Marketing a Book – Where to Start

Originally published 03/27/2011 by WritingHood.

Below is an excerpt from my book “Writing for Profit or Pleasure: Where to Publish Your Work”. It is just a few paragraphs about marketing a book from Chapter 11, which is about publishing through a traditional book publisher. I’m posting this in response to a discussion I had earlier today with Jillian Peery who is finishing up a novel and asked, “what now?”

Before you go shopping for an agent there are some things you ought to do that will ease the task and help good agents take you seriously.

You need to have a completed and polished manuscript. Did you catch the “polished” part? If need be, hire an editor to go over your manuscript with you to be certain it is the best work you can do. You do not want an agent to read your manuscript and think, “This writer has potential; but needs a lot of work”. If you’re writing fiction, be sure your first 30 pages are especially compelling; an agent will need to know that you can set up a story to make it exciting to the reader.

Few agents are in the business as philanthropists; they’re trying to earn a living and will weigh the amount of effort they will have to put into an author against what they will make from their commissions. If you’re going to stick a foot in their door, make sure it’s your best looking foot.

You also need some credentials. Get a few pieces published in magazines or literary journals. Major brand eZines may help. Self-published eBooks count only if they’ve sold very well. Your blog posts don’t count at all for this.

Hook up with some other authors. If you have a local writer’s guild or club, join it, if not, seek out and get involved with on-line forums where good authors in your preferred genre hang out. In either case; do this gently. Any time a group of people who share a special interest, who know and trust one another (even just virtually) are presented with a new voice that proclaims, “Hi guys, I’m just like you, I want you to welcome me into the fold and share your best secrets with me!” the usual response will be a profound and embarrassing silence.

And finally, get to know the industry. In this case, ignorance is not bliss. Before you embark on your quest for an agent spend some time studying the publishing industry, what agents do, what services they offer, what editors do, what publishers expect; in short learn as much as you can about this unique industry. Fortunately there is a lot of information available on the internet and by attending conferences and talking to book sellers and good librarians. If you have questions not answered through research, direct them to your new friends from the above paragraph.

All of this ground work can and should be done while you are completing (and polishing – don’t forget the polishing) your manuscript. In fact other authors may be willing to help you with that polishing part as well as when you get snarled up in a plot twist.

It goes on from there to discuss the process of searching out an agent, and what to do if you want to bypass the agent. But none of that is applicable to my topic today. Today I’m talking about getting yourself noticed. This is especially important if you choose to go the route of publishing your manuscript as an e-book.

A traditional publisher who buys your manuscript will normally accept all (well, most) of the responsibility for publicizing your book once it comes out in print. All you have to do is write the book, and maybe do some book signing gigs. Typically you can expect to earn 5% to 12% of the sales of your book as a royalty for your part in this venture.

As an e-book you will be paid 30% – 35% in royalties (70% on one program from Amazon – with restrictions) but the lion’s share of the marketing and promotion will fall on your shoulders. Yes, your book will be listed in Amazon.com’s book listings — along with about a bazillion other books. Barnes & Noble; same thing.

Simply putting a book in a listing is not going to guarantee sales.

In one of her recent posts, Jillian asks, “Am I willing to stand up and act the fool in order to get some attention?” She concludes that yes; she is. That’s good, because in order to get attention for you and your book, you must be assertive. Sitting back and waiting for the world to discover you rarely works.

What Does Work in Marketing a Book?

OK, this is where the fight breaks out. There are a LOT of people out there blogging and Twittering about how to market your product on-line. Most of it is aimed at people who want to get rich by telling people how to get rich. Much of what they offer as advice is useless to a writer.

Here are a few things I have found that do work.

Blog

If you don’t have a blog, get one. If you do have one, use it. They can be free, they can be easy to run. Chapter 3 of my book goes into the hows and whys of blogging. An excerpt of that chapter is available [in this post].

Don’t blog about what you had for breakfast or where you’re going on vacation — blog about your book. Blog about the characters of your book. Blog about where you got inspiration for the book. Blog a little about the plot of your book – but don’t spoil it. Definitely set up a page on the blog with a sample of the book, maybe a whole chapter, at least a few pages so people can get a feel for your writing voice and skill. If it is fiction, choose section that will draw them in and leave them wanting more.

Twitter

Each time you post a new post to your blog, tweet it. Also be on the look-out for good stuff from other authors and from the publishing industry and tweet or retweet that. Get your followers accustomed to the idea that when your name pops up on the list something worth reading will be attached.

Personally, I am against the idea of tweeting constantly about inane little stuff. Yes, yes, I know; that’s what Twitter as invented to do. But you’re not using it to alert the world of your every muse. You are using it to promote your book. Keep it relevant. Keep it interesting, but keep it relevant.

Also, the best way I have found to build my list of followers is to promote others. Specifically I like to target other writers, editors, publishers, book promoters. I find them by watching the tweet stream. When I find one that looks like they fit my profile I go in and see who they follow. From that list I see who each of them follow. It snowballs from there. I’m picky, I keep it relevant to what I do. I don’t follow MMO people or people who have nothing of interest to say in their tweets.

My big days for this are Follow Fridays (#FF) and the Saturday after. This past Friday I tried something new. This came about after a “discussion with Mitch Mitchell about Follow Fridays and whether or not they served any purpose. I contended that they have helped me build my list. But I had to concede that if the tweets actually said why I recommend someone they would mean more. So I tried that is past week. Instead of a series of posts that simply listed the ID of 8 or 9 Twitterers in each tweet, I listed one per tweet and included a little bio information on them.

Follow notices are still coming in, but at this point I achieved a 600% improvement in gaining new followers over what I had been getting each week using the “usual” Follow Friday format.

One last thing on Twitter; give some serious thought to your BIO line on your Twitter home page. You have 160 characters to tell people why they will want to follow you. Make it good. Do not use it to announce political or religious affiliations, unless you write about politics or religion. Do not say, “I tweet constantly”. Don’t tell me about your sex life or how much you drink. If you are using this to market your book and yourself as an author, make that message loud and clear. Link to your blog.

Forums

There are a lot of good writers’ forums, there are a lot of good readers’ forums. There are forums for announcing new books, and reviewing books, and discussing new authors. Spend some quality time with your favorite search engine and dig out a few that embrace your genre, join them and get active in the discussions.

These forums contain a lot of lurkers; folks who may not feel competent to comment but do read. And do buy books. Show yourself to be engaging and knowledgeable and your reader base will expand. Most forums allow you to include a link to a web site with your name or in your signature. Link to your blog.

Do not spam the forum, but occasionally mention something about your latest post on your blog or about your book. Tie it in to the current discussion.

Commenting on Blogs

Install CommentLuv (http://www.comluv.com) on your blog and sign up for a free account. Then go find some other ComLuv blogs (easy to do these days) read the posts, and leave comments. Let me restate that; leave meaningful comments. ComLuv will link back to your blog posts and help others to find you.

At first, you will want to spend copious amounts of time in this effort, commenting everywhere you can find. Scan the comments left by others; look at the links they left – click through to the interesting ones and comment there too. This snowballs rapidly.

As you become known, build a list of favorite blogs based on the relevance of their readership to your blog/book and focus on those. Keep an eye out for new opportunities, but put most of your efforts where it counts the most.

I’m over 1700 words now so it’s time to slam the lid on this one before it becomes ludicrously long. I hope these tidbits have helped you some. If you have more info to share, or questions, please leave them in a comment below.

Thanks for reading!

 

About Doug

Jesus follower, writer, gardener, Sci-Fi fan, Beagle herder, occasional author, mountain man. My dogs think I'm a super-hero.

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