5 Ways to Sell More Books: A Guide for Jewish Authors

sell more booksThe Jewish people have long been called the People of the Book.

Apparently that was referring to the Book of Books, but nowadays it also brings to mind the burgeoning Jewish publishing industry. Mainstream publishers are in major crisis, due to the impact of emerging technologies on our reading habits. Yet in the Jewish world, the print publishing is growing at a breakneck pace, with new publishing houses, new books, new magazines, appearing faster than you can say “what should I read this Shabbos?”

This is wonderful news for book lovers but also creates a problem. So many books means a lot more competition to get the attention of readers in a small market. It’s getting harder for authors and publishers to sell enough books to make a return on their investment.

Yesterday I visited Manny’s, a huge Jewish bookstore in Jerusalem. There I found the manager of the English department contemplating a towering stack of cardboard boxes filled with freshly published books delivered in time for Chanuka. I heard him comment: “How am I going to fit all these books on the shelves?” The shelves at Manny’s are already full to bursting points with Jewish literature… and the publishing houses are churning out more as we speak!

Authors and publishers are wondering: how can I sell more books? This is a topic that is often discussed on Soferet, a wonderful community of frum Jewish writers, editors and publishers. As a writer and marketer and someone who is always looking to help people increase their parnasa, I decided to create a guide on this blog. (Hint: I am also in the process of writing a book, so I’m in the same boat.)

Pretty much everything I’m writing is relevant for anyone looking to promote their book, regardless of whether it’s targeting the Jewish market. In fact, most of this information is relevant for anyone trying to market any product or service online. However, for this post I am keeping mind the unique nature of the Jewish publishing market.

5 Ways to Sell More Books

1. Hire a Marketer

Authors are increasingly realizing that publishing houses do very little to promote their books. The easiest way to fill this gap is to hire a marketer privately to generate some buzz . There are PR firms, web marketers and social media gurus who specialize in publicizing books. And yes, they cost money!

However, since publishing a book is generally an expensive procedure, you might decide that’s it worthwhile to spend the extra money since you have already invested so much. Perhaps spending on marketing should even be taken into account before you decide to publish. A book is a product and, like any other product, it won’t reach its sales potential without effective marketing.

But if you are not sure that paying money to a marketer is for you, don’t worry! This guide shows you what they do. If you have the time and inclination, you can do much of it yourself.

2. Public Relations 101

A traditional PR approach is all about getting your name and your book’s name maximum exposure in the press. The more people have heard of your name and your book, the more you will sell.

The ideal PR for your book is either to be interviewed about it or to have an excerpt published in a major publication. Approach relevant popular publications, in print and online, and offer them an exclusive right to publish a particular excerpt from your book. This is easier if your name is known or if the subject of your book is controversial or of popular interest.

Regarding interviews, it might be hard to attract interest in interviewing you about your book, but it is relatively easy to pitch yourself as an “expert” to be quoted in an article related to the topic covered by your book. You can also gently encourage them to apply some choice adjectives when mentioning your book, e.g. “ground-breaking,” “controversial,” or “best-selling.” Treat editorial staff respectfully and make their job easier by offering to email them your quotes, to save them interviewing and typing time.

You can also pitch articles that you write yourself, on the understanding that they will end with a short blurb announcing the title of your latest book. Many authors are already regularly regularly published, but if you are not, now is the time to start. This is obviously a powerful way to build your name recognition in your target market.

The same can be said about blogs and websites that are popular with your target readers. Find them out and offer to write a guest post. Along with leaving intelligent comments on relevant posts, this can also be a great way to get your name seen and get traffic to your blog.

“But I don’t have a blog,” you may say. “Well,” I may respond. “Perhaps you should…

3. Start a Blog

What is the point of a blog? This is a common question.  It’s a legitimate question because a blog with no point will never go anywhere.

If you write non-fiction, the answer to this question is clear. You are providing valuable, expert information that people are searching for online. Whether your book is about Challah baking, health or the halachos of bar mitzvahs, I guarantee you that people are searching for this information online.  A blog centered on the topic of your book helps your readers to find you. Having your own blog can be an extremely powerful way to get exposure for you book from the Search Engines. If your visitors like what you have to say, there is a very good chance that they will buy your book.

But there is more to a blog that just making one-time sales, and this is why fiction writers should also blog. A blog is a place where your passive readers are transformed into your active fans. Even if someone loves your book, since you can’t publish books that often, they will “move on” before you have your next book to sell them. Moreover, they have no way to take any action to show that they liked your book, and without action, feelings and intentions are dissipated (this was a Torah principle, before it was a marketing principle).

Your blog becomes a focal point for your fans. They can comment on your articles, sign-up to your emails and share your posts with their friends. You can ask your readers what they think of your current project and let them participate. You can build anticipation for your upcoming titles. You can write posts with viral marketing power to increase awareness of your name. You can make friends with your readers. A blog creates continuous relationship and interaction with your readers. In the long-run, that equals sales.

There is a lot more to be said about marketing with blogs, so anyone that is interested should sign up for updates of this blog right now. There is lots of good info coming your way.

I am of the opinion that every serious writer should have a blog. If you are not quite ready to start one, at least go and buy your name as a domain name right now. Take the step!

4. Publish as an E-book

E-book reading devices are already widespread – Kindles, iPads, Nooks, etc. There are now more E-Books sold every day that printed books! The Jewish publishing world is seriously lagging behind in maximizing this technology, but authors and publishers who want to sell books should publish e-books.

jewish ebooksJewish E-Books is a new and growing site catering to this market and it is an option that every Jewish author should consider, but don’t limit yourself. Investigate publishing for Kindle on Amazon – which is obviously a major source of potential sales. Don’t neglect Google EBooks – since publishing with them automatically makes your book content show up in Search Engine results. A program like Smashwords allows you to market your e-books on all the other major platforms, like Nook, iPad Store and Sony. (Note: Smashwords comes recommended as a way to easily syndicate your book to major digital outlets but avoid their “community.” It is not a place for a modest person to be hanging around, and it also seems to target people who are selling their books for $0.99 or less!)

Be aware that e-books are not just digital versions of printed books. Ideally, your book cover should be adapted to make it eye-catching on a small screen. If you have a non-fiction book, you might even consider creating a digital version that has a different title, so that you can use keywords to help it show up in search results.

5. Social Media

No one is going to argue with the fact that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube are powerful tools for increasing exposure for your book. Many people have religious questions about using Facebook etc., which I already addressed in this post, The Halachas of Google and Facebook. So I’m not going to rehash that here.

Instead, let me explain it with a simple story:

One morning, you wake up and realize you have some news to share. It could be the fact your latest book just went to the printers, or that you were just interviewed by X Magazine, or that you overheard your 5-year-old son trying to convince his friend to buy a copy of your novel. So you call up a few friends, colleagues and relatives to share the news and maybe you mention it to some people you encounter that day. A total of nine people heard your news. End of story.

If you are on social media, the story is different. You write a post, status update and tweet with your news. Even if you have only a modest following, hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of people instantly know your news. Then they like, comment, retweet, share, etc. And that means that more untold myriads of people are hearing your news. End of story.

From a marketing perspective, which do you think is better?

There is an awful lot to be said about social media marketing so I’m not even going to touch the tip of the iceberg here. I just want to get you thinking.

Where to Begin?

Are you feeling overwhelmed by all this information? Don’t worry. That’s normal. You don’t need to do everything at once. Just be ready to learn.

Start by telling us about your book and your experiences in marketing it.

And definitely sign up for updates of this blog. This community exists to help you sell more books… or whatever else you are selling!

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  1. says

    Thanks for sharing, Naomi. While this isn’t a way to sell more books, it is a way to make selling a book viable at all: good self-publishing options. I recently heard about Createspace.com which I think is run by Amazon, and apparently for very little (the cost of the first test copy plus shipping), you can have a book which can be sold and shipped on demand. Worth checking out if you need an option like that.

  2. says

    Hi Naomi,
    I love the idea of getting more Jewish books to be e-books. As much as I value real paper books, e-books are so convenient. I’d really like to see more Jewish books turned into audio books as well, especially children’s chapter books. They can be a real lifesaver, especially on long road trips. I find it almost impossible to find any good Jewish audio books, other than the ones for really small children.

    • says

      Agreed Tzivi. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to sit down our kids to listen to a great Jewish story book in audio? I mean, how many times can you listen to the marvelous middos machine?

  3. says

    That article is wild. A real frustrated individual. What other options are there for free and that will print like Amazon?

    Also, is there an interest or need to have someone publish Jewish books on demand?

  4. says

    Here’s my issue: Jewish books–particularly Jewish fiction–are not such big money makers that an author is guaranteed to recoup up front marketing costs.

    The article begins with the notion that you are self-publishing. Yes, self-publishing (or co-publishing) has ALWAYS been much more common in the Jewish world than in the secular one, without the stigma sometimes associated with it. However, a lot of writers who are–well, writers, not something else + writers–feel that we cannot or should not have to go the self-publishing route. It is very hard to convince a Jewish publisher to publish your book without pitching in money yourself, but it can be done. If you choose to self-publish (this is true for both secular and Jewish publishing) there is no guarantee you’ll recoup your expenses. I’ve had friends whose books sold okay, but not so well that initial costs were covered and royalties were paid out.

    The idea of putting money up front for marketing troubles me for the same reason. Since many Jewish writers don’t make plentiful royalties, paying for a marketing specialist to bump up sales might never do so enough to offset such a cost (particularly those who specialize in fiction). Even if you do get the money back, there could be a significant delay.

    If you are using your book to market yourself, that’s different. You’ll make money in indirect ways. But a professional Jewish writer just doesn’t make that much even in the best case scenario. That’s why many of the best writers I know either write for Jewish magazines, websites, or don’t write for specifically Jewish audiences. Or they spend a lot of time editing instead of writing their masterpiece. Jewish fiction has greatly suffered because of this.

    I’m not saying that you don’t have to be willing to market yourself (using blogging, social media, etc.). However, as a writer, I find the expectations for writers to gamble not only their time and effort, but their money, too, both frustrating and financially challenging.

    • says

      You’re right. It is not easy to make money writing books in the Jewish market. Even with a full-blown marketing campaign it’s not likely that you would make a fortune in this small market, but it will help you sell a lot more books! If your goal is to make money, Jewish book writing is probably not the best investment for your time and talents! If someone really wanted a commercial success in this market they would have to plan their book as such from the outset, and sacrifice self-expression in favor of commercial value. If you were writing such a book, it would best be described as a business venture, in which case you are much better off self-publishing.
      In other news, Feldheim just got a Facebook page and hopefully they will use this to get more exposure for their authors!

      • says

        Naomi, you hit the nail on the head when you say, “If someone really wanted a commercial success in this market they would have to plan their book as such from the outset, and sacrifice self-expression in favor of commercial value. If you were writing such a book, it would best be described as a business venture, in which case you are much better off self-publishing.”

        The problem with this situation is that it has caused stagnation in the quality and variety in the Jewish fiction market. There have been several bright spots, but a lot of them have been (as I mentioned before) in magazines or books published with a secular publisher for a more diverse audience.

        As a writer, and before as a teacher, I’ve heard so many parents lament the lack of quality kosher literature for their tweens and teens. At the public library near my house, I frequently find frum girls reading material that I think is detrimental to their neshamos. It’s hard for their mothers to find appropriate books, too. A book that lacks artistry–the articulate self-expression you cite above–doesn’t appeal to a sophisticated teen or adult reader. There needs to be a solution to this problem so that talented writers can get books out to the children and teens (and adults!) who need them whether they have money to invest in the project or not. Jewish magazines have gone quite a way to fill this void, but they can’t fill the need in its entirety.

        • says

          I certainly hear your pointn about the dearth of good reading.
          I don’t know where you are located but here in Jerusalem, most of the tweenage bookworms are stuck into Hebrew frum novels. There is huge selection of these in Hebrew and they are sold very cheaply – just 20-30 shekels. The publishers don’t invest in fancy binding and graphics.
          Perhaps it would be best to simply translate a lot of these into English and sell them cheap. Jewish books are way too expensive, if you ask me. Why can’t we have an imprint of paperback for teenage girls at a low price? BizOpp, anyone?

  5. says

    Great article and good tips. I’ve been working hard to promote and share the news of my new book, “The Synagogues of Central & Western Pennsylvania: A Visual Journey, ever since it was published by Fonthill Media last year. I’ve flooded social media, sent tons of emails and, luckily, have had some good press, but sales are still a bit slow. Getting the word out is the hardest part, but I keep trying. The disappointing fact is that most mainstream Jewish newspapers and magazines are not interested in Jewish books that have a more local or regional appeal.

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