Whose Job is It to Sell a Book

12 Apr

Many authors arrive in the publishing world with a preconception that their job will be done when they sign off on the final version of the manuscript and the book is finally printed. Most find that they are quite wrong in this assumption.

The job of selling has traditionally belonged to booksellers. After all, that’s their job description: Book. Sellers.

And as writers, we like to think that publishers are going to take on the more mysterious job of “marketing” the book. Which is another word for “selling”, though it doesn’t usually involve a transaction. The function of marketing is to find the potential buyer of a book and then to illuminate the reason they should actually make the purchase. So in this way, marketing is selling… giving people a reason to buy.

There has been a great deal of talk about how (most) writers now bear most of the responsibility of marketing their books. I don’t think that this is a new thing, however much we’d like to harken back to a golden age when all writers did was write.

The fact is, writers have always been responsible for selling their books. First, they must “sell” the book to an agent (or perhaps directly to the publisher, if a small house, or back in the “olden days” when publishers accepted unagented submissions). This was the first sell, and it has always been the writer’s responsibility to sell the book to the industry (even famous writers have to sell their books: their fame is what they use to sell them!).

But it doesn’t stop there. Once she has agreed to represent the book, the agent literally has to sell the book to a publisher, which generally means an editor needs to be persuaded to champion the book, and sell it to his publishing house.

Now that the book has found a publisher, the book must be refined, cover art designed, a release date chosen… other aspects that go into selling the book to… you guessed it: book sellers. And now that the bookseller has it? Whose responsibility is it to sell the book to that eager reader who will love this book, once they know it exists? The bookseller? The publishing house? The editor? The agent? The writer?

Yeah, you guessed it. All of them. And while self publishing is changing the landscape of this industry, who wouldn’t want a team of passionately devoted, intelligent, informed believers in her book to stand behind it and sell it? And for the self publisher… take a note: You’ll need to build a team of sellers to compete.

I think what many writers fail to realize is that when they strive to have their books published, they have entered the publishing industry. For better or for worse, regardless of its history or future. Writers need to learn how this industry works, and how to make it work to their advantage. I think smart writers have always done this, brining in additional marketing muscle when the publisher is unable to do so.

So the writer starts by selling the book, and once the book hits the stores, the writer and his team are once again out there, using whatever media is available, social or traditional, to sell this book with the end result that the book is purchased and enjoyed by the reader… who at the end of the day, is the most important seller of all.

Social media has made the role of the reader/recommender of books more immediate and more potent. My advice is to start building a team, make sure they collaborate effectively with one (sales oriented) goal in mind: to make the reader into the book’s chief seller.

That’s where I come in… innovating the use of social media to engage readers and make them champions of the books they love. Let me know if you’d like me on your team!



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