Saturday, February 22, 2014

Thinking about what sells a book

Six+ years ago, in January, 2008, my first novel came out.

There was no twitter.

Facebook may have been around, I'm not sure, but most people I knew weren't on it yet.

MySpace was going strong, and I did have a page there and tried to connect with people. I know Lisa McMann was incredibly successful in connecting with teens there and getting them excited about her WAKE trilogy when it came out.

Book blogging was really starting to be a thing. I did connect with some book bloggers, but I'm 99% sure my first YA novel didn't have an official "tour" or anything.

Blogging was popular at the time. I had a blog over at livejournal (which still exists because so many comments from my friend Lisa, who passed away three years ago, are there, and I love them. I can't delete them. I just can't. It's like a part of her still exists there. Though I should probably delete it because holy crap, talk about over-sharing.) ANYWAY, a bunch of us who were writers followed each other and had a lot of fun within our tight-knit community. Most of us started our blogs before we were published. So our posts were about personal things or about our writing struggles or about the bumpy road to publication. I loved it. There was no promotion. Just bad news or good news and all the stuff in between. Until things changed. Until everyone started getting book deals.

Here are some things I remember regarding the YA market leading up to my first YA novel coming out.

* I clearly remember the buzz around TWILIGHT before and after it hit the shelves in 2005.

* I remember the buzz around Melissa Marr's WICKED LOVELY series, which sold in 2006, I believe (it came out in 2008).

* I remember reading LOOKING FOR ALASKA while on vacation at Sunriver in 2005. I loved it and I was so excited when it won the Printz in January, 2006. It didn't have a lot of buzz. I only knew about it because his editor was Julie Strauss-Gabel, and she was an editor I admired and kind of kept my eye on.

* I remember it was around the release of the second book of TWILIGHT that bookstores started making a space just for YA novels and moved them out of the children's section. Wow.

* I remember not having a clue as to what to do to promote my book (this is still mostly true, by the way). I joined the class of 2K8. I got a web site going. I kept blogging. And that was about it.

When I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME came out, I remember checking Amazon at one point and I was *shocked* the Amazon ranking was below 10,000. I could not believe it. Even though we don't really know what the numbers actually mean in terms of how many copies sold, I think most people know what's good, great, fantastic, bestseller territory, etc. Anything below 10,000 is good, especially for a debut author.

I'm not sure any of my other books, except for maybe one of my middle-grade novels, dropped down that low.

My editor came back from vacation toward the end of January, and when we talked on the phone, he said, "All I've heard since I've been back is how well I HEART YOU is selling."

I did very little promotion of the book. I didn't have any big name blurb. It got a couple of okay reviews, but nothing spectacular. But here are a couple of things that I believe helped it to sell:

1) The title and the concept combined with the amazing cover. You never know for sure what's going
image credit:
to work and it all just worked.

2) It was the kind of book people read and talked about. What is that kind of book, exactly? No one really knows. If we did, we'd all be writing it. I've said it before and I'll say it again - word of mouth is the BEST kind of marketing there is. If you love an author, talking about his/her books is the number one thing you can do to support that author. And for all of the people who have talked about my books over the years - thank you!!

Okay, one more thing helped it to sell.
3) Luck. Right place, right time, simple as that. I think sometimes we underestimate this element.

So, what other things help to sell books? Support from the publisher and bookstores, of course. Lead titles are at a huge advantage because of the push they get from the publisher. Nothing can beat that, really.

I've been thinking about all of this in regards to twitter and how it really varies as to how much authors tweet about their books. Some tweet very little. Others tweet all the time.

A year or two ago I asked on twitter if people got excited about a book release when an author was excited about a book release. A lot of people said yes. It made them excited when the author was excited. There were a few of us who kind of went - uh oh. Because for many of us, a book release is mostly anxiety producing, and it's hard to be excited when we sort of just want to crawl inside a hole. I've decided when there is something to be excited about, I need to not hold back. Be excited and let others see that, because people DO like to see genuine happiness/excitement.

But can there be too much, is the question I've been pondering? I tend to think yes.

Personally, I think the 80/20 rule is a good one to follow. That is - only about 20% of tweets or posts on facebook or instagram or wherever should be book/promotion-related. More than that, and you run the risk of being annoying. You also may look desperate. Those two things do not sell books.

The biggest change from the year 2008 to the year 2014 is not where people talk about books or how we connect with each other or any of that. No, the biggest change is how many more YA novels simply exist now. A LOT!!! It is much harder to get noticed in today's market. Of course, we also have a gazillion more books to choose from to read, which is pretty sweet, right?


  1. It's interesting because I have a book coming out in a month AND I have a freelance writing business where I spend 50+ hours a week writing content for marketing firms, businesses, small business owners, etc. Much of my time is spent advising businesses how to do content marketing (basically, blogs!) and social media marketing to get exposure. And the #1 thing I find in doing research to write those articles is that the best thing you can do to promote a business is to build a following that isn't direct marketing. Establish yourself as an authority--resonate with your customers. If you're a plumber, post plumbing tips. If you're a computer technician, post computer fixing tips.

    Not sure how that translates to writing! Just putting it out there. I've been on Twitter a while and most of the marketing posts don't get my attention. Your post got my attention, though, and your nice covers on the left caught my eye as I was reading. Readers/social media users are inherently selfish. They want to know "what's in this for me?" If you give them something that will help them somehow, they'll pay attention...and THEN they'll read your book because you got their attention. I've already read most of your books--why? The first one, I read because your cover was kick-butt! From there, I bought more because you're talented. I think your book showed up as a recommendation on Amazon after I read a book like that's a huge marketing tool. But the cover still sells it, even in a world where we load books onto our Kindles and rarely set foot in a bookstore. Interesting how that works...

    1. Stephanie - thanks for your thoughtful comment! I think you're right about social media users being selfish. I've always believed that to get and keep followers you either need to be 1) helpful and/or 2) entertaining. It's not necessarily easy, but in the long run, people appreciate those qualities. Do they equate to book sales? Who knows. But personally, I'd rather be helpful than annoying. :)

      Good luck with your release!!

    2. I forgot to that your post gave me a huge sigh of relief. I wondered if I was the only author to look at an upcoming release and have zero idea what to do. There are plenty of books/workshops on trying to become a published author, but not too many on what happens after you actually get that contract! Most promotional how-to articles and workshops are geared toward self-published authors. As another soon-to-be-published author recently said, there's only so much you can do to "move the needle." In the end, it comes down to writing a really good book that resonates with the reader. You definitely have that part covered!

  2. I LOVED the LiveJournal community! It was one of my favorite things to take part in. I have to admit, I miss the camaraderie of LJ. It was a lot easier to make friends, and keep up with them.

    As always, another great post, Lisa!

    1. Thanks for reading, Jenn. And, sniff sniff, I miss it too!

  3. That's true--Your books are amazing, and I'm sure it was the first cupcake one!

  4. Interesting to think about how quickly this world has changed!