This is the second part of a 10-part series in which I detail the entire experience of self publishing my book. The goal is to offer tips and strategies so you can learn from my successes and mistakes. This week: marketing.
Self-published authors have so many advantages these days, compared to their forbearers. By working with companies like BookBaby, authors can produce high-quality, beautiful books and eBooks and get them distributed worldwide.
One major thing DIY authors worry about, understandably, is marketing. Authors are under the impression that traditional publishers have an entire staff sitting there, waiting to market and publicize their book once they get a book deal. As someone who has had a traditional deal, I can tell you this concept is true, but to a much lesser degree than you expect.
I was at a conference once, hanging out with other published authors, and every single one of us were complaining about the job our publishers were doing marketing our book. Two of these guys were rather big names in the industry, so I was surprised to hear them complain. But, if you’re not J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, I think it’s fair to say you’re going to feel like your publisher is leaving you hanging out to dry. Granted, my publisher hooked me up with things I never would have had access to, like getting into the Scholastic Weekly Reader. That was definitely a coup. We got reviewed by the big names. We got a Junior Library Guild Award. I got to present awards at a pretty awesome ceremony once. That was sweet. But that was about it. They didn’t hook us up with local media. They didn’t book us on book tours. They didn’t get us school assemblies or appearances at book festivals. Heck, we couldn’t even find our books in our local stores until weeks after the release date.
In other words, most published authors have to do the same thing self-published authors do: they have to fend for themselves.
As I mentioned in the first post of this series, the first two services I ordered from BookBaby were copy editing and marketing consultations. My BookBaby Publishing Specialist recommended that I begin marketing my book right away, so while I was waiting for my editing to be completed, I had two marketing consultations with a PR firm in New Jersey called Smith Publicity.
[Note: BookBaby offers three marketing consultation services with Smith: Book Marketing Planning, Social Media Book Promotion, and Maximizing Your Amazon Retail Listing. I’ll cover the first two in this post, as I have yet to have my Amazon consultation (that will happen when it comes time to set up my Amazon listing). And to be clear, BookBaby is not offering marketing services, but a one-hour phone call to help you make a marketing plan for the specific vertical you selected.]
Book Marketing Planning
First up was my consultation for Book Marketing Planning. The very day I placed my marketing consultation order with BookBaby, I received an email from a Project Coordinator at Smith, which included a questionnaire for me to fill out. Aside from requesting general contact information and a brief description of my book, the form asked me for things like:
- What are my goals?
- What makes my book unique? (A question, I am slightly embarrassed to say, that took some time for me to answer, but it’s such a great question.)
- Write 3-5 things you want your readers to know about you.
- Please describe your personality (serious, extravert, quiet, humorous, sarcastic, etc.).
- What questions would you ideally like your consultant to answer in your call?
The form also asked for my username and password for my social media pages, but I declined to fill that out. (Seemed like a weird request.)
A few days later, I had my first phone call with Emma Boyer. Emma is an experienced publicist and has worked in book marketing and PR for 12 years. I’ve worked in PR in the past, and it was very clear that Emma knew her stuff. (She knew my local paper’s book reviewer, and I live in a small town.) Her specialty is YA authors, so Smith matched me with the appropriate person for my book.
Before my phone call, I wasn’t quite sure how helpful an hour-long consultation could be. But let me tell you, it was a jam-packed hour of information and helpful suggestions, tailored to my specific needs. Emma gave me so much info I could barely type fast enough to keep up. (Never fear, however, she also sent me a follow-up email that included all of the details of our conversation and more.)
The information varied from basic (ask for endorsements from other authors; reach out to local media to get them to review your book and let them know about your book release) to more creative (reach out to bloggers and podcasters as their content has a longer shelf life than getting a mention on your local media; contact alumni associations as they are always keen to promote their graduates’ activities; make myself a resource for local bookstores; try to get on panels at book festivals).
But more than just the actual information, hearing it from Emma made the various activities seem entirely doable. For example, reaching out to established authors to ask for an endorsement: there’s no reason to feel awkward about doing this, everyone does this. But set your sights appropriately. If you’re trying to get an endorsement from J.K. Rowling, you’re unlikely to succeed, but if you know an author with a more modest following (in your genre), don’t be afraid to contact them via Twitter or Instagram.
It was a great conversation, and it wasn’t a case where the publicist was just reading off a sheet. She asked me questions and the conversation changed course according to my answers. I hung up the phone filled with confidence and a game plan.
Key takeaways: Don’t rush the release process. Every step of the PR and marketing process takes longer than you think. For example, reviews are really important for sales, and many of the big players (Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, etc.) require a 2-4 month lead time.
Learn from my mistake: If I had to do it again, I would have recorded the phone call. I briefly looked into installing such an app on my phone, but didn’t see a solution that seemed all that appealing. But if you have an app or some device you feel confident in using, this would be a great idea. Honestly, between my notes and the follow up email, I don’t know that I missed any information, but perhaps I could have engaged in the conversation a little better had I not been trying to type so frantically. You only have an hour, so make the most of it.
About a week after my first phone call, I had my second consultation with Emma, this one about social media. Even though I’ve been on Twitter and Facebook for years, I consider myself a bit of a social media neophyte, so I was very interested to dive in.
Today, social media is supremely important. As soon as someone reads a book they like, they want to find the author on social media to get a behind-the-scenes look at that author and to reach out. This is especially true for YA readers.
Because my book is YA, Emma recommended I mostly focus on Instagram, then Twitter, and then Facebook. Instagram and Twitter are where most of my readers will be, Facebook is where their parents and librarians will be. If I were writing another kind of book, it would make sense for me to focus somewhere else. For example, if I were writing a business book, then it would make sense for LinkedIn to be in my rotation. According to Emma, Goodreads is great, too, especially for giveaways.
Some random tips
This conversation was a little more free-flowing that the previous one, but the info dump was just as dense. Here are some highlights.
Tag everything. Hashtags are the only way for people who don’t already know you to find you. You can include up to 30 hashtags on any one post, so don’t be afraid to go wide. Some of the more popular hashtags for YA authors are:
#amwriting, and all the variations: #amwritingfantasy, #amwritingnonfiction, etc.
Start using your book title as its own hashtag, a la #DragonSquisher
Post consistently. I was advised to post to Instagram and Facebook 2-3 times a week, and tweet 2-3 times a day. (That last one seems like a lot to me, but your mileage may vary.)
Because Instagram is such a visual medium, you’re going to want to post photos. But a good visual solution that will also help promote your book is to create quote graphics. There are many sites that make this easy, like Quozio, though honestly, I didn’t care for their graphics or font choice. I tried making my own, like this:
If you already have accounts on social media, that’s great, though you may want to consider creating new accounts to promote your books. If you don’t already have an author website, set up one now and link to it from your social accounts. You need a home base where people can, at a glance, learn what they want to know.
Decide what your social media personality will be, and be consistent for that platform. It’s OK to be political — maybe even preferable, depending on what kind of book you write — or to share details about your life, just decide who you’re going to be. It can be different from your personal account (if you have separate accounts).
Emma recommended I use some social media tools, like Hootsuite, which allow one to control all their social media platforms from one site and even schedule posts. According to her, there were many free tools available, though I think her info on that front is a bit dated. Hootsuite now charges (and it’s expensive, at $29/month for the cheapest plan). The only free tool I found was Twitter’s Tweetdeck.
Learn from my mistake: Years ago, when I was setting up my author accounts, I named them after my book. (For example, on Twitter I am @I_Am_Mr_Pants; on Facebook, I am www.facebook.com/mrpantsmccormick/.) This seemed fine at the time, but Emma correctly pointed out that I needed handles that were more general. To that end, I have since set up new accounts, and now I have to begin the process over again. Find me at:
- Twitter: @ScottsYABooks
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorScottMcCormick
- Instagram: authorscottmccormick
- Online: www.scottmccormickonline.com
On the whole, I left both consultations wiser than I entered. Some of the information I got from Emma I might have been able to discover on my own, some of it I probably would not have. But I found it helpful to have a pro curate marketing strategies that will be most helpful for me and my book and put them into a timeline that is manageable.
If I had to choose between the two consultations, I would choose the Book Marketing Planner, as that was more comprehensive, though, if you have the money (each consultation costs $399) and if you are not wise in the ways of social media, the Social Media Promotion consultation was certainly enlightening and I’m glad I had it.
As DIY writers, we have to fend for ourselves, but it’s nice to have a coach in your corner, even if it’s just for one action-packed hour.
Read the rest of the series:
Stay tuned for more adventures in publishing. Still to come: editing, design, printing, POD, my Amazon consultation, and more. Comment below if you have any questions about any part of the publishing process, or if you feel like I left something out. And, hey, keep an eye out for my humorous YA fantasy novel, The Dragon Squisher, coming this Fall.
My Self-Publishing Experience. Part I: Placing An Order
Promoting Your Book (And Yourself) At A School Assembly
Your Author Website Must Have…
Self Publishing Lets You Take Creative Control
How To Work With A Self-Publishing Company