Sarah Russo on How to Promote Your Book (and Yourself)
Do you have a question about your fantasy novel, short story, or spot of flash fiction that’s burning for an answer (or even just a question about writing or the column in general)? If so, please email in your questions to: me “at” susanjmorris “dot” com.
My third book, In Search of Sal, a murder mystery inspired by a true story will be published in October. What are some things I could be doing now to help promote the book? Any ideas?
Thanks for the question! And boy, is it a doozy. I mean, as writers, we spend forever concepting and writing and getting feedback and rewriting and editing and banging our heads against the table and writing some more . . . That once we realize our books are actually going to become things? Like, things out there, in the real world? It can be a total scramble to try to figure out and put together any sort of support system that might possibly get people reading it. In short: publicity is hard.
Too hard for me! But not too hard for a good publicist (worth their weight in truffles, I swear). Enter Sarah Russo. Sarah Russo is a literary publicist, working with authors, and everything from film makers to app designers besides. She is also the U. S. Director of Publicity for And Other Stories, and cut her teeth working for the likes of Alfred A. Knopf, Doubleday, and Scribner. And fortunately for us, she was happy to answer your question. I hope you enjoy her response!
Sarah Russo on How to Promote Your Book (and Yourself)
I love this question. It tells me an author is evolving and starting to think differently about their work. First things first, if you’re publishing your third book I would stop thinking about promoting them individually and start thinking about promoting you as the creative force behind your work. And this goes for artists of any genre whether it is literature, music, film, designers, you name it—start promoting you, and then you have a solid platform from which to engage fans about each project you create. But promoting you isn’t all me, me, me! You need to offer something to people, something interesting and engaging.
This hints at the next important part of this promotion puzzle: branding. There are so many great resources out there that talk about branding, but at the end of the day it’s just about one simple thing: adding to the discussion and having something smart to contribute in your area of expertise. Now don’t walk away, I’m not telling you that you need to spend four hours a day on Facebook and Twitter to engage with the community. Nobody has time for that, and if you do you’re not writing your next book. I recommend finding the platform that works best for you, whether that is Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or a niche social community, either genre specific or subject specific. Give it 5-10 minutes of your day, twice a day, and make it work for you too. And I mean by this, if you love NPR and find it adds something to your life and engagement with the world, follow Brian Lehrer on Facebook or The Picture Show blog. If you don’t get something out of it, you won’t use it. But don’t stop there, share what you love!
What’s the right format for you?
Each type has pluses and minuses, Tumblr is well suited for lots of niche communities particularly the literary one. You will find publishers, authors, magazines, you name it, there, and Tumblr lends itself to visual content and short or long form posts and is easily piped out to Facebook and Twitter so you don’t have to post to all three places. If you like the format of Tumblr you need to learn how to use tags or it will be hard for people to find you. Look to the bottom of this post for resources to help you.
Twitter is nice if you want to find people talking about like-minded ideas. Curate who you’re listening to and who you’re talking to so that it doesn’t get overwhelming or distracting. An excellent, finite list of 100 important people will inform you about your craft and provide you with ideas of how you can in turn give relevant or entertaining tweets to people who will start following you. Start conversations, it’s not a contest, it is a tool for talking about your work and the writing life more generally. If you need help getting started, find a few authors you admire and see if they have any “lists.” For your book in particular, I would recommend looking at Suspense Magazine on Twitter and combing their “lists” for other Twitter feeds you might want to follow.
It’s About Personality!
Now you are thinking to yourself, “What does this have to do with promoting my new book?” Well it’s not directly about promoting your new book; it’s about building your long term platform which will certainly help promote your new book. If you want to look at people who are doing this marvelously, both when they have a book and when they don’t, I recommend Anne Rice on Facebook, Margaret Atwood on Twitter, and Emma Straub on Tumblr. They all provide something significant outside of promotion of their books (or other things they might be promoting). Ms. Rice is very engaged in religion and gay rights, Ms. Atwood makes a valiant effort to provide smart tips for her fellow writers, and Ms. Straub does a brilliant job of reflecting the quirkiness and varied interests that are herself (or the self I assume she is, not knowing her personally). My point, they all have personality whether it’s their real personality or not I don’t know but they are engaged, interested and interesting, and informed about something. You too are informed about something, so talk to people about it.
We live in an amazing world. One that is changing and dynamic and allows all types of people to have a voice they would have been hard pressed to have even five years ago. Your “followers” start with your friends and family and if you engage those people and they engage you back you will be surprised at how organically those people will start to expand.
Okay, so there’s my pitch for a constant, medium level of engagement with the public and therefore self-promotion of your personal brand whatever that brand may be.
Sarah, Get to the Point Now, Please
Now I’ll answer your actual question a bit more directly but I will say it will be harder to do these things without also doing the above.
1. Write! “Well, duh, Sarah,” you say. You write novels but I’m willing to bet you write all kinds of other things too, and I bet they’re interesting. Publish them. Part of that platform above will allow you to engage with editors, readers, and bloggers in a new way. Send all three original pieces that you want published in the lead up to your novel. In a perfect world, one or two per month would be optimal. Publish in a magazine, an online literary journal, a great blog, or your own blog or Tumblr. If you are publishing these pieces to your own blog tagging your posts is critical.
2. Talk! Get talking to people. This takes several forms, you should be thinking both personally and professionally: conferences, invitations to speak to students (both young and old), libraries, and book clubs in your community. If you are out in the world, the world will start buzzing around you and you should be chatting about your new book!
3. Touch! (All right, this is getting kitschy now.) Get in touch with your publisher or publicist, if one has been assigned to you. It’s a bit early to start hitting up your publicist for October (given that it is currently March), but do let them know that you are starting a Twitter (Tumblr, Facebook, GoodReads page something, something . . .) and that you would love their input and feedback and possible retweets when the time comes. Ask if they have some basic resources for you: a best practice sheet for how authors can use these social media networks and/or people at the company you should “friend,” “follow,” etc. (Also see below for more resources.)
4. Join! If you’re not already a member of your appropriate organization (Mystery Writers of America) join them. For the other writers of many genres consider joining the lovely people at PEN, if you’re not only a book writer but a book critic look into joining the National Book Critics Circle. You get the idea. These organizations provide valuable connections, seminars, and resources for authors.
Easier Said Than Done, You Say?
Some writers find it hard to take that next step from promoting their book to promoting themselves. Many feel there is a fine line between promoting a product and appearing “self-promotional.” The trick here is to not be self-promoting. If all you are doing is touting your own achievements, posting your book reviews and blurbs, announcing your events all day long that gets old fast. You want to contribute something valuable because that’s what brings people to you. If you don’t think you have anything to add to the discourse right now I ask you to really think about it, because everyone has something to contribute.
As the tag line on my Tumblr says, “Being a publicist isn’t a job, it’s a way of life.” And this statement is true not just for being a publicist but for being absolutely anything that you love. I am fortunate and grateful that my job is to talk to authors and editors and journalists all day long. It’s not a walk in the park, it is hard work, but I love it, I’m engaged in it, I’m living it, learning from it, and most of all I do my best to share what I know with others. That, in my humble opinion, is the key to engagement!
Sarah Russo is a literary publicist. Over the years she has worked for Alfred A. Knopf, Doubleday, Scribner, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Other Press and Oxford University Press. Two years ago she founded her own public relations firm working largely with authors but also film makers, app designers, architects, photographers and artists. She is the U.S. Director of Publicity for And Other Stories. You can connect with her on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads…and whatever comes next.
(Note: Your blog doesn’t have to be on Tumblr, if you have WordPress and like it there keep it. I find Tumblr easy to use and network on which many authors who don’t have a lot of technical know-how also find simple to use)
(I will make one note here from my own personal experience. I will rarely, if ever, follow someone on Twitter who has followed me and hasn’t tweeted anything yet. This post recommends following a bunch of people first. I say, follow your close friends, do some quality tweeting and then start following people you would like to have follow you back.)
Facebook is now a giant mega-marketing platform, the WalMart of marketing so to speak. If you are going to make a fan page I strongly recommend making it for yourself and not for individual books or risk having to start from scratch with every book.
(All are on social media platforms as well.)