If you’re here, you are looking for some (more?) advice on what you need to do to promote your soon-to-be-released book.
Eventually, I’m going to give you some simple advice. So if you’re in a hurry and trying to figure out what you need to do to make sure you do all you can to be a successful writer, scroll down to the bold stuff. But I’d rather you read through the whole thing (I’m a writer! Of course I’d love you to read everything I write!)
My story about pre-publication started on the internet.
The internet was my friend after I wrote my first book. The internet taught me how to write a query (thank you Absolute Write), how to find an agent (thank you AgentTracker), how to deal with rejection (thank you Nathan Bransford), and how to understand the publishing process. Later, the internet told me that even though they pay an author some kind of advance for a book, publishers were no longer promoting books. I would have to promote my book or it would wither before the ink on the pages was even dry.
The internet told me how to get started. The first thing I did was join a collaborative writers’ group. There, my information source shifted from what I could find on the internet, to what information a group of about 20 middle-grade and young-adult debut writers could share with me about what they knew (they knew a lot).
From books like An Author’s Guide to Children’s Book Promotion (yes, there is a book!) and my collaborative writermates, I learned about everything I might draw into my arsenal to promote my forthcoming Young Adult Contemporary Realistic novel I needed an INTERNET PRESENCE!!! I created my author’s website, twitter and facebook pages, wrote press releases. I went to conferences–national and regional. I became a member of several societies. I networked. I blogged, blogged, and blogged some more. . In addition to the in-the-box promotional strategies I also joined a book launch “lab” at a writers’ collective and took classes in unconventional methods. I wrote to my grad school, my undergraduate college. I parlayed almost every method I could imagine–from adopting a cause and raising money for it, through giving meta-talks–not directly about my book, but about my studies in how to market books.
I wouldn’t exactly call myself an expert, but through intensive immersion in the study of what-authors-do-when-they-do-what-they’re-expected-to (and more) to promote their books, I’d call myself thoroughly informed. I spent about a year prior to and 10 months after the publication of my first novel thoroughly wrapped up in self-promotion, swag, panels, and signings.
My book had a strong showing. I got mostly good or even great reviews. I even had a starred review from Booklist, a nomination for an Edgar award for Best Young Adult Mystery novel 2013; in fact I was on several best-of lists, and was an Indie New Voices selection. So why, only ten months after publication and all my efforts, did my book get put out to pasture without so much as a chance at a paperback version?
That may or may not be a complicated answer. My editor tells me the reason she was given was that the book didn’t sell well. My agent said no books sell–they still go to paper. I think the answer comes down to one premise: If your publisher doesn’t back you, your book will not thrive. Of course there are exceptions–self-pubbed books that get a following and turn into an underground phenomenon. But, for the most part, very few books will get support–and the fact is that this number is dropping every day.
So what do you do? Force yourself until you end up in the emergency room getting a CT screen because you end up with vertigo from the cold you pretended you didn’t have the entire month after your launch (this actually happened to me)? Go to every book festival, library and school visit (me–all of them–for free!), raise you hand for every networking event you can possibly attend–even if you have to go to two in the same day (yep, me again). Blog every time somebody asks (I never said no)? Donate copies of your book to every internet giveaway you can find (even when no one enters the contest and the folks running it get the book? Me–three times!)
From the vantage point I’ve earned through the last 3 years of plugging my book (I still have engagements I committed to a year ago, and by the time I get to them, the book I’m plugging may officially be out of print), I’ll indulge myself to give a bit of advice. You’re probably reading because you are about to wrap yourself up in your own whirlwind of self-promo–so this is what you’re here for, right? The best advice I got was from Lynn Griffiths and Katrin Schulmann who led my Launch Lab at Grub Street in Boston. They said, “Do what gives you energy back.” For me, that’s writer’s workshops at libraries, talking about someone else’s writing, not my own. And for me it’s being the moderator of someone else’s book panel, not so much being a member. But if I look back on the time and money (oh, I forgot to mention all this can cost thousands of dollars–for me, about 1/2 my advance). It’s advice that seems self-evident, sure, but it really requires some self-reflection. The most important advice I’m going to give you is: don’t lose track of yourself as someone who writes. Your job is writing, not self-promoting. During my time at Launch Lab, one writer named Pagan Kennedy told our group of 16 writers about to launch books a really good way to think about the launch of a book. She said she budgets 4 months of promotion time, post-publication. She said, simply, “I’m a working writer.” She has that much time to be a promoter, and the rest of the time is for going back to work, so she’ll have something to promote down the line.
So this is my advice: Assume your publisher will or will not be your partner and be okay with that, either way. Select some things you want to do to make your book visible (tweeting, visiting libraries, blogging, and all the rest) and then give it a growing season–four months–to do those things. And then move on and write something else. You are a writer! Go on and get back to your writing.