Before you start publicizing your book, spend some time brainstorming a detailed marketing plan that includes print advertising, reading events, advertising through local publications, online social media blasts, reviewers whom you can ask for feed- back, trade-shows relevant to the topic of your book, and niche audiences that might be interested in your book. If that seems overwhelming, try visualizing your reader.
When you visualize your reader, you can infer where they would be most likely to discover a new book like yours. Do they hang out in coffee shops and other public places? Put up some posters around town. Do they search for books online? Create a webpage for your book, make noise about it through online channels, and build a thorough online platform that will attract curious readers. Do they go to the local library or bookstore for recommendations? You’d better be sure the librarians and booksellers who work there are aware of your book, or at least have it on their shelves. Do they read book reviews in literary publications? Get your book reviewed, and if it’s a good review, proudly publish the glowing recommendation where people can see it.
In the case of the latter two examples, the biggest obstacle is getting your book in the hands of someone in the trenches of the book industry. I recommend a little trick publishing houses have been using for years: give free books to people who make lots of book recommendations to the general public (i.e. booksellers, librarians, and reviewers). These professional bookworms often know about newly published titles before they’ve even hit the market because they’ve read books sent to them by publishers, making them uniquely positioned to build momentum for a particular title through self-perpetuating word-of-mouth. Time to get some padded envelopes and put this chain reaction to work for your book!
Advance Reader Copies (ARCs)
Remember those 50 copies I suggested that you print in order to recoup Lightning Source’s title setup fees? If your publication date is still a ways off, one very effective use for those books is to give them to advance readers as galleys (also known as pre-publication copies or ARCs). This might seem like a lot of books to give away for free, but even a small publishing house wouldn’t bat an eyelash at mailing out 50 ARCs, considering their immense marketing potential.
Since they are sent out to advance readers several months before anyone is legally allowed to sell the title, ARCs are often marked “not for sale.” Sometimes they are even sent out before the book has been fully edited and designed, meaning that typos and a plain cover are acceptable in ARCs; as such, readers are duly cautioned to not use direct quotes from the prepub version of the book. The main idea is to generate advance praise for your book and to get your book on the radar of people who will mention it to other potential readers right when it hits the shelves.
As an independent publisher, you don’t have many of the advantages publishing houses bring to the table, including a known reputation for quality books and sale reps who talk up their favorite titles in discussions with retailers. What you can bring to the table are your local connection with booksellers and librarians in your regional area, the enthusiasm to convince readers that your book is worth a shot, and the persistence to follow up and ask for feedback.
Since people are most interested in books that are about or originate from their own local area, indie authors have the best chance of getting discovered close to home. So, make a list of retailers and libraries near you whom you can approach first, then plan to spread out your efforts as you go. Write a succinct, courteous, descriptive letter to the recipients of your ARCs asking them to read your book, include the letter with the book, and politely check back a couple months or so later to ask how they liked it. For local retailers and libraries, don’t just drop in; call ahead and ask who is in charge of receiving new inventory, then ask when would be a convenient time for you to drop off a copy of your book.
Cast your net wide enough, and you might win the fancy of a bookseller who will put your book in the unsuspecting hands of new readers over and over again. Every time you interact with booksellers, librarians, or any of your advance readers, remember that you’re not doing them a favor by giving them a book to read (if anything, they’re doing you a favor by reading it). Don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm for your book, but be careful to not come off as obnoxious or evangelistic. Be appreciative, be friendly, be courteous, and most importantly, be respectful.
Once your readers have had enough time to sit down with your book, contact those whose opinions are meaningful to others (authors, booksellers, professionals in your field, editors, professional reviewers, etc) and ask them for feedback that you can use in your marketing. You can also pay to have your book reviewed by established publications such as Kirkus Reviews and Foreword Magazine; both are highly respected for the simple fact that these reviewers are notoriously harsh, meaning that even a mixed review from Kirkus or Foreword is something to be proud of.
Once you’ve compiled a few positive blurbs for your book, copy/paste them into a sell sheet that includes your book’s basic metadata, your bio, your website address, and a brief synopsis. Going forward, you can include this sell sheet in your mailings and/or anytime you need to efficiently communicate essential information about your book (including the fact that people love it). Bear in mind that the practice of giving away (or hand selling) books to increase local buzz shouldn’t necessarily stop after your book has been released. Get into the good habit of carrying a couple extra copies in your bag as you go about your daily business; you never know when you’ll run into an acquaintance or random stranger who might be interested in your book, so be prepared. For improvised hand-selling opportunities to folks who use e-readers, print up business cards with a web link they can use to download your e-book.
Promote Your Titles via Lightning Source
Another way that booksellers and librarians discover new books to add to their inventory is through trade catalogs they receive from publishers and distributors. A professional book buyer will sit down with these catalogs, full to bursting with blurbs and exciting new titles, and decide which titles will show up on their shelves next season.
Wouldn’t it be great if your book were in one of those catalogs, where such literary-minded decision makers can find it? Fortunately, your established ally Lightning Source can help you here too. As the world’s largest book distributor, Lightning Source issues its own series of catalogs to retailers and libraries—Lightning Source Advance Catalog (for adult fiction and nonfiction), Lightning Source Christian Advance Catalog (for books marketed to a primarily Christian audience), Lightning Source Children’s Advance Catalog (for kids and young adult titles), and Lightning Source E-Central E-Newsletter (for digital titles). From your Dashboard or Titles screens, you can select “Promote” to upload your book’s metadata to Lightning Source’s print publicity department (along with positive reviews you’ve collected from advance readers and some enticing flavor text). Your book will then be included in the next installment of your preferred catalog, all of which are issued to retailers and librarians periodically throughout the year.
In addition to word-of-mouth marketing and print publicity, generating buzz on the digital landscape can bring your book to thousands of readers all over the world. Building and maintaining an online platform for your book and for yourself as an author is perhaps your best chance of achieving a widespread readership beyond your regional area. This extensive and time-consuming process extends from the nuts and bolts of having your book available for online purchase, to joining the online community of literary bloggers.
Before your book’s official on sale date, you want online customers to be able to easily locate and purchase your book. Lightning Source’s distribution channels will do some of this work for you by making your book discoverable through online book retailers. Be diligent about making sure those online listings are correct and functional. Try searching for your book with a search engine like Google; if it doesn’t show up, you may need to make a website for your book and look into Search Engine Optimization.
Once you do have a website up and running, be sure to include a hyperlink that takes your online visitors to a page where they can purchase your book, or provide them with easy instructions for ordering one directly from you. Creating a Facebook page and a Twitter account for your book can open up many options for marketing your book. Be creative!
**Once you have some followers, offer signed copies of your book to any who preorder from a local bookstore.
**If you’re still in the writing process or are writing a new book, let your followers submit artwork or ideas for character names for prizes.
**Create an events page for any reading events you have coming up and tweet about them.
**Tweet, retweet, and generally interact with people online who share your interests, then suggest that they take a look at this cool title you just published independently.
**Once you’ve built a network with other writers and readers, you can reach out to people in their networks, and so on and so on.
Also, don’t forget about Pinterest, Instagram, and especially YouTube. With a webcam or smartphone, you can film videos of yourself talking about your book and post them online as a sort of dialogue with your readership. Some authors even enlist the help of a video production company to create their own book trailers, which can be uploaded, shared, and disseminated to curious readers worldwide. The vast macrocosm of bloggers on the Internet contains an immense community of literary reviewers, writers, and readers who share book recommendations in thousands of discussion threads over millions of websites, every second of every day. Entering into this community with just your book can feel like diving into the ocean, just to show the fish a seashell you found.
Remember that you’ve got to start somewhere, and there’s no wrong place to start. Create a blog of your own, write a few posts about your writing process or the premise of your book or the factors that first inspired you to write, find some other bloggers who seem to share interests with you, comment on their posts, and watch your network start to grow. Blogging is all give and take; you’ve got to produce unique material and be reading and responding to others as well, in order to attract readers. Again, once that momentum gets going, your network will build on itself and you’ll have a whole circle of online connections who can suggest your book to their connections, on and on.
Perhaps the most quintessential platform for pitching your book to prospective readers is the reading event, which gives authors the unique chance to connect with readers face-to-face. You can have a launch event on the day your book is released, or anytime within the first few months after your book hits store shelves. To get the ball rolling, contact your local bookstore or another public venue by phone or e-mail, then introduce yourself as an author hoping to schedule an event. Venues often fill their calendars several months in advance, so plan ahead and make contact well ahead of the time you’d ideally like to have your event.
Politely and briefly describe your book and the type of reading you have in mind—many authors opt for the time-honored formula of reading a few favorite passages and opening up the discussion for Q&A, while others present a multimedia slideshow or an activity that encourages audience participation. You can strengthen your case by describing positive feedback from reviewers, the other kinds of marketing you’ve invested in your book, and most importantly, your connections with the local community that would enable you to attract a large audience to your event. Once your venue has agreed to host you and set a calendar date for your event, start getting the word out to everyone you know!
On the day of your event, make sure your venue is well-stocked with your book and make sure plenty of copies are stacked up or put on display near the site of the reading (it’s also wise to bring a few of your own extra copies, just in case). Providing refreshments, snacks, or promo giveaways is a nearly foolproof strategy for drawing complete strangers into your event; it’s incredible how easily enticed people can be. When you interact with potential readers at readings or signings, remember to be outgoing and engage people in conversation. A rehearsed lecture and choice paragraphs read aloud will certainly communicate to people what your book is about, but ultimately the best way to know you’re talking about something that interests your readers is to ask for their questions and answer them. You never quite know where such a discussion will go—stay positive, focus on what inspires you to write, don’t give away too much of the story, and go with the flow.
After your event, be sure to thank the audience for attending and thank the venue for hosting you. Most literary event programs are funded primarily by sales of books at their events, so encourage everyone who attends your event to support the venue by purchasing a copy of the book there; this means never ever tell people at events to buy your book online! Always offer to sign books for readers, but be sure to personally inscribe books only after they have been paid for.
From there, it’s on to the next event! If you have the flexibility to travel, take your book on tour and give readings in different cities along the road. Everywhere you go, be constantly on the lookout for opportunities to introduce new readers to the book you’ve published.
While the world of self-publishing can boast of extravagant success stories where previously unknown authors have risen to national prominence, those examples are very much the exception, not the rule. In truth, it is monumentally difficult to establish a national readership as an independent author. Remember that your book is just one in millions, and you likely don’t have the funds to invest as much into marketing as any publishing house would.
It can be easy to get discouraged, but don’t give up! Building enough of a fan base to carry your book to the forefront of the book market requires an incredible amount of publicity and often a good bit of dumb luck as well. Fortunately, Lightning Source provides you with the tools and discoverability to prime your book for the recognition it deserves. From there, the more enthusiasm and persistence you devote to your book, the greater your ability to reach out to an entire world of readers.