Promotion is often difficult for writers, but you can’t sell a book unless people hear of it. I know no silver bullet with respect to promotion, but I do have some suggestions.
Often it’s not what you know, but who you know – a fact often difficult for introverted authors. You need to cultivate your contacts and to keep making more. Start with your natural associates – family, co-workers, and organizations to which you have belonged, such as your classmates from high school, college, church groups, sports teams and more. Be active enough with these people so that they will have reason to be friendly when you need them.
You should also network with those positioned to assist you professionally: other writers, who can give you feedback and advice, agents, publishers, reviewers, specialists in promotion, people in book clubs, bookstore owners, and organizations who might be interested in your work. Be creative, and before you ask for a favor, make sure you’re ready to reciprocate.
Note that creating a good network can have many benefits, leading to unexpected opportunities and lifelong friendships. Just make sure you reserve enough alone time to write your stories!
How to get good reviews deserves its own article, so I’ll just summarize here. Good reviews are extremely helpful for selling books. First, they help readers decide whether or not to buy a book. Second, having a certain number of positive reviews is required for certain promotional activities.
Reviewers can be divided into three categories: friends and acquaintances (family members are often prohibited); professionals; and complete strangers. With respect to friends and acquaintances, if they have read your book and told you they liked it, suggest a review and walk them through the procedure if they have never done it. Professionals include editors, reviewers, bookstore owners and more. You need to locate them, make sure they review your genre, and then find a way to pique their interest. With respect to strangers, welcome the good reviews and ignore the bad ones. Only make contact if they have contacted you first – even those who are clearly fans.
Many people will not, for various reasons, review your book; don’t nag. Just move on to the next possibility. Of course, when someone does give you a positive review, react positively and appropriately.
Pay for Promotional Activities
Some people believe that purchasing advertising is somehow wrong. My advice is different: use promotional outlets, but cautiously. Investigate the promotion with others – that important network we discussed above! – to make sure your investment will pay off. You also have to make sure that your book will qualify for the promotional outlet, with the right pricing structure, the required number of reviews, and a genre they promote. You’ll be more attractive to them if you’ve done your homework first.
How do you find these promotional professionals? Use search engines; scour writing sites. They’re not hiding; they want you to find them.
You’re creative in your storytelling; take that creativity and apply it to your promotional activities. What would you like to have happen? To give readings? To make a video? To participate in a book fair? Give a lecture at a school? Let your imagination roam, and then, consider how you can make some version of your dream happen – either on a small scale or a large one. Turn to the network you’ve cultivated for help, or if you don’t know the people you need to know, try to find them and meet them.
Keep Tabs on What Works – and What Doesn’t
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” This phrase is attributed to John Wanamaker, a pioneer in marketing. But he died in 1922, and since then things have changed. Given the information available on the internet, you can figure out a lot about what functions and what doesn’t. If you do a promotion, you can see how well it worked. You can usually tell what pays and what is wasted. Then, do more of what pays off and less of what doesn’t – or tweak the wasters so that they turn profitable.
Don’t Take Rejection Personally
One of the hardest things about promotion is that you encounter defeat and rejection. Some reviewers will say unkind things about your books; some promotional outlets will refuse your application. These things simply will happen. They may bring you down – or perhaps you’re thick-skinned enough to ignore them – but no matter how you feel, you need to move on and try the next thing.
When facing hesitation in your promotional efforts, imagine yourself as a character from one of your stories. I bet your characters have faced far worse odds and encountered much greater setbacks than a few rejections and unkind (sometimes unjustified) criticism. I bet your characters would invent some innovative strategies and would not hesitate to implement them. Let your life imitate your art; go and do likewise!