Books, Genres, Promotion, Publishing Industry

The need for authors to promote their own books

A legacy blog post that first appeared August 24, 2009:

Author Mary A. Shafer promoting her books at a July 4th event
Here I'm promoting my titles at a local bookstore's Independence Day event. Yep, while everyone else is out partying, the author works to promote.

As a self-published author, I knew when I was starting my publishing company that sooner or later I’d want to help other writers become published authors, too. I already do speaking on the topic, but I knew I’d want to take a more active role in creating new authors. So I purposely did everything it took to become a “legitimate” publisher in the industry’s eyes.

I registered with R.R. Bowker and paid my fee to get issued my publisher prefix so I could get ISBN numbers for my books. I designed a logo and stationery. I created an invoicing system and registered my new business name with the state.

But the most difficult thing I do as a publisher is convince authors that active participation in promoting their own work is NOT optional nor negotiable. And that’s why it’s spelled out in our contract what we expect our authors to do to help sell their books.

I find that many people have a skewed vision of what it means to be a successful author today, the operable word being “successful.” Sure, you can yourself an author as soon as you get published, but that’s a technicality. To REMAIN an author is the challenge. And that means two things: you continue producing good new work, and you maintain enthusiasm for promoting the work you’ve already done.

As I’ve said before: The days of churning out a manuscript in the haze of a smoke-filled garret somewhere, sending it off to your publisher and then getting started on the next one are long gone. Today, if you are a successful (read: selling) author, you are a full participant in the marketing and promotion of your books. Even the biggies — Steven King, Janet Evanovich, Nicholas Sparks — are required by their publishers to support their books with personal appearances, book signings and similar efforts.

Yes, the big houses that publish them also have full-time PR departments to help, but their efforts would be wasted without the authors following through with their participation. Mid-size pubishers can afford to hire outside firms to help with their marketing and PR, and small ones must do their own. But they all depend on the author getting out there, too, to make the rounds of bookstores, introduce themselves to readers, blog, and generally get themselves known. This is called, in marketing lingo, “establishing your brand.”

Some authors are doing an incredible job at this. Two I know personally: Laurel Bradley is a tireless promoter of her work, and it shows. This time travel romance author is serious about doing what it takes to get her books into the hands of readers, and she does it with style and enthusiasm. Art Adkins is another promotional dynamo. This Florida cop knows his material but also understands that without him out on the street putting it into people’s hands, readers will not just magically find him.

And here’s one guy who takes promoting his book so seriously, he quit his job to do it!

Despite the best promo campaigns a publisher can put together and the biggest budgets they might spend on advertising and PR, the fact is that most people don’t buy books based on this kind of messaging. They buy books for one of two reasons: They heard about a new book from a friend who was raving about it, or they met the author personally and developed a connection that makes them want to buy.

Sure, sometimes an author gets lucky, appears on Oprah, and makes a million dollars. It happens. But not often. For every story you hear like that, there’s another one — just as true — about an author who appeared on Oprah, had a temporary uptick in sales, then disappeared again. And there are hundreds if not thousands more authors who WISH they could appear on Oprah but, for whatever reason, never will.

Bottom line: Yes, luck plays a part in book sales. So does timing, the economy, and many other factors authors really can’t influence. But the one factor you CAN influence is how much work you put into making people aware of your work and making them want to buy it.

Authors, what have you done to promote your books today?

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