Top Ten Strategies to Effectively PRomote
Your Book - and Yourself ...
For Fun and Profit!
Ned Barnett, © 2008
Recently, an author I’ve been advising had a brainstorm on how to promote her book. This reminded me that I needed to revise my original “Top-Ten Tips” For Promoting Books and Authors – transforming that from a guideline for book publicists into a guideline for authors who want to profitably promote themselves and their books.
In doing this, I’ve drastically revised my original Top-Ten List to reflect – primarily – the needs of self-promoting authors.
I’ve also included several additional – and very important – new promotion concepts which have wide applicability for authors, as well as for professional book publicists.
Perhaps most important, I’ve expanded my original Top-Ten guidelines, transforming that list from a compilation of strictly non-fiction promotional ideas into a much more comprehensive analysis which includes dramatic and effective ideas for promoting novels and other works of fiction. These new guidelines are also aimed specifically at novelists such as Anna Karyl – and perhaps yourself, as well.Is This Guide For You?
- If you’re an author who’s been published by a commercial publisher, this Top-Ten List is for you.
- If you’re an author who’s been published by a new e-book or POD publisher, this Top-Ten List is really for you.
- If you’re an author who’s chosen to self-publish, this Top-Ten List is ABSOLUTELY for you. Although I’m planning to put together a series of additional articles just for you self-published authors (so if that’s you, just hang in there), there is a plethora of “good stuff” right here, well-adapted for you self-published authors.
this Top-Ten List is aimed at those who are ready to cut the cards, to ensure that they get proper publicity no matter what the publisher actually does.What to Expect – Publishers and Promotion
Sometimes, a traditional, E-Book or POD commercial/royalty publisher will promise you, as an author, to help with the promotion of your new book. Sometimes they’ll even put that promise in writing, which is a good thing. However, that promise is hardly a guarantee (unless they put dollar signs in the contract next to that promise).
Here’s the publisher/promotion bottom line: unless you’re a Tom Clancy or a John Gray (i.e., a best-selling novelist or non-fiction author), trust that “we’ll help you with promotion” promise at your own risk.
That statement is not meant to imply that publishers lie to their authors. Instead, what it means is this: those who make those promises (primarily those editors who buy new manuscripts) are seldom in a position to enforce those promises. In the fast-moving publishing world, the only marketing and promotion promises that are kept are those which continue to serve the publisher’s best interest.
That is one of those core truths which is often overlooked – especially by authors who hope for (or count on) their publishers to handle their promotion. Another one of those core truths is – to the majority of published authors – even more discouraging:Most promotion dollars are reserved for A-List authors.
You might want to have that engraved on a brass plate, mount it in polished mahogany, and put it on your desk, right next to your keyboard. Forget or minimize that core truth at your own risk.
In spite of the creative and commercial quality of their work, most mid-list and first-time authors can count on little more than crumbs swept from the A-List authors’ promotional banquet tables. This action is neither harsh, cruel, nor personal. It’s just, for the publishers, good business. While, for authors, getting published is often a deeply personal passion, for publishers, it’s really nothing more than doing business.
Of course, almost all publishers will deliver on certain promotion-related basics (basics which, as a self-publisher – or perhaps as an E-Book publisher’s client author – you’ll need to deliver for yourself). Publishers deliver these promotion-related basics because – without performing here – they won’t have much chance of selling any of your books through normal channels.For Example:
Most commercial publishers – even the small and relatively new ones, including most (but by all means, not all) E-Book/POD publishers – will help out with such promotion-related elements as creating a page for your book on their website. You’ll still need to create your own website, of course, but this publisher’s page is a still good place to start.
You can also reasonably hope for artwork that can be used by online booksellers, starting with Amazon.com and BN.com, but extending to as many sites as are willing to list your book. You can also assume that you’ll be included in your publisher’s catalog, which means that your book will be included in mass-promotions to wholesale and retail book-buyers.
They’ll do all of this, but don’t assume this means they’re behind you – or your book. All it really means is this: they’ll create those deliverables because doing so is at the core of good publishing business practices.
Some publishers will go beyond those minimums. For instance, some will provide you with representation at major US book fairs such as Book Expo America (and sometimes even include your book in their promotion at the Frankfurt Book Fair). They do this only because they have to – at least if they want to get your book on booksellers’ shelves.
For the same reasons, they’ll also arrange for you’re book’s distribution through one or more of the major wholesalers. Ingram, for instance, is the traditional 800-pound gorilla in US book distribution, but other distributors – such as American Wholesale Books – are becoming increasingly influential. Unless you’re self-publishing your book, it’s up to your publisher to ensure that your book is available through major distributors.HINT:
If you’re self-publishing (or if you’re going through a POD publisher, or an E-Book publisher which also offers POD services), consider having your books be produced by Lightning Source in La Vergne, Tennessee (outside Nashville – http://www.lightningsource.com
). As their website makes clear, Lightning Source is closely and corporately affiliated with Ingram.
What Lightning Source manufactures will be stocked and carried (not necessarily pushed, but at least made available) by Ingram. Which means that Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders – along with hundreds of smaller chain-operation booksellers and literally thousands of independent booksellers – will be able to order your book through their usual and customary supply sources.NOTE:
I am not financially linked in any way to Lightning Source, but I frequently and strongly recommend them to my own clients, and would not hesitate to use them (again) myself.Beyond Publishers – Author Promotion AlternativesHINT:
I’m going to start this section with a hint – but this hint is only for authors who’re published commercially. This hint is also an experience-based warning, so please pay attention.
No matter what you plan to do to promote yourself – but especially when promotion crosses into the realms of marketing and sales promotion – coordinate your planned activities – in advance – with your publisher.
Almost every publisher has – in addition to the editorial and production staffs you’ve already dealt with – a sales division, a marketing department and a promotion team. Except in the very smallest of publishing firms, each of those divisions, departments and teams has their own bureaucratic turf – and as with most bureaucracies, they can reflexively defend their turf with near manic intensity. In short, tread on their turf (without permission) at your own risk.
You can avoid getting caught up in unintended turf battles, and it’s really not that hard. Every organization is likely to be a bit different, but consider this kind of approach (adapted to the specifics of your own publisher):
1. First, make contact with your editor directly – or through your agent (if you have an agent).
2. Express simply and directly what you want to do, and in general, how you intend to do it. Also let your editor know what you hope to accomplish.
3. Ask your editor how you could best contact – and coordinate with – your publisher’s sales, marketing and promotion staffs. Make it clear that you’d either want their help (including leadership, guidance or advice) in accomplishing your stated objectives; but if they don’t want to get involved, then you’d at least want their sign-off, so that you don’t offend any in-house professional sensibilities.
4. Also make it clear that you’re contacting your editor in order to avoid creating any unnecessary problems that you might otherwise create by your well-intentioned enthusiasm to effectively promote your book.
Make this contact in writing (email counts), then follow whatever guidelines or suggestions your editor lays out.
Why? Because it’s unlikely that any rogue self-promotion activities you undertake – either without consultation or in opposition of publishers’ directives – will create a benefit significant enough to outweigh the damage you’ll create to your relationship with your publisher.
Internal turf wars almost always drag in editors – and no editor wants to deal with a problem-causing author (unless, of course that author is a certified bestseller).
Believe me, you do not want to be that problem-causing author – not unless you like the idea of being a “one-hit wonder.”
In spite of turf sensitivity, most publishers’ sales/marketing/promotion teams want you to succeed, even if they don’t have the budgeted resources to do much to help you. However, they’ve also got years of experience in something that’s new to you, and – if they give you advice, listen. Their suggestions are likely to reflect experience-based ways of making you successful.Bottom line:
Ask your publisher’s advice, work within their system, follow their suggestions or directives – in short, play by their rules. When you do, you may be surprised to find that you awaken a desire – even free up some budget-based resources – to help effectively promote you and your book. But even if they remain passive, by checking with them first, you’ll be sustaining and strengthening a positive relationship with your publisher. That relationship is often worth its weight in gold – especially if you plan to write other books.Libraries:
Too few publishers promote their new and mid-list authors’ books to libraries, even though this is easily done and can generate hundreds – even thousands – of up-front sales. Those sales can be hugely influential in measuring the relative success of a new or mid-list author – and if that’s you, it might be up to you to push the library sales yourself.
You can take this sales promotion on yourself even if you’re published commercially. Of course, if you’re a self-publisher, you’ll have to do this (and all the rest of the promotion yourself). Either way, there are resources you can tap into.For Example:
Publisher’s Marketing Association (a really effective trade group created to support independent small publishers and self-published authors: http://www.pma-online.org/
) offers regular group promotions to libraries. PMA will also represent your books at the U.S. Book Expo and at the Frankfurt Book Fair. For self-published and small publisher/e-book publisher authors, PMA is worth looking into. They’re not free, but neither membership nor their services are particularly expensive.
Check With Experienced Writers: Even before you start thinking about your own self-promotion, go online and check out email lists – follow the suggestion of successful self-promoting mystery writer Chester D. Campbell (http://www.chesterdcampbell.com
). Chester suggests joining bulletin boards (BBS) and email discussion lists that include Murder Must Advertise, All About Murder and Mystery Writers of America’s EMWA, all found at http://www.yahoogroups.com
If you’re not a mystery writer, check out more generic – or genre-specific – writers groups’ websites, online bulletin boards and discussion lists. In addition, Yahoo, Topica, AOL, MSN and other list-hosts support relevant email writer-to-writer discussion lists. Look online for BBS and discussion lists suited to your particular genre – if nothing else, do a Google (http://www.google.com
) search for them.Rare Advice and Red Herrings:
Once you’re a member of these writers’ and writing promotion discussion lists and BBS, you’ll quickly discover that you’ve when it comes to self-promotion, you’ve got yourself one more big challenge. You’ll also discover that there are also a great many experienced writers who are ready and willing to offer tips, suggestions, hints – and more than a few red herrings.Red herrings?
Sadly, yes. It’s true that some successful authors offer newcomers truly bad promotion ideas. However, this is almost never done through malice; instead, it happens because some writers just “luck out.” They succeed against type – then logically, but incorrectly, assume that their one-time promotion success reflects a universal law of successful book promotion.For Example:
The “conventional wisdom” authors share with newcomers says, “look at starting your publicity efforts as much as a year before your book comes out.” That is frankly unrealistic – in most cases. However, as with so much of conventional wisdom, there’s a grain of truth here – but as a literal commandment, for most authors this is all but impossible to accomplish. This is especially true if you find the process of publicity distracts you from the actual writing of your book.First Steps:
Before you begin to promote your book, generally you need to:
a. Write your book
b. Secure a publishing deal (or commit to self-publishing)
c. At least have a rough idea when your book is coming out
OK – you’ve nailed me. This is more “conventional wisdom.” Perhaps a little less conventional than the “start a year ahead of time” advice, but even with my own brand of conventional wisdom, there are some exceptions.For Example:
I have already begun working with a client and author, Mike Bawden, on promoting his book, “Brand USA” – a fascinating study of how America’s image abroad impacts the ability of U.S. companies to be successful in Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. I’ve begun promoting that forthcoming book right now, even though Mike’s book is – at yet – only at the advanced outline stage. However, Mike’s book will be a non-fiction title, one closely related to Mike’s core business – he’s the CEO of Brand Central Station (http://www.brandcentralstation.com
), and branding client companies is his business. Because writing and publishing a book adds to his credibility with the business media that covers Mike’s business, it only makes sense to position him as “the author of the forthcoming book,” even at this early stage.
However, if you don’t have a solid reason for promoting your book before it’s written, I suggest you consider following that three step process and waiting until you’re about ready to sell the book.Bottom Line:
If you’re an author with a published (or about to be published) book, you need to assume responsibility for your own promotion – and your promotion success. Sure, you can hope for publishers’ assistance, but you’d be mistaken to count on it. There are a lot of resources and ideas out there that can help you with your own promotion efforts. Some of these resources and ideas are good, a few are truly great, but a lot are no better than well-meaning bad advice. As with everything else, caveat emptor – let the buyer (in this case, the self-promoting author) beware.
That caveat applies to my own advice as well. In addition to self-promoting my own nine published books – the first released in 1982 – I’ve been promoting books and authors (and publishers) for more than 20 years. My advice here is based on that experience, but my advice is also a collection of general, effective guidelines – not absolute mandates that you ignore at your own risk. Your book is uniquely your own – and your book promotion plans need to have personalizing flashes of individuality as well.
The real bottom line is this: If it works, if it’s ethical and moral, and if it’s cost-effective – go ahead and give it a try. Here are a number of specific tips that have stood the test of time, and because of that, they ought to work for you. At the very least, these should trigger some useful ideas that will work for you. Good luck!The Origins of This Top-Ten Tips List
If you want to jump straight to the first tip, please go right ahead. However, you might find the origins of this Top-Ten Tips List useful, or at least interesting.
Because of my passion for promoting books and authors (a passion that began when I undertook to promote myself and my books, twenty years ago) I initially put together what was, in retrospect, a fairly narrowly-focused Top-Ten List of solid PR- and marketing-related promotion ideas. That original list was primarily suited for the trade/business/professional book market niche, and within that narrow focus, the list was – based on readers’ input – a success.
But there was much more that could be done, and using the feedback I received on my initial Top-Ten List, I set out to significantly revise that list. As a result, my first revision was notably expanded. In addition, I also consciously adapted the new version of my Top-Ten List to be useful for the publicists virtually all non-fiction books – as well as for a good many of those publicists who promote works of fiction, too.
However, even that expanded list – while well-received – was heavily weighted toward non-fiction works. Further, both versions of my Top-Ten List were written primarily for other book publicists and promotion experts, rather than focusing on authors themselves. I got a lot of email from readers who asked me to focus on promotion from the perspective of the author. Not every author can afford to hire a professional promotional expert, and not every book project is big enough (from a potential economic return) to justify the expense of retaining a publicity pro.
Taking that input as useful guidance, this new list is quite different from the first two versions. First, it’s aimed at authors, rather than at professional publicists. In addition, in this new list, the initial few tips are directly focused on the needs of authors of novels, short stories and other works of fiction. Finally, I have spent a lot of time trying to make this list far more all-inclusive – to cover as many author promotion strategies and tactics as I can uncover, explain and advocate. I don’t offer wild flights of speculation here – if a tip is included, it’s because I’ve either made it work for me (or my clients), or I’ve seen it work for others. This list is intended to be a very practical guide – a step-by-step roadmap that will help authors maximize their own promotional efforts.
Perhaps most important, the first tip in this new list – covering the myriad ways you can use your website and the Internet to promote your book – is all-new. It is both longer and more comprehensive than the first two Top-Ten Lists, combined. There’s a reason for this – the Internet and the digital world have fostered a revolution in publishing and self-publishing – with e-books and POD and a host of other innovations that have completely remade the publishing landscape. That revolution has been matched by a revolution in low-cost, high-impact book/author marketing and promotion, and those two revolutions deserve – from an author’s perspective – a great deal of attention.
This advice is based on lots of first-hand experience. I first got involved in the publishing industry in ’74 (working with the University of South Carolina Press), and began actively promoting books and authors in ‘82. Since then – in addition to my own nine published books (7 of which are focused on PR/marketing/advertising) – I’ve worked for or with three different publishers (in the VP/Marketing role), I’ve owned a literary agency and I’ve successfully promoted several dozen books and authors. As I write this, I am involved in three ghost/co-writing projects; I’m working daily to help a novelist get recognition for her latest work, and I’m actively promoting another author’s forthcoming non-fiction book.
Without further ado, then, here are my “Top-Ten Bottom Line Book Promotion Tips For Authors.”Tip Number One: Your Website – and the Internet
You need a website, to promote yourself and your book. Be glad if your publisher provides a web page for your book – but you still need your very own website.
You can start out simply, as Chester Campbell and Anna Karyl did. Populate your website with your book cover and a plot blurb, an author bio and information (and links) on where to buy your book. Regarding these links, look into Amazon’s affiliates program – your link from your website to Amazon can generate additional referral-fee revenue from each sale. You can even add a sample chapter or two. My advice – give web visitors just enough of your book to get them hooked, no more.
After you get your website up and running, you can look at adapting it to become an effective marketing tool. You can sell your books online. You can use your website as a powerful public relations tool. You can set up a reciprocal link page so that other websites will be more willing to your page.
There are a lot of ways that your website can work for you – a few examples follow.Self-Fulfillment:
Some folks – especially, but not exclusively, self-published authors – set up their own private fulfillment services, then sell their own books (and related products – more on that under “merchandising” – below) directly to their customers. I’ve done this – for newsletters I’ve published and for an author client who self-published from Australia –based on that experience, I can assure you this isn’t easy to do. However, it is do-able, and for some, it makes good business sense. Still, unless you’ve got the mind of an accountant and the soul of a retail merchant, I wouldn’t recommend this approach.
To be successful as a self-selling author, you need to:
The bottom line point is simple:
- Create an online order form that can be sent electronically, or printed and faxed. If you use PayPal as your exclusive payment system (recommended, see below), you won’t need this, as the purchasers will fill out shipping information and other information at the PayPal site. But if you’re taking credit cards, money orders or (God forbid!) personal checks, you’ll need an online form that can also be printed and faxed (lots of people don’t like giving out credit card information online). You might also want to set up an 800-number (though you’ll have to then staff it – or farm this service out, reducing the profitability of “doing it yourself”).
if you’re selling your book yourself, online, you need to have multiple ways for your customers to place their orders.HINT:
Set up a standard order confirmation email reply system. In this, confirm the order (including any special elements, such as autographs or shipping to a third-party recipient), confirm receipt of payment, indicate date of shipping (and means of shipping), and suggest just when clients can expect to receive their books. This will significantly improve your customer satisfaction.
- Keep an inventory on hand (what, in multi-level marketing, is called being “Garage-Qualified”). If you’ve got a garage, a dry basement, a spare bedroom or a shed or storage room, storage space isn’t a problem. However, you’re going to be tying up cash (the cost of printing those books) that might be better used in promotion efforts that will generate new sales.
- Set up an accounting system that will help you keep track of sales, shipping, returns and related issues.
The issues involved here are very similar to E-Bay business issues – there are several “Doing Business on E-Bay” books (mine is one of the “Dummies” series, and it’s superb) – that can help you determine just what to do, and how to do it.
- Create what’s called a “pick-and-pack” system, one that ensures that you fulfill each order – including customized orders (shipping books as gifts to third parties, for instance, or personalized autographed books) – in an efficient and timely basis.
Packing materials can be expensive – or they can be free. You cannot use the waterproof cushioned priority-mail packaging provided by the post office unless you send the books by priority mail (and “media mail” is much more cost-effective). However, you can use those virtually identical envelopes provided free of charge
- Set up a credit card master account – OR – set up to receive PayPal (http://www.paypal.com). I personally prefer and recommend PayPal – especially if you obtain one of their ATM cards, you have immediate access to your funds, and the cost (about 4% of a transaction) is similar to small-volume credit card master accounts. I do not recommend accepting personal checks – however, business checks from libraries, retailers, etc. are another matter. It may prove useful to get a dba (Doing Business As) license and set up a business checking account. Your bank can advise you on the processes involved.
- While writers do not (routinely) require business licenses, a self-published author who handles sales personally may require a business license. This can raise zoning issues (though, with the huge increase in home-based businesses over the past decade, many of these requirements have loosened up. You can take your chances, or you can ask your attorney.
For even the smallest of home-based businesses, routine, low-cost access to competent legal advice. For well over a decade, I’ve had that kind of access for just $16 per month through an organization known as Pre-Paid Legal, Inc. (http://www.prepaidlegal.com
), and I’m one of their biggest fans. Knowing I can ask a question, get a “legal letter” written, or have a contract reviewed, quickly and at no cost, has made me much more pro-active in seeking out that competent legal advice. Earlier today, I called them on a troubling question and got some very useful advice – free of charge, and just in time. If you’re interested in knowing more about this service, drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org
) and I’ll fill you in.Full Disclosure:
I am not only a client of PPL, I am also a member – which means I can sign people up for this service. When I do, I receive a small commission (about $50 per new client). This is obviously not enough to induce me (or anybody else with even a shred of integrity) to steer you wrong about PPL; but I also don’t want anybody thinking this “Hint” is a commercial come-on, instead of sound business advice.
- In addition to selling books off your website, you can also list your book on E-Bay – either on auction bid or on a “buy now” price (or both). See the book on selling on E-Bay (noted above) for hints on how to make a profit on E-Bay.
- Develop ways (including incentives) to motivate customers to also become referral sources. This is addressed in greater detail later, but it’s critical to marketing success, so keep it top-of-mind.
A major key to online marketing and promotion success requires the creation and effective maintenance of what I call a Website Pressroom. You can read more than I’ll mention here about how to create and use a website pressroom at http://barnettmarcom.blogspot.com/2004/07/website-pressroom-key-prpromotional.html
. This Top-Ten List is not just about promoting books and authors, but to support any kind of Internet-based promotional activity; however, the information does (generically) apply to what you’ll want to do to support your own online and off-line promotional activities.
One important virtue of a website pressroom is that it can replace – at far lower cost – a common and important public relations tool. You won’t have to pay to have this “virtual press kit” printed, but the material is still there for reviewers and other media – and it’s available in digital format, which offers real advantages to reporters and editors.HINT:
In addition to posting your online pressroom on your website, you can also turn it into a real “virtual press kit.” Simply place all the contents (see below – as well as the Top-Ten List linked to above) of your website pressroom on a CD/ROM disk, which you can then send this CD/ROM out with press releases, review copies, etc. You can also give this virtual press kit to reporters during interviews; and you can hand them out at conventions and other meetings that attract reporters.
This virtual press kit concept has played very well for me – as well as for my clients – at conventions and trade shows over the past two years. The cost is low, the size is handy, and the return is impressive.
While the website pressroom Top-Ten List I’ve linked to goes into detail about website pressrooms in general (and is therefore worth exploring), there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. Bottom line – you want to have, in one location on your website, everything that a reporter/editor, talk show host/producer, or a book reviewer would want to know about you and your book.
Focusing on what you’ll want to have – as an author – your website pressroom should include:
- Facts about your book (publication date, author, publisher, ISBN, retail price, etc.)
- Your author bio, along with a downloadable photo
- Something press-worthy about your book (a press release – at least one), along with press advisories about your book and you – as the author. Press releases are “virtual” news stories written in accepted media style and able to be dropped right into a newspaper/magazine or read in a radio/TV news report. A sample of a press release, placed online at PR Web (http://www.prweb.com) that worked can be found at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2004/8/prweb150552.htm. Press advisories, on the other hand, are news tips designed to intrigue editors or producers, tempting them to contact you for an interview. In fact, the better goal – for both releases and advisories – is to lay the groundwork for an interview; however, the format is significantly different. On the other hand, press advisories are, in general, brief, dramatic and often a bit more informal than press releases.
- A sample review written by a legitimate authority (I’ve often used Ph.Ds, college professors and other “experts”. These reviews should be signed by the reviewer, and should include an authorization to reprint the review. Though this may seem implausible, you’d be amazed how many publications will use a credible source’s review, even when provided by the author or publisher.
Solicit at least a few pre-publication reviews to aid in generating publicity and providing credibility for the book, right from the start. Author Anna Karyl not only put a half-dozen pre-publication reviews online at her own website, (http://www.freewebs.com/thekellyincident). In addition, as soon as The Kelly Incident was listed with Amazon and BN.com, she had the reviewers’ comments posted there as well.
- Press clips (Top-Ten List about your book that have appeared in print or online), along with audio/video clips of broadcast reviews.
It’s helpful to capture all of these online clips on your own website (with permission, of course) rather linking to off-site sources. Those links might not survive as long as your website pressroom, and you don’t want to lose great Top-Ten List because of some media webmaster’s decision to clear out his cache.
- A calendar of your upcoming author events (publicity events, book-signings, even planned trips to other cities or countries)
- Downloadable artwork (including book cover, other promotional images, illustrations from your book – if any – etc.)
- Links to your publisher – and to Amazon’s book sale page (at least). Consider setting up an affiliate account with Amazon (and other online booksellers) to increase your profit from sales at those sites.
There may be much more that you can do with your own website pressroom – your own book will help dictate the kinds of material you can put in your pressroom. However, these specifics are useful for most authors.Promote your website:
With your book’s website up and running, post your URL on all of the Internet websites, discussion lists and bulletin boards (BBS) you looked into before starting your promotion.
Not surprisingly, many of these lists and BBS don’t welcome blatant promotions. Don’t let that deter you. Instead, post the URL and ask for comments and critiques (and pay attention – you’ll get some useful insights, even as you promote your site and attract visitors, who may become advocates). Few of these lists – even the most aggressively non-commercial – frown on honest requests for help. In addition to the lists and BBS sites, ask all the genre-specific writing or book websites (affinity websites) you can find to for permission to post a link (and be sure to create a link page on your own site so you can reciprocate, which is good “Netiquette”).
There are many other ways of promoting websites – enough for another Top-Ten List, or even another book. Use your contacts on discussion lists and BBS sites to ask for (and evaluate) new website promotion ideas. And if you come up with one that seems particularly well-suited to promoting writers’ websites, please drop me a line at email@example.com
– I’m always eager to find new ways to promote websites (or pretty much anything else).Merchandising From Your Website: Wait!
Before you decide that all the merchandising you can do is link to your book’s page on Amazon, consider this. You can also strike a deal with Café Press (http://www.cafepress.com/cp/info/
) to turn your book cover, slogans from your book, and other items (they’ve got hundreds of standard products to choose from) into merchandise that Café Press creates – on demand – for your website visitors. They take the bulk of the profit, of course, but they literally do everything!
I first helped set this up for a client planning to write a book about her experience in surviving cancer (Uberwench.com) several years ago, and received very positive reports from the head Uberwench herself. Since then, I’ve recommended Café Press to a number of authors, with consistent, positive results.
The best Café Press example I’ve seen involves author and cartoonist Scott Adams (http://www.dilbert.com
). He converted his aggressive merchandising from selling a variety of products from many sources (with all the fulfillment headaches that went with that piece of business) into a single-source Café Press product creation/delivery system that has worked very well for him.
You can use Café Press to generate added revenue – as well as marketing buzz and reader excitement (including help in making advocates out of readers – see below). So don’t delay – sign up today – or as soon as you’ve got a book written and a website online, promoting it.
There are other ways of merchandising via your website – a few of these (newsletters, and – for non-fiction writers – consulting services) are mentioned elsewhere in this Top-Ten List. However, for most authors and almost all novelists and published short story writers, nothing beats Café Press for cost-effectiveness.Making Advocates out of Readers:
One of the best ways of creating a series of web-based marketing tools is to focus on tools that turn your readers into vocal advocates for your book. Ultimately, you may want to create informal affinity groups of readers who will become more than just readers: customers, referral sources, advocates, even clients. If you’re writing non-fiction, clients are a real possibility; and fiction or non-fiction, “advocates” can become customers for the products you create to go with your book, such as T-Shirts or Calendars.
Creating advocates is both very simple and highly complex. Simple because, if you write a good book, readers who enjoy what you have created are already proto-fans. And complex, because you’re dealing with human psychology and motivation – and this has to be tailored to your book and your audience.
My personal opinion is that few novelists have done more with online promotion to create a functional and effective affinity group than mystery master Lawrence Block. He’s got a website (http://www.lawrenceblock.com
) and an excellent e-newsletter that he sends to anybody who signs up. This whenever-he-gets-around-to-it newsletter includes information on his upcoming book signings, reports on progress on books he’s writing (as well as old titles that he’s putting back into print). In addition, he sells signed first editions of his books, and apparently makes enough at it to justify his efforts. His newsletter is widely circulated, and does a lot to build buzz and pre-publication demand for his forthcoming books, helping to insure a sales-surge at launch.
Cartoonist and author Scott Adams has also created a strong promotion and sales-support platform out of his website and e-newsletter. His newsletter has long been a great mix of Scott’s offbeat brand of humor, coupled with blatant promotion and book sales. An early advocate of the Amazon.com affiliate program, uses his 450,000-plus distribution newsletter, Scott sells his many cartoon and narrative books off of Amazon, generating additional revenue. He’s recently added a web-based version of his newsletter – you can read it in a raw text email, or nicely formatted online web page.
Of course, as a daily cartoonist, Scott has a real advantage – his website has something new every day that draws fans (and potential customers back) over and over. I make it easy on myself – dilbert.com the home-page on my Mozilla browser, so I never miss a strip … or a promotion. In addition to his periodic email newsletter, Scott also includes affinity-building online features that create a bond between himself and his readers. At this writing, these include his annual “Weasel Poll” – where readers can vote on the world’s biggest weasels – from countries to corporations, from politicians to celebrities. He also has created a virtual, 21st Century home for Dilbert (one actually designed by architects, based on reader suggestions.
Many writers (Pat Rasey, one of the founders/owners of the excellent “All About Murder” email discussion list, comes to mind) have reader-interest contests on their websites. A good one can be found at http://www13.brinkster.com/rasey
. These contests build affinity bonds and bring visitors backs, over and over. Each new visit gives writers such as Pat yet another chance to sell their readers another book. In Pat’s case, another one of her growing series of gothic romance murder mysteries.NOTE:
I assume they’re gothic romance murder mysteries, Pat – with those cover photos, they really couldn’t be much of anything else other than “gothic romance” murder mysteries, now could they?Advocates Bottom line:
Use your website, email newsletters and other online communications tools to build a seemingly personal relationship with your readers. This “affinity” relationship can build loyalty, attract new readers, and greatly enhance all of your other promotion efforts.Other Internet Promotion Strategies:
So far, we’ve focused on your website and related promotional tools and strategies. But don’t stop with creating and updating your website. That’s the place to begin your online promotion, but it’s not the last step. Done properly, Internet promotion that goes beyond your website will be useful in many ways, from boosting book sales to creating markets (and marketers) out of readers. But there is one widely-used promotion technique that you do not want to use.HINT:
Don’t Spam! Need I say more? Collect emails of people you’ve corresponded with. Consider buying valid lists of permitted email addresses (if you believe in those). But do not spam. It’ll give you a bad rep, along with more headaches than you can imagine.
This wasn’t always the case. In late 1995, I bought an interesting book based on a well-written spam email message from the author’s husband (who didn’t identify himself until long after I’d bought the book). But times have changed. If you’re not sure, trust me.
Here is a summary of some of the steps you may want to take in order to make the Internet work for you:
1. As noted, even before the publication date, create a website for your book.
2. Then create a blog (a “web log”) where the author can comment further the topic(s) covered in your book. I use the Google-related “Blogger” – it’s free, it’s easy to set up, and it can be found at http://www.blogger.com/home. Use the same kinds of promotions identified to promote your website to generate interest in your blogs.
The evolving (and so far, esoteric) art of promoting blogs is yet another one of those topics that really requires an entire freestanding Top-Ten List – one I’m researching right now, but one that’s not quite ready to be written. If you come up with – or hear about – any ideas for promoting a writer’s blog that work for you, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Then create a subscription (free or paid, depending on your market and your marketing strategy) e-zine newsletter based on your book and it’s topic(s). If this proves really successful, you can consider a print newsletter down the road, but start with an e-zine. While the e-zine approach is mostly useful for non-fiction authors, some fiction writers – such as Lawrence Block – have been very successful creating and using them to build loyalty among readers.
- You can either send out an HTML-free email with your newsletter information (some recipients either don’t support HTML emails or they don’t appreciate them; or,
- You can put your e-zine on your website – in this way, your e-zine email is nothing more than a quick teaser and a hot link.
- Either way, it helps to have an email software system (I use Qualcomm’s Eudora Pro, which is highly useful, with none of the apparent security risks of MS Outlook) that allows you to send out semi-personalized e-mails to whole lists of individuals at one time.
What I do is create the lists in my address book, then send myself an email – with the list in the BCC function. In this way, each individual receives an individual email WITHOUT the “to” list long enough to choke a horse. I do this with my own self-promotion email media advisories, and it’s worked very well for me.
It doesn’t really matter which software email system you use, as long as it lets you send out seemingly personalized mass emails (to media, to affinity group members/newsletter recipients, etc.). Some systems are no doubt better than Eudora – and I don’t doubt that some use Eudora better than I do – but it works for me, and I’m sure it will work for you.
4. Consider creating special seasonal promotions – for instance, offer signed crack-and-peel bookplates (you can print them up at your local Kinkos – or print them yourself if you have that kind of printer). Design is important. One approach to consider: print these bookplates with the book’s title and byline from the cover, using the same color and typeface.
I suggest that you offer these at no cost to customers (book buyers) who’ll register on your site after buying the book (from Amazon or the publisher, for instance, or from you if you direct-sell your books). Go ahead, big spender – eat the $0.37 postage – it’s a small investment in creating sales and increasing reader/customer satisfaction. This free bookplate offer eliminates the need for the purchaser to ship the book to you, then for you to ship the book back to the purchaser. That can be a lot of logistic headaches IF you’re not set up for this.HINT:
This gift-signing program is a great promotion to announce, in a mini-press release, to affinity websites (discussed above)
Or, if you choose to direct-sell your books – to have your customers buy copies of the book from you – you can offer them, with each copy sold, a personalized dedication signature. You can also offer this as an alternative for those who don’t like bookplate autographs – of course, they have to either buy from you or send you a purchased copy, and provide you with return postage. It may seem like a lot of trouble, and in a way, it is. However, for those readers who really appreciate personally autographed collectable books, you’re enhancing your sales opportunities – and keeping one more book off the used-book market.
5. As suggested above, search out websites that are topically similar to yours (i.e., “affinity websites”) and be sure to invite them to cover you. For instance:
- If you write murder mysteries based in San Francisco, while you’ll hit the murder sites, you’ll also want to consider sites on San Francisco.
- If you write novels about UFO encounters, contact the millions (literally) of UFO websites
- No matter what kind of book you write, seek out writers’ websites such as The Word Museum, where you can create free authors’ pages, such as: http://www.writerspages.com/annakaryl/. At some of these sites, you can also be interviewed, participate (or host) online chats, and undertake other activities designed to help you promote yourself and your book.
- Contact all of these affinity sites with reviews, press releases, links, etc. – and news that keeps linking you with the site. More on this in a moment
6. As I noted above (but I can’t emphasize this too much), create a website pressroom that includes ALL the favorable reviews and all the positive press coverage you generate. The pressroom should also include an author bio and downloadable publicity photo, as well as a book summary, and all the other things a good publicity/PR rep would put into a press kit.Online Bottom line:
The World Wide Web is barely a decade old – yet it has transformed publishing more than literally any other industry. E-books, POD, website promotions, e-newsletters and so much more have made both author-driven publicity and self-promotion in ways that were virtually impossible to imagine as recently as 1990. If you want to succeed in promoting yourself and your books, be sure to use the Internet, beginning with your very own website.Tip Number Two: Networking is Where Promotion Begins
Perhaps the number-one suggestion you’ll find in every self-promotion “how to” guide would have you network – in every way possible. There’s a simple reason for this – it’s extremely good advice.
There are a lot of ways to network, and here are only a few (brain-teasing) ideas:
- Let your alumni association know about your book – you’d be surprised how many people who remember you read the alumni association’s monthly and quarterly publications
- Let any professional societies, fraternal organizations, church groups or other member-based organizations know about the book. While this is especially important if your book ties into activities that are the focus of your book, but even if your book is unrelated to the society, let them know.
For instance, I’m currently writing a novel – a kind of comic murder mystery – about public relations, and I definitely intend to let my own PR professional societies know about this book.
- Compile a master email address list that includes every person (friend, relative, competitor, business associate, neighbor, church-member and Old English Sheepdog) with whom you’ve corresponded – then send each of them an ongoing series of periodic email announcements about your book:
- Your book’s publication date
- Impressive sales milestones
- Links to positive reviews and press coverage
- Book signings (if they’re not nearby, they might know somebody who IS nearby)
- Copies of (or links to) press releases about the books
- Other relevant information
Keep your book top-of-mind. Let your “personal” list know about every promotion you have in mind. Encourage them to consider giving your book as gifts (you can autograph them, too) and buy copies to donate to local libraries.
In addition, ask members of your network to “spread the word” – to tell their own friends, family, allies, enemies, neighbors – everybody they know who might possibly be interested. Then, ask at least the closest of your personal network to replicate some or all of your promotion activities.
For instance, one of my client authors told her family about the novel (naturally) – specifically that the story was set in their hometown. Then, spontaneously, these family members began promoting and selling the book among their own friends and neighbors – generating a not-insignificant spike in sales activities.
- Get the word out in your own church (if any) – ask to mention the book in the church bulletin, for instance – and do the same kind of thing with civic organizations in the community (remember to remind them that “authors” make great guest speakers at these groups’ meetings). Extend this farther – if you’re in AARP (or some other “affinity group”), be sure to tell them as well.
- Don’t forget your “Internet friends” – members of lists and BBS who may never have met you, personally, or even corresponded with you off-list, but with whom you have personal connections.
A master of this technique is my list-friend and successful author, Shel Horowitz (http://www.frugalfun.com
). Shel is the author of a number of impressive public relations books, as well as several humorous, insightful books on how to live really well – on the cheap. He promotes all of his new books to his various lists, as well as to everybody he knows on those lists.
Though Shel and I have never met face to face, and though we’ve only spoken once or twice, I’ve not only reviewed several of his books, but I’ve bought three or four of them as well. This has all happened because of the relationship we’ve built over the years – almost exclusively on the Internet.
Here’s the bottom line – people who know you (directly or indirectly), or who have some kind of perceptive or emotional link to you are far more likely to buy your book than are casual strangers. Using your network to jump-start your sales, especially at first (when a spike in sales can help the media, the public – and your own publisher – take your book more seriously).Tip Number Three – Book Reviews
Favorable book reviews are vital to your ultimate promotion success. This is because favorable book reviews fulfill at least three of the four essential elements of public relations and promotion. To be successful, any promotion effort must:
- Motivate (a desired) action
- Produce measurable results
Even setting aside the measurement (though it’s possible for PR professionals to devise case-specific ways to measure results from almost any legitimate public relations effort), favorable book reviews easily accomplish the first three essential elements. Specifically:
- Book reviews make people aware that your book exists.
- Book reviews get people interested in your book.
- Book reviews add a sense of credibility to their interest.
- Book reviews can motivate a favorable purchase decision.
Book reviews tend to get your name publicized – and if you solicit the right reviews, in the most appropriate media, your reviews will drive sales.
Book reviews don’t “just happen.” Getting a review published is a lot like the process needed for getting an agent, or a publisher. Obtaining a published review is much easier, of course, but the process remains the remarkably similar.You have to ask.
Specifically, you have to ask the right people to receive and review your book. In doing this, you have to provide interested reviewers with sample “review copies” of your book, in one of several formats (published book, pre-publication galleys, e-book, etc.).
In general, along with the review copy, you should provide willing reviewers with appropriate support material. This should probably include a press release, an author bio, publishable artwork including a book cover and an author photo, and – depending on the nature of the book – a lot of other support material. This support material can all exist on an online website pressroom – though you’d be well advised to include all of it in a CD/ROM virtual press kit.
Both of these support elements – the website pressroom and the virtual press kit – are covered in detail elsewhere in this Top-Ten List.
What the publishing industry calls Advanced Review Copies (ARCs) are useful in generating pre-publication reviews and publicity blurbs. However, not all authors will be able to get ARCs for distribution to potential reviewers, and not all publishers will send ARCs out to reviewers on their own hook. You may have to wait for finished books – or, to generate in-advance reviews, you may have to take the final (digital) draft, format it into a paginated, typeset-looking PDF file, and send it to willing reviewers electronically. For those reviewers who don’t enjoy reading digital copies, you can easily print up copies the PDF formatted version, loosely bind them and present them to the reviewers as what were once called “galley proofs.”
No matter what format (or formats) you choose, get those review copies out as soon as you possibly can, and get them out to the widest range of potential reviewers. As you reach out, cover all the media you can – newspapers, magazines, websites, radio talk shows, and broadcast and cable television. As you prepare to distribute the review copies, do your best to identify the reviewers – and the review decision-makers.
Lists of media reviewers are available (for a price, of course), but with a little persistence and a bit of elbow grease, you can replicate those lists. However, before you start assembling your customized lists, contact your various writers’ email discussion groups and online BBS sites. Ask fellow writers if they have current targeted lists. Some will, and some of those will give you (or barter with you for) those lists. If that doesn’t give you all you need, you can still create your own lists.HINT:
Ask people you know to provide you with pre-publication reviews. Choose people who are articulate, well informed – and willing to help. These early reviews can go onto your website; they can be posted at Amazon and BN.Com, and on affinity websites (see above for an explanation of those). If one of your willing friends, relatives or other personal contacts has sufficient credibility, you can use that credibility for your “distribute with the review copy” book review.
I’ve created these kinds of reviews for a number of friends and colleagues who’ve written books I can honesty recommend (those are the only kinds I choose to review – if I don’t like the book, I just decline to write a review). As a result of this experience, I can personally (as well as professionally) vouch for the efficacy of sending out pre-written, credible reviews along with review copies of books.
Authors I’ve reviewed often find my status as “adjunct professor” to be useful in creating an important sense of credibility for my reviews. I can legitimately claim current or former adjunct professor status at two universities, in two professional disciplines (public relations at Middle Tennessee State University and marketing at University of Nevada – Las Vegas). In addition, for those authors who write about writing, I’ve taught professional (commercial) fiction and non-fiction writing at two colleges – Midlands Technical College and the Community College of Southern Nevada.
As a result, I’m in fairly constant demand for writing reviews – and more important for you – I can indeed vouch for the widespread use of pre-written reviews which are sent out with review copies of books. I estimate that 30 percent of those send-out reviews are used, in lieu of the media actually reading the book and writing their own reviews.
This process of list-development is not as difficult as it might sound, though it can be time-consuming. Magazines and most newspapers have what are called “mastheads” which often contain contact information. You can often find this information by visiting the media’s websites (they often have contact information online – though you may have to dig). Or, you can even get the information you need by just calling the media’s switchboard and asking for the reviewers’ and review editors’ contact information.
No matter what your contract says, do your best to negotiate free – or, at worst, very low-cost – review copies from your publisher. Better still, try to persuade the publisher to send out those review copies (many publishers do – or they’ll at least send out a few) but don’t count on that. You might find that providing a list of targeted media helps in motivating publisher cooperation – or you might find that the publisher has a list it will share, even if it won’t send out review copies themselves.
As suggested elsewhere, work with your assigned editor. Whatever else you do, don’t try to go directly to the publisher’s team of publicists – that’s one of those hidden faux pas that can really damage your ability to obtain the publisher’s whole-hearted help. As in most corporations and bureaucratic organizations, crossing turf lines can create internal havoc – and you’ll be to blame.
Sound odd? Sure – but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Trust me on this.
While you’re waiting for review copies (or the publisher’s cooperation), make a list of Internet review sites and other media review sources, then start soliciting for requested review copies. A simple, personal email with a subject line: “Bob (or “Mr. Collins”) – Would you like a review copy of X-BOOK?” is probably sufficient to get the requ4est process started. Be clear, be personal, don’t be cute. Professional SPAMmers have shifted from bizarre to “cute” recently, and you don’t want your request to be screened out. So be clear, be direct, and – if you aren’t mass-mailing this – be personal in the subject line.
If you don’t have an email address, send a fax, leave a voicemail message or even send a first-class letter. Believe me, email is better, but it’s not always possible.
When you send out the review books, include the following:
- Requests for interviews – ask and ye might just receive – and an interview is almost always more impactful than “just” a review
- A sample review (by a named, authoritative reviewer, as noted above) – on behalf of my clients, I often use college professors, who have credentials and will write the reviews – or let you put their name on reviews you write – generally for a small fee
- A press release announcing the book – an up-to-400 word release (which you’ll also send out for free or at low cost via PR Web – http://www.prweb.com – if your publisher doesn’t send the release out for you)
- A link to a website with the book cover (downloadable) and author photo/bio (downloadable)
You do this in addition to sending the book. Lots of publications would review a book if they had time to read it and write it – a sample review, and all the supporting material (along with the book) is a great idea, great because it works.HINT:
Consider autographing the book to the editor who requested it (if you got a request) – even editors like nicely autographed books. They’ll surprisingly often save and cherish them (or at least sell them on E-Bay for big bucks after you make it to #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List). Either way, it costs nothing and often adds something. But if you don’t know them personally, don’t make the autograph message “too personal.” These people are trained to sniff out professional hype, and – trust me on this – there is no way to sneak past their patented bullshit detectors. Just be brief, sincere and candid.Tip Number Four – Book Signings
Book signings are a favorite means by which authors promote their books. The most successful book signing I’ve attended was held in the largest ballroom at a major off-Strip casino in Las Vegas. That particular signing involved more than 2,500 people showing up to buy and get signed at least one (and often two) books authored by radio talk show host Sean Hannity (http://www.hannity.com
). That signing was part of the talk show powerhouse’s ten-week book tour he conducted after the release of his second book. Considering that tickets to the sold-out pre-signing event went for $10 a head, this event was a powerhouse success for Hannity. However, when you’ve got a 450-station talk show that reaches 12,000,000 distinct listeners a week, it’s fairly easy to stage those kinds of events.
Most of us don’t have major-distribution radio talk shows – we’ll have to be satisfied with smaller groups in bookstore venues. Still, we can learn from what Hannity accomplished – there are venues other than center court in your neighborhood Barnes & Noble at which we can stage successful signings.Lessons:
Here are some useful lessons, “from the trenches” – learned by my clients, by fellow writers and more than a few book-promotion agents I’ve worked with. They’re based on smaller-sized signings than Hannity pulled off, and are offered in no particular order:
- Saturday book signings are generally far more productive.
- Book signings tied into a local organization (i.e., the Chamber of Commerce if it’s a business book), can be more effective at generating traffic.
- November/December signings are – if book stores will let you clog up their central court area – extremely productive. If they balk at “clogging” their store, remind them that such signings not only motivate additional per-customer sales, but attract additional customers at their most important sales months of the year.
- Other gift holidays (Mother’s Day, graduation, June weddings) also work – but only if your book ties into the theme.
- Bottom line: Signed books make great gifts, and the holiday season is the time for gift-buying.
- Every trip you take – trips for business reasons or for personal reasons – should be used to justify book signings in the communities you visit. Line up area bookstores in your destination (or, if you’re driving, along your planned route) and do so as soon as you know you’re going to travel.
- These signings should be conducted, if possible, in conjunction with a local organization.
- If your non-fiction book works for business, try to arrange for a sponsorship by business association (or a group of non-competitive business associations – lawyers and accountants, for instance, aren’t generally ashamed to be seen with each other).
- Chambers of Commerce might also be interested in participating in your book signing event, especially if they can tie your book into a fund-raising book sales event or a member service/revenue-generating program.
- If your book is not related to any defined business group, or if your book is fiction, the concept of a local sponsor is still viable. You may, however, need to be creative. A “family value” novel might attract a church-group sponsorship, a PTA or other related organization. A non-fiction book on gardening might attract a local garden club. Be creative.
Tip Number Five – Making the Most of Media Relations
- If you succeed in securing a local sponsoring organization, work with your host bookstore’s – as well as the sponsoring organization’s – own PR teams to “get the word out” to the local media. They should know how to reach the local media that cover your bookstore’s and sponsoring organization’s market niches. Then, reach out to other media targets that are on your own list.
This entire Top-Ten Tips List is – directly or indirectly – all about media relations. However, in this section, I’ve tried to pull together a couple of hints that aren’t found elsewhere in this Top-Ten.Self-promotion – Build Success on Success:
When you generate legitimate media coverage, promote that appearance to maximize its impact, and use that coverage to help justify (to the media) other coverage.
For instance, once you score big with a prominent review, interviews on a major talk show – or any other kind of impressive, favorable media coverage, be sure to send out follow-up press releases. Put them out on PR Web (see below for more information on this, and other press release wire distribution services), as well as to your media contacts on each of these successes.
This ongoing series of releases creates a “breadcrumbs” trail on Internet press coverage databases. In turn, that breadcrumbs trail is something members of the media can follow as they research your book online – giving them a greater sense of the legitimacy about your book as a legitimate news story.
Here are some specific ideas on how to make this happen:
- If you are scheduled to appear on any broadcast, get that word out widely, in advance. Do this so interested parties (fans, friends, relatives, competitors, potential clients – think broadly here) can tune in.
I am constantly amazed at the number of regular guests on cable news or talk radio – authors who have books to sell (and who also ought to have an emailing list of fans at their finger-tips) who do NOT announce their upcoming appearance.
Those few media guest/authors who do promote their appearances – and my hat’s off to all of them – include James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal Online’s “Best of the Web,” and The Nation magazine’s editor, Katrina Vanden Heuvel. These two frequent media guests never seem to fail to let their readers know – in advance – of their scheduled appearances. Why they all don’t do this escapes me.
Learn from the best, and outperform the rest. If you’re going to be interviewed, make sure everybody you can reach knows about it – in advance.
- If you are scheduled to be interviewed in print format (or on a website – and this includes scheduled web-chats), get that word out, too. If you can get that word out in advance, even better – but if you can’t get the word out before the interview, announce it as soon as possible.
In addition, if the print interview will be echoed on the publication’s website, put that in the announcement. Remember, while not all of us read the Milwaukee Journal, all of us can find their website.
- If you are interviewed, reviewed – or even just cited – in a major media outlet (of the Newsweek caliber – or the equivalent within your book’s topical media niche), put out a press release. Put that release on the wire, and distribute it to all the talk show hosts/producers and other media decision-makers you can find.
This actually works. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, media decision-makers often “run in packs.” Because of that, one good review or prominent mention in a media leader seems to “validate” you (as an interview source) for other media, and a single break-through in coverage can lead to lots of other successful coverage.Bottom line:
In short, build success on success – do not be afraid to “pile on” and use all the coverage generated to create new waves of additional coverage. Then, like a surfer, ride that wave as far as it will take you.HINT:
When you’re thinking “press releases” – about prominent reviews, or anything else, don’t forget the growing market in online web-zines and similar sites that include news/promotion feeds. These are an increasingly important media market.Media Lists:
Build your own media list, and keep it updated. Elsewhere in this Top-Ten Tips List I’ve discussed ways to obtain names, email addresses and other contact information. Some of these include fellow authors, media websites – you can even buy the lists, the way PR agencies often do. However you obtain the information, put together a list and keep it updated.HINT:
When you create your own media list, put that list into an MS Word table. In creating that table, include the following five columns:
Media * Contact (reviewer’s name) *
Contact Info * Contact Notes * Next Steps
The reason you use Word is that the contact’s email address and URL will be hot links, making it easy to create emails directly from your media list. I used to use an Excel spreadsheet for my database – it has a number of advantages over Word, but for me, nothing trumps the hot-link email capability.
With this table, you can add information with every contact, which is remarkably helpful. When I make media contacts, I keep this file open and add the information in real time (relying on memory is the pits).
If you’re a power user, you might also try this. Use a contact manager (I use ACT! 2000 and it works just great for me, but other contact managers are also useful) to record each media contact. I generally wait to do this until I actually make my first two-way contact with a reporter, editor or producer (data-entering every media contact on your list is certainly do-able, but it’s time-consuming). Then use the contact manager’s scheduling feature to log in “next steps” (call Tom on Tuesday at 10 – discuss review copy). That way you won’t have to rely on your memory, and won’t risk missing phone appointments or scheduled “to-do” activities. However, there are a million different memory joggers – from post-it notes to reliable spouses – use what works best for you.Wire Service Distribution:
Traditionally, PR pros knew that putting out a release on BusinessWire or PRNewswire ensured that their release would appear in anywhere from dozens to hundreds of news outlets, plus as many as 1,500 online databases that capture wire service press releases.
The new-generation, online (and lower-cost) release services, such as PR Web, offer a wider variety of services and reaches – and for a much lower cost, they do reach a significant number of online media sources. Determine just what you want to accomplish in the way of reach, then check with the wire service’s representatives to make sure you’re getting the service reach you need, and at a price you’re ready to pay.HINT:
A reasonably comprehensive link to those lower-cost services (as well as other promotion services) can be found at: http://thedabblingmum.com/business/press_release_distribution.htm
I suggest putting at least your first release out to the widest distribution you can afford – later releases can be cut back to more affordable distributions. Then, compare sales results (or website visits or some other measure of success) against the cost of distribution and come up with a distribution strategy that optimizes your return on promotional investment.MAT Services:
In addition to the press releases you send out, consider also writing (if your book is technical and non-fiction) a “popularized” article based on the book. This is similar to the “serialized” articles covered under another “Tip,” but this one is pure PR. This popularized article I’m suggesting here is one you can put out in a MAT service such as Metro Creative Graphics (http://www.metrocreativegraphics.com/
) or NAPS (http://www.napsnet.com/
). Those article placement services reach (and your paid-for articles are placed in) 700 or so small to mid-market newspapers around the U.S. If your book is a novel, consider developing a non-fiction article based on the topic – alternatively, create an “interview” with you as the author.
The point is simple – create an article for the MAT service that reads like something you’d find in a newspaper, and see it placed in those hundreds of newspapers. There, the article can generate the kinds of reader interest that drives book sales – in addition, the article (even though you wrote it), will have been published, and therefore it becomes a “clip” you can use on your website pressroom to help generate even further press coverage.
From this placement, you’ll generate lots of nice clips, and experience suggests that they really can – if thoughtfully written – support sales. The cost of this kind of service is far more than a comparable release sent out on PRNewswire or BusinessWire. However, in turn, this service costs far less than does an ad. In addition, the end result looks like pure editorial, a result which enhances credibility. Of course, the article has to be written in newspaper (not press release) style, but that makes the article function even more credibly than a press release.
I understand that there is a similar paid-placement news story service for radio (paid-for articles are placed on radio news and radio talk shows), and I imagine that this approach can also help to generate awareness and stimulate business. However, in point of fact, I’ve not used one of these services, so I can only speculate, and cannot make an informed recommendation.Tip Six – Brand the Book
This tip generally applies to non-fiction books that relate to specific business interests. However, with a creative approach, you might be able to “brand” your book even if it’s a novel. Here’s how it works:
In cooperation with your book’s publisher (if they have a PR department), contact the various appropriate print (or even broadcast or online) media outlets – the ones that tie in naturally to your book’s topic – (including trade journals, if appropriate) and propose that they “brand” your book.
For example, in my guise as literary agent, I sold a client’s book to Simon & Schuster, then arranged for Casino Magazine to “brand” it. The book, when published, was released as “Casino Magazine’s Play Smart and Win
” – and Casino Magazine not only loaned us their name (for free) but actually did a promotion to subscribers to help sales.
- If you’re successful in branding your book, work with the “branding” publication or media outlet to ensure ample pre-publication publicity and promotion, as well as a big splash at the time your book is released.
- Also work with the branding publication or media outlet to “serialize” part of your book before it’s released, to whet the appetite of the publication’s audience. Serialization is discussed in more detail in another Tip.
- Try to strike the same kinds of deals with the branding publication or other media outlet – but instead of (or in addition to) serialized book chapters, push for a regular bylined column. This column can (and should) continue well past your book’s publication date. In turn, this will give you a firm platform from which to promote and market your current – and future – books, as well as speaking engagements and other activities.
- If successful in negotiating a branding (and spin off articles or columns), be sure to coordinate this added success with your publisher’s own in-house promotion/marketing department. There is a protocol for this, discussed in another Tip.
I mentioned this (stressed it?) in an earlier Tip, but this is an issue that cannot be stressed too much.
Clearing your self-promotion activities with your publisher is always a good idea – even if they have no right-of-first-refusal on such promotion activities. Though it may come as a surprise to you, many publishers do have such rights built into their book contracts – which you have already signed. Better check your contract.
It’s also a good idea to always keep your publisher’s own in-house promotion, publicity and/or marketing departments in the loop on all planned (and especially all of your successful) self-promotion activities. Getting them on your bandwagon will generally help open additional doors for successful publicity.BUT REMEMBER
– work through your agent (if any), your editor, and follow your publisher’s established protocol in working with (or even contacting) your publisher’s sales, marketing and promotion teams. Don’t embroil yourself in unnecessary turf wars.Tip Seven – Serialize the Book Before Publication (and other promotional spin-offs)
This is another one of those Tips that applies most often to non-fiction books, but can be adapted to at least some novels.Serialization:
Beyond working on serialization with your branding publication (Tip #6, above), propose serialization to the various other appropriate print and web media. Your goal is to try to serialize sections of your book (i.e., adapt chapters or parts of chapters into article format) in magazines or websites. This will get you more exposure – for your book, and for the concepts underlying your book.Approvals:
Depending on your publication contract – and on the ownership of your book’s copyright – permission for serialization, and perhaps even fee-splitting – must be cleared with your publisher. Work through your agent, your editor and others in your publisher’s organization to make sure all of this is signed off on in advance of striking the deal. Once approved, be sure to touch base with the publisher’s own publicity or marketing department, following the caveats and guidelines noted elsewhere.Bylined Columns:
Undertaking the same kinds of negotiations used for serialization, leverage your book as a justification for one-time or ongoing columns, “op-eds” (signed editorial page columns), or other presentations in your targeted media.
It’s really simple. Just contact those same targeted media, proposing to them that you write a regular bylined column for them, on the topic of your book. Generally, this is seen as a separate business venture, and no permission from the publisher is needed. However, it won’t hurt to check. Remember, sustaining a strong relationship with your publisher is more important than any single promotional undertaking – scoring a column somewhere isn’t worth blowing it with your publisher.HINT:
If the publications which serialize your book or offer you a regular column are niche-market publications serving differing (non-competing) market niches, there is no good reason to limit the serialization (or the columns) to a single publication or website. So by all means, seek out every opportunity to re-publish the serialized articles or columns in other, non-competing publications serving different market niches.For Example:
Successful freelance writers serving religious special interest publications know that they can generally sell essentially the same articles to Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and other denominational publications. They are secure in the knowledge that readers of one of these publications seldom read other magazines targeting other denominations. Take this approach and make it work for you to maximize your outreach abilities.Tip Eight – Create Alliances and Other Marketing Allies
This is another one of those tips that’s primarily focused for business-oriented non-fiction books. However, with a bit of creativity and a smidgen of Kentucky windage, you just might be able to adapt these ideas to non-business non-fiction books, as well as to at least some novels. For instance, I’m writing a novel about public relations, and by the time it’s ready for publication, I’ll have reached out to PR organizations to see if I can’t create a marketing alliance.
Hell, I might even renew my professional society membership!
So read on, and think out of the box, and let’s see if you can’t adapt this for your own book.
Many non-fiction books address a specific business or market niche, or address an issue of interest to some segment(s) of the business marketplace. In those cases (i.e., if this applies to you), contact the various trade (or special interest) associations – including local, state, national organizations – that cover the markets addressed directly or indirectly by your book. Then implement some of the suggestions noted in other Tips – serialization, speaking opportunities, columns and other line-extension promotion strategies. Do this with as many of these associations or organizations as possible.
Most targeted associations or organizations have member publications and websites (including e-zines) which constantly need new, fresh and appropriate copy of value to their members.Voice of Experience:
I used to be a vice president of PR and Marketing at one association, and interim Executive Director of another association. Based on that, I suggest the following. In spite of the potential of these markets for generating all kinds of public relations coverage, associations and member organizations are too often ignored by professional PR folks. Don’t make that mistake yourself. Because these associations receive far less input from writers/contributors/PR folks than do commercial publications, the competition is less. That means that – for you, the author – there are HUGE publicity opportunities for you here.HINT:
Associations are seldom competitive – if your book crosses topics (i.e., market niches covered by specific associations), you can strike parallel deals with different associations without worrying about a conflict.Marketing and Distribution Opportunities:
Arrange for any association you deal with to become a reseller for your book. Put them to work promoting and selling your book to their members, making money for themselves as a virtual retailer. As a former association exec, I know from experience that associations are always hungry for “unrelated income.” This helps them balance their ledgers while keeping dues and member fees low. If you succeed here, work with the association’s PR team to “get the word out” – to both members and to the media that covers the association’s market niche – then take the initiative to get the word out to other media on your list.Speaking Ops:
Arrange to put on workshops or seminars for (and with) your new allies – the associations. These can be offered either as a member service by the association, or a revenue-generator for the association. Either way, you can use this to generate publicity, sell books and build your image with media who cover the associations. If your targeted/allied associations accept this approach, hold a book signing at the session. Again, if you succeed here, work with the association’s PR team to “get the word out” to both members and to the media that covers the association’s market niche. Then do your own PR outreach efforts to reach other media on your own list.
In addition to workshops or seminars, you can also arrange to be a featured speaker at an association conference, trade show or convention – perhaps leading a stand-alone workshop or breakout session, but also pushing to become one of the keynote presenters. If successful here, arrange a book signing. Once again, if you succeed, work with the association’s PR team to “get the word out” to both members and to the media that covers the association’s market niche – then work the media that are on your own list.Education and Training Programs as Marketing Tools:
There is a strong, ever-growing legion of individuals and organizations who put on loss leader or profit-center training programs. These include net-based, tele-classes and in-person workshops and seminars. Many of these class programs include “textbooks” or recommended reading/reference lists. Look for ways to network into those independent training programs, self-help workshops and other related seminars and presentations. At least get your book listed on the recommended reading list for appropriate training programs.
In addition to independent training and self-help seminars, many colleges and universities are reaching beyond standard textbooks for other valid and valuable source material. Some are used as course guides while others are used as added reading. If your book touches on a topic being taught at a college or university – either in the main curriculum or as “continuing education” course, begin networking and promoting your book into that market. And if it’s “continuing education” instead of mainstream curriculum, promote your author as a day-workshop leader to these groups. They are always looking for new class and workshop leaders who bring a new focus to popular topics.HINT:
If your book gets picked up as a course or training program text (or supplemental text), be sure to put out a press release and do everything you can (addressed in the other Tips) to generate press coverage of your success here. There’s no reason why other colleges or independent trainers can’t pick up on your success, but unless you tell them, they’ll never know. If your publisher has in-house publicity, marketing and sales teams, be sure you work through channels to let them know about this success – it will very probably recommend to them new promotional and sales-promotion ideas.Tip Nine – Profitable Line Extension
Line extension can work for novels as well as non-fiction – you’ll need to have the right kind of fiction, and you’ll have to be prepared to think out of the box. But if you do, you might be able to adapt some of these ideas to your novel. And if you come up with a really sensational idea, please let me know – email@example.com
As noted, this first line-extension suggestion is another primarily non-fiction (business-oriented) idea.Executive Summary Book:
Once what I’ll refer to her as your “core book” is completed and in your publisher’s hands, think about writing and publishing an “executive summary” book. Think “Reader’s Digest” – a condensed version of your core book that boils the key points down to their bare essentials, useful for the busy CEO, CFO or self-employed person who might balk at reading your longer, more complete book.HINT:
Offer this executive summary along with the full-text core book in some kind of two-fer – this would be in addition to selling the executive summary book as a stand-alone. You’ll need to work this out with your publisher, but because of the profit potential, publishers are increasingly open to this kind of add-value additions to the core book.HINT:
If you like the ideas here about line extension, you might consider putting the “executive summary” (or other line extension concepts) in your book proposal. In that way, the details can be worked out during the contract negotiation stage. If you haven’t sold your book to a publisher – yet – raise this concept with your agent, or bring it up during negotiations with your future editor.Audio:
This is an idea just as well for fiction as for non-fiction. Along with the Executive Summary version, consider doing an audio version in cassette and CD format. This can target the busy exec stuck in traffic, as well as the cross-country trucker. Again, your publisher must be involved – but again, your publisher should be open to this added route to sales success.
This concept is what “Positioning” innovators Trout and Reis (doesn’t that sound like a fancy dinner in New Orleans?) called “line extension” – and handled properly, this approach works well in building both sales and profits.Speaking For Profit
Speaking for profit is something that any author – fiction or non-fiction – ought to consider. Audiences ascribe all kinds of credibility to authors, for reasons that go beyond my limited ability to explain. Use that truism to help you arrange for speaking engagements at big national, regional and state conventions. These are the kinds of events that, unlike trade association meetings, usually pay their featured speakers. Unlike trade association events, these conventions don’t have speakers bidding for the opportunity to speak for free. These kinds of conventions like to have interesting speakers who are – remarkably often – only tangentially related to their core topics.For example:
I recall attending the national convention for a healthcare marketing/PR group (part of American Marketing Association) about a dozen years ago. That convention featured an author as a major speaker, Joan Borysenko (of Harvard).
She was there speaking on her scientific research – a fascinating project that validated the efficacy of prayer on hospital patients (we were mostly hospital marketers at the conference). Her talk had nothing to do with PR or marketing, but it was fascinating, and much more relevant to the group than the luncheon speaker they’d had the year before – another author, G. Gordon Liddy!
The point is, there’s a paying speaker’s market, one where you can position yourself (as an author) as an expert, and do so before potential book-buyers. At these conventions, after you give your talk, you can generally schedule an opportunity to do book signings.
If you succeed in scheduling a signing (it’s not hard), work with the sponsoring organization’s PR team to “get the word out” the media that covers the organization’s market niche – then do the work to reach the other media that are on your own list.
If the event is big enough, let the various radio talk show and cable news program producers know about it. The event might, in itself, justify these media to renew their interest in you or your book.
To be an effective speaker, you need to do more than write a book (though writing a book is a great first step). Here are a few of the most important steps involved in getting ready to launch a second career as successful speaker-for-hire.
- Develop a speaker’s pitch kit – including a video/DVD (also put this on streaming video on your website) that shows you as a speaker. This kit should also include book reviews and raves from group’s you’ve already spoken to.
- Develop several programs (talks or speeches) that meet different needs of typical conventions. For example, develop a “lunch program” talk on the issues dealt with in your book, but focus this talk for the “laity” – business execs or consumers who aren’t focused on the “inside” of the trade book’s topic. Also develop a “spouse program,” using whatever stretch you can find or make to create a link between your book’s topic and the audience’s likely interests (insider “war stories” from the industry covered can often work). Be sure to develop a stock “keynoter” address, too.
- Pitch yourself as an expert who can also talk to non-specialist business people (or any other relevant audience group) – and aim broadly, as these target groups will have differing topics/themes and speaker needs.
Position yourself as an ideal “last minute” speaker who can fill in when scheduled speakers drop out (but define “last minute” – a day, a week, a month, etc.). Many conventions need this, and are remarkably grateful to those who can help out at the (relative) last minute. Of course, if you offer this, make sure you understand the commitment – personal scheduling flexibility is required in order to respond to the conventions’ last-minute needs. If you take this approach, put it on your website and market this “service” aggressively.
- When it comes to book signings/sales at these commercial (i.e., fee-for-speaking) speaking engagements, you have to handle the sale of your books without counting on help from the sponsoring group. You might get the help you need, but don’t count on it. You can obtain your needed books from your publisher, generally on consignment – assuming you have that kind of deal with the publisher – either in your contract, or more informally). If that doesn’t work, you can contract with a local bookstore to handle the sales and fulfillment.
As noted elsewhere, I was at a Sean Hannity speaking event last winter. In anticipation of a book signing after his talk, he’d arranged for Waldenbooks to be on hand to sell his two books, which he then autographed. He would have made far more money if he’d sold these books himself.
However, I presume that he didn’t want the hassle of putting it all together. For his book promotion tour, he spoke to probably 200,000 people over at least ten weeks. Arranging to drop-ship that volume of books to the various location – and finding reliable people at each site who could have handled the retail transactions – could indeed have been a huge hassle.
Besides, since he was charging for the events and making a royalty on your book, I guess he felt he didn’t need to be greedy. As always, your price may vary.
You can work it out that way, or you can take copies of your book on consignment and sell them yourself. One is more hassle (and potentially more profitable), the other frees you from having the hassle.Suggestion:
Have the publisher drop-ship your books to the convention site and arrange to have them delivered to the auditorium right before the event. This can often be negotiated in your contract with the host organization – and with your publisher. If it’s too late for putting that in your publishing contract, talk with the editor or the publisher’s marketing team to make these arrangements. Most publishers will be open to this, especially if you’re talking about hundreds or thousands of sales, as opposed to a half-dozen or so.
You’ll make more money if you sell the books yourself, and most conventions (or the convention centers themselves) will work with you to provide access to hourly local staff who can handle the credit card imprints, etc. (i.e., the local worker bees you’ll need to pull this off).
If you succeed in arranging a post-speaking book signing, and if you work with a local bookstore to handle the commercial angle of your book sales, try to work with that bookstore’s PR team to “get the word out” the media that covers your bookstore’s market niche. In addition, spread the word to other media that are on your own list.Tip Ten – Position Yourself as a Talking Head Expert for Cable News and Talk Radio
Position yourself – as a published author – as an expert with all the cable news show bookers and producers – as well as all of the radio talk show producers. Be sure to prepare appropriate pitch kits for these producers. While this seems more natural a strategy for non-fiction authors, if you’ve written a topical novel, you can still make this work for you.
Here are a few ideas and resources to consider:
- List yourself with Radio/TV Interview Report (http://www.rtir.com/) and GuestFinder (http://www.guestfinder.com/Index.htm). Both of these services have worked well for me, on behalf of author clients (and for myself as well).
- Position yourself as an expert for publications and broadcast media outside your book’s core niche – you never know when the more general off-niche media will need an expert on the subject of your book.
- As noted in another Tip, every time you score with a broadcast media, be sure to put the word out in every way you can.
Let your “fans” – members of the affinity groups you create (see the Tip on affinity groups) know when and where to tune in, and let other talk show producers know that you are “hot.” Use great publicity to generate more great publicity.Here’s the bottom line:
If you’re going to promote or publicize (or market – the terms aren’t entirely interchangeable, but in the world of publishing, there is a lot of crossover) your book – or yourself as an author – these Top-Ten Bottom Line strategies are a good place to start.
Obviously, if you need some support (this isn’t a pitch, but I’d be a fool not to offer) in promoting yourself or your book, I’d be glad to help. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
or learn more about me at http://www.barnettmarcom.com
Several writers gave me useful ideas just for this column – a tip o’the hat to all of them, but especially to Chester Campbell, who sent me a great Top-Ten List that filled in a few blanks in my own experience.