How to market a book
So, after months of tapping away in the attic room, locked away from the family for hours on end, a self-appointed social pariah, the book is written. You’ve sweated over the title, agonised over whether to dedicate it to your partner, your favourite uncle, or the dog, and now all you need is someone to read it. Well, preferably several thousands of people, or even millions, if you are setting your sights up with E L James and Jamie Oliver.
You may be one of the lucky few with a deal at a top publisher who has money to spend on marketing your book, and a hover of publicists to magic up column inches for you, but for most writers finding an audience for your magnum opus is going to be your next full-time role. But, where do you start? Here are a few tips.
Who Is Your Audience?
Assuming you are not already a household name, or the leading expert in your field with a ready-made audience, you are going to have to work hard to market your book. So, first ask yourself who is your audience? Okay. I know your sister will read it, and your mum will probably buy 20 for Christmas presents, even if it is a potted history of garden gnomes, but be realistic.
Have you identified a niche in the market that no one else has covered? Is your book based on experiences that you believe will be of interest to others? Is it a novel that will have strong appeal to sports fans, or a historical romance that could be marketed for Valentine’s Day?
Whether you have written a work of fiction or non-fiction, try jotting down some keywords about your book. This will help you define your book’s audience and identify possible markets.
For example, if you have written a crime thriller set in the world of haute couture and featuring a female detective, with the action taking place in London, Paris and Milan, then your keywords could be Crime, Women, Fashion, Luxury, London, France, Italy. So, although your primary target is readers who enjoy crime novels, you should also be looking for reviews and features in fashion and glossy lifestyle magazines, London publications, and even magazines aimed at travellers to France and Italy – there are several specialist journals in these areas.
The keywords for a book based on your experiences of running an orphanage in Uganda in the days of Idi Amin may include Human Interest, African History, Politics, Social Science, and Third World; there are specialist journalists and publications covering these areas that you can find online. Feature pages of newspapers and women’s magazines may be interested in an article, and if you are of a certain age, look to the over 50s magazines, too. Once you have done this then it’s time to get yourself out there and start telling people about your book. Of course, there are plenty of professional book publicists you can employ to help you do this, but there is a lot that you can do yourself.
Get Ahead of the Game
- Engage in Social Media. Whether you are a serial social media user, or a twittering novice, there is no doubt that establishing a following via Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, or other online sites, will help you to find an audience for your book. Ideally, you need to start doing this before putting fingers to keyboard, or at least, during the creative process. It takes time to build a following so don’t leave it until the day before publication. You don’t need to embrace all the outlets available, but it’s important that whichever community you decide to be part of you keep updating on a regular basis.
- Start Blogging. Writing a blog is one of the best ways to gain a following, especially if you are aiming at a specialist market. Engage with like-minded people through your own blog, and by commentating on others, but, beware that you don’t turn your blog into an advertising site and get ostracized by the very online community you are trying to reach. A link to your book website, (either set up by you or your publisher), a post about your book coming out, and the occasional referral to the book are acceptable, but don’t turn it into the online equivalent of Del Boy’s market stall.
- Press Release. If your publisher hasn’t already done so, and you have not employed the services of a freelance publicist to do it for you, then you should write a press release to send out to the media. Make sure it’s no more than one page in length, (nobody will read more), and that it highlights the unique elements of your book, key contents, and a paragraph about you. Don’t forget to include your contact details.
How Do I Get My Book Reviewed?
- National Media. I know it’s what all writers want – a glowing review in a national newspaper or a leading magazine. Unfortunately, unless you are a bestselling author, a well-known public figure, writing on a topical subject, or come with a personal recommendation from the editor, it probably isn’t going to happen. There are only a limited number of slots available each week and hundreds of titles to choose from. Your publisher/publicist will send the book to the literary editors, or you can do it yourself, but don’t rely on it appearing in the paper, and even if it does, be warned, it may not be the review you want to read!
- Regional and Specialist Media. Both can present excellent opportunities for promoting your book, either through reviews or features. Make a list of the magazines and online sites that cover your subject area – refer to your keywords – and find out who looks after the book reviews. Email them some information on your book and follow-up with a friendly call. If you are lucky, they may want to take an extract, or ask you to write an article for them.
- Contact your local paper and suggest they run a review, or even a feature to coincide with the launch of your book. See if your regional radio station would like you as a guest. Send review copies to the local press with a personal note telling them a bit about you, especially if you have lived and worked in the area for some time.
Getting Yourself in the Media
- Are You Interesting? The best way to be in the papers or on the radio/TV is to be interesting, or at least appear to be. Feature editors, and interview bookers, are on the lookout for new people and subjects to write about/talk to, so make it easy for them and spell out what it is that is different about your book, and you, that would be of interest to their readers, listeners or viewers. Are you an expert in your field? Were you caught up in a military coup on your gap year? Did you grow up in the Australian outback? Or, better still, all three? Even if it’s not directly related to the subject of your book it could give you a way in, and provide a reason for your book to be mentioned. Remember, if you sound interesting then the chances are that people will think your book worth reading, too.
- Do Your Homework Make sure you know who you are pitching to. Don’t suggest a pregnancy book to a magazine that caters for women over 50, or an interview on making money from vintage clothing, if the programme has just run something similar. Listen to the programme, read the publication, and make your pitch relevant otherwise you are wasting their time, and yours.
- Be Topical. If you can write or talk on a subject that’s in the news and use it to promote your book then so much the better. Make the most of any opportunities that come along. If there is likely to be a news angle in your book – a fresh way of looking at a period in history, a novel that addresses a controversial social issue – then make sure news editors are sent copies of your book as well as book editors, and contact your local news room if you think you can contribute to a topical discussion.
- Don’t Give Up. Even if it’s some time after publication it may be worth contacting the media if the occasion is right. For example, I recently worked with an author who had written a book about her childhood in Poland. Some months after publication the European Cup Finals were held in her country. The author was re-pitched as an expert on Poland, and further features followed.
Marketing a book from scratch is never going to be easy. As budgets are tightening at publishing houses, and more authors follow the self-publishing route, then pro-actively promoting the book is going to be as necessary to the writer as the plot itself. Yes, it helps if your publisher has money to spend but it’s not a shoe-in for the bestsellers’ list, and there are many success stories from small independent publishing houses, while the phenomenally successful Fifty Shades series was originally self-published. (There have also been self-published books on the shortlists for annual awards such as the William Hill Sports Book of the Year and the CMI Management Book of the Year.)
If you want to reach as wide an audience as possible embracing social media is likely to be the best way to go. Do not bury your head in the sand about this. Find a course, read about it on the web, or borrow a friend’s teenager, but learn how to be part of the twittering classes and make space in your life for some online interaction.
Finally, when you set out on the writing road don’t expect to find yourself the leading light in the literary world without some hard graft on your part, even if you have the backing of a top publisher. There is much you can do to help yourself and, if you need a reminder of some of the best ways to reach readers think LAMP ….
L …. LINK-UP with like-minded people
A…. Know Your AUDIENCE
M…. Understand Your MARKET
P…. Be PREPARED
Success may not happen overnight but if you make an effort with your marketing at least you won’t be sitting there thinking if only I had done more.
Jane Beaton is the Director of Kew Publicity. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org