As a publicist, I get a lot of calls from folks who are interested in getting publicity for their self-published book.
The other day I got a call from a lovely older lady, we’ll call her Esther. Esther is an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor who has quite a heroic tale of survival and rebirth in America. She had self-published a memoir at the end of 2012 with Createspace, and despite having lined up a fair number of library speaking engagements and getting a review in Kirkus Indie (a pay-for-review service), she came to me because she said she needed “professional help with publicity to create more buzz and sell more books.”
This story broke my heart because Esther had already spent thousands of her hard earned retirement dollars on creating and promoting her book with the net result of 32 copies sold according Nielsen’s Bookscan. When I talked with her about realistic options for how we could promote her book at this late stage in the game, she was crestfallen. “Well known people and products can get all the publicity they want,” she complained. “But it is people like me, who are trying to have their voices heard, that need help.”
Here’s the hard truth that shared I with Esther. Book reviewers are overwhelmed with review copies and their real estate in print media is constrained. The first books they toss off the consideration pile are the self-published titles. On top of that, Esther had her timing completely backward. She was coming to me a year and a half after she published her book. From a publicity perspective, it’s dead on arrival. I tell all my clients, publicity is a dish best served not only warm, but piping hot! This business is about hyping a book before it reaches the market as “the new, new thing”.
I don’t want you to think that it’s impossible to have success when you self-publish your book. Let me tell you about an author I worked with who self-published his book in a very different way and had a lot of success.
We’ll call the author of this self-published book John. John had previously published nine books, all nine split between two large publishing houses. Three of the books had been regional bestsellers which had garnered respectable media coverage and reviews. But neither big house wanted to buy this particular book from him. They felt it was an old story.
John decided to self-publish but in a way that no one would ever know that he did. He wanted physical books in bricks and mortar stores and he wanted ebooks. He wanted events at the stores where he’d always done events and he wanted new events with new audiences. He wanted online advertising and a strong social media campaign. And, of course, he wanted a first-class traditional media campaign.
John edited the book himself, hired a copyeditor, jacket designer, and an interior designer. He found a reasonably priced printer. He created his own imprint (basically just designed a logo for his “publishing company”) and bought a handful of ISBN numbers from the Library of Congress. He hired a PR and marketing firm (us) and we helped him find an independent sales rep who sold the book into Barnes and Noble, Amazon, the wholesalers Baker and Taylor, Ingram, and into the top 40 independent bookstores.
The effort was a great success. The book garnered positive reviews from national outlets like the Associated Press and The New York Times, fantastic reviews in regional papers, a big NPR show had him on and he was even on a morning show. And no one knew it was a self-pub. To date, Bookscan shows sales of 6,000 copies.
So, here are some lessons to take away from this tale of two self-published books.
1) If you want mainstream reviews, make “the package” (industry speak for “the book”) as professional looking as possible. One rule of thumb is to use cream colored “stock” (industry speak for “paper”) because bright white stock signals short-run digital printing, in other words: self-published.
2) Make sure you begin your publicity and review outreach at least four months before your chosen on sale date. Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, says that one way she chooses titles for review is by reading the starred reviews in the trades like PW, Kirkus, and Library Journal. Those trades will only consider books for review if they are received some four months in advance of the on sale date.
3) It’s more expensive but if you can manage it, try to hide that your book is a self-pub by creating your own imprint with its own logo. Some outlets, like PW and Kirkus will try to force self-published authors into their paid review service, so be discreet.
4) Do lots of early reader giveaways. You can run them for free on Goodreads and LibraryThing and lots of bloggers are open to covering your book in exchange for a few free copies to run contests for their readers. Start this at least 3 months prior to on sale.
5) Treat your book like a business. No one else is going to care about your book more than you are. Put your best foot forward and invest in your own success!
(originally written by Gretchen Crary for She Writes)