Chapter 1: Toot Your Own Horn
Most of us have been trained from childhood not to "show off," or advised to be "seen and not heard." Well you have written your book and gotten it published. Now is not the time to be shy. Now is the time to be shameless.
Sometimes authors do not realize the importance of self-promotion. They depend on the publisher alone to spread the news about their book. Months pass. The pain of waiting escalates and finally we begin to ask questions: "What's going on? I wrote a great book. Why isn't my publisher out there selling it?"
In the early stages of their writing careers, authors frequently do not realize that, generally, only larger publishing houses have the money to promote books. Even if your book was chosen by a large publisher, those publishers usually choose to invest their advertising money only in authors who have a proven track record. It's a business. They put their money where they know they can make more money. Their decision is a financial one. It has nothing whatever to do with how good your book or your writing is, or whether they like you or not.
First books are never expected to sell well. The problem is that subsequent deals and decisions may be made on the strength of those first book sales figures. So it's important for you to make certain your book sells as well as it possibly can every single time.
Successful publishers will tell you that the key to their publishing success is maximum exposure. You can have the greatest book in the world, but if no one hears about it, not even the greatest book in the world will sell.
So where does that leave us, the new and mid-list writers on whom the publisher cannot afford to spend many advertising dollars?
We can choose to remain steadfast in writing the greatest books in the world, and leave sales in the hands of our publishers, and then trust in luck, or we can take control of our career and balance writing with promoting our own book to make certain our book sells as well as is humanly possible. If we are lucky enough to have a publisher who is doing some promotion, we should be sure to coordinate our own efforts with the publisher's.
When Canadian author Karen Irving approached a U.S. agent she was told that she wrote well, but her amateur sleuth, Katy Klein--a psychologist turned astrologer--was too far from the mainstream to attract a big publishing house. The agent advised Karen to approach small Canadian publishers with her book. Karen did approach a small publisher who didn't answer for quite awhile. Eventually, the publisher said they had never published fiction before, but liked Karen's book so much they planned to make it their first mystery. They set up some signings and asked Karen to attend a booksellers conference to let people know about their new line.
Not only did Karen attend the conference and sign books, she took her laptop along and did astrological charts for booksellers and attendees. She talked to everyone she could and coordinated with her publicist to arrange signings and she drove to them in all kinds of weather. Karen, who lives in Ottawa, made arrangements to sign books as far away as Canada's west coast. There she signed a book for a woman who liked it so much she wanted to pitch it to a movie producer.
That was two years ago. Since then Karen's first book has been released in the U.S. and nominated for a major mystery prize (The Arthur Ellis) in Canada. Her second Katy Klein has been published in both Canada and the U.S., her third is completed and set for a 10,000 copy print run. Her small publisher has merged with a larger one, the third book was scheduled for release in Canada in August of 2001, and in the US sometime during the winter of 2002. The movie producer not only optioned the first book, but has asked for the second and will go into production for a "Movie of the Week", by the fall of 2001.
Boy, was she lucky!
Yes, Karen Irving would be the first to say that luck was a factor in her rise to become one of the most notable new mystery writers in North America. But we believe if she hadn't been out there promoting her book everywhere she could, some of that "good luck" might not have happened. Karen Irving worked hard to make her own luck. You can, too.
Take every opportunity to market yourself and your work. Most publishers welcome author participation. Establish a contact in your publisher's publicity department and drop that contact a note or an e-mail with a schedule of what you are planning to do at your end. Gently remind them that you will be willing to participate in any events they may plan on your behalf. If you know you are going to a conference, let the publisher know in advance, so they can try to set up signings nearby and so on in the surrounding area. Don't tread on their heels. If they are willing, let them do it. But if they say they haven't any plans, then do it yourself.
When dealing with the publisher's publicity department, be thoughtful and considerate. If they say something that makes you REALLY mad, say, "I'll have to think about that and get back to you." Then go away and tell yourself 25 times that the publisher is there to help you. This is a business association and they are not being personal in their judgements. They are, after all, the ones with experience in this business.
For everyday problems, do not nag, whine, or call them and rant on the telephone. They are busy people. Drop a note or send an e-mail and let them call you or respond in their own time.