How to promote your book (when you’d really rather hide in your study and write the next one) – Juliet Blackwell

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By Juliet Blackwell

When I sold my very first book – in a three-book deal – I was beyond happy; I was ecstatic. I was an author! No matter that it didn’t pay much. I thought to myself: you’ve made it! You have an agent, and a publisher! You’re book’s going on a bookshelf in a bookstore!!!♥

The year was 2005, and I had written my first book on a whim. I adored reading, and had a knack for writing, but I knew nothing about the publishing industry. I thought my job was to write the book, and the publisher – or perhaps the bookstore, or the cover art, or the vibrant words within — would set about actually selling the book.

Oh, silly me. Little did I realize that no, the book would not sell itself.

A few months after my first book came out, it was nominated for a major award, I had turned in my second in the series and was working on the third, and yet the publisher was telling me – in terms that were hard to understand until my agent clarified the language – that this mystery series was not going to go anywhere.

The bad news was that they didn’t want any more books in my original series. The good news was that my editor wanted to work with me on something new, and asked me what else I had “lying around” (as though carcasses of half-written books might be scattered about my study … which, in typical author style, was true.)

So I abandoned my original series and started writing a new one. And this time around, I had learned a few things. I had learned that no one was going to promote my book. I had to do it.

Book promotions. Ugh. The average writer doesn’t want to think about marketing, because that’s not our happy place. Most of us want to be hidden away, spinning our stories, losing ourselves in our make-believe worlds. Unfortunately, the days of authors holed up in their ateliers and letting publishers intercept the occasional fan mail are long since past. But, it’s too easy to lose yourself – and your creative drive – in the marketing frenzy. Yes, we authors need to be active partners in selling our books. No, we are not marketing experts – if we were, we’d probably be making a fortune selling paper clips or computer apps or some such.

So, as an introvert who would always rather sit alone in a well-lit room, writing my stories and weaving my tales, here’s what I’ve learned over the years:

Build relationships with booksellers, if you possibly can. I know the landscape keeps changing, but the folks who are still selling books, by and large, really love books. And they support authors! If you can get to know some of them face to face, they’re much more likely to hand-sell your books to their patrons. Reach out to bookstores, introduce yourself, offer advanced review copies of your books, offer to sign stock, and ask if they host signing events – even if no one but your mother shows up, you might connect with the booksellers in the store, and again, they’ll continue to sell your book. (The opposite here is to never, ever, burn your bridges with booksellers or industry folks – it may seem like a vast universe, but in fact the publishing/bookselling world is small, and you alienate people at your own risk).

Attend writing conferences. Cons are great places to connect with readers, booksellers, and industry professionals. There are mystery conferences, and romance gatherings; there are conventions touting thrillers or literary or historical fiction. If there’s a conference even vaguely in your wheelhouse and you can get there without great expense, give it a go. Networking is key here: readers want to meet authors, and booksellers want to meet authors. Also, being around book people is a great way to rev up those writing batteries!

Reach out to book clubs. Bestselling author Jenna Blum located and offered to speak to hundreds of book clubs. Her work paid off, placing her book onto the bestseller list long after it had first been published.

Establish a presence on social media (FB, Twitter, Instagram). But don’t focus solely on selling your book – and don’t get sucked down the rabbit hole! I spend no more than twenty minutes a day finding and scheduling links and stories, and occasionally check in during the day to write more personal comments. The vast majority of my posts are not about my books, but about topics of interest to my readers: old buildings, bookstores, France, vintage clothing, the publishing industry.

Find natural tie–ins to your writing. One of my best friends, Rachael Herron, worked for twenty-plus years as an emergency dispatcher for 911, and knits as naturally as breathing. Rachael uses those platforms as natural jumping-off points for selling her novels: she maintains a knitting blog and attends textile art conventions to tout her books; and now has written a thriller featuring a 911 dispatcher and writes non-fiction articles about the profession.

Blog tours. Full disclosure: I really, really, dislike writing blog posts. I never know what to say! I spend all day, every day, creating fictional worlds, but when asked to write a blog post my mind goes blank. But recently I’ve reached a nice accommodation with my publisher: I write just three blog posts, and my publisher reaches out to sites that want to post book reviews and giveaways, and offers them any of those three posts. It’s a great way to contribute content without depleting one’s creative well.

Obviously, you might find other avenues to promote your work. But just remember that while the savvy modern author must take an active role in selling her novel, there are certain methods that give much more in return than others. Never forget: your creative energy is precious. Don’t waste it on book promotions that won’t pay you back!

Juliet Blackwell is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty novels, including Letters from Paris, the Witchcraft mysteries, the Haunted Home Renovation mysteries, and the latest release, The Lost Carousel of Provence. A former anthropologist, waitress, and social worker, Blackwell now lives in a very old house, with a very large dog, in her native northern California.

1 Comment

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    Gretchen Anthony

    September 29, 2018 at 1:28 am

    This was really helpful. Thank you, Juliet!

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