By getting to the point of having a publishable manuscript, you have already mastered the arts of writing and editing. If you have also sent out proposals or queries, ideally you have also learned how to do market research. All three of these skills are necessary whether you are attempting to sell your manuscript to a publisher or planning to publish it yourself. As a self publisher, however, you can make better use of your market research than would a mainstream publisher. Because you can give it the attention it deserves, there is a good chance that you will do a more efficient job of publicizing and distributing your book. Since even the big publishers figure they make money on only three out of ten of their new titles, you can see that it's easy for a book to fail to make a profit. There are, however, specific thing you can do -- or neglect to do -- that are guaranteed to kill a book. The most important of these is to fail to consider all the steps necessary for your book's success and to then fail to take those step at the proper time and in the proper order.
Two to four months before publication: Promotion should begin several months before publication with press releases, announcements to local stores, radio and TV stations, newspaper reviewers, etc. Pre-publication offers can be made before publication (see Self-Promotion), with ordering coupons. If you plan to offer an electronic version of your book, you may do that once the manuscript is completed and formatted. Electronic publishing and/or disk versions are good ways to generate income to cover the high expenses of print publication. Now is the time to get the word out about your electronic book over as many computer bulletin boards as possible. It is also time to get your on-line book reviews. Electronic publications come and go rapidly, as do their featured offerings. Surf the net for publications currently offering on-line book reviews.
Near publication date: Send individualized letters to special interest groups, explaining why your book will appeal to the group (see Self-Promotion). Send mailings which include:
Although your mind tells you that you are an author and not a publicity agent, the reality is that yours is only one among many of hundreds of books being offered just this season! You are competing for limited bookshelf space in bookstores. Also keep in mind that bookstores are not the only places to sell books. Only 15% of all books, in fact, are sold in stores created to do this job. This is partly due to the short shelf life books are given in commercial bookstores. Bookstore research shows that the average book stays on sale for only three to six months before being bumped from the shelves by a newer hopeful. So how are the other 85% of books sold? In a variety of ways, all of which depend on getting out the word. Here are some proven tactics for successful self-promoting. Remember, the key is to obtain as much free publicity as possible through interviews, news mentions and book reviews. Be sure to note the correct timing for each of these efforts.
Create a short, snappy press release along the lines of "Local Writer to Publish New Book." Include basic data such as publisher, price, date of publication and give a phone number for further information.
About two months before publication mail the announcement to local stores, radio and TV stations, newspaper reviewers -- anyone who might order and/or want to read the book. Chain stores and book distributors (listed under "Independent Distributors in the Yellow Pages) should be high on that list.
At publication time follow up with actual copies of the book and an updated release. Make yourself available for interviews, book signings and calls for further information.
Pre-publication Offer: Make up a flier about your book, including a picture. The flier doesn't have to be fancy; it can be in black-and-white (though you could dress it up by printing on colored paper.) At the bottom of your flier, print a tear-off order coupon which offers a free reading or review copy, and quantities at a discount. Mail it to your list of potential buyers, including:
Special interest individuals, organizations, associations, corporations, museums, specialized stores, etc. (See below)
Special Interest Groups: Will your book hold special appeal for photographers, parents, residents of Alaska, college students, dog breeders, pilots? List clubs, social organizations and other groups where likely customers are hiding. Starting with the general press release you've already written, create individualized letters that explain why your book will appeal to the group you're approaching. Mail these when the publication date nears so that the book will be available in the stores when readers go to find it.
Use Your People Resources: If you have friends or relatives who can help, ask them. Journalists, typesetters, graphic artists, librarians -- all can aid and advise. Are there vendors you work with who could provide you with at-cost services? Working with a printer and videotape producer, for instance, you might give away bookmarks to bookstores, using a promotional videotape during the contact to ask them for orders.
Display: Those extra book jackets or cover flats you had printed in advance of publication can be used for many promotional efforts: 1) include one in mailings along with your news release 2) call on bookstores in your area. Leave a book cover if the store will display it, and offer yourself for a book signing session if the store is interested. Aggressive bookstores in your area are likely to say Yes if you propose a book's signing and author introduction. Just ask. They know how to do it. But don't become a nuisance. If a manager doesn't seem interested, don't press. The object is to become known as an author, not as a pest. 3) and if you're traveling, call the leading booksellers at your destination and see if they would like to do the same.
Review Copies: Reviews provide the greatest sales impetus of anything you can do. Reviews are worth your greatest efforts and they might require them, because reviews aren't easy to come by. More than 40,000 books are published every year in the United States. Fewer than 10% of them are reviewed. You will have to be timely, persistent and willing to make an investment in this endeavor if you are to succeed. As far in advance of publication as possible, mail copies of your new book to trade magazine, large newspapers, local newspapers and other reviewers. Send out as many as you can afford. Ideally, this should be done several months before your publication date because reviewers and columnists need reading time. Get these copies directly from your printer. Reviews often contain words of praise for your book that can then be included in your further publicizing efforts. Short quotes from several reviews look especially good on the back of your book's dust jacket, serving as endorsements.
Find Out More...