Is Word of Mouth Enough to Sell a Book?

According to this article by Lynn Neary on NPR, word of mouth is the most effective way to sell books. Neary uses as an example a novel called Room, which is being released by Little, Brown and Co. in the United States today (it was released in the UK last month).

Neary quotes Little Brown marketing director Heather Fain, who explains that first, someone has to get the buzz going about a book, which in Room‘s case was Little Brown’s executive editor, Judy Clain. From there, talk about the book builds within the company, then spreads outward to those who receive an ARC (6,000 in this case), then to events like BookExpo, and so on.

I think word of mouth may be effective with a book like Room, which is obviously generating interest apart from whatever buzz Little Brown has created — and it can’t hurt when the executive editor really likes your book — but there is one item in the piece that can work for nearly any author.

Neary says in addition to book stores (really? I hadn’t thought of going to a book store to buy a book), book clubs are another way to sell books.

If you have a book that’s just come out or even if it’s been out for a while, find out if there are any book clubs in your area or ask at your local bookseller. If you already know someone in a book club, even better. It seems to me that if you give a copy of your book to someone who is in a book club, and suggest that the club discuss your book, you can be effective at creating interest and producing sales. 

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8 responses to “Is Word of Mouth Enough to Sell a Book?”

  1. Clarissa Southwick says :

    What a wonderful idea for a blog. In Boise, we have a 'Read the Same Book' program, which is basically the library's citywide book club. I can't help but think it's a big boost for the authors whose books are chosen.

  2. Cassy Pickard says :

    Jeff: Good posting! We have two independent book stores here- one in my town and one the next town over. Both do a rip-roaring business. They are in competition with each other, but many folks I know love to go in, browse, and then buy. Yes, I purchase on Amazon and B&N, but there something about standing next to the shelves and fussing with what goes home with you. Plus, the owners/buyers of the books approach you and say, “Did you know this was written by xxxx who lives in Guilford?” I love that!

  3. Jeffrey V. Mehalic says :

    Clarissa,

    Thanks. With a program as well-organized as Boise's, an author could receive a lot of interest in a short time. How does the library choose books for the program?

  4. Jeffrey V. Mehalic says :

    Cassy,

    I know what you mean. As convenient as Amazon and B&N are, there's no substitute for being able to look at shelf after shelf of books, look at the ones that interest you, and ask the owners or sales people questions.

    I'm glad that the stores you frequent have learned to co-exist; here's a link to a story in TNYT last month about two book stores in Westhampton Beach, NY that don't play well with each other, to put it mildly.

    http://tinyurl.com/38smmpz

    (You may have to copy and paste it into your browser.)

  5. Wolfgang A. Mozart says :

    Mme. Moreno and I love your blog, Jeff, and we shall visit often. It's good to have a legal mind in the loop.

    RE bookstores: We were distressed to learn that the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble is closing its doors in January due to high rents. So it's not just the indies who are having financial problems!

  6. Jeffrey V. Mehalic says :

    Monsieur Mozart,

    Thank you very much for the comment. I am flattered that you and Mary like my blog. I have always enjoyed your beautiful music.

    The legal and financial issues in publishing now require as much of an author's attention as the writing, and particularly so when retailers like B&N have to close stores, like the Lincoln Center location and the one on Sixth Avenue a couple of years ago.

    Thanks again, and take care.

  7. petemorin says :

    Well of COURSE word of mouth helps when the mouth belongs to Little Brown's executive editor! Ditto Oprah.

    I can hardly wait for the hard slogging of grassroots retail book promotion to begin!

  8. Jeffrey V. Mehalic says :

    Pete,

    I agree that that whose mouth it is will play a large part in determining the success of a word-of-mouth sales campaign, and I think the NPR reporter was somewhat disingenuous by suggesting that the technique could work as well for any book as for Room.

    The truth is, as you recognize, that most successful bookselling requires hard work by the author, whether it's signing books, giving interviews, or attending book fairs and festivals, and not just the buzz the book may generate.

    Thanks for your comment.

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