I used to believe that being a talented, diligent artist should somehow guarantee that one’s work would find an audience. In fact, I used to look down on those creative types who were constantly self-promoting. It seemed cheap and brazen, and was clearly a sign that they were of inferior talent.
Writing and promotion are distinctly separate skills. I still don’t love marketing, but I do genuinely like people and I am endlessly fascinated with the creative process, so talking about writing and the writing process is something that I enjoy.
I actually enjoy going on book tours, and even occasionally posting articles on Facebook. I used to think marketing was beneath me, but in fact, I was really just scared. The writing meant so much to me that I was afraid someone might not like it. Marketing is scary for artists because now we must publicly announce to the world that we would like them to buy someone that sprang from our imagination. To use an eighties term we have to own our power. On some level, we might even feel guilty for getting paid for doing something that does not feel like work.
Even if you are published by a traditional publisher – I have truly never heard of a single author who was satisfied with how their publisher promoted their book. This does not mean that the publishers do not do their best. It is just that there is only so much they can do. You are the channel for the work. You are the golden goose. The public wants to know you.
You may think that you would like to remain mysterious. That websites and social media and blogging are tacky. You are a serious writer and cannot be bothered wasting your time with such nonsense. I don’t disagree with you. But I have never met a writer – and I know a lot of writers – no matter how high-minded their literary aspirations, who did not want a wider readership.
Yes, if a book is great, word of mouth will help it to spread. But not always. Until the book reaches a tipping point, it is out there competing for eyeballs with thousands of other books. And the amount of choices now is so mind-boggling that even if a book is terrific, it takes more than that to get people to read it.
HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR BOOK
GET A WEBSITE
Every author should have a website. It should be clean and easily navigable. People want to know who you are, what you have done, how to contact you, what you are working on, how many pets you have, if you are married or single. They want to read articles on you. They want to know what you think about the world. Something strange happens when you are a published author. People feel like they know you. They have read your book. They have read your deepest thoughts. In a sense, they do know you. Your website is a way for your readers to connect to you. It should represent who you are. Many authors don’t want to be bothered with this. It is understandable. You want to write. You don’t want to concern yourself with thinking about and designing a website. If you are unconcerned with your book developing an ever-widening readership, you can skip this part. If the thrill of creation has satisfied you completely and all you want to do is write the next book, then by all means don’t bother building a website. A website takes time and energy and it requires regular maintenance. But if you want people to know about your creative work, it is the cornerstone of your creative business.
Are you on Facebook? Are you on Twitter? It’s not enough to be on social media anymore. Our books need to be on it as well. By the way, please sign up for my free monthly newsletter at lawriterslab.com where you will receive information on free tele-course workshops as well as writing tips, author interviews, and lots more. I also promote alumni of the books and the workshops in the newsletter, so when your book is published, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will promote it for you. Just put ALUMNI NEWS in the subject heading.
Social media is the way we connect to our readers. There are an infinite number of creative ways to maintain this connection, from blogging about current events and social issues, to providing information and content, to holding contests and offering giveaways of products and services. I know some writers who hold regular competitions and offer their books as prizes. The competitions can be serious or silly, and can tie into themes in your book.
One of my students started blogging once a week about style and fashion and four years later, the material from her blog became a book. She had a built-in audience for the book, and when she self-published it, it became a hit. Six months later she sold the rights to a major house for six figures in a bidding war.
Make comments on other bloggers sites. Don’t hype yourself, but mention who you are and what you do. Make sure that your comments are valuable. Blog posts cannot be infomercials. They must be content-rich. Talk about your experience writing the book. Talk about yourself. Find an angle and write about that. Because I am known as a writing teacher, I frequently write about the trials and tribulations of becoming a first-time novelist. I started a small publishing company called Writers Tribe Books, and one my authors has started tweeting bon mots pulled from the narrator of his books.
The secret to social media is to be consistent. Don’t binge and write six blogs in one day and then not write anything else for six months. In the beginning, there might be no one paying attention. That is okay. Just keep going. Write what interests you. Who knows? It may become your next book.
Do you have to write a blog to be a successful novelist? No. You don’t have to do any of these things. I am pretty sure that Cormac McCarthy does not have a blog. But then again, it took him almost forty years of writing novels before anyone started reading him.
There are many legitimate publications, such as Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal that review books. They typically take a few months to write a review and will only do so for books that are not yet available to the public. There is no guarantee that your book will get reviewed, but if you don’t mind waiting a few extra months to find out all you need to do is send them an advanced reading copy of your book with a cover letter. Major publishing companies usually print up special copies of the book for reviewers. However, if you have self-published your book, you can simply put a sticker on the cover that states: Advanced Reading Copy.
You can also pay a periodical to print a review on your book. Of course, this does not guarantee that you will receive a positive review, but getting reviewed is one important tool in building awareness for your work. Prices vary widely based primarily on the scope of the publication’s readership. Most reviews typically take from between six and eight weeks, but if you are willing to pay a premium, there is sometimes an express service. Below are some publications that offer reviews, along with some notes on what they charge.
- Kirkus Indie (sister company of Kirkus)
- Book Pleasures
You can write articles based on the topic that you have written about and link them to similar articles on the Internet.
Once your book is available, schedule book readings. If your book is available through distributors such as Ingram, or Baker and Taylor, bookstores can order it directly from the warehouse. If your book is not available through a distributor, it is still possible to schedule a book reading. Bookstores are in the business of selling books. They are often willing to schedule an event if they think that can sell a lot of books. You can bring the books to the store yourself and sell them on consignment. The deal is typically 60% for the author and 40% for the store.
If you are going to call up a store and book an event, here is a basic rundown on how to approach it.
- Be cheerful and upbeat. They don’t know who you are, and they don’t care that you are a genius. I cannot tell you how many book readings I have done where the staff has told me how refreshing it was to have someone so down to Earth. I never thought I was particularly down to Earth until I heard how some of these authors come in. Let’s face it, public speaking can be terrifying, and sometimes there can be a tendency to compensate by adopting some weird, brooding persona. Just be yourself, unless you are a person who does not smile, in which case, try to approximate your regular persona, but with a smile.
- Tell the manager that you have just published a book. Tell her the title, and that you are scheduling a book tour, and is she interested in having you read at her store. If she asks what the book is about, do not give her a ten-minute plot rundown or how the thematic elements of your crime novel were inspired by the early poems of Walt Whitman. It is not that she doesn’t care, though she probably doesn’t. She is incredibly busy. And if she is an indie bookstore, she is fighting to survive against the tide of Internet commerce. Be nice to your indie bookstore personnel. They are modern-day saints.
- Tell her that you are going to bring in lots of people. She is going to want to know how you are going to bring in people. And this is where you tell her that you have a website, and a Twitter account, and a monthly newsletter that goes out to thousands of people each month. Tell her that you are going to bring friends and family, and you are going to fill the place.
- If you have convinced her that you can sell books, then she is going to want to know about the book. She might even ask you to send her a media kit. A media kit is simply a short explanation of the book, stating its target audience, and all of the things that you are going to do to make it a huge success.
There are hundreds of book awards. You can find them online and submit to them yourself. They generally require a small payment to cover administration costs, and usually four copies of the book in order to be considered. Winning awards is just one more way of gaining visibility and validating your work in the marketplace.