'What's the best way of getting people to know about my book?' asked an author, at the end of a talk I recently gave on marketing.
There is no 'best' way. Every book is different, and what works for one author may not work for another. If you write in a particular genre, for example romance or sci-fi, then maybe the best form of marketing is simply to write more books and make sure they're set up correctly on Amazon and other retail sites. Personally, I find that traditional press coverage is a good way of marketing my books, because despite being fictional, they are all based on a real-world issues that I care deeply about (sexism in the city, fame culture, lads' mags, disenfranchised youth, the London Riots and so on), so I comment on these issues in the national press, with the byline 'Polly Courtney, author of …'. If your book also touches on real-world issues, or if you have an interesting back story yourself, then this technique might also work for you. If you write about zombies in outer space, it might be less relevant.
As I say in my video, the first and most important stage of getting press coverage is asking the question: who's my book for?
Please, don't say 'everybody'; it's neither helpful nor true. You need to think really hard about who your readers might be - I mean those people who would pick up your book before any other, the ones who will tell all their friends about it. I mean your advocates. Perhaps it's a demographic group, based on the characters you've written about. (For Feral Youth, some of my readers were young adults, as the protagonist is a 15-year-old girl.) Or maybe it's a group with a shared common interest that's aligned to the themes in your book: vegetable growers, skydivers, heavy metal fans… or maybe it's an attitudinal group: liberals, right-wing types.
Once you've identified your target readers, think about what type of media they consume. Are they online all day, or out in the garden listening to Radio 2? Do they read The Guardian or do they skim Twitter for news on their phone? What do they watch? Note down every single programme, channel, publication, event and website you think they might like, then dig around for the contact details of the producers, editors and curators. This will take time, so set aside a few hours for searching.
Here's the most common mistake people make when they publish a book: they think that this is news.
It's not. There are 100,000 titles published each year in the UK. That's an average of 275 books launched every day. Even the news desk of your local newspaper probably gets bombarded with ten press releases a week, saying 'Local author launches book'. This is not a story.
Your 'angle' might be the story behind the book - the real-life events that led you to write it in the first place. Were you in the army? Did you work in a crèche? Or it might be the way you wrote it. Did you scribble it down in your lunch hour, or type it into your phone? My biggest success in this respect was the 'inside story' I wrote for the Observer back in 2006 about my less-than-glamorous experiences in the square mile, entitled My high-flying City job was not worth a life of misery. There's usually something that makes your story uniquely interesting.
By the way, all of this thinking should happen long before you publish. Ideally, start to plan your marketing six months before publication. This may sound like overkill, but if you're planning to approach print publications, you have to work with their timelines. Glossy magazines have a three-month lead-time and if you intend for people to read the book, you'll need to send out Advance Review Copies well in advance.
The other reason you need to plan in advance is that ideally, your 'angle' should tie into another news story. Journalists are pack animals; they only cover a story if there's a 'buzz' around the subject already. If you've written a book about alternative methods of parenting, it won't make the national news - unless, for example, Victoria Beckham makes a statement about motherhood. This is your time to strike. You can set up a Google News Alert to tell you when your subject hits the headlines.
When you make your approaches, be professional. Use the journalist's name, not 'Sir/Madam'. Be succinct and state briefly who you are, what you intend to write and why you are qualified to write it. Check out the example email I use in my video. Oh and don't harass them if you don't get a reply! They receive hundreds of emails every day.
Press coverage is just one way of generating awareness of your book. Other ways include Making a Book Trailer (the subject of my next post) and Holding an Epic Book Launch (the one after that). Until then… good luck with that marketing plan!
Polly Courtney is the author of six novels, both self-published and traditionally published. In 2011, she walked out on her publisher, HarperCollins, in protest at the chick-lit branding of her books. She is currently working on the film adaptation of her latest novel, Feral Youth - the story of the London Riots through the eyes of a 15-year-old girl. She is a firm advocate of self-publishing, but only when it's done well.
If you found this useful, take a look at the rest in the series: