The Search for Free Publicity


It may be a noble pursuit to seek out free publicity for your self-published book. After all, great work deserves to be shared and talked about, right? The problem is, there is a tremendous amount of great work that doesn’t get promoted by media outlets merely because the work exists. Sadly, great work’s existence means little to the world without some sort of relevance or meaning to specific “influentials” who can share your voice, who likely believe that your work may help a sector of the world look at itself differently, understand itself, or be thoroughly entertained. It’s up to us as writers to find these reasons in our work, share them, and get our work in the hands of those someones who can champion it.

When I wrote The Silent Partner, I was conscious of my professional standing working in advertising here in San Diego, and utilized relationships for part of the promotion of my first novel in getting a little bit of local press. (For this, I was very fortunate.) Of course, I used Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube (for the book trailer), my blog, and my website to promote my work . . . and still do. But to expand beyond my own little ecosystem of what I hope others don’t consider self-importance, I continue to aspire to connect with other writers’ blogs and book-reading communities. A GREAT place to start, with readers hungry for material they want to love.

By contrast, I’ve twice paid a publicist to also assist with press releases, and have gotten interest in my novel’s subject matter more than a few times by media outlets. Publicists’ work is not underrated, either. It’s not cheap . . . that is for sure. But in the end, once you’re on track to become a master of your type of work, and you’ve promoted yourself beyond what you can by yourself, I very much recommend getting a publicist. Even a 4-week campaign can be a shot of adrenaline into the marketing of your book. You’ll get it into hands of people you otherwise would not have. And then, whether something “big” happens with your book or not, you’ll experience growth as a marketer of yourself, you’ll become smoother at your presentation of yourself and your work, you’ll make some new contacts, make new friends, sell a few books, and you can spend more of your energy starting your next project.


What I Learned From My First Book Signings

For any writer thrilled to (finally) share their work, a book signing should be an exciting time. Puppy dogs and ice cream. I’ve done two signings so far, and it was exciting to prepare to share the experiences with friends, family, and supporters. It took much more work than anyone had ever told me to set them up, and that, of course, is time and focus that wasn’t devoted to other writing, work, or play. And as many of us know, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. (An homage to James Howell and, most famously, Stephen King.)

I learned a lot and met some great people through the book signing experience. (The people at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, by the way, are fantastic. Both locations: San Diego and Redondo Beach. I imagine it could have been much more difficult to work with bookstores that found “un-famous” authors to be a nuisance.) Here is what I learned:

  • Always be prepared with more books (in your car, if necessary). You never know.
  • If you’re getting a cardboard poster of your book cover made to display, plan a month ahead. At least.
  • These people, humbly speaking, are there to see you, but respect their time. Multiple sources told me I should speak for 30-60 minutes. Surely, an author should provide their “fans” (should that be what we call them?) insight into the process behind the book, interesting details, etc. While 30-60 minutes works for some authors, I spoke for what I hope was an engaging 10-15, and that worked out well for everyone, especially those with kids. It is, after all, their time as well. (You can see the video from my very first book signing HERE.)
  • People will gobble up your promotional materials. Have them available.
  • It’s up to US, as writers, to promote just about everything with our work. Mysterious Galaxy included me in their social media, which was great, but we have to be our own promotional machines. There’s a lot to learn and do.
  • Your besties might not show up at your signings, for whatever reason. All good.
  • You’ll never forget the people who showed up for you. I’m pretty sure I never will.
  • No matter how many books you sell, it’s not about the money. Not once did I do any dollar calculation of books sold. (Mysterious Galaxy handled all the transactional details anyway.) For me, that was never the motivation to start a 5-year-plus writing project.
  • Black Sharpies are awesome signing instruments.
  • And the number one thing I learned: The book signings were fun, but the writing is considerably more fulfilling and necessary. An unexpected discovery that’s probably quite healthy. It’s about the work first . . . THEN the promotion. This is the beginning of everything else in the process of exposing the work.
  • What have YOU learned?

Now, it’s time for me to get back to work and play. So I don’t lose my mind.

Promoting a Book That Doesn’t Exist

Nowadays, aspiring novelists must contend with the promotion (and possible stigma) of an unpublished book. We may have other published works, sure, but a long-term writing project like a novel-in-progress can frustrate even the most patient storyteller and wordsmith. A working novel’s manuscript–unfortunately–isn’t a book until it looks like one, feels like one, is bound (usually), is available digitally (especially if it isn’t bound), and probably has an ISBN code so it can be sold. The opportunity to self-promote via the Internet means a number of us now are pre-promoting work prior to its release, which is exciting, educational, time-consuming, somewhat social (admittedly stretched rationalization) and–for me–rewarding. It’s self-induced pressure to the max . . . heralded only by those of us doing it, because we understand and appreciate it.

The pre-promotion of a forthcoming book for a first-time novelist is necessary. Growing readership of our work shouldn’t focus merely on agency representation or publication itself, but getting our work out there to an eager audience that’s waiting to discover it. The largest audience possible, yes, but we shouldn’t seek to merely get signed to a specific agent or publisher. Instead, we need to define what route makes most sense for us to protect our integrity as writers and get our work read by the most people possible . . . those searching for our kind of work. If a literary agency or publisher has faith in the commerce behind the art, we’ve hit gold. No doubt, readership can grow immensely with that support.

For those of us seeking such representation, a burgeoning fanbase clearly illustrates a writer’s marketability . . . and reduces the risk of anyone investing time and energy into them. This would go for any artist. Case and point: A couple days ago, a rock band I’ve followed for a couple years finally got signed to a label. I discovered Imagine Dragons performing in Las Vegas and have followed them since, have seen them here in San Diego, and–after a few years of recording, performing, and promoting–they’ve hit a grand slam by signing with Interscope Records. Dedication to their craft is not in question, nor is the magnitude of their growing fanbase. It took a couple years, though, of looming in on a targeted objective. Dan Reynolds, the frontman for the band, said to Las Vegas Weekly, “The goal of a band should never be to sign with a major label. It should be to make good music and get it out to as many people as possible.”

We need conviction in our work and dedication to cultivating our talent. And tireless self-promotion, so that our work does indeed exist . . . in the form of a book.