The path to book sales shouldn’t be paved with white smiles and checkerboard slacks. When dealing with a product that has neither life-sustaining value nor infomercial superfluence, sales might best be treated as a byproduct of a well-manicured relationship. One between author and audience, as well as among the audience members themselves. Book groups exist. George Foreman Grill groups do not.
Which is why word of mouth is a valuable route to book sales. People talking and sharing opinions, with no explicit intention of selling a product = a perfect, mutually respectful form of consumerism.
Word of mouth has adopted a kindred form online, though isn’t really “of mouth” in this mutated guise. Fan lists such as Amazon’s Listmania! help connect like-minded readers, which would logically seem to drive sales (though no hard sales data exists that I could find; although online customer reviews seem to have a “casual” effect on book sales). Forums like The Velvet and The Cult, built around specific authors and genres, promote grassroots and guerrilla “word of screen” sales as a residual effect of the social media platform.
An evolved generation of authors and publishers has learned to leverage these relationships not just as part of a sales campaign but as a component of their overall philosophy. Another Sky Press focuses on building a fanbase before building sales* . Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman’s passionate post-sale reaction to their pre-sale mishap would impress even the most convinced fan-centric seller. Then there is Tim Hall and his handmade slipcase series.
I can almost picture Tim Hall, sitting on his living room floor, watching TV, using the downtime to assemble these slipcases. Essentially, inviting the future reader into his living room, taking the reader/author relationship to near awkward-morning-after levels (in the best of ways). These aren’t mass products. These are one-of-a-kind tokens of genuine appreciation.
Sure, their materials are likely would-be scraps with no intrinsic value, and it’s obvious the gesture is ultimately meant to sell books, but the true power lies in the implied relationship they create. I’ll be reading Hall’s books with a more subdued pessimism than I might otherwise with a completely unknown (to me) author. And when Hall releases his next book--and should I not like these initial offerings--I’ll be more willing to give him another chance.
The take away here is that reader/author relationships are just that, relationships. Leave obsessive sales up to those who produce utilitarian staples and fluff gadgets. When it comes to selling experiences, as books are, a relationship should be part of the package.
*ASP claims not to track sales in a way that validates this theory, but their conviction is contagious