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Self-Promo for the Clueless
How to promote your books when you have no idea what you're doing
ETA 9/7/23: Sometime about a month after this was originally posted, I got booted from Twitter by The King of Free Speech, so just ignore all the stuff referring to this being a thread; it’s now strictly a blog post!
I’ve written a bunch of Twitter threads on publishing-related stuff lately that seem to have resonated, and I figure that since I already have this newsletter that’s ostensibly about publishing, I may as well put them here. (Also because I have no idea how to post on my Wordpress blog anymore since they got that ridiculous new editor. I already paid for the Classic plugin for LGBTQReads and I am not doing it again.)
So! We’re gonna start off with this one: A small* thread for authors who want to promote their books but have no idea how:
*None of my publishing advice threads are ever small. You should know I am absolutely always lying when I say they’re going to be small.
Your website is an excellent promotional tool! Keep it up to date, make sure it's got everything it needs (I've got threads on that, too), and make sure it's easy to find, too. I know some people think you don't need one and I'm sorry** but I will never agree!
**I am obviously not sorry about this.
Don't exhaust yourself with promotion before anyone can actually buy/request your book, and certainly not before you have a cover/blurb to show for it. (Ideally these things all come together around the same time.) Your promotion should ideally have action item possibilities.
Note: This does not mean you are never allowed to promote at these stages! Certainly if you have a book in the B&N preorder sale, for example, but it doesn’t have a cover yet, it’s still worth a mention. But, you know, keep it to an extreme minimum so you don’t tire your audience out before they can even do anything.
Figure out some things you enjoy doing. Better to build consistency there than go nuts spreading yourself too thin. IG pics? Newsletter? TikTok videos? Tweets? Interviews? Podcasts? Guest posts? Giveaways? Pick what you want and do not drain yourself w/stuff you hate!
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Teaming up with other authors who are publishing to the same audience can work wonders in spreading all of your networks. Find a few and work together! Could be a joint giveaway, a roundtable interview, a panel pitch... it helps a lot to pair up and share readerships.
Let your team know what you want to do, what interests you, where your ideal coverage spots are, who it's really important to you to reach - help them target and prioritize, especially if you want to get your ARCs out there and they can provide them. Yes, you can ask this! You can ask a lot of things! Worst you can get is a no, and then you’re no worse off.
Feel silly just dropping promo out of nowhere? A) don't, but sometimes that's easier said than done, so try B) take note of important countdown/bookiversary milestones (e.g. "Three months until pub!"/"Book has been out three months!")
No graphic skills but need promo graphics? Join the club. Take note of 3 sites that will be sufficient for the basics, even at the free level:
1) BookBrush - lots of great features, but if you feel incredibly beyond lost and just want something, the very best thing this offers for you is Instant Creator - they’ll literally just insert a cover you upload into a premade template and then you’re done.
3) DIY Book Covers - this site is great for making those 3D pics of your book looking like a book using only your cover files.
Speaking of graphics, these are lovely and easy ways to share news! New deal? YOU get a graphic! Got a blurb? YOU get a graphic! Have a nice pull quote from a review? YOU get a graphic! Want to share a quote from your book? YOU get a
People are always gonna be interested in annotated stuff. Got ARCs? Annotate one and do a giveaway. Got finished copies? Annotate one and do a giveaway. It does not matter if you think your notes are boring; the very concept of insight and bonus info is exciting! You can write anything from “This is my favorite line” to “I imagine [this song] during this scene” to “This was inspired by something that happened to me in high school” to “I have a policy of including a turtle in every book somewhere.”
Be excited about your paperbacks and foreign editions! These are absolutely things to promote alongside your hardcovers! They have audiences! That's why they exist! Don’t forget to promote their publications, when they go up for preorder, etc.
The above-mentioned are things that generally don't cost money aside from shipping, but if you've got some money to spend on promo (keeping in mind the ROI potential), bookmarks are relatively inexpensive and some libraries and indies will happily take them. Ideally get >1 book on there! If you’ve got a series, put all of them! If you’ve got a bunch of standalones with the same target audience, you can put them all on! Get the most bang for your buck in every way possible. (Don’t know how to design these? Neither do I. Hire a swag designer, and anyone who does this with any sort of frequency will be able to guide you through the ordering process as well.)
Got money to burn but no time or inclination to do extra work? Ads are very much a real thing! Are they worth it? Depends! But there are all kinds, from placements on popular blogs (like LGBTQReads!) to Amazon and Goodreads ads to sponsored posts.
Look, I am well aware that sometimes it can feel hopeless, especially if you have a small audience and social media following. Hell, I have a decent SM following and it still often feels hopeless. My feeling is that you've got to nurture the readers you have as best you can. One thing that's really important to me along those lines is making sure international readers aren't left out of everything. Yeah, sending signing books to other countries is wildly expensive. But sending a signed bookplate is an international stamp. Consider it!
Do take stock of how your book is being promoted to the outside world. Do you feel like your blurb conveys everything important? Is it categorized in the ways you think make the most sense? If not, talk to your pub team to see if you can change it, but if you can't, or you just do not want to have that conversation, or they say no, one thing you can do is focus your efforts on promotion that fills in what you feel the gaps are.
Examples: Does your book have cultural content that isn't necessarily clear from the publisher's promotion? If, say, it wasn't obvious your book had a Jewish MC, you might want to actively pitch something to Bookishly Jewish. Same thing, but queer? Pitch to a queer book blog about it!
Don't be shy about responding to every open promotional opportunity that actively invites you to pitch your book, assuming your book actually fits. For instance, see a Twitter thread like "If you've got SFF coming out this summer tell me about it in the replies" and you do? DO IT.
Finally, don't wanna do any of this? Don't***. Free yourself. Your job as a writer is to write. Fin.
***beyond your contractual promotion requirements. I cannot tell you that you can do nothing if your contract requires "reasonable efforts"