Book Publicity Begins at Home

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an author with a new book must be in want of a wife to promote it. Or that’s what Victoria Sorzano decided when her husband published his book last year. And she discovered there’s plenty that authors can do to push their books beyond re-arranging copies in bookshops.

Writer’s partners are often imagined as a quiet force behind each book, diligently typing away, researching, proof-reading and critiquing every chapter as it comes off the printer. I did none of those things for my husband Adrian Gilbert when he was writing POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe and Germany 1939-45. But I like to think I made up for it when it came to publicising his book.

The first inkling I had that promoting POW was not just a job for his publicist was when I saw the publisher’s press release: a full-page in length, chronicling the book’s contents and high points. I knew my friends wouldn’t read more that a paragraph.

Working as a journalist on interactive TV for Sky Television had taught me to believe everyone has short attention spans… a fairly useful assumption when you’re writing selling copy. So I distilled the copy down to just four sentences that summed up the book in the snappiest way I could.

Getting the word out

What we should have done is email this blurb, with a jpeg of the book jacket and a link to Amazon, to all our friends and contacts. Instant, free publicity. What we did instead was print off postcards. One side had the book jacket, the other my blurb and a review. This was also a good idea, just more costly.

We sent these postcards to everyone in our address books, down to our dentist and our decorator, and later used them to publicise book signings. Author Isabel Losada, writing in the Writers and Artists Yearbook, says she hands her postcards out to people at parties who ask her what she does: “Sometimes they’ll ask you to sign the card and go out and buy the book. And you can find 100 other uses for the postcards too.” And, as she points out, they’re tax deductible under Advertising and Promotion.

Local publicity

An author’s publicist is best placed to ensure your book is reviewed in the national press and relevant publications. But they’ll never be able to promote your book as well as you can in your local area, nor will they go down more unusual routes.

We got a full-page feature in our local paper after one phone call, and most authors can expect the same. You can also try the local papers in all the areas where you’ve previously lived. We made sure copies of POW in every local bookstore were signed, which meant we made useful contact with the booksellers and got the book promoted with “local author” signs or “signed copies” stickers (Waterstone’s).

Booksellers claim signed copies do make the difference, particularly when people are choosing books as presents. So it’s probably worth a trip to
London or your closest major city to do stock signings in the biggest stores… doubly so if your book is out before Christmas.

Articles and features

Keep an eye on the news well before your publication date, and if anything resonates with your book, pitch an article to newspapers or magazines. Start thinking of less obvious markets too. We missed this trick first time around, but for the publication of POW in paperback, Adrian has a piece in Gramophone about music festivals in POW camps and a feature in Soldier magazine about sports behind the barbed wire. If you have any friends - or even fiends of friends - in the media, don’t be shy to ask them if they can do anything to promote your book.

Get a website

Before POW was published, it never occurred to me that Adrian should have his own website. After it was published, I couldn’t believe we hadn’t got one. But having your own website doesn’t guarantee your name will jump to the top a Google search. Google ranking is based on things like the number of hits you get and how many important sites link to your site. Adrian’s official website (www.adrian-gilbert.co.uk) appears below his author page on Andrew Lownie’s website in searches for “adrian gilbert” because Andrew’s site gets much more traffic.

So for many authors a section on Andrew’s site may be all you need. But the internet won’t go away, and for a few hundred pounds you can commission a decently designed site (you’ll have to plan it and provide copy and pictures). The Society of Authors offers a list of web designers recommended by members on their website (www.societyofauthors.net). You can create a website yourself with relative ease with iWeb on Mac (OS X) or FrontPage on Windows. If you have access to neither of these, try www.1stsitefree.com, which promises to create a website in seven easy steps (but it won’t look very sophisticated); or take a look at www.blogger.com for a quick way to create your own blog.

Blogs, links and more

The explosion in networking sites like MySpace, Bebo and Facebook means that websites are more interactive than ever, and this is what younger audiences expect. A blog keeps your website dynamic and up-to-date, and it doesn’t have to be personal – you can refresh it with news about your book, book reviews or mini-features. You can also make money from your books via your site. Link to Amazon as an Amazon Associate and you’ll make a percentage on a direct sales from your site (see www.amazon.co.uk/associates). Your website should allow readers to email you directly, or even write on a message board. If it’s relevant, you can include a podcast with audio elements or video via YouTube.

A website will hopefully lead to more commissions and TV and radio work, and so pay for itself. It’s also a showcase for your work when you’re contacting editors and publishers, so no more tedious photocopying. Add your website address to your email signature, so it goes out with each email. Email everyone when your website goes live, and ask people with websites to link to your site, which will improve its ranking.

And finally…

Publicising your book is time consuming, there’s no doubt. But hopefully you’re in it for the long game, so no effort will be wasted. Here are a few more things I learned along the way, some of which will save you time:

- Keep everything to do with publicity in one notebook so you never have to scrabble around for vital contact details.

- Use email and e-announcements whenever possible. Set up email groups so you can instantly contact the same set of people about new developments.

- Make friends with your computer. If you can run off fliers or posters quickly, it will be no bother to publicise local signings and events.

- Don’t forget your camera. Take pictures of yourself at book signings or with subjects of your book so you can keep updating your website.

- Don’t spend all your time on Amazon just checking your ranking. Try clicking on the I’m The Author button instead. Ask anyone who’s read and enjoyed your book early on if they’d kindly post a review (on Waterstones.co.uk too).

- If you’re new to public speaking, work on it before your first speaking events. Practice in front of someone, video yourself, even book a few sessions with a local drama teacher, as Hollywood publicist Milton Kahn suggests. Better presentation will improve your interviews on TV and radio too.

- Get help. If you’re not comfortable with any aspect of self-promotion, pass it to a willing person close to you who won’t be restrained by natural modesty. Stick to the bits you enjoy and you’ll be doing a better job.

Victoria Sorzano was a features journalist for Sky Television for several years. She now combines freelance writing and editing with raising two young children. She is married to military historian Adrian Gilbert. victoria.sorzano@virgin.net