Welcome to story and chai’s “Ask an Author.” Here, we’ll respond to questions we’ve received about the writing and publication process, as well as new questions, which you can ask us on twitter, Facebook, or through email (jazobair AT comcast DOT net). Sometimes we’ll ask other authors to “guest answer” your questions as well. We hope this is a helpful feature for writers at all stages of the process!
Question: It seems so hard to sell a book these days. I’ve heard you should get on twitter to sell your book and promote it but then people say they hate it when people sell and promote their books online. What do I do?
Aisha: Every writer who has ever put pen to paper to craft their novel has a dream: that their book sees the light of print. For those writers who are lucky enough to realize this dream, a new dream grows: that people buy their book and read their labor of love.
As an author whose first book is set to debut in 2015, I can relate to both of these dreams and now that one dream is achieved, that of my book seeing print soon, the next one looms its head as I wonder: with all the other books out there in the world, the thousands debuting every year, how can I get my book in the hands of readers? How can I take an opportunity and grow from it a career?
Dear readers, I can tell you I have deeply studied this question. I’ve read books, pored over articles, and searched the web for an answer. Thanks to all my research I can confidently tell you I’ve found the answer: I don’t know. No one does.
As this article beautifully illustrates, so much about the publishing world and success within it is unknown and unknowable. Many beautiful and wonderful books don’t see the light of print, and many worthy published books don’t get the media attention they deserve and aren’t read as widely as they should be. Some books get a national media campaign and don’t meet expectations. Some books are on a shoestring budget with a story no one thinks will appeal widely, and become the big hit every publishing house seeks to replicate.
We can’t know what will draw people to a book, but, as a fellow reader and a social media user, I can tell you one truth, one piece of advice that I know will help you immensely which is that while I can’t tell you what to do, I can definitely tell you what you should not ever ever do. Never ever ever take to social media and become a tidal wave of buy my book.
I know that can feel frustrating to many who are trying to sell a book. I know that we are told as authors we bear the brunt of marketing and promotion and that social media is where that should happen
But breathe through the anxiety and consider: How do you react when someone approaches you in person, or on-line and within seconds is telling you about their book and that you really must read it? Does it make you want to instantly buy their book or does it make you want to back away slowly?
This isn’t to say that social media isn’t useful in selling one’s book but the key is, this is a side-effect of twitter, not the main reason for it. I love twitter and have met so many amazing and wonderful people there. Sometimes I check out their websites and see a book they wrote and I buy it. Sometimes a twitter-friend I’ve gotten to know over time recommends a book, and I’ll check that out too but I’ve never bought a book because someone relentlessly filled my stream with their book ads, nor have I ever bought a book from an author I meet a conference who thrusts their business card at me within seconds of meeting and telling me their book is a must read. Those are actually the fastest way to turn me off, and likely this is the case for many others too
It’s hard in an era where we as authors feel we must do so much to promote our books but in some ways, at least for me, there is comfort in knowing that there are some things that are fully out of our control. Use social media, as authors it’s a great way to connect and find our tribes, but just understand that it’s more of a way to learn and grow, and not the most efficient way to sell books and to use it for only that purpose alone will likely be a lot of effort with little to show for it.
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Aisha Saeed is a contributor to story and chai, focusing on YA books and writers. She is also a mama, lawyer, teacher, and maker and drinker of chai. She is a contributing author in the New York Times featured anthology Love Inshallah. Aisha has been blogging for a decade at her website, and her writing has also appeared in places such as The Orlando Sentinel, BlogHer, Muslim Girl Magazine, and Red Tricycle. She also writes a monthly column, Literary Mama, at LoveInshallah.com. Her debut YA novel WRITTEN IN THE STARS will be released in 2015 by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books. She is represented by Taylor Martindale at Full Circle Literary Agency.