Everyone knows the drill. You write a book, a literary masterpiece, and you decide to either send it to an agent and publisher for publication, or publish it yourself. Congratulations! Your job is now done! Finally your book can make its way into the world.
Sadly, you are so very wrong.
What many people, particularly traditionally published authors, don’t take into account is how much time and effort you have to put into marketing your own novel. Publication companies do help, however, unless you are already a top selling author, often you are given minimal pre-publication publicity (nice alliteration, me) and forced to either see your book sink into the endless depths of obscurity or take up the mantle yourself.
When I was fifteen, my mother published her first book League of Strays. After so many years getting rejected and improving her writing, her hard earned novel was finally becoming a reality. She created swag; bookmarks, pens, ect., and arranged a blog tour but, otherwise, assumed that her publisher would handle the rest.
Finally, the release date arrived. We had a fabulous launch party and my mother was the happiest woman on earth. Ever since she was young, she knew she wanted to be a writer, and here she was, realizing her dream. Sadly, things didn’t go as she expected.
After the launch, her book sold alright. Most people hadn’t heard of it, as her publishing company hadn’t prioritized her marketing. Worst of all, she became one of the many victims of “Goodreads Bullying”. I had to watch as her face fell, as her Goodreads page got swamped by one woman and her cronies not only telling all her prospective readers how offensive her book was, but also bringing others in to give it one star and to leave reviews stating that, although they hadn’t actually read the book, they heard how offensive it was and felt that a one star review was necessary. Ironically, her book had been about bullying, and the dangerous consequences of responding to it with violence and aggression.
After her first book, she became rather disheartened. After what had happened with League of Strays, how could she possibly put out another, and have it be successful? I hated seeing her like that.
Ultimately however, she continued work on a book that had been close to her heart since the beginning. This book was terrifying to write; it contained the sensitive issues of the Holocaust, told from both sides of the war. Afterwards, she sent it out, and got accepted by a publisher. However, we both knew from her past experiences that this was only the beginning.
So, how do you let the world know that your book exists? It’s a scary process. Most authors don’t know where to begin, they’re worried about rejection, about wasting money on pointless promotional material and online scams. Well, I’m here to tell you those are very real concerns, however, there are some tricks to marketing that my mother and I learned after many hours of fruitless and fruitful effort.However, my mother did make one, very intelligent marketing decision right off the bat. She hired me. With cold hard cash and many, many burritos.
Marketing is a time consuming job. Having someone there to do all the research and emailing that is requires is definitely valuable. It doesn’t hurt to hire some tech savvy student who also has some knowledge of Photoshop. It’s cheap, and saves a LOT of time. It’s also effective, as long as you have a clear list of tasks for them to accomplish.
My mother and I have been struggling to figure out what to do and how to do it. We have no marketing background, and no one to help us. However, after 3 months of work, today we have accomplished something she hadn’t thought possible.
The National Holocaust Museum is selling her book, along with many other Jewish organizations across the United States.
This just goes to show, it is possible to market your own book successfully.
Over our time working together here is what I’ve learned:
- Don’t be afraid to contact the big guns. At first, we were reluctant to contact newspapers and large groups for promotional purposes. Especially after her last book, we were afraid of rejection. However, finally, we realized that these groups are just as actively looking for authors as we are for them. So we sent them Stolen Secrets. And the National Holocaust Museum agreed to sell it yesterday.
- Photoshop is your friend. 99 percent of all promotional material I was able to create on Photoshop, from bookmarks, to postcards, to professional looking posters. Hiring a designer is expensive, and a lot of the time unnecessary. Learn how to use Photoshop, or find a student who can. It’ll save you a TON of money. After all, who wants to spend a hundred dollars on bookmarks? I designed them in two hours, and we printed 250 full color bookmarks for $25 on gotprint.com.
- Do the basics on Goodreads. Due to her previous experience, my mother wasn’t too keen on promoting with Goodreads. However, I submitted her books to Listopia categories there that her book applied to such as Books Published September 2017 and YA’s set in the Bay Area. This is very valuable, as readers who are looking at a book in one of those categories will have your book recommended for them. It’s a quick, easy, and free thing to do, although the author can’t do it themselves. However, never put your book in any “Best of” categories, as that is unethical and could cause backlash.
- Get Reviews. Make sure you have several reviews on Goodreads before your publication date. Most people I know primarily show interest in books with enough reviews, good or bad, to look professional. In addition, Goodreads uses algorithms to promote books using the number of reviews as an indicator as to the book’s popularity. So get your book out to as many people as possible! Just be wary, a simple spray and pray method like mass e-book giveaways rarely results in tons of reviews.
- Oh My God, Fix Your Cover. Professional looking cover art is a must. This is especially true for indie authors who often have to design their own. Please get it professionally done, or done by someone competent. It’s very difficult to get people to buy a book who’s cover looks homemade. It’s sad but true.
This is also the case for authors who’s publishers are in charge of cover design. My mother’s first book League of Strays, looked great, except for the vampire-esque guy brooding on the cover (Look at those thick eyebrows, that dark and hooded stare. He looks like Edward Cullen had an unholy lovechild with a serial killer). You don’t know how many confused reviews she got saying that they had thought this was a vampire novel. The cover repelled many fantasy haters, which was a shame because her book contained no fantasy at all.
Now, for her second book, Stolen Secrets, the publication company decided to go all out on the Jewish theme, and sent us a sample cover which was covered in faded sheets of paper, and sported a big, red, Jewish star on the front. Both of us thought it was ugly, and looked like the kind of book no teen would grab off the shelf. It looked boring. She didn’t know if it was okay to contact the publishers and reject the cover but, remembering her lack of action with her first book, proceeded to contact them with a redesigned cover I had made (It wasn’t fabulous, but at least it didn’t look like the kind of book teachers forced you to read in middle school). They responded, slightly annoyed, with a new, fabulous, eye-catching cover.
The overall moral of our marketing adventures together was that successful marketing can be done, you can contact those groups or organizations that you are afraid to even consider, and that you can reason with designers or publication companies. Your novel only comes out once. Give it the best entrance into the world you can and leave yourself with no regrets afterwards. After all, which would you rather face, a little rejection, or permanent obscurity?