Today I want to talk a little bit about promotion, keeping up with blogs and social media, and growing an audience, even if you aren’t published yet. As always, this is directed at writing, but applies to anyone who wants to make a living off their art.
You did the work, you found an agent, and maybe even managed to get a sweet five-figure deal from a publisher. Maybe you put the work out yourself. Maybe you’re still writing the first draft. Doesn’t really matter where you are in the process, promotion begins now.
The Trade Publishing Myth
Probably the biggest lie that new authors tell themselves. “I’ll land a big publishing house, and they’ll take care of publicity.” Folks, I’m sorry to inform you that it just ain’t so. (you like my little country twang?)
There might have been a time, fifty or sixty years ago, where landing a deal with a publisher was seen as a “ticket up” in the literary world, but it’s simply not true. They absolutely will help you out. They’ll probably submit a book to Kirkus, get some nominations in various book awards, put out a promo reel, drum up some nice listings in various advertising networks, and they’ll drop a couple grand doing it.
Here’s the rub, that isn’t enough to make the book go. There are always exceptions, but I’ve found that the best way to sell a book is by sneaking it onto the “ban list.” I’m still working out how to do this (FTDB might be a good category since grammar teachers are starting to hate me for writing that book), but in the meantime, let’s get real.
Everything I’ve mentioned above? You can do all of that. You can drop press releases and hire publicity agencies with the best of them, but it’s going to cost some money, and you had better know what you are doing. I’ve wasted hundreds of dollars testing various networks, but giving a book an initial shove takes a good bit of energy. It’ll eat into your writing time and keep you up at night.
If you have a publisher on your side, great. Try to get details about when promos will be running, and ask if you can help with a booksy or free99 deal. There are numerous platforms out there to help give you a good shove, and the best ones, I’ve found, have large segmented email lists.
If you are striking out on your own, there’s also a few rather large media outlets, and they can hook you up with a promo package 6-8 months out from release day. Starting prices run around $1500 for the good ones, so don’t expect it to come cheap. When I’m in a good positioning with my books, there’s one that I mean to try. I thought they would blow me off because I was an indie author, but they were actually quite friendly and gave me a rundown of what I would be looking at cost-wise, and what they deliver. Riffle is another option on the lower end (less than $100)
Free vs. Discounted
This is where trade published authors are going to have their hands tied. I’m planning on running a free promotion on my new title: Incorporated First Strike this weekend. Why free? Well, despite having a decent following on twitter, I haven’t found many readers. Most of my social audience is authors and artists. On the last novel release, Riffle and Booksy raked in 20-30 sales during a 99 cent deal. That didn’t pay for the promotion, but had I been a more well-known name, especially among their mailing list, I could have sold ten times as much. The trick early on is getting readers to pick up your book and take a look. Once it’s off the shelf, it’s up to your words to deliver, but you need to put that book in people’s hands.
This is why publishers and agents will tell you to let everyone know you released a book, and try to get them to help you advertise it. You need this initial push, and for most of the bigger houses, a free ebook deal is right out of the question. They make up for this by giving you a spot on their own email list, placing the title in bookstores, and booking events, just to help you gain a little traction.
It might look like “good books” just sprout up from nowhere, but there is a LOT happening behind the scenes, and even authors are often oblivious to it. You can tell by the way some of them talk about their books at conferences. Shelf space and a big email list make a difference.
After the Launch
I’m not good at pre-launch strategy, yet, but I have learned a lot about push and giving a book its second wind. I do this through freebie deals to start. Why would I throw away 200 bucks to give away thousands of free copies? Because, that’s the only way some people are going to give my book a chance. I call it “priming.” If you don’t already have a following of voracious readers, then you need to get out there find one. One free book deal and a little cash to booksy, free99, and riffle is my current strategy, and I’ll be posting results of the free promo next week (most likely).
Finish the Damn Book didn’t sell a single copy for three months, even though it was my biggest pre-launch ever, I’d built virality into the book as best I could, and I blasted it everywhere. I wasn’t hitting my target audience. A couple of bloggers gave it some credibility, and still nothing in the sales department. It wasn’t until I spent 2 months blasting inspirational posts last NaNo season that anything happened. Daily during November, and quite a bit in October, I didn’t mention the book at all. I only sent inspirational tweets, blog posts, and such to social media channels. Then in December, I put out a little plug for my book.
Result, the people who had been following my NaNo posts jumped on it, and they never even knew it existed before that. Library borrows shot up, and I sold 100 copies. Not only that, but most of them were paperback sales. There are indie authors out there who will tell you not to bother with paperback, because indie authors don’t sell them. Set the stage properly, and they’ll go. So rather than paying for a promotion, you can find a closed circle of your target audience, and do something special for them. Let them learn your name, interact, and then drop the hint that you have a book out as well. 😉
Just make sure your book is well edited, has a good cover, and for heaven’s sake read some Ryan Holiday before you take on the advertising world.
Prepare for the Worst
Generally speaking, if you go the trade publishing route, you’ll spend three years in prep for release, and then your book will have six months to a year (depending on the publisher) to earn out, or bounce out. If you don’t get the sales that you need, guess what? Game over. They drop the book and take it out of print. (Make sure you read that contract carefully)
Indie authors don’t have that problem. You can leave your book available online and in second-hand bookstores forever. You can even sneak some copies onto local bookstore shelves just for S+Gs (though it’s probably easier to just ask the book buyer, you can definitely do this while traveling though). Donate a copy or two to libraries. etc. But…
Don’t expect to become a hit overnight. It ain’t gonna happen. Even successful books take a year or two to really get rolling. The good news is, if you keep writing books, then you can keep building a backlist and a following. You can make mistakes along the way, and it’s alright. You can keep putting stuff out there, keep learning, keep sticking. And even if you suck at one aspect of advertising, you can excel at another and make up for it.
I can’t pre-launch a book worth a crap, but after the launch, here’s the secret, the REAL marketing secret, and you can implement it however you like, but take this next sentences as the doctrine for all of your marketing endeavors.
Get your book into as many hands as possible, and get those hands turning pages. Keep doing this until you have built a base audience. This could be 100, 1000, or 10,000 readers who LOVE your book and your writing style.
After you accomplish this, you will probably sell that many copies every time you put out a book, as long as you keep putting out good stuff. The secret is finding the audience, the test of their tenacity is how easy it is to launch the next book, and the end target is to set about turning them into a marketing army. The more bloodthirsty your fan base, the less advertising you need to do. They’ll spread the word for you, so try to also acquire some way to contact them (email, phone, social, etc). Become their champion, and let them become yours. These are your readers, and they are the most amazing people on Earth. If one of my readers asked me to send their mother some flowers, I’d probably do it. I do as much as I can for them, because I realize that readers make a writer’s career, not a contract.
Stop bitching, and start now. Start a blog and shoot me a link. If you want, I’ll write a guest post for you. Start talking to people on social media. Find one platform that you can tolerate and have some fun with it. Find people on there who might like your writing, and just start being you. Writing is very much a reflection of the self, and that self will shine through. My rocketry quest this year resonated with Sci-Fi readers, my woods stuff with the Post-Apocalyptics, My rash hyperbolic motivational posts for my NonFiction group. You don’t need to segment yourself if you are true to your writing and your self. Own it.
One rule here: don’t be a dick. Send out emails when you have something to send out, segment your lists, and if you can identify true readers on your list, keep their contact info in a special secret hiding spot. Send them bookmarks and free stuff. Every time I print stickers or such, I offer my mailchimp list the opportunity to get some for free by simply sending an address and saying “I wantz.” They knew about my upcoming freebie promotion a month ago. Don’t just put up a spammy ad-box and collect emails at random. Make people work for it and build slow, and then treat them like gold. My current email list is 40 people or so, but many of them open my emails and support me. I have a separate list for the horror book, but that’s another story.
Push, Push, Push
Hustle like a drug dealer. Tell everyone about your books, and if the publisher sends you a couple boxes, put them out anywhere they will get exposure. Stick them in libraries, tell the local bookstores about your book, find those “take one/leave one” boxes and put a couple copies in there. Remember, it’s all about finding a readership. Readers matter. No amount of advertising, pre-release, red carpet, or social blast is going to replace that, except perhaps a high-profile movie deal. Good luck on that one.
Doesn’t matter if you are trade published or indie. The work of making your book a success is on YOU. So start now. Build those channels. Meet influencers in your space, and start becoming a celebrity. Fuck if you fail, just do it again. Never stop writing, keep putting books out, keep submitting to agents, keep brainstorming amazing stories. Don’t ever quit, ever. That’s the other secret.
Thanks for reading, hopefully I stirred your pot a little. No fuck off here and get writing!!!