An offer to an author from a publishing house consists of two key elements: first, the advance on royalties they’re prepared to pay you, and second, their marketing plan. It is easy to focus on the money, but the marketing and publicity is arguably just as—if not more—important.
In theory, pre-release publicity begets buzz which begets larger orders from booksellers which begets better visibility in bookshops which begets (hopefully) more sales which begets more orders etc. Getting influential people with large audiences to talk about your book is the ultimate goal but every little bit helps so don’t underestimate small niche platforms for generating reader interest.
No one is really sure what sells books. It’s possible nothing sells books. But despite this, people involved with your book will do a series of things that are widely thought to sell books. They will try to get reviews in the papers and on prominent blogs. They’ll try to get you into bookstores and libraries to talk about your book. They’ll pitch you to festivals (more on that in a later edition). They might try to get you on the radio or even – heavens! – on TV.
Who is this ‘they’? That’s the real question. At least part of this ‘they’ is you, the writer.
How much of this job is up to you, the writer, will likely depend on who is publishing your book and what they reckon their return on investment will be for the effort they put into publicising it. It varies a lot from publisher to publisher.
Even with the same publisher, things can change as staff change. One author had to do a lot of her own publicity for her first book but with her second book was given a clear schedule of press opportunities. So it’s always worth asking your publisher what they’ve got planned and what they expect from you.
Don’t be afraid to ask. They’re not going to cancel your contract and pulp your book just because you wanted to know whether they got around to sending your book to The Saturday Paper.
Both of my publishers are small. That has pros and cons from a publicity point of view. They aren’t publishing stacks of different books a month, which means they’re very focussed on me, at least for a short time. But they don’t have money for big publicity or marketing budgets, so it’s all about networking and reputation and word of mouth.
Although neither of my publishers has a dedicated publicity team, both have done significant work on pre-release publicity, sending out review copies to online and print reviewers and pitching the book to radio shows. One of my publishers has taken on a contract publicist for periods to get my book out there.
And of course, you can help too. If you have contacts in the book world – at bookshops or radio stations, online or in the press – let your publisher know about them so they can take advantage. If you have some kind of social media presence, it’s ok to use it to talk about your book now and then – your friends and followers will want to know you have a book out and where they can get it (we’ll talk more about social media in a later post). And if you have friends with blogs, ask them if you can do an interview on their blog, or write a post about your book. Again, this is a good time to call in some favours – it took forever to write that book, so you want people to know it exists and get a chance to read it. Being good isn’t enough – even the best books will never get read if no one knows about them.
So what kind of results were there for A Wrong Turn? Before the book came out, I was interviewed by my two local papers, The Footscray Star and The Maribyrnong Weekly and there was a review in Books & Publishing (they weren’t that keen on the book).
Shortly after release, Readings Bookshop reviewed my book on their website and around the same time I was interviewed by three local radio stations, 3CR, SYN and 3RRR (this one mainly because my launcher also has a radio show). There was also a short review in The Age/SMH/Canberra Times (they panned it).
About a month later there was a favourable review in the Adelaide Advertiser and a month after that the same in The Australian. And a handful of blogs, including ANZLitLovers, either reviewed the book or interviewed me in the couple of months after release. It felt like a pretty good result to me; certainly, Formaldehyde got a lot less attention (debuts seem to get more, and novellas generally get less, excepting the awesome run Nick Earls has had with his recent series).
My first two novels were published by small, independent presses. Typically, such presses have one person who is responsible for the marketing and publicity for every book on their list. With such limited resources, there is only so much they can do, so a lot of pre-release publicity will come down to you, the author. Your publisher will generally focus on traditional news outlets and magazines, while you might focus on blogs and social media.
When my first novel A New Map of the Universe was published in 2005, UWA Publishing got me a big spread in The West Australian with a GIGANTIC photo of my face; however, with ever-shrinking books pages in print media, such opportunities are extremely difficult to come by for debut authors nowadays. I also went on a breakfast show on a local TV station and can confirm what they say about the camera adding five kilos!
When Fremantle Press published Whisky Charlie Foxtrot in 2012, their marketing manager Claire Miller arranged a meeting to tell me about their marketing and publicity plans and to pick my brains about how I might use my own contacts to assist. If they don’t initiate one themselves, I highly recommend arranging a marketing & publicity meeting with your publisher, at least three months before your release date. As well as arranging radio and print interviews, and sending out review copies, Fremantle Press got the ball rolling with an event for booksellers, where they plied them with food and drink, then talked up three of their upcoming releases, as well as giving each of the three authors an opportunity to briefly pitch our books, and then mingle with the booksellers. Though media (including social) has broader reach, don’t underestimate the power of having a bookseller in your corner. A significant proportion of my sales has come through loyal booksellers hand-selling my books.
When I self-published The Ark I had to really make use of my own contacts for publicity. I created my own media release and contacted anyone who had previously interviewed me or reviewed one of my books, in traditional print media, radio, or on blogs. I arranged a ‘blog tour’ of interviews, guest post, reviews and so on to coincide with the release of the book. I also engaged a freelance publicist, who had formerly worked for a major Australian publisher. Though I believe she worked hard pitching the book on my behalf, the results were disappointing, and most of the publicity we were successful in securing was with people who were already familiar with my work or with whom I already had relationships (mostly through interacting on blogs or Twitter)… the old ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ scenario.
Some words from other authors
Once upon a time in a former life, I worked in the arts as a theatre producer. Putting bums on seats was a central part of my role and this understanding of the importance of marketing partly influenced my decision to hire a publicist when my first book came out. As a relatively unknown writer, I also wanted to make sure my book wasn’t lost in the sea of new titles released every month. Yes my publisher had an in-house publicist but they had other books to promote and my publicist worked alongside them to maximise my book’s exposure in a competitive media landscape.
The investment was worth every single cent in terms of increasing book visibility and my author platform, to use the jargon. I had some 15 interviews including features with the Sunday Age, Radio National, ABC Radio, and SBS. It’s hard to measure whether the coverage translated into book sales but it did make it easier to organise festival appearances and other literary events, extending the book’s longevity for about 18 months after it was published (the long tail as my publisher calls it). The success of the publicity campaign convinced me to again hire an independent publicist when my second book was published, an anthology I co-edited. This time we not only had strong media coverage (including television) but also book extracts published in The Australian Women’s Weekly, The Good Weekend, The Age and SBS online.
I would do it again in a heartbeat.
And Sara Foster gave us some insight into what can happen when you’re with one of the big publishers:
My publisher Simon & Schuster have been brilliant at getting my books some early buzz. There are lots of different elements to this, such as alerting early readers on NetGalley, or talking about the book regularly to key people in the trade, whether it be booksellers or for marketing/publicity purposes. S&S are very good at putting digital media packages together so everything has the same look. Getting sample chapters out to people is important to whet their appetite.
Promotions are great too: for my latest release (The Hidden Hours), S&S reduced the price of one of my previous ebooks in the run-up to publication. For my last book, All That is Lost Between Us, I did a blog tour around some of the best book bloggers in Australia (these people are amazing readers and very supportive of the Australian book industry). S&S put window dressing packages together for booksellers which has resulted in quite a few bookshop displays.
All this helps to stand out in a crowded market. Ideas like these can be adapted to either assist your publishing team, or to self-promote if you’re an indie author. Just take care with your approach, make sure it’s polite and respectful because most people are super busy, and make sure your material is pre-prepared and professional, so they immediately understand what you are pitching to them.
We’d love to hear your experiences of publicity for your debut novel, particularly if they’re strange or hilarious – leave them in the comments below. Or feel free to ask us a question.
Coming next: #4 Prizes, festivals and other appearances
Read the rest of the series, What to expect when you’re expecting a book
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