Whether traditional or indie published, writers these days need to get over their reluctance to self-promote. Sure, if you’re Margaret Atwood or Neil Gaiman you’re going to sell books regardless of whether or not you post on Facebook and Twitter, but for most authors, self-promotion is a necessary evil.
A phenomenon tied up with the creation of art is the notion that if the work is good enough it will naturally find its audience. The evidence supporting this idea is a tautology: we judge that successful works are good because they’re successful; but in fact there are many highly successful novels that aren’t well-written, even when generously assessed. A more important factor in a book’s success is that readers are aware of it.
Too Shy to Self-Promote?
Writers are notoriously introverted, and of all professions they’re one of the least likely to be found on social media. They’re also reluctant to use social media and other promotional tools to draw attention to their books. While such an attitude is understandable, it hinders writing careers.
The Reality of Book Promotion
Nowadays writers can take several routes to publication. They can submit to literary agents or directly to traditional publishing houses, pay a vanity publishing company to publish their book (an expensive and ill-advised method), or indie publish. Traditional publishers often handle promotion to a lesser or greater degree on behalf of the writer (though many smaller houses often rely on writers also promoting their work); vanity publishers may or may not include promotion as part of their service; but for indie writers, self-promotion is part and parcel of the work needed to sell books.
How to Promote Books
No one likes a braggart, and no one enjoys being spammed with endless Buy My Book ads, so how can indie writers draw attention to their work without being annoying? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of self-promotion methods:
A range of paid and free sites that advertise books have sprung up in recent years. Depending on the number of reviews and the book’s genre, some of these are worth the cost or effort required. Here‘s a list of useful sites.
If a book is enrolled in Amazon Select, the author can reduce its price to 99 cents while retaining 70% royalties for seven days, or offer the book free for five days, per three-month enrolment period. When advertised at some of the promotion sites mentioned above, these can be useful methods for getting books to readers
Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are some of the most controversial for selling books, mostly due to insensitive advertising and overuse, but they can be great resources for engaging and building a relationship with readers who are interested in your writing. Blanket, random advertising is unlikely to be effective, but as a way for readers to interact with writers and for targeted advertising, they’re invaluable. Mark Dawson offers excellent, free advice.
Popular book review blogs can introduce a book to many readers, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for writers to get a slot because reviewers often have a backlog of books to read and review. It helps to pick a site that deals exclusively in the book’s genre and follow the submission details to the letter to increase the chances of the book being picked. It also helps to submit the book several weeks prior to publication so the reviewer can tout the novel as a new release.
Poor Book Promotion Advice
There’s a lot of poor promotion advice given to writers, often by traditionally published authors and others who have little or no experience of independently selling books, such as the above-mentioned notion that a good book will naturally sell well. Writers are also advised to write another book, thank their publishing team and be kind to their colleagues (I’m not joking) as methods for raising their profiles as authors. Such advice is at best misguided and at worst disingenuous, and leads to disappointment and a sense of failure when writers put their hearts and souls into writing excellent novels, only to find they don’t magically rise to bestseller status. I liken it to a child being told if they’re good Santa will bring them presents.
Indie Book Promotion in the Real World
The first step to becoming a full-time indie author is to tell a good story and avoid writing badly. This means good developmental editing and proofreading. The next step is to provide an excellent, eye-catching cover and engaging blurb that entice readers to find out more. When those goals are met, the writer needs eyes on the book, which means shameless self-promotion.
Traditional publishing doesn’t rely on the authors writing another book, thanking the publishing team or being kind to sell books. No, it spends great deal of effort and money on book promotion. An unknown indie writer has little choice but to do the same. Self-promotion is essential to recognition, and writers should understand that promoting their books, in a non-annoying or invasive way, isn’t shameful bragging, it’s taking their art seriously and behaving like a professional.
Image of Neil Gaiman courtesy of Wikicommons.
Image of Margaret Atwood courtesy of Wikicommons.