Now that I've got feet in both camps, I have a unique perspective on the good, the bad and the mysterious truths about book marketing. My memoir, The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter, was published by Random House. I leaped into the indie world when I self-published my first novel, Sleeping Tigers, a couple of months ago. My second novel, The Wishing Hill, will be published by Penguin in spring 2013. These experiences have taught me a lot about book publicity, but I'm still learning new things every day. There are some differences in how traditional and indie books are publicized, but those differences are shrinking by the nanosecond. The truest thing I can tell you is that, no matter how your book makes it into the world, you'll need to take an active part in the publicity. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Mine the Free Resources
The Internet is a wonderful tutor. There are more free resources out there about marketing your book than you'll ever have time to read. Google anything from "picking a book cover" to "social media for authors," and you'll get enough hits to last through a few thermoses of coffee each time you do it. Make good use of these resources. One of my favorites is Novel Publicity's "Free Advice Blog."
Prepare Your Platform
No matter who you talk to in publishing -- agent, editor, publicist, or sales team -- they'll tell you that their ideal is a good book written by an author with a "solid platform." Basically, that means that they want you to be famous before you even give them a manuscript -- or they want some hook, like you chewed off your arm during a battle with a grizzly bear. (Even then, they hope you've been blogging about it.) One easy way to start building your platform is by crafting a virtual identity. Social media tools are free and easy to use. Start a blog, create an author Facebook page, get a Twitter account, and set up a Goodreads page. Give people useful information -- don't just pimp your book. If you know how to do something -- anything from fly fishing to quilting -- blog about that, guest post on other people's blogs, and people will start following you. Yes, it's time-consuming, but it's also incredibly fun to connect with people. If you're trying traditional publishing avenues, it will help your editor sell your book to the publisher if she can prove that you have an active presence online. Indie or traditional, you're cultivating a loyal readership.
A Publicist Is Just Part of the Picture
If you're traditionally published, expect to be assigned a publicist. It is that person's job to advocate for your book with print media, radio and television stations, bookstores, and online sites. Make yourself part of the publicity team. If the publicist suggests that you do something, do it! The more you help your publicist, the more she can help you. On the other hand, don't take it personally if the publicist is too busy to do more than a few early rounds of marketing pushes. She'll probably have a minimum of time and an even smaller budget to devote to your book. You'll have to keep up the momentum. Likewise, if you're an indie author, be prepared to devote part of every week to promoting your books. Writers with deep pockets may find it easiest to hire a publicist; even then, log the hours if you want results.
Your Book Launch Is What You Make It
Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, a book launch in traditional publishing was a Very Big Deal. Authors were sent on book tours to do readings and signings on the publisher's dime. The pre-sales of books, both online and in bookstores, determined pretty quickly which books were hits. That's because they knew that shelf life in bookstores was brief. This is all changing. Sure, it's great to gain traction the minute your book is available. However, with the advent of online book sellers and e-books, your book will stay around forever. Don't despair if it takes weeks, or even months, to see sales results. Keep at it, and eventually the numbers will climb.
Give Away Your Books
Traditional publishers know that the best way to sell a book is to give it away first. They target who they give it to, of course -- book reviewers, TV producers, book clubs -- but, ultimately, the idea is to "seed" your book around the country so that people start talking about it. You can do the same thing on your own. Participate in giveaways on your own Facebook author page or through Goodreads, or ask book bloggers if they'll host giveaways for you.
Befriend Book Bloggers
Book bloggers are fairy godmothers for writers. Without their support and generosity, many of our books would never be read. Check out as many book blogs as you can find. When you discover a book blogger who reviews books like yours, write a personal note and ask if you can send a review copy. You might want to send her an e-book because it's cheaper than mailing a paperback, but if she says she'd rather have a paperback, send it! Media mail is cheap postage and print-on-demand paperbacks are inexpensive, too. Remember: she is the one doing you a favor, and it's a good investment. Most book bloggers post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads; once they're up, be sure to tweet and post those links on your own pages. Add them to your Amazon Author Central page as well.
Look for Out-of-the-Box Marketing Opportunities
Just like parents know their own children better than anyone else can, you know your book: its content, style, and target audience. Use that expertise in thinking about out-of-the-box marketing opportunities. I contacted pet groups when I published The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter, for instance, and found a loyal following. For Sleeping Tigers, I'm contacting breast cancer groups, because my main character is a breast cancer survivor, and I know other cancer survivors will connect with this story about hope and starting over.
All of your marketing efforts will eventually come together. If you're a parent, think about how many times you had to show your toddler peas or carrots before that child stopped thinking of veggies as too weird to eat. The same is true of your book: keep putting it out there, and pretty soon people will start saying, "Hey, I remember that title. I meant to read that book!"