In June this year my first novel, Baby X, was published by a small independent press that didn’t have a lot of money to spend on the launch, or on marketing and PR.
In fact, as I’ve written about in other posts, you may well be on limited budget even if you are ‘Big Five’ published, because the lion’s share of marketing and PR money goes to the authors right at the top of the list, the ones who command the massive advances. It will also apply to you if you are self-published, unless of course you happen to be independently wealthy (in which case you probably don’t need to read this post—just hire a good PR).
So what is an impoverished writer to do to get their book out into the world?
There are a gazillion guides out there on how to market your book using social media, so I’m not going to cover the same ground.
Instead, here are a few snippets of anecdotal advice based on my own experience. I hope you find these tips useful.
1. Organise a launch event that suits YOU
Since I was organising my own launch, and providing booze and snacks myself, I decided to think of my launch as something informal—a party, rather than a business event.
I couldn’t think of anything more depressing than giving a reading a big empty room, so I held the event on ‘home turf’, in a setting where I knew I’d be comfortable and could be confident my mates would turn out to support me.
Local bookshops make good launch venues: unfortunately, we’d recently lost our local independent bookshop so I couldn’t have it there.
In the end I was very lucky as a generous friend ‘lent’ me a venue a free—a nice room she hires out for parties and events—which substantially reduced the costs.
Another friend who is a PR for a local micro-brewery bought some beers along and took photos of the bottles next to piles of books, which she then shared on social media. She’s also a good photographer so I ended up with a nice set of photos of the night, and even though it was all very small and informal, it felt like the event had been ‘sponsored’.
It was a fantastic night, and a real confidence boost. Lots of people came, in fact more than I was expecting, and the books I sold more than covered the cost of the wine. I made the speech I wanted to and people in the audience cried and clapped and wished me well.
My top tips:
- Have the launch you want to have, whether it’s in a bookshop, a library, a pub or another venue.
- Make it comfortable for you, to match your personality and the type of buzz you want to create around your book.
- Buy books direct from your publisher to sell at your launch—if you get a good crowd to attend, book sales should more than cover your costs.
- Say ‘Yes, please,’ to any favours you are offered by friends and family. Enjoy the fact that everyone wants to support you.
Treat it like a party and be generous, make sure there’s a glass of something for everyone (it doesn’t have to be champagne).
2. Think globally, act locally
After my launch, I spent a few days floating on a cloud of goodwill. It seemed like half my village was reading my book, and coming up to me in the High Street to congratulate me, or tell me how much they were enjoying it.
Of course, in this game you want your sales to go beyond your immediate circle of friends, family and neighbours. And this is where social media can be handy to authors on a budget.
In the run up to the launch I’d run competitions on Facebook and Twitter to increase my following. With hindsight, I didn’t do this particularly well—I offered too many books and ate into my supply of comps. I learned how essential it is that competition entrants add a comment below the post, rather than just sharing it. Anyway, there are plenty guides out there to running Facebook competitions and I’m certainly not an expert.
I did manage to grow my page likes and Twitter following though, and these don’t seemed to have fallen away since the promotion (which I hope means I’m not annoying anyone too much!). I joined in on forums and communities of interest, and made sure I spent as much time bigging up other people’s achievements as talking about my own.
I posted the first chapter of Baby X on my website, and blogged as regularly as I could about the process of editing, designing and launching the book.
I know all this online activity has generated sales. Having said that, some of the best contacts to come out of my social media and online efforts have been local ones.
It turns out that Facebook is a great way of organising locally—when a gift shop on the High Street agreed to stock my book, our village Facebook hub proved a good way to notify people, resulting in a good few sales.
Someone curating a blog about women writers and artists in my area got in touch having heard about the book on Twitter, offering to post reviews of my book on her blog, and interview me as part of a live TweetChat.
And the organiser of a local (and pretty swanky) literary Supper Club heard about me in a local magazine, then read the first chapter on my website before contacting me to invite me to take part. The Supper Club is usually attended by fairly big name writers, so I was more than delighted. Books for sale on the night are supplied via another independent bookshop, which gives me an opportunity to build a relationship with another outlet, and another community of readers.
I think it was the combination of my online efforts, alongside my local connections, that swung this prestigious gig for me.
My top tips:
- Get your online presence sorted and use it to promote your book—you never know what local or global interest might alight on your website.
- Generate good karma—be generous in your interest in and promotion of other people’s work online.
- Sell directly through friends, local bookshops and even gift shops.
- Contact local press and magazines and look for opportunities to network into local literary events.
3. Believe in the power of word of mouth
I’m a big fan of Tim Grahl and Shawn Coyne’s podcast The Story Grid, and was interested by something Shawn said recently about book marketing. Back in the day, he said, someone would get a good NY Times review or a spot on the right TV show and bam! several thousands of copies would be sold in the first week.
That’s not the way it works anymore, because the media is so fragmented. There isn’t just one trusted source, just as there isn’t one Saturday night TV show that everyone watches. As Shawn put it, mass media is dead.
In this modern media landscape, word of mouth is more powerful than ever. People buy books based on recommendations from their friends, or the people they follow online.
We’ve all heard about the power of Goodreads to generate word of mouth, but for small fry authors like me, the costs are too high. I can’t afford give out several hundred paperbacks—as Paula Hawkins’ publisher did with The Girl on the Train—to potential Goodreads reviewers because I don’t have that sort of cash lying around (and I don’t have a big publisher to back me).
But I can use the same principles of book marketing on a small scale. When people come up to me in the village and tell me they loved my book I thank them as graciously as I can. And then, with a little self-deprecating smile I ask them to TELL ALL THEIR FRIENDS. Sometimes I ask them to write me an Amazon review. And many of them do.
I know people are finding my book this way, because mates’ mates are contacting me via social media to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. Ok, so not all these recommendations results in a sale. Someone might give their copy to a friend, who passes it to their grown-up daughter. But if the grown-up daughter suggests it to her 12 person strong book group, you’re laughing.
Of course, you want to get beyond your immediate circle to the wider world, and ok, you don’t have a lot of PR budget behind you.
You can get your name out there a number of ways—guest blogging for example, or writing articles about writing, or book marketing, or similar, for online magazines.
I’ve also been thinking about a wider audience of people whose tastes and opinions I trust, and—little by little—contacting them about my book. Reviewers whose tastes chime with my own, journalists with sympathetic political leanings, who have written on topics relating to my themes. I connect with them on Twitter, and then send them a friendly email, telling them how much I love their work (which is easy, because I really, really do), and offering them a free ebook if they’d like one, no strings.
It’s super-important to be gracious. Influential people tend to have even less time than I do, because they’ve got a lot of people contacting them for favours. They might never get round to reading the book, and might not see an obvious way to help me even if they like it.
Admittedly, I haven’t hit the big time yet, but it’s early days still. Who know which of these influencers might pick up the book and take it to a wider audience?
My top tips
- Be your own PR—ask yourself honestly, ‘who would love this book?’ and then send them a copy.
- Write articles and if possible get paid for them—get your name out there, learn stuff about your industry and maybe even earn some money at the same time.
- A media pack is less daunting than it sounds—get a friend to take some photos and look at good examples of press releases online.
- Contact book bloggers offering them an e-book in return for an honest review.
- Politely ask people who read the book (and gave you good feedback) to write you a quick Amazon review.
One final thing: always be gracious. No one is obligated to buy your book—even if they’re your friend. And having bought it, they’re not obliged to read it, and certainly not obliged to like it.
Thank people when they stop you on the school run to tell you they’ve bought it on Amazon. Don’t press people for their reactions—you might put them in an awkward position.
Most of all, you’ve got to really believe in your book (and that will be easier if you put the work in before you publish it). Not in an evangelical sense, in a quietly confident way. If you really believe in your product, you don’t have to be pushy.