IN AUGUST, AT WHEN WORDS COLLIDE IN CALGARY, a conversation about book promotion with a couple of new writers hit the inevitable stone wall of disbelief. “I have to promote my own work? I thought my publicist and my publisher did it.”
I’ve heard so many versions of that reaction; you’d think I’d have a canned response ready. I don’t seem to, because the level of shock, resentment, and foot-stomping resistance to this notion is unpredictable. Short answer (elevator response): yes, you do have to promote your own work. First of all, unless you're a celebrity or a well-known professional in a high-interest field, you won’t have a publicist early in your career. Secondly, small publishers have even smaller budgets for promotion. Even if you snag a big name publisher for your first work, you are still an unknown. Your slice of the publicity pie is ribbon thin. Long answer (evening-in-the-pub response): the promotion of your work begins at birth – your birth, not the birth of your book. Okay. Slight exaggeration designed to emphasize the long-term complexity of effective promotion of your literary work. Seth Godin recommends starting your promotion three years before your book comes out. Even if your magnum opus has all the ingredients of an international best seller, enough human beings have to read it for the word to get out.
According to UNESCO data from 2010, about 350,000 new titles are published yearly in North America. As of July, 2013, www.goodreads.com had 30 million members/readers. Faced with stats like these, many authors panic and go into scatter-shot mode. “Aaah! Gotta get to as many readers as possible in the shortest amount of time before I lose the edge.” This often translates into a litany of “Buy my book! Buy my book!” all over Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, blogs, podcasts, YouTube, and, yes, even e-mail.
Harnessing social media to call attention to your new publication is essential, but using it as a bullhorn will only annoy people. We are all subject to sensory over-load from social media, and consequently have developed tune-out responses to 'buy-this-look-at-me' noise.The key directive to remember when using social media to get people to read your book? Be Authentic. Notice I said, ‘read’ your book, not ‘buy’ your book. When you’re first published, friends, family, and colleagues will buy your new book, but not all of them will read it. From this early built-in fan base, you need to spread out and find your real readers, strangers – folks who want to read what you write. No matter what combination of social media you choose to use, it still comes down to the old adage – one reader at a time. Social media is built through relationships. Building real relationships is the only sustainable way to increase readership.
Your job is to get your work in the hands of as many people as you can. Traditional marketing of anything is costly. It requires advertising, press releases, and an endless variety of selling techniques. It is essentially an arm’s length process. Guerrilla marketing, on the other hand, is up close and personal. It’s where you include people you’ve met at conferences, sports events, music festivals, online. Not people you've just exchanged business cards with, people you've had a conversation with, shared something that was not your-book related. Guerrilla marketing is where you do the unexpected, create surprises, encourage people to have fun.
One of the best and most recent examples of guerrilla marketing that I’ve witnessed was a campaign by an Edmonton writer who wanted to go into outer space. Hal Friesen wasn’t marketing a book, but everything he did could be done by an enterprising writer trying to draw attention to an upcoming book. It’s worth your time becoming his friend and scrolling back past September 10, 2013 on his Facebook page to study his 167 days in a space suit. Or, visit his website to get the shortened version of his incredible marketing journey. Of course, now that he has a book to market, he is well on his way toward establishing relationships with a broad spectrum of potential readers.
Guerrilla marketing includes finding ways to cross-promote with other writers. Find out who else in your community has had something published about the same time as your publication. Invite them to share a panel discussion with you at a library event, share a table at a seasonal community event, exchange blog posts.
Book launch promotion is often under-exploited. At a traditional book launch, a writer stands like a preacher before an audience trapped in chairs. The mood is church-solemn; the writer drones on, reading long passages from the work in question. There are many ways to defeat this tradition. Turn your launch from a class lecture to a casual visit with your readers at your kitchen table or in your favourite watering hole. Create an atmosphere that encourages enjoyment for the passage(s) you plan to read.
o If the story is set in real geography, show photos and tell a few focused anecdotes about the place(s).
o If the story is set in an actual time period, share some interesting trivia from that era that relates directly to what happens in your story.
o Share some of the interesting adventures you had while researching your book (people you met, unusual facts you discovered).
· Read briefly. If you are attached to reading a long passage, break it up and intersperse your reading with interesting trivia about your writing journey. Read slowly. Don’t race. Make sure you know how to pronounce smoothly all the words you’ve used. Keep your chin up; when you lower your head, sound pools at your feet instead of flowing out into your audience. Practice enunciating. Most of us mumble and truncate words in casual conversation. You want your words to be clear. If your audience has to strain to hear what you say, listening fatigue will make them tune you out. They will take to checking their watches instead of anticipating your next phrases. Smile. These are your friends and supporters. You don’t want them to think you’re not pleased that they’ve come out. Thank those who came out and those who helped do anything at all toward your event. Of course, this is only useful if you’ve written a compelling book, but that’s a topic for other discussions, many of which have already been explored on this blog.