Textcetera: Promoting your book with a small press

At smaller presses across the country, it’s not uncommon for authors to play some role in the promotion of their book alongside their publisher, says Liz Fuller, Promotions & Publicity Specialist at Formac Publishing in Halifax. “I work closely with our authors to develop and execute a promotional plan with the goal of generating interest, conversation, and book sales,” she explains. “Each promotional plan and campaign is different—one of the things I really enjoy about my job!”

Below, Liz gives writers a sense of what they can expect from the promotion process with a small press in Canada.

The publisher’s plan

While a cross-country tour is not in the budget for most authors these days, Liz notes that the Nova Scotia government offers arts grants to help fund local tours, and publishers can apply to these grants on behalf of their writers.

“COVID restrictions put in-person book promotion on hold and forced us to refocus our efforts on being creative in our use of digital marketing and promotion such as Zoom readings,” Liz explains. “Once limits on indoor gatherings decrease, we will organize signings or small events at local bookstores if the opportunity arises.”

Beyond in-person events, however, Liz says that “there are other methods of promoting a book that are more cost effective and can reach more people at one time.” For example, “traditional media platforms such as TV shows, radio shows, newspapers and book reviews are still a great way to promote a new title. In comparison to an in-store book signing, a TV or radio show can reach hundreds if not thousands of people at one time and allow the author and book to be endorsed by the news source.”

“In addition to traditional media, we also rely on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter ads to reach suitable audiences for each book. Of course, a personal, live interview with an author is much more memorable than scrolling past a Facebook ad on your news feed, but keep in mind that those ads can reach thousands of potential readers.”

The author’s role

Most presses are likely to be marketing multiple titles at the same time. That’s why it’s crucial for authors to take stock of their existing networks and consider how they can help their publisher promote the book.

“Since I am not a full-time publicist for any one author, it’s very helpful for authors to do some promotional work on their own,” explains Liz. “For example, if they have a friend who is a news anchor, they don’t need me to reach out. If they are associated with a company with 10,000 followers on Instagram or Facebook, they don’t need me to arrange a post there. And all of that is very beneficial. My biggest piece of advice for authors is to take advantage of their connections, both personal and professional. Colleagues from school, gym buddies, family connections, university alumni reviews, local newspapers or specialists that they know from the field they study. It is much easier for an author to get an interview or book review done by someone that they know personally versus a faceless email or phone call. Connections don’t have to be best friends, but anyone with a platform, big or small. Those connections can expand into new connections, and networking will drive promotion even further.”

Set goals together, and ask questions

When it comes to collaboration on a marketing plan, Liz recommends that authors “be very direct right from the start about what their promotion goals are.” For example, “if an author is uncomfortable being on live TV, there’s no point in scheduling that.”

Work with your strengths, and be honest about your weaknesses. No one expects to take a cookie cutter approach to marketing your book. As Liz points out, “some authors want to be very hands-on in the promotion process of their new book, others want to take more of a backseat approach—and neither is right or wrong! In my first meeting with every author, it’s best to define the goals we both have, find the similarities and differences, and work to create a promotion plan that combines the two.”

Liz strives to “create an environment of mutual respect and honesty” between herself and the authors she works with. “I want every author to feel like they can approach me with any questions or concerns they may have,” she says, “whether that be on content they are being asked to speak on, types of media they may not be comfortable with, or asking for clarification when I provide them with media coaching feedback. At the end of the day, if an author is not comfortable with the marketing plan in place for them, it will show in their media appearances. This makes it absolutely essential to have a positive and open working relationship right from the start.”

Dialogue is key. Ask lots of questions, be specific when explaining why a certain approach may not work for you, and try to offer potential solutions whenever you have concerns.

Use social media, but use it well

When it comes to promotion via social media, Liz says that platforms such as Facebook or Instagram “can be a great tool when it comes to the promotion process, but are not absolutely necessary. Certain books may lend themselves more easily to a target demographic that is heavily influenced by social media, but this is not always the case. Most of the time, it is still incredibly beneficial to focus on traditional media in the promotion process. I will say though, social media is a great option to give an audience a personal feel for the author, and in turn, for an author to build connections that make people want to read their book. While it does not replace an in-person event, scrolling through an author’s Twitter, Facebook or Instagram gives the audience a sense of the personality of the author and can influence the decision to buy or not buy the book.”

A publisher can often help create social media graphics, posts, and advertisements, Liz notes, “but authors are responsible for keeping their personal sites up-to-date.” Unlike a website, social media needs to be updated regularly to be effective, so consider how much time you have to devote to various platforms before signing up for them. Focus on reaching out to your audience in authentic ways that can be sustained. If you aren’t a fan of Twitter, then focus your efforts on developing an engaging newsletter or on meeting with local book clubs. There’s no one path to promotional perfection. Talk with your publisher, consider your strengths, and develop the marketing plan that’s right for you.

Looking for concrete ideas to bring to the promotional table? WFNS members can check out our new members’-only resource, Promoting Your Book with a Small Press (the extended PDF edition)!

textcetera is a blog series exploring the writer’s life beyond craft. “Promoting your book with a small press” was written by Keanan Byggdin.

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