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Self-promotion: an author's perspective and guide
Most of your publicity and outreach to the general market is up to you.
We all have giant dreams of a publisher who does everything for us, and I have a few friends who are in this very enviable position. But I have more friends in a position like mine—a position that leaves the majority of the publicity grunt work on our fragile writer shoulders.[1. FYI, deal size ≠ publicity push. Plenty of authors with ginormous deals have almost no marketing while plenty of authors with tiny deals have HUGE push. It very much depends on your publisher, when your book releases, what your genre is, and the distance between Mars and Jupiter on any given day.] Of course, as a shy introvert, accepting that I'm going to have to set up my signings and I'm going to have to do the schmoozing was a very, VERY difficult thing. But them's the facts, and as I've preached before, the only thing an author (or person, really) can do when faced with a less-than-desirable future is Let It Go and Move On. Then, once you've let the stress melt away, it's time to make your marketing plan—and I'm gonna help you do it exactly the same way my agent helped me. When Joanna and I were first brainstorming my marketing plan, she said some magical words that really clicked. She said, "What we need to do is focus our marketing on the book and the Something Strange and Deadly world instead of on you." As an über shy person (have I emphasized this enough? ;)), this approach made TOTAL sense to me. So here's YOUR first step:
1. Decide where you want to focus the spotlight.
If you're comfortable getting a lot of attention and you have a lot to offer—maybe you're also a musician or an actor—then you might want to emphasize YOU in your marketing plan. This sort of approach might involve a lot of author events and chances to really meet your readers. If you aren't as comfortable with social butterflying, then you might want to focus on your story—on the characters, the world, etc. This approach might involve a lot of extra content for your readers. If you're not partial either way, then a 50/50 approach is always a good way to go. Now that you've decided your direction, it's time to...
2. Write down any and every idea that comes to you.
So, for example, let's say you choose option 1—you want to really get yourself out there and flex your social fingers. You might start by writing: Local author events. This in turn might prompt a bunch of other ideas: Barnes & Noble signing, Local Indie Store signing, coffee shop talk, school speaking event, library launch party Which in turn might prompt some other ideas: convention panels, online videos/interviews, signing stock before release, reach out to other authors in area for events. The important thing is to stay within your comfort zone. Don't worry about money or time at this point—just what you think you'd be willing to do. After that, it's time to...
3. Estimate your budget.
It might sound obvious, but it's easy to overlook when you're full of GREAT ideas. So pick an amount of $$ you won't (or can't) go over, and stick to it. Costs will add up fast. My budget was $2000 for extra-content-type things. I think I'll probably spend close to this once it's all said and done. But...I was stupid and didn't plan a budget for my events, so I've already spent >$1000 on travel fare alone. I expect this cost will double, if not triple before the summer is even over. I REALLY wish I had budgeted for travel/events.
4. Now you get specific with your first ideas. And get organized too--time frames are good. Preliminary cost research is critical.
Because I was focusing on extra content, I took some of my general ideas and fine-tuned them. Then I evaluated what would and wouldn't work within my budget. For example, countdown was fleshed out into countdown widget people can put in their blog. I am not clever enough to make a widget on my own, so I signed up for a $9.99/month membership with Widgetbox and created one on there. (After the book releases, I'll close the account. No point in continuing to pay once the countdown is over!) Another thing I had on the list was several teaser trailers, but the estimated cost for these was WAY over what I could afford. So, I decided that with a bit of elbow grease (and a lot of time), I could make a single, comprehensive trailer myself and save the teasers for book 2. I had ComicCon on my list as well, and I fleshed this out to ComicCon + signing (?) + panel (?). The question marks meant it was up to my publisher to get me in, so I needed to approach them. I've already spent $600 on airfare + $150 on my tickets, and accommodations will cost ~$300. We haven't even gotten into the cost of food. YIKES. (See #4 again. I cannot emphasize budgeting enough.)
5. Choose exactly what you will do and lay out when you will do it. Give it to your publisher, and see what they will help you with or take over.
Joanna had her assistant (the amazing Danielle! *waves at Danielle*) type up our detailed plan (it was ~2 pages long) and give it to my editor. It took a while to hear back from my marketing/publicity teams, but once we did, I immediately set to work on all the things I needed to do. You see, most of my ideas did not overlap with HarperTeen's plans, so I was pretty much on my own. BUT, I was (still am) determined to offer extra content and really emphasize the scope of the world and cast of characters in my book. My point is: it's totally fine if your plans ≠ your publisher's plans. You've got your handy-dandy list, a time-frame, and budget,[2. Oh goodness, I will continue to emphasize how important budgeting is! Self-promotion ain't cheap!] so you are 100% capable of doing things on your own. However, before you do anything—publish a countdown widget or set up a signing—make sure you run it past your publisher first.
6. Get to work. Do not put it off.
I started working solely on marketing at the beginning of May, almost 3 months before the book's release. We are now 3/4 of the way through June. A lot of the things I chose to do were incredibly labor intensive (because I wanted to save money). In fact, if you're curious, here's a rough calendar of what I did the past 1.75 months.
It doesn't look like much, but consider I was working on each of these things 7 AM - 6 PM everyday (most weekends too). I enjoyed what I was doing, but it was also time I could have been writing. I mean, if I wrote for those same hours, I would be finished with book 3 now. Hmmmm... Plus, there's still SO MUCH to be done before the book releases in 33 days. I have a scavenger hunt and giveaways planned, and once those kick off next week, I'll be focused constantly on keeping the website up to date. Oh, and of course all the mailing I'll have to do once the giveaways finish (lots of postage costs are in my future!).[3. Don't forget to budget in postage. I forgot.] I still have more necklaces to make because my first batch looked like CRAP. :) I still have at least 20 guest posts to write for various blog tours, and at least 10 interviews to answer (sorry! I swear I'll get them to you soon!). Some of the extra content I had planned won't be up before release date, but that's just how it will have to be. For now, those pages will simply say "Coming Soon" on the website. And of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention all the things I did before May and the various things my publisher had me do.
Other Stuff I Did:
Book business cards—these have been so, so, SO helpful! They have my book cover, a summary, the ISBN numbers, and my name. I give them to booksellers, librarians, and pretty much anyone who asks about my book. And more often than not, people ask me to sign them! :) This makes my heart fuzzy.)
Book-themed greeting cards for thank-you notes after events
Bookplates. I made the mistake of offering these for free when I first got them. I was overwhelmed by request, and 200 bookplates later and a lot of postage, I kinda wished I hadn't made that offer. Then again, it was fun and I hope I made some people smile. :)
Introduced myself to booksellers and librarians.
Sent out ARCs to readers and tours
Hosted ARC giveaways
Answered hundreds of requests for my ARC. I set up a template to make this easier.
Stuff My Publisher Had Me Do:
My point is to not only show you some different ideas (and maybe spark your own marketing schemes) but to emphasize just how busy, busy, busy you can get. So...
7. Breathe. Don't panic.
If you can't tell, I am exhausted. I miss writing. Above all, I am terrified out of my MIND that none of my hard work will pay off. But, I also know that if I hadn't done it all, then a few months after my book had released, I'd be wondering if I should have. And, at least all the extra content is useful for books 2 and 3—same world, same characters, same "Aim for the Knees" slogan. Also, even if all this stuff doesn't draw in new readers, at least I know that the readers who DO and WILL love Something Strange and Deadly are going to appreciate the extra content. At the end of the day, I create to share, and all these marketing-driven creations will be shared. So, that's a win, right? Plus, I did enjoy making the trailer and working with Utah website designers to create the website. I was into hobby film editing all through college and grad school, so it was really fun to go back to that. And working with an illustrator was incredibly exciting. So now, for the final step, as you face your approaching release date, remember to:
8. Say "thanks".
Thank the people who helped you get where you are today. Thank the people who read ARCs and took the time to leave reviews (good or bad). Thank the people who came to your blog, squeed over Legend of Korra with you on Twitter, worked behind the scenes at your publishing house, and supported you the entire way. The authors I want to read are the authors who share and appreciate. So I give a giant thanks to all the authors like that (off the top of my head, I should thank Marie Lu, Sherwood Smith, Sharon Shinn, and Scott Westerfeld—all of these authors have extra content that inspires and entertains me). Finally, I give an even GIANT-ER THANKS to all the people who have walked this publication journey with me.
Now, stay tuned to see how all this self-promotion pays off! The Official Something Strange and Deadly Website will be unveiled next Monday along with a scavenger hunt, lots of giveaways, and the OFFICIAL TRAILER! And who knows? Perhaps I'll do a post this fall and let you all know what did and didn't work. :) P.S. I got my first copy of the book IN THE MAIL today!! You can see all my ugly tears here. You tell me: What do you want to see most from authors? Do you like to see them at events? Have extra book content? Both?