One of the biggest advantages to being published by a large traditional publishing house is that they have the resources and know-how to really push a new book. If you’re an independent author, the weight of marketing and promoting your work falls completely on you. Those tasks can feel daunting—even impossible. But with time and effort, you can market yourself like you have the backing of a major publishing house.
Here, we share some of the ways the “Big Five” (a.k.a., Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster) promote their authors, and we show you how you can do the same things for yourself. Whether a smaller house is publishing your book or you’re choosing to self-publish, these strategies can help you increase your visibility, which leads to more attention, more opportunities, and even more book sales.
1. Start by thinking like a publisher.
Major publishing houses are already thinking about marketing and promotion well before a book is published—sometimes as much as six months before the release date … or more. Before you publish your book, start by thinking about its future, and plan early.
Hire professionals. Once you’ve got a reader’s attention, production-quality aspects like editing, cover design, and book jacket copy become critical sales drivers. If you want your book to be treated like it was produced by a major publishing house, then you have to make it look like it was. Readers aren’t going to respond well to a book that’s filled with errors, has an amateurish front cover, or is supported by a rambling or uninteresting book description.
Identify your audience. This will require some creative market research. First, figure out who and where your readers are. Pay attention to other books and authors in your genre or subject matter, and watch how their audience behaves online and at events like conferences and readings. What’s the age and gender of the average reader for your type of book? Can you gather any clues about where they might live or other interests they might have? Once you have an idea of who, specifically, might buy your book, you can come up with unique ideas for getting their attention. Book marketing and promotion is a lot of work, so you don’t want to waste your energies on the wrong market.
Create a budget. Whether you’re hiring an editor, a graphic designer, or a publicist or you’re planning to advertise, make sure you figure out how much money you have to spend. Self-publishing can get expensive, so you need to decide how best to invest in yourself.
Put together a sales-materials package.This includes promotional text (an enticing description of your book, a snappy tagline, and a concise author bio), information about your market and readers, art (such as your cover), and any early reviews and endorsements. This package can be used online—on your own website and on booksellers’ pages—and to send information to booksellers, the media, and the organizers of book expos, conferences, speaking engagements, and more.
2. Send your book out for review.
Reviews are one of the most powerful marketing tools for publishing houses. Not only do they get the word out about your book, but they’re also a great way to increase your author prestige, resulting in more media coverage, appearances, and (hopefully) book sales.
Start early. You should plan to have your book ready for review at least three months before you publish it. Advance Reader Copies, or ARCs for short, can be print copies or PDFs and should be polished and prepared well ahead of your release date.
Follow each reviewer’s specific submission requirements. Give your book its best possible chance by paying attention to the instructions regarding submission timelines, formatting, and contact person or department.
Write a compelling cover letter for your book that will intrigue the editors. Strategies like connecting with timely topics and providing reader demographics can be powerfully persuasive tools.
Approach the right reviewers. Make sure the reviewerand their readers are a match for your genre or topic. After all, a romance book reviewer isn’t going to be interested in a politically charged thriller.
Aim high. Don’t be afraid to submit to high-profile publications like Kirkus Reviews (through the Kirkus Indie program) and Publishers Weekly (via BookLife). Even if those reviews turn out to be negative or mixed, you’re still getting valuable professional feedback.
Focus on a large number of smaller periodicals and blogs. Contact outlets like your local daily paper and alternative weekly newspaper and city or regional magazines. Your chances will improve with them if you have a clever and well-written pitch. Remember that while self-published books are less likely to be reviewed, it costs you nothing simply to ask for a chance. Research book bloggers and local librarians who like to review books in your genre and send them an ARC too.
Turn a good review into a blurb. Your promotional and marketing efforts can get an enormous boost from a good review. These blurbs can be used on your book cover, on your website, in printed ads and promotions, in press releases, and more. (For more on turning reviews into blurbs, check out our article here.)
Ask for reader reviews. These are essential to increasing your visibility on bookseller sites like Amazon. Most indie authors can count on friends, family, and community members to support them by buying their book, so don’t be shy about asking them to review it too.
3. Plan a fabulous book launch party.
Who says you need a major publisher to throw your book a birthday party? Plan your own festivities instead.
Get ready to network. Depending on the size of your town, make sure you invite any local press, including reporters, editors, and book reviewers. Invite the category buyer and bookseller from your local bookstores. Research any book bloggers in your town or region who might be excited to attend. This can increase your chances of getting media coverage and generating word-of-mouth buzz.
Ask friends and family to help out. Encourage them to hype the event beforehand on their social media pages and then take photos and post them afterward.
Have fun with it! Try to plan an event that ties into your book, and get creative with snacks and decorations. You might feature a signature cocktail, a "book birthday" cake, or some kind of themed decoration.
Promote yourself. In addition to reading and answering questions, be prepared to hand-sell copies of your book and spend some time signing them for your guests.
Offer prizes and giveaways. Whether it’s a themed prize, a signed copy of your book, or a gift certificate to the local bookstore, this can be a great way to keep things entertaining.
4. Advertise your book.
OK, so not everyone has an advertising budget like the ones available to large publishers—we get that you probably can’t afford to place ads on buses or billboards. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from coming up with some creative ideas to advertise your book on a budget.
Use social media. Placing ads on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram is a great way to increase your visibility without breaking the bank. Make sure you’re reaching your target audience, and don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away.
Consider online ads. These can get more expensive, but think about where your target audience is and how you can reach them online. Look into advertising your work on a media or blogger site or maybe the website of your local bookstore.
Talk to local businesses. Some businesses will help local artists get the word out. Printing up some fun promotional postcards and leaving them in a neighborhood boutique or creating a flyer or small banner to hang on a community board in a coffee shop or library are great places to start.
5. Hire a publicist.
Large publishers often turn to publicists to help generate buzz around a particular book or author. An experienced book publicist has the contacts and skills to both plan and execute an organized campaign, which can translate to exposure for both you and your book.
Publicists not only have established relationships and contacts with literary press and reviewers but they also know how to effectively pitch them, increasing your chance of getting coverage. They also have a better idea of where to best invest your time and energy for maximum effect. (But don’t expect them to do all the work. Promotion is still a team sport.)
Hiring a publicist can be expensive. Before you do, decide whether you have the budget to invest. (Here’s an article on independent publicists that can help you make a decision.) It’s also important to remember that publicity works better as a promotional tool—not a sales tool. However, more media attention, speaking engagements, and appearances can also boost your book sales.
6. Plan a book tour.
One of the best ways that major publishers get an author and their book in front of an audience and generate excitement is through a book tour. Even if you can’t afford a cross-country book tour with stays at lovely hotels, you can still plan a great tour for yourself.
Target towns and cities that have a connection to you. Start with where you live and then consider other “stops” along the path of your life: where you went to college, for example, or where your family and best friends live. Plan on visiting different bookstores, libraries, and even coffee shops. If you select towns where you know people, you can save money by staying with friends or family.
Reach out to writers in your community in other cities. Using your network of writers is a great way to generate excitement about your book. By asking someone from your writing community to read with you, you are not only helping cross-promote their work, you are expanding your outreach. Try to choose a fellow author who writes in your genre or whose subject matter complements yours, as their presence will help ensure that your reading is well attended.
Plan well in advance. Reaching out early gives bookstores lots of time to accommodate you. Contact local presses at least two months in advance of your arrival, and let them know the details of the tour. Invite them.
Come up with a great pitch for both larger and independent bookstores. Think about what you’re offering them and why they should want to get involved. Consider giving your tour a unique angle or an interesting name.
Look for literary festivals or book expos. These can be great ways to reach large groups of readers, so offer to sign books, read from your work, or even participate in panel discussions.
Stick to your dates. Fully commit to every appearance, and thank your readers and your hosts at every opportunity.
There is obviously a lot of work that goes into marketing and self-promotion. But this is what makes being an independent author uniquely satisfying! With the right attitude, planning, and prowess, you get to have full control over how you present yourself and your book to the world—and reap all the rewards.