The Nuts and Bolts of e-Publishing

by Mel Gilden

Last week's essay was about the brave new world of e-publishing, and the even braver new world of e-advertising. I spoke only of the possibilities presented by blogs, FacebookTwitter, and other ways to spread the word electronically.

All those methods, and more, are certainly important, but this week I want to talk about advertising one's self the old-fashioned way: person to person.

Recently I was invited to participate in a garden art show thrown by three friends of mine. The husband is a photographer who specializes in taking pictures of aircraft, the wife is a watercolorist, and their friend makes etchings. The show was held in the small but charming backyard of the husband and wife. Most of the people they invited were close personal friends or business associates. I didn't get a chance to invite anybody, but I was allowed to bring along actual paper flyers advertising my two Kindle books — Dangerous Hardboiled Magicians, and The Jabberwock Came Whiffling.

I stacked my flyers on a card table along with a cookbook the wife was selling, and some greeting cards the friend was selling. I settled down next to the card table in a convenient plastic chair and waited for the rush. I knew the three artists, but not many of the visitors. Still, everybody I met was friendly, and we got some really good conversations going. The weather was perfect and the little bits of food and wine were tasty. Despite the resort-like atmosphere, the event was less a vacation than it was a learning experience.

I should have guessed the truth, but what I learned was this: offering a book is more effective than just advertising it. A few people stopped to look at my flyer, even fewer actually picked one up. So far not one of them has actually made a purchase. I don't know if they would have bought anything had I had a stack of real books for sale, but my guess is that the more steps that stand between the announcement of a product and the ability to purchase that product, the smaller your chances of actually selling something. That's one reason the checkstand at the grocery store is surrounded by candy, DVDs, and magazines. An impulse purchase is still a purchase.

Next week I am going to speak at a science-fiction club of which I have been a member for many years. I will have a stack of flyers with me. Hoping to generate interest, I will also try a few new sales methods I've read about: I will give one free e-copy of each of my books to the club, and hold a drawing for a few more. There are clubs like these all over the world, and its members are always in contact. I hope they will talk about me and my books.

One of the blogs I consulted on the subject of advertising self-published books suggested that the author have an advertising plan — a platform — all figured out before the book becomes available. It's too late for me to do that, but I'm learning to make a plan as I go along.

If anything significant happens at the club meeting, I'll have a full report next week.