Books Motivation Promotion Publishing Industry

Author Book Promotion: It was never really optional.

Author Mary Shafer launches second edition of her flood book
Here, I'm addressing attendees at the official launch of the revised second edition of my book, "Devastation on the Delaware."

The biggest difference I notice between a wannabe author and one who’s actually got a book out, or between a successful author (i.e., one who’s making sales and has a good chance for a second book contract) and one who’s struggling to get her/his book into readers’ hands and having to accept that there won’t be another contract offered, is simple: Successful authors understand that they MUST participate fully in the promotion and marketing of their own book to AT LEAST the extent that their publisher does, and likely more. Struggling authors believe that somehow, there’s someone else who can do a better job representing their work than they can.

Though in “olden times” — say, 20 years ago or more — this was a common and even acceptable attitude among most authors, it was never true. Ever. No one has EVER been able to be a more passionate advocate of an author’s work than the author him/herself. And I’ll go so far as to say that if it ever WAS the case, then that person should not have been the author of that book.

Whoever is the most passionate person about the book’s topic should be the one writing about it, or at least hiring a good ghostwriter. But if you feel moved enough by your topic — be it a nonfiction subject or a fictional story — to invest the time and effort it takes to write a book about it, YOU are the one who should be doing the bulk of your book’s promotion.

Why? Because book promotion and marketing is a long-haul effort. It lasts forever. And the only person who’s going to be able to muster the enthusiasm it takes to sustain that effort is the one with enough passion to have written a book about it. Yes, you can hire publicists to help you, and maybe you should. But the messaging must come from you. The right words to the right crowds must originate with you.


Look, I’m a writer and author, too. I KNOW that what brought you to the legal pad, typewriter or computer keyboard to capture your story wasn’t the desire to turn into a marketing guru. I get that. You love your topic and you love to write. You never intended to become a pitch person. But the cold, hard fact is that we all live in a world that’s very different from what it used to be. Nowhere is this more true than in the book publishing world.

The publishing landscape is no longer littered with small, medium and large publishing houses. Much like what’s going on in our economic stratification in the US, the “middle class” is fast disappearing. Basically, in the publishing “boom years” of the 70s, 80s and early 90s, it did look that way. But then a wave of corporate greed led some of the large, well-established houses to go into a frenzy of acquisition. Much like the movie “Wall Street,” these houses often cannibalized the backlists of these mid-sized houses, keeping and exploiting the best-selling titles and authors and essentially abandoning the rest.

During this same process, in an effort to cut costs and increase profitability, many excellent editors and other staff responsible for grooming and supporting authors were fired and never replaced. The editors who stayed on were forced to take on way too much production work, so much of their direct work with authors was forced to fall by the wayside. Many authors found themselves “orphaned” — without the editors they were comfortable working with, who had championed and shaped their work — and many of those ended up falling by the wayside, too. They weren’t offered any more contracts, because their work hadn’t proven to be a cash cow.

And now there are very few true mid-sized publishers left. There are mainly The Big Six — those now behemoth houses that swallowed so many of their smaller brethren in the merger-and-acquisition madness — and the rest of us.

And that reality means every author must be his or her work’s own best advocate. Even if you have a really dedicated agent, all those folks can do is get your foot in the door and try to negotiate the best deal for you regarding compensation. Yes, they can negotiate marketing points, but the truth is, if the publisher doesn’t want to support your work after publication for whatever reason, it’s very difficult if not impossible to force them to do so. So YOU are the one who will be doing it.

Even if your publisher does provide decent promotional support, you still need to be the one out there acting as the face of your book. Your readers don’t want to see and meet your agent, your editor or your publisher. They want to meet and talk with YOU, the person whose work touched them in some way. That has always been true, and it hasn’t changed.

The other reality is that today’s reading public is far more sophisticated, demanding, picky and splintered than it ever was before, especially when you add in the whole e-book phenomenon. If there ever was such a thing as “everyone” where readership is concerned — and I vote “no” on that point — it’s long gone. This means that the old concept of writing your manuscript, turning it in to the publisher, then retiring back to your chair in front of your keyboard is also gone.

Your publisher can’t possibly know your intended reading audience as well as you do. They may not know where these people gather and how to talk with them in the most effective way to charge them up about reading your book. Technology has allowed special interest groups to find each other and stay in touch, which is great. But that means there’s no efficient way of your publisher reaching them all efficiently with the kind of basic campaigns they’re capable of running. So, once again, it’s up to you.

I can hear the arguments now: “But I’m a writer, not a marketer!” “I don’t know anything about promotion!” “I’m a shy, retiring sort…that’s why I chose to be a writer, so I can work alone.” “I thought my publisher was going to take care of that!” And on and on.

Well, I hate to break it to ya, folks, but even back when publishers had budgets big enough to hire hotshot publicity teams, they never did it for any but their A-List authors. Think Stephen King and Ann Rice. If you’re a newbie, you haven’t proven your worth to the publisher yet, so aside from a press release and — if you’re lucky — a book website with a digital press kit, you’re probably on your own.

I know it’s not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. Take a few moments to get over your anger, disillusionment and fear. I’ll wait.

Okay, now that you’re back in the real world, you know that the success of your book is going to depend almost entirely on you. Yes, you can request help from your publisher, and a good one will do what they can for you. But the truth is, you’re just one of their authors, they likely have very limited staff and budgets, and your book’s publicity isn’t going to get any special treatment.

This isn’t to indict publishers, at least not on the whole. I AM a publisher, so I understand the very real limitations they’re up against. But they should provide at least the bare bones of a marketing plan and some of its major elements for you. Nevertheless, you’re the one whose job it is to flesh it out and work that plan with your own time, presence and energy.

How to do it is the subject of vast — and some very goodbooks in their own right. But right now it’s time for a gut check, authors:

If you’re not willing to invest at LEAST as much energy, effort and enthusiasm into getting your book into readers’ hands — and that’s all that marketing and promotion is about — then why did you bother to write it?

I welcome comments here, or invite you to join the discussion on my Nabble forum.

Books Craft Promotion

Your Public Face: The function of voice in your website copy

Typewriter keys

This morning I received a post from an old friend and colleague who lives in a rural area and is just starting out as a freelancer. She’s building her website and wanted to know whether I thought she should use first person or third person voice in her web copy.

It’s a great question, and one I hope you’re paying attention to, as well. Doesn’t matter whether you’re selling products (including books) or services (especially writing, and lots of authors make part of their living as freelance writers), you need to consciously decide the tone your Web copy needs to have. Here’s what I told Lisa:

It depends what I’m trying to do with the site. I use first person when I want to be more informal, friendly, approachable and personal. I use third person when it’s all business. I think it makes the business sound maybe bigger than just this little one-person shop. Which is true, because I do use subcontractors if a team approach is necessary, so often the effort behind any given project is a group one, not a just that of a single person.

I’d say that since you’re starting now, go with first person. The Net is getting way more personal in every way, and since at this point of the global economy we’re all something of a commodity, the only way we CAN stand out is to differentiate the personal experience. This includes customer service, of course, but in the beginning, it’s all about sounding approachable, talented and easy to work with.

There are all kinds of blogs and stuff that deal with this issue.

I tell my clients: If you’re on Facebook, your presence can be personal or business or both, so write your profile copy and posts accordingly. I use FB for both. But my websites (I have quite a few now) each take a different approach based on the audience I’m trying to reach, which is how EVERY piece of marketing/promo in your kit should be. The key is to remain consistent in voice for each separate piece, i.e., don’t flip-flop back and forth between first and third person or present and past tense, etc.

The other thing is that, unlike past years, you should revisit your web copy at least once a year to make sure it’s still current and maybe freshen it up a bit. Net Years are fast and short, and things change quickly. Updates also boost your search engine rankings.

She also asked, in typically straightforward and humorous fashion, “And how much person do I really need? Not sure everyone needs to know I own a farmette and am a chicken freak!?” Here’s my reply:

I say: Include what’s germane to whatever it is you’re trying to promote and leave the rest out. Your Web copy has but ONE job: Get the prospect to call. So you have to get right down to business, because these are busy people and they don’t have time to indulge your personal stuff.

However, once you have them on the phone, if you pay attention when you’re talking with a new prospect, you can sometimes pick up on clues that they may be interested in some of the same things you’re passionate about. Grab those and run with them!

If you hear someone mention they’re interested in or enjoy farming or livestock, jump right in and tell them, “Oh, me too!” And enthuse a little bit about your chickens or whatever, then wait to see if they take that bait and chew it awhile about their own stuff.

THIS is exactly the kind of small but important thing you can bond over with a potential client, and — given that your skill set is what it needs to be to get the actual work done — can be the deciding factor in you being the person they choose to work with. After all, all else being equal, who wouldn’t choose to work with someone they enjoy outside the actual work, rather than just some old someone?

The caveat to this advice is that the bonding needs to happen over something real. Don’t be insincere and make stuff up just trying to find some common ground — that’s the oldest trick in the book in the Smarmy Salesman’s Guide. (No, it’s not a real book, but I’ll bet you’ve met someone who subscribes to its rules!) People can sense when they’re being lied to or jerked around. Besides, it’s bad karma, so just don’t do it. Find that bonding agent where you can and hope that your knowledge, skills and experience can dazzle them where you can’t find common ground outside the work.

Books Genres Promotion Publishing Industry

The importance of a good author website

Another legacy post from June 18, 2009:

Mary Shafer author website home page

One thing that’s really important for authors is understanding that the days of just writing your manuscript and turning it in on time are over. In this marketing-driven world, you must also be your book’s most passionate, dedicated promoter. Your publisher will, at best, do only half the work required to get your book onto store shelves and into readers’ hands.

This topic could cover several posts, but the one part you can easily do something about in your promo effort RIGHT NOW is to create a professional-looking, content-driven author website.

You can’t expect anyone to take you seriously as an author without one. It’s just like back in the 80s, when fax machines were new. At first, people asked, “Do you have a fax?” Then, within a few years, they just assumed you did and asked you for your fax number.

Now, people may still ask you, “Do you have a website?” But most of them will assume that, as a professional published author, you do have one. They’ll just ask you for your URL or web address. Even unpublished authors should have a website, so they can build that all-important platform before approaching publishers with their book proposal.

But what to do if you’re not an experienced web developer? Do you have to settle for some ugly, first-generation site your nephew might be able to crank out with FrontPage. Heaven forbid! No, you have options.

One thing is that you can become an Authors Guild member and take advantage of their wonderful hosting service. It provides a fairly feature-rich, web-based site builder, complete with attractive visual themes. You’re looking at a website right now that was built this way.

Or you can go with another web hosting service such as or that also offers a web-based site builder.

But if you’d rather have a more feature-rich development application that you can use on any server (even with no experience and a small learning curve), then you may want to check out Joomla.

Joomla is a free, open-source, highly usable content management system you can use to build personal or business sites. It’s a proven tool: Websites made with Joomla can be found in many sizes, varying from a few pages up to entire community websites containing 10,000+ pages.

But even this great little app requires some training. So if you’re interested in using it, do what I’m doing: Take some video tutorials.

I’ve heard a lot about Joomla and have been wanting to learn, but haven’t had the time to do a lot of reading. So I’m doing the time-saving thing and downloading detailed, easy-to-follow tutorials I can play right on my computer as I follow along in the actual application. has just what I need, at way reasonable prices. I consider it an investment not only in my author career, but also in my future, for any other sites I may want to build later on.

Whatever works for you, but this is the way to go for a busy multi-tasker like me. And best of all, I can still host my updated, Joomla-created site right here at! I can heartily endorse the tech support team here at AG — I’m a stickler for customer service, and can give these great folks two thumbs up for responsiveness, helpful, friendly attitude and knowing their stuff.

So jump right in and get yourself on the Web. Now there’s no excuse not to!