The Search for Free Publicity

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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.

How to Avoid a Self-Pub Nightmare

When you’re self-publishing, all typos, errors, ineffective use of color on your book cover, any mistakes of any kind . . . are YOUR FAULT. With fiction, there are more choppy waters to navigate through and avoid, like superfluous characters, one-dimensional storytelling, and undeveloped or forgotten story arcs, among other common hazards for new writers. (Though it’s probably more common than we’d like to discover these mishaps with celebrated authors, with novels coming from big publishing houses. Here is someone taking issue with the number of errors in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.) As any fiction writer knows, there are many more writing hazards. Self-published fiction hazards can be brutal. Here are some ways I’ve discovered to avoid them:

  1. Use one, maybe two, professional editors. Your first editor will discover errors you missed and problems you never thought of, and will help you with the fundamentals. The second editor can help you with nuances, because you’ve (hopefully) remedied the problems caught by the first editor. You may think your untrained but critical eye is good enough. It’s not. And once your work is out there, it’s open for critique. Employing a professional editor is like insurance, you just get the immediate results and answers, before mayhem strikes. (Actual mayhem, not the Mayhem guy in those Allstate commercials) Many self-publishing houses provide an editor (or editing team) to you during the self-publishing process. I’d recommend using a professional editor first. By the time you’re submitting your work for print, it should be polished, not go through the first round of professional editing.
  2. Friends and family are awesome. And friends who care enough to read your work and provide insight and help you in any way are priceless. But, read number 1 again.
  3. Book cover: Do something simple, and try to stand out. You can be poetic or ironic, but few will catch this or even care. Review other book covers and find something that suits your taste or your genre. You don’t have to duplicate, but be aware of what’s out there that others have determined to be marketable, and make it your own.
  4. Take the book cover text seriously, including and particularly the book summary on the back cover (or front book jacket for a hardcover). I had used a summary for literary agent submissions as a place to start, and still found improvements that “sell” the story better.
  5. When working with your self-publishing house, review your and their work carefully. No one will (or should) care more about your work than you, and once you sign off on your book going to print, it’s done. Blind faith can be unforgiving.

Of course, you can try to blame your publisher for your errors. Probably won’t work.