Who doesn’t have a book idea these days? Startup founders, angel investors, and inventors galore have rolled out various titles over the years, including recent releases such as Things a Little Bird Told Me, by Twitter’s co-founder Biz Stone, and Invent It, Sell It, Bank It! by Shark Tank judge Lori Greiner.
But it’s not exactly as if the book-publishing industry has been a booming business of late: Sales, expected to reach $29 billion this year, have actually slipped 0.7 percent annually, on average, since 2009, according to data from the research firm IBISWorld.
Standing out in this cutthroat market isn’t easy. But here are five tips on how to bump up the sales of your title (whenever it actually gets published):
Press the flesh.
Well-known names such as Stone and Greiner have considerable brand recognition, with media launches that have included coverage in The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, and Forbes.
Most first-time or relatively unknown authors, though, should expect to pound the pavement to drum up interest for their title, because “if you’re not famous, selling a book is about pressing the flesh and speaking at conferences,” says Aaron Shapiro, the first-time author of Users, Not Customers and chief executive of Huge, a digital marketing agency. “The more you can get your book--and book’s ideas--out there, the more likely the word will spread.”
Blurbs on the outside, or inside, of a jacket can help pique a book browser’s interest. Rather than just soliciting anyone famous for a solid quote, however, some authors recommend finding reviewers who already know about your venture and can help broaden its appeal even more--and indirectly boost business that way.
This was the approach Andrew Yang, the founder of Venture for America, a program that exposes young grads to startups, took for his February release of Smart People Should Build Things. Yang reached into his network of contacts and managed to get endorsements from the chief executives of LinkedIn, Zappos, and the Case Foundation (not to mention Arianna Huffington, who released her own book, Thrive, in March).
“Everyone I approached for a quote had some relationship with the organization at a certain point--had supported or mentored or advised,” says Yang. “The book is very much an outgrowth of the work we’re doing in the organization.”
Join the club.
Getting your work selected for a book group can cause a spike--or, sometimes, a surge--in sales. Some of the most well-known groups (those run by Oprah and the Today show, for instance) have increased sales by upwards of 6,000 percent in the past, according to a paper released last year by Craig Garthwaite, an assistant management professor at Northwestern University. And the good news for serial writers is that sales of non-endorsed titles also climb when an author gets plugged by a top book club.
But be sure to pitch the right crowd. TED, which hosts inspiring talks around the world, hosts its own book club, with past selections that have included Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants and Tim Brown’s Change by Design. Sure, TED--and Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, for that matter--might be a tough market to crack. Yet smaller outfits could be more receptive, including cities that hold regular business reading groups or places like the MaRS Discovery District, which houses scientists, social entrepreneurs, and tech startups in Toronto and has hosted a startup book club.
How do you harness the theme of your book and translate that into a genius grassroots marketing campaign? That was the question Shapiro considered when he looked to publicize his work.
First, he posted Craigslist ads for former employees of Borders (the now defunct bookstore brand) and paid them to stand outside an old Borders store near Madison Square Garden in New York City. Here’s the twist: The workers then hawked copies of Shapiro’s book as they explained to passersby how their own company had failed to keep up with the online revolution and successfully transform within today’s digital economy--a key tenet in Shapiro’s Users, Not Customers. The sellers retained proceeds from the “thousands” of books they sold, Shapiro says, though he notes that the guerrilla-marketing tactic helped create broader interest in his title--and kept him speaking at numerous events.
Educate the masses.
Getting into bookstores--and garnering prime real estate on a shelf--is one tactic for educating people about your book. But don’t neglect to pitch yours, particularly if it’s a guide or offers a lot of lessons for learning, to the growing number of professors and universities that are teaching about entrepreneurship or startups. (Textbooks currently rake in the biggest portion of book-publishing sales--a full 28 percent, according to IBISWorld.)
That might mean asking a business partner or trusted adviser to make a much-needed introduction. That’s how the authors of Nail It Then Scale It got a university in Mexico interested in their book--along with an online course based on the book’s teachings--which will be offered to as many as 10,000 students this fall. Translating the text into Spanish (and soon: Chinese) for Amazon’s Kindle Store should also help expand sales into other markets.