IndieReader posted this interview with authors Toby Neal (self-published) and Holly Robinson, whose works are published by Penguin Random House. The two discuss the process of launching a book and share their insights and perspectives in this post.
Toby Neal and Holly Robinson are professional writers, i.e. authors who earn their primary income from writing. Toby is predominantly self-published and Holly mostly traditional, and both have multiple novels and various writing credits to their names. They’re also friends.
Earlier this year, both Toby and Holly launched new novels, and in this interview, we find that their strategies and experiences had many similarities – and notable differences.
What do you do in the months leading to your book launch?
Toby Neal (TN): I engage heavily with my readers through social media. I post photos and videos of locations in the book, to build interest. For instance, for my recent book Rip Tides, I traveled to Oahu to research the professional surfing scene. I posted photos, quotes, and video from the research process, along with personal reflections on why surfing is important to me. I built interest in the book, even from people who’d never read my series but wanted to learn more about the elite world of professional surfing.
I also give away prizes (signed books, or gift cards) and run contests, like “choose a name for a minor character.” For Rip Tides, I leaked that I was using readers’ names as minor suspects. Of course, everyone who heard that wanted to buy the book to see if their name was used! My readers feel invested in the book and the process long before it publishes, and it’s fun for all of us and has a collaborative feeling.
Holly Robinson (HR): With a traditional publisher, a lot of the pre-book launch happens behind the scenes. I’m with Penguin Random House, and their marketing wheels are always turning. You’re assigned a publicist who, during the months leading up to the book launch, sends review copies to newspapers, magazines, and other media outlets to get reviewers to take notice. The publicist sets up readings and book signings, runs giveaways on Goodreads, works with bloggers to get you reviews, and sets up interviews and guest posts online. And the publisher will provide little bits of swag, too, like bookmarks and posters for your upcoming events, and during this time, you’ll be approving those.
It’s a wonderful thing to have this person, but, like self-published authors, traditional authors have to do their part to market their books. For one thing, your publicist is juggling multiple book releases at a time, and she will only give your book her full attention for about three months. So, during the months leading up to a book launch, I do some of the same things Toby does, like photographs of things pertaining to the book (for Haven Lake, that meant sheep, heart-shaped stones, etc.). I also do cover reveals and blog posts about the book. As a freelance writer, I write articles and essays for traditional print magazines and try to have them appear during this pre-launch blitz. I also write for online sites like Huffington Post, Cognoscenti, and Venture Galleries. These three months are busy with setting up personal appearances, too, at book stores, literary festivals, and libraries.
What would you say are your most essential marketing tools?
TN (Indie): My most essential tools are my blog and my email list. At the end of every book is a link to “sign up for new titles.” I have a Book Lovers’ Club where hard-core readers can get more frequent interaction, be Advance Readers, get sneak peeks of new material, etc. There’s another list that receives notifications of new titles only. I use my blog judiciously by keeping posts infrequent (no more than a couple times a week) and featuring top quality writing and photos. That way, when I post, readers pay attention.
Less important but still part of the overall picture, I engage often with dedicated fans on Facebook. My Twitter feed is over 10,000 strong and abuzz with interesting material. I also do Instagram with an emphasis on quality – I only post art-grade photos, and every so often I put in a thing about books. On Pinterest, I engage readers with boards related to Hawaii and choosing photos that look like their favorite characters.
HR (Traditional): Like indie authors, probably the most essential tool of any traditionally-published author is your social media platform. Like Toby, I have a website where I blog about once a week. I’m active on Twitter and Facebook, and I’m also starting to do more on Pinterest. Again, I can’t emphasize enough that, even if you have the marketing wheels of a behemoth like Penguin Random House turning beneath you, it’s imperative for you to become part of the marketing effort and engage with readers. Don’t think of this as work. As Toby says, limit the amount of actual promotion you do on social media and just talk to people, post interesting photos, find or write articles that might be useful to people, etc. Think about your social media platform as a way of making new friends with readers and other writers.
What keeps you busiest the week before the book launch?
TN (Indie): I’m usually busy online, arranging guest blog posts with a big network of fellow authors/bloggers, sending out Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) to readers from Book Lover’s Club, prepping tweets and Facebook art with my assistant to announce the launch, and creating interesting contests and ways to engage readers and encourage them to leave reviews.
HR (Traditional): Here, too, traditional and indie authors have similar responsibilities, except that in my case, my publicist is the one who is arranging places for me to submit guest posts or interviews. Oh, and one other difference: I do a lot of media interviews during the week prior to a book launch. When launching Haven Lake this month, for instance, I was interviewed by several newspapers, two regional magazines, and five radio hosts, plus I appeared on several cable news shows. I also go on our local NPR station with commentaries I’ve written from time to time. I don’t send out many Advance Reader Copies myself, because that’s done by the publicist, but I do come up with my own list of names and addresses to share with the publisher.
Do you hire outside publicists or pay for book reviews?
TN (Indie): No. I have Advance Readers through my Book Lovers Club who post a review in return for a free copy of the book, and I ask for readers to review at the end of the books, in my Acknowledgements section. (Once I started doing that, I got twice the number of reviews.) If I were starting out, I’d network with other authors in the same genre by visiting their blogs, and I’d ask for readers who wanted to post a review in return for a free books. I might also join a read/review group on Goodreads, or put my book up on NetGalley.
Regarding the publicist question: I have an assistant who helps me keep everything going, but no, I don’t have a publicist. I did hire a very good one (Booksparks) for three months when I launched my first book, Blood Orchids. While expensive, I would hire a publicist again to launch properly if I were just starting out. Their advice on branding alone was worth what I paid.
HR (Traditional): I never pay for book reviews, since the publisher sends advance copies to Kirkus, Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and all of the other big reviewing sites, plus I have a lot of readers now from my previous novels who are always happy to review a new book. I have hired a publicist for a few hours with each novel to help me reach niche markets – she just does the same thing as my in-house publicist, but has a wider reach.
How much money do you spend to launch each book, excluding editorial and design services?
TN (Indie): I take out print ads in On Maui! magazine and I boost my Facebook posts announcing the book for awhile, so about $500. I do the most advertising around four months after the launch, when the book has a lot of reviews and I put it on sale (all my books go on sale eventually, hooking in readers to try the rest of the series.) At that time, I pay big bucks to be featured on high-powered email lists like Bookbub to get my book into the Kindles of readers at free or deep discount. Many times, they go back and buy the rest of my books at full price and that’s basically how I make a living.
HR (Traditional): Seventy five dollars for one reviewer who I think writes astonishingly in-depth reviews and then posts them everywhere.
If you could merge a launch for a traditionally published novel and a self-published novel, and could only pick three marketing tools, what would you put in your Book Launch toolbox?
TN (Indie): I’d pick Twitter for broadcasting news and connecting to anyone in the whole wide world, my own blog and my own email list.
HR (Traditional): Twitter and my blog are the two most effective ways for me to reach people around the world. But my third pick would be in-person events. These might not reach as many readers as social media, but they give me the most joy.
Image via ShutterStock.com.
Toby Neal is the author of the bestselling indie Lei Crime Series mysteries. She grew up on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. After a few “stretches of exile” to pursue education, the islands have been home for the last fifteen years. Toby is a clinical social worker, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her novels. Outside of work and writing, Toby volunteers and enjoys life in Hawaii through outdoor activities including beach walking, photography and hiking. You can find her books and blogging here, follow her on Twitter @tobywneal, and connect with her on Facebook at Toby Neal Books.
Holly Robinson is a journalist, essayist, celebrity ghost writer and novelist whose work has appeared in a wide variety of national publications. Her first book, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir (Crown) was a Target Breakout Book. She self-published her first novel, Sleeping Tigers, in 2011 and published her second novel, The Wishing Hill, with NAL/Penguin in 2013. Penguin also published her third novel, Beach Plum Island, in April 2014 and her newest novel, Haven Lake, in April 2015. Learn more about Holly and her writing here, follow her on Twitter @hollyrob1, and connect with her Facebook page.
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