By Colleen Devine Ellis
Effective book publicity relies on planning ahead and defining success for you and your book. You can’t get there without asking where you are going and what you want to happen when you arrive.
The key is asking questions and seeking answers that are both realistic and sustainable. The best answers for you are not necessarily the same best answers for another author. Sure there are some overlap and common practices, but the options for book publicity are so widespread and varied that it can be overwhelming to authors and publishing professionals alike.
As soon as you have mastered Facebook and Twitter, someone asks if you are on Instagram or more dauntingly, Whosay (don’t worry, you’re not famous enough for WhoSay. Yet.). Now you have to figure that out while still keeping your existing accounts up to date with interesting and likable content. Do people really use Google+? What about a blog? Hope your phone has a good camera because posts that feature images are much more likely to be shared.
It’s sometimes difficult for writers to separate the emotional experience of writing and publishing a book from the more clinical and objective planning of publicity and marketing, especially if the author is still in the throes of editing and producing the book. Recording expectations and then researching how to achieve them early on in the publishing process can help to create a healthy divide between these two worlds.
What are you expecting to happen besides selling books — paid speaking engagements? A trip to BEA? Do you even know what BEA is and why you should want to go? The questions can go one forever and the time to start asking them is well before your book is published. Here are some fundamental questions to get you started:
Expectations: This is where you get totally honest about your biggest hopes and dreams for this book. If you say a New York Times best seller, do you know what that means in terms of print run and sales per week? Which format, print or e-book? Do you know which authors are on the current bestseller list? Have you read any of their books or visited their websites or social media? There’s nothing wrong with shooting for a bestseller, but if you hope to accomplish this you need to know what it takes sale-wise and time-wise to make a successful attempt. This is also true for all national and international publicity.
Working with your publisher: If you have a marketing and publicity team through your publisher, rule number one is that they are on your side. You have a right to know the print run and advertising and publicity plans ahead of time so ask, nicely. If you don’t agree with the responses then let them know that you have other ideas that may be more effective and give them reasons to follow up on your suggestions. Criticism will not necessarily get you better publicity; alternate suggestions will be more productive. It is important to check in several months before the book is published because publishers have marketing and publicity plans in place long before the pub date.
Community: Before we talk about your book, when was the last time you went to a book signing or discussion? Have you engaged in any sort of conversation about someone else’s work because you are interested in that book and writer? Do you ever promote other authors, living or dead? There are lots of vibrant literary communities both online and in neighborhood bookstores. What community can you be a part of that feels natural to you, rather than forced? Someplace you want to go, online or in person? The community you join now may one day be a driving force behind promotion of your future book.
Media: This is a huge part of your publicity outreach and one that takes time and research. Publishers create a review list for a book, media on the list will receive a review copy and/or an announcement about your book. You can help with this process by paying attention to reviewers and media outlets that seem like a good match for you book. It’s not enough to say “NPR,” you should be specific about what show and host you think would be the best fit. If you are doing media outreach on your own, a good starting point is to look where books similar to yours are being reviewed. Review copies should ideally be sent out at least four to six months before the publication date.
Booksellers and librarians: People who buy and sell books for a living are your best resource as an author. Booksellers influence the book-buying public through in-store displays, newsletters, recommended reading, and many other tools. Librarians are constantly monitoring the interests of their communities and are open to finding out about new books. Both of these groups have professional organizations and conferences that provide opportunities for authors to discuss their books. They are invaluable to writers so make friends with them.
Do you need a professional publicist? There is not right or wrong answer to this question. You need to think about your expectations and if a freelance publicist can help you to better achieve them than you can on your own or with the resources that your publisher is providing.
This is a quick overview of issues an author should be considering well in advance of a book’s publication. You have the power and information available to you to make productive and sustainable choices about the publicity for your book and for your identity as a writer. There are lots of tools out there to help you, now it’s time to figure out what they are and how to use them.
Colleen Devine Ellis, a former publicity manager for Barnes & Noble and the University of Texas Press, runs literary consultant and runs Devine Literary Publicity and Marketing in Austin, Texas.