Next month my book Max and the Spice Thieves launches, and one of the main events, especially during the time of Covid, is a virtual book tour. The days of slogging a trunk full of books from bookstore to bookstore are far and few unless you are a celebrity. Traditional Publishing houses don’t pay for them like they used to, and the turn out at many events can be a little depressing.
Virtual book tours have taken up the slack and are growing in popularity. These virtual tours help an author get their book in front of the right people: book lovers. In addition, they are connecting to people who like books in the genre they write.
I hate social media. It’s an addictive rabbit-hole.
I just don’t have time. Social media takes away from my precious writing time.
I’m no good at creating those visuals and posts.
I’ve heard many authors—myself included—express our frustration and dismay at the expectation that we will not only produce wonderful books, but also carry out what amounts to a second full-time job as our own marketing team. Most of us don’t mind holding events, whether live or virtual, where we get to engage with readers. Nor do we mind interviews, written or recorded, where we can talk about our books and our writing process. But what so many of us do hate is the seemingly bottomless pit of social media engagement.
Facebook, with all those reader and writer groups. Instagram. Twitter. Pinterest.
“Likes” and “follows.” Comments and messages and shares.
Wouldn’t it be great if someone else could do all this for us?
Someone else can—for a price, and with a few caveats. Whether they call themselves virtual assistants, social media consultants, or author assistants, there are people who will manage your social media for you.
For many authors, creating a successful book marketing campaign seems as difficult and mysterious as effectively whipping up a delicious chocolate souffle. What are the ingredients, what are the tricks, what are the best tools and in what order should I be using them?
While there is an art to baking and also an art to marketing, you don’t have to be a professional to find your way to the sweet smell of success. Marketing amateurs can make great progress toward a terrific book marketing campaign by working on bite-sized pieces. So instead of chocolate souffle, think Snickers fun-size – and let yourself have that fun!
Today, I have some small but mighty book marketing strategies for you; many of them are quick and/or free.
You might think about sprinkling them through your week, doing one a night. Or maybe grab a handful and settle in on a weekend afternoon. You’ll find you’re in a much better position, marketing-wise, when Monday rolls around.
We might have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen in a story when we pick up a new book. Most of the time, we can judge that book by its cover – or if not, then by its reviews or word-of-mouth from friends.
Even if nobody else has read it yet, we feel fairly certain that a book showing a rancher and a schoolmarm in a chaste embrace will likely end with the couple getting married. Or a book showing a police badge and some crime-scene tape will likely end with the detective taking the killer to jail.
So if we already know the ending, how can there possibly be any page-turning tension along the way?
The very phrase “self-advocacy” in the context of my writing gives me shivers of trepidation. Will you follow me on social media? Read my latest essay? Blurb my book? Buy my memoir (someday), and then please, oh please, write a review?
I’ve never been good at asking for help, for anything. When my husband and I were dating in college in Washington, D.C., he had a car and I didn’t. Once, I told him I took a very inconvenient bus ride somewhere.
“Why didn’t you tell me you needed a ride? he asked.
“I didn’t want to bother you,” I answered.
“Karen, it’s me, Michael,” he said, looking at me incredulously. “Just tell me where you need to go and I’ll take you.”
So you want to write for magazines and websites…great! Writing articles can be an excellent way for authors to promote their work, build a platform, hone their skills, and get paid. How do you start? With a pitch, of course. But how do you make sure your pitches will land the way you want them to? Allow me to share with you some of the wisdom I have gleaned from over twenty years working in media and publishing, most recently as Editor-in-Chief of Writer’s Digest magazine.
After so much time on both sides of the editor’s desk—as a full-time freelancer, and as an acquiring editor – I’m confident I’ve seen the best pitches, and the worst ones. I’ve sentout both kinds of pitches in my own career too!
Here’s a list of some of the biggest OOFs! I’ve seen writers make (myself included). This list isn’t intended to shame anyone—I’m giving it to you so you can avoid making these mistakes in your career.
It’s a cliché that becoming a published author is like becoming a parent. The astonishing reality of this new creation, after all the months—or even years—of preparation. The swift change of identity. The joy and vulnerability.
As a parent by adoption, I’ve always been sensitive to this metaphor, finding it both illuminating and constraining. Unlike some who choose to adopt, I didn’t try every available means to conceive a biological child but switched paths fairly quickly because I believed—and still do—that raising a child was far more important to me than how that child arrived in my arms.
Even so, there were plenty of moments, especially in the beginning, when I heard myself grow defensive—“explaining” and justifying my choice, even though no one had asked.
It was a bit like that when I decided—after a single agent query that seemed destined to be the “one-in-a-thousand” exception to all the stories I’d heard, until it wasn’t— to publish with a hybrid press. As with motherhood, I had the means and the temperament to take this path.
Bringing my book to life felt more important than how, exactly, it got there. Once out in the world, its fate would depend on its merits and reception, not on its pedigree. Kind of like my kids, now that they’re grown.
My journey has been immensely rewarding, a lot of work and a lot of fun. Still, I couldn’t help wondering if my experience was like that of other new authors. Being a former researcher, I did what comes naturally. I asked.
Have you heard of the Aesop fable titled, “The Peasant and the Apple Tree?”
It goes like this:
“A peasant was cutting down an apple tree despite pleas from animals living in it. He stopped when he found a hive with honey. The Tree is now doing fine!”
All of us are very much like that peasant. When we see something that interests us, we stop and pay attention.
We need to remember this when building our author platforms. I’ve found there’s one question that helps me gain readers perhaps more than any other:
“How can I benefit my readers’ lives?”
When you can answer that question succinctly and clearly, you have the key to a successful author platform that will draw readers your way.
Selling Books is Hard and Only Getting Harder
Marketing remains the most difficult part of the writing life for most writers. The odds are against us. In 2018, Bowker reported that for the first time, more than one million books were self-published, which was an over 40 percent increase from the year before. That’s in just one year. And it doesn’t include the traditionally published books.
There isn’t a secret formula for executing the perfect book launch. There are numerous factors in play that are constantly changing, from news and popular culture, to the publishing industry, to what just plain work in marketing and promotion. But the real “secret success strategy” to book sales is very straightforward: give readers what they want! The challenges arise because reader expectations are a moving target.
As authors, it’s important to be flexible and adaptive to these changes and have a clear idea of how they play into our own marketing plan.
But while change is inevitable, there are still some key strategies I’ve tested and one, in particular, I want to share today. Though it won’t guarantee success, it has worked well for me and the authors I collaborate with, and I hope it can help you too.
Much of my workday at Bublish is spent talking with authors about the intersection of creativity and commerce—how to be true to one’s artistic intentions while writing work that is commercially viable.
Early on in these conversations, I encourage authors to take some time to articulate both their artistic and commercial aspirations—no matter where they are in their writing career. To me, this is very important work for all writers to do as early as possible. It’s an exercise that should kick off every writing career and every new writing project.
A writer should ask themselves: Why do I write? Where do I hope this creative journey will take me? And they should be as honest and thorough as possible in answering these questions.
Often I learn that this is the first-time the writer on the other end of the phone has engaged in such self-reflection. Up to our call, they explain, the story has led. They may have a vague sense of what they hope to achieve, but they haven’t taken the time to fully explore their intentions, motivations or desires when it comes to balancing creative and commercial interests. They are simply swimming in story ideas.