Tuesday, July 10, 2018

I Wish I’d Called You Sooner: Don’t Wait to Get Advice on Marketing a Book

It’s inevitable – I hang up the phone after receiving a call from another prospective client, and the last words I hear before we sign off are: “I wish I’d spoken with you sooner.”

I hear this same lament over and over again, mainly because a good number of the authors who call (and oftentimes it’s their first call to any publicist) didn’t complete some of the crucial steps that must take place before they release their books.

In many cases, it’s too late for me to help them – the authors have already done one or more of the following:

• waited over a year before trying to get publicity for a book already released
• didn’t develop a social media platform
• didn’t have their covers professionally designed
• didn’t have their books professionally edited
• signed publishing contracts without reading them
• allowed publishers to only issue their books in hard cover
• released their books late in the year
• didn’t workshop their manuscripts before publishing
• wrote a book in a genre that is overcrowded or difficult to sell
• wrote a book that doesn’t have a newsworthy angle or point of view.

When I mention that these situations that might make it difficult for me to help market their books, I inevitably receive the following arguments:

• but I didn’t know that a book should be marketed within the first 6-8 months after release
• but I’m computer-phobic and don’t know how to use social media
• but I’m a good artist, and my friends and family like my book covers
• but I was an English major and don’t need an editor –or– my publisher is going to edit my book (even though the publisher is most likely not a professional editor)
• but the publisher told me that s/he would do ________ (so I didn’t read the contract)
• but the publisher said that s/he would issue the book in soft cover after I sold an (unknown) amount of hard covers
• but I didn’t know that releasing a book in late winter would make it difficult to promote because of the holidays and/or that most venues will be already booked for the year
• but my cancer survival/parental issues/adoption story or memoir doesn’t have to be unique – everyone I know likes it
• but the fact that I wrote the book makes it newsworthy.

In many of these cases, the authors don’t like what I have to say and try to convince me that somehow I’m wrong about these important steps. Some of them try to tell me that because a few reviewers liked the book, they feel they can somehow bypass the rules. And some of them don’t listen at all – instead, they call to tell me how important their books are and, thus, whatever I have to say doesn’t really matter to them.

In the end, every author has the right to do whatever s/he wants with his or her book. But if authors (especially new authors) want to be successful at selling their books, they have to be willing to educate themselves about the selling process. And they must realize that marketing is different from what they learned (or, in many cases, didn’t take the time to learn) about creating a successful book.

What I end up suggesting to those who call me with these issues is the following:

• educate yourself about the book industry: know the statistics and requirements for your genre and be realistic about where your book might stand if your genre is difficult to sell
• educate yourself about the promotion process: take classes, attend workshops, go to conferences, read books on marketing, and talk with other authors who have successfully published and sold their books
• don’t wait to hire a publicist: make contact (preferably by email) at least 4-6 months before the book is released
• don’t be afraid of social media – learn how to set up and manage at least one or two sites (I recommend Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads) and place your blog posts on all of them, including your website (get help from a social media consultant if you truly find this process too daunting)
• plan to promote your book during the first 6-8 months immediately after the book is released
• don’t ever release a book that hasn’t been edited by a paid professional
• don’t ever design your own book cover
• don’t sign a publishing contract without reading it word-for-word and, if anything is unclear, discussing it with a publishing attorney
• don’t let a publisher talk you into only releasing your book in hard cover – hard covers are too expensive for readers and booksellers won’t stock them. Insist on softcover and ebook versions, or pass on the opportunity
• don’t release a book at the end of the year (any time after October is too late); instead, plan to release in either January or February, so you have the entire spring and summer to schedule events, make appearances, and promote
• don’t assume because you received one or two positive reviews that selling the book will be easy
• don’t assume that because you have an interest in your content/story that others will feel the same way you do.

Finally, my ultimate advice to all authors is to write the best book you possibly can. For most, this means workshopping the manuscript with a writing group and taking the feedback that is given to heart. I see too many books that should never have been published, not only because they have been improperly produced, but because the writing level is not where it should be to compete in today’s crowded market. Educate yourself about the promotion process as early as possible, and make sure your book is truly ready to be released into the world.