Blowing Your Own Horn—
Promoting Yourself After—and Before—Publication
Copyright 2001; 2012 by Patricia Anderson
Never miss a chance to get your name in print. It's the cardinal rule of promoting yourself as a writer. And these days it's no less important to get your name broadcast on radio, television, and the Internet.
Most beginning writers have a general sense of what promotion entails once you have published a book. But there is less awareness of what role publishers play—in reality, as opposed to popular fantasy. There are also common misconceptions about what you can, and cannot, do to promote yourself if you are a brand new author with no publication credentials.
It took you a long time and a lot of hard work, but at last it happened. You got a contract, made it through the rigors of production—and now your book is published.
Your publisher has placed the house publicist at your disposal, perhaps even hired one just for you. You've had a splashy book launch and done several bookstore signings as readers line up at your table to have their newly purchased copies personally autographed. You've been interviewed by all the local media and are about to go on tour across the country. Meanwhile, copies of your book grace the doorways and displays of both large and small booksellers.
Well, yes, er—in your dreams . . .
Of course, there are exceptions. The book trade's superstars get the lion's share of the promotional budget, but many publishers will also allocate funds to publicity campaigns for seasoned but lesser known authors, as well as for a selected few promising newcomers.
Unless you are one of the stars, forget the idea of a publisher-sponsored glitzy launch or major book signing events. Publishers are increasingly unwilling to put money into such occasions, because experience has shown that the book sales generated typically do not cover costs. Book signing these days more typically means that you perch uncomfortably in the back of a store, or even in a warehouse, quietly getting writer's cramp while your possible readers go about their business elsewhere. Most publishers prefer to pay for bookstore positioning rather than signings.
As for media coverage, publishers now tend to seek out only enough publicity of this sort to generate word-of-mouth momentum for the book. A media campaign may mean that your publisher will hire you your own publicist(s), or you may simply work with the in-house publicist. Depending on the book, the publisher, and the budget, publicity efforts may be limited to local media where the author lives. In other cases, the sales and marketing departments will decide that a book tour is worth the risk. But even so, no publicist, however effective, can actually make the media interview you, or newspapers feature your work.
The same holds true when it comes to getting your book reviewed. Most publishers will send out review copies to any or all of local and national newspapers, book trade publications, and special-interest magazines and journals. The publications targeted will vary according to the type of book. But, as with media coverage, no one can guarantee that your book will reviewed.
In other words, for all the best efforts of publisher, publicist, and author, promotion always involves an element of chance. But regardless of results, if you end up with a publisher willing to promote you with even a modest publicity campaign, consider yourself privileged. The more common experience among authors is to receive little or no promotional backing from their publishers. And, with or without such support, it has become part of every author's job to take at least some responsibility for their own promotion.
What you can do. Working with (or without) your publisher, you as the author have a number of ways to promote yourself. What and how much you do will depend on your budget, time, energy, and personality. Some authors find it useful to hire a publicist of their own. Others choose to prepare their own press kits and approach the media themselves.
Authors who find all this too daunting or expensive can still make an effort to liaise with local booksellers. Often, just dropping into bookstores, introducing yourself, and offering to sign copies of your book will gain you better bookstore positioning than you would get without such effort. Sometimes, too, a bookseller may even organize an in-store event to showcase you and your book. It is also a good idea to put your computer to work and to make up some flyers or bookmarks. These can be as simple or as fancy as you choose and are useful to have on hand to give out when you visit a bookstore or simply run into an interested potential reader.
Networking, to add to your contacts, and using the Internet can also serve you well both after and before publication. I discuss these topics in the following section.
If you have book that is still in-progress, or completed but not yet published, it is pointless to hire a publicist. In fact, responsible publicists would turn you away, because they know that the media has no interest in a book that might not get finished or might not be published. If, however, you are already an acknowledged authority on some topic, then you may be able to draw some advance media attention for your forthcoming book.
But, in such a case, you would want to proceed cautiously, because too much attention too soon could turn your book into an anticlimax when it does appear. And that could be disastrous, because in the publishing business the bottom line is not your expertise but the book's sales. It is also wise to remember that actual works—manuscripts, books, screenplays, and so on—can be copyrighted, but ideas cannot. You therefore do not want to be overly free in broadcasting your original ideas before they are published. In an already risky business, why take unnecessary chances?
What you can do.When your book is in the prepublication stage, one of the most productive things you can do for yourself is to network. Join a local writing association, attend writers workshops and conferences, and make contact with any businesses, organizations, or educational institutions that might have a particular interest in your book. Make sure that you never go anywhere without a business card—you never know when you might meet an editor, writer, or other contact who just might be the key to opening the right door for you.
But don't just hand out the cards you have from your workplace. Use your computer or a professional print shop to make cards specifically for when you're wearing your writer's hat. On the card, you just need to indicate your name, contact information, and, at most, a one-line description or working title of your project. Unless you are a working freelance writer, don't give yourself a title like "Jane Doe, Writer" or "John Doe, Author." To people in the book business this appears amateurish.
If you're going to a writers conference where you will likely meet editors and agents, it can be a good idea to clip your card to a brief synopsis of your project. And I do mean brief—one page only. Editors and publishers are already overburdened with manuscripts and long proposals; they do not need you adding to their load with a thick sheaf of paper.
A website can also be a rewarding way to start publicizing your book. It provides one convenient source of information about you and your project; you can also use it to get reader feedback on samples of your writing. And remember that a website is a type of "work" and therefore falls under copyright protection. You can of course hire someone to do your site, but you'll save money and have more fun if you learn to do it yourself. Check out other authors' websites to get a sense of what might work for you; then learn the basics from books like Creating Web Pages for Dummies. The Internet also offers many pointers, and several sites are geared specifically to writers' webpages. In recent years, social networking has further enhanced the possibilities for book promotion with sites like FaceBook, online forums, book sites like Goodreads, blogging, and other venues for interacting, such as Twitter. And don't forget YouTube—a book trailer can be an attention-getting asset in your marketing campaign.
The Internet further provides an ever-growing range of opportunities to promote yourself and your work through various forms of pre- or self-publication. For a fee, you can have your unpublished work publicized on sites such as Authorlink. If you are intent on achieving traditional publication, don't neglect the value of self-publishing to get your name out there while you seek a conventional publisher. You might want to try one of the print-on-demand services, some of which have free, no-frills publishing packages with which to get started.
Above all, if you are an emerging author determined to find a conventional publisher for that book-in-the works, then the best way to promote yourself is to start building publication credentials. Even just one article or story published in a magazine, review, or anthology goes a long way toward convincing agents and publishers of your capabilities and commitment to writing. Possible sources of magazine and anthology publication are listed in directories such as Writer's Market. A publication, however modest, not only boosts your credibility but also enhances your confidence in yourself as a writer.
And whatever other promotional efforts you might choose to make, this dual advantage is crucial. For, together, credibility and confidence are at the heart of promoting yourself successfully both after—and before—your book is published.