A Promotion Timeline
One of the biggest questions I had as a new author—and one of the biggest questions I see from other new authors—is when to begin promoting your forthcoming book. Often I see freshly sold authors desperately promoting their books that won't be out for another year and a half to two years. It makes me want to pull them aside and give them a hold-your-horses talk...but that would be rude.
Nevertheless, it's important to have an idea of when is an appropriate time to begin promoting your book.
First, some reasons to wait:
1. There are books coming out right now, and in the next few months. You don't want to draw attention away from them! Support those authors. This is their time. It will be your time soon enough, and when it is, you don't want others to distract from that, right? Be as courteous and supportive to others as you want others to be to you.
2. The internet has a short memory. If you start promoting too far ahead, eventually you will become white noise. As mentioned before, there are always new books coming out—books that people can read now. If they can't get to your book for several more months, that's just frustrating. And by the time your book does come out, people will be tired of hearing about it.
Time your promotion for best effect. When will it mean the most to readers? When will you not get lost under the noise of other books coming out? When will you not take away from authors whose time it is to shine?
It's tempting to start promoting immediately, especially since we're never guaranteed much promotion from our publishers and we feel pressured to do our own marketing. But be aware that until people can buy your book, promotion is just getting them exciting for something they can't have.
So, when should you start? And what should you do? My only experience is with traditional YA publishing, and it's very limited experience at that, but here are my suggestions:
1. Wait until you have a cover. Your cover is your best piece of advertisement for your book: it's (ideally) visual and memorable. Besides, if you don't have a cover yet, the book is probably several months out.
Once you get your cover and are given permission to share it with the world, you'll get a huge spike in attention for your book. That's a powerful feeling! But don't expect much more than that at this stage—there's still nothing for people to read.
2. Work on your swag. (If you want any.) At this point, you might a) have some free time, and b) feel an insane need to control something, so go ahead and start thinking about what kind of swag you might like. Stickers? Bookmarks? Nailpolish? Tote bags? Buttons? Temporary tattoos? Something more specific to your book? (Some really good book-specific swag I've seen: guitar pick necklaces (Brodi Ashton), tiny dolls (Ellen Oh), cowboy hats (Cynthia Hand).)
Try not to get too crazy with swag. It does cost money, and writers aren't made of dollar bills. Whatever you do, try to find something you can have a lot of for a little money. (I knit fingerless mitts for Incarnate's release, and while these were very memorable, the yarn was expensive and they took a long time to make. I made them because I wanted to, but as far as making my marketing money go the farthest...they didn't really accomplish that.)
3. ARCs will often come six or seven months before the book comes out. You'll get a few people reading it right away, but a lot of people will hold off until closer to release; there are a lot of books coming out sooner that they need to get to before yours. Try not to worry. You're not being ignored.
Speaking of your ARCs: you probably won't get many of your very own. Loan yours to friends and acquaintances. Reuse them. If you're going to give one away, make sure it's the very best use of your limited ARCs as possible. Let your publisher send out the bulk of the ARCs.
4. Interview and guest blog requests. These will probably start appearing in your inbox about this time. Do these. (If you want.) Ask the hosts to hold off posting them until closer to your release, to time promotion for when it will be most effective.
5. Preparing other promotional items. You'll be able to see from your ARCs what kind of publicity your publisher is planning, and hopefully you'll have had a chance to talk with your publicist by now. So don't step on their feet! Coordinate! Find out what they're doing—and what you can do to help—before you strike out on your own for book trailers, teasers, and other exciting things.
I know you're excited, and I know you're counting down until release, but try to hold off sharing all your goodies until that countdown widget has double digits in the "days left" column. Until then, watch what other people are doing. Keep up with what works and what doesn't work. And mostly...enjoy yourself. You have a book coming out!