If you've been here before, you might remember that Linda K. Sienkiewicz and I were classmates in the Stonecoast MFA program. We've kept in touch, cheering one another on in our divergent writing endeavors. When I asked for blog posts front the front lines of the AWP Conference, Linda volunteered immediately.
Linda writes and publishes fiction and poetry (several award-winning chapbooks), and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She attributes her creative drive to her artistic mother, who taught her to sew, and her father, who let her monkey around with the gadgets in his workshop. Linda's first novel, In the Context of Love, will be released by Buddhapuss Ink LLC in September.
Please welcome Linda K. Sienkiewicz.
Author Josh Isard got a good laugh at AWP when he described the conference attendees as “a whole bunch of people collectively experiencing social anxiety.” We writers are introverts who sometimes have to be dragged out of the house to socialize. Selling our own books and ourselves as writers is something we find difficult. So what is an author to do? Finding the answer was my goal at AWP this year, because I'll need to help publicize my debut novel, In the Context of Love, when it's published in September.
Publicize or Perish
I learned several pointers from Michelle Blankenship, who’s an independent publicist. After being an in-house publicist for 16 years she can now focus on a smaller number of books a year. While there are many book PR strategies available, Michelle stressed it’s important to be realistic. There is always a chance you won’t get any media coverage no matter you do, no matter who you hire, what the publicist does. Publishing a book can be a lesson in humility. If you’re self-published, your chances of media coverage are even lower, so rather than hire a publicist, she suggested hiring a marketer. What’s the difference? Publicity can’t be bought. Marketing includes buying ads and other paid promotional endeavors that target your market.
Here’s what Michelle shared:
1. Plan early. Ten to 12 months before your publication date is ideal, six is the minimum.
2. Make a list of all your connections, media-wise, who can help get you coverage.
3. Ask your publisher how many galleys you will have and how many ARCs (advanced reading copies) you will get. An an author, you can also pay for additional galleys or ARCs to send out for reviews.
4. Think about writing essays or op-ed pieces on the subject matter of your book, your inspiration, or other related topics.
5. Write a self Q and A. Envision your dream interview. What five questions would you like to be asked? (This can be used in an online media kit, for book clubs, book blogs, etc.)
6. What have you written about in your book that you can speak expertly about? Watch and read the news and pay attention to popular culture for opportunities to promote yourself as an expert.
7. Think about the back story to the writing of your book. Did you come to the topic in some unusual way? What sets you apart from other authors who have books coming out?
8. Is your book coming out on or near any particular anniversary, holiday, or other event that you can use to your advantage? Consider even obscure events.
All of the above can and should be shared with your publicist. Michelle said you may spend more money on publicity than your book earns, but everything you throw into the water creates ripples, and that may help sell your second book. Schedule as many places as you can go for readings or speaking engagements.
Oh Bookseller, My Bookseller
A panel of booksellers from Minneapolis discussed how to partner with independent bookstores. Book selling is alive and well, but each store may have a different audience, so they stressed doing your homework to be sure your book would attract a particular store's customers. You can find lists of booksellers in any region via the American Booksellers Association, and Book Life on Publishers Weekly.
Booksellers love hosting author events, but they are busy people and don’t necessarily appreciate an author walking into their store only to shove a book under their noses, so send an email first. Think of yourself as a marketer. Send information about your book, the story behind it, who you are, who your audience is, and how you plan to market the event. Be sure you include the ISBN. Then follow up with a phone call. Remember to contact bookstores before your book is on shelves; six weeks after publication may be too late. Booksellers want you in the store before too many people have already read the book.
What makes a good bookstore event? Entertainment and energy, and think beyond a typical reading or signing. Be creative. After all, we’re creative creatures, right?.
Beyond the Bookstore
A panel on Small Press Marketing suggested making a list of contests where you can submit your published book. Make videos. Do Goodreads giveaways. One author on the panel referenced a lot of music in her story, so she made a playlist on Spotify. Including a gift or token with the book you send reviewers can help get attention, as long as you don’t go overboard. One author had her book cover printed on a matchbook box, and filled the box with sticky notes. Another sent a candy necklace because there was such a necklace in the story. Book clubs are a great way to get the word out about your book. You local bookseller or library may have a list of nearby clubs. Let the clubs know you will speak for free about your novel or memoir if they choose it for their club read.
Even with the most creative marketing and publicity plan, you will still have to deal with your social anxiety. Sure, you’d much rather work on your writing, rather than dressing up to face an audience. Prepare yourself to talk confidently about your book. Practice your pitch. There’s nothing wrong in saying “I think you’d really like it.”
When you look out at a crowd of people, remind yourself that, to the public, anyone who managed to write a book and get it published is fascinating. They want to know how you did it, how you write, when you write, and what you do when you get writer’s block.
And never discount a publicity or marketing event that isn’t well attended. If three people show up, get out from behind the lectern and sit down with them for a chat. Tell your story. They’ll love it, they’ll buy your book, and hopefully tell their friends what a great person you are, and they’ll buy your book, too.
Note from Lisa: For more from Linda on the topic, read her previous post on "Shameless Self Promotion." You can connect with Linda at her website, on Twitter, and at Pinterest.