That eminent philosopher, Yogi Berra, was once asked about an apparent dip in attendance at Yankee Stadium.
Quoth Yogi in response: “If people don’t want to come to the ballgames, there’s nothing we can do to stop them.”
As with so many of Yogi’s pronouncements (“Now I know why nobody ever comes to this restaurant — it’s too crowded”), there is a hidden logic in that one. And it’s quite applicable to book marketing.
If people don’t want to buy your book, there’s nothing you can do to stop them. So forget about those people. Your job is to connect with all the people who might read your book, if only they knew it existed.
My first novel, “The Kudzu Kid,” currently sits becalmed on the vast Amazon ocean, without a hint of a breeze. Sales are flat, bookstores are returning it as if it were infected with the Ebola virus, and I rank somewhere in the two millions on Amazon’s sales rankings. My publisher, who is a nice guy and generally supportive, has suggested that I may want to try self-publishing my next book.
Am I panicking? Have I lost faith in “The Kudzu Kid”? No, and no.
In a way, I’m luckier than a lot of first-time novelists. I was blessed with a lot of validation during a 40-year journalism career, won a lot of awards. There are lots of things in life that I don’t do very well, but I know I can write, I can tell a story, and I can grab and hold an audience. It’s what I do. My two efforts at non-fiction books each sold over 3,000 copies — most within a 50-mile radius of where I lived and worked — with no help from Amazon.
This sustains me in my time of trial, as well as the fact that I just finished another book (a contract job for a business) and am working on two more. But it also tells me that there’s something wrong.
To be sure, there are a lot of poorly written books out there. For whatever reason, these writers never took the time or spent the money it took to have their work edited — and while I applaud anyone with the persistence to finish an entire book, the Darwinian law of mass marketing will probably wind up biting them.
By contrast, I still like “The Kudzu Kid” very much. It’s a first effort, and I can do better, but the main objective was to re-create the crazy world of journalism within the framework of a fictional weekly newspaper, and I feel like I succeeded. I’ve gotten good reviews from strangers who have no reason to give me a good review, and other journalists have told me that it had an almost eerie connection with their own experience.
What’s the difference between this and my non-fiction books? Back then, I was writing a three-times-a-week newspaper column and selling my books to people who recognized my name. If they liked the way I wrote, they bought the books. If they didn’t … well, remember what Yogi said.
With the novel, though, I had to check all that at Amazon’s front door. I have joined the ranks of anonymous authors frantically trying to stay afloat in a big pond, leaving my small one behind.
At the beginning of this winter, my wife and I put up a bird feeder off our rear deck in Lake George, NY. Within an hour, whole squadrons of small birds showed up to partake. I have no idea how they heard about it.
But what if there had been a bird feeder every hundred feet throughout our whole neighborhood? Our attendance would have been quite different.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and other such entities, including publishers, are very useful in that they serve as the bird feeders. Unfortunately, it’s generally up to us to supply the birds.
I could wring my hands about all this and simply wait until my book winds up in the $1 bins at bookstores, but I’ve decided to use my energy in another way. I’m e-mailing every newspaper reporter and editor in the country, some 30,000 of them, with a very brief mention of my book and how I think they could relate to it. I’ve gone through five states so far, and the rate of response has been good. If 10 percent of these people buy the book, I’ll have reached my publisher’s sales goal, and there are a lot of other people out there whom I think would like “Kudzu” if they read it.
This is just one approach, and there are lots of others. Figure out what your niche audience might be, and go after it. If what you’ve written is a religious book, go after churches. If it’s a book on how to beat alcohol addiction, go after treatment centers and hospitals. If it’s a book about baseball, find baseball fans on the Internet.
And for all of you who have written good books that nobody seems to want, don’t take it as a personal rejection. They just haven’t met you yet.