If you’ve been around here long, you know that I consider my books an extension of my family–my babies, if you will. And there’s nothing more disappointing than for nobody to know about your new baby. When I published my first book and had that first copy in my hands, people started asking where they could buy it. I had no idea! I had one book and no plans. (Now I know it’s recommended to start marketing your book before you publish, but some of us have to learn these things for ourselves.) We personally buy many things on Amazon, so I whispered that I thought we’d put it there. Not too loudly, though, because I had no idea what all that entailed.
Turns out, it’s pretty expensive to connect your product directly to Amazon (often 55% of the price!—>not as a third-party vendor, but directly from our printing company, where Amazon is responsible for the printing/shipping/etc.). Not to mention we still have to take out the price of printing… We just weren’t ready for that big of an investment quite yet. (At this point, we are on Amazon. Bookstores prefer to buy through the distributor called Ingram, which automatically connects you to Amazon…and 39,000+ other retailers. While we may not get into loads of bookstores, we wanted to at least have this as an option.)
We decided to start by selling our book on Etsy. It’s the Amazon of handmade items. Not as universal of a marketplace, but their buyers are looking to support small businesses and individuals and handcrafted items. They allow you to place 5 photos of your product, as detailed of a product description as you wish, AND we could include matching posters and prints in our shop. The best part is Etsy only takes 3.5%.
I included a few images of the digital book, as well as some photos to highlight the feel of the real book.
After getting our shop all set up, we did invest in some Etsy advertising (just a few dollars here and there) to help get the word out. People searching for alphabet books found us faster this way. This eventually helped us get some sales to strangers, people that we would not have connected with otherwise. We have also done two rounds of Facebook marketing ($14 total thus far), and it has also put our books and website in front of people we could not have on our own.
As a former teacher, I tapped into that network and emailed those I knew personally. Right away, I started getting requests for presentations. With three kids 5 and under at home, I wasn’t sure I was in the season of life for this. I took it one school at a time and a couple months later had 10 schools under my belt (thanks to all my friends and hubby’s awesome vacation days for making this a reality for me in watching the babes!). For the first three schools, I didn’t charge a fee. I sent out order forms to the kids and sold about 10 books per school. I chose not to be discouraged by this number, because (1) those were 10 kids I didn’t know who liked my book enough to ask their parents to pay for it and (2) that equaled a $100 payment for my time there. School #4 and beyond I’ve charged a minimal rate of $150 per half day, $300 per whole day. Really, this just covers my prep time, time there, and child care. I am not making great money (read: writing books is not a get-rich-quick career). BUT. (1) My hobby is currently supporting itself. (Maybe someday it’ll support a bathroom remodel??) And (2) I don’t do this for the money. Truly. I am doing exactly what I love–interacting with kids in a fun, engaging setting…without having the pressures that our teachers encounter daily. This is one of my favorite places to be!
I have also done several library presentations at no charge. They allow me to bring my children, and mostly it’s just sitting with a group of 10-30 kids reading a book together. I’ve sold a few because of those efforts.
Because our book is start-to-finish our work (the writing, illustrations, layout, design, copyrighting, editing, cover, EVERYTHING), we have found craft and art shows to be a great place for us to sell. We started off selling about 10 books for every 4-hour show. Not a lot. But I want to tell you those real numbers to encourage you. If you’re doing what you love, it will eventually pay off. I was inspired by an episode of Shark Tank several months (years?) ago, where I heard the phrase “You have to crawl before you walk.”
“You have to crawl before you walk.”
That has been my mantra since our beginning. Sure, we haven’t sold a thousand books. In fact, in the first two months, we only sold 200 books (which was still awesome, but in the grand scheme of things…nothing). We’re now at 600+ books sold, and our numbers keep rising. To go back to the craft shows, our most recent show, now six months after the publication of our first book and one month after the publication of our second, we sold 44 books! To all but 3 strangers! This is a great venue for us, because people love to meet the author (and illustrator when he can make it) and people love to support local (all our shows thus far have been within an hour radius of our home).
Since these books are for kids, I decided to include monster tattoos and coloring pages free of charge at our booth. I love kids, and I know kids. They need this in the midst of all this mother shopping! It gives the kids something to do, gives the moms a reason to linger a bit longer. Does this make a sale for every single tattoo applied? Nope. (Especially for the girls who each applied 4 tattoos. ;)) But it brings in more kids, which brings in more parents, which brings in more potential.
In keeping with crawling, we started our Facebook page in November 2015, and by December we had *almost* 100 likes. It stayed at that number for several months. And then we had a boom and are up to nearly 300 with new people finding us every week. But even though that’s tripled our original 100, I realize it’s a drop in the Facebook bucket. And I’m not discouraged. Because we’re still crawling, and unless I quit my mothering, we’ll stay in the crawling stage for the foreseeable future.
To speak more specifically to Facebook, it has been helpful in sharing the word about our books and local events to people in our area. Of course, it started off with just friends and family, but we have loads of people we don’t even know on our page now.
I took a social media class a couple weeks ago (shout out to Layla bb Solms!) and was encouraged to join at least one more social media venue. I chose Instagram. Just to practice. See if I could keep it up, enjoyed it, didn’t feel stressed by it. And so far, I think it’s fun! We’ll see if it actually helps our sales, but for now, it’s an easy way to connect with people outside of Facebook. We’re under 100 followers yet, but that’s okay by me. I’m still learning the ropes and need more practice before we get too big!
We’ve been fortunate enough to get several interviews (the extrovert in me is screaming with delight: What? Talk about my writing process and how we work together as a team and where inspiration strikes and how a mom has time to write and and and? Okay, if you insist.) The publicity has helped us tremendously! People we don’t regularly interact with have had the chance to hear about our books and are even telling their friends for us! Here’s a sampling of different articles we’ve had:
- We made it to the Staff Picks list from our printer.
- They then returned to interview us with more detail.
- We were on the front page of our local newspaper (gasp!).
- And our college gave us a spotlight in the alumni section of their magazine (page 30, if you check).
After hearing that most book signings are poorly attended, I decided to combine my book signings with other events. I set up shop next to Santa, am turning one signing into a party (see below), and in August will be participating in a local author event with Barnes and Noble (read: not just me, joining with other local authors to bring as many people together as we can!). I always advertise them on my Facebook page and sometimes even create a separate event page (or share one that’s already been created), depending on how big the event is.
BOOK LAUNCH PARTY
For our second book, we decided to hold a book launch party. We’ll sign and sell books, of course, but we’ll also have games, crafts, snacks, and prizes that all relate to our monster theme (and some that don’t–how about winning a $100 Visa card?!)! That’ll get its own post once it happens. By the way, if you live near Kosciusko County, Indiana, you won’t want to miss this party!
While we are, by no means, a best seller, every single thing we’ve done has put our books in front of people. Someone who saw us at a craft show yesterday and didn’t buy may see us in the newspaper today and notice a Facebook friend attending our party tomorrow. All those little points of contact have eventually gotten us many sales (didn’t I see you at the other craft show? or hey, are you the author from the paper?). I am never disappointed with a low number of sales today, because we’ll never really know the residual effect of those efforts.
Writing a book is great fun, printing is relatively easy, but marketing? That’s a whole different ball game. And it’s not for the faint of heart.