My apologies to U2, but at the request of a couple of folks I’m throwing up a quick promo post. In no ways is this intended to be exhaustive–but it is a way to get the party started.
First off, there are folks who have sold a lot more books than me that have touched upon this topic. Like, Dorothy Grant, wife of Amazon best selling military sci-fi author Peter Grant (who also has a blog). Dorothy, in addition to writing a comprehensive blog post for the Mad Genius Club, also has her own blog in which she touches on these topics. She also does most of Peter’s marketing so he can concentrate on getting the books out.
Besides the Grants, I also recommend Chris Kennedy. Chris, in addition to doing fiction, also has a book out that talks about self-publishing for profit. As you can see from the first link, he’s also a publisher that does public speaking about self-publishing and promotion. I’ve heard his talk, and if you have a large enough group of authors I suggest putting some money in the kitty to have him come talk to your group. It’s a good investment, and there’s a lot of stuff I picked up from his talk. Some of it I’ll put my own spin on below, but trust me, you need to hear how he approaches things from his viewpoint.
Lastly, there’s Jasmine Walt. You may remember Jasmine from an earlier post on my Facebook where I linked to her interview about becoming a New York Times bestseller (linked again). I’ll tell you that Jasmine gives me hope that catching lightning is possible, as she’s literally gone from publishing her first book in December 2015 to wreaking havoc on the NYT’s and USA Today booklists. (“Wait…wait…why are we reading your blog rather than hers?” “Because if you weren’t reading mine, you possibly would not have heard about her…HEY, HEY, WHERE ARE YOU ALL GOING?!”)
For those of you that remained, here are two of my tips about self-promotion.
Promo Tip #1: Networking
So how do you network? Well, I’m an extrovert (I hear several of you going “NO SH*T, REALLY?!“), so this is sort of like asking a fish “How do you use gills?” If pressed, I’d say the first thing is that you have to put yourself in position to meet people. Before all the introverts recoil in sheer horror, social media makes this possible without really having to put yourself out there. Whatever your genre is, there’s probably at least one FB group that’s either a perfect or tangential match. Go ahead and jump into the group, lurk for a bit, then start commenting on things that you find interesting. Odds are that not only will you learn some things about your genre and what’s hot, but if done right people will start to consider you competent. Competent is good…as I’ll explain below.
Aside: Note that I said comment not “spam your book link.” One, it’s probably against group rules, will get you banned, and then will make sure everyone remembers you as “Oh, that jackass.” Pro tip–people remembering you as “Oh, that jackass…” is not conducive to sales.
While social media networking is good, I’m still in favor of good ol’ face to face meetings. The first place to start is in your local community. Through face to face meetings, I’ve ended up in the local newspaper, had friends recommend my book go into the library gift guide (thanks Prolific Trek!), built a good relationship with an independent book store. Spreading the net wider, attending sci-fi and comic conventions (“cons”) introduced me to several authors and people I never would have met otherwise. (Con life article 1 and article 2 are good starting points for beginning that endeavor.) It hasn’t all been bread, wine, and circuses–but it’s certainly helped me get my name further than I would just selling books out of my car trunk. Which leads to…
Promo Tip #2: …At All Times
Being ready to sell at all times is one that truly requires some prior planning. First off, have an elevator speech. In my experience, this should be something that’s memorable, explains what your book is about, and also employs a pop culture touchstone. Some individuals who follow this blog can, no kidding, recite 75% of my elevator speech from memory because they’ve heard it so many times. That’s the sort of “seared into people’s memory” you’re looking for.
Next to the elevator speech is having materials at hand ready for handout. Before I talked about having a good cover. Another reason to have good artwork is that it makes developing your marketing material so much easier. The go to thing I like to have are bookmarks.
Now about this point you’re probably going, “Holy cow, James…that’s a lot of bookmarks!” Yes, yes it is. Too many to start off with. At cons, what usually ended up happening was that we’d inevitably start to run out of one book type while being swimming in variants of the other one. Ergo, I simplified–there’s now one book mark for each novel, plus the bookmark that will take you to my Amazon author page.
If I had to do it all over again, I’d also have included the actual link spelled out on the back of my bookmarks. Also, when you get a complete set of books or even just three or more, multi-cover bookmarks are a thing:
Other things you can hand out include business cards and magnets. We both still have business cards with our QR code on the back and a book cover on the front, but in general we’ve replaced these with bookmarks due to the latter’s sturdiness and the ability to hand them out easier at cons. Magnets I usually include with each multi-book sale, as that’s a way for someone to continuously advertise for you via your book cover or associated artwork being on their fridge. We use Vistaprint for our magnets and business cards.
(Note: Yes, we do two separate sites for different marketing materials. As I’ve said elsewhere, the Vistaprint and Gotprint is this: “If you know what you’re doing, go with gotprint as they have better prices. If you want a design tool that will save you from yourself, got with vistaprint.”)
Finally, being “sales ready” includes having some hard copies of your book and the ability to take sales on hand. Our preferred sales register is Square. While I may not have cash on me, I almost always have a square reader on me and hard copies of my books in the car. You’d be surprised the number of people who, upon finding out you’re an author, will ask you if you’ve got one of your books with you. Keep your price reasonable and/or have a copy of some novellas as well, and “opportunity sales” will flow from the elevator speech, handouts, and professionalism.
“Wait. Wait. What is professionalism? You’re selling books out of your trunk like a crack dealer!”
Professionalism is carrying yourself in a manner that someone would never know you’ve only sold copies of your book to your mother, her best friend, and your bro/sister-in-law (who really owes you money so it’s a wash). It’s being able to handle someone being dismissive or rude about your book initially yet still selling them a copy at the end of the day. It’s walking into a bookstore where the clerk / manager don’t know you from Adam / Eve but convincing them they need two copies of your book on their shelves. Three parts confidence, two parts knowledge, and one part utter fearlessness. Why? Because at the end of the day, you lose nothing but pride in asking someone to take a chance on you. You’re an author, dammit, and you’ve got an excellent book with a sound cover that you’d put into the literary equivalent of the “Pepsi Challenge” with any well-known name in your genre. It’s saying crazy stuff like this:
“Am I as good as Harry Turtledove? Yes. More importantly, Harry Turtledove ain’t here. Even if he was, you wouldn’t be buying his book for $10.” (It worked…and they bought Collisions of the Damned to boot.)
Despite the bravado of the above, I still have that rather loud, insistent voice that states I really don’t know what I’m doing the first day of every con or the first minute I’m speaking. Know what helps me zip strip and duct tape that aspect of myself up? Getting out there and doing more stuff. Practicing with friends and talking to fellow authors. No matter how bad things may seem, someone else has a story about it being worse.
In any case, that’s it for tonight. More to follow at a later date, but hopefully the links up top will tide some folks over. Tell me what else you’d like to hear about in the next promo post via comments.