How to Promote a Book for Success
Competitive doesn’t begin to describe today’s book market. The booming print, on-demand, and self-publishing industries, coupled with mainstream publishers, have flooded the market. Therefore, successfully promoting your book and avoiding common pitfalls is essential. With an infinite number of books and authors vying for attention from a finite number of media outlets, book publicity is a tough, sometimes brutal business.
Many authors choose to self-promote, but most still hire professionals for help with at least some aspects of their book marketing. For both novice promoters and veteran professionals alike, the pitfalls of book publicity are many. In my experience handling more than 200 campaigns, I know what can sabotage success, the errors of both omission and commission that can derail a campaign, and how human habits can adversely affect promotion.
What follows are the seven deadly sins of book promotion; the mistakes and actions that can destroy an author’s chances to get substantial media coverage.
If you think sitting back and watching royalty checks roll in is your destiny, think again. Virtually all authors must get out there to be seen and heard. Book signings and tours are not passive events; they require a hunger for success and personal energy level. Interviews can be a gold mine or a disaster for one who puts forth a half-hearted effort. Publicity doesn’t happen, and you have to make it happen.
Lazy authors languish in the million rankings on bookselling sites.
If you are promoting a book, prepare for your pride to be hurt a few times. One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen authors make is letting a negative review or bad interview undermine their determination.
The author believes her book is a bestseller; it is her baby, her labor of love. She has great pride in what she has written, so much so that it has created an excessive belief in her abilities and her book. When the tough times come, pride brings anger, which brings frustration, which leads to disillusionment.
An author must go into promotion, knowing not everyone will fall in love with the book. I often ask my clients, “Do you like every book you’ve ever read?”
Roll with the punches, and stay the course. Put your ego on bed rest.
Eight out of ten authors who call me inquiring about publicity tell me they want to be on The Today Show. I tell them, invariably, that it’s probably not going to happen for them, that we can and should try, but the odds are akin to the lottery. However, the authors see others on the show and are envious. They ask, “If that person is on, why can’t I be on?” “My book is better than his!”
Envy serves no purpose in book promotion. The only way other authors receive great publicity opportunities is because they tried. If anything, you should learn from them. Observe them, examine their topic, and then examine your project. We all can learn something from others; I still do every day.
How does lust come into play with book marketing and promotion? I have both an extreme example and more common ones from my firm’s case files.
Good publicity can be intoxicating. Being on talk shows, having articles written about you … it all makes you feel good, and it should. I always tell authors to enjoy the ride, because it won’t last forever. However, letting your good time change you, or bring about actions that have nothing to do with the hard work of promoting your book can be disastrous. Losing focus – taking your eye off the ball – is a surefire way to run into trouble.
Example #1: During one of the first conversations I had with a prospective client – a middle-aged author with multiple books – he told me (and I must paraphrase here) he wanted to get publicity so he could attract women. He was serious. Needless to say, his campaign lasted only one month; we tried to keep him focused on the steps needed to get exposure for his books, but we couldn’t, and we parted company.
Example #2: The more benign type of book promotion lust comes in the form of letting success change who you are, and make you long for things which you never envisioned before. In our firm, we call these clients addicts – they become so enthralled with the success that the book becomes secondary. They want more and more exposure, but not so much to sell books but to feed their newly-found desires to acquire things – from sheer fame for the sake of glory to popularity. Also, they develop an overwhelming desire to have others notice them.
In the end, lust almost always makes for an unhappy ending to what can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Gluttony, in book marketing, touches upon several of the other sins. In its purest form, it is the insatiable desire to consume as much publicity as possible, and not being satisfied with each opportunity. Local radio interviews, for example, become unsatisfying, and an author starts to shun them because she wants more and better opportunities. A book review in a small newspaper is dismissed as insignificant because she wants more. A local TV opportunity is declined because there aren’t enough viewers to fulfill the need for exposure.
I routinely run into these exact scenarios, and inevitably, we lose control of our client. The campaign starts to dissolve slowly because the author is never satisfied, and will not appreciate smaller bites of publicity while the more significant opportunities are pursued.
Book promotion is akin to a seven-course meal. You begin slowly, testing the waters, then move onto the next course. You proceed in a steady, measured manner, enjoying every course while building confidence and momentum.
Don’t demand all seven courses be delivered to your publicity table at once. Enjoy the entire experience of the meal and be patient.
Like gluttony, greed is the offspring of several other sins, and perhaps the most common sin of book promotion. Here is a classic example:
● An unknown, first-time author comes to my firm. He is nervous, unsure, and wary about what will happen in his campaign – all perfectly understandable and expected concerns. The campaign begins slowly, and a few radio interviews are secured. All is well.
● The campaign starts to achieve momentum. The radio interviews start streaming in. Instead of one a week, we are booking four and five a week.
● Our client has confidence now and is thoroughly enjoying the process.
● Things start to change. The level of radio interviews takes a dip, and we encounter the lull, which happens in most campaigns. Instead of four or five interviews a week, it drops to one or two.
● The author, having become accustomed to many interviews each week, demands more. He is not satisfied with the interviews we secure, and will not be satisfied until we reach and maintain the level we had achieved.
● He becomes disillusioned and decides another firm can fulfill his hunger for more and more interviews.
Greed is what I call a coffin nail in a campaign. Once it starts, it is tough to control and typically ends in a campaign which veers off track wildly. Greed may be useful on Wall Street, but it will bankrupt a book promotion campaign.
Anger comes in many forms in book publicity. I once worked with an author who received a brutal review of his book, and was so angry he proceeded to drive over 200 miles to the reviewer’s location, storm into the office, and scream at the reviewer. It was, putting it mildly, a wrong move.
The reviewer, in an unprofessional move, contacted reviewers at other newspapers in his company’s chain and urged some colleagues to review the book. Five additional negative reviews appeared in the ensuing weeks.
It is essential to keep in mind that when promoting a book, you are opening yourself up for scrutiny; in fact, you are inviting it. You want the scrutiny and attention. Assuming everyone will react positively to you or your book is unrealistic.
The same scenario can happen in radio interviews. Many authors don’t realize that hostile interviews can make for great talk radio, and get more listeners curious and interested in your book. If a host starts throwing punches at you on the air, throw yourself into the fight. Trust me; you will have a good time. When your juices get flowing, you will be more animated and colorful, and listeners will love it.
We are all Sinners
Book promotion and publicity are distinctly human processes. It is an emotional, scary, exciting, and stimulating experience. Anyone promoting a book will, at various times, experience both disappointment and excitement. All authors will also be tempted to sin at different times in a campaign. As a publicist, I expect this and understand it.
As in life, recognizing your sins of book publicity, and stopping them before they cause problems is vital. Book promotion is more a marathon than a sprint, and because of this, the opportunities to veer into negative promotional behaviors are many.
You can always atone for your sins by getting back on track, enjoying the ride, and realizing you are involved in a wonderful experience.
by Dan Smith