Friday, February 09, 2007

Self-Promotion: The Stuff that Only (Mostly) Costs Valuable Time

The title of this is a tiny lie because most of what I’m going to suggest in this article costs a bit of jingle, but it’s very likely money you’ve already spent. Since you’re reading this on-line, my presumption is going to be that you’ve already budgeted into your life the cost of that privilege. Most likely whatever package you’ve signed on to also gives you a small amount of space for a web page, though I will suggest alternatives if it does not.

I should mention that most of this stuff needs to be done well in advance of the book’s publication. I’m currently (in early February) calling about book signings and setting up guest blog spots, etc. for a book that will be coming out in May. I learned a lot about the timing of self-promotion from a book called BOOK BLITZ: Getting Your Book In the News. This might be a good resource for you as well.

To begin (and in no particular order):

1. Be a joiner. This is a piece of advice I learned years ago from a newsletter about self-promotion for authors called “Spilled Candy,” and it’s served me fairly well. The idea is that you can join any number of on-line communities (or real-time, though usually those involve a membership fee so I’ll cover them in my next post) that are germane to the subject of your novel and get some free publicity milage. For us SF folks, that would include places like Speculations and even LJ Communities like Whileaway or similar. Then, the idea is that you establish a presence – with any luck, a good one – and then, as appropriate, reveal that you are an author and that you have a book coming out. People like to support people they know personally. The trouble, of course, is that you need to do this somewhat naturally otherwise you come off as kind of a Troll. You don’t want to bust on to the scene of a well established community, talk up how swell your book is, and leave. Ideally, these organizations would be ones you would join, anyway.

2. Have a website and keep it up-to-date, Probably obvious advice to anyone internet savvy enough to be reading this blog, but I’m surprised by how many professionals don’t do the last bit. As a fan, this makes me insane. When I go to a web site there’s two pieces of information I’m usually looking for: does this author have other work I haven’t read yet, and what conventions can I meet them at to get my stuff signed? I designed my own website with this in mind. I also always make sure there’s reasons for people to come back, like a corner I call mouse’s house in which I have what I call my “DVD-extras.” I have there a collection of fiction that didn’t make it into the novel, writing exercises I’ve done with the characters from my worlds, and art – doodles I’ve made of my characters. The point is, be interesting as up-to-date as possible. I update once a month, usually at the beginning.

3. Have a blog... or several. There are several free blog systems out there including this one blogspot as well as live journal. I think most readers expect their authors to have a blog these days. I also advocate having more than one. Amazon Connects allows you to blog on their site (with direct links to your books) and there are often groups of like-minded writers who are looking for another brave soul to help with a group blog. Obviously, we’ve done Wyrdsmiths, but I also belong (as Tate) to Fangs, Fey & Fur, and I’ll be guest blogging on a number of romance-related blogs when my next novel comes out. Ideally a blog will be helpful, entertaining, and keep readers coming back.

4. Book signings. I’ll talk in the next installment about how to have a good book signing, but since outside of needing a phone line/cell phone calling bookstores is free, I’ll list this step here. Please remember timing with this one also. Most bookstores are planning May events in February (or even earlier), so try to be thinking five to six months in advance of whenever your book is officially available. My only advice about cold calling bookstores is that if you can tie in your event with something they’re already doing (SF book club, for instance) you’ll have a better chance of getting the gig. It also helps to be the local boy/girl made good. This is also where being a joiner has helped me. I do a number of group signings with the Midwest Fiction Writers (though I have to pay to be a member of that), which often means all I have to do is show up because other people have made all the arrangements for me.

5. Get Good at Writing Press Releases. Once you have something to tell people (like a book signing or an award nomination/win), write up a press release and send it out. It actually will cost you the price of a postage stamp (or a fax), but many more newspapers accept press releases electronically, so you may be able to find a way to do this on the cheap. Be sure to check the various newspapers for when they want this information. My personal rule of thumb is that most newspapers want news items only a couple of weeks in advance of the event. If you shoot out your release too early, it’s likely to get forgotten about. Time this as precisely as you can.

Okay, that's it for now... next I'll tackle some things that cost a moderate amount and then on to the expensive stuff. I should say, too, that I'm only going to cover things I've actually tried. When we get to the more expensive things I plan to editorialize regarding whether or not I think the result was worth the money spent. I hope this is helpful.

For those of you who've tried any or all of this, please chime in!


Erik Buchanan said...

Excellent Stuff. Thanks!

Kelly Swails said...

Great info! Thinking about ways to market the anthology I'm in makes me feel like a real writer. On hand, it's only a short story. On the other, it's the first step in what will hopefully be a long career, so I want to make those bookstore/organization contacts early.

lydamorehouse said...

yeah, Kelly, you should. It's never too soon to start self-promoting, IMHO.