THE BLOG
12/10/2013 10:14 am ET Updated Feb 09, 2014

5 Steps to Grassroots Marketing

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How Is This Useful?

Like it or not, the networks you create are the foundation for getting your book noticed. No networks, and your book simply... exists. I know this from experience.

Flashback to two years ago when I self-published my first book, HUNK?, online using standard advertising. I spent many hours designing the cover, copy, and posters to paste up around Manhattan. I figured New York was big enough, and curious enough, for posters to promote interest and sales. I got some small traction, but nothing significant. Like many aspiring authors before me, I thought: “How can this be? I’ve poured my heart and soul into creating something, and no cares?” It’s since occurred to me that the problem wasn’t my book’s quality, but it’s promotion.

So, for my second book, The Christmas Department, I decided to take an approach that matches the story’s message, and better utilizes all of the marketing channels out there. The Christmas Department tells of a young man’s struggle to bring joy back to his hometown. The story’s “local is better” moral made me think about how I can work with my own community, metropolitan as it may be. It took some hard work, and stepping outside my comfort zone, but after speaking with local booksellers--in-store, by phone and email--my book can now be found in St. Marks Bookshop, St. Agnes Bookstore, Greenlight Bookstore, & McNally Jackson.

My network has grown to include some truly great people and places.

The Steps:


Step 1: Research!

It’s not just for botanists anymore; it’s important. Go to your favorite maps application and find all the bookstores within easy traveling distance. Look at each store and ask yourself: Is it right for my book? Some stores only carry used books, or art books, or travel books, or travel books that are also very expensive art books (I won’t be making that mistake again). Be prepared to walk... a lot. I visited twenty bookstores over the course of three days. The next store always seemed ten blocks. On the plus side, the exercise will raise your adrenaline, and add to your sense of accomplishment.

Step 2: Presentation

Plan out what you want to say for each place. Unless you’re a trained salesman, you’ll probably be ridiculously nervous. I know I was. Just remember how lucky you are to be sharing a project you love. It’s a privilege to have this kind of opportunity and seize it. Also, be prepared. I carried a notecard that answered these 5 questions:

  1. What is the book about? (In one or two sentences)
  2. Who is it for? (Describe the audience. Are they children under 10? Young adults? Grandparents? Shire dwellers?)
  3. What discount are you providing? (Offer them a good markup)
  4. What exclusivity can you offer them? In my case, The Christmas Department is only being distributed to local bookstores. The store isn’t competing on price with Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Based on core insight into shopper behavior, a lot of online shoppers look for books in stores before buying online. Read here.
  5. Are you available for events? (Yes! Yes I am!)

What make brick-and-mortar stores so special are their opportunities for events.  Readings and signings enable you to connect with readers on a personal level.

WARNING: You’re not a robot. Don’t get so caught up in talking points that you ignore the flow of conversation. Show your humanity! (Raise hands to the sky) At heart, you are two booklovers trying to help each other. Gush over the writing process, swap recommendations, and find common ground.

Step 3: Don’t be discouraged

The first person you speak to may not be the book buyer/owner/manager/Pagemaster. The first person may tell you the person you seek “prefers to be emailed,” or “is only in on certain days.” If that’s the case, ask her if you can leave a book sample. If “yes,” do. If “no,” get the buyer’s business card and go back two spaces. You will have to work harder to make contact--but keep trying. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Step 4: The Follow-up

Email the samples you didn’t hand out, and call each buyer in two days time.  Once on the phone, ask what she thought of the sample. There are three possible responses:

  • She “Didn’t look at it yet”: Leave her your name and number, and ask her to give you call after she’s looked at it. If you don’t hear back in another two days, call her again. Mind your manners.
  • She “Didn’t think it’s right for [them]”: Thank her for her time, and hang up. Do not... I repeat... do not buy her store and burn it to the ground for the insurance money.
  • She “liked it”: Put your checkbook away, and tell her you’d love to drop off x number of books. She might not buy as many as you suggest, but the book’s inevitable success will bring repeat business. Congratulations!

Step 5: Combine Social Media Forces

Tell Everyone!

Good Luck!