SELL LIKE MARK TWAIN [Would you sell your book door-to-door?]
Posted on 04/22/2014 Evan Swensen
Samuel Clemens, who wrote as Mark Twain, became one of America’s most famous authors. He also sold a lot of books, and they’re still selling well.
Just exactly how did he do this?
He used the social media marketing of his day: He became a journalist. One of his California stories [think: blogs], “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” became an international hit. This led to a newspaper asking him to go to Europe and the Holy Land and send back stories [blogs] from that part of the world.
All expenses were paid for the 163-day tour, and the ever more famous correspondent [blogger]. He delivered his stories by the revolutionary telegraph, which took only minutes to send. This was the Internet of its day, linking all parts of the world.
But even Mark Twain, best-selling author, couldn’t support himself from book sales alone. In that day and age, most authors couldn’t.
So Twain did something different than the usual bookstore sales. A little daring, but well-targeted. The middle class, becoming affluent after the Civil War, was his best audience.
When he published those overseas blogs as the book The Innocents Abroad, it would become a hit. But you couldn’t find it in bookstores.
“In November of 1867, publisher Elisha Bliss contacted Samuel Clemens about writing a book based on his travel correspondence from his 163-day tour of Europe and the Holy Land. That book, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim’s Progress, would be both a critical and a popular success, selling more than 70,000 copies in its first year of publication. It would also be Mark Twain’s best-selling work during his lifetime.
“The subscription publication industry blossomed in post-Civil War America. Tens of thousands of sales agents, many of them veterans and war widows, canvassed small towns and rural areas armed with a sales prospectus and a “book” containing sample pages and illustrations, and offering multiple binding options to fit every décor and price range. Prospective buyers selected a binding and signed an agreement to pay for the book when it was delivered to their door.
. . . but [Twain] had to contend with the lower status that subscription authors were accorded. Disguised as popular entertainment, his books were bought by the masses—“who never knew what good literature they were.”— http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/twain/exhibition/subscription/index.html
Twain’s other strategy was to do speaking tours, which of course made his book sales spike.
Ben Taroff in his book The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature says “ . . . And Twain and other authors of his day were rarely able to make a living just from writing books. In fact, he made most of his money from the lecture circuit, booking the largest lecture hall in a city and then boisterously promoting and selling tickets to his lecture.”
Would you sell your books door-to-door? Would you arrange speaking events to drive your sales higher?
It worked for Mark Twain.