Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book buying

I was thinking the other day about how to get more people buying Cassava Republic’s books – always a challenge. I started by thinking about how I buy books. From some quick analysis, I reckon my book buying is conditioned by the following:

o Word of mouth (45%)

o Reading an interview with the author/reviews (25%).

o Gifts (15%)

o Cover design (10%)

o Browsing in a bookshop, which is rare in Nigeria with so few decent bookshops (5% )

I’ll also buy a book if I am already familiar with the author’s work. I’ll always read anything written by Ian McEwan, Robert Harris, John Berger and J.M Coetzee (although that love affair is coming to an end thanks to the preponderance of miserable late middle-aged men in his books). I’ll also buy the latest African writing – last year’s find was Harare North by Brian Chikwava, whereas this year it has been Petina Gappah – I enjoyed her book Elegy for Easterly immensely.

Petina’s book came highly recommended by Bibi who is often critical of many contemporary writers. Another author recommended by Bibi is Al Aswany - the Egyptian author of the Yacoubian Building. I originally bought it because I liked the cover and thought Bibi might also like it, but never read it, until Bibi discovered it amongst the waiting-to-be-read books a year later.

If I see her reading a book into the night it means she likes it. If she waits a couple of days and says nothing about the book, then I think ‘here we go, she loves it.’ Once she is ready, she goes on endlessly, reading out favourite lines until I give in and read it myself. So for now, I am sold on Petina and Al Aswany..

What I’ve noticed about living here is that people don’t often talk about books they read with passion, compared to the way they talk about politics or the Premier League. So I don’t get to hear about new discoveries. Or perhaps, men generally don’t gush about books the way women do! But then again most of my friends in the UK who recommend books to me are blokes. But perhaps I am meeting the wrong people.

Anyway, I’ve decided to come up with a list of how I think people can support Cassava Republic and their favourite authors for that matter.

1. Buy and read the book – when you buy a book you ensure that author’s effort is rewarded and you help to make sure that the publisher publishes their next book. One guy read Diana Evans’ 26a and liked it so much because it helped him to understand what happened to his daughter and as a result he bought 100 copies and gave them out to schools near him. Till today, we know that if no one buys our books, at least 100 copies of every book we publish will be sold to this guy. You don’t have to commit to that amount, but you can decide that you want to continue to support our effort by committing to buying a certain number of any books published by us.

2. Spread the word – hearing somebody you trust speak about a book with passion and excitement is one of the most powerful ways to get people to buy a book. I know this because most of the novels I buy come through word of mouth. Not as a result of awards or reviews - as important as they are, but through others recommending them. You cannot imagine the number of bestsellers that rely on mouth-to-mouth. If you like a book, talk about it, Facebook it, tweet it or blog it. You can even have a picture file on Facebook with the covers and information about your the books you like or want to recommend and add the link of the author/publisher’s website.

3. Buy the book as a gift for others. When I was growing up, books featured more prominently as Christmas pressies than anything else. For the summer holidays, I was lucky enough that my mom would buy me at least ten books to read. I love giving books as presents and I love receiving them. If I like a book sufficiently enough, I’ll buy maybe three or four as presents. Bibi on the other hand used to go crazy and buy up to fifty copies of one book and send them off one by one. I remember thinking she was obsessed with Maria Rainer Rilke’s Duino Elegies and sending copies to friends all over the world. But online purchasing has changed all that. You can order books from Cassava Republic and surprise a friend with the package.

4. Blog about the book. On this blog, I have just over 200,000 unique visitors every month, yet I don’t promote books as much as I ought to. I’ll start henceforth. If you have a blog, blog about books and authors you like. You can leave comments on your favourite blog about your favourite author or a good book you have just read. Spread the word because it is powerful!

5. Get your local bookshop to stock the book. Sometimes bookshops only order books that they have heard about. You should wax lyrics about why they should order the books you like.

6. Request your school or college library to purchase copies. If you like any of our books or any books by an African writer recommend them to your school or your children’s school. You’d be amazed how many libraries in private schools in Nigeria do not have books by many contemporary African authors. We have found that many don’t even know and they are pleased to buy the books once we recommend it to them.

7. Recommend a book to your book club. We give discounts to book clubs for our books. I would like to be in a book club. However, as far as I know, all the book clubs in Abuja are women only. I think Bibi’s club are reading Al Aswany’s Chicago. This is a wonderful way to share what you like.

8. Tweet about the book you are reading. If you like a book, tweet it. Even go as far as quoting a line or two from the book. Remember to give the correct author’s name and title.

9. Buy books for your old school. Old school networks are so strong and powerful in Nigeria. Make use of them to purchase books for the benefit of the current crop of students. Also, use the network to invite authors to your alma mater.

10. Attend a book reading. There are lots of opportunities to hear writers talk about their work. Support them by attending their book events. Get your friends, colleagues and families to a reading and show an author your support.

These are some of my thoughts, combined with others. If you have any more thoughts how to promote a book or author, please leave your comment.


Nikki Thornton 4:51 pm  

Liked your post. Someday I hope to write a book where the royalties will pay for the copies I give away.

joicee 6:49 pm  

nice tips...Dont estimate word of mouth and also bookstores, read stalls...Nigerians especially the youngins are voracious readers, sadly many end up reading wack Mills and Boon books just they easily available(secondhand) and affordable to them

Anonymous1,  8:27 pm  

take the books to them, same way vendors do. your target market are young workers i.e. bankers, oil workers etc. people are making quick sales in offices selling clothes, jewellery etc. use the same model. it'll certainly be new but one doesn't have to take the entire merchandise (just take a few samples) have to make it all posh-like, you know your naija peeps. give them maybe a fancy bookmark or something useful (e.g a fridge magnet) once the sale is agreed prior to delivering the book at a later stage. allowing the marketers a stake in the sale might help.
p.s. unfortunately, churches can be a tad pretentious in naija or else that'd be a very good place to sell. talk to the more liberal ones.

Anonymous,  1:34 am  

I love I register and pass on great books that I've read to friends who in turn pass them after reading to their own friends, its cool to see the books you've read fly around the world. Since moving to Nigeria though, I've been dropping the books I didn't really love (still good books though but ones I didn't truly love - like Ian McEwan, sorry Jeremy) around the cities - after registering them with bookcrossing. None have turned up as yet, but maybe one day..., and anyway maybe Nigerians somewhere are enjoying them, and will be inspired to read on after...

Anonymous,  12:52 pm  

@ Anonymous 1, People will rather buy clothes and make up than buy books. If they have to buy books, they will rather buy motivational books. Its a real shame, thats why a lot people's head is messed up in Nigeria.

Rachel B,  12:56 pm  

This is a great! I don't know about Nigeria, but here in the UK, many authors shy away from self-promotion (this is what I love about the Americans - they make our job easier). But try and get your authors to do some of the work.

1. Authors are best place to sell their own book(s). Encourage them to introduce themselves thus: 'I am a writer (even if that is not their day time job)and my book has just been published...' Get them to excite others about their book. We have noticed here that the authors who sell the most are not always the lucky exception with big publicity budget behind them, but those who are not embarrassed about self-promotion or think that the job of selling the book is in the hands of the publisher.

2. Writers belong to many social networks (chucrch, facebook, social clubs etc.) get them to persuade their networks to buy their book and attend their reading. We can't do it here, but you might be able to do it over there, encourage the author to take orders from friends and pass on the discount that would usually go to the retailer to them in addition to their royalties.

3. Get your authors to get their friends to host reading parties for them and just deliver the books to the author to sell. You can also persuade your friend to host your writer privately.

4. If the author works in an office get them to organise a lunch time reading. But you can assist the author by helping them to design an e-flier to mail out to their colleagues with request for advance orders.

5. Finally, remind your authors that the hardest job in the publishing chain is selling the book. And if they want to shift volume, they have to put in the work. Publishers cannot do it alone!!

Sorry if my focus is only on what writers must do. It is just that writers need to understand their role in the success of their book.

All the very best.


Waffarian 7:49 pm  

I would say I read books mostly through "word of mouth", and like you, if I find an author I like, I would buy any book that he/she writes. Its just madness. However, since I spend a lot of time in bookshops, "book covers" also play a huge part in my book buying. I also discovered "the yacoubian building" that way in a library. I had no idea who he was but I liked the cover. Anna Gavalda's "I wish someone was waiting for me somewhere" also was the same. Now I buy anything she writes.

Anyway, I think its quite tough in Nigeria. The way I read books those days was mostly by word of mouth. In fact, I doubt if I really had any choice. I read what I could find. So I would say making the books available and "seen" must be the priority in Nigeria. I did not really go searching for particular books. I was happy if I saw any. I am wondering about markets...I mean, many people go to the markets almost everyday. Why can't you have your own "cassava stalls? Anyway, just writing from my own experience in Warri. I am sure they have good bookstores in other Nigerian cities. However, if I wanted to sell my books, I would bank on the markets. One can have bookshops in the markets right? Why not just open up a shop for your own books? You can open small shops/stalls in different markets. Why wait for bookshops to pick up your books when you can sell them yourselves? So many women go through market stalls on a daily basis. They would be sure to pick up a book or two on their way home...

dam dam,  12:09 am  

how about tagging along to a regular talk show in nigeria, maybe get a book reading slot 5 minutes to the end of their shows to discuss books for cassava a bit like Richard and Judy.. there's moments with mo' and this other one on Hitv i watch here from the UK

Anonymous,  12:09 am  

Please let us know where we can buy Cassava's books. I asked about buying Teju Cole's book once and didn't get a response.


Akindele,  9:27 pm  

I think Waffarian hit the nail on the head when she said the objective is to make the books seen. I have often wondered why there is no strong retail or distribution network for books in Nigeria. Why cant bookshops or publishers be like fast food joints & petrol stations and be seen everywhere?

I live in lagos and the best bookshops I have seen in Nigeria are in Ibadan.Why should I have to go all the way to Ibadan to buy books? These stores have branches in lagos but nothing like their main place in Ibadan. Why cant we have their stores all over the place as we do with Mr Biggs. You might want to try this approach and sign a strategic marketing agreement with petrol stations so you can have a stand for your books and see if it works.

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