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The Business of Selling Books

March 29, 2010

This week, the Wicked Writers are getting a free pass to blog about anything we’d like. My topic of choice is selling books versus writing books. I believe it’s possible for an author to do both, but more and more I run into writers who write purely for the love of writing and question my approach.

Let me start by saying there is nothing wrong with their way. And thankfully, there are a tremendous amount of platforms today for such writers. I do not fall into that category. I don’t have a burning desire to have my name in print for bragging rights at my next high school reunion. Hell, I won’t even see my real name in print but a pen name.

I have a desire to succeed at this business and make money at it. I want to sell books and lots of them, but where does one start? You can’t just wish these sales into existence.  You must have a plan—a detailed one on what to do and how to achieve your goals. I’ve recently mapped out a marketing plan, but the more I study the market, the more I realize my plan will have to evolve even more over time.

As in any business venture, you must approach things carefully and examine things from all angles. Good ideas on paper may turn out to backfire and bite you in the butt because of public perception. And what do you do then? You pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. No one buys your book because you sell it well. Those are the purchasers who return your book because it was all hype and poorly written.

You must always start with craft and good storytelling. If you can create a story that pulls the reader in and helps to suspend reality, if even for only a few hours, then you have a product worthy of being sold. And that means really and truly working hard to sell it.

Blogs, blog tours, twittering, fan pages, web sites, book tours, author interviews, book reviews—these are only the tip of the iceberg. The sheer work involved with selling will likely daunt and turn away even the staunchest in the industry. After all, with the time you must devote to it, when do you have time to write?

It’s a balancing act and one I’m still currently trying to learn. My background in sales and marketing gives me an advantage—but that’s like saying someone who sold cars for ten years can now sell life insurance. A good salesman learns to specialize in the industry and in the product they are selling prior to ever making that first sale.

There are a few “sharks” that industry-hop, who do exactly what I described above. But a savvy purchaser knows the difference. They can see past the charm and blinding smile and realize that this sap can’t advise on what policy works best for their family’s needs and they need to find a rep that can.

The best in any industry starts from the bottom and moves up the ranks. So that’s where I am. I’m a new writer who has been a reader her whole life. I love books and I love to read. I don’t shop a lot and don’t own a bunch of fancy shoes—my sole vice is buying books.

I started as a book consumer and have been a voracious one for years. I started to write when I saw a lack in my favorite genre. Knowing next to nothing about writing, I didn’t know writing in present tense was almost taboo among my peers. I didn’t switch it to past tense because frankly, I didn’t know enough about writing to do it well.

Now, I’ve learned more. I’ve finished my book. I’ve developed a loyal following among readers and I’ve acquired an agent. From the outside looking in, it may seem like I’ve been lucky and this has all come together quickly. Eight to ten hours a day of work with no pay is not lucky. I’m starting at the very bottom, learning as much as I can, making mistakes along the way and determined not to make them again.

I intend to learn enough about this industry to sell well and succeed. Does that mean I won’t fall a few times? No. I’m sure I will. But anything in life worth having doesn’t come easy. The pros just make it look like it does.

How many of you out there have an interest in the path I’ve taken and in the one I plan to take in the future? How many of you would like me to write a detailed, step-by-step primer on what I’ve done to see if it’s useful to your own journey? Let me know. If there is enough interest, perhaps I can do a special supplement and post it here.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. helena gardella permalink
    March 29, 2010 7:56 am

    It’s great info CJ. I love how you are constantly reiterating that it is hard work and lots of perseverance. You fall, you got get right back up and try again. It’s great inspiration. I’m not sure I would ever get up the courage to actually write some of my great story ideas down other than the first couple chapters I’ve started with each, but you always make me think twice about it. My main passion is not in the writing, but the reading and copy editing. I love reading, but when I see mistakes, it always brings me out of the story a little bit. I understand that some of that is the machine printing, but some of it is just the copy editors missing something. So it bugs me a little, but I still manage to get into the story again if it is good.

    I too am a book shopper. I would buy books for me or my daughter, over a new bra or pair of sneakers for myself. If I go without buyig books for awhile, I go through withdrawal, and get a little cranky. But then I buy just one book and my mood suddenly lifts.

    Thanks for the great advice again.

    • March 29, 2010 9:44 am

      Yikes, sorry if I’m getting repetitive 😉 You’ve got to write those ideas down, Helena! Get yourself a tiny little notebook and save it for ideas only. Not a grocery list or a spur of the moment to-do list, but a spot just for your story concepts. I’m repeating myself here b/c it’s important!

      Then one day when you’re ready you will have all those ideas at hand.

      If you want to copy edit as a hobby I know a bunch of writers who would fawn all over you and send chocolates. Let me know what you want to read and I can steer them your way. You’re a valuable commodity, trust me! And no, I don’t think any of the mistakes you spot are machine error, you are being kind.

      I look at it differently now that I’ve written a book. A dozen mistakes out of 90,000 words isn’t that bad, overall (.000013 error rate?!?). At least from my perspective as a non-editor type. But for others it’s correctable and shouldn’t be there and I can see that.

      • March 29, 2010 12:35 pm

        I have to agree with C.J. on everything, Helena, but mostly on writing down all your ideas. It’s not only smart, but therapeutic. And, anyone who is a good editor and can spot the mistakes is amazing to me. I’ve been writing for years and am still the queen of typos and grammar mistakes. I get so wrapped up and emotional about what I’m writing, that I glaze over that part. Editors are invaluable!

  2. March 29, 2010 1:03 pm

    When I hear of a writer’s early success, too often outsiders try to say it’s luck. I’m sure you’re experiencing some of that. But your post really dispels that. No matter what the industry, the speed of your success is based on your willingness to jump in and fall on your face, then pick yourself back up and try again with your new knowledge. Belief in yourself is everything! You can’t sit back and wait for your success to just happen, or expect your agent and publisher to control your destiny. But that seems to be the attitude of a lot of author. Maybe it just makes it easier to blame their failures on someone else.

    • March 29, 2010 1:23 pm

      Thanks, Wendy. It means a lot to me to hear you say that. I’m glad you’re not one of the ones who thinks I’m just “lucky.”

  3. Helena Gardella permalink
    March 29, 2010 1:05 pm

    No CJ don’t be sorry. The repetitiveness is a great thing. Potentials need to hear it over and over again. Especially if we miss a few posts:-). Thank-you for the great ideas guys. I do half dozen stories started, but I never finish them. I think partly because I’m lazy and I’d rather be reading the book, than writing it. I say lazy, because I have trouble writing the details. I know what everybody and all the places look like in my head, put them to paper isn’t the easiest. I wish my ideas can go straight from my had write to the paper. Then I’ll fine tune and correct afterwards. But of course if wishes were dollars…

    I would love to edit for people. Although I can’t guarantee turn around time, unless they set a deadline. I’m good with deadlines. I do have a full time job that goes into over time from about June to November. And I usually try to make my family priority (which is why deadlines are good.) I’ll probably be more flexible when my daughter becomes a pre-teen (a couple more years at least, I hope.) They wouldn’t have to pay in chocolates. I probably shouldn’t have them anyway since I’m hypoglycemic. (Although white chocolate I can never resist.) I guess word of mouth and recognition would be good, so that maybe one day I can charge and start doing it full time. Any stories would do. I like just about everything.

    Thank-you for all your help guys.

    • March 29, 2010 1:29 pm

      Helena – if your dream is to write, then you should never give up. What you’re describing about getting the details down from your head are exactly the same challenges every writer faces.

      I’ve recently found an incredible new site that a friend of mine is a founder of: It has a $30 yearly membership fee, but what it offers in workshops and instruction for new and aspiring authors is comparable to what you’d find at any large nationwide writing guild, and yet they are more affordable and easily accessible.

      Check it out when you can and in the interim I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for white chocolate for you. 😉

  4. Helena Gardella permalink
    March 29, 2010 2:37 pm

    Thank-you CJ. I looked through a little here at work (can’t do too much here:-). The workshops and everything look very instructional and helpful with hands-on experience. Hopefully I’ll get to look more into it soon.

    Thank-you again, you guys are great with your own helpfulness on your sites.

  5. Harley D. Palmer permalink*
    March 29, 2010 8:34 pm

    Great post CJ! Very positive and I don’t think you’re just lucky. I can see the emotion in your words and how much you love what you do – and how hard to have worked to get there! You’re lucky I guess that you are such a positive type of person that doesn’t give up. Not many people can do that as easily (or so it seems) as you can! That is such a valuable asset to have as a writer and it inspires me to keep at it too!

    Helena – I agree with CJ and Wendy. Write down those ideas! Even if you aren’t ready to write them in total, at least get the idea down so that later you don’t forget. I have three notebooks – one in my purse, one on my desk, and one next to my bed. So no matter where I am, I always have a place to write down some inspiration!

    And, if I may self plug myself here – I run The Writer’s Academy. Right now, you’d have to become a member of Writing.Com before joining, but I am working on building it to it’s own site right now. You are more than welcome to join us there! I run the novel classes and I’d be honored to help you with anything you need with writing your novel! Just keep trying and keep learning — to me, it’s when you stop learning that you fail.

    • March 29, 2010 8:49 pm

      Thanks so much, Harley. Sometimes I let the turkeys get me down, but in a day or so I’m back to my old self.

      Hope you can help Helena out to, and thank you for offering!


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