Before the 1950s, it was considered tacky to promote your own book. That was a job for your publisher. Then came the Golden Age of Television, late night talk shows, and Truman Capote (the inimitable self-promoter).
Now, it’s imperative for authors to be active in marketing and promotion—even if they have signed with a traditional publisher.
Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Florida Writers Conference in Orlando. I decided to focus on sessions that discussed book marketing and promotion, since this is an area where many authors struggle. I had hoped to hear some compelling advice that would help my clients and other authors, and boy did I come away with great insights!
#1 You Need a Platform
Yes, even if you’re a fiction writer. One of the marketing panelists, Samantha Zukergood of St. Martin’s Press, mentioned that it’s rare for her to see a fiction author who’s gotten a deal who doesn’t have any kind of platform. While fiction is evaluated mainly on the strength of the story, having a platform in place gives you an edge. Publishers want to see that you are capable of selling books (because at the end of the day, they’re looking out for their bottom line, too).
And if you're a nonfiction author, you already know it's necessary to have a platform before you start querying and submitting. Since nonfiction books have a shorter shelf-span, publishers put a heavier weight on your visibility. They want to know if you are able to sell a lotta books in a certain amount of time.
So, start building your platform. But you might be wondering…how?
#2 Focus on a Single Subject of Authority
This is easier for nonfiction authors. But it can also be used effectively by fiction writers—it just takes a little more creativity.
One of the conference speakers, editor and author Chuck Sambuchino, suggests doing a “loose connection,” where you become an expert on a nonfiction element from your story. For example, Susie Q has written a romance novel set in the Victorian Era. She can create a blog centered around Victorian fashion, or Victorian architecture, or Victorian furniture—you get the picture. She’ll have a targeted audience (Victorian Era enthusiasts), and when she promotes her novel in one of her posts, her audience will likely check it out because 1) they’re already into Victorian culture and 2) they like her and the content she provides. And when she begins to submit to agents and publishers, she’ll already have a platform, which puts her at an advantage.
Another suggestion from Chuck is to blog about your writing journey. However, this is a saturated area. It’s hard to stand out from an SEO perspective. So what you can do is interview other writing/publishing experts and authors and compile their insights into a blog post. I can bet only a few authors are doing this. People are more likely to search for specific agents and editors, and if you mention their name in your blog post your site has a better chance of showing up in their search results. Main takeaway here? Talk about what other people aren’t talking about.
A third idea is to blog about anything you like—it doesn’t have to be connected to your book. But your content does have to be interesting and engaging to your target audience. When you do promote your book to followers, they will buy it because they simply like you.
#3 Focus on One or Two Social Sites—and Be Really Good at It
This was advocated by everyone on the marketing panel. It’s sound advice.
We think we’ll reach more people if we’re on more social media sites. But it actually dilutes our impact. You will provide more thoughtful content and attract more engaged followers if you stick to one or two sites. Valuable content is what counts.
Like making pithy statements? You need to be on Twitter.
Prefer longer-form writing? Start blogging.
Are you more visual? Get on Instagram or Pinterest.
Love making videos? Create a YouTube channel.
Pick an avenue you're comfortable with and that is fun for you, so the thought of self-promotion doesn’t fill you with dread!
#4 Hold Giveaways, Flash Promos, and Contests
People love free stuff! Especially if the product aligns with their interests.
Lawrence Knorr from Sunbury Press suggests scheduling flash promos to coincide with holidays, current events, and “nonfiction hooks.”
Let’s go back to Susie Q’s Victorian Era romance novel. Her nonfiction hook is the Victorian Era. So she can hold a costume contest for her followers, with the best period costumer awarded a free autographed copy of her book. She can even be more strategic with her marketing by requiring contestants to share her blog/Twitter/Instagram/etc. with two other people, reaching even more potential readers!
When holding giveaways, promos, or contests, don’t outright say “Please buy my book!” The point of these activities is to have fun and strengthen your relationship with your followers.
Lawrence gave an example of one of his authors who published a photo book of pit bulls. The book was heavily promoted during National Pit Bull Awareness Day and became a hit with the pit bull rescue community. It’s now one of the publisher’s most popular books. That’s the power of connecting your book with the right niche audience.
Which brings us to…
#5 Sell (and Promote) in Non-Bookstore Outlets
Look beyond traditional distribution channels and see where else your target readers congregate. The possibilities are vast using this strategy. Consider museums, niche-specific conferences, and retailers related to your subject matter.
If you’ve written a sci-fi novel involving aliens, it makes sense to set up a table at a UFO conference like the popular UFO Congress. Or, better yet, apply to be a speaker and showcase your authority—you will attract even more potential readers.
If you have a book on healthy eating, reach out to health and fitness bloggers to discuss a guest post from you.
If you’ve written a book about alternative healing, seek out holistic health practitioners or natural healing shops; they may be looking for books like yours to help their customers and it becomes a win-win for both parties.
Face Your Marketing Fears
Whether you're self-published or going the traditional path, you must have a way to reach potential readers, either through your social media followers, blog subscribers, or professional associations.
If you are not comfortable promoting your work, this is something you need to work on. I have been to readings and presentations where the author was visibly awkward, but they still got up on stage and gave it their best. You will eventually need to face a live audience or negotiate with decision-makers once your book is published.
It takes practice to put yourself out there. But just think of it as sharing something cool with your friends. People want to hear interesting stuff. And if you have something genuinely interesting to say, you'll have their attention.
This might be a good topic for another post: how to overcome self-promotion anxiety. Let me know if this is something you’d like me to discuss in more detail!