So you’ve written a book, and the launch of your darling debut approacheth with increasing speed. Congratulations! And welcome to hell.
If you’re like me, you innocently went searching for helpful self-marketing checklists and guides that might assist you in preparing for the big day. And then you skimmed through those checklists and choked. I’m supposed to do what now? In how long? With whose cash and time and energy? After that, you sent off a panicky, tearful e-mail to your friend and fellow author Laurie Thompson, who herself recently launched her own spectacular debut, and who promptly met you at Panera for a three-hour, no-frills, no-lies marketing session.
I’m going to pass along the fruits of our conversation, because in three hours, Laurie turned me from a hyperventilating asylum candidate into a serene debut author with a reasonable to-do list. And maybe you, like me, are mortal and get tired. Maybe you have another career. Maybe you have kids. Maybe marketing your book cannot be your full-time, or even your part-time job. And maybe the idea of going into the world and promoting yourself makes you want to die a little. So maybe you need a little soothing, a la Laurie. Here it is.
Prepare – But Don’t Despair.
You don’t have to do everything.
You don’t even have to sell your book. To anyone. As an author, your job is to write a book. Once the book is released, your job is to write another one. Your secondary job is to raise visibility, which means letting people know your book exists. You’re probably already doing that in lots and lots of ways.
When you see a list of things you could be doing, think of them as exactly that. Things you could be doing. Not things you should be doing. Pick out the ones that make sense to you and that you feel capable of tackling. Do those.
Laurie and I went through her super-maxi-extreme-ultra checklist of doom, and together we identified some things that I want to keep on my personal, sane-person list, such as:
- Create the story around your book – your one-or-two-sentence Why – and be ready to share it. This isn’t an elevator pitch; it’s an answer to the question “Why did you write this?” or “What was your inspiration for this book?” or “What does this book mean to you?” It’s the story behind your story, and it will provide your publisher’s publicity department, as well as librarians, teachers, and booksellers, with a handy hook for generating interest in your book.
- Make postcards and bookmarks, because they’re useful for all sorts of things. Send them to stores and libraries, or drop some off at local places. (Honestly, the mailing-list thing? I dread it. Researching to build the lists and finding the time to write hundreds of notes and print labels and apply postage… That’s all extremely daunting to me, so it’s one of those things that I’m going to do as I can, when I can. A few notes a week. I’ll target the stores I care about, and the libraries within driving distance that I might actually be able to visit.) Remember, once your book is out, it’ll be out for a while. Not everyone has to buy it on the actual launch date.
- Make some fun swag for giveaways and launch events, if you’re doing those things. People like free stuff. Keep it cheap and thematic. Tap into your circle of talented friends and family. My brother knows how to make chainmail, so he’s creating some really neat giveaway bookmarks for me. People also like food, so cupcakes will make them happy, but swag is nice because it might rattle around in a purse or a coat pocket for a while and remind people of you.
- Do you have an online presence? Good for you. Social media can be overwhelming, but again, you don’t have to do everything. Pick one or two things and manage them as you will. Maybe a blog and a Twitter feed. Maybe a Facebook page and your web site. Maybe just one of those things. Update at your own speed. Yes, it’s fun to be able to find authors online and see cool new fresh content on their super nifty pages, but you know what? An author’s lack of (or lackluster) media presence has never yet stopped me from buying a book I’ve heard great things about.
- Shake your trees. Even if they are small trees and seem insignificant and not terribly fruity, go ahead and give them a shake. Your experiences and connections matter. Make a list of anyone in your life, past or present, who might support you (e.g. send a postcard to the current librarian of your old elementary school and tell them Hi, I used to go there, and I would be so thrilled to think of my book sitting on the very same shelves where I used to hide from all the other kids and cry my way through recess… Or maybe don’t do that, because that’s oversharing).
- Make a little press kit that’s easy to give people. Quick and dirty. Your bio, your book synopsis, your contact info (and your agent’s). Get fancy with it, if you want. Or don’t.
- Do the things you’re good at, in which you can take pleasure, and in which your genuine joy and excitement about your book will shine through. People don’t like pushy, saccharine nonsense; but they will like you. So do what’s authentic for you. I personally love using iMovie, so I had fun making my book trailer. And I love my students, so my “launch party” will actually be a library event, held within walking distance of my school, so that all my kids (who are middle-schoolers and can’t drive) can be there.
And then, once you’ve figured out the few things that matter most to you, let the rest of it go.
Now, it’s true that most publishers do expect varying amounts of self-promotion from their authors, so certain responsibilities may be handed to you, and as a professional, you’ll have to sort that out. Stuff will come up that you need to do. Stuff will fall into your lap that you ought to try to say yes to, for the sake of visibility. And some stuff – maybe even some really neat-o stuff – will come your way, if your book gets a lick of positive attention from the right source, so have your ducks in a row. All I’m saying is that if you don’t suddenly transform into a highly experienced publicist and throw over the rest of your life in order to haunt Twitter for the next six months, that’s okay.
Because you know what? The bottom line here – and it’s not exactly cheerful, but I think it’s freeing – is this: No matter how hard you throw yourself at self-marketing and promotion, it’s very hard to tell which of the checklist items will actually translate into sales. Even if you do ALL THE THINGS, you should prepare yourself for the fact that, after your launch, there may be very little fanfare. Just do what feels right. Do what you can. And make sure to enjoy it, because this is your baby, and you earned this joy. Don’t let some well-meant but soul-sucking checklist take this moment away from you.
Finally, remember that while the launch date feels enormous, it’s actually only a big deal to you and your loved ones. It’s a big splash followed by a long, leisurely, less attention-getting swim. Books take a long time to grow into their full, true readership, and that part can’t be forced (if it could, then every giant advance that a publisher gambles on would turn out to be a bestseller success). Your authentic audience will build organically over a long period of time as readers pass your book from hand to hand and give it the ultimate praise: “You have to read this.”
And then maybe, just maybe, they’ll search for you on Twitter. And maybe, if you feel like it, you’ll be there waiting.
This post was made possible by the gifted and generous Laurie Thompson.
Megan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: A TALE OF RAPUNZEL, due out April 28, 2015 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme Series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. You can follow Megan on her blog at makingtyme.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @megtyme. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.