Thursday, February 25, 2010

Letter Writing to Build an Author's Platform and Increase Sales

Letter writing seems to be a dying art these days.  It is a shame really.  We send e-mails, we send text messages (well, my children do), we make cell phone calls, but we seldom sit down and write an old fashioned pen to paper letter any more.

I teach history and coach basketball in my real job.  I have learned a lot of family history, and so do real historians, by reading old letters. I always admired my grandfather as a young boy, but it was not until he passed away and we had to move my grandmother to a nursing home that I got to read the letters he wrote her. I learned things I had never known about him.

I knew he was in the Army during WW II. I did not know he was an officer in Military Intelligence and was caught in the Battle of the Bulge. Nor did I know he was in Berlin during the start of the Cold War and the Berlin Airlift.  I also learned he had a brother who was a bomber pilot who was shot down over Europe and killed. I also learned he spoke and read fluently five languages (must have been why he was in military intelligence).

My first coaching job was as an assistant coach at my college alma mater, Greenville college. I did the bulk of the grunt work of the recruiting for two years. I learned that the single most effective thing we did was write hand written notes to key recruits. It showed a personal touch.

My wife still has our "love letters" from when we were dating. She is not a pack rat and regularly purges anything that she has not used once in the last three months and frowns upon the fact that I do not practice the same habit. Yet those letters remain carefully tucked away in a box on a shelf and are never considered as an item worthy of disposal.

So why is it that if letters seem to be objects of value to us that we save that we don't write them anymore? Is electronic communication really that much better? It might be more efficient, but it can never convey the same message as a note, on paper, that was delivered by the postman. 

What has letter writing got to do with selling books? We all hate direct mail that attempts to sell us something. Largely, I think, because it is so impersonal and comes in the form of a carefully worded form letter that looks and reads like a form letter.

Imagine how a book reviewer feels when he or she opens yet another package with a book to review and a form letter written to all of the potential reviewers falls out. How personal of a request is that? More junk mail it would seem.

Reviews, particularly online reviews by bloggers, today still sell books. If you are going to send a physical copy to a reviewer, why not accompany it with a nicely written letter that is personalized and shows you know something about the reviewer and explain why you think this particular book will be of interest to that particular reviewer.

If you are fortunate enough to obtain a review, be it positive or negative, take the time to put into practice another dying communication form. Write a thank you note. You should. The reviewer took time to read at least part of your book and write the review. You can take another few minutes to write a follow-up thank you note. People save thank you notes.

Sometimes the old ways are still the best way to do things.