What I've learned (so far) about book publishing

solMy book The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family was published by Chiara Press on May 15th of 2011. In other words, for the first time the book was available to an audience beyond my family and the circle of friends who gave me support and feedback throughout the writing process. That realization was a little scary, because I figured that strangers had no motivation to be unduly nice to me!

I decided months ago that I would have to be responsible for my own marketing campaign. No one cared more than I did about my book and no one was motivated more strongly to help my book find its audience. I was also aware that the book publishing world is now changing more rapidly than at any time in the last 500 years. New technologies that didn’t exist a few years ago are transforming how books get published, marketed, and even how they are read. So I figured any plan I made would be outmoded by the time I started implementing it.

My decision was to skate on the ice of the changing world of publishing. I would do everything I could think of to take advantage of the most current and cutting-edge methods available. So here is a list of the strategies I’ve used:

  • Created a website for the book ‚Äì www.swordofthelordbook.com ‚Äì where I could publish marketing collateral, photographs from the book, background information, reviews, excerpts, audiobook samples, and where I could sell copies of the book.
  • Created a blog ‚Äì www.andrewhimes.net ‚Äì to publish stories, thoughts, reflections, book excerpts, videos, and announcements. Began blogging regularly on HuffingtonPost.com, have written a few guest blogs for other bloggers, and have participated in several interviews by bloggers, local and national radio programs, and a community TV station.
  • Created a YouTube channel ‚Äì www.youtube.com/andrewhimes -- and then produced and published over 20 short (2-minute) videos of me telling stories from the book. Odyssey Networks created a book trailer for their ‚ÄúON Books‚Äù channel -- www.odysseynetworks.org -- to publish through their smartphone app.
  • Created a Facebook page for the book -- www.facebook.com/swordofthelordbook -- and another Facebook page for myself as an author www.facebook.com/andrewhimes2  -- to market the book and myself, and to gather fans and readers; linked the Facebook pages to my web sites for real-time updates between the two sides.
  • Created a Twitter account ‚Äì www.twitter.com/#!/andrewhimes1 -- and linked it to my blog so all blogposts would be automatically tweeted.
  • Sent out a weekly email newsletter to my list of a couple thousand contacts I have collected over the years in my personal address book.
  • Made the book available as a digital e-book for several different e-reader platforms, including Kindle, Nook, IPad, Google, Sony, and Adobe. Created and uploaded videos and other content to my author page on amazon.com.
  • Budgeted money for a few hundred copies of my book to be given out to bloggers, authors, and other influential people in order to get some buzz going from people who would actually read the book and write about it.
  • Organized an event for the release of the book on May 15th, where I spoke at Town Hall Seattle for a live audience of 150 and an online audience of a few hundred via live-streamed video on the web.
  • Organized a campaign for people to join together and buy the book on www.amazon.com on May15-16 in order to catapult the book to greater prominence. Several hundred copies were sold and the book achieved a daily sales ranking of 800 out of 8 million.

The results of the campaign have so far been good, and the effort worthwhile. Most significantly, as of May 2012 the Amazon web site has seen 90 people post reader reviews, and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive ‚Äì an average of 4.5 stars out of 5. Book reviews have appeared on 51 individual blog sites, and these also are overwhelmingly positive.  A sizable group of my own friends and family members have bought and read the book and have told other people about it. A number of prominent and influential Christian leaders have read the book and responded positively. A certain amount of positive buzz has been created on various religious and spiritual online communities, bulletin boards, and group blogs, and this has all led to some sales -- still small in number but nonethless impressive for a book by an unknown author, and more in sales than 99 out of 100 books that will be released  this year (admittedly a low bar).

I still have a lot of work to do, but I think I’ve laid the basis for some future breakthroughs. Over the next year, I expect the book will begin to attract public endorsements from Christian leaders, begin to be reviewed in more prominent publications, and start to sell more copies as more people read the book and begin to recommend it to their friends. I am hoping that a multiplier effect will start to kick in at some point.

Here are some key lessons I have learned over the past six months:

  • Writing the book was only the opening phase of a fascinating dialogue with many people about the topics, issues, and stories told in the book. I started to learn a lot more about the subject of my book after the book was published, from its readers.
  • Planning to market a book has to be mainly short-term and tactical. You have to try lots of things and talk to lots of people because you don‚Äôt know in advance what tactic or connection might work.
  • Successful marketing is not about pushing book sales. Instead, successful marketing is driven by creating partners and relationships.  It is a lot more interesting to make a new friend and have a great conversation than to just be focused on selling books. Fortunately, the best way to sell books is to make new friends and deepen old friendships.
  • The best things that have happened have been surprises. It is amazing to me how many people have their own fascinating stories that relate to, parallel, intersect with, deepen, or extend my own story. Writing a book is more like opening a conversation than making a speech.