What Sells Books? Sweet Self-Publishing Indulgence

A conversation the other day with an author considering self-publishing veered off on a tangent neither of us had expected. We started out discussing his perspective book on sweet confectionary over the past fort years. Needless to say, we began with a long indulgent conversation on the sweets we used to buy with our pocket money pennies when we were young. Both being in our early forties, we rattled off the names of chocolate bars, ice-creams, toffees, and the multitude of potato/corn snacks that ever graced the market. Here’s a few, but bear in mind, this was the Irish/UK market.
Mars Bars (later to become US snickers)
Bon Bons
Sherbet Dips
Cola Bottles
Quenchers
Black Jacks
Space Dust
Gobstoppers
Candy Necklaces
Curly Wurly
Sweet peanuts
Finger of Fudge
Golly Wog
Space Invaders (corn snack)
Once we had gorged ourselves of reminiscences, we turned to his book. As always, I tried to guide him towards pursuing the more commercial route of publication, rather than the uncertainty and limitations of self-publishing or using one of the reputable subscribed author solutions services. We ended up parking the publishing route debate and spent the rest of the evening talking about a subject many authors who consider self-publishing never actually give enough thought to. What actually sells books?
I wanted to dive in when the question was raised, but I held my tongue and let my fellow author have his way—knowing that he had not had the experience of publication before. He naturally offered the natural and obvious methods of sale. They included point-of-sale promotional material when you step inside a bookstore, author signings, reviews, TV/Radio/Newspaper ads, and Amazon. Bear in mind—this was his list as a perspective from his point of view.
Most understandably occur when you are an author with a branded name. That is what he was familiar with. Beyond JK Rowling, Jodi Picoult, James Patterson and Stephen King, his knowledge and awareness petered away quite dramatically. We both paused for thought on a sherbet dips, and licked our imaginary Golly Wogs with less gusto.
I asked him to put aside what he had said and thought about books, and ask himself what motivated/persuaded him to buy his last few book purchases.  His answers were worth the sweet interlude.
1.       I went in to get a book for someone as a present and came across my latest read.
2.       My brother knew I was into fantasy novels and suggested two he had read.
3.       My wife is in a book club and she keeps insisting I read one particular title.
4.       At my dad’s funeral this year, they read a passage from a book – I’ve had it in my mind the past few months to buy a copy of the book when I get a chance. I finally did.
5.       I bought a book on impulse I saw 6 months ago. It’s on my bedside locker every night and keeps screaming – read me, read me!
None of the above reasons, when I really pushed him about books he bought in the past had anything to do with the reasons he thought were responsible for the sales of books.
Sometimes we complicate things. We are tribal. We naturally seek social groups. We do this for a reason. It is to pass on our experience and our stories, or the stories of the last tribe/friend we met and identified with. Know the following – because for all the technology we have in this world – unless we decide never to communicate by speech…
WORD OF MOUTH SELLS BOOKS
NOTHING WILL EVER OVERCOME THIS FORM OF PROMOTION
IGNORE IT AT YOUR PERIL
BUT KNOW, THERE IS NO DIRECT PLUG-IN POINT (You have a better chance of finding your partner’s G-spot)
I leave you with a cursory analogy.  The above reasons are both the strength and the weakness of Self-Publishing.

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