I’m a man of many hats when it comes to DIY book marketing – and I’m not just talking about my collection of fedoras and newsboy caps. Since 2015, I have made a living traveling the country as a street poet named Typewriter Troubadour who has self-published seven books throughout my journey. I don’t have an agent. I don’t have a publisher. I don’t have a marketing team. In addition to being a writer, I act as all three. I’ve learned some lessons along the way and I hope to inspire to get your book out there by breaking through the book marketing paradigm – DIY style.
It may sound paradoxical, but part of breaking through the publishing paradigm, the Do-It-Yourself mentality means doing things the old school way – by connecting face to face with other people in the real world. Again, if you can literally get your book into someone’s hands, they are more likely to buy it. Join writing circles, read at open mics, table your book at local farmers/makers’ markets, and surround yourself with other supportive and like-minded individuals. Support comes back to those who support others, so be sure to lift your fellow creatives. Book trades are a great way to support other writers in your community, and learn how they got their book out there.
Getting Your Book into Bookstores
Besides opening a fresh box of your latest book, the next most exciting part about breaking through the publishing paradigm as an independent author is seeing your book in a bookstore. Being your own publisher means you are responsible for your own distribution. Through my travels as Typewriter Troubadour I’ve had the ability to scout out independent bookstores across the country, and have gotten my books on the shelves. However, I realize not everyone wants to live out of a van, so they can hit the road on a national tour at the drop of a hat. Instead, start small.
Make a list of indie bookshops in your area, and visit them in person to investigate their selection. Part of breaking through the publishing paradigm is being your own DIY agent… perhaps even a secret agent. Bring 3-5 copies of your book, just in case a deal can be made on the spot. Whether you whip them out will depend on a few factors. First, make sure the bookstore is a good fit for you. You want to make sure the vibe of the shop reflects YOUR book’s branding, and will give it a good home. Some indie bookstores don’t work with independent authors because of their “catalog system”, but if you see a local author section, that’s your first clue a deal can be made.
Think of Ways You Can Get People into Their Shop
If all signs point to go, ask if you can speak to a manager or book buyer (preferably NOT during the busiest part of the day), and express interest in being part of the shop’s community. If you have a physical copy, show it to them, get it in their hands. This is why I suggest going down in person, instead of inquiring by phone or email, so they can see the book, and who they’re working with. Show them you’re ready to go, confident, and ready to make some sort of deal.
Express interest in forming a win-win relationship with them. All they have to do is say ‘yes’, and give you a chance. In reality, you’re the one who’s still going to be doing all the footwork… work that will also benefit their bookshop through your shout-outs and cross-promotion. Think of ways you can get people into THEIR shop. Ask if they ever do in-store author book signings, or if you can set up a table outside to celebrate your new business collaboration and help bring people inside, not only to buy your book, but other books as well.
If a deal can be made, now it’s time for specifics. Ask how many copies they’re willing to take (usually 3-5 copies to start), and whether they buy books upfront at a wholesale rate or do consignment. Small businesses are usually going to prefer consignment – at least at first. It’s less risky than buying outright, before your book proves it will sell. Most consignment deals I’ve been offered are 50-50, or in favor of the artist (ie. 60-70% to artist, 30-40% to shop). Make sure your book is priced accordingly to cover its production cost and give you a profit. To settle on a solid retail price, you can also ask the bookshop manager what they’d recommend your price point be based on their customers’ spending patterns.
DIY Book Marketing: Track Your Inventory and Sales
Remember when I said you’re going to be doing most of the work? Part of breaking through the DIY book marketing paradigm is getting your steps in – that’s part of the hustle. Make sure you have some sort of record keeping on how many books you leave with each shop, and especially if they don’t buy them from you outright. Most shops aren’t going to keep track of your inventory as it sells, or contact you to pay you out, so it’s up to you to follow through with them to see how many books have sold – and to pick up a check.
You can guarantee your books won’t sell if they aren’t in stock. You can also guarantee you’ll be making a regular appearance at the local post office to fulfill online orders, so be nice to even the meanest postal worker. If there’s one secret to this Do-It-Yourself guide to breaking through the publishing paradigm you take seriously – send things marked as “Media Mail”… it will save you a ton on postage.
Getting your book out there isn’t easy, but if you commit to making your dream a reality, the payoff is worth it – no matter how much makes it back into the bank.
Jeremy M Brownlowe is a prolific writer and author who is nationally recognized for his performance poetry project, Typewriter Troubadour. Since 2015, Jeremy has made a living traveling from town to town creating custom poetry for people on a manual typewriter where they give him a word, subject, or theme, and receive a poem, typed to order, in a matter of moments. In this day and age, you could say Typewriter Troubadour is like an OG human version of Chat GPT…sorta. He composed over 25k poems, and has published 7 books, including his latest work, Poems For Other People’s Lovers. His titles are available online, and in various bookshops around the country.