A great novel is a great thing, but if readers never find out about it, you may as well have never written it. If a novel does not sell well in its first few weeks and months, it will quickly go out of print. Marketing is essential to your book’s success.
Most publishing houses have marketing departments that will do much of the work for you. Your book’s backing by a publishing house opens many doors. Bookstores will stock your novel, media will respond to your requests for interviews, and reviewers will take the time to read and evaluate your work.
However, beyond listing your book in their catalogue, stocking it at book fairs, and getting it on the shelves of major bookstores, the publisher may not have the resources to do much more. In today’s market, an author is expected to take a substantial role in marketing their own book.
Here are some things authors can do to promote their work without investing large amounts of money:
Talk about your novel with everyone you meet who shows even moderate interest.
Make a list of everyone you know who would be potentially interested in your book. Call, write, or email them and ask them to spread the word about your book, to request copies of your book from large bookstores, and to put you in contact with any publicity venues to which they might have access.
Join writers’ groups (online and in person). Without spamming the group, do your best to spread the word about your book. Group members will understand and will generally be happy to help publicize your novel.
Place color flyers and bookmarks in local coffee shops, community bulletin boards, and libraries.
Speak with libraries, schools, book clubs, social clubs, senior centers, and bookstores about doing a book reading or a workshop on some aspect of your writing. Bring multiple copies of your book with you. If you have access to discounted copies of your novel through your publisher, you can offer this discounted price to the book clubs.
Favorable reviews can be extremely helpful and can be used in a wide variety of ways from press releases to online marketing. However, getting a review takes persistence. Like agents, books reviewers are inundated with submissions. Your request for a review has to shine as brightly as the query letter you used to get an agent.
The request should be a professionally formatted one-page letter containing a blurb about your book (similar to what’s printed on the back cover of most novels), price, publisher, and a brief biography and contact information for the author.
Unlike your query letter, your request for review must also include a copy of your novel. Generally, this will be an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher. If the publisher doesn’t provide ARCs, you might want to consider personally getting proofs bound at a copy center at your own expense.
Magazines, newspapers, and many websites often have book review sections that invite submissions from new authors. Websites such as Rio-reviewers.com, Ebookcrossroads.com, and GetBookReviews.com are good places to begin your search online. Scribesworld.com has a good list of online book review services.
If your publisher does not provide a press release, you should create one yourself and submit it to bookstore managers, reviewers, newspapers, radio stations, and anyone else who may be willing to publicize your book.
A press release should be one page long and should contain a blurb about your book (similar to what’s printed on the back cover of most novels), any favorable reviews, the book’s cover design (in color), price, publisher, and a brief biography and contact information for the author. You want to encourage the recipient to contact you for interviews, signings, and other appearances.
After you or your publisher have arranged book signings, you should not rely on the bookstores to draw the crowds for you. Instead, mount a mini-advertising campaign. Hang posters, spread flyers, print bookmarks, and, if possible, arrange for TV, radio, and newspaper interview spots.
If your publisher does not provide blow-up posters, bookmarks, and flyers, you should create them yourself and ask the bookstore to hang the posters a few days in advance. The blow-up posters (a color blow-up of your book’s cover, and one containing your name, the book’s name, a blurb, and several positive reviews) should be displayed at the signing table.
If you omit specific dates and locations from the blow-up posters and bookmarks, you can re-use them at other signing events. Bookmarks should ideally show the book cover, the publisher and ISBN, and your book’s website address. Flyers can be more specific to a given signing event and should include the date, time, and place of the event.
Booking yourself on local radio, TV, and newspaper is easier than you probably think. With the backing of the publishing house, these media outlets will often be eager to fill a time slot or a column.
To get their attention, send a professional cover letter requesting an interview, along with a copy of your press release to the newspaper’s entertainment editor and to the radio or television program director. In your letter, be sure to explain why information about your book would appeal to the audience of that radio station, television station, or newspaper.
It is often a good idea to include a list of questions for use by the interviewer as it makes having you on the program that much more attractive.
Published authors should have a website.
At a minimum, this website should allow visitors to find information about your novel, read excerpts, browse reviews, and order your book.
Ideally, your website will have updated content such as blog posts about the status of your new work-in-progress, information about your book tour, clips from radio interviews, and so on. The more reason you give for visitors to return to your website, the better.
If your publisher invests little into marketing your novel, and you are feeling too overwhelmed to do it yourself, you might consider hiring a publicist.
A publicist can help you with securing books reviews, creating and updating web material, making and distributing press releases and flyers, printing posters and bookmarks, arranging book-signings and speaking engagements, and setting up newspaper, TV, or radio coverage.
However, hiring a professional publicist can cost thousands of dollars per month and the benefits in terms of sales might be negligible. Unless your publicist can raise your profile to a national level, most of your profit may go towards paying a publicist.
Final words on marketing:
You get out of marketing your book what you put into it, but the increase in sales can make it worth the effort. There are some costs involved (such as the price of giving copies of your book to reviewers, printing posters, bookmark, and flyers), but—for the most part—promoting your novel can be done successfully with little more than persistence and an investment of time.