Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Mystical Blue Yonder (Or, Book Publicity)

I got a note:

Dear Moonrat,

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.


Anissa said...

Great post! Bookmarked for future reference. ;)

Claire Dawn said...

I think I would definitely have a publishist when I get to that stage. I'm bad at following up/organisation.

Jeanrw said...

Great start for most authors. I think that the key is to have the mindset of 'this is a partnership between my publisher and myself.'

There are many little step by steps that authors can do to make it work. Talk to other authors, talk to your agent, talk to your publisher--see what you can do to help in its success.

My contract with my small publisher included a firm investment in marketing. I wanted BEA presence, giveaways, more galleys and a booklaunch party. We came up with a list of targeted review outlets and sent galleys. On publication a much larger mailing was done. The initial six months saw nice reviews and pretty good sales despite the rocky economy (my book is a guide to consumer electronics).

Unfortunately, my publisher retired six months after publication (I still have distribution). I have continuted to market the book myself and book sales have been steady. After the first wave, most authors even at big houses are on their own as their title is no longer frontlist. As a nonfiction author, I have changed course from the emphasis being on my book to a focus on being an expert who wrote a book. This has kept the book alive and has resulted in lots of great interviews with outlets large and small.

Jessie Mac said...

Thanks for a timely post and good advice. Just consumed with getting a website up and running at the moment and writing a blog post on it. The blog is fine but you're right, you need to provide clear and easy to find information about yourself and your book you can direct people to.

IsaiahC said...

On "giving stuff away," what about giving away the first chapter or two of your book as a podcast?

moonrat said...

Isaiah--sure, as long as your publisher knows. Usually there's a clause in the contract about how much text is distributable. But these days, most publishers are pretty forward-thinking about that. Just do ask first.

jjdebenedictis said...

It makes me happy word-of-mouth is one of only two main concerns.

Word-of-mouth is generated by the enjoyability of the book's contents, and that's something I can control.

The rest of the 'magic'? Not so much, although I can try.

Stuart Clark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stuart Clark said...

Just a few of my thoughts...

You should not only just have a website but update it regularly to keep content fresh and keep people coming back.

Blog or guest blog.

Have a Myspace/Facebook/Twitter account. Also a Facebook page.

I'd suggest trying to get some professional reviews if possible.

Arrange signings with local bookstores. Bring laminated printouts of your reviews with you. Have your 30 second pitch memorized so you can wow customers quickly. Dress and act professionally. Stand and interact with people. Don't sit behind your table expecting people to come to you. Hand out bookmarks/postcards and be nice to people even if they don't buy your book. You don't know who they might know who they might mention you to. You'll be much more memorable if you're friendly and polite.

Attend conventions and book fairs. Be a part of panel discussions.

Give talks at libraries and schools. Most high schools have clubs or creative writing classes that would love to have an author come speak to them. Ask if you can do sales and signings after your talk.

Give some stuff away. I have sample chapters of my books and free short stories on my website. Run competitions with your books as the prizes.

Read other author websites. Get ideas from other people. See what's working and what's not working.

Be active on forum boards. Having an online presence is one thing but making yourself visible is a whole other matter. Respond to blog posts such as this ;-) Be an active participant who CONTRIBUTES - not a pushy author who's clearly just trying to sell books.

Advertise. You can find some reasonably cheap and effective ways to advertise. Convention/Book fair programs often have advertising space available and that guarantees you reach everyone attending - and it's good targeted marketing. Also, I LOVE Project Wonderful ( Internet advertising for as much or as little as you want. Find a friend of a friend who knows photoshop to make you up some little adverts and you're away.

Finally, talk about your book(s). The best way to achieve word of mouth recommendation is if you start the ball rolling. Nobody knows more about your books than you. You don't have to be pushy about it, just drop it into conversations if it's appropriate. "Oh, and I wrote a book." Most people find that fascinating - and you'll be surprised where that leads. "Oh, I know someone who works at XXXXXX" (Insert name of big publisher here)
Have your family talk about your book too.

See if you know someone who knows someone who can make you some adverts/book trailer for cheap/free. Maybe your little nephew Johnny is a home editing whizz and you don't know it. He'd be happy to make his favorite aunt/uncle a book trailer for FREE - and you know what, he's actually pretty good at it.

Put an electronic signature in your personal email
Joe Bloggs
Author of the XXXX series of books

Just thoughts. Hope that helps.

Jamie Guiney said...

I think having a web presence is must-have. Within a month of getting my own website online, things are really starting to take off for me.
Publishers want a bankable client nowadays, good writing isn't enough anymore (which is a shame).

moonrat said...

Thanks, Stuart. All solid ideas, and good advice.

Stuart Clark said...

And I totally forgot to mention contacting your College Alumni office and having them put something about your book in their alumni publication.

Zoe said...

Author involvement is essential to a successful marketing campaign be it for a small, medium or large publisher.

Great post, and wonderfully informative comments.