by Corinne Moulder
According to Bowker, the official ISBN issuing agency in the United States, self-published books were up 40% in 2018 over 2017, with an estimated 1.68 million self-published print and ebooks published. Through the boom of self-publishing, long before 2017, book promotion dramatically changed. Publicity campaigns that were once focused solely around a book greatly expanded to make room for the personality behind the content. An established author platform, in many ways, has become more of a necessity than the book itself as it drives much of the reader, reviewer and media engagement. Most authors know you can’t just release a book into the wild to wait for something to happen, and that promotion—whether at the hand of a professional or the author herself—is necessary. There are, however, critical steps to prepare your author platform before diving headfirst into publicizing your book. Taking these early steps, amongst others, will ultimately provide you with channels you’ll later need to leverage your publicity results.
1. Create Your Reader Avatar
It seems so simple, yet writers can find themselves at the tail end of their manuscript without a firm idea of exactly who they wrote their book for. Take time to step back from your manuscript, close your eyes, and envision your target reader. Who is sitting back with your book, absorbing the content? Is it a single mother looking for an inspirational boost to get her through the new school year? Is it a fellow entrepreneur seeking tips for startup success? Is it a 20 year old college student enjoying downtime between classes? Now take it a step further and create your reader avatar—the description of the consumer who will love your book. What organizations do they belong to? Which social media platform do they utilize? Which outlets do they turn to for news consumption? What other books are they reading? The more you “know” your reader, the better you can steer your marketing initiatives to reach them.
2. Make a List of Competing Authors You Admire and Follow Them
Years ago, I attended a writers’ conference and overheard someone say “If you’re writing a book that’s truly NEVER been written before, you probably shouldn’t write it.” You can and should find certain aspects of your book in others that have already been written. This lets you know there is a market for your book and—bonus!—it also gives you case studies for successful marketing tactics in your genre. Before you kick off your publicity campaign, make a list of comp titles including A-list authors AND self-published authors who’ve broken out in your genre. Follow them on social media. Engage in their posts. Identify the groups they’re associated with and join them. Learn how they interact with their readers. Take notes on which social media tactics they implore that create the highest engagement with their followers. You do not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to marketing in your genre—you just have to know where to look!
3. Establish Your Digital Footprint
You don’t need to be active on all social media platforms. You don’t need to have a blog. You don’t have to start an author newsletter. But you do have to create a digital “home base” that will ultimately become the place to which you direct readers, media and reviewers for more information about you, your book and your brand. Draw on the insights from your reader avatar and establish a platform within the space where your future book buyer “lives.” Whether it is a website, an author Facebook page, an Instagram account dedicated to your author brand, a blog, or any other channel that suits both you and your audience, choose a platform to grow and start early; if possible, six months to a year prior to your publication date, although it’s never too late. The earlier you start, the more time you have to organically grow your audience (read: built-in future book buyers!) and enhance your author voice through content creation, commentary, news engagement, etc. Remember, your home base will be the key to sustained promotion long after your book is released so take your time to consider which platform you’d like to engage in a long-term relationship.
4. Create an Editorial Calendar
It’s important to identify critical tie-ins for your book and message before you actively promote your new work. There are awareness months, weeks, and days for most social, lifestyle and health causes and if you identify these crucial dates up front, you’ll be positioned to leverage them at critical points throughout your publicity timeline. Do your due diligence and research health awareness calendars and identify seasonal tie-ins (spring reinvention, holiday stress, school year prep, etc.) and holidays that connect to your book’s content. Once you’ve established these awareness dates and holidays, mark off the time on your editorial calendar in which you’ll pitch long-lead (4 – 6 months), medium-lead (2 – 3 months) and short-lead (1 month) media opportunities so you can effectively leverage what will undoubtedly be covered in the news. By focusing on identifying your reader, checking out your competition, creating your digital home base, and putting together an editorial calendar before it’s time to publicize your book, you will be taking smart steps to set yourself up for maximum success.
[Corinne Moulder is the Vice President, Business Development at Smith Publicity.]