Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Book Promotion

Guest speaker for today is Raymond Wong, author of The Pacific Between. After publishing his first novel, he did a lot of self promotion. Here's some of what he learned.

So you've signed that coveted contract and your book's been edited, produced and schedule for release. Congratulations! You've made it so far.

What's next?

For some writers, especially if they're being published by a big house, there's an idea that they can just sit tight and collect the royalty checks, and perhaps go on the occasional book tours or signings. The publicity and marketing machines at the publisher will be do all the work to create buzz and excitement and demand. Promotions are for those without a marketing budget.

While it's partially true, the reality is that it's a very competitive business and there are a lot of authors and books out there. Even named authors have to compete with other distractions such as movies, TV, and the Internet. Advertising can only go so far; and if you're not a brand, advertising doesn't really work. Not to mention publishers are cutting back on marketing and promotional costs. 

It's an increasingly challenging market and the publishers do rely on the authors to do their share selling their books. After all, who can do it better than the authors who know their own books inside and out, and who have the most enthusiasm about the work they produced?

So what's a writer to do?  Well, it's actually a good problem to have, because it means you've "arrived." You've crossed that bridge. You're now in the business of writing and selling books. After all, we all want readership, and book promotion is just that, from the author's perspective -- to create interest and readership.

So how do you go about doing that?  There are many ways, but they all take certain energy, enthusiasm, and ingenuity. The idea of promotion and marketing is to create an awareness about you -- the author -- and your product -- the book. 

The more you're out there telling people about yourself and the book, the more people will be aware of it, and the more they're will remember it. It's about penetration and saturation. The reality is that not many people will buy immediately, especially sight unseen. There are ways to entice someone to buy a book, and hopefully the publisher has done their job:  the cover, the title, the jacket blurb, the shelf placement, advertising, etc.  So what can a writer add to this to entice a reader to check the book out?


1. Press Release

- Normally, the publisher will do all that, and preferably on a national level. But it's really important for the author to at least do his or her own press releases at the local or regional level. It is the author's home turf, and the author knows it best.

Press releases can be really effective if you're local, and you have a compelling story to tell that relates to your local area.

Try to focus on a "news" angle instead of simply telling people, "hey, my book is out. Buy it."  An effective press release is one that tells an interesting story that is "newsworthy." If your novel or book is about divorces, for example, tie it to something relevant for your readers. Find a local angle. Refer to your own experiences.

Journalists are interested in a unique story they can sell. For example, I was able to create interest for Stories of Strength with a press release that focused on the Katrina disaster relief, and tied it back to the disasters Hurricane Ivan did to my local community. For my novel, I was able to create a human story that relates to multiculturalism and immigrants.

Some more tips on creating an effective press release:

a. Limit it to one or two pages. The media are busy people. They don't have time to read pages and pages of drivel.

b. Create a catchy headline.  Study newspapers and magazines. The headline is one of the most important things.

c. Write the content as if you were writing a news article. The media are busy people; they're looking for something that is near-print-ready, that they can just lift off the page.

d. Make your key points stand out. Don't bury them in paragraph after paragraph of stuff. The media is looking for something that just pops and grab your attention.

e. Create something on the human level. Like any news story, the human angle is what makes people care.  Use anecdotes, dialogue, excerpts that make people care.

f. Make sure your contact info is clearly printed on the press release. If you have a publicist, use that information -- it's more professional looking.  If you don't have a publicist, use your publisher.   Using your own name and number gives off the impression that you're "self-published."


2. Trinkets

- People like stuff. If your publisher has the budget for it, get them made with the book title and your name on it:  bookmarks, postcards, pamphlets, keychains, pencils, buttons, mugs, T-shirts, etc. etc.  If you can't afford it, do it anyway.  Bookmarks and postcards and business cards are relatively cheap -- some places such as VistaPrint even offer "free" stuff plus shipping.

- It's all about branding. Even if people are not interested in buying, they still get something back and everyone likes to have stuff. And who knows? Maybe some day they'd come across that notepad and wonder: Hey, what is that book about? Who is that writer?  Again, it's about awareness and the pervasiveness of branding.

- It's always good to have things to pass out or give away at conferences, book signings, tours, etc. So the little bit of investment can go a long way.

- Make posters. They come in handy at events and you can also pass them out.


3. Interviews and Book clubs

- Part of the purpose of press releases is to get you some media coverage.  Whether it's a blurb in the local newspaper, or a TV interview. And it's not that difficult. Again, you need to play the local angle. Even a relatively unknown man like myself has done TV, radio and print interviews. I'm also a guest on a local radio station from time to time. It's about exposure.

- Any time you find an opportunity to get your name out there or get an interview, do it.  It includes networking with people, getting involved with local groups, working the social networks such as Facebook or MySpace.

- Check out the local literary circle, including radio shows (book talks, etc.) and writers groups. Introduce yourself to writers groups and see if they would be interested in having you to come in and give a talk.  Who knows? Maybe they'd be interested in getting you into their book club.


4. Events

- There are many different kinds of events, and they're all good exposure for a writer. Obviously, you don't have to do them all -- they're time consuming and may be costly. But when you have the means, these are great opportunities to get you out there and meet people and talk up your book:

a.  Book tours - yeah, we all dream about going on a cross country or international book tour. Such glamour!  The reality is they're not that glamorous. Just a lot of work, traveling, public speaking, and repeating the same thing over and over again.  But they can be a lot of fun.  Most often, it's not something we should worry about anyway because book tours are expensive. Even big name authors may not get to have their tours.  But if you're traveling anyway, it's not impossible to schedule something.

I was able to schedule a "mini" tour in California while I was out there in September, 2006. And yes, every time you have an event, send out a Press Release to the appropriate market and locations.  I was able to get print coverage and a TV interview for my California trip. Work with the local book stores (independents or chains).

b. Book signings - that's the necessary evil, especially when your book is just coming out. They're really not that bad. Work with the local stores and libraries to arrange for the signings (either you or your publisher can do it).  Be punctual, courteous, and approachable. You want to be able to be invited back. Also, don't get too comfortable and just sit there waiting for people to buy your book.

You're not there to sell books. You're there to talk about your book.  Make sure you talk to people, and introduce yourself especially if you're not John Grisham or Stephen King. People don't know you. Be approachable and friendly and drink a lot of energy drink -- you'll need it. Do a book reading instead of a book "signing."  Readings are more interesting and will attract more people anyway.  I once had a reading at a library and there were over 20 people there -- no one had heard of me before. It was great.

c. Library events -- work with your local libraries to sponsor or participate in local events such as book groups, book fair, etc. It's a great opportunity to introduce people to you and your book.

d. Writers' Conference  and book fairs -- they're just another venues to do book readings and signings. I find it more enjoyable to actually be on panels or give workshops. Some conferences will pay you, and some don't. But the idea is, again, to get yourself out there.


5. Awards

- Awards are also good promotional assets. Granted, most people don't really care unless your award is the Nobel or Pulitzer or a prestigious genre award.  But what is important is that you can put "Award-winning author" in front of your name!  That also gives you some kind of credibility whether you're doing a book reading, going to a conference, or getting on a TV interview.  Plus your local media love success stories -- and an award sounds like success to them (especially if it's a national award).


6. Reviews

- It is really not part of "promotion" or marketing, but a very vital part of the business.  Trade reviews (and not a thumbs-up from your mother) are very important for a book. It gives the book industrial credit.  Whether it's a good or bad review, at least it's garnered attention. Of course, a good review is preferred.  Still, reviews can be used in EVERYTHING related to promotions and marketing:  press releases, author bios, trinkets, posters, book jackets, websites ... anything you can think of.  Good reviews and blurbs (from another author or reviewers) is the ultimate word of mouth. 


7. Online

- It's become more and more important to have an online presence. That's your billboard. If you can, register your own domain name (I have mine: Make your website and keep the content updated, and make them professional.  This is where the readers can come and check you out.  This is all about you -- so make it shine.

- Social Network sites, such as Facebook and MySpace and Twitter are gaining popularity, and they're great places for authors to hang out, and to advertise their books, and to interact with fans. If you already have a personal account, you may create one just for professional use.

- Blogs -- blogs are great in that they can be easily updated, unlike websites. And they're great for fans to visit and check you out and see what you've been up to, or gain some insight into your process, your career and your personal life (if you let them).

- Online resources are great to keep your fans and your potential readers informed and connected to you.  They can disseminate information such as future events, news, promotions, writing samples, etc. etc.


So the idea of promotion and marketing is to get your name and your book out there, in as many venues as possible, and as often as you can.  It's about being "viral" without being in your face.  It's a delicate balance.  One can do too much or too little, or get too carried away.  

The thing is, the author's #1 priority is to write great books. That should be our main focus. But it doesn't mean we can sit on our hands and not promote our books. Publishers have been known to drop an author because he or she doesn't do squat in helping promote their own books. So don't make the same mistakes.

The bottom line is, have faith in your work, and have some fun with it.


Raymond Wong is the author of THE PACIFIC BETWEEN, and co-author of the STORIES OF STRENGTH anthology. Besides writing, Ray is also an actor and a musician. You can learn more about Ray on his website, or on his blog I, the Author. 

Other resources:

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing - blog

Writerly So - blog

Booksignings: All You Need to Know - thread

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