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Marketing Your Novel: Building the "Buzz"

by Marilyn Henderson

You sold your novel! Congratulations, but don't relax yet. Your work isn't done. It's time to get busy on your marketing plan for the book.

"Doesn't the publisher do that?"

Maybe, but unless you already have a proven track record of sales that indicate a substantial following, it's not likely. A publisher's marketing budget, if there is one, for a first novel by an unknown author will probably range in the low five-digit figures. Most publishing houses send out review copies and press releases to major reviewers and newspapers, but it's up to the author to pick up the ball and run with it.

If visions of the bestseller lists and regular royalty checks dance in your head, start laying the groundwork for your own marketing plan as soon as the ink is dry on the contract. Some of the essential things that will help sell your book need preparation ahead of time.

The best marketing tool money can't buy is word of mouth. If people talk about your book when it comes out, word spreads quickly, and readers will be eager to buy it. When they do, they tell others about it. Get enough people into the loop, you have Buzz.

Here are some ways to encourage Buzz about your novel.

Bookstores

If you don't already know the manager and staff of every bookstore in your area, get acquainted as soon as possible. These are the people who will sell your book. Since it takes most publishers from six to eighteen months to get a book out after it's "in house", you have time to build relationships with store employees and owners of independent and specialty bookstores. They are the backbone of genre fiction and usually enjoy knowing writers.

The purpose at this point is not to promote your book but to build friendly relationships. Talk to salespeople about books and authors. If the store holds book signings, become a familiar, friendly face at events. And buy books! If you're like most writers, you read dozens of books each year and buy at least half of them. Start getting them at the independent stores you visit. Most independent store owners like to help local authors when their books launch.

You have less influence with the big chains where deciding which books to stock is done at a higher management level. Chains work through distributors and wholesalers. That process is handled by the publisher. A book must be "in the computer" before the store or department manager can order it.

If you self-published, you should contact the Small Press Department of the chain's headquarters for information on how to get your book considered. You will probably be asked to send a detailed Marketing Plan as well as advance reviews, press releases and a copy of the book.

Reviews

Start building a list of magazines, newspapers, ezines, and websites where you can request reviews. Reviews help keep the Buzz going. Internet search engines will bring up long lists of possibilities if you type in "review novels". You can narrow down the results considerably in Google by going to the bottom of the first results page and clicking on the "Search within results" button, then typing "submit book" in the field and clicking again. You can eliminate some sites simply by reading the description, and explore only those that sound promising. If it's a reasonable match for your novel, copy the URL into a special reviewers file you can transfer to your address book later.

Many of these review sites cover a broad band rather than a narrow niche. If the source is internet based, visit the site. Some also do author interviews or profiles. Create a special file for these so you can request more than a review when your book is out.

Some site-based reviewers are willing to read electronic files since they review ebooks as well as bound volumes. You may be able to get early reviews to coincide with the book's launch date.

Also search sites and magazines related to the background or setting of your story: nursing, law, trucking, flying, etc. Even if they don't review regularly, they sometimes run reviews of books their readers may enjoy.

Ask your publisher about securing bound galleys to send out for review purposes. If they won't be available, you can print out the single-spaced manuscript, fasten it in a plastic folder and ask a few people to read and review copies. Ask each for a tag line to use with the review. All reviews are good promotion for both you and the reviewer. If the reviewer has a connection to books or writing, mention it in the tag line.

Book groups

Another list you should build is book groups in your area. They abound in mid-size and large cities and can often be found in smaller communities as well. If you are familiar with how groups operate, you can prepare a list of questions for discussion and offer it on your website or directly to groups when your novel is out. Contact groups and suggest your book as one of their selections and offer to attend the discussion meeting to talk to them or answer questions.

Internet

If you can get people in a chat room, forum or on a message board talking about your book, the Buzz can spread like wildfire and translate into sales. These venues usually have strict rules for posting, so be sure to read and follow them carefully.

Low budget promo

Depending on your budget, you can have bookmarks or postcards printed to keep your book title in front of readers. These have become commonplace, however, so if you do it, be original in some way. One writer sent postcards with an enticing excerpt from the novel in the message box. A small group of crime writers doctored a picture of two felons in striped garb and leg irons with the faces of two group members in place of the original felons. The message announced books by four members and the group's email address for additional information.

Ask at independent and specialty bookstores if you can put some of your bookmarks near the cash register where customers can pick them up.

If you attend writers' conventions, they are an excellent place to distribute bookmarks, postcards or flyers. Most conventions let attendees send promotional material ahead of time to be included in the convention bags or put on a give-away table.

A website

If you don't already have an author website, get busy! It will be a vital part of your marketing. It doesn't need a lot of bells and whistles. Your visitors will be book readers who are interested in you and your novel.

Post reviews, offer visitors an enticing "free read" scene or first chapter of your novel or something else connected to the setting, theme or character. If catering is an important part of the plot, for example, a recipe would work. If cars or driving are important to your story, give away tips for safety on the freeway, highway, mountain roads or wherever your character drives.

Bird watching? Scuba diving? Wilderness treks? We tend to write what we know or are at least familiar with.

If you don't have resource material on hand, the Internet will turn up information on almost anything. Create an original article or tip sheet about your subject, being sure to honor all copyright laws. Offer it free on your site as a virtual brochure downloadable or by email. this enables you to collect "opt-in" email addresses so you can keep in touch with potential customers.

Using an auto responder makes the process of sending your material and additional mailings simple. Some companies offer free introductory accounts. Type "auto responder" into your favorite search engine for names. Installation of the program may require more technical skills than many writers have, so talk to your webmaster.

[Editor's Note: Many ISPs have their own autoresponders, which you can often set up for yourself through the "admin" panel of your website or e-mail hosting service. For example, if you are using a cable connection such as Cox, check your account on the Cox website to view your options. If you don't know where the admin panel is relating to your website, contact your ISP host; you'll need your user name and password to access this portion of the site.]

Author tours

Take advantage of any traveling you do. Make business trips or visits to family or friends marketing opportunities. Check out booksellers, introduce yourself and leave some of your promotional material. If you know you'll be back that way when the book is out, offer to schedule a signing or autograph store copies.

Networking

One of the most important and successful activities you can do to market your book is network. Writers talk about writing and promoting their work. In addition to bookstores, hang out where writers do and share ideas. Many organizations and groups put on joint signings, panel appearances, or other functions at schools, libraries and bookstores. Polish up your speaking skills and volunteer as soon as your book comes out.

Once you get involved in marketing, other ideas will abound. Create a file for them. All these activities will help you build your network, create Buzz about your book and sell copies. Marketing isn't a one-shot deal, it's an ongoing process. The life of your novel depends on it, so start now!

Copyright © 2005 Marilyn Henderson
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Marilyn Henderson is a 42-year novelist, coach, manuscript critic, and author of "Writing A Novel That Sells: Beyond the Basics". Visit her web site at: http://www.mysterymentor.com

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