Thursday, January 14, 2010

Some free advice about publicity for novels

Authors - particularly novelists - often fret about publicity, and recently one asked me if he should hire his own publicist, because his writer friends were telling him that the publisher wasn't really going to do that much for publicity.

Novels are hard to publicise, it's true - but they're going to be as hard to publicise for a freelance publicist you hire as for your publishing company's publicist. Having a personal publicist won't necessarily make the difficulty go away. In my experience Australian book publicists, working in publishing houses, are highly competent. They know what they're doing. Yes, they have a lot of books to publicise but they do the best they can. There are so many books competing for publicity and review space each month that I can consider it a small miracle any time one of my authors gets anything.

Publicists need 'hooks' in order to get decent publicity, and most of the time novels just don't have the hooks, unless the author is already famous or has an interesting personal story. So what's a novelist - especially a first-timer - to do? The answer is to not try to do the job that your publicist - who is a professional in their field - is trying to do. And it's not to hire a personal publicist either.

Your personal campaign needs to start early - well before publication. These days you should have an online presence, probably a blog. My own feeling is that Twitter has probably jumped the shark so you could possibly forget about that, but it's also possible that I'm an idiot. What you want is a Google-able result. When someone searches on your name, it needs to come up prominently. How do you do that? Well, having a Blogger/blogspot blog helps, because it's owned by Google. Or you can namecheck famous writers in your blog - review their books, refer to them in your posts - so that whenever someone searches on them, your blog comes up.

Then there's the in-person stuff. If you have a day job, take as much leave as you can around your publication date. Tell your publisher that you'd like to meet with some booksellers in your area, and do they mind if you do that? Can they help with that? Even better, can you travel to rural and regional areas? Many country bookshops never see an author. If you go and visit them, don't you think they're going to remember that and perhaps mention you to their customers? It's all about building goodwill. And if you want to know how it's really done, read a biography of Jacqueline Susann, author of Valley of the Dolls.

At all times, inform your publisher of what's going on. They probably can't send a sales rep with you on each visit, but the rep may be able to give some advice about who to visit. And getting in touch with a sales rep will also help you understand how the sales side of things works.

The most important thing to remember is to act professionally. You are a published novelist - you don't need to feel insecure and you don't need to beg. Respect the role that each person you meet may play in your success. Don't feel that it's wrong to want to sell lots of books. Don't feel that it's not 'artistic' to want to make lots of money. Money buys you freedom. An earned-out advance buys you the ability to determine your career.

The publisher needs to take a lot of the responsibility for selling your books but you can certainly kick it along - if you want to. So the real question you need to ask yourself is: How successful do I want to be? And then you'll probably work out what you need to do. Jacqueline Susann was not a great writer but she sold a hell of a lot of books, because she wanted to. She wanted it - fame, money, adoration. She got it. And you can get it to, if you want it. Just be professional, be respectful of others, keep your eyes on the prize and don't ever lose faith in yourself. But, again, it keeps coming back to that question: How successful do I want to be?


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thanks for the informative post.

Oliver Phommavanh said...

Hi there, I'm on the verge of having my first book released, so your advice comes in handy. I've been told about the grass roots approach, meeting booksellers and librarians, people who'll be selling the book for you when you're not there.

Emma Michaels said...

Great advice! I am sending my first novel out currently and this is very useful! Wishing you the best!

KSL said...

This is great- and for me, very timely- advice. Good stuff. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic advice, Agent Sydney.

Off to buy that biography...

Good luck, Oliver. I think we may've been at the same ASA seminar before Christmas :)

Greg Pincus said...

Thanks for posting the good ideas. I agree that a key is to be "googlable," but that only impacts people who are already looking for you. What social media can do so well is create more awareness and more fans - building up supporters to help you spread the word through their networks, too. I don't think Twitter has jumped the shark yet - in fact, I think the real-time web is really just getting rolling. Lisa Schroeder wrote a good piece on why she finds Twitter valuable for an author that I think is excellent reading (and with which I agree).

That said, I think having a focused plan - picking a few of the off- and online specifics like the ones you've mentioned - is more important than which tools you use.Oh, and infinite time helps, too :-)

TL said...

AS, do you have any fav author blogs or webpages that you might point us to? There are so many out there already, all heart-felt but mostly fact, I would go so far as to say that they might work against the authors' grand dreams of being published.

Perhaps some guidelines on what works (other than the obvious, which is great writing & no silly mistakes)? Keeping a blog can be time consuming--another pet, which can grow into an unlovable monster.

Peta Jinnath Andersen said...

Twitter is more useful now that Google is indexing tweets. It's also a pretty good way to connect with fans - as far as I can tell, anyway.

In the US, Hulu (web based tv) is running short ads with an author talking about their book (they tend to be romance novels). Sometimes, they run a 30 second book trailer (James Patterson books are common). How useful is this sort of publicity? Does viewership convert to sales?

Anonymous said...

That's why I started my blog. To get a head start on getting myself out there before getting my book pubbed.

Cass said...

I love this post. I've been thinking about this sort of thing (as something to do down the track), but the idea of blogging as an author frightens me. What on earth would I say?? There are a million blogs out there already! :|