Porto and Harry Potter
This month we’ve been travelling through Portugal, seeking out JK Rowling’s favorite writing spots for inspiration. Rowling started planning Harry Potter in Porto, and it’s easy to see the connection. The university students wear black capes, and Porto is home to the “most beautiful bookstore in the world” – Livraria Lello.
You may not know this, but I wrote my MA thesis on esoteric symbolism in the Harry Potter series, so I’m definitely a fan. I was surprised to find a non-fiction book from another Portland author in the bookstore, which kicked my mind into gear thinking about how I could get my own books stocked here.
Generally, I don’t recommend trying to get into bookstores or focusing on live events such as book signings, but it’s important to address WHY I don’t recommend them, since most first time authors will persist in achieving visual markers that match the “writer fantasies” they grew up with.
Most authors try really hard to get in some small, local bookstores, which is a lot of work to reach a few dozen people a day – you can reach more people with online advertising. But let’s say you want to get your book into bookstores anyway… what does that process look like?
Most indie authors decide to publish with IngramSpark/Lightning Source rather than Createspace, because they have a better expanded distribution system and allow you to set discounts and returnability.
This means, you can offer a 55% discount for your book, but you need to charge a crazy high price to make any profit. And if you set your books to returnable, it means if the bookstore orders but can’t sell, they’ll ship them back to you – this could quickly become dangerous if you get stuck with tons of unsold books.
AND ALSO, just because bookstores can technically order your books the right way, doesn’t mean they will. Shelf space is limited and there are millions of books. They’re going to order the bestsellers that they can move quickly. They aren’t going to take a chance on something new.
If you want to sell books, it’s easier to focus on ebooks and online promotion. But now that my books are selling, I should be thinking about getting up to the next level.
The way to get your books into bookstores is to:
1. Get tons of press or media coverage
2. Sell tons of books and stick on the top of Amazon
3. Organize bookstore signings or a booktour – this is probably going to be a waste of time and money, unless you’re committed. Chris Guillebeau does it for his books; his promise to do a nationwide booktour helped him get a book deal. He spent his own money, but it helped build his platform and make his first book a strong seller, which made it easier for him to continue getting book deals. (My guess is, if you include his travel expenses, his first book lost a lot of money, but it helped grow his platform for subsequent book launches.)
But also, Chris is traditionally published, and he got traditionally published by building an active following, a popular blog with lots of traffic, and a big email list. He also organized events, which let him befriend influencers, and launched digital products, which meant he didn’t need his books to earn a living – they are part of his platform building and brand. The $100 startup includes lots of stories from other people, and I believe he launched with presale/preorder bonuses, something I recommend especially for non-fiction. Finally, it’s popular non-fiction, which means it’s meant for a large, general audience.
I’ve been focused on self-publishing, because it’s the easiest way to build a long term stable income from your writing, but now that I’ve done that for awhile, I’d like to look into traditional publishing – but with certain criteria. I want a big book deal or a lot of promotions. Then I want to prove to publishers I can sell a lot of books. I think selling 10K print books would be a great start.
To meet that goal, I’ll need a list of about 100,000 that converts at 10%, or a super passionate, core audience of around 30,000 assuming 1/3 or those like me enough to buy the book.
That would be a moderately successful book, I’d probably get a 25K advance or so, the publishers would probably be happy. But it wouldn’t be a bestseller, and it wouldn’t earn long term. I want to get a 100K advance, which will force the publisher to do more marketing for me because they’re more invested, and will also force me to think about how I can sell more books.
I wrote another post recently about how to get a 100K advance, but here’s my new plan.
Rather than self-publishing to my audience, or getting a small publishing deal and selling 10,000 copies, to really go big I’ll need to…
1. Start a podcast based on the topic/title and interview 100 celebs or influencers in the field.
2. Include quotes from their interview in the book.
3. Let them know I’m writing book and would like to include their quote or story.
4. Ask them 6 months in advance if they’d share my book launch.
5. Get an agent by citing the collective reach of everyone who agrees to share + my network.
6. Presell the crap out of it, with big bonuses and offers. Also offer big rewards for bulk buying.
It wouldn’t work for most books, but for a general nonfiction book with a potentially large audience, that I’ve already built a platform for, I should be able to negotiate a pretty good deal (if I wanted to, which would make it easier to show up in international bookstores and build my platform, even if the book itself would probably earn more money through self-publishing).
What about for fiction?
Fiction is more problematic. You probably will need a publisher to get into bookstores – though a lot of my successful indie friends have been selling foreign rights recently. For the biggest, most famous bookstores, you’d need to be a huge bestseller.
- Write amazing books in your genre that readers love
- Write a (long) series in the same world
- Apply for agents and publishers, submit constantly, weather rejection well, wait six months to hear back, finally get a book deal and wait another year for the book to appear in print.
For fiction, publishers won’t care as much about your platform or the size of your email list, though it could help. They’ll mostly look at the project itself. But you’ll still need to write a great book that satisfies a large market, and is new and different while also being pretty similar to other major bestsellers (including the tropes readers expect from that genre).
And remember, even if you get a small advance or publishing contract, most small presses won’t do a lot of marketing for you. The main drawback however is the opportunity cost – in the 2 or 3 years it takes you to go from querying to publishing, you could have built an author platform of your own and written a few more books.
SO NOW WHAT?
Your best chance at success is writing a great book, like J.K. Rowling, AND also paying attention to your email list and author platform. With that in mind, here’s a limited time offer:
My friend Clark Chamberlain has a course on “Advanced Novel Writing with Harry Potter” (that goes through HP and pulls out tips and lessons to improve your writing.) He’s offering it for free – pay what you want – but I’ve added in my BookFetti/1000 subscribers course as one of the many bonuses you can get when you donate a certain amount.
This is basic stuff – getting better at your craft and building up an email list – but they’re basically the two most crucial steps towards publishing success.
If you need more advanced book marketing help and support, you can check out my flagship course, Guerrilla Publishing.
PS. Portugal had some amazing bookstores, we also really enjoyed the “Literary Man Hotel” where some of these pics were taken.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.