Cristina Deptula serves as executive director of the green social enterprise Authors, Large and SmallShe enjoys a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction, from Bill Bryson to Toni Morrison to Abraham Verghese, and believes there is a place and an audience for every book.
You have a book ready to be published. Congratulations! That is a serious accomplishment, and you can be very proud of yourself.
I am a professional literary publicist, and I have many people coming to me with book ideas they never actually write. Consequently, if you have completed, revised, and edited your book, and are making it available for purchase, you have already come farther than many aspiring writers.
Some authors are lucky enough to find publishing companies that handle publicity, but many others, even with established traditional publishers, must tackle most of the work themselves. This can confuse and frustrate many writers, who wonder where to begin spreading the word about their books.
Publicity involves a different set of skills from writing, although there can be some overlap. It is somewhat akin to the difference between knowing how to network one's way into a job and being able to do the job itself. That is why many writers choose to hire publicity support, much as many competent job seekers now use resume services and employment counselors.
In this, and the next few columns, I will give advice to writers on the fundamentals of a publicity plan. Based on my experience, there is little we offer authors that they can't learn how to do themselves. It is simply a matter of how much time writers want to invest in learning outreach skills and building and maintaining professional relationships.
First, I encourage authors to do as much as possible for their books without spending money, and by drawing upon the networks they already have. Business leader and author Thom Singer, in his book The ABCs of Networking ,*** encourages people to begin right away, with the people they already know. Of course it can be worth it to expand your network, to meet more potential readers, but you should not overlook the audience you already have.
Here are some solid first steps towards book outreach:
1. Set up a Facebook page, Twitter account, and blog (on your website if you have one, otherwise use free blogging software). Focus on being findable, rather than cute or complicated. Remember that people will have to type in your handle or username to find you, so come up with something they can spell.
2. Go find your audience online, where they are already gathering, and offer them something of value. Join Facebook groups for mystery readers as well as mystery writers, for dog lovers if your book involves dogs, for adoptive parents if your book has that as a plot point, etc. And don't just go in there and promote your book! Answer questions, offer advice, participate in the community, offer others information. Then mention your book, and provide a quick and easy purchase link.
The only risk factor here is that some people get caught up with social media, spending hours following rabbit trails of research or just chatting online. Relationship building does matter, and chatting is not a complete waste of time. However, balance is critical, if you want to have time to continue writing! I suggest limiting social media time initially to half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening, and possibly a quick check at lunch or on weekends. Enough to Tweet and post once or twice a week, and to participate in communities, and to respond to comments you receive.
3. Get off the Net, and go talk with people in person! Let your friends, PTA group, sports teams, coworkers, volunteer groups, church groups, etc know about your finished writing project. You don't have to pressure them to buy it, just give them a business card with the link to purchase, and mention that it's available. Perhaps, offer them free copies for reviewing it on Amazon.
4. Check with your local library, book clubs, newspapers, radio stations, bookstores, art galleries, etc to see if they will feature your book. You already have the advantage of being local. Also, charities might accept free copies - check with your women's shelter, homeless shelter, charity auctions, etc. If a copy gets into their waiting room, people might see it and order it later, and it's a way to get your writing out there! There are sites online that will show you how to phrase queries to newspapers and bookstores and other media. And don't forget the other writers in your critique group! Review each others books on Amazon, GoodReads and Bookpleasures, interview each other on your blogs for content, and write endorsements and blurbs about each other.
5. Think of magazines you're already reading, blogs you scan on the Net, and shows you listen to, on the radio or online. Most media ask that you be familiar with their show before suggesting new content, and to have a specific reason why your book would be a good fit for their audience. The easiest way to do that is to contact media you already enjoy and know about.
These steps should not cost much money, and should not take up so much of your time, compared to other book outreach techniques. Many authors, however, neglect these basic steps and launch into elaborate ventures, and then get discouraged when they don't see the results they hope for right away.
It is crucial to start with a solid foundation before reaching out to strangers or buying expensive advertising. Most people decide to go to parties because their friends will be there, rather than because of some elaborate glossy photo on a flyer. I am not saying that you should not eventually develop quality, professional-looking promotion materials. But, first, get some people on board, so that people will see that there's interest in your book and join the bandwagon!