Publicity is a perennial problem for writers – what to do, how to do it, what works, what doesn’t. I’ve had several queries on the subject in the past few weeks, so despite the fact that publicity is NOT one of my strong suits, I’m going to talk about it for a couple of posts.
A lot of what I know about doing book publicity comes from watching other people who are better than I am do it. And the first thing I’ve learned is that if you are going to publicize a book, you need to have a clear idea who you are trying to publicize it to, as well as realistic expectations about what you can achieve by doing it.
For example, I’ve been to a number of book launch parties, and I’ve talked to a bunch of the authors afterwards. A significant percentage of the authors were very unhappy with the results of their party, another batch were more or less neutral, and the rest were extremely pleased. Invariably, the most unhappy writers have been the ones who went into the evening expecting the party to result in big sales or an enormous rise in readership. They were deeply disappointed when the party didn’t catapult them straight to fame and fortune.
Both the unhappy and the neutral writers saw the book launch party as a publicity event, with the goal of increasing sales (or at the very least buzz) about the book. The neutral writers tend to be more logical and realistic about the effects of a party – most of the people there are usually friends who would be buying the book anyway, so even if there is champagne and caviar and free books, the party is unlikely to cause a visible blip in sales (unless it’s a publisher-sponsored event taking place at a major trade show or industry convention, in which case most of the attendees are there for the giveaways and free drinks and probably won’t end up reading the book anyway).
The writers who are happiest with their book launch parties are the ones for whom having a book launch is a great excuse to throw a big party for their friends. They go and have a great time, and if the party generates some good publicity, that’s gravy. Not only are their expectations more realistic than those of the unhappy and neutral writers, they don’t have the same goal.
The second thing I’ve learned about doing publicity is that, like writing, what works for one author will not necessarily work for all authors. In fact, if every new author you know is creating special logo mugs or T-shirts or key chains, or working the same round of “blog tours,” that particular publicity trick is probably well past its sell-by date. It may still be worth doing, but it’s just not going to have the same impact that it did when the first writer thought it up. Too many people have seen it too often by now.
There are also things that are only a good idea to do if you are good at them. Back before the collapse and consolidation of the independent book distributor network, one of the common recommendations was for writers of original mass market paperbacks to go out and talk to the truck drivers at the indie book distribution centers, because the truck drivers were the ones who stocked the revolving racks in the drug stores and airports and grocery stories, and if they liked you, they’d put your book on display in more places, which meant getting more sales. Trouble was, if they didn’t like you, they wouldn’t put your book up anywhere…and some writers just weren’t good at socializing with truck drivers.
The third thing is that it takes a lot of time and effort and energy to do publicity, and if you don’t keep an eye on yourself, you can torpedo your writing career even as you push your first novel to higher levels of sales. There has to be a balance between doing publicity and producing the next novel (unless you intend to be a one-book wonder). There are various ways of achieving a balance, from rationing the time spent doing publicity, to keeping to a production quota, to allocating a certain number of weeks or months around the launch date to pure publicity and then returning to all-writing-all-the-time. What works for you and your book will depend on your energy level, your writing process, what you are trying to achieve with your publicity campaign, the amount of time and money you have to put into publicity, and the amount of time and money your publisher, if any, is willing to put into publicity.
Finally, what constitutes “the things to do for publicity” can vary quite a bit, depending on whether the writer is publishing through a traditional publisher, through an e-book publisher, self-publishing, or putting their work up for free on the Internet. For instance, there is no point in taking out an ad in a trade journal that’s only read by bookstore buyers if your book is only available as an e-book.
Which brings me to push-marketing and pull-marketing. Push-marketing tries to get the book out to as many places as possible, so that it will be easy for potential readers to come across. This is what traditional publishers are doing when they try to get as many bookstores as possible to carry the book. Pull-marketing works the other way: the idea is to create demand from readers, who will then order copies from stores, which will (theoretically) realize there is demand for the book and start stocking it. This distinction gets pretty blurry when you start talking about e-books, but it’s still worth being aware of.
In the next couple of posts, I’m going to go through some of the things I know about doing publicity for different kinds of books (traditional, ebooks, etc.).