Ways to Grow Your Author Business Offline
Modern author lifestyles rarely resemble what the average person sees in movies. For a start, hand-writing manuscripts is a dying art. These days, most people use a computer, tablet or phone. Marketing is primarily done digitally, too. Book signings aren’t as common as they were 20 years ago. And YouTube, Facebook Live and, more recently, Zoom, have largely replaced public speaking.
Many authors might miss the “good old days” of book signings, big advances and books published exclusively in print, but the publishing industry has changed. Surviving as an author without a slick online marketing strategy is impossible. Or at least, that’s what most experts agree.
But is it actually true?
According to the Global Web Index, 19% of the consumers interviewed in 2018 were attempting a total digital detox. A further 51% were on a digital diet, cutting back on screen-time. The pandemic would have made a detox more difficult. However, Laurence C. Smith, an environment and society professor, notes in Scientific American “a tenfold surge” in the number of people choosing to walk during lockdown. Although an anecdote, this statement resonates as a truth we all suspect: many people are fed up with the internet. They want to meet friends “IRL”, attend physical events, shop in stores and make connections that don’t require a router.
Some readers want to browse bookshops, attend talks and get copies signed by writers. There is a demand for authors who primarily conduct their business in the real world. Indeed, many have thrived for years using real-world methods and will continue to do so after the pandemic. Mastering online advertising is often a faster way to “make it” as a modern author, and combining offline with online methods will make getting there easier, but the digital path isn’t the only way. Read on for tips to grow your author business without relying primarily on technology.
Create More Products
Hundreds of authors have credited their healthy and stable incomes to their large backlists of titles. When you self-publish and have an audience that primarily reads e-books, you can easily see a backlist’s impact, watching readers working through a series shortly after you promote on book one. The effect is obvious and it’s reflected in your earnings. And while the real world isn’t subject to the forces of internet recommendations and targeting, publishing more books can help you succeed there too. Only, the focus isn’t exclusively on writing long series in one genre.
In physical appearances and signings, having a range of books in different series can work to your advantage. There is no targeting algorithm that presents your books to the right readers. That means you have to work like a salesperson with an eclectic audience. A diverse backlist gives you options that make the job easier. Having seen your ghost stories rejected by a reader, you can follow up by saying: “Not into horror? How about romance? Oh, great! Do you like Twilight? I have a vampire series you might enjoy.” This logic is different from the online world where it’s encouraged to have a deep, hyper-targeted backlist, but it works in practice. Diversifying won’t guarantee you’ll sell more, but it will certainly improve your hit rate at events.
Chasing vanity metrics holds back many authors. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a vanity metric is any measure of success that is impressive but that doesn’t necessarily lead to more revenue or profit. One such metric is a good Amazon sales rank. Writers talk often about positions their books have hit on the Amazon best seller lists and how many times they’ve achieved a coveted “Best Seller” badge, but the only people who really care are other authors. In reality, a book with this badge is only slightly more likely to convert browsers into readers, and the badge disappears the moment the author stops advertising. Yet by spending all of their time chasing this metric, many authors earn less than a living wage and pass up on more lucrative opportunities like speaking and selling to corporations with deep pockets.
In contrast, authors who deliver speeches or seminars to company employees can command four-to-six-figure sums for a day’s work. Plus, they get to sell books after they’ve spoken. Both fiction and non-fiction authors can secure these gigs. The key is finding a way to tailor your specialist subject so that it’s inspiring or informative for corporate employees. If you’re proactive, you can even negotiate bulk sales for employees and get a print run in advance to maximise profit. David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber, has spoken about his experiences doing this on The Creative Penn podcast and reported selling 5,000, 10,000 and even 70,000 books in one transaction! Bulk sales to companies don’t drive vanity metrics but they can make you a good income.
If you don’t yet have a big enough platform to secure giant speaking gigs, or your book isn’t suited to a corporate audience, there are other speaking avenues you can choose. School visits generate income for many children’s authors. Running an adult class in a venue of your choice on your book’s central subject is another good option that many authors explore with great results. You can organise classes simply by promoting them on the notice boards of libraries or community centres, and lots of agencies exist to help authors secure paid school visits.
Getting regular speaking work can be challenging but it is achievable, particularly if you join multiple speaker’s bureaus and agencies. You have to give them a percentage of any speaking fees they bring your way, but it’s worth it. Impress those who book you and you can often incite repeat business, returning to schools or companies every time you launch a new title. In the case of schools, some teachers will even tell their students to browse a list of your books ahead of your visits to ensure they bring in enough money and get what they want from your signing table when you arrive.
Attend Fairs and Conventions
Thousands of fairs and conventions attracted millions of visitors every year before Covid-19, many of which will reappear when we head back to normality. Writers tend to tour book fairs, which almost exclusively attract readers, but they often forget about all of the potential readers they miss by skipping craft and trade fairs. As an author, your chances of turning a visitor into a book buyer will be lower per visitor at these other types of fairs, but the greater footfall they achieve can yield surprising results.
Many fairs and conventions aren’t worth the investment of time, cash and mental energy. Lots of authors turn up armed with a tablecloth, free-standing banners, boxes of book and merch, and sell just enough stock to cover the cost of the journey. Trial and error, however, will reveal some events that pack an unexpected punch. You have to consider your table fee, travel and board costs, and an event’s target audience. However, experience will make it easy to choose good venues. If you strike out at one, consider it a part of your learning curve. As you grow your contacts, knowledge, community and sales skills, so will you see your income and readership rise.
Social media, chat bots and email lists are all buzzwords that crop up constantly when authors talk about communicating with their readers and contacts, but there is another way. These days it’s referred to as “snail mail” – the physical postal system. Although slower, it does have a number of benefits we have lost online. For a start, it’s harder to miss a message when it arrives through your letterbox – or, at least, harder than an email which can disappear into a junk folder. Plus, post does give certain readers a thrill. Remember the anticipation of waiting to get an expected letter through your door, tearing it open on arrival and sticking it to your refrigerator? The excitement of seeing an anticipated email arrive is short lived by comparison.
Snail mail is expensive but it can work effectively for some author businesses, especially if paired with other strategies already mentioned in this blog post. For example, you could use it during launches to re-contact businesses that have requested bulk orders of your previous books. Or you could send paperbacks with personalised messages to influencers, reviewers and journalists. Debbie Macomber, who has sold over 200 million copies of her books, runs a physical magazine that she uses like a newsletter. Readers can subscribe to it on her website. They even pay to do so! This is a bold and potentially expensive marketing strategy but it can be a profitable exercise as long as you run it the right way and deliver real value.
Creating an offline author business isn’t easy. Doing so usually requires more start-up capital and takes more time than growing an online-based author business, but it is possible. What’s more, coupling these strategies with online methods can help you stand out because the vast majority of authors don’t do them. The potential is there. You just have to experiment to make it work.
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