Publicity …

.. a subject never far from my mind, and one I throw myself into between writing and editing my novels.

Do I believe there’s a secret combination of publicity battering rams which will knock down the doors ‘o’ indifference? No, I don’t.

Do I believe authors should leave publicity to their publisher and get on with writing their next book? Ah, now that depends on the author.

You see, I enjoy working on the publicity side of things, and I treat it as a reward for all the hard work I put into writing each book. First I create, then I edit, and then I get to spruik. The perfect combination. (I can’t write more than one book a year. I work like fury for 6-8 months, then spend 4 or 5 months recovering. And working on publicity is part of that recovery process … giving the book a proper send-off before letting go of it and turning to the next.)

I freely admit that my efforts probably have minimal impact on the sales of my books. It’s just that the alternative – to do nothing – would keep me awake at night.

So what sort of publicity should an author indulge in? Personally, I don’t do readings or book signings. First, because I live in the most remote capital city on the planet (Perth, in Western Australia; a state with almost 1/3 the entire land area of the USA, but only 2 million people), and second because even in a remote little city like this, with more poisonous spiders per square metre than there are writers in the whole damn country, I’m still completely unknown.

We do have a launch for each book – mostly family and friends – but that’s just so they can see what I’ve been up to since the last book launch, 12 months or so earlier. That’s assuming none of them succumbed to spiders, snakes or sharks in the meantime. (I’m convinced hardback sales would take off in Australia if they gave them a glossy non-stick cover. Then we could whack fangy arachnids with them and wipe them clean afterwards.)

Bookmarks – been there, done that. They’re great to hand out (especially on school visits), and most bookshops will take a few, although this can vary from one store to the next. I prefer bookmarks to business cards, although I design mine so I can crop them in half (TWO business cards!) because they’re easier to carry.

Sample chapters to hand out – not bad, but they need to look the part. A wad of laser printout in manuscript submission format is fine for proofreaders, but it’s got to be book-like if you’re handing this stuff out to punters. A duplex laser with booklet printing option is a good start.

Online promotions – go easy on these. It’s good to have an online presence, but hitting every forum and mailing list with repeated adverts for your book will drive people away, especially if you steer other people’s conversations to your own end.

Google ads – There’s a discussion on Absolute Write about this at the moment. Properly targeted, I believe content ads can be beneficial. For example, I can run a campaign where the ads are only visible to people in Australia and NZ, and perhaps just those on suitable SF/Fantasy sites & blogs, rather than wasting money advertising to countries where people can’t even buy my books. The downside is that most people dislike ads … or loathe them. Large banners and blinky flashy graphics? Ugh.

On the printing front, tonight I put the finishing touches to a 3-fold leaflet which contains the first chapter of my novel, along with cover shots and details for each title in the series. I think it came out rather well, and it’ll be a nice little handout.

Any other ideas? It’s 1am and my brain stopped working about 30 mins ago, but you’re welcome to leave comments ;-)

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  1. 1. Ann Wilkes

    Simon,
    I hear you about the online stuff.

    I DO live in a fairly metropolitan area, though. I love doing readings. So, there’s that and SF conventions. I created a blog when the first book got published but am having a devil of a time getting the readership.

    I keep hearing about mailing lists. But I loathe them. I can’t bring myself to do it. I suppose I’ll have to eventually succumb, but it will be kicking and screaming. What’s the alternative when your publisher is leaving the lion’s share of publicity to you? I’m trying to get on the niche market bandwagon, but that works better for non-fiction. I’m thinking maybe comic book stores and cons are the only non-bookstore place to sell books. Believe it or not, I have copies at a shoe repair shop. The owner likes to support local authors. I left copies of an anthology I’m in at the dentist office and the car dealership with information about my upcoming book and my contact card taped in. I have no idea how many, if any, sales that’s getting me, though.

    Always glad to hear new ideas. The publisher suggested T-shirts. He didn’t, however, say they’d pay for them. My favorite local bookstore already sells them. She has a program where she makes them herself. And better still, she specializes in SF/F and Thriller/Mystery. Maybe…

  2. 2. Steve Miller

    “Publicity” is such a vague term, don’t you think? It carries with it the intimation that one is pushing something.

    Grabbed this off a quick web-search on the term:

    “The dissemination of promotional material to draw interest or generate sales”.

    On the other hand we can see publicity as merely being in the public eye. You say “Online promotions – go easy on these.” and I say but! But!

    For example, not ten minutes ago, I, from my just de-snowed redoubt among the rolling hills of Central Maine was having a delightful conversation with Jane Watson, the lady who owns this website:
    http://www.janewatson.com.au … I assume she was at home in Melbourne.

    we met face to face in Second Life, where I have several store fronts and Sharon and I are getting ready to give a talk later this week — perhaps our fifth or seventh in Second Life — to an international audience. Jane is working with the group putting on the Second Life Book Fair…

    Store fronts? Virtual storefronts? Right. And in the SRM Publisher store fronts people can see our book covers, link to the SRM Publisher site, and also link directly to sites where they can hear a podcast of one of our books or visit the half-a-book samples at Baen webscriptions or Jim Baen’s Universe.

    Meanwhile on rec.arts.sf.composition I sometimes talk with other writers; I think that’s where I first “met” Alma Alexander; we later met Alma for breakfast at a worldcon as a result… and just recently have been working on an interview with someone Alma sent our way.

    Note — I try to avoid drive-bys. That is, I *participate* in the community and be a member rather than rushing in to say LOOK AT ME and then rushing away, trailing leaflets with “me, me, me!” all over them.

    So when you have the time, investigating and participating in communities makes sense. We were first invited to be Guests of Honor by someone we met online; we were later invited to several other GoH gigs by people who saw us or read accounts of us being GoH or special guests elsewhere. Someone who read one of our books because of an online intro later invited us to a paid speech before the Western Pennsylvania library consortium’s annual program, where we sold quite a few librarians on the idea that our books should be in their libraries.

    A longtime ago (well, ten years or twelve years ago) we talked to Barry Longyear about what we should *do* as Guests of Honor at a convention. He was very clear on this point: Sell the BOOK! So bookmarks, badges and pins (our “Plan B is Now in Effect” pins were all the rage at one Worldcon, the con where Plan B was announced and pre-orders started) can focus on onebook, and that’s not a bad idea.

    These days though, you have an opportunity, online, to sell not only “the book” but to build that fanbase… but I think I’ve pointed this out before:
    http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/03/1000_true_fans.php

  3. 3. cyn

    great post! you mentioned AW. i think online community is pretty important. you can’t just bombard various online forums with your LOOK I PUBLISHED A BOOK one deal hit. but if you’ve been talking about it and hanging out with an online group for months beforehand, chances are, they’ll be cheering for you. and maybe even buy a book if they likeyou well enough.

    of course, this takes a lot of time.

    but i think it’s wroth it. and i do love hanging
    out in online communities like AW.

Author Information

Simon Haynes

Simon is the author of the Hal Spacejock series, featuring intergalactic loser Hal and his junky sidekick, Clunk. His website contains a number of articles on writing and publishing, and he's also the programmer of several freeware apps including yBook, BookDB and yWriter. In his spare time(!) he helps to run Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Visit site.

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