I didn’t take notes during David Baldacci’s keynote. It was lively and fun, mostly a collection of anecdotes designed to remind us to persevere when rejected and do write for the love of it, and from a place of passion rather than because we’re going to be millionaires if we just hit the trends right. Then there was a cocktail reception, and I and a couple other ladies I’d met went out for Japanese ramen at just the best place.
So that was Saturday. On Sunday I was flying home, but I still had time for a couple more sessions before I needed to check out of the hotel and grab a cab to JFK. The first session I attended was Creating Book Buzz on a Shoestring Budget by Kristen Harnisch. She is a hybrid author, the term in this instance being used to say she is published by She Writes in the U.S. but by traditional publishers overseas.
Harnisch’s first rule: Before you publish, be sure your book is well written, edited, and has a fabulous cover. Seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? But I get the sense a lot of people rush to publish after finishing just a draft. They want to be done. It’s a marathon, writing, not a sprint. The draft is just the first leg. Getting feedback, revising, and editing are all part of the race.
And we all know covers sell books. We say not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do. Remember what the Princeton study said? One-tenth of a second. We form our first impressions that fast, at that first impression comes from the cover of a book, not the flap or the first line.
Harnisch then said you need to consider (and do) a few things:
- What’s unique about your book? You should know what makes it different from the rest of the genre.
- Set goals for your book, have a budget and a timeframe for publicizing.
- Decide whether you want and/or can afford a publicist.
- Create a tip sheet, press kit, and press release.
- Leverage your contacts. All of them, no matter how seemingly small.
- Grow opportunities with libraries, book clubs, schools and colleges.
- Pitch ideas to blogs, magazines, newspapers, conferences.
- Market authentically to connect with readers in a lasting way.
- Use social media to reach more readers.
So what’s unique about your book? What characters, settings, or themes does it use? Did you do any special research? Are you drawing from life experience? Use this information to develop presentations and blog posts.
As for goals, of course you need to be realistic. How many books do you want to sell in a year? (My goal is to sell 2 books per day, or about 700 in a year. I’m staying modest for now.) Keep in mind that 90% of traditionally published authors do not earn out their advances.
Have a budget for your marketing. Set some money aside and remember there are costs for mailing things, traveling to events, and professional author photos. After the big push, you may still want to allot a monthly sum to ongoing promo efforts.
Harnisch says to start promotions 4-6 months before your publication date.
Now, do you need a publicist? I felt like at this conference everyone was basically telling me the answer to that question is “yes,” but alas, I can’t afford it! Guess I’m fated to languish. Harnisch noted that publicists can develop your press kit, send out galleys and ARCs, arrange blog tours and online coverage, set up events, pitch to media outlets so you get more attention, and consult for social media—basically take a bunch of stuff off the author’s plate. But she also noted it can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 (or more!) for a 6-month campaign.
If you’re setting up a signing or event, Harnisch recommends asking the bookstore or venue for suggestions on where to send the press release. And she also encourages you to create a one-sheet for promotion as well.
What about leveraging your contacts? Harnisch notes people are usually excited to be able to say they know a real-life author. (I feel like this is less impressive now that pretty much anyone can publish a book, but okay.) She says to:
- Be specific about what you need from your friends, family, and support group
- Seek opportunities where you shop, worship, eat, work out, get your hair done, etc.
- Look for themed clubs that might be related to your book
- Rotary clubs might have speaking opportunities
- Tap fellow authors for interviews and guest posts (blog swaps)
- Join the mailing lists for various organizations and get involved—you may get ideas for events and venues this way, too
- Cross market with another person or organization—Harnisch’s book is about vintners so she cross marketed with a winery
Where can you find opportunities?
- Libraries—you won’t get sales but you will get word of mouth
- Book clubs—remember you can Skype or FaceTime with clubs that are farther away
- Your schools and alma maters, or your kids’ schools if appropriate
- Have friends host events
- Set up a booth at fairs and festivals, and donate for silent auctions
Harnisch went on to suggest you enter writing contests and do Goodreads giveaways (before the book is released). She reminded us that it’s a slow and steady process, that you see results over time not all at once (usually). Which goes back to the marathon metaphor. Even once the book is out, you’re not done running. And on top of launching one book, we’re told to keep producing. So now you’re running two races at once! Bottom line: writing is hard work. Gone are the days of being only a writer. We must be marketers too now. No sense fighting or bemoaning it, however. Deep breaths. Pace yourself.