Why local book clubs are the single, best way to sell more books online

Drum roll, please.
What is the one thing that all members of our writing/publishing industry—writers, publishers, legacy and indie—agree sells by far more books than any other method?
Word of mouth.
Ahhhh. You knew it wasn’t going to be something you could click on and just get.
No, word of mouth, like all things worthwhile, is not easy to create or obtain.
Marcella Smith, of Marcella Smith Associates, and a former Barnes & Noble executive has been quoted as saying that when it comes to selling books: “Nothing beats word of mouth. Nothing. These days, there is so much more book news in all kinds of media. I think it comes down to, ‘Who do you trust?’”
And we all trust our friends, right? I don’t even bother “sampling” a book if someone I know has already gushed all over it.
The question is: How to you make word of mouth happen? For your book?
I’m going to go with “book clubs.”
Nothing builds a writer’s brand better and faster than talking about her book to a group of people who are interested in hearing about it. All you have to do to make it happen is contact some book clubs in your area and suggest to them that if they read one of your books as a group, you will be happy to speak to the members about the book.
The reasons why a book club might agree are:
1. They are readers and most readers are keen to ask questions of the authors of books they’ve read
2. Everyone likes to be entertained or presented to
3. Most people like feeling proprietary about the books they read and the authors they discover
The benefits to you as an author are:
1. Once an author meets his readers he increases his “buy in” with them and increases the chances that they will talk about the book to their friends
2. It’s been shown that not only does the book club read and buy the book from the author but they tend to read everything that author puts out in the future!
3. Speaking at book clubs keeps books alive. Many books have been resurrected with a new generation or demographic of reader as the result of a book club embracing it.
4. Meeting with your readers opens opportunities for other avenues, related to your book or future books. In the November issue of IBPA Independent, columnist Linda Carlson told about an author who spoke at a club, met an attendee who was a writer for a magazine and ended up doing several keynote speeches and selling many, many more books.
5. Asking your new group of enthusiastic fans to post reviews of your book on Amazon.com, Goodreads and so forth will help boost your sales online.
If you go down this road, here are some things to keep in mind as you add book club presentations to your promotions tasks:

1. Be friendly and focus on connecting with your readers
2. Hand out bookmarks with new-book information
3. Always bring paperback or hardback copies of your book; if members bought it as an e-book, they may want a signed “real” book now that they’ve met you.
4. Bring a signup sheet to capture emails so your new friends will be some of the first to get information on upcoming releases

There is a strong belief in publishing circles today that one of the main things that can save publishing is book clubs.
They can do a lot for the author too, especially if they’re willing to “put themselves out there.”
Nobody said it was easy.
At least now you know what you need to do.

Living and Loving an Ordinary Life

About 20 years ago, a crisis occurred in a Texas suburb which captured the attention of the country—and then the world. A baby, named Jessica, fell down a well. Rescuers worked for 58 hours to free “Baby Jessica” from the eight-inch-wide well casing 22 feet below the ground..

The fame that came to the people involved in this drama was intense and, like so much in our over-stimulated American culture, fleeting. The young man who did, without thinking, what he thought he should do, was lauded as a “hero,” which, no one doubted that he was. He was told how super-extraordinary he was on talk shows, radio shows, he appeared on Good Morning America, was the focus of best selling books and a made-for-TV movie. When all the excitement died down and the cameras turned else where, when the next “hot” story eclipsed the Jessica story, this young man was faced with going back to living his ordinary life. But for him, there couldn’t be ordinary ever again. How, after you have tasted being a superstar, after you have had Presidents shake your hand, after you have been made to believe that you were so special? How could you go back to pumping gas and living in your hometown after that? He couldn’t. After ten years of trying, he killed himself. His sister said: “After being famous for a bit, he just couldn’t settle back down to living an ordinary life.”

What is this so-called Ordinary life? Do any of us really aspire to have one? Can you blame this poor guy for not being able to go back to life before all the fame and excitement? Remember, he was happy before he got famous. He was content.

A few Christmases ago, my son really wanted the guitar video game called Rock Band. This game allows players—who have never picked up a guitar in their lives—to  perform in virtual “bands” by providing the ability to play three different peripherals modeled after music instruments. These peripherals are used to simulate the playing of rock music by hitting scrolling notes on-screen. Can you imagine? During this period of his life, he didn’t know how to play these instruments, but he did produce music—and really, amazingly good music, with his friends, in the basement using an Xbox and a device that looks like an electric guitar. My husband, who had a real garage band as a teenager, was appalled. Today, my son, after five years of weekly guitar lessons and endless hours of practice, is a very good, real, guitar player. The playworld of being a guitarist instilled the pleasure and kudos of the accomplishment without the actual accomplishment. But the lie was felt. The kudos were undeserved. And that lie, as pleasurable as it was, was still a lie and eventually prompted my son to go for the real thing.

We are surrounded, engulfed by technology. It makes our lives so much better in so many ways, but it’s also helped to undermine our sense of reality because it suggests that life is constant high drama. Ordinary life is more subtle. It’s difficult for a developing chrysalis on the backyard oak tree to compete with the excitement of saving the world from invading aliens or making a Super Bowl touchdown. (The virtual experience derived from the most basic of video games.)

The real world, the natural world, doesn’t typically allow one the likelihood of being twelve years old and playing in a rock band (especially without all the hassle of years of music lessons.) Or to be pumping gas in Texas one day and speaking to Diane Sawyer the next on national TV.

While it’s possible that you or I might be able to handle the five minutes of fame better than poor Kevin Draper did, it’s also possible that this young man is, in himself, a cautionary tale. A tale that suggests that the further we get away from what’s real, the more we layer on the superlatives, the over-the-top praise, and add the extra, unnecessary gloss, the further we get away from who we are in a true, organic sense.

Real life is dull. It’s housework, watering the garden, and staring off into space as you do it. It’s preparing a meal. And most pleasures in real life are small ones…a hot shower, a beautiful sunset, a bowl of soup, a good book. When did we all start looking to win the lottery? Or star in our own TV shows? When did the manic drama of what could be, take the place of what is?

I am sure that we should all strive to be the best we can be and to try to achieve great things. But, in the process of doing all the hard work required to achieve those great things, it might help to remember what perfection there lies in an ordinary life, lived with pleasure and enjoyment of our surroundings and each other.

Just a thought.

John Braine on How to Write A Novel

John Braine was a famous Yorkshire novelist, considered one of the celebrated Angry Young Men of British literature. He wrote “Room at the Top.” His own life was fairly dramatic in that he rose quite high as a top author of his day and died bitter, alone and in debt at the age of 64. While some of his tenets on writing a novel seem a little old-fashioned compared with the typical advice one reads today, many points are spot-on, and serve to underscore the fact that certain rules of good writing are universal and timeless.

John Braine: “How to Write A Novel:”

• A novel is a story to be read for pleasure.

• As an author, you must write to please yourself and you must be completely honest about the world as you see it.

• Discipline and technique are infinitely more important than inspiration

• The people in your story should astound us

• Before writing your story, write a 500-word synopsis; the more quickly you write this, the better • Your novel should have at least 20 chapters (? Not sure if this is still relevant.)

• Each chapter must end with a hook to draw the reader on to the next chapter

• You must end your novel with a bang—nothing vague about the ending • Limit for length of time the story should occur—one year. (? Not sure what I think about this but may be some validity to it for the most part.)

• Your novel’s aim: show us your characters during a period when, suddenly, almost despite themselves, they start to move and everything they do and say is significant

• Characters should talk and think about the past. (There was much more interior dialogue and ruminating tolerated during Braine’s time. Today’s authors attempt to skillfully (unobtrusively) weave in back story when it’s needed to propel the story forward or explain certain coming action.)

• Always write from experience. A writer must watch for relevant detail, the detail which will epitomize the whole event.

• Writing is seeing. Always write as if the action of your novel were taking place before your eyes on a brightly lit stage.

• Nothing is shown without a purpose.

• People are places and places are people.

Next week, I will do a recap of the first five chapters of Les Edgerton’s manual, Hooked, a book that shows you how to “write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go.”

Which, I feel confident, is something we all strive to achieve.

The Scariest Thing You Will Ever Do As A Writer

There is a skill set that, when mastered, will not only help you reap significantly better results in book sales over the long haul, but will vastly increase your self concept and confidence and is something that fewer than .05% of the population can do.

Not only can they not do it, but the majority of them would rather die than try.

Wow.

It’s easy to see that you would have a serious leg up on everybody if you could join that .05% group.

I am talking of course about public speaking.

As a writer, it is possible that the percentages of comfortable, accomplished speakers in your group are even smaller than .05%. Writers tend to be shy types, happy to hole up in remote cabins and drafty guestrooms, turning down social invitations in favor of a laptop and a bottomless cup of coffee. Which makes the benefits that much greater if you can learn to conquer your issues with speaking publicly.

Six Ways that being a speaker can help your writing career:

1. You will sell more books at the back of the room after your talk. I have watched people read directly from notecards and then charge ridiculous amounts for self-published books I wouldn’t look at in a garage sale—and they sell out within minutes of leaving the podium.

2. The more you speak, the better you get, and the better your speaking resume gets and the more writers conferences you’ll be invited to speak at. Attending a writers conference as a speaker (read: expert) is much better than attending as a participant. You get instant credibility, even before your work is examined. Plus, you get to sit at the editors and agents’ table!

3. Speakers are looked upon as subject matter experts, even if they aren’t.

4. Speaking enhances your author’s brand and extends the efforts you make through social media because your audience is very likely tweeting or blogging about the conference.

5. Speaking helps to promote your reach online. If you have more than one book, you’ll have people looking online for the stuff you’ve written. Plus, people who have heard you speak are more inclined to like you because there’s a feeling of ownership or discovery for them.

6. When you speak, everything you touch is worth more. There is a kind of celebrity involved with speaking. When you speak, no one else is talking; it’s not a give and take. It’s YOU talking, and the audience listening. That dynamic illustrates a premise that you are someone important who can be learned from. Plus, you are performing and so the value of anything attached to you is increased. If you give out business cards or bookmarks with your information on it—blog site, amazon book  page, website—people will snap them up like they are valuable because you have been set apart as a VIP.

So, how do you achieve this desirable state of speaking without throwing up? I don’t absolutely promise there will be no vomit involved, but you could read articles online or buy any number of how-to’s. Personally, I think learning by doing is the best way. Because there’s such a psychological element to public speaking (“My God, they’re all looking at ME!!”) you really need to feel the experience over and over again. You very well may feel like you’re going to throw up the first few times you speak in front of group, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.

I found Toastmaster’s to be a great way to learn this skill in a friendly, supportive way. Everyone at the meetings is working to be a better speaker so you’re in good company. After a few months of having a helpful, friendly group of people listening to and critiquing  your speeches, trust me, heading out to a public forum where people are simply listening to you for content not “ums” and “ers” will have you confident in no time.

It’s worth a try anyway, right?

What about you? Are you afraid to get up in front of a group or do you do it all the time? If so, got any tried and true tips for new speakers to help chase (or redirect) the butterflies? Would love to hear from you!

How Social Media Made The Writer’s Life Bearable

When I think of a typical author (is there such a thing?) I think of a quiet type–antisocial or at least very shy–whose life is played out among the characters she creates in make-believe worlds. This is a stereotype and I personally know some very noisy and social creatures who are also fine writers. But I think there is some equity to the stereotype. Writers are readers and writers spend a lot of time writing. Reading and writing are both solitary activities. I’d have to believe that most writers like to do these things so they either a) have no problem being alone or b) they prefer it.

There was a brief time in our history where writers had to do something that would be considered torture for normal people, but was positively HELL for shy or retiring people. There was a time when writers, in order to sell their books, were forced by their publishers or convinced by their own marketing common sense, to sit on display in public bookstores while shoppers walked by them and alternately ignored and felt sorry for them. As bad as this would be for anybody else, I think it must have been particularly agonizing for the typical writer.

One of the great things about how writers are being encouraged to market their books today is that social media is ideal for shy people. You can now pretend to be the amazing writer you’ve created on your dust jacket, complete with airbrushing and that photo that was taken ten years ago. And you can deal with people as THAT person, kind of like an avatar you’ve created that does all your talking for you. Social media lets the part of you that is the awesome part of you—the part that communicates by putting amazing words together—take over and meet people and make connections.

On Twitter, you don’t have to worry about meeting fans and not measuring up. (“Wow. You’re short.”) You don’t have to lose weight or shave or get a brow lift. You can be friendly and brilliant in your bathrobe with yesterday’s cat vomit crusted on your bunny slippers and no one will ever know.

My father used to tell me when I was a teenager and he was in his late fifties that I would be surprised to discover some day when I’m older that regardless of how I appear on the outside, who I am on the “inside” will always be 25 years old. At the time, I didn’t understand him. The man had a full head of white hair and a beard. Was he really telling me he looked at the world through the eyes of a twenty-five year old??!

What I discovered as I grew older was, of course, it’s true. You operate in the world on a daily basis and, in your mind, nothing’s changed. You toss your hair and smile winningly at someone in the parking lot and they grab their kid and hurry away, and then you catch your reflection in a mirror and you want to grab yourself and hurry away, because you’re a crone! But it’s not fair, you whimper. You don’t feel like you now look.

But with social media, you really are 25 forever. Who you are on paper–the best part of  you –is the face you present to your social media friends. And because you know you’re looking good (on paper), you are brighter and wittier and friendlier. You are, in fact, your ideal self.

This was actually going to be a lead-in to why I think writers need to brush off or discover their public speaking skills! So now that I’ve got you all comfy and determined never to go out into public again, check my post next Wednesday when I move us all into the scariest light of all: the limelight.

Are you shy? A natural talker? Writers come in all sizes and flavors. I would love to hear about you! Stereotypical writer or offbeat all the way?