When my novella Missing Words was published by Fairlight Books eighteen months ago, local author Loree Westron thought she could sit back and let the marketing folks do their business, watching the reviews roll in and the sales figures mount. She quickly learned, however, that’s no longer the way things work in the publishing world.
Prior to its release, the publishers sent the book out for review and conducted a brief social media campaign, and for a few weeks there was a flurry of interest. Then things fell silent. If you’ve been taken on by a small, independent publisher such as mine, with a small marketing team and an even smaller budget, you’ll know just how difficult it is to get your books noticed.
I sought advice about promoting the book myself, and within a short time of publication, I’d spent my advance – and more – on Facebook ads and ads in print magazines, doing book giveaways, and speaking to librarians and booksellers on two continents. But it’s not clear to me whether that effort and expense ever resulted in actual sales. And while Portsmouth’s only independent bookshop, the fabulous Pigeon Books, has been massively supportive, other high street bookshops have not.
The situation is even more precarious for authors who’ve gone down hybrid or self- publishing routes, because even more of the burden of promotion falls on their shoulders. Yes, there are indeed self-published authors who have racked up very impressive sales –by promoting their books on Instagram and Twitter and TikTok – but so far, I’ve not been able to crack their secret.
I admire their creativity and their stamina, but quite frankly the mere thought of creating videos for BookTok makes me want to weep. And Twitter has always bored me to tears – hence the number of followers I have has remained adamantly low. All this social media malarkey feels like a young person’s game.
But I’m not the sort of person to cry into my coffee for long. So, what to do?
I know a lot of local authors here in Portsmouth and the surrounding area, and like me, many have struggled to keep positive while looking for ways to promote their books. So, what if we all joined forces and used our combined knowledge and social networks to help one another spread the word about our books? I mean, if two heads are better than one, just think what twenty or forty heads can do!
On impulse, I booked a pitch at a local arts and crafts market here in Southsea, then set about contacting people who might want to take part. Within days, we had a name: The Portsmouth Authors Collective, a Facebook group and a couple of dozen members with books to sell. Three months later, and we’ve now taken part in four local events: the Love Southsea Market in Palmerston Road, the Durty Sunday craft market at the Wedgewood Rooms, a meet-the-authors event at the Bridge Bookshop and a recent Front Room spoken word event at the Hunter Gatherer where two of our authors were featured. And so far, we’ve sold 180 local author books – a dozen of which were mine, I’m very pleased to say. I know the numbers are small, but that’s 180 books that probably wouldn’t have sold, otherwise. And this is just the beginning.
It’s unlikely that any of us will reach the Sunday Times Best Seller List any time soon; however, selling books direct to the public seems to have inspired and empowered us. It’s certainly encouraged me.
Selling our books on market stalls may sound like a retrograde step – limiting ourreach to local book readers – but at the moment that feels okay. At the four events we’ve done so far, we’ve connected with hundreds of real people in the 3-dimensional world. We’ve told them about our books and have hopefully piqued their interest. And I like that.
Perhaps those real people will tell other real people, and word about one of our books will reach the right ear. And then… and then…
We can but dream.
The Portsmouth Authors Collective will be at the Love Southsea Market in Palmerston Road on 10th December. Books on offer include all genres of fiction, travel writing, memoir, poetry and local interest/local history. We will also be taking part in Portsmouth BookFest, in the new year. And if you want to see what else the Collective has planned, check out our upcoming
dates and our Facebook page. If you are an author with a book to sell, and would like to get involved, please contact Loree Westron at LoreeLWestron@gmail.com
Picture reused courtesy of Loree Westron.