A few weeks ago I started a multi-part series about getting books into bookstore shelves. It was part of an author’s FB thread from my publisher’s private group. One of the authors claimed he did not, and would never, do anything to promote his book… and yet he still held out some kind of hope that it might somehow become a bestseller because fate, or fairy dust, or something like that.
I responded that he could do what he liked but guaranteed he would not have success if he didn’t put in any effort. People with that opinion (that authors can just write a book then let everything else magically work out) are under false pretenses about how the industry works nowadays. He’d cited a fixed income and advanced years, but really, he just didn’t want to do anything but the writing. With no platform, unproven skill, and an adamant denial of how things work in reality, he got so angry with me for suggesting that he use his abundant free time in retirement to try some free methods of self-promotion that he actually left Facebook altogether. Authors can come unhinged pretty easily and I thought he might block me for not agreeing with the echo chamber in his mind, but I thought that was a little cray cray. Whatever. I guess I’ll feel pretty stupid when he calls me out after receiving his Pulitzer… I guess he showed me.
Anyways. If you don’t have a fan base of thousands of people in your active email database or haven’t been a NYT bestseller and have literary agents salivating over the possibility of signing you, then you haven’t arrived. That means you still need to promote yourself. In fact, the publicists over at Smith Publicity say that you need to be actively involved in the process even if you hire a publicist! There’s no escape from this task. But you don’t have to love it… you just need to do it!
Publicists can be expensive and they don’t necessarily have an immediate and quantifiable payoff. So how do we think outside the box to get the word out about our books and generate some authentic buzz? I’ll try to lay out some principles and then spitball some specific suggestions that might help you craft some unique ideas for your project.
Connect on social media. I did not say advertise and I did not say promote… don’t use social media to broadcast “please by my book” or even “this is what my book is about.” Use it to connect with people and be a genuine person. Let it naturally lead to sales later. Anything else will be seen as selfserving and spammy and be a waste of time.
Think about newsworthiness. Why are most press releases ignored? Because they are really advertisements and not of interest (at least not without paying for the ad space.) Find what makes your story (not the book itself, but the news about the book) compelling. If you can do that, the media will broadcast your story and promote for you. For example, check out this example of a writer who rented a castle to write from during nanowrimo.
Sell yourself. It may feel dirty, but you should be used to it. Honestly, we all sell ourselves each and every day. When we fake a smile because we’d rather not share our inner struggles or post happy photos to our Instagram even though our life is a mess we are selling ourselves… we’re just promoting something else. You’ve got to believe in your book and its ability to succeed and be willing to walk through those doors to close a sale even if you’re not the kind of person who likes toot your own horn. Fake it if you have to, I don’t know if hypnosis works but try if you’ve got to. Nobody will care more about your book than you, so use that passion to convince the next person that they ought to read it. Be your books advocate.
You can learn to promote. People who try to push it off onto everyone else are refusing to try and learn a new skill. “But I’m a writer not a promoter.” That is probably true, but it’s time to wear another hat. Being an author is a business—treat it like one. Every startup owner has to wear multiple hats until they “finally arrive,” you get to do the same. “But I’m bad at promotion,” is just another excuse used to avoid trying. Trust me, your first book sucked too, but you (hopefully) got better and refined it and then continued writing. Promotion is like that. Just start and learn along the way. Pick up new tools whenever you can and never stop honing the craft.
Start early. Build relationships and build up your platform before you begin a big push with your marketing efforts. Timing is so critical to doing self-promotion well. You need time to develop a relationship where people care about you and your product before you pitch them or push your big project. If you haven’t done that, then promoting to them won’t generate the buzz you are hoping for on a book. Roughly translated: start selling yourself six months before your book comes out and start selling the book two months before that launches.
Some proven and some off the wall ideas:
Set aside a time and post a comment on social media every day (or share a link, etc.)
Host a giveaway
Write some book reviews
Get involved in some non social media communities
network at a book conference
visit bookstores and chat with managers
leave free swag (like bookmarks) at area libraries
leave free download coupon cards on the subway seats or post a similar flyer in the bus terminal
solicit book reviews from reputable book reviewers
try to create some news that you can steer towards your books (and which might warrant a press release)
ask bloggers if you can do a guest post or an interview
learn about and use hashtags
automate your mailing list (I recommend mailchimp) and try to generate signups via live events
post pictures of fans reading your books
post a short story elsewhere (or on a blog)
Add your website and link to your email signature
tweak and practice a 1-2 sentence “elevator” pitch that you can deliver in about 15 seconds to set a hook and sell your book in live scenarios
join a writers group
organize a book signing
try a blog tour
organize a library book tour
set yourself up to speak at events or contribute to local newspapers (or heck, even just a newsletter with a group you may be affiliated with)
Consider entering your book in a contest (just watch out for fakes)
network with other writers and try to cross promote (less self-talk and more boosting others)
make sure your SEO and keywords will pull in relevant traffic
Ask your local radio and TV about possible spots as a guest (I’ve been on two stations twice each)
Find guest spots on podcasts. I’ve made some great friends doing this
If I was recommending two blogs to check out on this topic, they would be the two below. They are both humorous and tongue in cheek, but will help get you thinking about this the proper way.