Back in the day (meaning, ten or more years ago), seeing their book on bookstore shelves was a primary goal for authors. At a time when digital bookshelves and indie publishing didn’t yet exist (or were in their infancy), authors could be plucked from obscurity simply by announcing their arrival at Barnes & Noble, showing up on a national news segment, or advertising their ten-city book tour.
Times have changed.
Notes W. Bruce Cameron, bestselling author of numerous books including A Dog’s Purpose, “The challenges are more daunting today than ever before. There was a time when being in a bookstore was enough to lift someone out of obscurity, but no longer. There are new books hitting the market every second. How to get noticed? How to let people know your book exists? That’s the biggest challenge.”
With that challenge comes the necessity for a new paradigm for aspiring or already bestselling authors looking to make (or sustain) their mark. Ironically, the approach most successfully employed involves the same strategies that were used long before you could reach millions of people with one Tweet.
Physical shelf space in retail stores has always been a critical asset for authors. It also represents a high cost for retailers. Virtual shelf space, on the other hand, is unlimited (and free)–but that fact has quickly created the proverbial double-edged sword. We’ve become hyper-focused on, and influenced by, the fact that we have immediate access to a huge audience. Yet that perspective has caused many authors to pull back the lens a bit too far. The result is that they reach very few (sometimes none) of the thousands of people they haphazardly spray with their message. The virtual space is so cluttered that, while it’s now relatively easy to publish a high-quality book, getting noticed by one’s ideal reader can feel like looking for a needle in a stack of needles.
It’s no longer about simple numbers. The simple measure of 100,000 Instagram followers is irrelevant if looked at in a vacuum; it’s about understanding what percentage of those followers is actually paying attention to your content.
I’d rather have 500 followers with whom I’ve built a true connection than 500,000 who wouldn’t ever know (or care) if I fell off the earth. At this point, the pride and ego trip that come with a huge (but disconnected) following simply has to take a backseat to the exponential return that comes from taking the time to establish and nurture a smaller number of authentic connections.
In 2020, it’s about connection and understanding where just one authentic connection can take you and your book. It’s a topic about which I’m incredibly passionate, and I find myself frequently having heart-to-heart discussions with my own clients about it when they begin to harp on the perceived value and return generated from getting booked on a national TV segment or doing a national tour when it comes to selling truckloads of of books.
Especially when they all but ignored the potential opportunity that came with the “random” person with whom they struck up a great conversation at the coffee shop that morning!
Make no mistake, appearing on national TV segments absolutely boosts one’s credibility. But rarely does it significantly tip the sales scales. “I’ve been on ‘Good Morning America’, ‘The Today Show’, ‘CBS Morning’, even ‘Oprah’. [It] did not do what I thought it would do. Radio is slightly better. [The] best [scenario] is when people call in and you can have a conversation. Because, remember, it’s about the personal connection,” reminds Cameron.
THE UNFORESEEN EFFECT OF ONE AUTHENTIC CONNECTION
“Every person met creates a multiplier,” notes Cameron. “Every 8-person book club I speak to, every 10-person book signing a bookstore hosts, every town library I address with 80 attendees creates a connection, and then those people go on to sell other people.”
Jenna McCarthy, author of twenty books, concurs.
“To be honest, I’ve grown increasingly wary of unpredictable PR and marketing routes. When I was lucky enough to be asked to co-author designer Erin Cole’s heartbreaking and inspiring memoir, The Size of Everything, I knew that what was going to sell this book would be Facebook ads or mass-emailed press releases, but people. Erin and I used social media to reach our readers and engage with them routinely. We speak at book clubs in person and via Skype and Zoom. We post videos of ourselves chatting together, pictures from Erin’s childhood, and [messages] we get from our readers. I believe this level of personal engagement is more important than ever in a world super-saturated with media constantly vying for everyone’s attention. Facts tell; stories sell.”
So, how do we create the kind of authentic connections that effortlessly lead to book sales and increased business?
Refrain from Hyper-Analysis
Yes, this is pot-calling-the-kettle-black advice. We’re all guilty of paralysis by analysis on occasion. But, after 17 years as a published author, I still find new readers more readily in the ice cream section of Target than I do with targeted Facebook ads. I wholeheartedly believe that the reason for that is, you can make the type of connection face-to-face that simply cannot be made via an ad.
Don’t Focus on Selling
“How do I properly introduce myself or drive the conversation in the direction of ‘I have a great book I think you’d love’?” is a common question.
The answer: you don’t.
Someone buys your book (someone who’s going to actually read it, anyway) because they believe it can benefit them, and they recognize that you have an approach, perspective, or outlook they connect with.
Therefore, your best sales tool is, believe it or not, simply being willing to engage with others and be unabashedly yourself while doing so. You never know what seemingly benign fact will slip during a quick conversation (“Oh, you’re buying Whoppers; I like those too! I think we’re the only two people on earth who do!”) and captivate someone’s attention. Your book doesn’t even have to come up in conversation; perhaps you’ll become Facebook friends right there in aisle 8, and they’ll see that you’ve written a book that, lo and behold, is exactly what they’ve been looking for. The order is placed, and you have a new reader. No “sales” required.
Be Clear About Who Your Reader Is (and Isn’t)
I watch as many authors attempt to get the ear of popular (and extremely busy) “social influencers” in an attempt to piggyback on their platform. The notion of calling on these individuals to help generate book sales isn’t without merit. However, if the influencer’s followers are not your target market, the approach can absolutely backfire. Further, if the influencer’s audience does include a large contingent of your ideal readers, the best approach is to try to create a genuine connection and relationship with the influencer well before you “need” something from them.
Shortly before my third book was released (and during a time when my main business was as a jewelry designer), I attended a launch event for the new show of Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock–also known as the Casserole Queens. I wasn’t “supposed” to be there, yet I happened to make a genuine connection with Crystal and Sandy. Three months later, they offered to take custom jewelry pieces to the producer and primary talent on their “Today Show” segment promoting their new cookbook. While you can pay a lot of money for a publicist to get your product in front of that level of celebrity, you cannot buy the kind of connection that made this kind of personalized gifting possible…at no cost, no less. Crystal, Sandy, and I are still in contact today, nearly ten years later. Were they to call on me for anything, personal or professional, I’d move mountains to over-deliver.
That is the power of authentic, “coincidental” connection.
While everyone is clamoring to be on the New York Times or USA Today bestseller lists (believing that those accolades are the ticket to financial freedom as an author/expert), there are plenty of authors you’ve likely never even heard of bringing in mid- to high- six-figure–even seven-figure–incomes, simply because they’ve taken the time to nurture connections with a smaller group of true fans. They’ve also invested the time (sometimes years) to build genuine relationships with others in their space—not solely because they’re counting on those relationships benefitting them later on but also because they are mutually beneficial in the present.
Finding ways to grow your reader base and reach new people whom you can impact will always be critically important to authors. Whether they plan to release another book or parlay their book into a course, workshop, consulting opportunity, or speaking topic, there will always be a new group to reach and a new problem that can benefit from your perspective. Launching to the masses with reckless abandon, believing “I’ll blindly market to one million, and even if only one percent purchases, that’s still 10,000 sales” is an approach destined for disappointment.
Regardless of the fact that there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet to whom you can speak with just one well-written social media post, keep in mind that your next sale or client might be (and much more likely is) walking by you right this very minute.
So look up from this article, and say Hello!
About the Author
Elizabeth Lyons is the author of 5 books, most recently Enough: The Simple Path to Everything You Want—A Field Guide for Perpetually Exhausted Entrepreneurs. Also a book writing and publishing coach, lover of coffee, and mom of 5, she rarely knows what day it is.