There is a shocking amount of confusion around the difference between promotion and self promotion and I thought I could help clear up some of the confusion.
First I guess I need to give you my background: I am the publisher of SPINETINGLER Magazine. As we start our third year, we have published eleven PDF and web-based issues and recently crossed over a million hits. Our average PDF downloads exceed 10,000 copies per issues and that does not include any webpage views of the fiction, interviews and reviews we publish. My wife and I personally know well over one hundred authors. Through their experiences and my own, I have seen a number of promotion techniques that work and don't work.
This year, my wife and I have added over forty books that we purchased or received as a review copies. I read three to six books a month and review the majority for the magazine.
Now that's out of the way, let's discussion promotion. But the best way to explain it is to follow the process.
So you're happy that your book came out today. In the US during 2005, 19 books per hour were published, so you have just over three minutes to feel special before someone else joins the club. In the UK that number is 24 books per hour so it's only two minutes. While this is not meant to diminish the joy of your book coming out, if space was set aside here for every author who is published this year to toot their own horn, crimespace have nothing but press releases on it.
So how do you get the message out there that your book is available for sale?
No man (or woman) is an island. Building a group of friends who are writers can make a huge difference in your career. Talking to people who walk the same road as you can give you a richer perspective and help you develop your craft.
But if you see everyone as a potential buyer or someone who can help your career, or competition, then you’re on the wrong track. As I said in a prior post, other authors are not here for your benefit.
Your personal website is the place to promote yourself. It’s your home. Go nuts. Tell your visitors that you're the best writer on earth if that makes you happy. No one can tell you what you can or can’t do.
Everywhere else is not your home. Crimespace, for example, is like a hotel. You have your own room but you don’t own it. We all share the space. We show each other respect by following the rules.
CHECK OUT WHAT EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING
If your Crimespace page is a giant advertisement for your book, then how do I get to know you? Are you just a book?
Check out the established authors and see what they’re doing. Are they a walking advert for their current book?
Now I imagine some people will say, “Well, they are with big publishers so their publisher is promoting them.”
If you really believe that, I’m sorry to tell you that you've been really misled. It is very seldom these days that a publisher drops thousands of dollars on an author for promotion. Often the biggest difference between a large publisher and small publisher is the big publisher has better distribution.
I have three great examples of authors who I think are going to break out this year Ray Banks, Al Guthrie
and Steven Torres
. What is the same about their pages? No in your face self-promotion, no essay length “About Me”. What’s the other thing these three guys share? All of them were recommended to me by another reader. I enjoyed their work and have recommended their work to others. In fact in the next issue of SPINETINGLER, I am reviewing two of these guys. In our most recent issue my wife reviewed and interviewed the third. Great books deserve endorsement.
There are a number of people out there recommending the “Sideshow Snake Oil Salesman” approach. Have a little show; dazzle the locals into buying your product and then on to the next town. Every chance they get, they tell people to promote, promote and promote more. Failure to succeed is failure to promote they say.
But putting your book's entire success on your own shoulders is a massive task. You can only be so visible, only participate in so many conversations on forums and listservs. It is a full-time job that has little payback.
Some people would say, “I have sold hundreds of book this way.” To that I ask, what’s the cost? How much time and money was spent selling those books. If it cost you $500 dollars in savings and vacation time to make $200, then you are out $300. You’re losing money.
But there are low cost ways to get sales.
- Write some good short stories and get them published. There are lots of places that you can get a story published. A short story lets people sample your style and can spur further interest.
- Get some reviews. There are many review sites out there and they often will reach the kind of people who might buy your book. Follow the guidelines (if present) and pick suitable sites for your subgenre.
- Pay attention to reviews. If you are getting a lot of bad reviews, hold back the promotion until you understand what people don’t like. I’ve heard stories of people who are trashed on Amazon, Listservs and review sites and they are still promoting hard, spending a lot of money and wondering why their sales are bad. The best advertisements in the world won't save you if the writing isn't strong.
- Follow the rules. If you are on a Listserv or Forum and you’re the only one with a signature, for example, ask yourself why no one else is doing it.
- Get a website or a blog. If your only web presence is crimespace and/or MySpace, then kiss sales goodbye. Most people want to find out information about you and your book(s) and expect you to have a website. If all they find is a MySpace page, how many will think you’re not a serious writer?
- Be a person with other writers. Being published might make you special with your co-workers at your day job, but it means little when you're around other writers. Be interesting, funny or thought-provoking. Complaining that you can’t self-promote is not going to win you friends. This is a relationship business. You impress me and I will want to review your book or ask you for an interview. Others may want to blurb your book or will talk about it on their blog. That kind of promotion will give you far more sales in a few months than a year hand-selling and promoting your book.
Here is a good example of what I am referring to: every night I get Google alerts for my wife’s name and SPINETINGLER. It tells me who is talking about either of them.
I found one hit that included a small interview with a debut noir author with a well-regarded press. It peaked my interest, so I followed the link to his crimespace page and the line that greeted me was that he was shameless about self-promotion. Right there he almost lost me but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. So I looked for a website. None. Next an author page on the publisher site. None. Information on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. None. This was a book I might be interested in but no one seemed to want me to find out anything about it.
The main thing is, if you want to sell to people, you need to understand your market. You need to understand what really works and what doesn't. Pushy sales efforts might sell some books, but what about all the customers you've driven away?
The greatest compliments my wife gets were from people who said they don't read mysteries but found her blog interesting and decided to read her book and loved it. Now they're interested in books she recommends. She gets emails from people saying, "I read my first Ian Rankin or Stuart MacBride" and such, and to her, that's the best thing, because more people are discovering the great work out there, and that's good for everyone.