When I sold my first novel, I knew I’d have to do some marketing to help promote it. But like many debut authors, I had no clue what I’d need to do. A website certainly, probably a blog, some kind of social network like Facebook or MySpace. Beyond that? I had no idea.
Here’s what I learned and what worked for me, with the all important reasons why. (Oh, keep in mind that I’ll be talking about the marketing and networking pros and cons. There’s also a lot of fun involved in some of these as well)
A website is a must in today’s publishing world. Many agents now Google potential clients, so while it used to be you didn’t have to worry about this until you had an agent or sold a book, the sooner you can get one the better. You want this to be a professional looking site, since this is often one of the first things people see about you.
Things to include:
- Your bio, photo, ways to contact you.
- A little about your book if you’d like (if you worry someone will steal your idea, it’s okay to leave it off).
- Any credits or information that aids you in your agent quest and makes you look like a professional writer they’d want to work with. Organizations you belong to, etc.
- Your book cover, blurb about the book, plus the ISBN number and publisher
- Any good reviews you get. (Snippets are fine)
- Links to where people can buy the book.
- Links so the media can download high and low resolution files of your photo and the cover.
- A longer bio is not uncommon.
- Trivia facts and a little bit of fun if your genre lends itself to that.
- Contact info for your agent, publishing, and marketing and publicity people (your publisher will likely assign these folks to you, but you might even hire some of your own).
Blogs are great ways to interact and connect with readers, but they do require a lot of upkeep to maintain. If you enjoy blogging, you can set up a blog in a matter of minutes. If the thought of blogging makes your flesh crawl, just don’t do it. Put your efforts into something you enjoy. If you do blog, they key to getting readers is to offer content they want to know about. Once you’re famous, they’ll come on their own, but until then, they need a reason to visit. Find something you can regularly talk about that would be of interest to the people you hope might buy your book.
If you write historical, perhaps blog about the period you write in. Or if you use recipes, talk about food and cooking. You might write about writing (like me). You might write about something you love that has nothing to do with your book, but slip in book stuff from time to time (which is fine).
It’s okay to promote your book once in a while, but no one wants to come back to read PR gunk all the time. You don’t have to blog every day, but unless you’re posting regularly, there’s not much to encourage return readers. Several times a week is the common suggestion, though there has been a big push to the slower, once-a-week blogger.
My experience: Blogging has been a huge benefit (and enjoyment) for me. I’ve made so many great contacts through my blog and have had so many bloggers help me out and talk about my book when it was released. I’ve also found lots of opportunities by reading other blogs.
Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Red Room, Good Reads. There are tons of sites out there for both writers and readers.
Facebook and MySpace are easy to set up, but like blogging, they can take maintenance to stay connected. They’re not as intensive as blogging though, so they could be a happy medium to keeping people updated without spending all your time doing it. And as you gather friends, you have lots of great contacts when you want to make announcements about releases or great news or events you'll be doing.
Twitter can reach lots of people, but you need to be the type who can say things people want to know about in 140 characters or less. And unless they already know and care about you, you might ask why they’d follow you. But if you’re the type who can easily dash off a few lines all day long, it could be the right tool for you. Or if you're the type who likes to chat with random folks for a few minutes at a time, Twitter can be a great way to reach out to people.
One thing I've learned about Twitter is that it can take time to figure out how it works best for you, so try different things before you give up on it.
Other sites like Goodreads or Red Room allow you to connect with readers and don’t take a lot of upkeep. These sites also provide things for people to find when they Google you.
My experience: I’m on Facebook, (plus a lot of other sites like Goodreads, Red Room, Jacketflap, Authors Now) and I’ve made connections with other writers. Again, so many friends posted about my book and sent links to all their friends when my book came out, so I reached hundreds of people I wouldn’t have otherwise. Every new friend is a possible opportunity, and who knows what I’ll be able to offer to someone else in the future, paying back the good fortune I’ve had. But I've found that as the years have past since I first wrote this post, I use Facebook less and less. It's more for keeping up with friends and family (and the occasional reader who says hello) than a marketing strategy.
Twitter has become my social media of choice for marketing and promotion and connecting to other writers. It's informal, easy to pop on and off to chat when I have time, and easy to reach other people who are interested in writing (and other things) like I am.
Forums and Online Groups
Good writer’s forums like Absolute Write, Backspace and WANAtribe offer wonderful communities that can be both supportive, and lead to great opportunities down the road. But you can’t just start posting and expect everyone to flock to you. You need to join before your books comes out, get to know folks and become part of the community first. These groups can smell a poser a mile away, and no one is going to help someone who’s clearly there to market themselves or their book. But for those who make an effort to help others, and have done so long before they sold their book, many are delighted to help. Like blogging, it can take time to stay involved, but well worth it. Also like blogging, if you don’t enjoy it, or feel you have nothing to offer, don’t frustrate yourself by trying.
My experience: Absolute Write has been a fantastic forum to belong to. It’s a great bunch of folks, and it’s led to lots of great opportunities, from blogging to reviews to interviews. And if you're still working on your book and craft, there's a ton of helpful information to better your writing. WANAtribe has also been a lot of fun.
I heard pros and cons about getting business cards and bookmarks printed up. Some said they were great, others said they wound up in the trash as soon as the singing was over. I printed them anyway. One thing to keep in mind, is that I had the advantage here of being a graphic designer in my day job. It was very easy for me to design pieces and get them printed (a client of mine even printed them for free as a "congratulations on selling your book" present). You might need to do some searching, but there are plenty of good printers out there who can do inexpensive business cards in full color. It's so easy to email PDF files, so the printer doesn't have to be local. Finding someone online (as long as they're reputable) works fine. The costs on these are usually fairly reasonable.
I didn’t do just my name and contact info. I used this as a mini-brochure and marketing tool. I found that before my book came out, lots of people asked me about it and said they’d have to look for it later. But we all know that the odds of them remembering it are slim. So I printed two-sided cards with the book cover, tagline (more on that later), and website on the front, and contact info for both me and my publisher and the ISBN number on the back.
I carry them all the time, and when someone asks about the book, I have an easy thing to hand out. These are also quite handy to have since my book came out, as I’m able to hand them to booksellers at events too. Everything they need to order the book or set up an event is right there on the card. And they can clearly see what book it is and why they want to remember it.
I've discovered now that there's some information I could use that I don't have on these. I get asked about writing and how to get published, so I'll probably be printing up new cards with this blog address on it (since so much advice is here), and my e-mail address. And I'll take off the One Sale date, as it makes it look like the book isn't out.
These days, I have fold over cards with a general author card on the front (with my name and contact info), and one panel for each book in the trilogy. It folds down to a normal business card side, so it's handy to hand over to those interested in me or my books. What I'm going to do when my next book comes out I'm not sure yet. I'll have to do something more general I suppose.
I did the same thing with bookmarks, making them attractive and something you might be more inclined to keep and use. I put the same cover, tagline, website on the front, then a longer blur and quotes from reviews, and the same contact info on the back. Bookstores love them, so I give each store I visit a stack. While I’m not sure if they do any good to hand them out to readers, I think they work to get readers to pick them up and look at them in the store. They might ask about it, or notice it next time they’re browsing the shelves.
I also did postcards with both the blog information and the book information (one on each side). These are nice for events and swag bags, and the kids enjoy them at school visits because they can get an autograph. (And I like them because they kids take the cards home and can remember the book and get their parents to hopefully buy it for them)
As a middle grade author, I’m visiting schools. Kids love pencils, so I got a bunch of color-shifting pencils (it works thematically with the title) and printed the logo title and the website on them. During visits, I toss them out to good questions and other random times. A rather inexpensive treat that gets kids talking and when their friends ask where they got them, hopefully they’ll mention me. No way to know for sure, but my visits are a lot more entertaining with them than without them, so they’re worth it just for that. You can’t get readers excited about your book if they’re not paying attention to you.
Any other items you might do, you want to weigh the cost per item versus the benefit gained. I found some really cool things, but I’d spend my whole royalty per book (or more) on it, so giving them out didn’t make financial sense. It’s easy to go overboard and spend too much, so watch yourself and only do what makes sense.
If you’re thinking about doing giveaways, I think using them to make a connection to your audience is what’s important. Free stuff doesn’t do anything to sell your book. Getting someone to talk to you or remember you can.
Taglines are a great thing to have, as they capture attention and can pique interest. We all know we have to be able to talk about our books in one sentence, but also look for ways that you can promote the book the same way movies do.
For The Shifter, my one-line summary wasn’t something that would get people to pick up my marketing pieces, even though it usually got attention when I told it to them in person. So I created a tagline to use on my website, the business cards, and the book marks.
For comparison, my one liner is: “The Shifter is the story of Nya, an orphan with the unique ability to shift pain from person to person, and when her little sister goes missing, it turns out to be the only weapon she has to save her.” I wanted something punchier that captured that same idea.
So I went with: “Sister. Healer. Deadly Weapon. Nya has a secret she must never tell. A gift she must never use. A world she must never question. And a sister whose life depends on her doing all three.”
I’ve gotten tons of compliments on that, and it really draws attention to the printed pieces. It's also what I used on my website page, so visitors get that marketing hook about the book right away, and hopefully that encourages them to read more.
My experience: I've enjoyed having giveaways, but beyond a business card, you don't really need them. They're handy to have, but not having them if your budget doesn't allow for it won't hurt you.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. I read industry blogs daily, and have found marketing opportunities there I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. All it took was me emailing them and seeing if I could get in on whatever it was they were offering. Some said no, but enough said yes to make it worthwhile. At events, I talk to everyone and collect business cards (and hand mine out). When I get home, I email them, letting them know it was nice meeting them. If there’s something I can do (like a book signing if they’re a bookstore owner) I make the offer. I also offer to help them if they need it.
Networking is all about connections and helping others as well as yourself. Don’t think, “they wouldn’t be interested in me.” You never know, and if they are, you just got yourself another bit of press. And you never know what one meeting will lead to. I don't think I've done an event that didn't lead to another opportunity.
Months before your book comes out, it's a good idea to start preparing. That way, you'll have lists and suggestion ready to implement if you're doing your own marketing, or hand to your publisher if you're assigned a publicist.
For online things, start researching online sites you might want to contact (or have your publisher contact). If you're blogging yourself, you'll probably have other bloggers contact you or post comments that can open a door to talk to them about some kind of marketing. Just like you, they're also looking for content for their readers, and you might be able to help each other out. If you're not sure who to look for, you can always Google a book that's in your market and might be like yours and see where they showed up. That'll give you a good start on the places that you might want to approach. (I did my search for The Hunger Games)
Make a list of all the bookstores in the area you'd be willing to go to for signings. Same with schools and libraries. If you're marketing yourself, remember that bookstores like having authors there because they draw in customers, so be careful not to have signings close to each other that would cannibalize off the same customer base. You want to help the bookstores, not rob them of customers.
Prepare some guest blogs so if an opportunity arises, you're ready to go. Also try reading some author interviews and familiarize yourself with common questions so you'll have answers when you get asked for an interview. While a lot of the answers will be the same, try to think up different spins or details so each interview offers something new. That way readers won't get the same info every time.
With the exception of my school visits (which had to happen during school days obviously), everything I've done is something someone working full time can do. Some of It does take time, but I've found it time well spent.
New material added. Originally posted on Tall Tales & Short Stories