In the good old days, authors worked hard to revise, hone, and shape their books until they fairly gleamed, then sat back with a sigh of relief and turned their precious baby over to their publisher’s marketing team to do the rest.
Those days are over.
Not a week goes by without groans from my fellow debut authors in private Facebook groups. “I mean, isn’t it enough I wrote the darn thing, now I have to publicize and market it as well? Is that my job?”
Yes, it is. Because unless you are one of the top 5% of your publisher’s releases this year, you’ll get scant attention from the publicity and marketing team—assuming they even have one—beyond a nice press release package, a smattering of social media posts, and some help finding bloggers to feature your book. That appearance on Zibby Owens’ podcast? That review in People? That listicle of “Top Ten Debuts to Watch for This Summer”? Not going to happen.
I consider myself lucky. I spent the last three decades growing a fledging poster store in a local mall to a $4 million dollar national art consulting company, so I’ve approached my new career as a writer knowing two things about bringing a product to market—it doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen by chance. Even though it may seem like the success of your book launch is beyond your control, here are five ways to help yourself succeed in both the short and the long-term.
Write a Killer Book Description
The most important 300 words you’ll write aren’t your bio or your acknowledgements page. They’re the brief three-paragraph description you compose that entices the potential reader to pick up your book. It appears on the back cover, your Amazon home page, your GoodReads book page, your website, and on most blog interviews you give. Don’t delegate this!
You’re a writer, and you know your book better than anyone. Concentrate on your protagonists’ goals and the obstacles in her way. Use power words to sharpen the conflict she’s up against, mention both her foes and her allies, and only reveal enough of the plot to get the reader interested. Write it yourself and then have your publisher’s marketing team or your editor or your best writing pals help vet it.
Shorthand can help. Consider employing the Hollywood mash-up technique like, Princess Bride meets The Godfather or The Hunger Games meets Wizard of Oz. Be sure the comps are easily recognized archetypes and communicate the right vibe. I used The Devil Wears Prada meets All The President’s Men because my book has a strong mentor/protégé theme as well as a major character who’s an investigative reporter ferreting out a secret.
Cultivate Friends Who Will Help
No one succeeds by themselves. At its height, my art business had 20 employees, from picture framers to salespeople to an office manager. A successful book launch also requires a team. Recruit 10-15 fellow writer friends (or readers if they regularly post on social media) to serve as your cheerleading squad. You’ll turn to them for posts about your cover reveal, your GoodReads or other giveaways, and give them advance reader copies so they can write early reviews. This is no time to be shy. Remember, you’re expected to return the favor when their book releases.
You can communicate with your street team through group email or a private Facebook group. They’re also great to turn to when you feel like giving up, you read a negative review, or you face a major disappointment. Sometimes all it takes for you to regroup is a friendly virtual hug.
Get Comfortable With Content Creation (and Sharpening Presentation Skills)
As a business owner, I learned to read a floor plan, write advertising copy, and make sense of a balance sheet. Likewise as a writer, you’ll need to go outside your comfort zone and acquire new skills. Teach yourself how to compose graphic images to use on social media, add to marketing materials, email to potential interviewers and bloggers, and provide to your street team for their posts. Canva.com is the gold standard here and devoting an afternoon to watching their tutorials will more than pay off when you’re able to pull together a social media post without waiting for your publisher’s marketing team to get around to it.
And while we’re on the subject, how comfortable are you with speaking on camera or into a microphone? You’ll be offered marketing opportunities where you’ll need to work past your shyness and feel comfortable with off-the-cuff conversations with podcasters or bloggers, either live or on tape. Become familiar with Zoom if you haven’t used it already. Practice with one of your street team, a writer friend, a neighbor, or one of your kids. Line up a low-key taping with someone local to ease into it.
Be Willing to Spend Your Own Money
It’s a reality of today’s marketplace. To make money, you have to spend money. Authors are often surprised how much of the marketing budget has to come from their own pocket. Your publisher may provide 10-15 advance reader copies but if you want bookstagrammers to feature your novel on social media, you’ll need at least three times that many, not to mention copies for your street team, award contests, and podcast interviewers. You’ll often be expected to pay for your launch party, any travel you do for bookstore or bookfair appearances, and swag, such as bookmarks and magnets.
When I started my art business, it was six months before we turned a profit and two more years before we paid back the initial bank loan. Odds are this isn’t the only book you’ll write, so think long-term when it comes to dollars spent. If your book is successful, you’ll stand a better chance of landing paid public speaking engagements. You can segue into work as a writing coach or an editor. You may get offered a bigger advance for your next book. Think of the dollars you spend on launching your debut as seed money for your career.
Set Boundaries for Your Own Mental Health
Maybe you suffer from imposter syndrome. Maybe you’re a private person who doesn’t open up easily to strangers. Maybe new situations make you nervous. Or maybe all that’s fine but you just think some private parts of your life should stay that way. Unfortunately, the reality is that launching a book sometimes means people will ask you questions you don’t feel comfortable answering. Be clear about where your boundaries are. You can share you have dogs but not mention your children. You can say you live in the Northwoods of Wisconsin without pinpointing your location. You may be okay with saying the parent in your book is based on your own mother or you can hedge and say she was based on someone you met in college.
When I was a business owner and a staff member asked me a question that seemed too intrusive or personal, I’d say, “I’m not comfortable answering that.” Practice that ahead of time so it sounds natural instead of rude and be prepared when someone asks if your book is based on your own life. “The events in my book didn’t happen to me. I like making things up—that’s why I write fiction.” Follow that with a big open smile.