Southern Highlands Writers’ Festival: "How to sell more books"

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Last week was the Southern Highlands Writers’ Festival, held in Bowral. I was thrilled to speak on a panel on “How to Get Published”, along with fellow panellists Carol George (Commissioning Editor at Penguin Books) and Laura Greaves (author of Be My Baby). Moderated by journalist and author William Verity, he suggested that the title was a misnomer. After all, these days anyone can “get published” when you consider that self-publishing has become very easy and is also extremely affordable.

Photo via @Laura_Greaves
Photo via @Laura_Greaves

William said that the more pertinent issue is probably “How to Sell More Books” and that brings in a whole raft of questions about marketing your book and yourself. The bottom line is that you might have the best book in the world, but that’s a moot point if no one knows about it. It may as well be still sitting in your bottom drawer!

What followed was a lively discussion on what you need to do in order to give yourself the best chance at increasing your book sales – and thus the amount of your royalty cheque. In summary:

Consider the digital-first imprints from major publishing houses.
Carol George, who looks after Penguin’s digital-first imprint Destiny, said that they have more room to experiment. In other words, if your book does not fit into a traditional box, a digital-first print may take a chance on it because they don’t have the cost burden of printed books. Carol told us her imprint has published 50 books since its inception in 2012, and 21 of those turned into printed books.

You need to build your own author platform.
That means you need a strategy to promote yourself, build your profile and give your book the best chance of success. Carol said that building an online presence through social media is important. Novelist Laura Greaves agreed. However, Laura added that she’s not comfortable just promoting her book through online channels and prefers to develop real relationships with her online friends.

I agree with both Carol and Laura. The reality is that if a publisher has to make a decision between two books of equal literary value, and they have a choice of a book from an author with zero online presence and a book from an author that has a strong social media network, then the decision is pretty easy.

You still have to write a good book.
While many aspiring writers become obsessed with how to get published, it’s also important to remember that the work itself needs to be the best it can be. If you plan on self-publishing, you need to take on all the responsibilities of the publisher. So, in addition to writing the book, it’s wise to get an assessment from a structural editor and rewrite your book based on their feedback. Once you are really happy that your book is the best is can be, rest assured that there are still mistakes in it (after all, you are just too close to it to spot the errant commas and occasional typo no matter how much of a pedant you think you are).

So engage the services of a copyeditor and then a proofreader at the final stage. If you are serious about producing the best book you can, then that doesn’t mean you get your Aunty Joan to proofread it for you just because she used to be an English teacher. It means paying a professional proofreader to do a proper job!

There are so many facets to the new world of publishing that we could have talked for hours. But there were other sessions to go to – including ones with Bob Carr, Nikki Gemmell and Mike Carlton – and even some fabulous shopping. I splurged on some of lovely literary items that were available to buy below!

A writers' toolbox and literary-inspired room fresheners!
A writers’ toolbox and literary-inspired room fresheners!
Fonts, fridge magnets and fancy pencils
Fonts, fridge magnets and fancy pencils
Cushions for book lovers
Cushions for book lovers
Little literary luxuries available for sale
Little literary luxuries available for sale
Shopping bags sporting your favourite classics
Shopping bags sporting your favourite classics

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