The Year of Needy Girls by Patricia Smith (Kaylie Jones Books, 2017) was launched in NYC.
by Jennifer Jenkins
Years ago at a book release party in New York for Gloria Emerson’s book Gaza: A Year in the Intifada: A Personal Account from an Occupied Land, Emerson managed to slip away from the expensive canapés and glittering lights to talk to people not desperate for a pithy quote. She wanted a cigarette and ended up stealing my lighter as I found her a nook where we could smoke undisturbed by cameras. I told her I considered her lucky, with a controversial and well-written book and so much press clamoring for her attention. She told me she considered herself a step above an escort who was always for sale in the public eye. Especially today, with so many books, so little time, we are all selling ourselves by learning how to market our own work.
How do we do this without putting on our working-girl pumps and walking the streets? I created “The Author’s Guide to Self-Promotion” after working with several authors who have run the promotional gauntlet with success. The days of depending upon publishing houses to foot the bill for an unknown writer’s publicity and book tour are gone, baby, gone. This is where a lot of the publisher’s advance — if you are lucky enough to get one — goes for new authors. Short of calling in your mom to sing your praises, it’s all up to you.
Fear not, though. It can be a fun and rewarding process. You just have to be prepared to work as hard at the promotion as you did at the writing. While this may sound daunting, take heart in the knowledge that no one knows your book as well as you, and like a new parent with a talented toddler, you should embrace telling the world why they should love your child.
A good place to start is with the ABCs of promotion: audience, budget, communication.
A IS FOR AUDIENCE
Building your audience is a first step. This means you have to talk about your book, and talk a lot. Some writers start the minute they have a theme for a book, others begin when the book has been released. A social media post proclaiming, “I’ve just had a publication offer from Etruscan Press!” will draw people in and make them feel like a part of your publication process.
Let people in on your writing process; how you decided where to set the book, who the characters are based upon, and if there are autobiographical elements. You may have funny stories about locking your keys in your car during a research outing, or getting juicy information out of an interview subject. This will keep people engaged while you are doing the heavy lifting of writing.
Give yourself pitches along the way that you can deliver to people on your progress and keep them interested. If your barista asks how the book is going, saying “fine” is not fine; saying “my hero pushed his girlfriend out of a plane yesterday” is so much better. Give people a tease, a taste, and make them want to read it.
B IS FOR BUDGET
Along with securing publication comes creating a budget. Have a frank discussion with your publisher, your agent, or your manager — whoever is instrumental in getting it published. Ask them to clearly define the financial expectations and obligations. Find out who pays for the promotion of your book, and what specifically they will fund. Usually there is a release party, followed by a book tour. Some publishers will give you funds toward the release party and the tour, some are hands-off. With enough money behind you, hiring a publicist is an excellent idea to help you get interviews, television appearances, and ad placement in magazines and newspapers. Parties, travel, and publicists can all get expensive, so make sure you are clear up front.
The book tour should take into consideration the theme of your book. If you are writing about prep schools in the Northeast, that’s where you need to go. If your book is about Southern cooking, head for sunny climes. Sell it first to the people who can identify best with your topic. They will feel a connection and are more likely to talk you up to others. Alumna Barb Taylor (M.F.A. ’08), author of Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night and All Waiting is Long, did a successful reading and book sale at the Lackawanna Historical Society, because her book centers around history and Scranton.
Stacey Lender, author of City Mouse, offered free babysitting services at her book party, because her book is about a family with small children.
Stacy Lender, author of City Mouse (Kaylie Jones Books, 2017) and Kaylie Jones at the City Mouse release party.
C IS FOR COMMUNICATION
Communication is at the heart of your self-promotion. And the best key to getting your book out there now is social media. Take some time to research which social media programs will be most effective for your book, and learn them. This is a matter of delving into different programs on your computer. Be judicious in your choices, or you can spend your whole day writing about your writing. The trick with social media is to keep up with it. If you have a website with a blog, you have to keep that blog current. People will check in, but they’ll stop if you have nothing new to say. Research all the social media you can for content delivery and target audience. Post links on each to your other sites.
Below is a preliminary guide to some current social media sites; be aware that platforms change quickly, and new ones are born every day, so look into them to determine which will be most effective for your audience. For instance, right now tumblr has a graphic heavy young adult bend to it, so it works well for YA content. As the audience ages, however, the site is likely to as well. Facebook was created by college students, for college students in 2004, and the current users have aged with it.
|Networking for personal/business; text, pictures, video, live streaming, promotions, paid ads|
|Image hosting site for pictures and video; good for research|
|Location service for events and recommendations|
|Book building site that reviews and shares recommendations|
|General network of friends, business contacts and strangers – Facebook+LinkedIn+Twitter|
|Photo posting site with minimal text|
|Texting app, similar to Twitter|
|Collect titles, share info on books, provide suggestions on other books|
|Business site to share job connections|
|Global media and entertainment company|
|Free platform to publish stories; can format with pix & video using their editor|
|Prototype of social community program, now used primarily for music|
|Live video streaming app|
|Posting site for photos that can link to sales site|
|Text, photo, gif exchanges for online discussion Sources sometimes questionable|
|A community platform for group sharing|
|Instant message and photo site with temporary content|
|Podcast and music streaming platform|
|Post photos, text, videos, short messages|
|Short messages and videos, self-promotional|
|Very short (:06) looping videos (no more uploads, viewing only)|
|Video site to post readings, author events, book discussions|
|Bulletin board for various topics, posting text and pictures|
With communication comes the ask: ask friends to read your book and review it on Amazon, Goodreads, or any traffic heavy book site. Check the sites and remind people how valuable reviews are to an author — they help kick your book up the ladder. Also, ask your friends to recommend your book to other people they know. And ask your friends if they have book clubs who might like a reading, or if they know bookstores in their areas who might welcome an appearance by you. Don’t be shy — they are your friends, and they want to help.
All of this is learning to invest yourself into your book; you have to love it in order to sell it. Building an audience, creating a budget, and feeding the lines of communication will go a long way toward bringing your book out into the world.
Ask for help, and accept it when it is offered. Your book is a part of you, and this should be a good sale that doesn’t make you want to smoke when you’re done.
Jennifer Jenkins’ fiction has appeared in several magazines and her plays have been produced in New York and regionally. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Wilkes University and serves as the outreach specialist and events coordinator at Kaylie Jones Books.