How to Promote Your Book (Part 2): Book Tours, Publicity, Video Trailers and More

Can’t afford a publicist?—Be your own: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and literally hundreds of book blogs have made it possible to get the word out to millions of potential readers. Would your book appeal to a special interest group (Civil War buffs, oenophiles, knitters)? Use the Internet to find those groups and let them know about your book. GIVEAWAY: Steven is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: jackiegillam won.)
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This is part II of Steve's blog series on book
promotion & publicity. See part I here.

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Congratulations! You’ve just written your first book (or 10th). Now comes the hard part: making sure people know about it and buy it. Perhaps you’re a natural born promoter, in which case, this will come easy. Or perhaps you chose writing because you prefer to deal with the world through the written word and you find the notion of having to sell yourself intimidating or undignified.

I hate to disillusion you, but promotion and salesmanship have always been part of a writer’s job description—now more than ever. Everyone is trying to build their author platform to sell more books. The good news is that a well-conceived publicity campaign exercises the same creative muscles that make writing so satisfying. And despite how much we writers like to bellyache about our book tours and writer platform building, few experiences are more energizing, gratifying, or fun.

GIVEAWAY: Steven is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: jackiegillam won.)

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Steve Raichlen is the author of ISLAND APART, a debut novel
(June 2012, Forge Books) set on Chappaquiddick Island in Martha’s
Vineyard. Booklist said of the book, “A sweet grown-up love story …
Raichlen packs a lot into his first novel … the passages of locally
harvested food and intense cooking are gorgeous … A beach book
for smart people.” Before this novel, Raichlen was a New York Times
best-selling author of several cookbooks. Find his website here.

When I wrote my first book (A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School Cookbook), I naively assumed it would sell itself. I sent off the manuscript (no digital files back then) and waited for the royalty flow (make that gusher). As a result, I sold roughly as many copies that first year as the current publisher of my barbecue books, Workman, gives away for promotion.

Publicity is an essential part of the book writing and publishing process. (To put things in perspective, a NPR radio station like WAMU alone receives 150 books per month!) Ignore publicity at your peril.

(Why agents stop reading your first chapter.)

Hire a publicist. So who plans your PR campaign, creates the physical materials (releases, bios, quote lists, etc.), books your appearances, makes your travel arrangements, etc.? If you’re lucky, it will be a publicist on staff or hired by your publisher. If not, you should consider hiring your own. When hiring a publicist, keep the following in mind:

  • The publicist will be an extension of you. Make sure he or she reflects your message and values. Make sure he “gets” the book.
  • A publicist is only as good as his or her connections. Anyone can send out a press release. You need someone who can get the journalist on the other end to answer an e-mail or pick up the phone.
  • Set specific goals—for example, a list of media outlets you want contacted or a minimum number of stories you want to see generated.
  • Consider working on a retainer-commission financial arrangement. The retainer is a basic fee designed to pay the publicist for the time spent creating the publicity materials and pitching the bookings (and for the skills and contacts acquired during the years she has plied her trade). The commission kicks in when the publicist lands a particularly plum appearance: a morning news show, for example, or an interview on NPR.

Can’t afford a publicist?—Be your own: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and literally hundreds of book blogs have made it possible to get the word out to millions of potential readers. Would your book appeal to a special interest group (Civil War buffs, oenophiles, knitters)? Use the internet to find those groups and let them know about your book.

Make a video. If a picture speaks louder than a thousand words, a video packs the power of War and Peace. Consider making a short video about your book. Give your viewers an overview of the story and why you wrote it. If the setting is stunning or key to the narrative, show us some scenes we’ll read about in the book. I had my video (www.stevenraichlen.com) shot on Chappaquiddick Island, where Island Apart is set.

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)

Figure on spending $500 to $1000 for a simple professionally shot video. (Hint: One place to find videographers is through wedding planners. The videographer may be thrilled at the challenge of shooting something different than the usual “I do’s” and willing to work within your budget—especially off season.) Too expensive? Make your own video by sitting in front of a computer with a built in camera and video software. That’s what I did to introduce my book to my publisher’s sales force.

Post your video on YouTube and your web site and make the link part of your press release.

Pack a suitcase. Promoting a book resembles running for elected office: you have to get out there and press the flesh. As a veteran (survivor?) of more than 20 book tours, I can’t over-emphasize the importance of traveling to meet journalists and media people, booksellers, and the book-buying public first hand. If you’re lucky, your publisher will pay for your travel expenses. If not, be creative. Add an extra day to business trips and vacations devoted solely to promoting your book. Whenever I’m in a new city, I take time to say hi to bookstore owners and managers.

To paraphrase Apple, think different: Island Apart is a foodie love story, but I deliberately left recipes out of the book. (I wanted it to be enjoyed and judged as a novel, not another Raichlen cookbook.) But we served Claire’s ricotta brownies at a sales conference and had postcards printed up with the book cover on one side and a recipe for Katama Kirs (a summery cocktail served by one of my protagonists in the story) on the other. We also serve Katama Kirs at book signings. I also put recipes on www.stevenraichlen.com as a way to drive traffic to my web site.

A few final suggestions….none of which cost money.

-- Turn your day-to-day emails into a promotional platform by adding a photo of your book cover to the signature line. Add a link to your website or FB page after your name.

-- Create flyers or postcards to distribute to friends, family, booksellers, and even people you strike up conversations with on airplanes.

-- Thank each and every one of your Amazon.com reviewers—even your toughest critics. They took time to read the book, and they’ll remember your graciousness for the next one.

-- Thank any of the journalists who took the time to interview you or write about your book.

-- Pay it back and pay it forward. Support other authors with quotes and recommendations. It’s good karma and it will come back to you.

GIVEAWAY: Steven is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: jackiegillam won.)

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