I just came across this article from The Millions by author Tom McAllister, and was immediately drawn to this paragraph:
Before I ever published anything, I’d assumed that if I ever finished a book, there would be so much demand from family and friends alone that we’d have to go into a second printing before the release date. But I am here to tell you: most people in your family will never buy your book. Most of your friends won’t either.
The last sentence really struck me. I’m probably still many months away from self-publishing my first novel, and, sure, there was a time where I assumed that friends and family alone could guarantee a few dozen sales without any effort or investment. If that were the case, other self-published authors I know on Facebook with over 5,000 friends could easily get themselves in the top ranks of Amazon just by posting on social media. But, it doesn’t work that way.
I’ve heard lots of stories from indies who are barraged with requests for free copies of their books, with the promise of “I’ll tell everyone about it” in return for the gesture. Writing a novel is no easy task, and yet the people who should be the most willing to support you are not willing to cough over a few bucks to buy your book, and even if they did they probably won’t read it anyway. At best, they’ll offer to share something about your book on social media, and expect their freebie in exchange for the free PR. But, as McAllister notes, this doesn’t help authors one bit.
People will like your Facebook statuses and retweet your tweets and they’ll even leave very nice comments. These likes and comments do not translate to sales. It’s the most passive way for anyone to show support. Over time, the novelty wears off. It’s exciting for non-writers to say they know an author, or for writer friends to remember back when you were starting out and working on your first, bad stories. Very little can sustain that enthusiasm over the six (or more) months during which you’re posting about the book.
And, if we’re honest, we’re all guilty of not being supportive all the time. McAllister acknowledges he’s guilty of this as well.
I admit to having felt betrayed by my friends’ indifference, especially after the first book, but I remind myself that I do the same thing all the time. I have friends in bands that I haven’t seen live in years. I’ve never been to any friends’ improv shows. I skip a lot of readings, even when I know the readers. I have friends with books I haven’t bought or read. I have explicitly lied to colleagues about having read and enjoyed their books. The book industry is partly kept afloat by a shadow economy in which the main currency is bullshit.
McAllister says, and I agree, “I don’t think there is any way to convince all the people in your life to buy your book, let alone care about it half as much as you do.” Truer words cannot be spoken. A book is a significant time investment, and the name on the cover is not enough to convince anyone to invest the time it takes to read it if the story isn’t compelling to the potential reader. Honestly, I know a lot of indie authors through Facebook, and I absolutely would love to support all of them. But, I have specific tastes, and if they’ve written a book that I know is not my cup of tea, am I going to buy it and read it? Maybe I’ll buy it if it’s on sale, but I won’t read it. Why would I read a book that experience has taught me I won’t enjoy? I know it sounds terrible, but it’s true. I’ll maybe buy the book when it’s free or on sale on Kindle for 99 cents, but I’m not spending the time to read a story I won’t enjoy, and I won’t be posting a review on Amazon.
Is that what the author really wants? Sales are great, but readers are better. When you target friends and family, you’re going for sales. So, don’t bother. Target people who will actually want to read your book, because they’re the ones you won’t need to beg. They’re the ones who are far more likely to care about the story you’ve put all that time and effort to create.
So, I’m not going to bother pushing my book to friends and family. I’m taking the steps now to find my target audience… the people who are likely to take a chance and read my novel.