Book promotion has one goal, getting your book known so that people will read it and love it (or hate it, honestly, people are fickle) and talk about it.
Many writers panic, thinking that they must throw money at book promotion and get other people to do the tasks involved, because they simply don’t know what to do. Unfortunately, that money is often too much investment for too little return. And there are many sharks in the promotional waters that will return you virtually nothing for your money. Really, the answer for successful book promotion is to see it as a do-it-yourself activity. And the best beginning has two steps: (1) identify what you have and (2) learn to use it.
Begin with You
The most successful author-driven promotions begin with your strengths. What are your skills? What do you have access to? What are your connections? The answers to these questions can help you build a book promotion plan that won’t break the bank. For example, if you are comfortable with public speaking then you can look for ways to combine your book with possible public speaking opportunities such as giving a talk about writing at your local library.
In fact, there may be many opportunities to talk about your writing journey if you’re comfortable with public speaking and willing to look around. Consider looking at clubs related to something in your book. For example, my husband belongs to several wood working clubs. If one of my cozy mysteries featured a woodworker as a main character, I know those clubs would be thrilled if I wanted to do a little talk at one of their meetings. Clubs are always on the look-out for speakers at meetings. If you are comfortable with children, school visits are an excellent way to begin word of mouth about your book. Again, you may want to start locally and then begin to spread out.
With the limitations of in-person visits due to the pandemic, many authors have also worked on doing their public speaking via Zoom. And mixing public speaking with promotion has the added bonus of pay. Many public speaking options come with an honorarium. These may be small, but promotion that pays you instead of you paying to do it is always nice.
Another promotional option that is usually readily at hand for a writer is writing. Online promotional efforts often involve creating your own blog where you’ll talk about writing or about things specific to researching and writing the specific book you’re promoting. Beyond your own blog, there are also posts on social media sites and guest posts on blogs belonging to other people. Guest posts tend to be a slightly less valuable type of promotion than putting your physical self in front of people in public speaking opportunities where audiences feel they’ve made a more personal connection with you, but blog posts do double duty of creating more content that pops up when people search for your name. And that has value for your writing long term. Keep in mind that good promotional content goes far beyond advertising the novel. No one enjoys reading or listening to a long advertisement. You’ll need to think about what the audience would like to hear, not what you want them to do. This is why you not only need to look for opportunities to speak and write, but you also need to learn to exploit these opportunities most effectively.
The best way to do this is to go in search of author events so you can study how other authors do them. In virtually every area, some kind of author event happens regularly. Libraries often have author events. Newspapers often interview local authors. Book stores have readings. And book festivals open up many opportunities for authors to connect with readers. While you’re writing your book, before the need to promote it ever begins, you should be tracking down author events you can attend (in person or virtually) so you can see how authors (especially experienced authors) are turning their talents into promotion. And when you go to these things, don’t simply absorb everything. Evaluate it. Which authors make you really interested in their book? Which authors do not? And then ask yourself what parts of the effective promotions are working for you. Those are the kinds of things you’ll want to emulate using your own skills and connections and your own book.
Now the Book
One way to prepare for all these promotional options is to prepare a list of things about your book. Sure, you can talk about the book as a whole and sometimes you will, but you also need to consider what tempting things may be within the covers of your book or within your experience of writing the book. For example, if you wrote the book because of your experience dealing with ADHD in your life, you could do speaking events about working with ADHD or ADHD and creativity. The book would come into the talk, but the talk would be more about this thing that you’ve pulled out of the book (or from writing the book). Your subject and speech would be book adjacent, not book focused.
On the surface, this kind of promotion may not seem like promotion at all. After all, you’re talking about ADHD and creativity, not this book, but you can mention the book frequently when it’s absolutely appropriate as an illustration of the topic and you’re dropping little seeds of interest. For example, I’ve spoken twice to writing groups on how to write mysteries. In both, the full focus of the talk was on how to write mysteries. I used examples from lots of books (including mine but not limited to mine by any means). And after every single time I’ve spoken on the topic, people have contacted me wanting to know how to get my mysteries. It’s only been a fraction of the people who attended, sure. But promotional efforts never, ever, ever, ever give 100% return or even close. In every case of every kind of promotion, you’re only going to get a sliver of the return on the effort.
The low return for all promotional efforts is one reason why promotion is designed for one and only one thing: to begin word of mouth. You’re never going to get enough direct book sales from promotion to make them worthwhile. But every promotion ignites interest. If you get people interested enough, they’ll talk about you and about your book. And if enough people end up talking about your book, you get a best seller. So think of promotional efforts as catalysts to get something much bigger started, and focus your promotional efforts on things you’re good at.
Promotion works best when it is a specific type of promotion matched specifically to you and to your book. If you’re good at blog posts and love writing them, then guest posts are a great venue for you. If you are far better at talking to people directly, then maybe consider podcast guest spots, school visits, and public speaking events. If you’re really only comfortable speaking to people who you know well, then focus your efforts locally where you can have a strong friend turn-out for support or look at organizations where you belong for possible opportunities where you’ll be speaking to friends.
Whatever you do, don’t choose things that make you miserable. That misery translates into alienating the audience and lessening the chance of positive word-of-mouth. Focus only on the things that sound interesting and even fun. Learn how others do those specific things to best effect, and then look for connections (public speaking venues, or blogs you can post for, etc.) and plan your promotional efforts. Don’t plan an exhausting campaign, because you’ll wear yourself out and your last efforts will seriously show the wear. Be kind to yourself. Know your own energy level. And take on promotion as an adventure, and you just may find you’re better at it than you ever thought possible.
Have fun, and your audience will too. And that always pays.
Jan Fields is a former Institute of Children’s Literature Instructor and a full-time, freelance author.