February 10th, 2006

books

a few random thoughts on publicity

Yesterday, someone asked: I've heard of authors spending the whole of their advance, many thousands, on publicity. (Long distance travel, contests, free gifts..) Do the author's own efforts truly pay off in the long run? Do you think publishers are doing enough for new authors?

Sad to say, most publishers spend only the bare minimal amount in giving new authors any sort of publicity. If that. They may place ads in industry magazines, for instance, or send out copies for review attention. In my opinion, those early days are largely up to the author. As suricattus pointed out, you should have a long range plan and not just focus on promoting one book, but also on the future. Writing the next book is the most important priority.

mevennen said: "I'm afraid I take the view that it is a market, and your work will either become critically acclaimed, or commercially successful (and hopefully both) on its own merits." That sentiment is often expressed, and largely true, though I'm not sure I agree with it entirely 100%. It is, perhaps, too absolute. It is ultimately the readers who are your final audience and who will determine whether you sell enough copies to continue. They're going to decide that based on their reading, or perhaps on the word of a friend urging them to buy your book. Connecting with readers is where it's at, but they have to know you exist. That's what any sort of publicity might accomplish.

For my money, the single best thing you do is build a web presence. Have a good website and participate in online forums. Word of mouth is far more valuable than ad space at this stage of the game. Secondly, start local. Grass roots publishing, as it were. Sign in all the bookstores within driving distance of your home. Build connections with booksellers, and those who are responsible for ordering your book into the stores. If they don't make your book available enough, you can't build a readership. If you are really serious and have the cash to do it, there are publicity companies that specialize in helping authors with promotion, but I feel they are more useful for later books rather than earlier ones unless you have what they call "a good platform." Overall - spend carefully and wisely, but remember that if you are intent on building a career as a writer that reinvesting in your business is the first piece of advice most financial planners will give you.

On the other hand, I also tell authors that they should take at least a small bit of that money and spend it on something special that gives back to themselves. Working long and hard to have made it that far deserves a reward.

Edited to add: Great minds think alike. Kristin just wrote an entry about publicity and publishing too.
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