipeg’s most popular independent bookstores, and a reading and signing at a nearby university. I also consider whether there are churches where I might have a strong connection when I travel. Then I contact the pastor and offer to preach. More often than not, my offer is accepted.
Promoting my book indirectly through print media has also proven useful. I approach magazines and pitch article ideas that are related to my book and then write or adapt pieces accordingly. I've encouraged various writer friends to review my book in magazines that they serve. I gently (and repeatedly) nudge editors to have my book reviewed. I write reviews on related books to establish myself as an "expert" in that subject. And, of course, with everything that I write and have published I include in my byline information about the book.
Finally, there is a wonderful website, BookTour.com, that allows writers or their publicists to set up a page for authors. You can post information about yourself and your book/s (with photos), links to your own or other relevant websites (e.g., your publisher), and a detailed list of all the places where you will appear in the future. People who subscribe to BookTour.com get notices of when authors will be in their area. Or they can subscribe to your page and follow your progress. They can also contact you through the site. The service is friendly, thorough and free.
As you can see, my small informal experiment of book promotion converted me into someone who is not exactly bashful about promoting his own book. If you've done the hard work to write something that you are passionate about, then you should not be bashful either!
Arthur Paul Boers