There is a tried and true maxim in the SCUBA diving community: “Plan your dive, and dive your plan.” This sage piece of advice is also applicable to our community of authors.
To give our writing a purpose we must involve the second and most important part of our community; our readers. Reaching out to our readers cannot and must not be done in a capricious or haphazard manner. To be successful in our endeavors we must have a plan showing us the way to reach out to as many readers as possible; regardless of our individual genre.
Ideally this plan should be implemented before the first keystroke marks the first blank page of your manuscript. However, many of us become so wrapped up in the creation of our work that we tend to forget that writing, editing, and publishing are only the first steps in turning our masterpiece into a book that our potential readers are willing to buy.
Throughout history when people are faced with hardship and uncertainty they tend to seek diversion in some form of entertainment; books have always provided this necessary diversion. Even in this high tech world of instant communication, paper books are still popular. Things electronic are cold and impersonal; books, on the other hand, are warm, comfortable, and personal. That is why the Bible still tops the bestseller list, the same as it did when Melville wrote Moby Dick. Perhaps Melville counted on the fact that the Bible was widely read when he started his book with one of the greatest reader hooks of all time: “Call me Ishmael.” Certainly, everyone who read the bible in 1851 immediately identified the symbolism.
An author may have written a good, or even a great book, but finding someone willing to publish the book doesn’t mean that, once published, any author can afford the luxury of sitting back and waiting for the quarterly royalty checks to come rolling in. While true, that writers are in the book writing business and publishers are in the book selling business, by no means should this fact be taken to mean that both operate separate and apart from one another in some kind of literary vacuum. Publication of a book merely signals the author that the task of reaching as many readers as possible has only just begun.
Whether spelled out in so many words, in contractual format, or not, there is an implied contract, a gentleman’s agreement, if you will, between author and publisher that the author will do everything in his or her power to promote the book upon publication. Competition is keen and many really good books, for lack of adequate promotion, simply do not stay the course.
There is a naive tendency to look at a John Grisham or a Dan Brown with unabashed awe; saying to ourselves, that talent begets overnight success. While true that both these authors are gifted, they were by no means an overnight success. John Grisham’s first book was A Time to Kill, not The Firm, as generally believed by the majority of readers. It took him a long time to finish the book. When he finally found a publisher, it was only for a limited run and the book didn’t do very well, at all. However, he believed in his dream, so he had more printed, and started promoting the book himself. He did this, by selling the books at meetings of local garden clubs and even out of the trunk of his car at flea markets. The point here is, if a modern literary icon like John Grisham believes in himself that strongly – selling his first novel out of the trunk of his car – can the rest of us be less committed to the promotion of our own books?
The answer is a resounding no! As authors we cannot afford to do less; we must always strive to go the extra mile. In reaching out to our readers and promoting our books we are only limited by our imaginations. As published authors, if we are to be true to our craft and keep faith with our readers, our imaginations ought to be boundless in the arena of book promotion.
Below, I will share with you some of the many ways to promote your own work at little or no cost. With a minimal expenditure of cash and a lot of hard work great things can be accomplished. The old adage that tells us, writing a book is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration also holds true with book promotion.
TARGET YOUR AUDIENCE BEFORE YOU START WRITING
In an ideal world we would all be best selling authors. Short of that there are many resources at our disposal that can help level the playing field when it comes to the promotion of our work.
Just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step your book begins with an idea. There is a vast audience out there waiting for you to share your idea with them. Find out who they are and write your book for them. Promotion of your work ideally starts before you start writing. Just a personal example: As an ex-Army officer, I joined the Military Officers Association of America – MOAA. Membership in MOAA numbers over 360,000 and climbing. The association’s magazine, Military Officer, has a section, “Member Books”, which is self-explanatory. My book, Point Deception, was featured in the July 2010 issue of the magazine. Not only that, but you can go to the MOAA website and find my book listed under Member Books – Fiction – July 2010, where you will be given my publisher’s link, should you be interested in purchasing the book. The point is, for a meager $30 annual membership fee, I’ve exposed my book to over 360,000 potential readers. This is only one example; I’m sure you can suggest many more that are relevant to your life experiences.
It is a given; readers of our particular genre comprise the vast majority of our target audience. However, there are actually three separate divisions within our target audience; first and foremost, is the reader – the people who buy our books for their own enjoyment. Two additional, but equally important groups consist of purchasers and influencers. The purchasers may or may not actually read the books they buy. They may buy them as gifts for friends, family, employees, or fraternal organizations. They may even serve on acquisition committees for any number of public and private libraries. The last group is called the influencers. This often forgotten group can potentially make a huge difference when it comes to publicizing your book. Just one example: The blockbuster movie, The Guardian, grossed over $84 million dollars and is still going strong. The movie was based on a non-fiction book dealing with the Coast Guard’s rescue swimmer program titled That Others May Live. The book, written by a Coast Guard commander, was featured on the Commandant’s Reading List. It was later developed as a screenplay and the rest, as they say, is history. All types of social organizations review books authored by their members and publish these reviews in their newsletters. The possibilities for positive exposure of your book, to large groups of people, at little or no cost to you, are endless.
You must know your audiences as well as you know the characters in your novel. Several people have said this. However, it is always worth repeating. What group of readers are you targeting? There are hundreds of blogs, discussion groups, book clubs, and chat rooms on the Internet for every genre. Seek out the ones with the largest numbers of members, sign up and become known as an author to watch.
Establish a website and start your own blog. Don’t forget to plug your upcoming book or the one that has just been released. Come up with keywords and tags associated with your book title and your name whenever anyone types them into a search engine. Did you know that if you join an online writers group and submit the title and first chapter of your book for review by others in the group, whenever the key word in your title or your name is entered in a search engine anywhere on the internet, your title and that first chapter may pop up as a hit attached to the writers group URL?
PROMOTING YOUR BOOK ONLINE
Going online could mean thousands of sales for you depending on your marketing strategy. If you are really serious about promoting your book you have to be the personification of proactive, in harnessing the vast resources available to you via the internet. The caveat is that the internet ocean is so vast that it is easy to dilute your marketing efforts to the point where they become love’s labor lost.
If you don’t have one already, it is imperative that you establish your own author website and blog. At minimum your own website will serve as a means of communication between you and your existing readers, as-well-as any potential new readers that may come along. It should contain your biography (I have purchased many books based solely on my perception of a shared life experience with an author). Of course it is also a good place to inform your readers of upcoming events that you will be participating in as-well-as a sales page where your readers may purchase your book.
When establishing a theme for your site, you should be comfortable with the persona you are attempting to portray to your readers and remain true to that theme. The more readers identify with your author persona, the better it is for you.
Finally, you must reply in timely fashion to all messages and posts your site receives. Show your readers that you care about them and they will show you that they care about you by buying your books and recommending your books to family and friends. Remember, more books are sold by word of mouth than by Madison Avenue.
Additionally, you can boost the number of positive reviews of your book on Amazon.com by including the following message on your e-mail auto responder service that should be part of your marketing software on your website:
“If you enjoyed my book, please consider posting comments about it to Amazon.com.”
Online stores that sell books are among the easiest and most accessible ways for readers to learn about and purchase your book. The universally accepted Goliath of these internet stores is Amazon.com. If your book has been released by your publisher it should be found here. That’s good but not that great. Thousands of other books are listed here as well.
Remember, when you were writing your book, you were trying to come up with a hook to get your book noticed by an agent, editor, or publisher. Now that you’ve published your book and it’s listed on Amazon.com, you have to work just as hard to get it noticed by potential readers. Your job now is to move your book from just one among thousands to Amazon’s top 100 books list. Amazon has built into their system multiple author friendly ways to move your book up into the top 100 list, which means maximum reader exposure for your book. This is the internet equivalent of the special new release shelf that you see immediately upon entering a brick and mortar bookstore like Barnes & Noble.
Go to Amazon.com and find your book. Sign up for Author Central to take full advantage of all of Amazon’s author friendly ways to promote your book.
One drawback to online book selling has been that the reader doesn’t have the opportunity to enter a brick and mortar bookstore, pick up your book after first being attracted by its title and cover – believe it or not, a significant amount of book sales are made on the basis of title and cover appeal alone – allowing the reader to sit down to read a few pages while sipping a Mocha latte in the coffee shop. Amazon has attempted to remedy this by its Search Inside feature. You will notice that most, if not all of the books featured in Amazon’s Top 100 list have this feature.
Another source of exposure for your book is Amazon’s blog. Here you are free to say anything you want to about your book or other books that you’ve been reading as long as you do it in good taste and avoid inappropriate language. The “Golden Rule” applies here.
If you have extra money to spend – no one I know does – you can participate in Amazon’s BXGY (Buy X and Get Y) program. This program pairs your book with a top selling book.
Amazon tells customers that, “If you buy this popular book, you should also consider buying (your book) this one too.” This can be expensive, since pairing your book with a Dan Brown book would run you $1,000 dollars a month and pairing your book with a lesser best seller would run around $750 dollars a month. This could eat up a large chunk of your royalties or advance. My basic recommendation is: If your book promotion budget is limited put this one on the back burner.
Another worthwhile feature on Amazon is “tagging.” Tags are used to describe a book and are used to locate books in a particular category. Each tag is associated with a particular Amazon community relating to that tag. Amazon lists these communities giving the number of members within each of them. For example, one of my tags for my novel Point Deception is “Texas.” There are 2088 customers in this community. By discussing my book in this community I have potentially reached over two thousand consumers. You are allowed fifteen tags per product (book). By selecting tags with high membership communities you can easily announce your book to at least 20,000 readers.
The images of the front and back cover of your book are already there. You can also add additional images that relate to your book. You must have the right to publish these images or have permission. Each image should contain a carefully thought out caption (strongly recommended by Amazon).
If you want to succeed, take action, think laterally and always be on the lookout for a new way to promote yourself and your book. Amazon.com is a great place to start. I have just begun to implement many of the free author promotional features offered by Amazon. To track my progress go to Amazon.com books and search for Point Deception by Jim Gilliam.
Like the young protagonist in his first novel, Point Deception, Jim Gilliam was born and raised on the Texas Gulf Coast; he ran away from home and joined the Coast Guard at the tender age of fourteen. After a ten year stint in the Coast Guard, he returned to civilian life, where he attended the University of Houston, and transferred to the Baylor College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program. After a few years of civilian practice, he resumed his military career by joining the Army Medical Corps as an airborne combat physician assistant. Once more, leaving the military behind, he returned to civilian practice as a physician assistant, going on to earn a Master’s Degree in Family Medicine from the University of Nebraska in 1999. In May of 2001, he joined the Navy’s Military Sealift Command as a civilian mariner physician assistant. Long deployments at sea provided the perfect environment for him to embark on his writing career. He retired from the Military Sealift Command in February of 2010, after almost twenty-eight years of service, and now lives with his wife, Laura, in Warwick, New York where he continues the pursuit of his writing career.