I started this blog series for two reasons: to help me collect my emotions during my debut year, and to create a helpful guide for the sparkling debuts after me. Tonight’s post leans heavily on the latter, which is a perfect segue to my first point…
Why. For the love of God. Are there not…more…guides…FOR MARKETING AS A TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED DEBUT AUTHOR???
Don’t get me wrong, there are a few resources out there. And there’s my publicist, who’s great. But her job is to handle the background stuff: sending ARC’s to reviewers, reaching out to bloggers, etc. She’s not there to hold my hand and feed me cues.
The week after I sent my manuscript off to the printer, I sat down to dive into the last, longest, and most hellish phase of releasing a book: the marketing. And the further I dove, the more I realized that there is no one rulebook for this.
To give an example: when I got my welcome letter from Lauren (my editor), it laid out the steps of editing–first developmental, then scene level, then copyedits–along with a schedule for each. Now go forth and execute sequence, word monger!
As a debut, being told exactly what to do was great. With marketing, not only is there no central method for how to get stuff done…there’s not even a guide to WHAT needs to get done. Or when.
And good luck Googling it, by the way. I think the Google just assumes that if you’re searching this, you must be self-published and/or brand new to the Internet. Because I can’t tell you how many guides started with items like, “Figure out your genre!” Or “Creating a Twitter account will help increase visibility.”
So tonight, I figured I’d lay out each of the steps I took to market…and the hard lessons I learned along the way.
- COVER BLURBS
The first week of marketing (early November) my publicist gave me a starting point: build a list of comp titles, and ask those authors if they’d consider reading & blurbing my book (i.e. providing a short testimonial that would go on the front cover to indicate that it didn’t totally suck).
So–in a throwback to my querying days–I emailed the agents of about 10 authors I felt would be a good fit. Of those, most either declined or didn’t respond. The two who agreed to read it were Bill Konigsberg and Caleb Roehrig. Bill ultimately let me know that he liked the book, but felt it was too dark for his brand. Caleb, however, gave a glowing endorsement, which ultimately made its way onto the final cover. And now I still regularly message both of them!
Tips/Lessons learned: If the blurb is going on the cover, it needs to be on hand before the book jacket is due. In my case, the jacket was due in January, 4 months prior to release. I should’ve emailed in October.
- REACH OUT TO LOCAL BOOKSTORES/LIBRARIES. EARLY.
The first week of January, I sent emails to all my local Barnes & Noble locations, introducing myself and offering to chat in person and even deliver an ARC! No one told me to do this, but I felt it was a good next step.
I waited several weeks and sent a polite follow up.
Finally I loaded up my ARC’s, and–despite being terrified that I didn’t belong in this position–I visited each location in person. I talked to the managers and left ARC’s with each of them, who said they’d be in touch shortly.
Sad, disheartened crickets.
Fortunately one location did end up getting back to me via my publicist’s corporate POC, and my first event is now scheduled for the B&N in Columbia, MD! You rock, B&N in Columbia MD! As for the others: I don’t hold a grudge, but know that you strongly reinforced my fear that no one did or would give a shit about my book, and I ultimately stopped reaching out to other retailers for a while because of how pointless you made my efforts, and me, feel. So that wasn’t very nice of you.
As I’d learn later, I should’ve kept at it. Because by the time I got back on the horse in March, it was about 6 weeks out from the release, and the local libraries/indies–most of whom did get back to me–were all booked up until July. Because of this blunder, I now only have ONE event scheduled for the month my debut comes out. That’s not a small oversight that someone ended up fixing for me. That’s the end of this story.
Lessons learned: no one is going to monitor your timeline, so monitor it yourself. Send event requests no later than 3-4 months out.
- MEET. YOUR. INDIES.
The first week of April, I searched up a list of indie bookstores in my area, drove to my favorite one, and introduced myself. I quickly fell into conversation with the owner, a wonderful woman named Erin.
Oh, reader…if this wasn’t the shot of adrenaline I needed. Erin almost immediately started feeding me info: best methods of promo. Other indies to check out or avoid. And the contact name of a local librarian who was also on the local pride committee. This librarian, an equally lovely woman, met with me at the library a few days later. After congratulating me half a dozen times, she took me over to the other librarians…all of whom showered me with encouragement before jumping on their computers and preordering the book in front of me and saying how proud I should be. And you know what, for those few minutes, I truly was. I walked out of that library grinning so hard it hurt, feeling tall enough to touch the sky. And now those folks are helping me get a booth at the local Pride festival. All this because of Erin.
Lessons learned: Befriend your indies, people. Oh my God, befriend your indies. And if you get the chance, order a book from Erin’s shop for me.
- CREATE AN ONLINE PRESENCE
I *thought* I had an online presence early on. I had a functioning website with all necessary info (author bio, photo, updates), and a Twitter account that I posted from about once a week. I made sure the info about my book was available. But here’s the thing…just because you’re at a party doesn’t mean people are learning your name. You gotta get out there and dance, man.
I learned this lesson far, far too late. Starting about three months ago, I began regularly tweeting…as in, 10-15 times per week. Sometimes a tweet would be noticed by one or two other publishing folks, who would share it, and a few follows would trickle in. I started coming across the important names. Key book bloggers in my genre. Authors debuting alongside me. But oh, this took time. I had 80 followers as of January. Now it’s the week before my debut and I have almost 1,100, which is still small. Imagine if I’d started mingling sooner? Hell, a year ago?
Lessons learned: it is literally never too soon to start rubbing elbows with the people of this lovely community.
- SEEK OUT PEOPLE ONLINE
Okay but seriously…why in the world did no one ever tell me I need to do this??
This is the next step after building your online presence, and it is critical. I’ll give you one example: back in January, this tweet came across my timeline.
I didn’t know this person, but I figured what the hell, I’ll reply talking about my book. Since then, Taylor has read an ARC, become perhaps my strongest supporter, and tweeted/retweeted about my book 26 times in the past two months.
I have literally dozens of stories like this. You can’t just sit there idly and expect people to seek you out. You have to actively search.
Lessons learned: just because your book exists doesn’t mean people will find it on their own. Get out there and dance, man.
I wish I could tell you this is everything, but this is just the big stuff, honestly. While all this went on, I was doing a dozen other things like updating my website, doing podcast interviews…and, one night in March, starting this blog series. And God, I’m so happy I did.
But–believe it or not–we’ve reached the end of that series now, my lovely readers. I hope this helps someone, but I have nothing else to recount for you. I’ll be back on Monday to post one more time, but it’ll be more of a “P.S.” stream-of-consciousness the night before the release. This marks the last of my publishing-related posts.
I started this blog series for two reasons: to help me collect my emotions during my debut year, and to create a helpful guide for the sparkling debuts after me. I sincerely hope to have achieved the latter, and owe you all an immeasurable debt for helping me to achieve the former.
Thank you, dear readers, for making me feel heard. We’ve had a hell of a ride together.