Booktopia’s John Purcell shares 3 ways to sell more books

The rise of online shopping has revolutionised the way that we buy books. From a bookseller's point of view, the playing field has been significantly levelled – with every book just a search and a click away. And from an author's point of view, this makes marketing your book more important than ever.

One man who knows all about this is John Purcell, chief book buyer and head of marketing at Booktopia – Australia's fastest-growing online bookstore. Not only does he decide which books to stock, but he’s also been a published author himself, seeing first-hand the effect good marketing can have on sales.

John Purcell PicClearly if you self-publish, by definition you do the sales legwork yourself. But when it comes to being traditionally published, don't assume someone else will do it all. Finding success with a publishing house is definitely impressive (congratulations!), but this is no time to put your feet up and wait for the cheques to start flying through the door. Back in episode 5 of our top-rating podcast So you want to be a writer, we chatted with John Purcell and here are his 3 top tips for ensuring your book meets its marketing potential.

1: Request backup

“A lot of people get published with absolutely no commitment from the publisher to market their book in any way,” says John. Their pride-and-joy is left to fend for itself, spine out, on the shelf.

At Booktopia, he sees reps through his door every week, and it’s clear that even within the same meeting, not all book sales pitches are created equal.

According to John, there's a key moment prior to signing a book deal where you actually have some power to ask for marketing support for your book or some sort of advance (which will increase their motivation to recoup it). “Even though you may feel like you have absolutely no power in that moment, it really is your one chance,” he suggests. “They've already said they're interested in your book … It's the perfect time to quiz them on where they think it fits in the market.” John believes that simply being proactive can put you up their list. Even relatively straightforward things like getting a website banner for your book or a poster for a physical store can improve your visibility.

2: Build a community

It's true that having an online presence is important for an author, but only if you are engaging with your audience. It's about relationships – building them and encouraging people to express their enjoyment of your work. Real human-to-human communication, not just numbers.

John puts a bookseller perspective on it. “[At Booktopia] I've had people who have a million followers in the US retweet a number of times their book on our website and we've gotten nothing,” he says. “And I've seen people with 300 followers on Twitter generate a great deal of trust in their brand and enthusiasm about their product that leads to direct sales.” It’s about quality, not quantity.

So the message here is to use social media to be yourself and have conversations. Don't simply spruik your book.

3: Always say “yes”

“If you make a real effort with people from the start, it pays off,” says John. “Author Matthew Reilly made an effort to go everywhere when he started. And there are people now who met him back in the early '90s who are advocates whenever a new book comes out. They're little mouthpieces for him, because they met him before he was ‘famous'.”

Saying “yes” means agreeing to interviews, going on community radio, library talks, physical visits to bookshops or simply being active on social media. “Turning up in person does actually work,” John says. “I think that's something that we all try to shortcut, because the social media is so much easier.”

And yet there are audiences all over Australia – groups, committees, libraries, book clubs and more – who are looking for content just like the Internet is. John believes that if you take the time to meet with them, it can be worth your while. “Jackie Collins is a great example of someone who says yes all the time – to blogger questions, interviews or bookshop visits.”

In the realm of bookselling and publishing, John Purcell believes you should be trying to say “yes” to as many things as possible to tilt the playing field in your favour. Because if you do, you're immediately ahead of someone who sat back and assumed someone else would do it all.

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