The following is an extract from a talk delivered at the Calgary Public Library in Feb. 2011.
Once the contract is signed, and while the manuscript is being worked on by the editor, is the best time for you to ramp up your web presence. While you wait for the edited copy to be returned to you – and this could take several months – is when you should work on further developing your blog and Facebook presence. This may be a good time, as well, if you haven’t done so already, to create a website (and your publisher may help you with this as they will want you to link to their site), and prepare yourself for the time in the very near future when you can actually call yourself “a published author.”
It’s not too early to announce that you have signed a contract, and inform your readers that a published book is in the works. Depending on how you’ve developed your blog, you may consider offering updates on the entire publishing process – but only mention the good stuff! Forget the bad times, or any problems, or difficult people you may encounter. If your readers tend to be other writers, they’ll want to know of your experience and, if you have good friends among them, they’ll cheer you on towards publication. Those cheers of encouragement alone are well worth having a web presence.
Keep writing throughout this time. One of the ways you can help get your name out there is by writing articles for magazines and newspapers or contributing guest posts to other blogs – on topics either related to your new book or not – and make sure that when your by-line is printed, it includes information about your upcoming book. “So-and-so is the author of the soon-to-be-released book,” and remember to add the title. If readers like what you’ve written in the magazine, they will make a note to look for your book when it’s published.
If you’re writing fiction, continue to send submissions to literary magazines. Every publication credit you receive is a bonus, and an opportunity to spread the word about your new release by having it mentioned in the magazine.
And continue to enter as many contests as you can find. Set an entry-fee limit, or only enter free contests, so you’re not spending a fortune, and don’t worry about the dollar value of the prizes, or whether you win or lose, so much as just get your name out there. If you do win – bonus! And then you may announce in your contest bio that you’re also the author of a soon-to-be-released book … and your publisher can use the information of that prize when promoting your new book.
Add a signature to your email address so that everyone you write to immediately sees that you’re being published. Include the title, publisher’s name, ISBN, and the date the book will be released. Once you have a blurb – and a “blurb” is an endorsement written by an authority or another author that will be added to the cover of your book – include a short quote from that. Be sure to update the signature as you have new information, so it becomes a way of announcing any events or important information about the publication.
And remember when I said earlier that you should “friend” other authors on Facebook and ask if you may link with their sites on your blog? This is the time you should be thinking about who would be best to blurb your book. If you’ve created a true friendship with an author who writes in the same genre then that person should be your first choice. Work on this with your publisher, and secure blurbs as early as you can. Any author you ask will need time to read the edited manuscript. Make sure you ask them early enough so that, if they turn you down or change their mind, you have enough time to find another willing author.
Do blurbs matter? In a word, yes. Booksellers and many librarians base their selections on what others have said about a book. Sometimes they have mere moments to make a decision about an unknown author, and if an author they know, and admire, has endorsed your book then they will likely take a chance and order some copies. Find the best-known authors in your field to blurb for you. They may turn you down, but they may also surprise you and say yes. If you are still an unknown quantity, having an authority tell potential readers and buyers that yours is a worthwhile book is definitely the best promotion you can possibly receive.
This is a good time to write your biography, and prepare an elevator pitch. You’ll need two bios – one brief and one longer. It’s also a good time to have some professional photos taken. Your publisher will help you with information on what digital photo sizes will be required. Both the bios and the photos are not only for the publisher’s use, but also for the use of anyone wanting to review your book, interview you, or for groups that are inviting you to be a speaker.
The people at your publishing house who look after marketing, promotion, and publicity (and this is often the same person) will contact you to ask for your bio, and a complete list of information they’ll require in order to set up promotion for your book. Fill this in with as much detail as you can. When I was a sales rep, I used to joke that I needed to know where every living, breathing relative of each author lived so we could sell books to them. It’s not quite that intensive a list that the publisher wants from you, but almost. Think about things like associations and organizations you’ve belonged to, contacts, colleagues and influential people you may know, your education and which schools have an active alumni association, newsletters you subscribe to that may include a notice about your book if you ask them to print one, places where you might be asked to speak about the book, any media in your area that might review the book or interview you. (The publisher should have all of the national media covered, by the way, and you must rely on them having that information.) Any media personalities you may know personally should be included, and list any media attention you have had in the past, for any reason – unless it was because you were incarcerated, or part of a big scandal. Although, come to think of it, there really is no such thing as bad publicity, and with any luck people will have remembered your name but not the unseemly circumstances surrounding your notoriety…
Does your Uncle Al own a drugstore in Oxbow, Saskatchewan, and would he like to sell copies of his favourite niece’s book? Don’t laugh. When I was selling A Prairie Alphabet, the author’s uncle did own a drug store in Oxbow, and he sold many copies of Jo Bannatyne Cugnet’s book. When Dave Elston was publishing his sports cartoon books, he asked me to sell copies to a hardware store in the Calgary neighbourhood where he grew up, because the owner was an old family friend. You never know which of your connections might sell your books, but the publisher’s sales reps won’t know to pitch the book to them unless you tell them the market exists.
Send your publisher the names of any literary magazines, or publications in general, where you have had anything published, even in years gone by. Many of these periodicals review books, and they might be interested in reviewing your new book, if your name is familiar to them.
Once your cover has been designed and approved you can post that to your blog and website, and to Facebook. Use it whenever possible to promote your book. You want to imprint that picture in everyone’s minds, and create anticipation for your book’s release.
This is a good time to have new business cards printed with the cover of your book on one side and your contact information on the other, including your web or blogsite address, publication date, the ISBN and publisher’s name, their website address, and a brief blurb, if you have one already. You could even make that business card a bit larger so it’s useful as a bookmark. Your publisher may help you with designing and printing this. Or they may even go ahead and produce a bookmark or postcard without telling you. Make sure you ask what they plan to do before spending your own money to produce any promotional materials.
Susan Toy has been a bookseller, an award-winning publishing sales representative, a literacy teacher, and is now a published author, publisher, and promoter of fellow authors and their books. Born and raised in Toronto, and after completing a degree in English Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, she moved to Calgary in the late 70s and immediately found a job in a bookstore, beginning what has become a life’s career working with books and their authors.
Published Books: Island in the Clouds and That Last Summer