If you build it/write it, they won’t come – but if you tell them they will
How to sell your book - a case study
There is an expression from the movies that’s always guaranteed to get me shaking my head. It is voiced by Kevin Costner in the 1989 baseball-themed movie Field of Dreams and for some reason has been widely taken up elsewhere. Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, hears the words ‘if you build it, he will come’ while walking in his corn field and goes on to make himself a baseball pitch, sort out his financial woes, resolve some underlying family issues, find the answer to world peace and so on. You know the sort of thing.
It is not because I am a baseball fan (I’m not) and I’m not to keen on Costner either. In fact, I had always assumed it was ‘if you build it they will come’, but that is by the by. The reason I often come back to the saying is through my observation of the book industry thanks to my work as a ghost writer and, more recently, running a self publishing concern PG Press.
It seems that all too often, following all the blood, sweat and tears that go into getting a book written, the part that frequently gets forgotten is getting the book out there. If you are reading this as an aspiring author, have you considered how you will get people to buy and read your book? Surprisingly enough, in all the excitement of getting a story down on paper, this always seems to be an after thought.
It is not just enough to build it/write it though. That won’t make them - the book buying public - come. An author needs to be out there, promoting their book, selling it and building the momentum around it at every possible opportunity. If you don’t, it will not sell.
Even if you are lucky enough to be picked up by a so-called mainstream publisher, there is still a great deal of onus on the author to actually promote the book. Indeed ‘pull through’ is a pre-requisite of publishing deals today. (If you’re not familiar with the term, pull through is marketing speak for a clear demonstration that the author’s name/reputation will sell a lot of books or at the very least they have an idea of how to raise awareness). Publishing groups won’t do it all for you.
For self publishers, the onus is entirely on the author.
One of the book marketing campaigns I have been following with admiration is that by Bill Grimsey, who wrote and self published the book Sold Out. The retail veteran, who headed companies from Wickes to Iceland, wanted to produce a book as a platform to raise issues about the woeful state of UK High Streets and the lack of action around this crucial issue. It is a subject he is passionate about and rightly so.
(To declare an interest, I assisted in the writing of the book, but was not the publisher, nor was I involved in the subsequent marketing.)
Bill launched his book in October 2012 and from the beginning took a multi-stage approach to its marketing.
As a well-connected former retail chief executive, he called in a favour from his former PR agency and thus was able to use one of the UK’s top financial PR firms to generate some interest around the actual launch month. The PR folk managed to capitalise on press curiosity about what Bill was up to in his ‘retirement’ and got him a round of sit-down talks with key journalists. This in turn created some great early reviews in the national and trade press. He was also put on a BBC network list of ‘people who talk about dying high streets’ or probably something a little more eloquent. An appearance on Newsnight soon followed, as well as regular spots on a host of daytime shows.
Meanwhile, Bill himself got to grips with social media. Having never tweeted or blogged in his life before, he was soon sending out regular missives, commenting on the retail issues of the day, every day. Within a short space of time, from a starting base of zero, he was up to 1000 plus followers and his personal target is for at least one re-tweet a day from people who keenly follow his opinions.
As the conversation around the book increased, various campaign groups, many who were involved in trying to save their own local high streets, contacted Bill. He made himself available to them, even though this often meant travelling the length and breadth of the UK and often at short notice. Each time he visited an area, he was invariably interviewed for local radio and newspapers.
For anyone curious about the issue, there is a well presented and regularly updated website (www.vanishinghighstreet.com) which documents the campaign and provides a valuable resource for those wanting to know what is happening to our High Streets.
Bill is also sure to attend industry conferences and events and he is not shy about grabbing the microphone to ask awkward questions whenever the opportunity arises. Where there weren’t events, he created them. He’s spoken at morning briefings, afternoon meetings, and evening events and is in increasing demand as a speaker.
At the time of writing this, Bill Grimsey’s Sold Out is the number one bestseller in retail books and in the high thousands on the general Amazon list. Bill is now working on an official report about what is really going on in our High Streets and is hoping to present it to the three main political parties in the autumn. He has a wide following of commentators and campaigners who are supporting that endeavour.
He’s built it. People have come. There is a lesson there for us all.