What Kind of Marketing Does an Author Do?

Yesterday, I mentioned some of the kinds of things that publishers do on the marketing end of the publishing process. Today seems a logical day to discuss the kinds of things that you can (and often should) do to help market your book.

Many first time authors erroneously believe that they shouldn't have to do anything. They figure that they did the work of writing the book, now the publisher can do everything else.

Personally, I think this is flat out daft. Publishing a book is a business. You enter into a partnership with the publisher when you sign your contract. In no other business partnership would a sane person then just hand over all control and power and then hope for the best.

Besides, your book will never be as important to your publisher as it is to you, especially with your first book. Your book is most likely the only one you have coming out that year. Even at the smallest of presses, this is unlikely to be the case. With the big houses, you could be literally one book out of dozens being produced that month, much less over the year. And even at the small houses where your editor may have read the manuscript dozens of times, he/she still has not put in the kind of time, effort, or love that you have. And the house publicist may not have read the book at all. You are the best advocate for your book. You should take this responsibility seriously.

So, here are some things you can do to market your book:
  • Participate in your publisher's marketing efforts.
    If your publisher arranges an interview for you, a book tour, etc. participate if humanly possible. Granted, if they want you to go on an international 9-month book tour for your debut chapter book two weeks after your triplets are born, feel free to say no (after you recover from the shock of the extravagance your publisher had been willing to go to.) But for reasonable requests, try to be accessible. In the past I have worked with at least one author who I later heard from other staffers was completely unwilling to participate in any marketing efforts. The marketing person offered to help set up booksignings, send the author in question postcards to mail out, and other marketing assistance. The author said it would be a waste of time and money because he/she would rather die than have anything to do with the public. This and similar sentiments were not exactly the response we had been hoping for.
  • Build your brand.
    This is the number one thing you should be working towards. You need to create your public persona -- your author brand, if you will. One of the easiest way to build interest in your books is to already have people interested in you. The cheapest way (as in free) to do this is to blog. Since you are reading this, and therefore most likely also blog, congratulations, you are on your way to brand building. This is an excellent venue for telling people all about your book. Other good places are websites, joint blogs, newsletters, and enewsletters, speaking engagements (which can actually generate additional income), panels, and any writing you do for magazines, journals, or their electronic counterparts.
  • Build your mailing list.
    Regardless of where you are in the publishing process, you should be working towards building the most comprehensive mailing list of your life. This should make that wedding invitation list or holiday card mailing (the one you thought impossibly massive) look like a quickly jotted grocery list. Every person you know, your parents know, your spouse knows, or your children know should be on that list. Every business card you receive should be added to it. No one, not your dentist or your kid's preschool teacher, should escape. By the time your first book comes out you should have a list that would make a junkmailer jealous.
  • If your publisher doesn't do it, produce some of your own marketing materials.
    Bookmarks are more likely to be kept if the person receives it directly from the author rather than a random publisher representative. Also, tshirts that authors and their families wear are great advertising. With no design experience at all, you can upload your cover to places like Cafe Press and have a tshirt printed for the same price as a store-bought branded tshirt. On the other hand, as a publisher, printing up several dozen or more tshirts for giveaways is very expensive and does nothing if the people they're given to never wear them. And there's no way to force people to wear them.
This is becoming a phenomenally long post, so I'll stop here. This is a good, brief overview of stuff you can do. If you have questions, let me know, and we can always devote future posts going into greater detail.

And if you're going to be in Austin April 25, one of the break out sessions at the conference I mentioned in earlier posts will specifically deal with online marketing and blogging. I personally believe that these two things are the most important weapons in the marketing arsenal, so I'll be telling you all about them for that hour or so.


gabe said...

I'd warn others not to start promoting until they're closer to their release date - it's draining to promote a book that doesn't yet exist. Save that energy for when there's an actual book. I'm speaking as a Class of 2k8 member who had to drop out after almost a year of collective marketing preparations.

I learned somewhere that physically putting a book into someone's hand makes it harder for them to say no to buying it.

Collecting a list to connect with once the book is out is great advice. That kind of advance planning is best done slowly over time. (Thanks for all the other great advice!)

Jams said...

Thanks for the great information. Do you have any ideas on how to advertise a blog so people know it's out there? I did start one but then realized I don't know how to let people know about it.

maureen said...

what a wonderfully succinct post on marketing.
I will link this post to my blog. I am co convening the first national conference of Children's Writers and Illustrators in New Zealand in September. One of the major strands of the conference is marketing and promotion websites and blogs. We are all keen to learn more on this topic...

Pen Pen said...

You're so helpful!! Please keep the great info coming - It's priceless to me!!

Kelly said...

Cool confirmation that I'm already marketing myself! Great tips!

Haarlson Phillipps said...

Good post -- I love your use of the word 'daft'. Don't often see it on US blogs and sites.
Yep, you're right -- marketing and promotion is damned hard work - but it can be fun. Thanks for posting this.
Just so you know I've put a link to your blog on my blog

Pen Pen said...

If you're published by a MAJOR publisher, can you still sell the book to local places or is that totally out of ur hands?!

Kris said...

On the subject of promoting with blogs... what would you say constitutes an impressive amount of traffic? I know my relatively new blog has a ways to go before it is viewed by agents/publishers/etc as an asset, but I'd love an idea of what that threshold might be.

Michelle said...

I wanted to let you know that I referenced your blog in my blog.

Michelle Reynoso

writing and photography

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