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How To Cope With Selling Your Novel

26th August 2017
(Blog Posting)

My 13th Nick Guymer novel was published last week. Hurrah! It’s always good to see your words finally printed onto paper. I could never write for eBooks only because to me, a book doesn’t exist unless it is been physically manifested. I’m the same with music. Downloads are too metaphysical for me, I want to hold a big circle of vinyl.


So publication week is always a time of joy, but it is also a time of dread too. Why? Because now you’ve got to try and sell it, when really all you want to do is write the next book.


Now, I’m already 59,000 words into the 14th Guymer novel, and that’s within 60,000 words of the finishing line, so I’m driven on to keep writing it. But what’s the point in writing a book if no-one reads it? Well, quite a lot of point actually, not least the working out the machinations of your own twisted psychology (or is that just me?). But I write for a living, so I really need to try and sell a lot of books.


But how do you do it?


There are no easy answers which apply to everyone in every genre. But one thing is for sure - you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. Occasionally, someone is an overnight sensation, but don’t bank on it. One thing I’ve found to be very helpful is to adjust your expectation of sales downwards. This isn’t defeatist, it is realist.


In an era where the bestseller lists are often not best sellers at all and are merely part of a marketing strategy where the publisher who pays most to the retailer gets their chosen book at the top of the list, it’s easy to think everyone else is shifting thousands of books and you’re not.




It’s not just you.


Almost no-one is selling loads of books. Remember, 50 percent of all the money is earned by just 1 percent of writers.


When J. K. Rowling used her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, before it was revealed who had actually written it, she’d only sold about 1500 copies. Then when everyone knew it was her, it sold loads. This is a very good example of how ridiculous the business is. It’s all about who you are, your name, your celebrity, along with how much money you or the publisher want to spend on actually selling your books.


The annoying thing is, selling a load of books isn’t that hard if you do throw money at it. In fact, you can shift a shedload of almost anything with enough marketing, what is harder to do is make any money that way.


I know this because for one month in 2009, in one of our other businesses, DJTees - which designs and retails rock t-shirts -  we upped our ad spend to £3,000 per day! This raised our turnover to around £6,000 per day. Sounds good, but by the time all the costs were accounted for, we made almost no profit. We might as well have not advertised at all and sold £350 per day. We’d have made more money. This was a big lesson learned for me.


So how do you actually sell books if you don’t spend big? When I was with Bitebook Publishing for my books We Ate All The Pies and The Meat Fix, they tried to sell my books by 1. sending out a press release, 2. Getting it in Waterstones 3. Err...that’s it. In fairness for The Meat Fix, they did pull in a favour and get a feature in the Daily Mail about me and the book. But then I got a further two national newspaper double page spreads and got onto the Steve Wright Show. That makes me three times better than them, I think.


No-one reads press releases and no-one buys books in Waterstones. Or rather, they do but not in great numbers and even then only from the front tables - tables which are rented out to publishers for a fee. Yes, tables in bookshops are real estate which the highest bidder can rent to try and get their books under people’s noses.


If you walk into a Waterstones there are upwards of 30-40,000 titles in there, possibly more. The one or two copies of your lovingly crafted book is little more than a spec of dust in the universe.


So what to do?


You need to avoid becoming dispirited because you’re going to need to keep pushing on, month after month, year after year. If you think you’re going to sell 200 copies and you sell 1,000 you’ll feel brilliant. If you sell 10,000 you’ll feel like a star. This is why adjusting your expectations downwards makes sense.


Secondly, it’s worth coming to terms with the fact that word of mouth is your biggest, most valuable marketing strategy. This makes sense, if you think about it. If your pal says “Hey I’ve just read John Nicholson’s new book, it’s great,” you’re much more likely to take notice of them than you are if you read a review by someone you’ve never heard of in the Guardian or wherever. We rightly trust our mates more than anonymous self-appointed arbiters of taste.


The trouble with word of mouth is that it’s quite slow and takes time to build and is a delicate flower which needs regular tending. This is why you need patience and not be easily frustrated.


I do think that these days social media has to be at the core of your publicity. Building an audience on Facebook and Twitter has been really important to me. The good thing about it is you can use it on your own terms and without leaving the house.


Personally, I like doing book events in libraries or shops, in fact I’m currently putting together a show which is more than just reading and a Q and A but something more broad and hopefully entertaining. They’re good for publicity & sales. But a lot of writers I know are, to say the least, not keen to get up in front of people and talk about their writing. Personally, I enjoy doing it and love meeting readers. But it’s not for everyone. These days you can use Facebook Live and conduct an interview or make an announcement to your audience from your own armchair.


Blog tours are increasingly popular. I have never done one, so have little idea what it involves, though would be happy to do so if someone would organise it for me.


But however you go about making people aware of your work, the only other suggestion I have is to do what you feel most comfortable and happy doing. There’s no point in making your life a misery forcing yourself into situations that you hate.


If I had my way, I’d pay a good PR company to get the word out about a new book and organise events. And that is what I’ll do when I feel it’s a good bet that it’ll increase sales over and above the additional cost.


Then I can get back to writing because, at the end of it all, I’m a writer, you’re a writer and all we writers really want to do, more than anything else, is write. Right?



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How To Cope With Selling Your Novel

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John Nicholson
John Nicholson
(United Kingdom)

I write the Nick Guymer & Artie Taylor novels. I also write about football and rock music and do comedy reviews for anyone who will pay me. Currently have 17 books published /John-Nicholson-Writer-636027459795029 /