3. Contracts, Production, Promotion
For reviews and interviews, you can probably give most help to your publicist in your own area. Make contact with local newspapers and radio stations: a local-writer-makes-good story always has appeal. But that’s only your first tiny step.
I admit I’m still a learner in the art of self-promotion. After fourteen books, a very slow learner you could say! But I’ve been learning from the masters—such as Ian Irvine in Australia, J.A. Konrath in the US. I’ll speak from their greater experience as well as my own.
The first thing to understand is that no form of self-promotion ever repays your time and money with immediate sales. But you have to begin somewhere if you want to generate good word-of-mouth. A single reader who loves your book can start the ball rolling. And the best person to begin with is an influencer.
Librarians are key influencers. Librarians all talk to one another and recommend books to one another in an amazing network. An author can call round on libraries, talk to librarians, give away posters and offer to do talks. Start local and spread out.
For YA and children’s fiction, school visits are a great means of promotion—and you can get paid too! Offer workshops and talks, become an entertainer and develop teaching skills. It’s best if you can do it through one of the booking agencies that arrange school visits.
For school libraries and public libraries, you can also do a mail-out. But librarians (bless ‘em!) aren’t the type of people to be swayed by a hard sell. A personal letter about your book will count for much more than glossy advertising bumf.
Bookshops are also key influencers. If bookshop staff recommend your book to potential customers, that’s a huge plus. Call round on bookshops and offer to sign copies of books. Independent bookshops are the most approachable -- as well as the most influential! In some cases, they’ll be happy to put up posters for you.
In the world of fantasy and SF, conventions are an obvious way to make yourself known. Convention-going aficionados have an influence way beyond their numbers. And the spec fic community does great conventions! Appear on panels, do readings and be generally part of the scene. Don’t push-push-push your book; go to enjoy yourself and the promotion will come naturally.
All of the above are methods for creating interest, adding a face and personality to your book. If possible, arrange for on-the-spot sales when you do a talk. If it’s not possible, always hand out a bookmark or a ‘postcard’ or something to keep the title of your book in people’s minds afterwards.
Book launches generate on-the-spot sales, but they are expensive. Launches can be done at conventions, at libraries, even at schools. A bookshop launch wouldn’t be my first option—you need plenty of extended family and friends to be sure of a good turn-up.
Bookshop signings are an even bigger risk, when the author sits behind a table and waits for the public to come forward with copies in their hands. It can be a very long wait and a very humbling experience! In my view, formal bookshop signings are for big-name authors only.
You should always talk over all ideas for self-promotion with your publicist. Firstly, because she may be able to help organise events for you. Secondly, because you don’t want your plans to duplicate or clash with hers. And thirdly, because it’s good to be seen working at self-promotion. The more pro-active you are, the more your publicist and publisher will come to the party.
Not financially, though. Every book has a set promotional budget, and what gets spent in one way won’t get spent in another. (Perhaps bookmarks but not launch or posters; perhaps posters but not launch or bookmarks.) You need to put your own dough on the line, maybe a large part of your advance. Think of it as an investment in yourself.