You have a book coming out. Yay for you! After you’ve taken yourself out for a celebratory dinner—using up roughly one tenth of your advance—it’s time to start thinking about your marketing plan. “But I’m the author,” you whine. “Won’t my fancy Manhattan publisher handle all that?” Absolutely! If you’ve written 50 Shades of Gray. But unless you’ve written a “big book” (and you’ll be able to tell if your advance was upwards of six-figures) chances are, your publisher won’t even shell out the forty-eight bucks it cost you to get some bookmarks printed up.
But don’t fret, because I’m about to tell you how to spearhead an amazing book marketing campaign all by yourself.
Step #1: Establish an On-line Presence
Before you do anything else, it’s important you start blogging as soon as possible. As in click away from this essay right this second and make it happen. Presuming, of course, you’ve already set up your website, Pinterest account, and obligatory Facebook author page. Which you obviously have.
For the next two years, when you’re not blogging, posting, or Pinning, you will spend the bulk of your time Tweeting, which is similar to writing, only shorter and less important. Sometimes you’ll sneak a witty bon-mot onto Twitter and people will “favorite” it, and for the next 2.4 seconds of its shelf life, you’ll feel like a 21st century Dorothy Parker. But most of the time, you will shill promotional information for your author friends in the form of re-Tweets, making your Twitter feed less of a pithy commentary on the human condition and more of a nonstop infomercial for books that ultimately will compete with your own. Still, you work those re-Tweets like Ron Popeil works a rotisserie chicken, because when the time comes for you to promote your own stuff—and it will—you want the same re-Tweeting done for you. Kind of like the unspoken exchange for oral sex, only with less of a payoff.
Also, did you know there are social networking just for book nerds that exist beyond the world of Facebook and Twitter? Goodreads, Librarything, and Shelfari are three of the biggies, so, you’ll probably want to get yourself onto those, too. But unlike the rules you give your kids on internet safety, here, your job is to do just the opposite. Friend everyone you can, quickly and indiscriminately, the way you once did out at bars back in college. It’s unlikely any of these book-loving strangers will harm you, or spam you, though you may be tricked into subscribing to their extremely prolific blog about steampunk.
Regardless, you nurture these online friendships with the kind of selfless devotion you imagine Gail gives to Oprah. This is called Networking, and it’s important you partake in it, because you never know if that blogger you followed on Twitter might someday help you get into the Kalamazoo Festival of Literature and Cheese Fries. Sure, at the time, it may feel like you’re spending more hours of your day online, talking to strangers than, say, communicating with your own spouse. But your spouse understands. More than anyone else in the world, he is painfully aware that these next few months are all about you because—have you heard?—You Have a Book Coming Out! And, in all likelihood, you’ll have another wedding anniversary next year.
But while you’re still sitting there at the computer, it might be a good time to think about vlogging. I know vlogging sounds scary, but really, it’s just like blogging, only people can see you, so you have to take a shower first. Because if there’s one thing we authors love more than hunkering down for the day to write in blissful solitude, it’s doing it with lipstick on.
But don’t stress out too much about your new weekly vlog. It’s easy enough to get the hang of it once you’ve created your own YouTube channel. And believe me, you need your own YouTube channel, because where else are you going to host the fabulous book trailer you wrote, directed, and paid for all by yourself?
Step #2: If You Give Crap Away, They Will Come
Now that your online presence is up and running, the fun doesn’t stop there. As any experienced blogger will tell you, the easiest way to turn a blahg into a 5,000-visitor-a-day on-line party is by hosting contests and giveaways. There, your fans—who, at this point, are still largely theoretical—can enter to win ARCs and other book-related swag. What swag, you ask? Why, I’m talking about the bookmarks, magnets, t-shirts, bracelets, and temporary tattoos you’ve designed and created at your own expense.
Of course, purchasing swag can get costly, but the good news is that blogging is free! So it’s important to say yes to every request you get to write “guest blogs” and also to post on your own blog frequently. Squeezing in extra work hours to blog may seem hard at first, kind of like when you went from your freewheeling, childless lifestyle to having kids. You spend the first few months walking around like an angry zombie because you’re not getting nearly enough sleep. But before long, it’s become second nature, and you literally can not believe how much time you wasted before you were in the habit of writing twelve hours a day! (Though you have a sneaking suspicion there was a couch involved, and a TV with Project Runway on it.)
But you are An Author, goddammit, and some book blogger who you know only by the name @TeamEdward wants you to tell all their followers what your favorite junk food is. So, at the end of the day, what’s an extra 500-1,000 words among (anonymous online) friends?
Naturally, you set up a month-long “blog tour” scheduled around your book’s release.
Step #3: Getting Maximum Exposure Off-Line (i.e., In Real Life)
Your publisher loves your book trailer and is thrilled with your can-do attitude! Your editor tells you you’re such an expert on book marketing you could teach a class on it. So, you do—pimping yourself out for workshops at whatever writing conferences and book festivals will have you. Once there, you do your best to distinguish your charming self from your fellow panelists without seeming like too much of an attention whore. Of course, you are an attention whore, like all vloggers, but you justify your showboating because A) it might sell four extra copies of your book and B) you are still less of a douche-bag than that chick with the bangs who keeps leaping up to quote Shakespeare.
At least so far. Your book doesn’t hit the shelves for another month.
But the best part about marketing your book in the real world is that it exists simultaneously with the world on-line. This means the opportunities for multi-tasking are endless, allowing you to dazzle your peers by, say, hosting a virtual blog hop at the exact same time you drive to New York to spend the week at BEA!
By now, nothing can stop you. You are a force of nature. A one-woman marketing machine. If only there were a way to take your mad skills a step further. To turn your book’s release into a bigger story with national media interest. So, you talk to a book marketing consultant and together you shape a quirky yet brilliant plan. The only problem is, pulling this off will be awfully expensive, so you spend three hours crafting the perfect email to your publisher asking them to split the cost. Amazingly, they say yes! That’s how much they believe in you. After all this time, they’re finally giving you the recognition you truly deserve. It may not be an in-house champagne party, like the one they threw for John Corey Whaley, but on the plus side, the head of marketing now knows your name.
With your awesome marketing consultant and your publisher behind you, your promotional efforts are starting to build a buzz, eventually landing you a story in Publisher’s Weekly. You try to manage your expectations, but as any first-time author knows, this clearly means the New York Times bestseller list can’t be far behind.
Cut to: two weeks later, where, sadly, you realize the Publisher’s Weekly article wasn’t the star-maker you thought it would be. So you regroup and try a new tactic, like writing personal letters to every indie bookstore within a hundred miles of your hometown, each one personalized with the mention of your local connection to their store—your Uncle Siegfried shoplifts there!—while simultaneously encouraging them to purchase multiple copies of your book, hand-sell the shit out of it, and have you in for a reading and book-signing, too.
Since you’re already in the letter-writing groove, why not send some to schools asking if they want an author visit? Oh, and while you’re at it, you may as well whip out a few press releases to all of your local media outlets.
Still, this might not be enough. So you place an ad on Shelf Awareness. For the same amount of money, you could have gone to Canyon Ranch for the weekend, but this is your first book and you want it to do well, so screw tranquility and hot stone massages.
Step #4: Making the Most of Release Day and Beyond
Finally, it’s release day—the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the mind-altering orgasm to the past 30 months of foreplay. But for some niggling reason, it doesn’t feel quite like release, even though the word release makes up half the phrase. Sure, it’s exciting to see your book in stores. And you’re tickled by the good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, not to mention the fan-mail. Plus, you are grateful, so very grateful, that all your hard work has finally paid off and you have now joined the esteemed ranks of published authors. But… part of you hoped that your book coming out would be the grand finale, and as it turned out, it was only the beginning.
Your publisher didn’t mention it in the “Author Guide” they gave you, but now that you’re a published you’ve learned the big secret. Book publishing’s a total a cock tease. You don’t even own a cock, but you know this now, more than you’ve ever known anything.
Not that you have the time to contemplate genitalia now that your book’s out in stores. Even if you did, you’re married to a new husband now. His name is Amazon Author Central, and he has you so far under his thumb you feel like a cult leader’s fourth wife, only with a better haircut. Sure, you’ve been told that the Nielsen BookScan numbers represent roughly 75% of your total sales, but you’re pretty sure yours might reflect even less, because surely, after all the time and money you’ve spent pimping your book, it must be selling better than this.
In your saner moments, you tell yourself to withhold judgment, to wait until you get your royalty statement and see the actual figures. But most of the time, you live or die by the numbers on Amazon Author Central, which you now check on an hourly basis, ignoring your author friends gentle reminders that it’s way too early to know how your book’s really doing since your it’s only been out a week. Your therapist chimes in, too, telling you that your book’s “success” or “failure” is only a story you’ve made up in your head. The problem is: you’re really good at making up stories. That’s why you became an author in the first place! Still, you need to get off of this crazy train or you’ll snap, and last time you checked, The Betty Ford Clinic didn’t have an Amazon Author Central wing.
So you decide to stop, cold turkey. No more Amazon Author Central ever again. Just after you check the numbers one more time.
Of course, there’s nothing like a good launch party to lift your spirits. And your local indie bookstore that hosts it sells more copies of your book in one day than any other book they’ve ever sold. Except for Harry Potter. And The Hunger Games. And 50 Shades of Gray. But that doesn’t matter, because there’s a cake with your book cover on it and your shoulders look great in that dress. Oh, and did I mention that your book is in every Barnes and Noble in the country? Face out. Sometimes, it’s even on an end cap next to John Green’s book, because obviously, your book and his book are BFFs who spend each night, after the store has closed, snuggling together and whispering secrets in the dark.
But in the light of day, you can’t just let your book sit there. You need to get out and do something, to spread the word even further. So you set up library events and school visits, which you do relentlessly, for free. You schedule readings at every bookstore that will have you, and sometimes, more than five people attend! Oh, how you wish you’d written 50 Shades of Gray.
Often, as you drift off to sleep at night, you wonder if it would all be different had your publisher put your book up on NetGalley. Or, if your time and money would have been better spent buying 1,000 copies of your own book and just giving them away to young readers, for free. Either that, or Facebook ads. Why didn’t you just try Facebook ads?
Still, there are more good reviews in the trades, and you’re still getting fan-mail. So you learn to smile graciously when people commend you for your marketing savvy, even though there’s the slight chance your book’s sales might have been exactly the same had you done nothing at all. The truth is, you’ll never know whether or not your marketing efforts were effective, or which ones worked, and which ones didn’t. Because if you knew this, it would mean your publisher also knew it, and if that were true, every book ever written would be a huge financial success. Which your book might also be, only you haven’t gotten your royalty statement yet.
A shout-out to my pal A.C. Gaughen (author of SCARLET) who asked me to write a short piece on book-marketing & ended up with this.