This May I published my first novel. I’m an intellectual property attorney with no formal background in product development or marketing, so I knew that increasing the book’s profile would be a challenge. In this essay I’ll share with you some techniques that worked for me. Marketing is more art than science, so the suggestions reflect my personal opinion and experience. I’ll also mention some resources I found helpful, but in so doing, please know that I’m receiving nothing of value from third parties for mention of their services or publications. This is not an infomercial.
The first decision you need to make is whether you are approaching publishing as a past time, or as a business. If you are serious about getting the broadest exposure for yourself and your book, you must realize that literary critics and the buying public will not distinguish between your work and that of commercially successful, established professional writers. And frankly, if the choice is paying $22 for your book or $22 for Martin Amis’ latest novel, why should the new author be given a handicap?
Dedicated Website: A website structured around branding your new book is one of the most effective, if not the most effective, marketing techniques available to the author. When a prospective buyer pulls up Amazon’s website, with over a million titles available for purchase, what are the odds your title will cross their monitor? You need a conduit to direct the reader to your Amazon product page, and the most effective conduit is a website dedicated to exploration of your book. The website allows you to pitch the book and yourself, as author. It also affords the author the opportunity to interact with the reader: to establish a rapport with a prospective buyer. Setup a website dedicated to the book well in advance of publication date. There are many things in a marketing campaign that require retaining specialists. Much of the marketing you can do yourself, but setting up a professional quality website that will compete with sites mounted by conglomerate publishers, their webmasters and teams of graphic designers is not one of them. Having been immersed in technology, personally, for the past 20+ years, I’m very comfortable manipulating software and hardware, but even with this depth of knowledge, website design at this level is not something I would undertake. Unless you’re a professional in website design proficient with Dreamweaver, I strongly encourage you to hire the best person budget allows to perform this mission critical task.
Some marketing experts suggest using the author’s name as the registered domain name; e.g., ScottTurow.com. This is a logical approach for authors that are household names. I think it is a mistake for first time authors, unless you are an established personality in a different artistic medium or profession. Reason: no one knows who you are, so how would they know to search for you in order to locate your site? If you promote your book title as the domain name, rather than your name as author, there will be greater symbiosis between marketing endeavors, as each tool in your arsenal is focused on publicizing the book’s title. The exception would be if your book’s title is non-memorable, lengthy or otherwise difficult to promote. It is easier to come up with unique keywords — words that search engine bots identify and catalogue in indexing new Internet content — for a unique book title than for an author’s not-so-unique name. Unique and distinctive keyword and keyword long-tail phrases are critical in successfully ranking your website and, thereby, elevating its profile.
Audit the websites of successful authors in the same genre for ideas on how to structure your site and to assess the competition. Sites run by marquee name authors are what you are up against in achieving successful product placement: it is the standard against which your site will be measured. A website set up three to six months in advance of publication date is the most effective way to generate pre-release interest in your book. Include a blog component on the site, even if you maintain a separate blog, in order to keep the content fresh. The more frequent a site’s updates, the higher its ranking on search engine indexes, and that is the ultimate goal. If people cannot find your site, they will not find your book. The site should include a webpage providing a short abstract of the book, author bio, press release page and way in which to contact the author. Requiring registration on the site to participate in an integrated forum is also helpful, as you then have an automatic list of all prospective buyers for your book when it’s published.
Essays: One easy way to get the word out on the virtual street that you have an expertise in your book’s genre or theme is to publish short essays on the Internet. Ezinearticles is currently the leading host site and resource for essays by free-lance authors. It will provide you with the greatest exposure, but there are similar sites out there the author should explore. The body of the essay should offer the reader something of substance and value, and not be an infomerical for your book. To reference the book is fine, but the focus should be on a subject not directly related to pitching your title to the reader. Essay length should, ideally, be between 250 and 700 words. Shorter articles are more likely to be syndicated. At 2,000 words, this essay runs afoul of that rule, but there are always exceptions. The essay should always contain a resource box at the end with the author’s name, book title and contact information, including his website address. If the essay is popular on the host site, there is a good chance it will be syndicated by third party publishers, further increasing your audience. The value of such essays cannot be overstated as a tool to brand your name and your new book.
Blog: When I began formulating my marketing campaign, my understanding was that blogs were passé and had reached market saturation levels. Both assumptions are true, but oddly blogs remain a very effective marketing tool. The blog, like your website, must be updated regularly in order to work towards a high ranking on popular search engines. In my experience, WordPress, an open source software suite of tools and webhost, offers the most effective platform upon which to reach a large audience. There is a learning curve here, but much of it is intuitive if you possess average software fluency. Building a WordPress Blog by Scott McNulty (Peachpit Press 2009) is a terrific primer. The blog differs from your website in that it is intended to feature daily ponderances, essays not relating to your book and other writings that allow the reader to connect with who you are as a person. The blog, if used effectively, helps to build a relationship between reader and author that pure marketing vehicles, such as a book’s website, cannot achieve. I would also highly recommend registering a domain name separate and unique from that of your book’s website for your blog, rather than use WordPress’s community site. This approach allows greater search engine optimization (SEO), as well as permitting the blogger to fully exploit the power of the WordPress blog tools and plug-ins. Use of the latter on the WordPress site is extremely limited.
Podiobooks.com: Most people, even liberal minded artists, like to be paid for their work product; therefore, it goes against human nature to give away one’s prose or verse. Now is the time to set aside that instinct and fully embrace your inner Karl Marx. Podiobooks.com has yielded NYT acclaimed authors with major publishing deals out of complete unknowns. If your book in audio form generates enough interest on the popular Podiobooks website, it could well launch your professional career as a writer. The volunteers that are tasked with the site’s administration are, themselves, writers, and their hands-on approach to each submission is impressive. The site has been recognized as trend setting by the Grey Lady, herself, as well as Time Magazine. If the New York Times regards Podibooks as a serious resource, so should you. There are some excellent professional voice over artists that will translate your book to audio form. If you are not comfortable reading aloud your own work or do not have a strong speaking voice, I would encourage you to consider this as an option; albeit, it’s costly, with fees in the $1500 – $3,000 range depending on length of book and reputation of the artist retained. Sounds expensive, and it is, but that’s the cost of a decent studio microphone. At the very least, invest in a Shure SM58 mic and small mic pre-amp. Cardioid mics benefit from a mic pre, as they do not produce a strong signal.
Video Trailer: This is a hot new trend in book marketing and a highly effective one. The video trailer is not unlike the preview for motion pictures seen in theaters. It’s a multimedia presentation of the synopsis or theme of your book. Like most new and popular services, it’s also a market sector that is full of incompetents and opportunists. Carefully vet anyone retained to do this work for you: ask for a curriculum vitae and a portfolio of their work. What formal training do they have in video production and what is their specialty? How long have they performed contract work in the publishing field? Do they perform all the work in-house or do they job out the work? I’m a gearhead (a technophile that possesses a knowledge of hardware), so I often ask about studio equipment used and production facility. Much can be done these days with a Mac Pro Workstation and Final Cut Studio or Adobe Creative Suite, but you still need expertise, a sound isolation booth and professional mics and mic preamps in order to achieve competitive commercial product.
Price points for this service range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. There is — or should be — a direct correlation between price point and videographer experience and resources. The correlation typically extends beyond that to the contractor’s ability to effectively place and publicize the video. As important as the quality of the finished video trailer is placement of that trailer. Just as with one’s website or blog, visibility of the trailer is essential for it to be effective. If distribution of the trailer is limited to populist sites like YouTube, Spike and Atom, there is no way to achieve niche marketing — to narrow your audience to a desired target market of book buyers, much less niche readers in a particular genre. Much of what you are paying for with the better services is product placement. Just like your book, a video trailer has little utility if it does not reach an audience. Book Surge (booksurge.com) is one of the few print on demand (POD) publishers that offers an effective video trailer placement service. They are uniquely positioned to do so, as they are wholly owned by Amazon.com. When you pay for trailer production through Book Surge, they are able to guarantee placement of that video on your book’s Amazon product page. Something no other publisher or publicist, save for the major publishing conglomerates, can offer.
Virtual Book Tours: VBT have become a popular and inexpensive alternative for authors that have paid thousands to publicists with modest return on their investment dollar. With books now being the number one subject commodity of online transactions, it only makes sense to maximize exposure of your book’s website and related web presence. Here, an established network is everything. Few new authors have the existing relationships with literary special interest websites, forums and blogs to effectively publicize their book and their name, as author. You need these third-party sites to discuss your book, its author, and to link back to your site. As important as branding your book is branding your name. If your name is recognizable amongst readers, they are twice as likely to locate your book online or at a brick and mortar reseller. Since there is significantly less overhead for the publicist in promoting an author online, the cost to the client is less than partnering with a traditional publicist. The specialist in promoting books online should be able to secure author interviews, book reviews and featured articles — like this one — on sites frequented by prospective purchasers of your book. Because of the sheer volume of book sales online today, a VBT is a no brainer, but should be preceded, in my opinion, by having the aforementioned promotional tools in place to maximize the effect and reach of the VBT publicist’s efforts. Even the big publishing houses are now requiring their authors to be proactive in marketing their books, including updating websites and blogs. This is even more true for the new author, where it will require that much more legwork to establish both the author and his body of work as worthy of the reader’s cash and time.