“My last book did not get a single review,” a friend told me last year after the release of his third title. “The publisher didn’t do anything to promote it, and I didn’t have time.”
This is, unfortunately, a story I’ve heard many times. And unfortunately, sometimes promotional promises are made by publishers when a book is sold. They say they’ll make an effort to push it, but that effort might not be what a book needs.
And it’s also very common to hear writers talk about not knowing how to promote themselves to the press or to book bloggers.
For some, self-promotion comes as naturally as breathing while it makes others want to curl up and die. But often, even those who are uncomfortable promoting themselves still want their work to be recognized, and rightly so.
A book takes a lot of work, and getting press for it can be an important way to get it out there to people who wouldn’t hear about it otherwise.
“Doesn’t the publisher take care of all of that stuff?” Friends often ask.
In an ideal world, they would. But for many authors – even those working with bigger publishing houses – promotion has become a big part of their own jobs as writers.
That's not to say there aren't publishers out there who are killing it when it comes to promotion. It's just that like any other business, every publisher has strengths and weaknesses and knowing what those are before you sign a contract with any one of them is going to be to your advantage before your book comes out.
It isn’t enough to just be a writer today. You need to be an advocate for yourself, and that includes getting clear about what your publisher’s promotional plans are for your book.
This is a conversation that needs to happen from the start, ideally before you’ve even signed a contract with a publisher. It might feel a bit strange to be thinking of promoting your book before it’s even printed, but if you want to maximize your chances of getting press, then you need to be clear about your own goals for it first.
What are your own goals for this book? Do you want to see it reviewed in literary journals? Do you want to submit it for awards?
Do you want to be interviewed about it? Do you want to do some bookstore signings? Write a few guest posts about it for your favourite book blogs?
There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to promotion. While identifying your goals doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the recognition you’re hoping for, it can definitely help you create a plan to try to meet those goals.
It will also help you understand how much help you’ll need, if any. There are a lot of things authors can do on their own.
But if you are aiming to get some decent buzz through reviews and interviews, then you’ll need to have an idea of what that looks like – ideally in advance of selling your book to a publisher. Questions to ask in advance are:
- How many promotional copies will your publisher make available?
- Do they have a dedicated, in-house publicist?
- Is this publicist full-time? Chances are, they will be working on other books at the same time, so knowing how much or their work week might be focused on you is important. If a publisher has a part-time PR team, then that will obviously impact their level of attention to each title they produce.
- How do they typically promote their books overall?
Do they develop targeted, custom plans for each new title? Beware of a publicity campaign that consists of pitching an entire catalogue at once, as it means your book will be competing directly with the other titles being released that season.
Your best bet is to lead wit dedicated pitches that get your book directly in front of people who are more likely to want to talk about it.
If a publicist is pitching a full season’s catalogue, they are essentially saying, “These are all of the books we have out this season, take your pick.” Chances are slim that an editor, critic, or blogger will even bother replying to that email unless there is a book that is already on their radar that they are dying to review.
If this is the case, you'll want to step up and do a lot of your promotion, so be prepared to take that on if it's important to you.
- Are they pitching books directly to media, or relying more on readings and social media to get the word out? If it’s the latter, but press is one of your goals, then you’ll know that you’ll have additional work to do if you sign on with them.
- What kind of coverage did their previous releases get? Do some online searches to find out, and ask how that coverage was secured: Did it come through the authors’ own efforts, or from the publisher’s?
- When would they start promoting your book? There is a lot of competition for limited editorial space, and it’s often filled up well in advance. A good publicist will understand the importance of getting out there early, even if your release date is still a couple of months away.
If you are already signed with a publisher and have a book on the way, but haven’t talked about promotion yet, do it well before your release date. Ask to meet your publicist for coffee or a drink to talk about how you can best work together.
Ask about what their strategy is. Review your contract so that you understand what they’ve committed to. Ask what you can do to help and create a plan together so that you are both clear on who will do what.
It’s better to know in advance what an in-house publicist is going to do for your book now so that you can plan accordingly.
Once you have the answers, you’ll know how much work is going to be required on your end to publicize your book. You might even decide to hire a publicist to help.
Read my next post to get my tips on hiring a book publicist – and how you can avoid making the same mistakes I did when I made that decision.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Liz Worth is a Toronto-based author. Her first book, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, was the first to give an in-depth account of Toronto’s early punk scene. She has also released a poetry collection called Amphetamine Heart and a novel called PostApoc. You can reach her at http://www.lizworth.com, on Facebook or Twitter.