[What Luke J. Kendall has learned, so far, about self-publishing]

Monday, 20 July 2015

Book Publicity and Marketing

(Updated on 2015/10/20 following Book Expo Australia 2015. See Book Expo Aust Update)

First off, I should clarify that I am not claiming to understand book publicity and marketing; but I had the pleasure of attending a six hour course on the topic on Sat 18th July, held by the Australian Society of Authors. The presenter was Debbie McInnes of DMCPRMedia. I should add that it's been a while between articles as I've been hard at work on editing my book in preparation for thEditors.com's feedback, including doing some detailed analysis of how I use POV throughout my book.

Incidentally, here is a link to the information about today's event: Understanding Book Publicity and Marketing in the 21st Century

Debbie clearly knew her stuff and had a wealth of experience. I think there were 18 attendees, and as usual in these get-togethers with other authors and budding authors, I found them all to be interesting and engaging people. It really seems like authors are basically nice people! Also, the range of books underway was enormous, and many sounded very interesting and deserving of success. So Debbie had a really broad scope to try to cover, with probably every attendee wanting a different mix of things from the course. Her approach was to speak from her experience, to show us what needs to be done, and what works, and the broad range of things you need to think about and plan. In essence she provided a smorgasbord of knowledge, from which each person could choose the pieces relevant for them. It would be stupid, arrogant, and morally wrong for me to try to reproduce or summarise everything she went through, especially since I will not have fully understood all the implications of everything she said. But what I will do is share what I learned for my own specific situation: self-publishing in the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

I should further clarify that by self-publishing I don't mean engaging a publishing company and working with them to publish your book: I mean do-it-all-yourself, or at least, take responsibility for it all yourself. For example, I think if you can find a good professional editor to work on your otherwise-finalised MS, that makes excellent sense to do. It also became clear to me during the seminar today that engaging a book cover design expert is probably well worth the money, as perhaps the biggest first step to achieve after you've written your book is to come up with a cover that will make a reader interested enough to at least look at your book to consider reading it.

A lot of what Debbie covered was not relevant to me: most of the people in the media spotlight who interview authors, on TV or radio, do not interview self-published authors. Certainly not a 1st novel! Likewise for most of the marketing channels that are used in the traditional publishing industry; Debbie listed some key publicity drivers:
  1. Newspapers and magazines
  2. ABC (i.e. the national broadcaster) and commercial radio
  3. Free to air and pay TV
  4. Online and social media opportunities
  5. Events (like a book launch, or talks, or signings, …)
  6. Flyers, posters
  7. Web sites
  8. Word of mouth

Now, for a self-publisher, I think the only relevant ones are 7, 4, and 8. Though with sufficient time and energy, you could try 6 and 5, and try (good luck!) for 1, 2, or 3. But in all these cases which involve the media or other parties, you need to keep firmly in mind that there needs to be something in it for them: some reason why showing your book, or talking about your book, is useful and valuable to them. So if you're going to pitch your book to any of these groups, that's how you should be thinking about what to offer them and how to approach them.

Easy to put your foot in it. Debbie also made it clear that publicists and marketers who work in this book publishing space understand who's who in the industry, what's likely to interest them, and what's the right and wrong way to approach them. They know all that because of their deep experience in doing it, so if you try to approach them yourself, you'll need to research very heavily to make an even halfway decent approach. These people are all busy, with many demands on their time, and I imagine that it's taken decades to evolve their current efficient ways of getting the right information to the right people: so if you don't do it the way they expect, you're likely to do it in a way that makes their job harder, not easy. Which will annoy them.

To try to keep this brief, I think I'll just pick out the key things I learned which I expect to prove valuable for someone in my situation.

The publishing process consists of these parts:

  • Editing
  • Design of the book (including cover, back cover, spine, inside flaps, etc.)
  • Distribution
  • Publicity

And all those four things need to work, well, for your book to have much chance of success. That, of course, is on top of having written the very best book you can.

Publicity is usually planned right from the outset, because traditional publishers have to produce their books on time, and the scheduling of all the work involved is not simple. So you can't just wing it. In this one respect, the self-publisher has a much easier job: you control everything, and if you need to take more time and re-plan things, then you can, within reason. If you commit to deadlines for some third party, for example if you've organised to give a talk or to launch your book at your local library, then obviously if you can't meet the deadline that's going to be a big problem, and often would mean you've lost that chance, probably forever. So even for the self-publisher, planning your publicity campaign is something you need to put some very careful thought into.

What message does your cover send? Think about your cover in terms of the message it conveys. People want to know what they'll be getting. And if the cover doesn't look professional, the book won't be looked at by professional reviewers (e.g. for the book review section in a newspaper or magazine). For my book, Debbie pointed out I should include a tagline at least to indicate what the book's about. (She thought my cover looked like it had been produced by an amateur – which is absolutely correct – but for all that, it might be okay for a self-published ebook.) This of course includes the title, which is a critical element in the cover.

Marketing is a mix of the product itself, publicity, position (I think this means, relating your book to other similar ones, e.g. identifying the genre or sub-genres), and placement (distribution to bookstores).

Timing matters for publicity: there are busy times of the year when many publishers will be promoting books: for the Christmas period (so, for months before and soon after), and around major writer events and festivals. Try to avoid launching and promoting your book during those times: for a self-publisher, quieter periods will work better for you.

Book press-release. As part of the homework/preparation for the course, each person had to produce a 50-word bio and a press release for our book. This was a completely new concept to me, but although no large newspaper would be interested in the 1st novel of a self-published author, there's a slim chance that a local newspaper might be (since it promotes the idea that people in the local area include authors), so you might be able to pitch it in a way that would make it a useful small news snippet for them. It also occurred to me that if you were to send your book to anyone, then including the “press release” to explain what it is, is probably a good idea.

I did a quick Google search to find out what a book press release was, and found these links useful: How to write a press-release mini tutorial, Book press-release template (I just read the web page, I didn't request the template), and Write a better press release – 50 ways to reach your readers #14, and pulled together the tag-line and blurb I'd previously prepared, then expanded a bit on the blurb to provide some more details, and finally added the 50-word bio we'd been told to prepare. Apart from making the cover image of my book, and the head and shoulders shot of myself too large, Debbie seemed to think I'd made a pretty decent stab at that.

Plan out a publicity campaign: put some thought into it. Even if (like me), you're not going to be too ambitious, work out what you can reasonably do. Things to consider are contacting your local library or book store to see whether they'd be interested in you showing and talking about the book, or even launching it; local radio or newspaper; contacting local book clubs; and of course your online social media plans. You should have a web site where people can go to find out more about your book. If you can get a review comment from someone influential, that you can put on the cover or back page or inside, that could be hugely valuable to you. Getting reviews are very important, so identify and tee-up potential reviewers and plan how to get review copies to those people in good time before the launch date. The bigger the publicity campaign, the more thought and planning required, especially if it will involve newspapers or magazines, who will typically need a lead time of a few months to plan out how to fit your piece in.

Media training. We talked a little about media training: this means, basically, learning how to be yourself and to communicate the key messages about your book, if you're in the fortunate position of being interviewed on radio or TV. This would include simple things like learning how to speak without mumbling, to how close to the microphone you should speak, to how to ignore the weird and unnerving surroundings and project your authentic self. It did occur to me that if you were going to produce a video interview for putting up on your web site, then some media training might be money very well spent. You should also look and listen to interviews by other authors, to get a feel for how they do it. And consider it from the point of view of what you'd do and say if it were you being interviewed. Put some thought into the likely questions that will be asked (“What's your book about”), and put some thought into the answer so you don't stumble and look foolish.

Interview dos and don'ts. If you are going to be interviewed, Debbie advised: Re-read your book so it's fresh in your mind Have a copy of your book with you Focus on talking about the book and what makes it different or stand out from the crowd Be self-deprecating. You must avoid sound like you're pushing/selling the book. Make up a list of key points you'd like to make (as memory joggers), in case a question will allow you to offer that information Have some anecdotes ready, to illustrate points you want to make – you want to be interesting Don't tell the whole story and give away the ending when the interviewer asks about your book Never say “You'll have to read the book to find that out” Never ask the interview “Did you read the book?” or even “Did you like it?” - they're very busy people, they're unlikely to have done so.

Book Expo Australia. There's a “Book Expo Australia” event held at Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush (this year, on the 17th/18th October), which is “a dedicated event for the reading public to engage with authors and publishers”, where I believe self-published authors are welcome, too.

All in all, it was a valuable and interesting day, and well worth the time and money in my opinion.

Book Expo Australia 2015 Update

I've blogged about Book Expo Australia 2015 in general, but here are some specific things I learned related to book publicity and marketing, along with an idea I had.

Tim Lea gave a very useful talk on Social media and crowd-funding, and he has been kind enough to share his presentation with me. At first I thought "But I'm not planning to do any crowd-funding", but I'm very glad I went along, because it soon became blindingly clear that almost everything he said about crowd-funding applied equally well to marketing, or creating a "brand" for yourself as an author. See:

Summarising what he said: Crowd-funding is incredibly difficult. The key to doing it successfully is planning: a lot of planning! Allow a minimum of three months before you start your campaign: you'll need that time to plan it and prepare material for it, and even longer if you first need to create a social media presence!

ManageFlitter is a tool he recommended, since it can be very helpful in accurately targeting your market: e.g. if you know an author whose readers are likely to be interested in your book's subject, it can show you who that author's followers are, so you can choose which of them you should follow.

In Facebook there are many groups devoted to fantasy and other genres. So think of the angles/themes in your book, and then look through the groups to find those who might be interested.

Find your key influencers. You may not be able to reach them, but with time and diligence you should be able to work your way up the "hierarchy" of influencers if you have an interesting message. People like emotion, they like to understand motivation, so a blog on why you wrote the book is likely to be of interest to potential readers.

If you're blogging, and you happen to be writing on a topic for which some influential people have opinions, you can try contacting them (gently, e.g. via Twitter as a 1st step), and ask if they'd have a quote or a word of advice they'd be willing to share, which you could quote them on in the article you're writing.

You do need to promote yourself. You need to be helpful, though: curate other people's content; tweet or retweet some of their good stuff; share articles of interest to other people in the area you're working. If you're seen as being helpful to "your tribe" then "your tribe" is likely to reward you for your efforts.

See Tim's presentation for more information. He also shares a very good idea in his blog article about using your web site to "introduce yourself" to people who may then decide to connect with.

My own small idea, when I saw how enthusiastic and engaging the booktubing community was, was simply to include some of them when you're sending out free copies of your book to try to get reviews.

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