I have been asked: “How do you sell your books?” It’s not a question but a challenge. There is no real sense in self-publishing if all that will happen is the books languish in your basement or garage. Having done the dirty deed of spending hard earned money to produce an obscure book from an unknown author, the challenge is how does the author get rid of the book?
My first 2 books were non-fiction books on the Holocaust; mystery stories that defy logic. The idea was to write about the Holocaust but not of the Holocaust – about people. In this case, children. Who were my audience? I thought it would be adults. I was partly right. It was everyone. I learned this when a school teacher having read one of the books wanted to know if I would talk to her class about the Holocaust by telling them my stories.
My third book was a children's fully illustrated hard cover book on the Holocaust using metaphors. The three books have made me a yearly attraction with elementary and secondary schools in the GTA and parts north. I receive calls to participate in either writing programs or to relate stories from the Holocaust. I'm dealing with children and as such do not attempt to sell my books. My fee is that the school library must purchase all my books so that the children can read without cost to them. This has on a number of occasions resulted in orders coming from the school for my books because several of the students want to buy one or more. I have had some schools buy as many as 20 copies and made the book a part of the curriculum. I am not referring to Jewish schools but to schools that have a predominantly non-Jewish population. The attraction for buying the books is that they are about children. When I receive a repeat request from a school that has all my books, I participate in a class session for free and this, too results in books being purchased.
So I am marketing to children who go home and tell their parents about me. This connects me with adults. I have received many, many letters from children telling me about the impact of my stories. This had to have carried over to the parents. In some cases I have received orders for the other books I've written. Since two of my books are murder mysteries, I have to assume it's for the parents. I have also been told by the librarians that after I leave, all my books are ‘out’ for a good month until the excitement of my storytelling has been momentarily forgotten. The students want to know how a story ends. I never reveal the ending. They are forced to go to the library to find an answer.
Marketing is necessary to make ones self known. The most successful and least expensive method of advertising is word of mouth. Word of mouth can only be accomplished if the author is seen and heard. Reading only works in a group. A single person complimenting a novel generally tells maybe one or two people. A group tells two times the number of people in the audience.
I spoke on the writing game at OISE College for two years. This has resulted in the teacher-student calling me after they are employed at a school to ask me to come to their school and talk about writing. Word of mouth leads to speaking at Reading Groups. I avoid book stores.
READING GROUPS and SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS
I canvass neighbourhood newspapers for reading groups and send a professional brochure and detailed resume. I emphasis professional brochure because if it is home-made and is unattractive, it can be interpreted as an indication of the speaker. This is not the time to think poor. I send my brochure and resume to non-profit organizations, churches and synagogues informing them of my background and ask if they would like to have me as a speaker.
I used to charge for my services. Anywhere from $50 to $250 depending on the location. I don't charge any more but stipulate that I be allowed to sell my books at the end of meeting. If I have more than 25 in attendance I will sell about $150. Over 40 – more than $250. Over 65 – $400. I have had more than 100 such speaking engagements since 1998. Do this enough times and word of mouth replaces cold calls. Do this enough times and sales average over $8,000 a year.
The reason I avoid book stores is that it's a hit and miss situations. I have done this more than a dozen times in INDIGO/CHAPTERS. The worse was 1 book for 8% royalty. The best – 12 books and I had to wait 6 months for KP to pay my royalties. Before the new system, I would consign books myself (self-published) to INDIGO and bill them after my speaking engagement. They would pay me direct. Since they took 45%, what was left for me wasn't worth the effort and there was no long term benefits other than I could say I spoke at INDIGO.
When people asked where they could find me, I gave them my web site: alvinabram.ca – never my personal address.
I asked KP if they would finance a mid-western book tour. I had 2 inquiries: Saskatoon and Calgary to come out and do a reading and be interviewed. They said it wasn't practical. I needed more engagements. I made calls to other organizations that knew me and called KP and said that I now had Edmonton and Regina booked. KP said it wasn't in the budget.
I decided to make my own tour. I bought 100 books from KP at 40% off, packaged them into 4 lots and mailed them to mail drops in the 4 cities. I arranged an 8 day tour using my air miles and hired a publicist in Regina where I was staying for 3 days. By the time I returned, I sold all my books and grossed $1,100. It cost me $300 for the publicist. I stayed in a hotel twice for 2 days. Two cities I was housed by the host. I was on TV, Cable, interviewed by 4 newspapers, spoke at 6 groups, 2 schools, signed books at 2 stores and met some terrific people. I returned exhausted and with money in my pocket.
Since then I have hired publicists for my last 3 books. It costs $1,500 for 30 days. I've been on TV in London, Hamilton, Kingston, Montreal and Toronto. Been interviewed on radio more than a dozen times from several cities in Ontario from my office. I've been interviewed via e-mail and appeared in newspapers in Canada and U.S. I could have gone to Ottawa and Windsor for TV interviews but work got in the way. I've appeared on Mystery TV 3 times; twice because of CW and once by personal contact. London TV has asked me back. All because I was introduced to the media by a publicist.
FREE BOOKS MAKE MONEY
Another way I make money is I give my books away to the libraries. I walk into a library, introduce myself by asking the librarian to call up a book of mine on screen and then smile and say – that's me.
Are you aware that a book taken out in a library, results in money for you? I received a cheque for $278.80 the first year from the Public Lending Right Commission. The following year, I received $356.04. Two years ago, $538.75 and this year almost the same amount. I've sent my books to Winnipeg and Ottawa. I keep them in my car so that when I pass a large library I can go in and make them an offer they can't refuse – I hope.
Marketing is using your initiative. Even when published by a traditional publisher, the onus still is still on the author to promote their book. The only one who will put themselves out for you is you. Something to think about.