Promoting your book on a budget: A response to BookBaby

by Suw on July 6, 2012

BookBaby recently published a blog post entitled Promote Your Book on a Budget: 20 Thrifty Ways to Get Your Writing Out There. I was a bit annoyed by it, because some of the items were clearly not budget, and others aren’t promotional. Even more, some dodn’t seem relevant to self-published authors, whom I would imagine comprise BookBaby’s core audience.

I mentioned that on Twitter and BookBaby responded and asked for my thoughts, so I figured I might as well. You should probably go read the BookBaby piece first, so that you have the context, before taking a look at my point-by-point responses. 

1. Set up a professional author website
This, by itself, isn’t an act of promotion anymore, because merely having a website doesn’t mean that anyone is going to see it unless you actively promote it. This is actually an admin task, similar to making sure you have a bio, headshot and working email address. 

2. Make sure your site is media-friendly
Again, not an act of promotion, but just an extension of #1.

3. Guest blog posts
Writing guest blog posts for other people is a good idea. Probably best to offer first to those people you know, or those bloggers who you have seen running guest posts. Do your research, have an idea to pitch to them, and don’t spam people. 

4. Plan your book launch event early
This was the one that really made me wonder who this blog post was aimed at. I would guess that most self-published authors don’t enough money lying about to pay for a launch party. Most also don’t have a network that would enable them to attract the kind of people who could really help them get their book out there. Launch parties aren’t just a booze-up, they’re to introduce your book to people in the industry such as book buyers, reviewers and journalists. Without them, you might as well just go down the pub with your mates.

If you’re unknown, if you don’t have a publisher, a worthwhile book launch event is going to be tricky to pull off. Perhaps your local library or independent book store might help, but whether they’d be interested is really going to vary. 

5. Hold a social media contest or giveaway
Not a bad idea, but requires that you have a big network to make it work. 

6. Do radio interview, and lots of ‘em
In the UK at least, you’ll be damn lucky to get on the radio even if you’re a well-known authors with a mainstream publisher behind you! You might possible get onto local radio as a self-published author if you have a compelling story, but most are likely to struggle with this one. 

7. Promote yourself in your email signature
Good idea.  

8. Send your book to 7 reviewers each week
Wait, what? Given that this one mentions postage, this is about sending actual, real books to reviewers. Seven copies a week will rapidly add up, and mostly will be a total waste of time for self-published authors.

Don’t send review copies out blind. Make sure that the reviewer is interested in your genre and accepts books from self-pubilshed authors – find this out from their site if you can. Then a polite and short email talking about your book and offering to send them a review copy or ebook. And if they don’t reply, don’t nag them! Only if someone requests a hardcopy should you send one out, otherwise you’re just wasting money. 

9. Craft a catchy press release
Before you waste time doing this, go through all the book coverage from journalists you’re interested in and find out, again, whether they cover your genre and whether they have ever written about or talked to self-published authors. If they haven’t, you have to ask yourself what are the chances that they are going to start with you? Do you have a really compelling angle? Is there something unusual, novel, or newsworthy about you or your book? Don’t kid yourself: Journalists can be very, very hard to impress. 

Local media might be easier to get into than national media, particularly if you have a ‘local author done good’ angle. However, neither at local or national level will the “story of your book launch” will not be enough. 

10. Start your own email newsletter
Excellent plan! Sooner you start, the better. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 people on it or 100 or 1000, it will build with your career and will become an invaluable resource.

11. Use Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.
Yes, absolutely, but don’t get too sucked in by them, and don’t be spammy. 

12. Follow-up with everyone that helps you
Yes, although I’d draw the line at gift giving. Smells a bit too much like bribery. 

13. Be good to book clubs
If you can get traction with local book clubs, then go for it. 

14. Ask a friend to host a book party
I’m in two minds about this, personally, so it’s probably a subjective decision about whether it’s a good idea.

15. Explore consignment options
It’s really, really hard for self-published authors to get into even independent book stores. Even if the staff want to help, management might not let them place your books. And if they do take your books, be prepared for them to be hidden away at the back – all the juicy spots are bought and paid for, quite literally, by the big publishers. It’s of course worth asking, especially if you have an existing relationship, but be prepared to be turned down and don’t take it personally. 

16. Subscribe to Google Alerts
Not really a promotional thing, but hey, go for it. Don’t expect to see too much activity if you’re a new author, though. 

17. Write a letter to the editor
Oh, this one could be a total waste of time. Generally speaking, editors can see self-promotion a mile off so you have to make sure you really are providing some value to his or her readers to stand any chance of publication. 

18. Subsidize your vacations
Yes, if you want to add speaking gigs to your holiday, add time at the beginning or the end, and draw a very bright line between holiday and work. You must allow yourself time to relax and not think about work, and you absolutely must not sacrifice holiday time with your family. 

19. Books aren’t just for bookstores
Very good idea to get in touch with public libraries, most of which are more than happy to get free books from people! Argleton was taken by 16 libraries around the world, so definitely a good idea to make the offer. Again, might be worth contacting them first and offering them an ebook version to see if they want the physical copy. And local independent non-book stores might stock copies, but the big chains almost certainly won’t. 

20. Post every positive review to your web site
Not every review please god, no. A few soundbites, a few of the best, but have some modesty! And absolutely do not flood your social media accounts with every last bit of positive feedback. That’s just egotistical and obnoxious. 

So, there we have it: A mixed list with some ideas that are good, some that are bad and some that are just a bit off the boil. Ultimately, promotion is hard. Some people will find it easier to toot their own horn than others, and some people will have success with some tactics that prove useless for others.

The best thing is to do your research before you commit time to anything, make sure you know why you are doing what you are doing, and always be prepared to stop doing it if it doesn’t work. There are only so many hours in the day and you don’t want to waste precious writing time on things that are unlikely to help your career. 

Kenya wright July 6, 2012 at 4:13 pm

WOW! This is great advice thanks!

Sarah Ettritch July 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm

For #6, Internet radio (such as BlogTalkRadio) and podcasts are a great way to reach audiences.

#9 can have SEO value.

Suw July 6, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Thanks, Kenya!

Sarah, thanks for your comment too. I always think of podcasts as social media, not radio, so had them filed under #11. They can be great and I think podcasters and bloggers are likely to be more open to talking to self-published authors.

As for #9, I think your SEO would be better served by writing good blog posts instead, for yourself and other people. Writing a good press release is hard, even when you do have a compelling angle, and I wouldn’t waste the time when blog posts are easier and probably more effective.

Sarah Ettritch July 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Writing a press release for the SEO value would be in addition to everything else you do for SEO. The more that’s out there linking to your site, the better. Backlinks are important, and blog posts (on your own blog) don’t do much in that area for you. I agree that they’re important (for many reasons), but you shouldn’t neglect off-page SEO.

Suw July 9, 2012 at 10:02 am

I think the issue here is opportunity cost. Writing a worthwhile press release is hard and takes a lot of time. Submitting it to PR wires is also time-consuming and I think authors, who aren’t necessarily going to know how to write a press release, should spend that time writing blog posts for other people or doing other bits of promotion. I really don’t think that having a press release on some PR wire sites is going to have that much of an impact on your Google ranking – tbh, I’d be surprised if Google ranked a link from a PR wire site more favourably than a link from a blog which will be seen as much more organic.

Authors have to balance time spent doing promotion with time spent writing, and if you’re spending hours doing something of marginal value – and I think writing press releases is of very marginal value unless you have a compelling story and specific editors/journalists to send it to – you’re not spending those hours writing or doing some higher value promotion. You simply can’t do everything and there are plenty of things I think are of more value to an author than press releases.

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