(If you’re just tuning in, you can probably tell from the title of this post that you missed something. For Part I, click here.)
OK, let’s move on, shall we? Say you get your cover and buy links, and now it’s time to promo. Let’s play a game I like to call What’s actually worth the time, effort, and stress, bearing in mind that time is just about always better spent writing your next book? Or, to make up for the stress-y section I just closed with yesterday, let’s play my favorite (PG-13) version: Bang/Marry/Kill?
Cover reveal: Bang. Do not get nearly as emotionally attached to this as you think you need to. This is probably the most overrated source of stress in debuting. It does not matter if your cover has leaked before you do an official reveal – no one cares. There are a bunch of ways in which this can happen that almost always lead back to some sort of lacking communication between Editorial and Publicity. Do not stress. If your cover gets out before your planned reveal, just bump up your reveal as early as possible and do it anyway. Not nearly as many people have already seen it as you imagine have, and even if they have, the official reveal is fun. It’s when people comment, it’s a huge bump of TBR adds, and it’s usually when you’ll do your first giveaway. (If you don’t have ARCs yet, just promise to send an ARC as soon as you have them.) Hafsah at IceyBooks has been fantastic at super fast turnarounds for those who’ve found themselves in a pinch, and she has a great audience.
Blurbs: Bang. They’re wonderful if you get them, but truth be told, plenty of fantastic books don’t have them (and some editors/imprints don’t even go for them, as a general policy), and while I think they can help sell a book, I don’t think not having them hurts.
Blog Tour: Kill. Seriously. Kill it with fire. Or at least kill the “Write a guest post for a different blog every day for a month” kind of blog tour. Interviews are great but get repetitive really quickly, so unless you really enjoy answering interview questions (which I personally do, so I did a whole bunch), I’d say to do maybe three and then chill. As for guest posts, they probably require the greatest amount of effort to the lowest possible result, and I really strongly advocate against them unless either A) You really want to write about that subject, especially if it’s relevant to your book, B) It’s something cute and simple you can do pretty easily, and/or C) It’s for an audience you never would’ve reached on your own. The guest post that had by far the best response, and to an audience that largely didn’t know me otherwise, was a simple 10 Reasons Not to Date Your BFF’s Co-Star, which I did for Hazel at Stay Bookish and never would’ve thought to do on my own.
Twitter Party: Marry. I know, right? I didn’t see that coming either. And truth be told, I didn’t do the best job at mine, because I was so paranoid that I’d annoy the hell out of everyone on my feed that I didn’t promote it nearly enough or make my answers broadly visible enough, but I still had a great time, and found some new readers through it. I was super lucky to have Rebecca at Reading Wishes offer to throw me one – I definitely wouldn’t have done it otherwise – and while it can be a little overwhelming, I also found it to be a lot of fun, a great way to interact, and it only took an hour. (Yes, I know a lot of people might be wondering WTF this even is, but this post is already super long, so if you’re one of them, just ask in the comments.)
Blog Hops/Release Day Blitzes: Bang. But not Bang because I think they’re as helpful as other Bang-y things; more because people are really nice and really like to help you promote your book as possible, and this is a nice, relatively easy way to allow them to do that and also promote themselves and be of interest to their own readers. I chose a blog hop that focused hard on the latter – if people were taking the time to create blog posts for me, I wanted them to be able to use those posts to promote themselves/their books as well – but a surprising number of people opted not to use it that way. Did this sell any books or heighten awareness? I have no idea. But I think for me, emotionally, the feeling of community and all the people who wanted to participate helped a lot with the process.
Giveaways: Marry. Giveaways are great things for drawing attention to your book, though obviously they can be severely limited by the number of ARCs you’re given by your publisher. My fellow OneFour, Maria Andreu (The Secret Side of Empty), wrote a great post on Goodreads giveaways for the blog, and though I know authors have had mixed results, I’m very pro them. Yes, they result in a lot of TBR adds, which is nice, but they also make your book/cover pop up over and over on people’s Goodreads feeds, which is never a bad thing. If the winner(s) actually like the book and review it, that’s just a great bonus, as far as I’m concerned! (Mine did not, in case you were wondering. Oh well.)
I think that covers the promo basics, so, let’s talk about that whole “ARCs” thing and what we do with them!
I have to confess something here – I have no idea WTF you’re supposed to do, as an author, with regard to sending ARCs to indies or libraries. I didn’t use any for that purpose, and maybe you’re supposed to? I have no freaking clue. Hopefully someone who knows better about this stuff will talk about that in the comments or something. So let’s talk about what else you can do (in addition to aforementioned Goodreads giveaways):
- Give to friends/family. This is, I gather, a rather common thing to do with them. It’s also not a thing I did. I love you, family and friends, but these are promo tools, and we get limited amounts, and let’s face it – you’re gonna talk up my book anyway. Obviously this is a personal choice, but for what it’s worth, everyone’s still speaking to me.
- Do giveaways on blogs. This is the first thing I did, via Heather at the Flyleaf Review. She was a great early supporter (my very first W.O.W., which is such a nice thing <3) and she did a great job with it. I’m a fan of these because when you do giveaways on your own blog or via your own Twitter, etc., you’re really just reaching your own audience; this allowed me to reach someone else’s. And in fact, the winner of this ARC was someone who probably wouldn’t have picked up the book otherwise and ended up loving it, being a wonderful supporter, and writing a great review of it on her blog, Goodreads, and Amazon, which is pretty literally the best thing you can ask for. (Thanks, Jenny! <3)
- Send to bloggers you particularly want to review, if your publisher won’t. Some bloggers either prioritize or only read hard copy ARCs for one reason or another. How publishers decide who does and who doesn’t get these may be a function of timing, or experience, or reach, or whatever. There were a couple of bloggers I really wanted to read BtS who strongly preferred hard copy to electronic, and that’s where two of mine went. One ended up reading and reviewing it (and it’s the best thing ever) and one didn’t. So, as with anything else, calculated risk! (I will write a post on author/blogger relations eventually, but it’s worth mentioning here that accepting an ARC is not a promise to read or review, and it’s certainly not a promise to like it. If you can’t be cool with that, don’t use your ARCs this way. But I strongly advise getting cool with it.)
- Do giveaways on various forms of social media. I kind of sucked at this, because I’m just not that good at non-Twitter social media, but I love the general idea. In my case, I did one on Instagram, but A) I don’t have that many followers and B) I made the mistake of not checking the hashtag I used for it first. #BtS = some sort of Korean boy band, apparently? Whoops. Still, it was fun, but if you’re gonna do it, do it smarter than I did. (I also did one on Twitter, and that worked just fine.)
- Send on ARC tours. If you’re in a debut group, I strongly recommend doing this. It’s been really nice having OneFour friends read and review, and Behind the Scenes has found some of its most ardent advocates that way, including several who took the time to review the book on Goodreads and even Amazon, post-release. If you’re not in a debut group, consider sending to a friend, and then asking said friend to pass it along when (s)he’s done, etc. Sort of a DIY ARC tour!
I’m pretty sure that covers everything I did, and it was all to varying levels of success, but this is, of course, only half the story. Here’s, to my knowledge, what my publisher did:
- Made electronic versions available on Edelweiss. I personally preferred Edelweiss to NetGalley because I think it’s more for professionals and less for casual readers, and I gave a pre-approved list to my wonderful publicist, Patrice, based on people who responded to a Tweet about it.
- Set up a signing for me at BEA. This was a really great experience, and it is admittedly a rare one. My publisher is great about doing these for their authors (in-booth; only one author from my publisher did it in the general autograph area), but this is not something every publisher does for every title; it’s very much a small press perk, or at least a perk of my small press 🙂
- Included ARCs in the gift bags at the author/blogger party during BEA week. I have no idea what the outcome was of this, but I do know my ARC was in maybe half the gift bags, so it certainly got out there!
- Sent out for trade reviews. I got a nice one from School Library Journal.
- Sent out for blurbs. I got great ones from two of my favorite authors, so, that was pretty cool.
Now, on to a reality that sort of sucks to say, but is important nonetheless:
There’s no telling what any author can expect from his/her publisher; promises are frequently made and broken, if they’re ever made at all. Publicists leave, and sometimes that can cause an entire publicity plan to get abandoned. Bloggers fail to post when they say they will. You might fail to write what you promised by the necessary deadline. Et cetera, et cetera. The fact is, you can build up all the expectations you want, but I’d venture to say almost no author ends up with the publicity experience being what (s)he expected, for one reason or another. Be prepared to handle yourself whatever you feel you cannot possibly live without.
And finally, one more thing that falls under the phase of post-cover, pre-release self-promotion is Swag.
I actually don’t have a ton to say about swag. (Famous last words. I’m obviously about to say a ton about swag, just because.) The fact is, it doesn’t help your sales. From a financial perspective, it will never justify its cost. If you don’t have the money for it, and your publisher isn’t providing it (I’m pretty sure most don’t. Mine provided my bookmarks, which I gather is rare; I paid for everything else), it is really, really okay to skip. Even if you can afford it, don’t spend a ton of money on it; I’d say the number one thing I’ve seen authors say they’d do differently next time (well, the number two thing, after “Spend less time writing guest posts for blog tours”) is get less swag.
So what purpose does it serve? Here’s what I’ve gotten and done with it:
Bookmarks – I’ve loved having these, because they were great to sign at BEA when I ran out of ARCs, and at my launch party for people who’d preordered the book but not received it yet, and wanted me to sign something. I also sent a bunch to an awesome friend who works at a bookstore and stuck them in comp titles. And I also sent a bunch to a friend of a friend who works in a library and uses them as prizes for a teen summer reading thing. And, every now and again, I do a giveaway for a book that isn’t mine, and I stick one in. These are really great, free uses. (I’ll get back to the other use in a minute.)
Bookplates – These are key for people whose books you can’t sign physically. I actually had to buy them for Reasons I’ll get into closer to the event I really bought them for, but truth be told, these are a little weird for paperbacks. They’re still nice to have, but I wouldn’t call them “everybody must buy” kinds of items. (Obviously these are pointless if your book is e-only. I would, however, advocate signing up for Authorgraph to anyone who’s book is coming out digitally, which, these days, I think is everyone. It’s free, both for you and for fans.)
Buttons – These were fun, and are great for in-person events, so you have something to scatter on the table and for people to take etc.
Here’s the thing about swag – it can be really, really pricey. What you’re paying for when you really deal with swag is:
- The design of the item (unless you can design your own, which I can not)
- The production of the item
- Postage to send the item
This adds up so, so fast. You cannot imagine how much will you spend on postage if you send swag to everyone who wants it, and especially not to people who want it outside your country of residence. (Not to mention when you give away actually books – postage on those can be killer, so make sure you use media mail!)
That final thing I’ve done with my swag? Sent it out to people who ask for it, both as real giveaways and in response to tweets. It costs me almost as much to send a package containing those three things as it does to buy my book at its current Kindle price. Not the amount I make from my book – the cost of my actual book. To send one package of swag, to one person, in the US. (To send one standard envelope – just a bookmark and bookplate – outside the US costs exactly half a book, or double the royalties of that book.)
My biggest piece of advice regarding swag, if you’re going to buy it and send it out reasonably liberally? Get flat swag that fits in standard envelopes – bookmarks, tattoos, whatever. If you’re in the US and can’t send it for 45 cents (which adds up quickly too, I assure you), save it for in-person events.
That isn’t to say “don’t get swag”; I love having something to send to people who are excited about my book, or can’t afford to buy it but want something, or…I don’t even care what. I just like it 🙂 I’m just saying, don’t feel pressure, especially if money’s tight, and be careful about how you’re spending it; they’re easy costs to underestimate.
So, that’s part II! Questions? Comments? Trying to figure out how to politely tell me I talk too much? It’s all good! (Well, not really the last one, especially because there will be a part III at some point, on in-person events. GET EXCITED.)