All Things That Matter Press and award-winning author Roland Allnach offers insights into book promotional considerations for new and experienced authors.
Promotional Considerations for New Authors
by Roland Allnach
Consider this familiar tale. An author publishes his or her first book. Among the excitement, the author’s friends and family line up for copies. Once this sales circle is saturated, sales stop, and the author is confronted by a stark question: “Okay, now what?”
Whether or not a publishing career thrives is heavily influenced by an author’s promotional efforts. In this article, we’ll take a quick tour of promotion concepts, consider some basic do’s and don’ts, and look at some lessons from personal experience.
Being an author means being a business
Let’s take a moment and consider some economic factors. The general rule of thumb for small businesses is that they take three to five years to attain profitability. This wisdom is based on full-time effort to achieve economic livelihood. Even though a typical author will not be solely reliant on book income the concept that profitability takes time is relevant.
What causes the time lag between initiation and potential profitability? Like any other business, it’s the process of building awareness through promotional efforts to establish brand and product identity. In these marketing terms the ability to introduce new products (your books) solidifies you as a reliable brand (credible author). In lieu of newly published titles, keep in mind that certain promotional efforts can help establish your credibility.
Remembering the brand-product relationship will help focus your efforts.
Your book is published: time to go public
Writing can be a solitary process. Promotional activities, on the other hand, are a public endeavor. It’s a stark transition that can cause authors to stumble.
Promotional efforts involve time, patience, perseverance, and thick skin to handle rejection and bouts of public apathy. As an author, it’s natural to be passionate about what you wrote. Potential readers, on the other hand, don’t know you or your book. This can often lead to frustration and disappointment when author outreach efforts are met with silence. Often what an author needs to learn in these trying situations is to rephrase the thought pattern. Instead of looking at the situation as, “Why aren’t people interested in my book?” consider the solution residing in, “How do I create interest?”
Books contain specific themes, emotions, and/or issues respective authors sought to explore. To make readers feel that an author’s brand-product dynamic is something they need to experience, authors need to publicly identify the compelling factors behind the creative drive of their books. Genre labels can guide readers to the general content of a book, but authors can connect to readers on a more pointed level by highlighting a book’s core values.
Consider this example. An author writes a dystopian science fiction novel involving resource depletion and issues of environmental sustainability. These are the book’s core values. The author can first talk about these topical issues of resource management and sustainability, then move to a second phase where the garnered attention is funneled into specific discussions of the book.
In the meantime, the author has built awareness as a voice on the topical issues (brand promotion). With branding established, it’s much easier to move into promoting the book (product). Through this it’s not hard to see that public efforts can follow a parallel flow of creative efforts. Creative efforts often begin with generalized ideas or issues; these translate to the initial promotion points. When it’s time to write a book, creative efforts narrow to specific plot and character concerns; likewise, these specific concerns can be shared publicly once initial interest is built through the discussion of generalized issues.
Understanding foundational versus promotional efforts
It’s natural to think of all promotional activity in terms of book sales. Without a doubt sales bring a smile, but looking at sales alone foregoes a wider perspective.
The truth of publishing is that beyond the “friends and family” sales circle it can be quite difficult to generate appreciable sales numbers. Assuming the book production is of sufficient quality, the most common sales obstacle is an author’s deficiency as an identifiable brand. At this point in an author’s journey promotional efforts can be viewed as foundational, that is, building an author’s brand awareness.
Good foundational efforts will help establish identity. Activities in this phase can be thought of as items independent of any single book. Most often this will consist of interviews, awards, and reputable review quotes that speak to you as an author rather than the book in question.
Whereas promotional efforts are more likely to have their efficacy judged on a cost/return basis, foundational efforts should be viewed as investments that can be amortized over repeated usage. Put simply, if you were to win an award or use a review quote that speaks of your writing quality, every time you cite that award or quote it divides into the expense of submitting for the review or award. As foundational efforts come to fruition they build your author platform and establish brand recognition and definition.
Public appearances are another effective way to build foundational efforts. For beginning authors, however, it can be difficult to entice a library, bookstore, or other venue to welcome an unknown author. In this regard joining a local author group can be invaluable. Not only does a group break down the inherent isolation of an author’s creative process, a group provides support in numbers. Beginning authors can learn from the experience of more seasoned authors; at the same time, beginning authors can have public anxieties allayed through support of fellow authors at panel discussions or author events. As the old saying goes, there’s strength in numbers.
With a secure foundational base, the transition to promotional efforts will not only be easier but can enjoy greater effect. It’s much easier to approach a host venue when you can provide a platform statement backed with credentials and show your experience by phrasing these items in a professional manner, rather than coming across with a simple plea to promote. Keep in mind a little secret of promotional efforts: just as you are looking for some benefit from the exercise, so too is the party supporting that exercise. If you want to speak at a library, you need to consider why the library would want you to speak. This holds true with a bookstore presentation or any other public interaction.
Judging promotional investments
Make no mistake: promoting a book will incur investments of time, money, or both.
The first thing to consider is the scope of a promotion. Early promotional efforts should start with geographic proximity and build outward. Host venues are receptive to local authors; at the same time, local authors can mobilize support with greater ease from among their own communities. Here too is where promotional efforts differ in character from foundational efforts. Foundational efforts can be pursued without concern for audience proximity.
It’s tempting for beginning authors to adopt the “go big or go home” mentality and jump directly to national promotion. Not only does this get expensive in a hurry, it also puts the beginning author at a severe disadvantage. On the national level beginning authors effectively compete with A-list authors and their large publishers. It’s very difficult for new authors to secure a footing amid the reader bases of prominent authors, and it’s impossible for beginning authors to compete with the promotional budgets of large publishers.
A marketing professional once shared a gem of insight with me: within the public realm people look to join momentum rather than build momentum. Beginning authors must secure localized reader bases before hoping to have success on the national stage.
Social media: the elephant in the room
Social media allows unlimited outreach at no financial cost. Instead of dollars the investment will come in the form of time. Typically, authors who build success through social media possess established followings that were transformed into reader bases.
Those who do not have an established following are confronted with a conundrum: success builds followers, yet followers are required for success. Pundits typically overlook the crucial step of building a following for the simple reason that there is no easy answer to this process. Followings take time and effort to cultivate, two factors that sit in direct conflict with the common message that social media is a quick and easy way to secure success.
So how can you build a following? Networking is certainly one solution, but perhaps the surest way is to step away from the computer and get out to local venues. Local promotional activities not only build awareness but also allow you to build a base of reader-followers. Consider as well services such as Goodreads, LibraryThing and AuthorsDen that allow authors to foster social interactions with readers.
It’s perhaps best to think of social media as a promotional multiplier rather than an end-all solution. The social phenomenon of “going viral” is based on the same behavior as any other promotional effort in that people are more apt to join a following than create one. Social media is all about trends. In essence, it’s a digital popularity contest.
Perseverance paves the road to publishing success
Regardless of what options you choose or what phase of awareness you’re pursuing for yourself and your book, understand that all efforts take time to bear fruit. The book world moves at a distinctively slow pace. Unlike painting, music, or sculpting, books do not have the ability to provide instant glimpses of their composition. On a similar note, books take time for people to read, as opposed to the narrow time gap of impression and conclusion with visceral arts.
It’s rare that authors publicly speak about the long arcs of research pursued for promotional efforts. Unless such exercises bear relevance to a book’s content they don’t get exposed to the public for the simple reason that they are of little interest. No matter the time and effort to assemble a creative or promotional effort these expenditures are essentially irrelevant to the outside world.
Is there one answer to the promotion puzzle?
As a matter of fact, the puzzle has a solution, and it doesn’t come in the form of big budgets, big time expenditures, or pursuits of generic plans from so-called or actual marketing experts. Successful authors build on their intrinsic strengths to in turn build a reader base.
With that perspective in mind, let’s look at things you should be doing:
Do examine your personal attributes and convert those characteristics into marketing advantages.
Do settle in for the long haul; there are no overnight solutions.
Do join a local author or writing group.
Do start local and build yourself a “home field” advantage.
Do reach out to libraries, art centers, etc.--venues are looking for speakers to present content.
Do keep writing; promotional opportunities expand as you publish new titles.
Now, let’s take a look at the other side of the spectrum:
Do not overreach with promotional goals; be wary of the “go big or go home” mentality.
Do not expect immediate sales returns; invest with your head, not your heart.
Do not try to go it alone; joining a local author or writing group can be an invaluable resource.
Do not forget the difference between foundational and promotional activities; be mindful when it’s time to switch from one to the other.
Do not wait for opportunities to happen; understand that you make opportunities happen through your promotional activities.
Lessons from Personal Experience
As for me, I’ve published six books in six years. I’ve tried several different approaches which I like to divide into groups: things I tried before I knew what I was doing, and things I tried while being aware of promotional goals.
I had an opportunity to do a book signing at the LA Times Book Festival with my first book, so I flew out to California. I tried a national promotion campaign with my second book. In hindsight, I realized in both cases that I was chasing the “go big or go home” mentality with little or no foundational efforts to build my platform. As a result, both efforts failed in their immediate goals. On the other hand, they succeeded long term for the wisdom of their experience.
And what was the wisdom I learned? Everything I’ve outlined in this article. I went back to basics, understood I had to build my platform, and took strides to reach out locally. My platform took shape through award recognition and praise in professional reviews. I rolled those accolades over to pitch myself for interviews, some of which came to me because of those foundational efforts. To get out locally I joined an authors group, in my case, Long Island Authors Group. Upon joining I volunteered to help the group’s event coordinator to learn and understand how to organize an event. I now share this role and book the group at local fairs. Likewise, I sought opportunities to speak publicly. After a number of events I’m now comfortable doing presentations whether I’m in front of two or two hundred people.
The point of all this is to understand that for every misstep you might take there can be a valuable lesson to learn. Like many authors, I too was visited by the feeling that I was up against hopeless odds and a tidal wave of apathy. Getting past this feeling was more a matter of perspective shift than anything else. I took it as indication and incentive that I clearly had to get out and learn more to change the balance of my situation.
With the experiences I’ve had, I feel much more confident in planning my next move while comforted with the discretionary wisdom earned through experience. Every author has to reach this point sooner or later, and the best way is to get out to the world.
The common theme comes to this: marketing is an ongoing experiment. What you want to achieve and how you approach that goal will evolve as you move from effort to effort and book to book. The important part is to analyze the balance of expectation, effort, and outcome in every effort. For all the discussion that can be entertained regarding promotional efforts remember that you created a book to share with readers. Your book only exists because you were compelled to present something you believe is of value to others. Without the effort to champion your book readers will never know what they’re missing.
For more about Roland visit https://www.amazon.com/Roland-Allnach/e/B004KI0YA4/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1492449194&sr=1-2-ent
About the Author
After more than twenty years of hospital night shifts, Roland Allnach has witnessed life from a slightly different angle. He’s been working to develop his writing career, drawing creatively from literary classics, history, and mythology. His short stories, one of which was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, have appeared in many publications. His first anthology, Remnant, blending science fiction and speculative fiction, saw publication in 2010. In 2012 he followed with Oddities & Entities, a collection spanning the supernatural, paranormal, horror and speculative genres. His third book, Prism, published in 2014, follows a winding road through diverse genres and narrative forms. In 2015 he saw publication of two more books, the dystopian science fiction novel The Digital Now and his first foray into nonfiction with The Writer's Primer: A Practical Guide for Aspiring Authors Seeking Publication. Roland’s books have received unanimous critical praise and have been honored with more than a dozen national book awards, including honors from National Indie Excellence, Foreword Reviews, Readers’ Favorite, Feathered Quill Reviews and Pacific Book Review. When not immersed in his imagination, Roland can be found at his website, rolandallnach.com, along with a wealth of information about his stories and experiences as an author. Writing aside, his joy in life is the time he spends with his family.