The following is an extract from a talk delivered at the Calgary Public Library in Feb. 2011.
Another area of promotion you should consider developing – and only do this if you are comfortable with it – is speaking engagements. Speaking engagements are something your publisher will not arrange for you, unless they are approached directly by a group inviting you to speak. Make sure you are either allowed to sell books or that a bookseller has been asked to look after sales wherever you appear.
Here’s another important statistic I gleaned from reading Get Known Before the Book Deal: Authors who speak at events sell three times as many books. (This book is listed in the bibliography at the end of this post.)
You can give a straight reading from your book, but my preference is to hear an author talk about how they wrote the book, or how they managed to get it published (if that’s a funny story) or just a general talk about the subject matter of the book. Darcie worked up speeches about all three of these areas, and as well she could include an interesting reading from her collection of short stories. We managed to get her an invitation to be keynote speaker at an Alberta-wide library conference that was held in Edmonton. And the bonus was – this speaking gig paid her an honorarium! Some engagements even pay your travel expenses and accommodation. Plus, while in Edmonton, Darcie was allowed to sell her book. So consider which groups you might be able to speak to and call them. Start first with any associations or organizations you belong to, or anything that’s related to the subject matter of your book.
Offer something of value, more than just a straight reading, and don’t expect to be paid for the appearance. But do expect, and request, that there be book sales at any event. Your publisher is more likely to support your efforts if they know your books will be sold.
Speak to book clubs, especially if you belong to one. Create a list of discussion questions, add a separate page to your blog or website that’s titled “For Book Clubs”, and post the discussion questions there. You can add to this site, as you have new information you think would be of specific interest to club members. Then make yourself available to meet with and talk to members. If you’re tech savvy, offer to talk to book clubs remotely using Skype.
I know several authors who understand the fact that book club members are their ideal readers, and they love having that immediate interaction with people who have enjoyed reading their book. You likely will not receive payment for any engagements with book clubs, and if you’re lucky they’ll buy a few copies of your book and feed you some food, but you can’t discount the fact that you are reaching out directly to your readers, will have a personal interaction with them, and that you have hopefully created a new group of fans who will invite you back again the next time you publish.
When your publisher’s promotion season is over, you should send thank you notes to the publisher, your editor, the sales reps, and any booksellers or librarians you met along the way. But send your publicist chocolates. Publicists love chocolate, and the publicist’s job is difficult enough as it is, so they deserve to receive chocolates. In an entry on the blog, The Gatekeepers Post, titled “Why Isn’t My Publicist Doing Anything?” the blogger spoke with publicists about why authors had the impression that their books weren’t receiving the attention they thought was deserved. This is what a couple of publicists told him:
Authors don’t realize how many other books there are out there. And how many other publicists and news stories we’re competing against. We’re competing against breaking news, news of the day, books that are better written, or not as well-written, and we’re competing against less and less space every day. Yet publishers are increasing the output of books. The tougher ones [to get publicity for] are novels, which have even less of a chance for coverage. If I could do anything, if I were running the company, I would reduce the amount of books being released.
If you send your publicist chocolates, you will be appreciated, and remembered. Trust me!
There’s much, much more you can do – above and beyond what your publisher will do for you – and I don’t have time to go into it here. Really, though, you’re only limited by your imagination, and by your will to become involved in promoting yourself and your book.
The times they are a-changin’. The book business is vastly different from when I first got into it in the late 70s. Publishers don’t send authors on lengthy book tours any longer, there’s fewer traditional print media reviewing books, there are fewer independent bookstores still in business, and the big chain stores are becoming more difficult about stocking books, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll even sell 200-300 copies, let alone ever require a reprint.
That is, unless you’re willing to step up and take control of your own promotion, and work with the publisher to get the word out there about your book, by developing a good solid platform of readers who will not only want to buy this book, but the next one that you publish, and the next, and the next.
Once you learn more about how publishing works, and where you fit into all of this, it will help you in being able to work with your publisher to promote, and to sell, your book even further. Keep positive thoughts. Ask questions of other authors. Attend conferences and workshops. Network, and make new friends, whether it’s in person, or online. Join writing associations, attend other authors’ events and readings, support other authors’ books by buying them, then read those books and review them on your own blog, giving that author some promotion. Be professional in everything you do. Be a vital, engaged, and engaging part of the writing community. Believe in yourself, and in your craft – do not be self-disparaging, but do be humble.
When I was at university I was struggling to write my very first, professional resume in order to land a summer job. A friend told me that it was simple – all I had to do was make myself look like such a delicious chocolate bar that everyone would want to open the wrapper and begin eating. That’s what you need to do: make yourself so irresistible that everyone will want to have a part of you – or at least will want to read everything you’ve written. Remember that your job isn’t just to write, but also to get people to care about what you’ve written, and then to let everyone know that you’ve written it.
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.
I hope you enjoyed this series and found it helpful
You can get a list of Recommended further Reads
by clicking HERE
Published Books: Island in the Clouds and That Last Summer