9 Apr 2010
Jenny Woolf (www.jabberwock.co.uk), whose The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, has just been published in the UK and US, passes on some marketing tips for authors.
The Mystery of Lewis Carroll has had some wonderful publicity. Much of the credit for that is due to the publicists who have worked on it, but I’ve learned a few things from the experience too. So I’ve written my thoughts down, and whether you are self-published or published by a company, I hope there will be something here for you.
TIE-INS or “HOOKS”
It helps enormously if your book publication coincides with a news story on a related topic - what journalists call a “hook.” The publicity generated from your “hook” can help sweep your book along. “The Mystery of Lewis Carroll,” for instance, was published specifically to coincide with the launch of Tim Burton’s major “Alice in Wonderland” movie, so was included in many round-ups of “Alice” themed books and events.
To help identify news stories, something like the Date-A-Base book of Historic Anniversaries could come in useful, or you can simply google your book subject and your projected publication dates, and see what comes up. If you’re writing an historical novel set on Staten Island, for instance, why not publish in August 2011, for the 350th anniversary celebrations of Staten Island?
The main way to establish yourself on the internet is to get yourself lots of mentions on Google. To do this you need to get mentioned on as many sites as possible – widely read ones, preferably.
PERSONAL WEBSITES, TWITTER, FACEBOOK
Good ways of doing this are to maintain a website which you can update yourself, or at the very least a blog - Blogger.com is a really easy site to use. I like to have complete control over my blog, so use Nucleus software on my own website. I also maintain a clone on Blogger which links back to my website and enables more links to be made to me.
I have had several interview requests via my website contact form, and my blog entries help keep me on the Google radar. Once a blog is up, you build traffic by visiting other peoples’ blogs and leaving comments there, making sure to include your site’s web address, so they can link back to you.
I also keep a Facebook fan page for my book and link its status posts with Twitter, which helps increase my internet presence.
Although it is hard to quantify how many sales you make using so-called social media, the exciting thing about these sites is that they reach out to lots and lots of people - so you just never know who will take an interest. And it’s fun. I have “met” some very nice and interesting people through my book’s Facebook page.
I don’t try to persuade individuals I know via social media to buy my book directly; there can be loads of reasons why they don’t or can’t, and I am not keen to shove the thing down peoples’ throats. I am delighted if they buy, and happy if they order it through the library, but equally happy if they just take an interest. I am always thrilled if they take photos of displays of the book, offer publicity suggestions or just give me their thoughts. And occasionally they tell me if they have left reviews on Amazon or goodreads.com - always useful to have good ones there.
MAJOR PRINT MEDIA
Leaving social media and your own blog aside, aim to get noticed in important national and international print media - newspapers and magazines. Not only do people read and remember what they have seen in hard print, but even small mentions - just the name and the name of the book - can be useful. This is because online articles in respected media are often syndicated or adapted by media all over the world.
So a solitary mention in The Times may also become a mention in other papers thousands of miles away. Several times, someone, somewhere - perhaps in Latin America or the Philippines or Italy – has picked up mention of my book from the London Times or the New York Times and decided to follow it up by interviewing me for a broadcast or article.
TV AND RADIO
I’ve done several broadcasts for this book, but personally I don’t feel I can quantify how much impact these have made here and in the US. Broadcasts may not have the permanent impact of written media, although if you can post a recording of your TV appearance on YouTube it will help. In terms of internet presence, I would suggest aiming to get a written mention on the TV or radio company’s website if you are interviewed. The more widely read the site the better, so something like the BBC or Fox is ideal. References to you and your book will then continue to come up on the internet long after the broadcast is over.
Traditional broadcast media have competition these days, of course. I recently did a long interview on a podcast site called Psychjourney - that’s really interesting and doesn’t have quite the same time limitations as you get in broadcasting. http://www.psychjourney.libsyn.com And, for more information on dealing with broadcasting, take a look at http://www.midwestbookreview.com/bookbiz/advice/tvinter.htm
OTHER PEOPLES’ WEBSITES AND BLOGS
Things snowball online, so pay attention to popular private websites and blogs. One particular private website regularly comes up in the first page in the Google rankings for my book, and internet-only media are just as good for spreading the word electronically as the online versions of print media. Pick popular websites to approach by googling around and seeing which sites keep coming up. When you contact them, offer a blog giveaway of your book. Typically, people leave comments to enter the giveaway. This helps the Google ratings, specially if the comments also have to include your book title. It’s absolutely great if your book is reviewed on a widely read blog. My book was on several of these and they were very helpful.
SMALLER AND LOCAL PRINT MEDIA
If your book has strong local interest, local coverage will probably be more important than whatever you do online and word of mouth publicity can help in obtaining speaking engagements. Local editors are often very overworked, but they really want to focus on local achievements. As well as getting a feature, you can probably attract news coverage if you attach your book to some local event, or even create a publicity stunt.
I feel that the online value of local publicity depends very much on the quality of the publication’s website. Some have not yet twigged that the right sort of website can boost their business, and their websites don’t offer much, don’t get many hits and barely show on Google. But some small publication reviews may show up very high in the Google rankings if they have attractive sites.
“EVENTS” AND HANDS-ON PUBLICITY
You may have to get out there and make phone calls or ring doorbells to find them, but there are plenty of groups that like being personally visited by an author. Contact your local library or bookstore, and talk to the person in charge of events. Clubs and schools can also be good. What’s more, the kind of places that do author readings or events often have a good position in the local community, and so you can turn the whole thing into a social occasion and bring your friends along too.
Organisers of major literary festivals expect your book to have had significant coverage already, and contact with them would be made through your publisher or agent. But if you hear of a small or specialised literary festival that is relevant to you, do approach them and they will probably be delighted to hear from you.
A COUPLE OF WARNINGS
if you are offered chances to appear in person, take care that you are clear about the benefits to yourself of doing so. Remember you may generate local word of mouth publicity, or offers of more local talks, but have very little impact online.
If you love the whole idea of talking about your book, or want to establish yourself as part of the local cultural scene then of course local talks are ideal. But they do take time to prepare - sometimes a lot of time - and then you may have to commit a good part of a day to getting to the venue, setting up your Powerpoint, etc. giving the talk and getting back.
If someone else is publishing you, then your free talk will get you at best a royalty, perhaps 10 percent of the cover price, of each book sold. If you are still paying off your advance, you will get nothing directly at all. So you could end up feeling YOU are paying THEM to let you give the talk.
As for bookstore signings – they can be great but they also have a certain notoriety amongst authors because sometimes - to be frank - people just don’t come. A family member of mine recently saw a very well known artist sitting forlornly in a bookstore with his fountain pen, ignored by all. She pitied him but didn’t dare ask him to autograph the postcards she’d just bought, because he was there to sign books and she thought he might scorn her cheap little cards. (Or, I thought to myself, he may have fallen on her with desperate gratitude just because she was noticing him.) It’s hard to think that this exposure did him any good, and perhaps he would have been better spending the time doing something useful, like drawing.
IF YOU ARE PUBLISHED BY AN ESTABLISHED HOUSEI
f your book is with a regular or large publishing house, you will find a publicist is assigned to you. She or he will be dealing with other books, not just yours, and has only limited time, so it is a very good idea to make sure that you share any marketing ideas you have with your publicist and do not just leave everything to them.
Tell the publicist about any people or outlets that might be specially inclined to notice your book, offer contacts for people who have shown interest in the past or who may help in some way, point up online contests and giveaways with suitable blogs, mention shops with displays relevant to your book that the publisher can send their sales staff to see… pretty well anything, in fact. I have dozens of emails in my files of suggestions I have made to my publicists, and many of them have borne fruit. Indeed, several of the reviews I am most pleased with came directly because I suggested them to the publicists.
I am afraid (sorry, self published writers) that I think it’s better as a rule to go through the publicist, if you have one, since well known people and big organisations usually take more notice of a company than of a private individual. But of course there are many exceptions and no rigid rules.
IF YOU ARE SELF PUBLISHED
Self publishing is becoming very popular. We self published a book with a keen but limited market, and it worked out really well.
If you’re publishing your own book then you are stumping up the cost of printing and publicity and you will be keeping 100 percent of the rewards you get from going out and giving talks. Like the Little Red Hen, you will benefit directly from your efforts by the extra sales you make.
Many self published print runs are very small, and so every sale counts. So for a self published author, giving talks and personal appearances can work out well. If word of mouth about your talk generates dozens of sales and some online blog comment, this is well worth doing. And also, it only needs one person attending your talk to suggest your book for their reading club or discussion group - more sales. You will also probably get several extra sales on the spot, from people attending the talk. Approach the local paper, blog about it, and get others to blog about it if you can.
Make sure your website offers the chance to buy the book. Your book should have an ISBN and you can, as the publisher, list it on Amazon. Consider enrolling in the Amazon Associates program, getting their widget and encouraging people to buy through your site.
GETTING TOGETHER WITH OTHER AUTHORS
If you are rather shy, it can be intimidating going out and giving talks. One thing which I haven’t done, but which sounds like a great idea, is banding together with other authors who have written (or illustrated) similar books. I know of authors who have done this, and they say it is a lot of fun because they do group signings and events and can make quite a production of it, perhaps offering storytelling or giveaways. Group publicity is wonderful for shy authors – they can leave the extroverts in the group to show off and pull in the crowds.
These author groups can also offer more than just a talk or a reading – everyone in the group has different skills. They probably attract larger audiences, too. Some groups even give themselves a name. I’ve heard that even if an event is poorly attended, at least they keep each other company and have a laugh. And, of course, such events can be made newsworthy and can get into regional press, and hence online. Be sure to have a printed sheet giving the names of all the authors and all the books, if you do a group event.
Is there a conclusion? I don’t know. But this is all I can think of for now. Of course there are many other aspects of book marketing upon which I haven’t examined, and my personal experience doesn’t cover everything, but I do hope that this author’s viewpoint is of some use.