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How to Increase Book Sales with an Author Website

It's been 10 years since I built my first website based around a book, or around a book manuscript, since I hadn't yet been published by a major trade. I designed the site with the free software that came with the Internet service I was signed up with at the time, Global Network Navigator (GNN), later purchased by AOL. That website helped bring four offers to publish the book, and being a hungry idiot, I went for the one with the largest advance. Water under the Damn, Damn, Damn!

For over five years now I've been corresponding with authors and publishers about the book business, with the initial contact usually coming through my analysis of Amazon Sales Ranks. The only reason for authors or publishers to be interested in Amazon Ranks is because they are interested in their sales, and the second e-mail usually includes a request for tips on increasing Amazon sales. If the question is really silly, like, "How can I sell a lot of books and get really famous," I've occasionally been guilty of a goofy response, like "Get really famous first, and then people will buy your books." However, there's a grain of truth in the goofy response, and as somebody who talks regularly with trade publishers and authors, I can tell you that the main thing publishers are looking for these days is an author with a "platform." By a platform, they mean, a proven way to publicize books, and fame isn't a bad start.

You don't need to become famous to increase your Amazon sales, except in the search engines. What you need is a website that people can find and that does a good job of promoting your book. That leads to a new challenge for most authors, learning how to design a website, and in the past, it was a higher hill than most were willing to climb. Authors who recognized the need for a website but lacked the skills to create one often ended up paying big dollars to a professional website designer for a site that was never updated and poorly optimized for the purpose. These websites usually looked like advertisements rather than resources, and who would go out of their way to visit an advertisement? However, I couldn't offer to design a website for every author who contacted me, so the best I could do was offer free critiques of existing websites, and hope the author could make the changes without paying somebody through the nose.

Then, last week, it finally occurred to me to try a blog. When I hear the word "blog" I immediately think of some radicals on either end of the political spectrum spinning conspiracy theories, and I ignored the mechanics of the thing. It turns out that blogs are actually a painless way to build and maintain a website; you can even have it hosted for free, though I recommend buying a domain and paying a low monthly fee to host it there. In either case, making posts to a blog is as easy as sending an e-mail. In fact, you can make your posts by e-mail if you want to. Each post is individually saved as a unique page with its own title, which helps a great deal with search engines. The standard options include making your blog entries available to others as RSS feeds, which, if picked up, will contain your custom signature line, raising the profile of your site. If you haven't cottoned to the fact yet, this page is a blog, which I created with Google's free blogging software.

The basic approach for promoting books through a website is twofold. First, publish large excerpts from your books on your websites, I often get up around 50% of the total. Yes, you will get ripped-off, but a copyright is a copyright, and it's easy to find offenders with Google. Second, you can post articles related to your books, be it reader questions (and your answers), expanded material that enhances the book, or just regular musings on a related subject, like this. You can join the Amazon Associates program (free) and directly link to Amazon from every post, or you can send readers through a custom order page, like I do. This way, I can inform readers that the books are also available direct from me or can be ordered through their local bookstore. The bottom line proof is you found this page and were interested enough to read down to this point!

3 comments:

Geoffrey said...

I appreciate the positive attitude your blog takes toward self publishing. I'm about to self publish my first novel. My goal is to sell 500 copies! I do have a marketing plan, and win or lose, I'm going to learn a lot and have fun. I'd spend at least this much money on a three-credit-hour course at NYU but what I think I'll learn won't be theoretical.

Here are some stats I recently read:

80% of the book sales are controlled by five conglomerates:

A successful fiction book sells 5,000 copies.

2002: Of the $23.7 billion spent on books, only $10.7 billion is spent in bookstores. The non-traditional outlets sell more books.

2002: Online bookstores sold 10% of the books.

5,000 novels, 200 first novels and 100 scripts are purchased each year.

70% of the books published do not earn out their advance.

70% of the books published do not make a profit.

Many advances are between $1,500 and $7,500.

In 1986, the bestsellers accounted for about 7 percent of all adult hardcover trade book sales; a decade later they accounted for 13 percent. In 1999, applying the same methodology, the proportion reached nearly 15 percent.

Nearly all bestsellers come from five publishing conglomerates.

And lots of other stats at:
http://parapub.com/statistics/

Morris Rosenthal said...

Geoffrey,

Statistics are a great way to ground yourself in the realities of the business. I follow the annual reports of companies like B&N, Borders and Amazon. The web page you mention is from Dan Poynter's website, and Dan is the godfather of the self-publishing space in this country.

While the numbers you quote sound about right to me, some of the accompanying text needs clarification. For example, 5,000 copies is a successful fiction run from a small publisher, but it's a loss maker for a major trade, and while they might gamble on a second title from an author who sells 5,000 copies, I doubt they'd go for a third. I'll buy that 70% of books don't earn out advances, I'd have guessed higher, but it ignores the large number of books that are published by smaller presses with no advance paid. Also, while less than half of the books purchased in the US are sold in traditional bookstores, it's important to point out that textbooks account for a big chunk of the remainder, and aren't really part of the calculation for publishers and authors who aren't in that business.

Morris

Joseph Pitt said...

Many publishers promise you the world, its a business afterall the more authors submitting books the more money they made, that they'll promote your book, advertise a press release, advertise it to hundreds of book stores nationwide/worldwide, and after you pay them their fees to create your book and after your encourage to buy some of your own books from them, the silence is deafening. I advertised my novel "Sisterly Deception" on Zulonpress and Lulu.com and neither has sold one copy to date...talk about ripoff.
I also have my own website too and its on google, amazon, etc.
What-to-do?