The Truth and Nothing but the Truth on Promotion and Publicity for Debut Authors

When I first started in publishing, there were times when I (and my colleagues) used the phrase “It would be nice, but you don’t need an online presence.”

Sadly, those days are now long gone.

The debut author of today doesn’t necessarily need an established presence when they sign with an agent. But they better be ready to start creating one, and pronto. In fact, debut authors need to be prepared for more than just a presence online. They need to be ready to create extra content. To keep up with others online. To correspond with their readers.

Debut authors (and veterans alike!) need to be ready to interact with the market.

The ability to do so is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it is amazingly cool that we, as readers, can actually correspond with our idols. If this platform were available when I was a kid, I would have definitely taken advantage! (Roald Dahl, you dodged a bullet, my friend.) And now that I’m an adult, I do often partake in conversations on Twitter or leave comments on blogs of authors I admire. I mean come on…if you could say something witty to Neil Gaiman without the fear of looking like a complete dolt in person, wouldn’t you?

On the other hand, this interaction can sometimes lead to bad feelings, disappointment, having to see every negative review of your book in a neat and tidy list of stars…and other situations that might be considered unpleasant or uncomfortable.

But everyone, and I mean Everyone, is online. And if we want to reach readers, that’s where our authors need to be, too, in one way or another. So part of my job is to help the author get there.

When I consider a new client, I do my research on him/her first.

Step One: Check out any website or blog links in the query letter.

Step Two: Google!

Step Three: If on Twitter or Facebook, I look at old correspondence for any unprofessional behavior that might affect the writer’s overall online presence.

Step Four: I ask questions. I always speak with an author before signing them, and this includes questions about publicity and promotion. Do they have any ideas? Realistic contacts? Etc.

Even if the writer doesn’t have anything set up yet, I probe further to discover how open they are to get to work on that. I need to know if I have a partner in this journey, not just someone who expects everything to be done for them.  And I don’t need this information for my submission to editors.  I need to know how much an author is going to step up to the plate come publication time.

Authors, if you don’t know this yet, know it now: most of your publicity and outreach to the general market is up to you.

I work with some amazing publicists at the major publishing houses, and by no means am I trying to sell what they do short. They do a TON of work on each book that makes it to the shelves at their particular companies. But the reality is, they only have so much time and money to devote, and a LOT of books to split it between.

Whereas you, the author, have just your book.

You need to be ready.

Here are a few articles that might be helpful in getting started:


41 Responses to The Truth and Nothing but the Truth on Promotion and Publicity for Debut Authors

  1. Julie May 23 2012 at 6:36 am #

    I love your posts, Jo. This is such GREAT info! Thanks for sharing your insider knowledge with all of us at Pub Crawl. 🙂

  2. JoSV May 23 2012 at 6:50 am #

    Of course! I do feel like these changes kind of happened over night (or at least it feels that way), and there’s no point in softening it for authors when it is, what it is. But we’re in it together! 🙂

  3. Sooz May 23 2012 at 7:31 am #

    Awesome, *awesome post*. As you well know, I’m experiencing all this firsthand and having to sort out what I’m capable of…and then what I’m actually willing to do! For so many of authors, having to self-promote is WAY outside our introverted comfort zone, but for so many of us, there’s really no other option. I think a lot of it ties to the more-more-more that readers want (like this article said in the NY Times: I definitely feel those pressures, but I also know I need to keep up and create more content if I want to keep readers!

    • JoSV May 23 2012 at 7:33 am #

      Yes! I saw that article. It is the first one I’ve seen that really just lays it all out on the table.

      And I may be biased, but I must say that you are ROCKING the self-promo.

    • Erin Bowman May 23 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      “For so many of authors, having to self-promote is WAY outside our introverted comfort zone…” Sooz, I totally agree with you! I’m not necessarily introverted, but I’m scared of self-promo big-time. I have to realize its necessary and fabulous, when done well…not all “look at me! look at me!” (which is how I think of it in my head).

      Anyway, great post, Jo! Honest and truthful! Times are changing. The role of the author is changing, as is the role of everyone in publishing, it seems! 😉

  4. Loretta May 23 2012 at 8:06 am #

    Okay, your sound advice has succeeded in getting my butt over to Pinterest. Honestly, I was afraid of it–too much time pinning and not enough writing–but it is a useful tool if used correctly. Thanks, Jo! This article is full of good stuff for everyone.

    • JoSVolpe May 23 2012 at 9:04 am #

      If anyone, L, I would say pinterest is for you! You have a keen eye for beautiful and inspiring things.

  5. Sarah Frances Hardy May 23 2012 at 8:57 am #

    Okay, kick in the butt … heading over to do a blog post.

    Great post and great info!


    • JoSVolpe May 23 2012 at 9:05 am #

      Like you need a kick in the butt, Sarah! I think you’re doing splendidly so far.
      But if this post inspired you further, then hooray!

  6. Jen McAndrews May 23 2012 at 9:16 am #

    Super post, Jo. It’s stuff I “know” but always good to have a reminder of why these things are important. Adding ‘update website’ to weekend to-do list : )

  7. Catherine Stine May 23 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Thanks, Joanna for this helpful insight from the agent’s POV!

  8. Beth Miller May 23 2012 at 9:49 am #

    Hey Jo,

    Great post– thanks so much for this!

  9. Janet Reid May 23 2012 at 9:50 am #

    yup, this is exactly right.

    • JoSVolpe May 23 2012 at 10:17 am #

      Well, I did learn from the best…just sayin’.

  10. Tasha Cotter May 23 2012 at 10:48 am #

    As a young writer who recently received literary representation, I found this all so helpful! Thank you! I just shared it with the other authors represented by my agency. I’m certain they’ll be able to use this information as much as I will.

    • JoSVolpe May 23 2012 at 11:26 am #

      That’s great, Tasha! I’m glad it was helpful info!

  11. Marie Lu May 23 2012 at 11:14 am #

    This is such a fantastic and informative post, Jo! I remember how intimidated by Twitter I was when I first joined–and that’s coming from someone who (relatively) *enjoys* social media. It can be so hard in the beginning, but it really does make a difference to have that personal connection with readers!

    • JoSVolpe May 23 2012 at 11:27 am #

      It totally does.

      Thanks, Marie!

  12. Patrick Gabridge May 23 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    Thanks for the post and the links, Joanna. I still haven’t gotten lured into Pinterest yet, but there’s still time.

    It’s important that you’re pointing out to writers that agents are thinking about these things, and that they will scope out the online activities of potential clients. (A warning for civility in all online interactions and posts if ever there was one.) I think it’s also important for writers to make sure that when they’re looking for an agent, they’re doing the same kinds of research about the agent. What kind of online presence does that agent have? Does she seem to understand the lightning-fast changes in how books are marketed online? If not, then the author can’t expect much guidance when she’s tossed in the pool and expected to swim. I think authors generally expect that all agents are fully up to speed on the current marketing tools, but some are more knowledgeable than others.

    • JoSVolpe May 23 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      It’s so true. Even in our own office all of the agents are at very different levels on being “plugged in,” but thankfully we have the amazing Kathleen Ortiz with us because she updates us on the rapid changes every week. We also work very much as a team here, so while my strength might not be social media, I do know quite a bit. And what I don’t, my colleagues will jump in. I feel very lucky to work in an office like this!

  13. Jordan Hamessley May 23 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    This is a must-read for all authors. Such a great post, Jo!

  14. The Readventurer May 23 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    Not so long I saw a post on the same topic which argued that online presence doesn’t really translate into book sales. It was a very convincing post:

    It’s an interesting topic and I wonder if the success of the online presence depends on the nature of a novel, genre and is effective only if accompanied by a strong support from an author’s publisher.

    • JoSVolpe May 23 2012 at 6:37 pm #

      I love The INTERN…very informative post (as per her usual fare–always good and entertaining). However, I might have to do a follow up post on this next month.

      Here’s the thing: just doing social media isn’t enough. It’s a good start, but it’s not all it’s about. You actually have to REACH your audience, and there are different ways to go about this depending on what genre you write and who your audience is. I would hope the author’s agent or editor or publicist would advise on this if she asked (after all, advice is free! How can someone say No to their author about that?).

      I feel badly for the author INTERN is talking about, because it sounds like they put in a lot of hard work and he/she doesn’t feel like they saw anything for it. But who knows? 35-70 copies consistently per week isn’t terrible, and word-of-mouth could have started because of that 6 months of intensive outreach? Or not. It’s hard to tell.

      We are literally trying new things and changing tactics all the time. Some things have been very successful, and other ideas have flopped. And all the while, times keep a’changing, so we’ve got to change along with them.

      So all in all, I wouldn’t say that self-promo is only effective if accompanied by strong support from an author’s publisher. But I will say that you can’t just go out there and do Everything, or just do what everyone else is doing. That is the difference between content (posts, interviews, vlogs, artwork, etc) and actual outreach (reaching that audience).

      Hm…I definitely feel a follow-up post in the works, but if I’m going to do it, I want to bring some concrete research to the table. Maybe over the summer when there is more downtime….

      Thanks for alerting us to this post by The INTERN!

      • Amie Kaufman May 24 2012 at 9:15 am #

        Jo, I would love to read this follow up post, definitely voting for it! It’s such a tricky area — you definitely have to be in it, but then of course you have to find the right balance between work and everything else, and look for original ways to do it. You’re so right when you say we’re all experimenting from week to week — but even the things we try that don’t work out can yield up new friends and new learning, so there’s pretty much always an upside.

  15. shelley moore thomas May 23 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Roald Dahl dodged my bullet, too! Ha!

    Here’s the thing–we want people to read our books, right? And getting the word out is part of it. I think the hard thing is treading the line between, “Hey, this is a post about my book (or me) and I thought our might like to know about it,” and “Please, pleeeeeeeeease, pleeeeeeeeeeeeze buy my book! I want you to buy it so much that I am going to spam the interwebs with stuff about it every five minutes!” Nobody wants to look pathetic, you know? I think it’s a good idea to look at authors who do the social media “thing” well and learn from them. However, everyone is different. Sometimes I wish I could dip more than a toe into twitter and the like, but alas…..

    • JoSVolpe May 24 2012 at 6:41 am #

      Very good points, Shelley! Thanks for noting them for us 🙂

  16. Leigh Bardugo May 23 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    Fantastic post, Jo. I had a meager online presence when I got my deal and it’s been a bit of a challenge to establish one, but I do think there are some amazing rewards. There’s an amazing community of bloggers, authors, publishing industry professionals, and fans out there and it’s just silly not to invest in them. They can be a great source of both support and information– and sometimes it’s just nice to know that you’re not alone!

    (Also, I thought Pinterest would just be a distraction, but it’s been such a help in communicating with designers and generating content.)

    • JoSVolpe May 24 2012 at 6:42 am #

      I heart your Pinterest board so much! Maybe it’s just a distraction for me…hee!

  17. Natalie Aguirre May 26 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    Thanks for the great advice and links Joanna. I’m saving the link to your post in my marketing file.

  18. Jemi Fraser May 27 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    Good to know! There are so many books out there competing for attention, it’s not surprising the author will be doing a lot of the promo to get noticed. Thanks for the info 🙂

  19. Lori T. May 28 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Thank you so much for the info., advice and links, Joanna! I always enjoy reading my favorite authors blogs and Facebook pages, but never knew exactly how much work must go into all of them. I’m not on Twitter or Pinterest, but do enjoy my newbie blog. Do you think it would be good to join Twitter now? I know, I’m so behind on the times with that one! Also, how time consuming is it for authors to keep up with all of these different forms of social media while also keeping up with their own writing? I’ve always been curious as to how to manage the time for both writing and social media. Thanks Joanna!

    • JoSVolpe Jun 7 2012 at 2:20 pm #

      I think it would be a good idea to join Twitter before you NEED to because it takes a while to get used to. At least, it took me a few months before I really got the hang of it!

      That’s a good question about the time it takes to keep up with these things. A lot of our clients struggle with balancing writing and promo, and to be honest–as agents we struggle with that, too. We’re revising our methods and growing as we go. The best thing to do is sit back every once in a while and prioritize.

      Best of luck!

  20. Mark Murata Jun 4 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    Is it okay for an aspiring author to post a page from a work in progress? In other words, will agents and editors count that against First North American Publishing Rights, if it is less than 1% of the novel?

    • JoSVolpe Jun 7 2012 at 2:22 pm #

      Sure! A lot of authors and writers do this. I wouldn’t post TOO much of your work, but if you want to post a page or a few pages or even a chapter online, it can’t hurt. It doesn’t count against North American rights in any way. If you were to sell to a traditional publisher after posting your work online, the first thing they’ll tell you is to just take it down for now while you start to edit it with them. No big 🙂

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