Friday, December 15, 2017

Becoming a Marketing Machine--What It Takes to Promote Your Book

It's hard for writers to hear this:  writing your book isn't your only job in becoming an author.    

Once you've completed your manuscript, put it through revision, secured an agent or not, and sold it to a publisher, maybe you think you can relax back and let everyone else handle the nasty details of getting it into readers' hands.  When I began publishing in the eighties, that was the case.  But it's not true anymore.  Now writers need to learn all about marketing and promotion.  It's part of being an author.

Some writers excel at this, whether from natural skills or inclination.  I was never good at it--I had to learn it the hard way when the publishing industry switched from giving a writer publicity funds and support, the "we'll take care of everything" line on your contract, to "what will you do to sell your book?"   I had to hire people (publicists) to help me.  I had to learn how to get blurbs, get reviews, appear at book signings and on television and radio interviews.  When the internet became the best method to promote anything, I had to get up to speed on social media and online book review sites (Goodreads, Shelfari). 

None of it was fun for me, a natural introvert who just wants to write.  But I knew it was the only way my books would get in readers' hands.

This week, I wanted to talk with a writer whose book, You'll Like It Here, was his publisher's top seller after it launched in November 2016.   Ed Orzechowski believed in his story so much, he became a marketing machine.  He detailed what he did and I was impressed by all his efforts.  You may not want to do this much for your books, but perhaps Ed's plan will give you some ideas about what you could try.

It helps to know that Ed's book is about Donald Vitkus, patient at the infamous Belchertown State School in Massachusetts.  Ed wanted Donald's story to be heard.  So here's a list of what he did: 

1.  Before publication, Ed secured blurbs from the federal judge who had heard the class action lawsuit about conditions at Belchertown State School, and from an advocacy group. The writer for the organization wrote a review for its blog.

2.  A month before the launch, Ed posted a "Coming Soon," announcement on his home Facebook page. At that point, he  didn't yet have a separate Facebook page for the book.

3.  He also began building his website through GoDaddy (a learning curve, he says), and once the site was up, he posted an announcement about the new website on Facebook as well.

4.  Prior to the launch, Ed's publisher, Levellers Press, created a Facebook Event (Ed says he didn't even know what one was) to announce the upcoming launch. Steve Strimer, who heads Levellers, booked a local hall. Ed emailed everyone in his address book: family and friends (Donald's wife Pat did the same); people he knew from teaching, including faculty and students; members of the developmental disability advocacy organizations that Ed's wife and he belong to, local, state and national; a couple of writers' groups; all the media contacts he  had through freelancing; his high school Class of 1963 (he had the list from being on reunion committees). The result was a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 200, the biggest launch Levellers ever had.

5.  From day one, Ed's book has been featured on the Levellers Press website. Steve arranged for a small book blurb in The Daily Hampshire Gazette's weekend magazine, and an interview on a local morning radio show. He also placed Ed's book with Broadside Books, an independent bookstore in Northampton, and in the two copy shops he operates. Several months later, he put it on Amazon, and a few months after that, as an e-book, too. Ed established an Amazon author page, and about a dozen readers posted reviews. Levellers supplied him with business cards, bookmarks, a table display poster, and promotional book copies.

6.  Ed's former editor (from his freelance journalism days) arranged for a sizeable piece in The Springfield Republican.  Ed sent releases to a regional weekly, and they did articles. A reporter for the senior center's newspaper did a piece, plus another one for a regional arts magazine.

7.  Ed sent news releases to New England Public Radio and WGBY (PBS) in Springfield, and they responded with significant interviews. Donald and Ed were also interviewed for a half-hour program on the Upton Public Access channel.

8.  Ed sent announcements to a few local libraries, who invited him to do book events.  He says "I discovered that librarians are hungry for local author events," and word started to spread. Librarians began contacting him, which he never expected. Some have paid for travel and even provided stipends. He's presented at 16 libraries now, and many of the small towns had the best turnout and participation. The Central and Western Massachusetts library consortium now lists 33 copies of his book in circulation, with several currently on hold. "Hard for me to believe," Ed says.

9.  He did a book giveaway on Goodreads.

10.  He only did one reading in a bookstore (not Broadside), and it was well attended.   He sold a number of books at the event and later on consignment, but the profit is marginal.  He also did more focused readings for book groups, historical, and support organizations for parents of children with developmental disabilities, which are the most satisfying.


11.  He participated in writers' panels at three western Massachusetts colleges, and began reaching out to colleges that offer human service and psychology programs, mostly word of mouth, but he plans to do an e-mailing.  He says, "I would love to have Donald's story incorporated into college course reading lists, maybe even high schools. One of my former students, who now teaches high school herself in New Hampshire, has used my book for a summer reading program."

12.  He developed a PowerPoint presentation to accompany his readings, with photos of the institution, Donald, and records.   He teamed up with a local photographer for an event at Historic Northampton, who exhibited his photos of the former Northampton State Hospital, and Ed discussed Belchertown State School.
Ed says, "Until a couple of months ago when his health no longer allowed it, Donald always appeared with me, both to speak and sign books. He was always a big hit. People who have attended our readings and signings often have some tie with developmental disabilities or former institutions. They have intellectually disabled children, know someone else who does, or they've worked or volunteered with this population."

13.  Since the launch, he's done about 40 events promoted on his website, home Facebook page, You'll Like It Here Facebook page, and Advocacy Network's page. Ed's website has Facebook and Twitter links, and an email to contact him.

Ed says, "I've found that one event leads to another. Someone who comes to a library reading invites me to a book club, organization, etc. It's amazing to me that, after the ball got rolling, people started to seek me out."

Why do all this?  Of course, to get your book out there.  But also for the amazing experience of someone coming up to you at a library event or bookstore and telling you how much they loved your story.  

So if you're still writing your book, it does help to begin noticing this other task for would-be authors. 

You may not tackle it as Ed did, but you might.   And if you haven't already checked out his book, or want a gift for someone interested in social justice, click here for more information.

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