A Guest Post by Valerie Howlett
When Kathy MacMillan graciously set up a Q&A on book promotion between me and the 2016 and 2017 debut novelist groups, I had no idea how many people would sign up. A lot, it turned out! A few days before the event, the Facebook group had over a hundred authors signed up and the page was flooded with intelligent, thoughtful questions.
As a book marketer starting a new phase of her career, I really enjoyed the opportunity to speak with debut authors. Coaching authors was always my favorite part of being a publicist, and that’s why I started Artisan Publicity—to be able to focus on the part of publicity I love most.
I was sorry I wasn’t able to answer all of the questions in the Q&A, but here are some of the tips I did provide. I’ve expanded on them here. Honestly, I could talk about this marketing stuff all day.
1. Start Early
It takes time to make plans, secure media placements, and drum up audiences for events (both in-person and online).
The majority of publicity is back-and-forth coordination: emailing, following up, waiting for responses, and nailing down logistics. This can take weeks, or months. And reviewers need time to read your book, write the review, and work the post into their schedule. (Many major review publications won’t accept reviews after a book’s on-sale date.) That’s why outside publicists accept clients four to six months before their publication date.
If you’re doing the work yourself, use that same timeline. Find out how many ARCs you’ll be allotted before they’re printed. You’ll be in a better position to negotiate that number up if you have a list of useful media connections or booksellers to send it to. Start brainstorming ideas for online or preorder campaigns six months out, and start your event outreach four months out. That way, when your book goes on-sale, you’ll be focused on doing the appearances, rather than scrambling to set things up.
2. Tap Your Local Connections
This may seem obvious, but it can be overlooked. The online children’s literature community is so vast that it can be easy to stay in that bubble, and not make the most of your local connections. I’ve had authors tell me they worry that focusing on local press or events could limit their audience.
An analogy I like to use is to think of your promotion as scaffolding. Your base level is going to be personal connections: your friends, your family, your fourth grade teacher who always knew you’d amount to something. These people will be your best advocates.
The next level up is your local community. The New York Times probably won’t write an article titled “Random Author from Some City Writes Children’s Book About Bullying” but replace the beginning with “Local Author” and your hometown paper or radio station might be interested. People care about buying (and reading) locally–use that. It’s an important place to start.
If you work hard on strengthening your base, you’ll have a strong foundation from which to grow.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Blitz People During Your Release (but do it strategically)
In publicity, we like to say that a reader (or in the case of middle grade books, an influencer or gatekeeper) needs to read your name and/or the title of your book three times before taking action. And by that I mean looking up your book on their devices or seeing it at a bookstore at thinking, “Ooh, I’ve heard of that book,” and picking it up to read the back jacket.
So you want them to read about your book many times in quick succession, which is why you should time your interviews, articles, reviews, and press around your release.
I’ve met modest, kind authors who are worried about the social media etiquette of bugging their friends about their book too often during their release. And I’m like, “No! Your book birthday is like your actual birthday! It’s one of the few times when you get a free pass to have it be All About You. This is YOUR MOMENT! SMILE, BABY!” But then I recover from my Mama Rose moment and still encourage them to self-promote.
Of course, you don’t want to be annoying. Many of us know an author who constantly posts about nothing but their book, or have an acquaintance who invites us over and over to their Mary Kay/Tupperware/Sex Toy/Jamberry parties. I understand not wanting to be That Guy.
A good rule of thumb is to post whenever there is new information—coverage, reviews, events, awards. Your fans want to know about those things. Usually, you’ll be linking a lot during that first month of your book launch.
But if all your posts are just “buy my book it’s this many dollars,” that isn’t new information and you might want to change your strategy.
4. Plan Beyond Your Pub Date
A few months after your book launch, when all you want to do is get back to writing, there are still a couple of things I recommend doing, promotion-wise.
First, you can look at the calendar year and research any days/months that correspond to a topic in your book. Like if your protagonist is a ballet dancer, plan an online promotion for World Tutu Day or World Ballet Day (when there are already trending hashtags). Or you can pitch a story to a website about your book, with the day as the hook. This could also be a good hook if you’re trying to secure a bookstore or school visit.
Second, keep planning school visits (if your book is school-appropriate). Most schools don’t care when your book release is. So you can time these more to your schedule, and that guaranteed audience can really grow your readership.
5. Be Good to Yourself
Look, I’m not denying that self-promotion is important. It is, and that’s why it makes us so anxious. We all want to get paid for doing the thing we love, and if no one knows about our book, there are obvious financial consequences.
But I firmly believe that if you’re in this business for the accolades, not the writing itself, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons. During the process of promoting your book, you must fight against feeling small. Never lose sight of the fact that you’ve done an amazing thing, something tons of people say they want to do but can’t put in the time or effort required. You wrote a book AND got it published. You are doing a great job.
Val Howlett is a kidlit and YA lover living in the Philadelphia area. She has worked in marketing and publicity at Bloomsbury Publishing, Running Press, and Quirk Books. Learn more about her author consultation service at https://artisanpublicity.com/.