Next to giving birth to my first child, one of the most exciting moments of my life came in April, 2007 when a small box arrived from Penguin U.S.A. That box contained copies of Poison Pen, the first in my Forensic Handwriting Mystery series. I could hardly believe that after 7 years of trying to sell my book, it was finally real: I was holding in my hands and it was on its way to bookstores all over the country. Somehow, it was even more exciting when six months later, book two, Written in Blood, arrived. A year after that, the excitement was still growing when Dead Write was published. But by the time Last Writes came out in 2010, my enthusiasm was a bit wilted.
Don’t misunderstand. It was still just as thrilling to see my books in print, published by one of the world’s biggest publishing houses, but what I had learned over the course of the first three books was that, beyond putting my books on bookstores’ shelves (which is, of course, very important), if I wanted readers to buy the books, telling them the books were there was going to be my own responsibility.
I also learned that despite putting a great deal of time, money, and energy into travel and promotion, which generated decent sales, it didn’t guarantee a new contract. This situation is not unique to me. Unless you are a Michael Connelly or Janet Evanovich, a publisher’s resources are unlikely to be thrown behind promoting your book. It’s going to be up to you.
So, what are some really effective ways of promoting, and what are not? Everyone seems to agree that these days, unless you’re in the neighborhood and already have a following, book signings are not the best way to go. I’ve traveled across country on my own dime (well, fifty cents when adjusted for inflation), sitting up all night on a plane, only to arrive at a bookstore to find that no one has told store personnel that I was scheduled for a signing that day. And hearing, “No, we don’t have any of your books,” is not an anomaly limited to me. I hear the same thing from author after author (so always carry some books with you!).
What’s really important in your promotion these days is to create a platform, or a brand. In my case, I’m a forensic handwriting analyst, so for me, that’s a ready-made platform. Book sales are much greater when I give talks about handwriting analysis and how my character, Claudia Rose, uses it to understand the people she deals with in the books, rather than just setting up a table in a store and expecting shoppers to come over with armloads of books for me to sign (if only!).
I’ve given loads of talks at libraries (some paid, some free), and while those audiences really enjoy the information, they tend not to buy books, they borrow from the library. Still, library sales are very important, so even though it would be much nicer for me if they would buy, it’s fine.
Having established your platform/brand, a Facebook page is The Thing. This can be separate from your personal page, and is a good place to tell your “friends” about your upcoming books and activities. Whether I’ve been invited to speak at a book club, library, a business group, or a university, I post about it on my Facebook wall. Afterwards, I post photos of the event. Readers “Like” these items and post comments, which helps spread the word about my books. I also tweet (@sheila_lowe) my events or articles that I write, as well as other types of informational articles—no one wants a bunch of tweets that are totally self-promoting.
Another good promotional tool is appearing on a panel at conventions in your particular genre. However, with travel costs rising, you may want to stick to conventions close to your geographical area. It’s easy enough to find them. Remember, Google is your friend.
Writing articles and blog posts is excellent free advertising, too, and if you are an expert in your field, you can even get paid for some of those articles.
Bottom line, you can’t just write the book and sit back, waiting for it to fly off the shelves or into someone’s Kindle. When you get the copy of your first book in your excited little hands, you must generate the same excitement in your readers, and the first step in doing that is to let them know your book is out there.