DIY book promotion

Via Boing Boing, some tips for DIY promotion from Jeff Vandermeer:

The integrity/quality of your brand across products affects your ability to gain leverage across your career. Inconsistency from creative project to creative project breeds indecision among readers. Variety between projects, so long as quality is high, may slow your progress but result in rewards that are just as great. But, again, for the long-term, your work must be high-quality. (Your “brand” across time also refers to your public image and other elements that may not always have much to do with your core creativity. However, these elements have impact because reader perceptions are so often driven not just by their opinion of your writing but of you.)

A writer usually has little direct effect on marketing or sales, but can have a huge impact on publicity. To be most effective, you must:

– Understand your audience and the commercial or noncommercial appeal of your creative project. Selling a thousand copies of a nonfiction collection might be an excellent result, while selling a thousand copies of a mystery novel might be seen as a huge failure.

– Understand the relationship between PR efforts and sales, PR and your reputation. The simple fact is, your PR efforts can greatly enhance your reputation without having as large an effect on your sales. Good PR is as much about setting you up for future opportunities and making sure you stay in the public eye as it is about readers making purchases. Studies show that readers may need to hear or read about a book as many as seven times before deciding to purchase it. Thus, a strong PR effort will influence sales over time, but the primary impact is to position you in other ways.

– Make sure to fit the scale of the PR to the scale of the project. You don’t send copies of your saddle-stapled 42-page chapbook on armadillo farming to Publishers Weekly. Nor do you send a techno-thriller to the book reviewer at Armadillo Farming Quarterly. (Except, of course, in the remote eventuality that armadillos play an integral role in the plot.)

Read the rest here.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. “reader perceptions are so often driven not just by their opinion of your writing but of you” This is true, and so frustrating because it shouldn’t be true. It is the bain of my writing life.

  2. Think about it, Jeff. You reckon in a world where your social networking abilities and your skill at developing ‘respectful relationships’ with editors is more important than your ability to turn an original phrase, in which everyone is learning how to generate words without actually saying anything for fear of upsetting someone who might be able to advance their career, that Patrick White would get published, or develop a readership, or win a Nobel Prize? Or Baudelaire, or Bukowhiskey, or Norman Mailer?

  3. Lucy, you should let Vandermeer know about that cap gun thriller-promo in your last post…sounds like that’s where he’ll eventually end up.

  4. Hi Paul. There is an undeniable historical premise for arguing that creative people are more likely to reach an audience if they engage those people who make it their business to understand audiences, i.e., editors. The problem with this approach is that so many editors seem to lack the entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurs understand that audiences are not a solid with which you can hit an idea over the head. Entrepreneurs understand that audiences constantly form themselves around new ideas.

    Where are the entrepreneurial editors, Paul? We are the entrepreneurial editors. Our audiences will come if our work inspires them. If they like our personalities, then we get a bonus audience. Groupies!

  5. It’s not very helpful to talk about publication as resting simply on ‘your ability to turn an original phrase’. That’s never been the case, and never will be without a massive social transformation. The publishing industry is an industry. Publishers sign books in the belief the books will make money. Any publisher who doesn’t act in that way quickly goes out of business.
    Furthermore, because publishing is an industry, advertising has always been part of producing books, no matter how experimental or progressive those books happen to be.
    It doesn’t do us any good to pretend that’s not so. The first step to changing the world is the recognition of how the world works.

  6. Jeff, there are many small press publishers out there (particularly in the poetry world), who truly believe in publishing the ‘best’ work sent to them, as opposed to the most commercial. They operate on the basis that breaking even is a blessing, and making profit is a bonus. They understand the market in which they operate and yet they still exist to promote writing (poetry) in the best possible way they can, because they believe in what they do, and because they are friends of the art, not parasites to it. These publishing operations are are run by selfless, idealistic people who, thank God, refuse to buy into the blanket premise you’ve suggested above. I find it tragic that you don’t credit them.

  7. Maxine, Overland’s not a commercial operation, partly because it couldn’t survive without government funding and partly because it depends on the hours put into it by volunteers who are, I would imagine, as selfless and idealistic as anyone else. Those circumstances mean that we can publish the ‘best’ (even though, as I tried to suggest above, that’s a much more loaded term than this conversation suggests, and can’t simply be reduced to aesthetics) work that we receive or commission.
    At that same time, even if you only want to break even, you can’t escape the fact that printing costs money. Putting on events costs money. Even hosting a website costs money. Unless you have an independent income, you can’t afford to lose money on what you’re doing.
    Furthermore, if you are doing something you really believe in (whether politically or aesthetically), you’ll want it to reach as many people as possible. That means you can’t be indifferent to the number of copies sold or the size of the audience to an event. Which is why having some idea about marketing is important.
    In any case, Paul was talking about novels (at least I thought he was), which was my context for the remarks above. To get a novel published in Australia today, you have to sell it to someone who thinks it will make money. I’m not saying that’s a good thing; I’m just saying it’s a fact. Pretending that it isn’t doesn’t help anyone.

  8. Of course I consider Overland a part of the group I described. That goes without saying, otherwise I certainly wouldn’t be ‘volunteering’.

    I guess I was trying to say that there is, in general, too much examining and bemoaning the state of publishing in Australia, and not enough looking at, and applauding the alternative publishing models that do, and might exist (regardless of genre), and learning from and trying to better them (as, I assume, the O/Land Novel Project is trying to do) 🙂

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