My book is coming out from a lovely indie publisher. Since they're small, I know I'm going to have to help out with book publicity. Any recommendations for where to start?
Um. Ok. How to tackle this?
I have been working in publishing now for... at least three weeks, let's just say. I have seen a lot of people trying a lot of things to make books sell. I've seen companies and authors spend tons of money and sell zero books, and I've seen no-name midlist books that no one believed in or stood behind totally take off. So what's the secret to book publicity?
Ok, but besides magic, do I have recommendations for what you can do to help your own book? Sure.
Successful book sales are a combination of two factors (and this is literally all it comes down to):
1) Accessibility of book
2) Word of mouth
Accessibility is something that you can't do alone. You need your publisher to help you as much as possible, which means helping your publisher as much as possible. If you can, get your agent to request a publicity meeting with your publisher a year to six months before publication. This shouldn't be a "what are you going to do for me?" conversation, but rather a brainstorming session--remember that ultimately you all have the same goal (selling your book) and sometimes a meeting/conversation like this will help your company think of new ideas based on your personal connections and experience, and maybe also help you realize you have connections and experience you didn't realize you had. Good for all. Also, it's always good to show you are smart, positive, and enthusiastic.
Now if all things line up well and you start way in advance, your publisher will have more ammo to go in with when they have to sell the books in to the accounts (the chains, indies, etc). The more your publisher knows about you and your publicity plan for the book, the more copies they'll be able to get into stores, and the more successfully they'll be able to target the right market for your book.
Now, for more personal things you can do, I'd offer the following bits of advice:
Make a website
If you don't already have one. In case people want to come to you for publicity, they need to have a place to go. Your blog will do just fine, as long as there are clean and accessible pages of info about you. Just... don't leave yourself without go-to internet presence. Make sure there is contact info there, and make sure you don't put up anything time-sensitive (because nothing looks worse than logging onto an author website and seeing "Wow! Can't believe 2007 is here already!").
How do I create that "word of mouth" thing you were talking about?
Well, people have to talk about your book. Ultimately, if we really want things to take off, people you don't know have to talk about your book to other people you don't know, and then THEY have to talk to people you don't know. But this chain of events can start with people you know; for this reason, remember your family and friends.
For authors publishing with small or indie presses, or self-publishing, or who know for whatever reason there are not going to be a whole ton of copies of their book going out, I recommend a book party as a good starting point. Even if it's intimate, it's nice to celebrate your accomplishment while reminding people you've been published. It's also a good way to get the ball rolling. We talked here about throwing a good launch party.
You can also give stuff out. Cheap and nice solutions include bookmarks, buttons, pens, and postcards; you can get fancier, but usually the cheap stuff works just as well. Don't be shy about asking your friends to give your thingies out at work, too. That's what friends are for.
Plan to spend a little money.
Guidelines I have heard include 10% of your advance--but of course this is only relevant in some cases. Don't go bankrupt, no matter what you do; think of it as hobby money (I might have spent this on vacation or buying myself tropical fish, but instead I'll use it on gas money to drive to Houston for that book signing, etc). But use your allotted funds on things like your giveaways, visiting indie bookstores and introducing yourself to owners, etc.
Should you hire a publicist?
There are pros and cons. Publicists are expensive. Very, very expensive. But if you are in a situation where you're getting zero backing from your publisher--which, let's be honest, happens a lot--you could benefit from one. Just make sure it's worth your while. Also, make sure the publicist is a good choice for you--if it's someone rinky-dink, they may get nothing done. If it is someone huge, they may end up ignoring you for bigger fish. Get recommendations from author friends.
I hope this helps. So much of publicity is case-by-case. Let me know if any specific questions/scenarios come up--or if any authors want to volunteer stories on what worked for them, that would be great.