Selling Your Book to Readers — Part I

Today I am honored to have as a guest blogger Seymour Garte, PhD.  Dr. Garte is Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences of the Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, and a member of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute in Pittsburgh PA.  He is also the author of  Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of the Planet. Dr. Garte writes:

You’re still jumping up and down, the phone doesn’t stop ringing. Your agent has sold your book! After all the work writing, editing, rewriting, editing again, entering contests, sending queries, finally landing an agent, suffering through rejections, and being almost sold, the time has come. Your book is going to be published. You made it!!!

Well, actually, not really. Of course being published is wonderful. Only a small fraction of people who write get published. But that is a small fraction of a very, very large number. At any given time there are about 5 million books in press. So a lot of books are getting published. And now that you have joined the ranks of the elite, you are about to come face to face with an issue you might not have thought about much before. How to get your book sold. Not to an agent, not to a publisher, but to readers. Lots of readers. Readers who will buy your book.

Some people don’t care a lot about selling their book. The joy of seeing their baby on the store shelves is enough. But most writers like the idea of other people, strangers even, reading their words. And the phrases “best seller” “New York Times” “Oprah” etc. have a magical ring for most writers. Fame, glory and wealth are really bad reasons to want to be a writer, but . . . hey, if it happens, groovy.

So how do we sell our books to the public? There are two major players in getting a book sold, the publisher and the author. The author’s role is always crucial. Even well known, famous, best selling authors must spend lots of time and energy selling their books. And if you are not famous, and this is a first book, you will find yourself wishing for the easy relaxed days, when all you were thinking about was writing, editing, querying, and submitting.

The first thing to understand is that all attempts to sell a book come under one of two headings — marketing and publicity. Marketing is defined as anything that costs money, like advertising. Most publishers spend very little if any money on marketing new, first author books, so don’t count on a full page ad in the New York Times for your first book. The extent of the publisher’s investment in paid advertising will depend on how successful the publisher thinks the book will be. Since selling a book is expensive, publishers will only invest an amount of money they think they will get back. Of course this is often a self fulfilling prophesy, since the more publishers spend, the more books will be sold, but that does not always follow.

Publicity refers to free advertising, and this is where you will be spending all of your efforts. Publicity includes book reviews, interviews, book signings and readings, blogging, other online discussion of the book, web sites, and if you are lucky, news items or talk shows.

You will not be doing this alone. Publishers hire publicists, generally young, highly overworked people, who will be in charge of all the possible ways to get your book noticed. The first job of the publicist, which starts well before publication is getting the book reviewed. Many writers don’t realize that the vast majority of books are not reviewed. Getting anyone to agree to review a book is a major coup. Then if the review is good, that’s just gravy.

This timing of the review process is very important. No one will review a book published longer than 3 to 6 months ago. And it takes time for reviewers to read the book. This means that review copies need to be sent out to potential reviewers months before the publication date, so that the review can be out around the time of publication. Sometimes the publicist will send out galleys instead of a review copy, if the book has not actually been printed yet.

The period of two months before to three months after publication will be a whirlwind for you as an author. You will experience considerable pressure to complete galley proofing, and getting endorsement blurbs in, so that the book is ready for the press, and so that copies can be sent to reviewers. Delays in the printing and reviewing schedule are bad, because the publisher has already promised to ship printed books to Amazon, and the major bookstores, who could already have gotten advanced orders, and a delay means that they have to tell their customers to wait, which they hate to do. And publishers hate to get booksellers upset at them. All of which means your editor, your publicist and the marketing and sales departments will be calling and emailing you until you get it done. And I mean constantly.

So clear your schedule starting two months before publication. And while you’re at it, keep it clear for the 3 to 6 months also, because as your release date approaches, you are about to really get to work.  You will get to know your publicist very well during this period. I had on average about 15 emails a day from my publicist at the peak, and was on the phone with her at least twice a day. I could not imagine her life, since she was actually working on 10 books simultaneously.

So what does the publicist do, and what do you need to do to get your book sold? Selling Your Book to Readers — Part II discusses this for a non-fiction book based on my own experience, and on talking to publicists and others in the bizz.

Also by Dr. Seymour Garte:
Where We Stand on Selling Non-Fiction vs. Fiction
Selling Your Book to Readers — Part II

20 Responses to “Selling Your Book to Readers — Part I”

  1. amydetrempe Says:

    Thanks for the interesting and informative article. I am looking forward to Part II

  2. James Rafferty Says:


    Another good article. I look forward to part II.

  3. Pat S. Says:

    Excellent article, professor! And a topic few writers think about. How on earth does one manage to do all that while holding down a full-time “day” job, manage a family, and all the other real life things? Looking forward to the next post!

  4. eBookGuru Says:

    Excellent article, thanks for sharing that. I look forward to part II.


  5. ~Sia McKye~ Says:

    This is really good information Sy. I appreciate your stressing the work involved to the author. You’re correct, most writers have no idea the work involved on the author’s part to sell their books.

    Your article highlights the crucial timing involved and gives a good indication of the time an author has to block off prior to and after the book is published. A major time investment. I’ve often said that authors must be willing to invest as much effort in selling their books as they did writing them and your article shows the truth of that.

    I can’t imagine how insane it would be to try to do this all on your own as an author, yet you make a good point, that first time authors don’t get a lot of money for Marketing. I’m looking forward to what you have to say on publicity for a book–especially for a debut author.

  6. Judi Says:

    Anxiously awaiting part 2. And desperately trying to get the books finished before that 2-3 months before…

    and it’s already crazy!

  7. Sandy Says:

    Great article. It’s the promotion stuff that’s a killer. I’m e-published, and it’s like having a second job to promote your work.

  8. Lisa Says:

    I had no idea how exhausting promotion could be! I have been driving myself nuts, trying to find new ways to promote my work. Off to read #2….

  9. Joan De La Haye Says:

    Great article. Very informative. Thanks for sharing this.

    Joan De La Haye

  10. C. G. (Chris) Bauer Says:

    The Dr. is reminding us how important this aspect of publishing is. Once the thrill of the deal has worn off, novelists need to really get to work.

  11. Rita Schiano Says:

    Can someone please explain this statement: “No one will review a book published longer than 3 to 6 months ago”? I understand this is particularly true when it comes to fiction. Does this have to do with the 4 season cycle of the major publishers? Many a good book is kept hidden from the reading public because this arcane way of doing business.

  12. Jon Nichols Says:

    This was very well done. It’s a big wake up call to anyone like me who three years ago, didn’t know any of the realities of the marketing of your work.

  13. Theresa Says:

    Thank you, Dr. Garte- knowing when to start getting those reviews is important.

  14. joylene Says:

    Excellent article. Very informative. Dr. Garte, I self-published my suspense thriller in July and soon afterward it was picked up by a provincial bookstore. I’ve been doing newspaper and radio interviews. I’ve been fortunate to receive two dozen good reviews. I’ve done readings. I blog, guest blog, and host authors, and I’m scheduled for a virtual book tour soon.

    I realize my six month time has run out, and so I’ve been querying publishers for another book.

    It doesn’t feel as that’s enough. Is it too late to hire a publicist?

  15. Sy Says:

    The question of timing is much more important that I realized. Books, like fruit, seem to get stale with time. Of course there are exceptions for blockbusters and classics. But for most books, reviews are considered to be a form of news item, and therefore reviewers are not interested in reviewing a book that has been out for several months.

    Joylene, you could try contacting a publicist, but dont be surprised if they are reluctant to try to sell a book that has been out longer than 6 months, unless there is a special and timely hook (Like if the book is about the first African American First Lady for example). Also, if you find one that will take this on, be careful that you will really get what you are paying for, and insist on some guarantees.

  16. Pat Bertram Says:

    Sy, thank you for hosting such a wonderful event. I hope your book never goes stale!

  17. Mona Malhotra Says:

    Hi! am working on a book of poems – any help there? Thanks.

  18. christinehusom Says:

    Very informative article. I have a great deal to learn about promoting and had no idea about the 3-6 month post publishing time frame. Thanks for all the info, professor!

  19. kat magendie Says:

    Excellent post – I’m about to get to know some of this first hand! *gulp*

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