Friday, June 2, 2023

What Works When Sharing Your Work? Unexpected and Traditional Publicity Tips from Five Published Writers

Be sure to scroll down to the Shout Out! at the end of this post for some exciting news.

I've been learning--somewhat to my private self's dismay--that reaching out to readers requires not only persistence but exposure.

It's risky to share the author behind the book.

Yet this week I interviewed five published writers--and former students of mine--who have gone on to reinvent their outreach and succeed beautifully in touching readers and building a worthwhile, supportive community in the process.

What if you don't want to build community? Or have readers know you behind your book?

I've heard this a lot from writers: "You mean, after all the years of putting together a publishable book, I also have to welcome readers into my private life and be glad about it?" It's certainly up to you. And in past times, that worked--the writer stayed in her cozy room and her book got whisked into the hands of readers without much effort. Or so it was true with my early books.

Promotion when I began publishing in the eighties was also more about how you appeared than anyone getting to know you as a person. When one of my nonfiction books was published, the publisher hired a wonderful publicist who got me interviews on over 100 radio and television programs, and my goal was just to look and talk like an expert--or at least someone who knew what they were writing. Of course imposter syndrome flared--I ran the gamut, grateful when my book sold well, but all the time wary of being outed for my real life. I didn't want readers coming too close--I'm able to admit that now, looking back.

Today's author needs to be more focused on building community with readers. Podcasts, "in conversation with" events, how we share on social media, all this is about getting to know the story behind the story. Readers want to relate to the person who wrote the book we so admire--or are curious to read.

It means the writer becomes known, not just for her words but for herself.

For some, this is no big deal. We're already living out loud in every aspect of our lives. We share our toothpaste brand and our relationship woes on Twitter. But if this isn't you—and it sure hasn't been me—there’s a huge sea change to face.

With the upcoming release of my new novel, I'm feeling the waves slap me in the face as I figure out the new methods.

So, as I often do when the learning curve is steep, I go to my community of other writers. My former students who have gone on to publish are a wonderful resource, and five of them were willing to share tips this week.

You may still be writing, revising, agonizing over plot and character, but as you'll see in the advice below, it's never too early to begin considering your community and your outreach, if you want your book to be read.

Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard came to my classes in New York many years ago. When we first met, she was working on her first historical novel, which she went on to self-publish, along with a second book. Her third, Sisters of Castle Leod, was picked up by a traditional publisher who admired her publicity efforts so much--the third book sold very well--they offered her a two-book contract and stepped in with full publicity support.

Bernard believes you have to spend money on outreach in today's publishing world. Most of the writers I interviewed, including those published by one of the Big Five, agreed. "Unless you have already built a huge following, or you are incredibly lucky and your book somehow catches the attention of a major influencer," Bernard says, "you will need to spend in order to make even a small dent in a very crowded and competitive marketplace."

Her efforts have kept her new novel at #1 on the bestseller list for Historical Biographical Fiction (Amazon Kindle) for over two months and counting.

Her first suggestion is to get Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of your book to potential reviewers at least six months before your release date. "Be willing to spend a few bucks on reputable professional review sites," she says, "and on entering appropriate book contests, to accumulate quotable praise. This begins your marketing campaign.

"Gather additional reviews," she says, "and get the buzz going, by hiring someone to schedule one or more blog tours. Yes, you could reach out to bloggers yourself if you have the time and patience, but a facilitator usually will get the job done better and with less pain. If you have a niche genre, try to select bloggers that prefer that genre, or something close to it. Get as many bloggers as possible to commit to actually reading the book and writing a review (rather than just featuring a photo of your book cover and a book description). Don't neglect Instagram bloggers, who often have a big following. Quote positive reviews and promote them, as they occur, on your social media. Your goal should be to have at least 40-50 advance reviews (the more the better) on Goodreads before your book launches. Follow up with reviewers requesting that they post on Amazon as soon as the book is live."

Another former student, Jeanne Blasberg, sent ARCs to "a ton of bookstagrammers and Facebook groups" when her second novel, The Nine, came out. Reviews generated content for her to post and she also did a lot of events, "many I organized myself in different cities with book clubs or sometimes at bookstores," she says. Blasberg focused on "really engaging on social media with influencers, but also going to live events and meeting those people. I made a huge effort to become a literary citizen and support other authors as well as indie bookstores."

The community Blasberg built was supportive. They "invited me to hold events. I spent a lot of time in my car and traveling--all self-funded which I realize is a privilege. I also feel like I got good at social media both posting about my regular life and my literary life. I review a lot of books and post about that as well."

Bernard made friends with other successful authors in her genre. "The friendships I've formed with other writers are mutually beneficial when it comes to promoting each other's work," she says. "I would never recommend to my readers a book that I don't love, but when you befriend authors who write excellent books, it's a win-win-win. You, your fellow authors, and your readers all benefit. Besides, it's nice to have something else to talk about on social media besides yourself and your own books!"

Although her publisher hired a publicist, Minnesotan Mindy Greiling gave her memoir, Fix What You Can, a story of her son's schizophrenia, a lot of additional attention before its release last year. She upped her presence on social media, launched a blog, newsletter, and web page for the book. Covid changed her in-person appearances, including one at the National Press Club, to virtual, which she says had a "terrible impact on sales," but she didn't give up. She booked as many speaking engagements on zoom as she could--again, finding and building the community to support her book.

"A year and a half ago," she says, "I was invited to be on a national podcast with two other mothers who are also authors of books about their family experience with schizophrenia. One mother is a radio host in Connecticut who does shows for NPR and the other is a painter in Washington state. ‘Schizophrenia: Three Moms in the Trenches’ is now doing incredibly well and helping many, many families who contact us to tell us so."

Bernard used book giveaways as an integral part of her marketing plan. "I did two of them on Goodreads, the second one a premium giveaway that allowed me to send a message to those who didn't win, inviting them to view the book trailer, follow me on Goodreads, buy the book." The Goodreads giveaways resulted in over 5000 readers adding her novel to their "Want to Read" list," she says.

John David Ferrer's second historical novel, My Beloved Borinquen, takes place as the Spanish civil war draws to a close. It reached a large audience from carefully placed ads on Facebook's Meta Business Suite, Ferrer says. "I’ve reached 58,000 people [at latest count].” Ads have increased interest in Ferrer's first novel so they are selling in tandem.

Ferrer runs his ads from 10-14 days in select cities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. "I vary the cities every time I run an ad. I skip a week between ads and vary the artwork. The ads are affordable, since I establish a budget. I budget about $50-$70 per ad which runs for approximately 10-14 days. I pick age groups (35-65) and subject matter, i.e., historical fiction. My ads feature different versions of the book cover for variety and at times I include reviews."

Bernard also built her reading community via a book trailer. She originally assumed that trailers were not worth the cost, but she thought it might be fun to see her novel translated into film. "I opted for a cinematic book trailer (a cheaper type of trailer may do more harm than good if it looks unprofessional), and I found a great producer (Electrafox) to work with," she says. Together, they created something that made a huge impact on her book sales. "I posted the trailer everywhere I could think of, multiple times, and scheduled a special book trailer blog tour to feature it. My publisher used well-targeted Facebook ads to widen the reach.” You can view it here.

Emma Laurence's new Beyond Burnout Playbook was promoted "in waves," Laurence says. "I first announced my book to my subscriber list as part of a new website. Then, I presented on LinkedIn since I belong to an online business collective that amplifies the members’ posts. I’ve had such a positive response through LinkedIn that I had to backtrack to ensure my copyright language is complete. Readers want to share this material!

"Before the launch, I experienced a sense of panic around visibility. Visibility is vulnerability, and I didn’t feel ready. That week, a Visibility Coach with the tagline, Find the courage to be seen, showed up in my inbox. She’s beta-testing a new program, and I signed up. Her first video on self-love touched a deep chord.

"As the waves return through invitations to guest on podcasts, write magazine articles, and contribute to conferences, it’s the ongoing support of others that’s shoring me up,” Laurence says.

That's community! In the end, it gives back much more than it takes from us, the writer. Or at least that's the experience of these fortunate five. I hope you appreciate their tips and wisdom—I certainly do.

Your weekly writing exercise: Free write on your feelings about writerly community, how it appears in your life now, what it might become, ideally. Choose one of the ideas shared above and try it yourself. Even if your dream of publication is months or years off, what can you do to foster a supportive community for when your writing reaches readers? Time spent contemplating your hopes and fears on this topic can yield an increase of personal freedom in the end.

Shout Out!

A hearty shout out to these writing friends and former students who are publishing their books! I encourage you to pre-order a copy to show your support of fellow writers and our writing community.

(If you are a former student and will publish soon (pre-orders of your book are available now), or have in the past two months, email mary[at]marycarrollmoore[dot]com to be included in a future Shout Out!)

Nancy Crochiere, Graceland (Avon, May release)

Emma Laurence, Beyond Burnout Playbook (Life Is Coaching You, May release)

Lynne Kolze, Please Write: Finding Joy and Meaning in the Soulful Art of Handwritten Letters (Beaver's Pond Press, May release)

Linda Dittmar, Tracing Homelands: Israel, Palestine, and the Claims of Belonging. (Interlink Press, July release)

Nigar Alam, Under the Tamarind Tree (Putnam/PRH, August release)

Patty Wetterling and Joy Baker, Dear Jacob: A Mother's Journey of Hope (Minnesota Historical Society Press, October release)

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