As authors, we’re pressed to do more and more promotion on our own- and because we love our books best, we’re our own best advocates. Some people will tell you that your own efforts won’t make a difference.
But you can see where your book is being stocked as a direct result of your marketing. You will see the increased and regular traffic added to your website; and you’ll see it when booksellers and librarians you contacted return the favor. And when a house sees the effort you put into marketing, they’re often willing to invest more as well.
We can all raise the visibility of our books, and raising visibility is what marketing is. So let’s get started!
Print publications dwindle, newspaper coverage for books shrinks, and everyone agrees that the Internet is the next new frontier for marketing books. But with such a vast resource, where do you start?
Since the advent of easy-to-use interfaces, bloggers of all sorts have flourished, but none so much as book bloggers. These bloggers have communities- they share not just reviews, but recommendations, actual books, regular features that discuss covers, trends, themes, and so much more. The Romance community is especially rich, and YA boasts a full-bodied community made up not just of adult writers and librarians, but of actual teen reviewers.
Reaching out to bloggers is your first, best step when it comes to promoting your own books. Make it a point to follow lots of blogs. Pay attention to those who read and like books like yours. Make a note of their review policies- and four to six weeks before your launch, query them. This is a business letter like any other- introduce yourself, pitch your book, offer a copy for review.
Be aware that the Internet is global. Though some sites give a bio that will tell you whether you’re mailing to Montgomery or Mumbai, most don’t. So be prepared to pay for international postage. In promoting my book, I’ve sent copies to every single continent except Antarctica.
And remember that even when you buy the book and pay postage, you’re not buying a good review- you’re not buying a review at all. Just because you send a book doesn’t mean they’ll ever read it. Or review it. Or review it positively. You can’t buy a review- but you can try to raise your visibility. That’ll help you keep some center when someone ignores or pans a book you mailed to them.
When: Start 4-6 weeks before your book comes out. Bloggers have big To Be Read piles, and to get your reviews to appear clustered around your launch, you need to start a little early- but not too early!
I think giveaways are the most effective tool you have in your Internet arsenal. LibraryThing and Goodreads will run giveaways for you, and many book bloggers will, too. Giveaways are full of so much good, I’m not even sure where to start with the extolling.
They raise visibility, especially when bloggers run them. Bloggers link to each other and many of them have an automatic feature that reposts headlines from other blogs on their sites. Sometimes, they give out extra entries for readers who link back to the contest- remember, the whole point is to raise visibility.
Then, get your book into the hands of actual readers, many of whom are reviewers themselves, or participants on review sites. And again, bad reviews will occur for even the best books. Nevertheless, I’ve seen time and time again people replying to a bad review with something like, “I’ve heard of this, I can’t wait to read it.”
This chill in the face of apparent disaster counts for spoilers, too. Although it makes me wildly crazy to see the ending of my mystery posted everywhere- visibility is visibility. Reinforcing your cover, reinforcing your title- that’s your ultimate goal, and if you get some awesome reviews out of it- that’s extra.
When: Goodreads/LibraryThing- start 4-6 weeks before your book debuts, or when you get author copies. Bloggers, start 2-3 weeks out.
3. Social Networking
This is the most contentious part of being an author online. Should you do it? How much should you do it? Where should you do it? And in the end, I feel like two things are true: social networking should be something you do for yourself, but if you genuinely enjoy it, it can be promotionally helpful.
The people you meet in debut groups and lit loops, on Facebook and Myspace, are also people who can point you toward opportunities you might have otherwise missed. And you can be that same person for other authors as well.
But I don’t want to say join everything! Be a hoover! Because hoovers, frankly, suck. Showing up just to scrape PR off of other people’s hard work and goodwill sucks, and we’ll talk smack about you. But if you find a community you love, where you make genuine friendships- you’re also going to find tons of amazing support and opportunity there.
When: Start when you get your contract, and keep on going.
Again, promotion is all about raising visibility. You probably don’t have the contacts to get into print on your own (if you do, use them!) But you do have the ability to make sure the right people know your book exists. Besides readers, who are the right people?
1) Independent Booksellers.
Indies still account for the major motion in book sales for any author. They’re the pulse of the industry and you’re getting nowhere if you don’t have a pulse.
a) Postcards. While your publisher has a sales staff, they have a lot of books to push. You have one, so make the most of your indie outreach. Send at least 200 postcards to independents- to stores that specialize in your genre, and to general stores in your area. Most importantly, WRITE A NOTE. By hand.
While most postcards probably do get thrown out, you’re achieving two things: raising awareness because your cover is on the front of the postcard, right? And if they do read the note, you’re telling them why your book is ideal for their store. They want to sell books, so help them.
Tell them if you’re a local author, that your book is set in their hometown, that your book is perfect for Cat Lovers Books & News because it features tons of cats. Whatever you tell them- have a reason for sending that card that’s beyond simply “I have a book and I want you to sell it.”
If you have no compelling reason why your book fits their inventory, you’re wasting a stamp because they’re not wasting the shelf space.
When: After the catalogue in which your book is available is published. There is NO POINT in contacting booksellers until they can order your book.
b) Review Copies. People often wonder what they should do with the review copies their publishers send them. If you get tons and tons, by all means, have a giveaway. But if you get only a few, take them to your local indies. Introduce yourself, leave your book and leave your contact information. The chain stores take orders from a corporate headquarters, but your local indies are- well, independent.
These are relationships that will be valuable to both of you, and not just on launch. If you have a signing, it will probably be with an indie. If you have a launch party, you’ll want to have it at an indie. If you do school visits or corporate visits and you need someone on point for book sales- yup, that’s your local indie.
When: After the catalogue in which your book is available is published, and you have ARCs in hand.
Librarians are the other gatekeepers of the book world, and you can’t afford to ignore them. Libraries are major markets for books, and they’re direct access to readers. Again, always remember that promotion is about raising visibility.
Someone who reads your book at the library can still recommend your book to buying friends and family. They’ll be the ones to ask your library to buy future works by their favorite authors. Don’t ignore the libraries!
a) Postcards. Follow the same rules as you did for sending to indies, though for libraries, it’s a little simpler. Unless you’re independently wealthy, send postcards to all the libraries in your home state, and again, make sure you write a personal note on each one.
For YA and kids’ book authors, I’d also suggest sending postcards to every single school library in your town, in your market. (PB authors, don’t bother high schools. YA authors, forget the elementaries.) When reaching out to school libraries, make a note that you’re a local author and if you’re available for school visits.
When: After the catalogue in which your book is available is published. There is NO POINT in contacting librarians until they can order your book. For school libraries, keep in mind the school year. There’s no point in sending a postcard to an empty building, either!
Outreach is the trickiest part of self-promotion, because it requires you to be canny about your own market. And you’re required to think about your beautiful book as a product. Since every book is different, every outreach attempt must be different. And sometimes, you can’t tell whether they work- until they work. So rather than give you a specific plan, let me give you some general outreach ideas.
Market Outreach: Figure out who your audience is, and give them finished copies of your book. If your book is about martial arts, offer 10 copies to your local dojo, for example. If your book is about zombies, offer 10 copies to a local horror film group. Or, seek out book groups in your area, and offer copies to their members. People who love books enough to join books to talk about them also talk about books when they’re not at the club.
But here’s the pinch: you have to give them your book and walk away. Feel free to include ONE bookmark or ONE postcard with your URL or other information in each copy of the book, but you have to give up the goods and walk away. People don’t like to be pressured; they really dislike it when you’re pushy. Give readers the ability to follow up, but don’t require it.
When: When you get your finished author copies. Don’t use ARCs for this unless you have a metric buttload of ARCs.
Risk Outreach: Risk outreach is the most fun to do, but it’s also the biggest gamble. This is writing a letter to your favorite celebrity, and including it in a copy of your book. Or unstealing your book- leaving it in strange places for people to find. Or guerilla readings- getting up in the middle of the mall and reading from your book just on a whim.
It’s the long shot that you shouldn’t spend a lot of money on, but it’s a lot of fun if it pans out. Please don’t break the law when you do your risk outreach. Jailtime puts a serious crimp on an adrenaline rush. (Although it might get you some print inches…)
When: When you get your finished author copies.
Possibility Outreach: This is the craft of finding opportunity; this is the art of saying YES. Pay attention to the writing community, to your loops, to the trades. When an opportunity arises, say yes. Whenever possible, say yes.
Yes, you will judge a local book contest. Yes, you will write a few lines on what it’s like to be a writer. Yes, you will write a profile for yourself for the State Library.
If a popular blogger is hosting a blogiversary, YES, you will donate a prize. If a ‘zine is doing a theme week, YES, you will guest blog. Anytime, anywhere, that you can be visible, that you can make your book visible, say yes.
And I know some of you are hyperventilating now, so let me add the caveat: you don’t have to say yes to everything.
My family has limited means and single car- so I have to say no to lots of travel and appearance opportunities. But I can say YES to anything online. If you hate the Internet, you can say yes to events in person. Possibility Outreach is easy- all you have to do is say yes and follow through.
When: Anytime, but you want to concentrate your interviews, your blogs, your visibility in the 2 weeks leading up to your book’s release, and the 6 weeks after.
To be honest, all marketing is possibility outreach. While it seems daunting, if you break it down into smaller parts- what can I do online? What can I do offline? What crazy thing can I do just because it might work?- it’s easier to manage.
We have so much lead time in publishing- instead of worrying about when your next revision letter comes, or when your copyedits will come, or when you’ll get news about the next step in the process- be the next step in the process.
I can do this. You can do this. Just say yes.