Some neat discussion threads have been taking place on Facebook in regard to self-publishing and promotion (giving away books in exchange for reviews), and what motivates people to buy books in the first place (in terms of ads, word of mouth, attractive cover, etc.). While no one agreed on any one specific thing, I did see some patterns emerge:
First impressions: Namely, an attractive cover, title, and synopsis. There's even been some discussion lately about the impression an author's photo makes. People do, in fact, judge books by their covers, and I'm one of 'em. Or, at least, they make me pick a book up, read the synopsis, and open to the first page. If I'm not hooked by the second page, I'll move on to the next book.
As a self-published author, cover art is probably the thing I struggle w/ the most. Despite my one-time aspiration to be a graphic artist (w/ emphasis on packaging, believe it or not), I've lost the visual eye for such things, and I never learned the technology (in fact, the reason why I dropped out was because it became computerized, and I preferred getting my hands dirty w/ paints and pencils and paper). Also, I never included a photo w/ *Faking It* (couldn't get the formatting to work), and I don't know if that will hurt me.
Word-of-mouth: This was probably one of the most frequent answers. And this is good news, because it's the cheapest form of advertising and promotion there is. There's a trend called "viral marketing" whose purpose is to get everyone talking about the product. Social networking makes this easier than ever to do, so we self-published authors (and traditional, as well) live in good times.
I know that several *Faking It* owners are already passing the book around to their friends and families, and I'm totally fine w/ that. It's how books like Twilight got to be the sensations they are. Heck, I even remember, a long time ago, a book called *The Celestine Prophecy* that was being passed around like *The Secret* -- I didn't read it myself until about five years ago, and was surprised to find that it was quite poorly written and mediocre, at best. Then again, I'm not a huge fan of *The DaVinci Code*, either.
So, the trick, then, is to get the word out, or "put your name out there," as they say. Organize a blog tour. Participate in discussion forums. Schedule readings. Ask your friends to tell their friends. Twitter. And so on. And, this leads me to my next point:
Endorsements: Perhaps one of the most difficult things for an unknown writer to do is get her book into the hands of someone w/ more name recognition and inspire that person to offer an endorsement or recommendation of the book (better yet, if they do it w/out you even asking them to, you're golden!). Fans listen to their idols. Aaron Sorkin recommended an aspiring playright read Aristotle's Poetics (also known as *The Poetics*), and the playright ordered it from Amazon that same day (as did other forum readers, I'll bet -- even I have it on my summer reading list). And when Jennifer Weiner mentioned a specific book that she was reading on her Facebook page, it sparked a lot of chatter.
But have hope, readers; social networking makes this task a little less daunting, and if you've gotten your viral marketing-word-of-mouth campaign going, this is not such a longshot. Follow authors' Tweets and Facebook fan pages. Read their blogs and make comments. Mail them a copy of your book.
Finally, the most surprising response:
A review in People magazine.. I shit you not. Apparently, people has cornered the market on reliable book reviews in a way the The New York Times hasn't. I'm guessing People is targeting commerical fiction and nonfiction (I wouldn't know). What I might conclude is that reviews on sites like Amazon might also have some sway.
Above all, however, I cannot stress enough that first and foremost, you've got to have a manuscript that has been written and edited w/ care. The story, even before the cover and snazzy author photo, comes first. Because, as many readers shared, while the cover may entice a reader to pick the book up, it's the first sentence, or paragraph, or page that keeps that book from going back on the shelf. And you have to love your book more than anyone else. If you don't, neither will they. Love and nurture them like you do your children or your pets.
Good luck, writers. I feel validated once again that I'm on the right track, but I'm looking forward to putting more of these strategies in action, and I'll keep you posted of their outcomes. And please, if any of you have ideas for promotion, or have had success w/ a certain strategy, by all means, share!
Happy writing, reading, and selling, folks. :)