Are you an author with a best seller and a marketing budget the size of a small South American country? My guess is that in 2020 you are not and that only the tip of the author iceberg gets this treatment. As a result, the odds are you just like the majority of other authors: you’ve got the publishing deal, but author promotion is critical in your next step of world domination. The internet and its ever-growing power in the world, has long been integral to the process of writing success, as authors can be Googled and newsletters of latest releases can be sent worldwide at the will of the publishers. The more that is known about the author by the most accessible forms of information, the more rewards all of the hard work writing the novel will receive.
Websites, as a weapon in the promotional armoury of successful authors are now as vital to their marketing strategy as the word processor. Word of mouth is still vitally important, but to become a household name – an Ian Rankin, say, or a Stephen King – then an author must get out and get noticed and the easiest, cheapest way is to have a Website.
So now the book is in your hand – a living entity complete with nicely drawn cover and real pages. It feels great. It looks great. Now all it has to do is sell, which you as the author and having travelled the long road to literary superstardom, are more than confident of it doing in shed loads, simply on its own merit. All the author – i.e. YOU – has to do is sit back and watch the money roll in. Surely, once an author is published, that’s it – they’re made for life?
Well, actually, no, not at all. The book is a product and like any other piece of manufactured material it needs selling. The only person who can do that is the person who knows the product best – the author.
Publicity is crucial in the promotion of a book and since budgets are usually very tight, this can’t be wasted. Books are news and publishing comes in for far more than its fair share of free promotion through exploiting their news value in the press and media. It is particularly important that your promoter knows about any special contacts you may have, any interesting angles raised by the book, or if you yourself might be promotion-friendly. You must have a firm grasp on what your writing (or latest book) is about. And you must be able to define it clearly and quickly. What sets your book apart from others in its genre?
But surely the agent, who is after all taking 15% of your earnings looks after this? Well, no. The agent finds a publisher, looks after the legal stuff, supplies an editor and advises the author … to an extent. Selling’s not really their game. Publishers do have budgets set aside for promotion, but only those authors in whom they have extreme confidence – literary giants such as Jamie Oliver, Wayne Rooney and Trinny and Susannah for example – will have bucket loads of cash hurled at them because the returns are nailed on. You? Unless this is the next “Da Vinci Code” or “Extreme Makeovers For Dummies”, forget it. You come at the bottom of a very long promotional food chain and will need to work your toes off getting your book recognised. Your publicist will possibly send copies out to critics and the press for review. They might, if you’re lucky, even arrange interviews. After that, you are pretty much on your own and need to impress people with your real voice and attitude, more than your literary style.
Mostly by being stubborn, hard working, diligent, organised, willing, brave and thick-skinned. Not a lot different to those skills needed to be a writer in the first place, really.
Hiring somebody to look after the arrangements of interviews and publicity allows the author to concentrate on that all-important second novel. Publicity services arrange interviews on TV and Radio, organise press coverage, design Press Releases for novels and events and endeavour to get the highest possible profile for their clients in whatever outlet is available. A publicist’s main job is media relations, scheduling interviews, book reviews and feature stories for a client. Occasionally, other services are offered, such as book tour coordination and promotion, media training and development of marketing materials. However, a publicist does not typically find agents, publishers or distributors for the book, schedule speaking engagements or coordinate travel arrangements for a book tour.
Some authors are willing to do just about anything to get their work noticed. What is most important, however, is that the promotion suits YOU. You’re the one doing the selling. You’re the one in the front line. If “I’m a celebrity” isn’t for you, say so early on and you’ve not wasted anyone’s time and energy. There are other ways that work can be promoted that are not so adventurous. Radio interviews can be pre-recorded, for example, and presenting talks to libraries and book groups are always pleasant experiences. No author needs to needs to be a personality to engage an audience. The book that the author has written will be more than engaging enough.
The thing is that, as an author, you must make yourself available. If you’re not prepared to go that extra mile in the marathon race that leads to success, the first twenty-five miles might prove to have been in vain.
'Famously nice to all they meet'
What is the X-factor that turns a book into a bestseller? They don't just happen by chance. Publishers put their efforts into marketing and publicising a book in a way that will make it stand out from the 200,000 others published every year. Booksellers are wined and dined and critics courted to get the buzz going long before the book appears. At the centre of their efforts is the author, who nowadays has to put as much work into selling themselves as they did into writing their book.
So what do this elite bunch have in common? It's simple. Rankin, McCall Smith and Binchy are famously nice to all they meet, as are Joanna Trollope and Jacqueline Wilson. They are prepared to wait until the last fan's copy of their latest books is signed, and to visit libraries, schools and book festivals in the back of beyond to talk to tiny audiences of enthusiastic readers who will spread the word about them. The result is huge loyalty among booksellers and librarians who are willing to push their work.