Self-promotion: an author’s perspective and guide

As my fellow Pub Crawler, Joanna Volpe, so eloquently put it a few weeks back:

Most of your publicity and outreach to the general market is up to you.

We all have giant dreams of a publisher who does everything for us, and I have a few friends who are in this very enviable position. But I have more friends in a position like mine—a position that leaves the majority of the publicity grunt work on our fragile writer shoulders.1

Of course, as a shy introvert, accepting that I’m going to have to set up my signings and I’m going to have to do the schmoozing was a very, VERY difficult thing.

But them’s the facts, and as I’ve preached before, the only thing an author (or person, really) can do when faced with a less-than-desirable future is Let It Go and Move On. Then, once you’ve let the stress melt away, it’s time to make your marketing plan—and I’m gonna help you do it exactly the same way my agent helped me.

When Joanna and I were first brainstorming my marketing plan, she said some magical words that really clicked. She said, “What we need to do is focus our marketing on the book and the Something Strange and Deadly world instead of on you.”

As an über shy person (have I emphasized this enough? ;)), this approach made TOTAL sense to me. So here’s YOUR first step:

1. Decide where you want to focus the spotlight.

If you’re comfortable getting a lot of attention and you have a lot to offer—maybe you’re also a musician or an actor—then you might want to emphasize YOU in your marketing plan. This sort of approach might involve a lot of author events and chances to really meet your readers.

If you aren’t as comfortable with social butterflying, then you might want to focus on your story—on the characters, the world, etc. This approach might involve a lot of extra content for your readers.

If you’re not partial either way, then a 50/50 approach is always a good way to go.

Now that you’ve decided your direction, it’s time to…

2. Write down any and every idea that comes to you.

So, for example, let’s say you choose option 1—you want to really get yourself out there and flex your social fingers. You might start by writing: Local author events.

This in turn might prompt a bunch of other ideas: Barnes & Noble signing, Local Indie Store signing, coffee shop talk, school speaking event, library launch party

Which in turn might prompt some other ideas: convention panels, online videos/interviews, signing stock before release, reach out to other authors in area for events.

The important thing is to stay within your comfort zone. Don’t worry about money or time at this point—just what you think you’d be willing to do. After that, it’s time to…

3. Estimate your budget.

It might sound obvious, but it’s easy to overlook when you’re full of GREAT ideas. So pick an amount of $$ you won’t (or can’t) go over, and stick to it. Costs will add up fast.

My budget was $2000 for extra-content-type things. I think I’ll probably spend close to this once it’s all said and done.

But…I was stupid and didn’t plan a budget for my events, so I’ve already spent >$1000 on travel fare alone. I expect this cost will double, if not triple before the summer is even over. I REALLY wish I had budgeted for travel/events.

4. Now you get specific with your first ideas. And get organized too–time frames are good. Preliminary cost research is critical.

Because I was focusing on extra content, I took some of my general ideas and fine-tuned them. Then I evaluated what would and wouldn’t work within my budget.

For example, countdown was fleshed out into countdown widget people can put in their blog. I am not clever enough to make a widget on my own, so I signed up for a $9.99/month membership with Widgetbox and created one on there. (After the book releases, I’ll close the account. No point in continuing to pay once the countdown is over!)

Another thing I had on the list was several teaser trailers, but the estimated cost for these was WAY over what I could afford. So, I decided that with a bit of elbow grease (and a lot of time), I could make a single, comprehensive trailer myself and save the teasers for book 2.

I had ComicCon on my list as well, and I fleshed this out to ComicCon + signing (?) + panel (?). The question marks meant it was up to my publisher to get me in, so I needed to approach them. I’ve already spent $600 on airfare + $150 on my tickets, and accommodations will cost ~$300. We haven’t even gotten into the cost of food. YIKES. (See #4 again. I cannot emphasize budgeting enough.)

5. Choose exactly what you will do and lay out when you will do it. Give it to your publisher, and see what they will help you with or take over.

Joanna had her assistant (the amazing Danielle! *waves at Danielle*) type up our detailed plan (it was ~2 pages long) and give it to my editor. It took a while to hear back from my marketing/publicity teams, but once we did, I immediately set to work on all the things I needed to do.

You see, most of my ideas did not overlap with HarperTeen’s plans, so I was pretty much on my own. BUT, I was (still am) determined to offer extra content and really emphasize the scope of the world and cast of characters in my book. My point is: it’s totally fine if your plans ≠ your publisher’s plans. You’ve got your handy-dandy list, a time-frame, and budget,2 so you are 100% capable of doing things on your own.

However, before you do anything—publish a countdown widget or set up a signing—make sure you run it past your publisher first.

6. Get to work. Do not put it off.

I started working solely on marketing at the beginning of May, almost 3 months before the book’s release. We are now 3/4 of the way through June. A lot of the things I chose to do were incredibly labor intensive (because I wanted to save money). In fact, if you’re curious, here’s a rough calendar of what I did the past 1.75 months.

It doesn’t look like much, but consider I was working on each of these things 7 AM – 6 PM everyday (most weekends too). I enjoyed what I was doing, but it was also time I could have been writing. I mean, if I wrote for those same hours, I would be finished with book 3 now. Hmmmm…

Plus, there’s still SO MUCH to be done before the book releases in 33 days. I have a scavenger hunt and giveaways planned, and once those kick off next week, I’ll be focused constantly on keeping the website up to date. Oh, and of course all the mailing I’ll have to do once the giveaways finish (lots of postage costs are in my future!).3

I still have more necklaces to make because my first batch looked like CRAP. 🙂

I still have at least 20 guest posts to write for various blog tours, and at least 10 interviews to answer (sorry! I swear I’ll get them to you soon!).

Some of the extra content I had planned won’t be up before release date, but that’s just how it will have to be. For now, those pages will simply say “Coming Soon” on the website.

And of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention all the things I did before May and the various things my publisher had me do.

Other Stuff I Did:
  • Book business cards—these have been so, so, SO helpful! They have my book cover, a summary, the ISBN numbers, and my name. I give them to booksellers, librarians, and pretty much anyone who asks about my book. And more often than not, people ask me to sign them! 🙂 This makes my heart fuzzy.)
  • Book-themed greeting cards for thank-you notes after events
  • Bookplates. I made the mistake of offering these for free when I first got them. I was overwhelmed by request, and 200 bookplates later and a lot of postage, I kinda wished I hadn’t made that offer. Then again, it was fun and I hope I made some people smile. 🙂
  • Introduced myself to booksellers and librarians.
  • Sent out ARCs to readers and tours
  • Hosted ARC giveaways
  • Answered hundreds of requests for my ARC. I set up a template to make this easier.
Stuff My Publisher Had Me Do:

My point is to not only show you some different ideas (and maybe spark your own marketing schemes) but to emphasize just how busy, busy, busy you can get. So…

 7. Breathe. Don’t panic.

If you can’t tell, I am exhausted. I miss writing. Above all, I am terrified out of my MIND that none of my hard work will pay off.

But, I also know that if I hadn’t done it all, then a few months after my book had released, I’d be wondering if I should have.

And, at least all the extra content is useful for books 2 and 3—same world, same characters, same “Aim for the Knees” slogan. Also, even if all this stuff doesn’t draw in new readers, at least I know that the readers who DO and WILL love Something Strange and Deadly are going to appreciate the extra content.

At the end of the day, I create to share, and all these marketing-driven creations will be shared. So, that’s a win, right?

Plus, I did enjoy making the trailer and designing the website. I was into hobby film editing all through college and grad school, so it was really fun to go back to that. And working with an illustrator was incredibly exciting.

So now, for the final step, as you face your approaching release date, remember to:

8. Say “thanks”.

Thank the people who helped you get where you are today. Thank the people who read ARCs and took the time to leave reviews (good or bad). Thank the people who came to your blog, squeed over Legend of Korra with you on Twitter, worked behind the scenes at your publishing house, and supported you the entire way.

The authors I want to read are the authors who share and appreciate. So I give a giant thanks to all the authors like that (off the top of my head, I should thank Marie Lu, Sherwood Smith, Sharon Shinn, and Scott Westerfeld—all of these authors have extra content that inspires and entertains me).

Finally, I give an even GIANT-ER THANKS to all the people who have walked this publication journey with me.

Now, stay tuned to see how all this self-promotion pays off! The Official Something Strange and Deadly Website will be unveiled next Monday along with a scavenger hunt, lots of giveaways, and the OFFICIAL TRAILER!

And who knows? Perhaps I’ll do a post this fall and let you all know what did and didn’t work. 🙂

P.S. I got my first copy of the book IN THE MAIL today!! You can see all my ugly tears here.

You tell me: What do you want to see most from authors? Do you like to see them at events? Have extra book content? Both?

  1. FYI, deal size ≠ publicity push. Plenty of authors with ginormous deals have almost no marketing while plenty of authors with tiny deals have HUGE push. It very much depends on your publisher, when your book releases, what your genre is, and the distance between Mars and Jupiter on any given day.
  2. Oh goodness, I will continue to emphasize how important budgeting is! Self-promotion ain’t cheap!
  3. Don’t forget to budget in postage. I forgot.
           

40 Responses to Self-promotion: an author’s perspective and guide

  1. Julie
    Julie Jun 20 2012 at 5:47 am #

    Sooz! This is such an awesome post! I know this will help so many authors navigate the crazy, intimidating waters of self-promotion. GREAT POST! <3

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 8:40 am #

      Thanks, Julie! It’s definitely intimidating, so having someone hold your hand is really helpful. 😀

  2. Amie Kaufman
    Amie Kaufman Jun 20 2012 at 6:45 am #

    Okay, firstly, this is mind-blowingly helpful. Thank you SO much, Sooz. This is incredibly generous of you. Secondly, I am going to get started NOW. So much to do!

  3. Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 8:43 am #

    Yay! I’m so glad you find it helpful. 🙂 And yes–it’s really never to early to start brainstorming and budgeting. You know who to call if you need help. 😉

  4. Holly Jun 20 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Brilliant post, Sooz. You know, on the reader side of the table you don’t really think about ALL the work and money that goes into this stuff. And just from the tidbits I’ve done, I know you must have been (um, you must BE) completely overwhelmed doing all of this. It’ll be worth it though, I’m sure. 🙂 People are going to love SS&D.

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 10:38 am #

      I hope it pays off, but if not, at least I know for future books! 🙂 And at least I had some fun doing it.

      And Holly, I owe you A LOT of thanks for all your help with this stuff. <3

  5. Meredith Jun 20 2012 at 9:24 am #

    This is an amazing post, Sooz. You never cease to amaze me with just how HELPFUL you can be. Bookmarking this for sure!

    I totally understand now how you’ve been so insanely busy over the past several weeks (and how it’s only going to get more hectic as the release date draws nearer). But eeeeeeeeeee, so exciting too!

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Yes! Exciting and terrifying! My stomach does this giant flip when I think about it. Even though it’s really just another day, the thought of seeing my book in a store is…yikes.

  6. Laura Wardle Jun 20 2012 at 9:30 am #

    You are AMAZING, Sooz! What a ridiculously helpful post–so brilliant! Definitely bookmarking this for later. Thank you so very much. 🙂

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Oh good! I’m so glad you find the post useful!! 😀

  7. Ryan Graudin Jun 20 2012 at 10:42 am #

    Great post! It’s a little overwhelming to see how much work I’ll have to be putting in before my book makes its way into the wilds, but you’ve painted a pretty clear picture!! Thanks!

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 12:54 pm #

      You know you don’t HAVE to do all that work. 🙂 A lot of people don’t, certainly, but I’m one of those neurotic people who tries to control EVERYTHING. So…in my pathetic attempt to control sales, I dove headfirst into this marketing stuff. 😉

  8. evan roskos Jun 20 2012 at 10:55 am #

    very helpful. I hope your hard work pays off! (I suspect it will!)

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      Thanks, Evan! I’m glad you found it helpful. 🙂

  9. Claire M. Caterer Jun 20 2012 at 11:30 am #

    It’s amazing you found time with everything else going on to write this extremely helpful and informative post. I’ve got a long time to go still–8 months–and am scared to death of all the time and effort this will take. But you’ve helped put into a rational format. Thank you, Sooz!

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      I mean, you don’t HAVE to do this much…but me being me, *I* had to. That probably doesn’t make any sense, but my point is you can do as little or as much as you want, and I hope my guide will help either way!!

      Good luck!!<3

  10. Kat Zhang
    Kat Zhang Jun 20 2012 at 11:36 am #

    WOW, Sooz. I’m so impressed by how organized and well-planned you are 😀 And this is such an informative post. Thank you for writing it up for us!!

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      You’re very welcome, Kat. 🙂 I’m neurotic….I know.

  11. Kriston Johnson Jun 20 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    Wow, thanks for the eye opener. I thought the publisher always did those things. I am really looking forward to the release of your book!

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 12:58 pm #

      Yeah, most publishers don’t do this for you. HarperTeen is certainly doing a lot for me–don’t get me wrong!–but it’s not the stuff that I personally wanted to offer readers. Every publisher is different and every book’s marketing plan is too.

      And thanks!! I hope you enjoy the book when it releases! <3

  12. Lori T. Jun 20 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    Oh my gosh, this post is fantastic! I’m absolutely bookmarking it, because hopefully, someday, I’ll have great use for it and can learn even more from you. I knew you were incredibly busy, but after you detailed everything, I got exhausted for you! Wow! Oh, and I feel a bit guilty, too, now knowing just how crazy-busy things are for you. But, I can say, the publicity/marketing I’ve seen you do is brilliant! Can’t wait to see the new website 😀

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 5:34 pm #

      Don’t feel guilty!! I told you I’d be slow in my responses. Now you know why. 😉

      And thanks for the comment!!! I hope it’s very useful for you in the future. 😀

  13. Erin Bowman
    Erin Bowman Jun 20 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Sooz, you are amazing. For doing all this. For sharing it with us. Invaluable insight here, so thank you so much!! And WOW, you’ve been busy. (But like you said, better to try it all now than not and spend the first months after pub wondering what could have been different.)

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 5:35 pm #

      Yes, I’ve been busy and secretive about it. 😉 I was just so nervous things like the trailer and website would look dumb, so I had to make them perfect before I told anyone.

  14. Becca Jun 20 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Totally bookmarking this post for use in the future. 🙂 I’m curious as to how your marketing plan didn’t match up with your publisher’s, though. Was it just that they had had other stuff on their agenda? Or that they hadn’t planned on doing stuff like book trailers?

    • Sooz Jun 20 2012 at 5:38 pm #

      It’s a combination of both things, Becca. Harper is doing a lot of things that don’t involve me–like ARC giveaways or advertisements–but at the same time, there are things I wanted to have that they weren’t going to do (such as the trailer). Like I said, every publisher has a different approach, and for each book, they’ll plan different things with the limited funding they have. 🙂

  15. jodimeadows
    jodimeadows Jun 20 2012 at 6:56 pm #

    FANTASTIC post, Sooz! Thanks for such a clear outline on everything you’re doing. (And squee! Can’t wait for SS&D!)

    • Sooz Jun 21 2012 at 6:49 pm #

      Thanks, Jodi!!! And I can’t wait either. We’ll be Harper Book Club Sisters!! Or…our books will.

  16. Karen Akins Jun 20 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    Wow! This was such an amazingly helpful post. And timely! My book won’t be coming out until next year, but this is such wonderful advice. Thanks!

    And, umm, you had me at “Aim for the knees.”

    • Sooz Jun 21 2012 at 6:49 pm #

      Hahaha, YES. Aim for the Knees should’ve been the book’s name, I think… 😉

      And good luck with your book next year! If you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me and ask!!

  17. Ghenet Myrthil Jun 21 2012 at 9:37 am #

    This is such a helpful post! I’m going to bookmark it for when I have a book to promote. I’m really excited to see your new website and trailer. I’m so impressed that you did them yourself. 🙂

    • Sooz Jun 21 2012 at 6:50 pm #

      Thanks, Ghenet!!! I’m really excited (and also REALLY nervous) to reveal the website and trailer! Just like sharing anything creative, I bet some people will have mean things to say…but hey! That’s part of the job, right? 😀

  18. Megan Duff Jun 21 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Probably not your intention but…THIS SCARED THE CRAP OUT OF ME!!! 😛

    I think we all have this idealized vision where once you sell your novel your job is basically done. You do some editing and approve covers and make up your actors list (because your book already got optioned for a movie of course!) and watch all the love for you book poor in.

    Uh, yeah. NOT.

    So while all this is intimidating some of it actually looks fun. I better acquire some web design/graphic design/animation friends now so I can call on them in the future 😀

    Thanks for the eye opening post!!!

    • Sooz Jun 21 2012 at 6:52 pm #

      Er, no…not my intention, certainly. 🙂 SORRY!

      I totally had the same notions up until about…oh, two months ago. It wasn’t until around March/April that I even REALIZED I wasn’t going to be getting all this stuff I saw other authors getting…and not because HarperTeen doesn’t believe in the book, but because they have a very different approach to marketing than say…Macmillan. After talking to Jo, I realized that my situation is really the norm, and in some ways it’s not so bad. This is one of the only steps in the whole process where I’ve had total (well, mostly) control! 😀

  19. Alexa @ Alexa Loves Jun 21 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    This is such a well-written, thoughtful post. It’s definitely given me ideas for what to do in the future if… I mean WHEN I get published. Thanks for being so willing to share with us!

    • Sooz Jun 21 2012 at 6:53 pm #

      You are so welcome, Alexa!!! And good luck with your own publication journey! <3

  20. Adrian Jun 21 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    Thanks for the post! (I finally stopped being busy long enough to thank you for everything; all your post for the past year or so have been very helpful!) I always knew that after books are sold, a LOT must go into all the advertising and things of that nature. It’s nice to add things to my list to be prepared for them when I get around to publishing my book.

    And to answer your question, I like to see not authors at events, persay, but authors that are invested and grateful to all those that follow and read their work. So, like you 🙂

    Super excited for the release of the book and the unveiling of the new website (I REALLY need to start taking web design classes to learn to design websites for my books when they come out)! Good luck on all of your fabulous self-promoting adventures! They’ll pay off, I just know it.

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  22. Sheila Apr 18 2013 at 1:32 am #

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