So you have spent weeks, months, maybe even years, writing and refining a manuscript that you think will dazzle the average reader. What is more, you have managed to get it carefully proofread and edited after finding a publisher. Now’s the time to sit back, forget about your note-book and keyboard, because your work – as an author – is over…
Think again. The stage of publication that many authors forget about is also one of the most essential, and it is book promotion. More than ever, in a market that is saturated with new publications, effective promotion makes all the difference between a best-seller and a no-goer. Yet there is a latent tendency amongst authors (both aspiring ones and existing ones) that good work will sell itself. “A few people will read my book,” one author recently told me, “and after that they will tell their friends, who will tell their friends, and before you know it…”
Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. Getting appreciable sales is more than about asking people you know to read and recommend your book, although that is a small step in the right direction. Truly, effective book promotion takes a huge investment of time and money. That is why the best-selling publications of today come from only a handful of multi-million turnover publishers and why nearly all authors can forget about making more than pocket money from sales of their “fantastic new novel.” The operative word here, of course, is ‘nearly all’.
So what kind of things can an author do to effectively promote their book?
• Reviews. Get the book reviewed by as many people as possible, through a variety of different media (both print and online). Quality, good reviews are the building blocks to success.
• Book readings and signings. Local libraries, community centres, schools, readers’ groups and literary festivals all represent opportunities to promote your book and will often allow you to do so freely.
• Digital media. If you’re not a social butterfly in real life, you can be one online. Get tweeting, messaging and posting about your book. Do promotional videos, which you can upload onto YouTube and get others to share. Put information on your book below all your emails.
• Contact the press. Local radio and community magazines are always looking for local interest stories. If pitched correctly, even regional and national publications can cover your book. Such coverage can dramatically boost sales.
• Distribution. It’s all very well telling people about your book, but ensure it’s super-easy for them to buy it – both online and in stores.
• Get helpers. Friends, family, colleagues, anyone you meet! Don’t be afraid to ask people to help promote your book and spread the word.
• Printed media. A batch of well-placed bookmarks and flyers can be worth the print costs. Do not dismiss business cards, drinks mats, t-shirts, and other merchandise either, but try to match it with the context of your book.
• Make offers and discounts. This is a standard tool in your promotional arsenal. You can offer free previews of your book, include it as part of competitions, and give discounts for selected periods.
• Sell yourself. Okay, it’s not easy for all of us. But you need to find an angle to your book that gives it that added attractiveness, and that will inevitably be you. What journey did you take to write and publish your book? What challenges have you overcome? People love this kind of thing, and will reward you through sales.
About a year ago, I met someone who wanted to publish their debut novel through Arkbound. It was an interesting story – nothing spectacular – which we spent a good amount of time editing. Working with us, the author then went on to expend a significant amount of energy into promoting their book. Whenever a chance for a signing or reading came up, he took it. Through friends, social media, festivals, review websites, magazines - and a fair amount of pestering! - he started to see sales break into four figures. Now his book can be found in most good retailers. No, he hasn’t made enough to buy a nice villa, but his hard work has definitely paid off. And he didn’t need a lot of money and a massive publisher to achieve it. Compare this with some other authors, who did very little to actively promote their books but whose stories were arguably much better, and the results are striking.
Some of the above requires partnership with a good publisher, but all of it can – to some extent – be made easier by what actions you take. The process can also lead you to grow, since it will link you up with people and organisations who you may otherwise not have met. Indeed, one author I know went on to meet their future partner through promoting their book; another found a trusted friend and mentor. Like writing itself, you may find yourself in moments of frustration and blockage, but don’t give up!
Stephen McNought is Codirector of Arkbound, a social enterprise publisher. For more information on Arkbound, visit www.arkbound.com