You just got signed by a literary agent. CONGRATULATIONS! Your new literary agent just sold your first novel. DOUBLE CONGRATULATIONS! Cue the band, drop the confetti, pop the champagne. It’s time to celebrate!
Wait, what? There’s still work to be done? Um, what the heck are you talking about?
What I’m talking about is the next step—perhaps the most important step—in your never-ending evolution of becoming a so-called “professional” writer: marketing your work.
Unless you’re of the mind and/or financial wherewithal that profiting from your work is either irrelevant or unnecessary (or both), having people buy your new book, thereby earning you royalties, is a must. But unless you’re already an established author with a dedicated following that will eagerly snap up your next offering the moment it hits bookstore shelves or e-book servers, the burden of getting the word out about that new title falls squarely on YOUR shoulders.
There was a time when publishers devoted considerable time, effort and money to promoting their authors’ work. Sadly, that time is no longer—unless you happen to be of the aforementioned “big gun” writers. Trust me, when John Grisham or J.K. Rowling have a new release, their publishers will stop at nothing short of a parade to promote it. Why? Because they know their investment will yield a significant return.
Unfortunately, we’re not all John Grisham or J.K. Rowling—not yet, anyway. So barring a rich uncle in the family, or lottery winnings burning a hole in your pocket, marketing your book will require some creative savvy.
But hey, we’re writers. Creativity is in our DNA. If anyone can come up with unique and interesting ways of marketing their work without going “whole hog” in the financial arena, it should be us. Here’s some ideas that might work for you…
When I first started writing, Al Gore had yet to invent the Internet. So even though I was a little late to the party, there was no reason why old writers couldn’t learn new tricks. And when it comes to hyping your literary creations, mastering the “great connector” that is social media might just be the best trick there is.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube… There are many platforms out there that can help to make this great big world of ours a whole lot smaller, at least in terms of putting your material in front of people who might be willing to part with some hard-earned dollars in exchange for an extended glimpse at your literary ramblings. But don’t wait until your publication date, get that PR train rolling long before your book comes into existence. Whether you’re putting out snappy Tweets using lines from your book, or videotaping the reading of chapters in unusual settings, or having people act out scenes (essentially creating short films), or simply just amassing as many “friends” as possible, the larger your network, the better your chances of selling copies.
Then there’s the many Internet clubs—online gatherings of like-minded individuals who share the same passions. Join as many as possible and get active on the forums, letting members know you’ve got a new book in the works. You don’t have to be blatant with your pandering, just post a friendly heads-up about it and share an interesting anecdote or two about why you wrote it, or about its story and characters. If you’re excited about your work, chances are others will be, too.
Look to do review exchanges. There are innumerable authors out there who will gladly read and review your work if you do the same for them. Book clubs (both online and at brick & mortar locations) are filled with writers that will gladly trade titles and commentary tit for tat. Don’t be afraid to tell the author of the book you’re going to review that you plan on being “Honest Abe” with your assessment, and that you expect them to do the same. That’s the only way you’ll ever grow as a writer. By that I don’t mean you need to alter your future work based on feedback, but only that you should learn to thicken your skin against unflattering critiques. For even the most successful best-sellers attract their fair share of haters.
Free readings are another great way of hyping your work. Schools, libraries, hospitals, convalescent homes, conventions, parks, museums—start with locations close to you and venture outward. Chances are there are many places that will happily accept an author who’s willing to entertain their patrons for a little while. In many cases they’ll even let you sell and autograph copies, or possibly even go so far as to comp your lunch or dinner. It’s a great way to build relationships for you and your next book, or for other authors from your publishing house. Marketing/PR teams absolutely LOVE authors who aren’t afraid of pushing their own agenda.
Radio and TV variety programs, especially those on small, local channels and stations, often provide a great stage for writers to showcase their work. Usually just a few phone calls or emails is all it takes to find the right person who can greenlight your appearance.
Finally, for those writers who don’t take themselves too seriously, and are able to laugh at their own expense, doing something silly—like dressing up in a goofy costume, or perhaps even a bit extreme—like skydiving naked with the title of your new book written on your torso, is a surefire way to attract some much needed attention to your work.
Bottom line: if you apply some of the same time, energy and creativity that you spent writing your manuscript, securing representation for it, and ultimately selling it, chances are good you’ll be rewarded with a steady stream of royalty checks.
And you know what you call an author whose first book actually sells a decent amount of copies?
They call you an author with a SECOND book deal.
Until next time, happy writing!