Words for Writers: What Do I Do To Self-Market?

On the heels of my guest post over at A Guide To Literary Agents, “I Have a Publishing Deal But I Still Want an Agent. Here’s Why…“, a few commenters have asked what I’ve done to self-market.

To market, mostly I ensure that I’m as visible as possible across in as many media and social networking platforms as possible.

Press Release – I wrote a short newspaper article about Triptych, using the book’s advanced reviews, and sent it to all the major media outlets in the area. A word of warning; make sure if you don’t know how to write a proper press release that you research it THOROUGHLY. There’s nothing worse than a poorly written, poorly put together press release. Ask a journalism student/professor for help and advice f you don’t know any journalists to ask.

Press Kit – this is a 4 page PDF I created with pictures, a full bibliography, and a full filmogrophy. I have a short bio, a list of things I am available to speak about, my latest novel (Triptych), and my upcoming publications and events. I send this along with every inquiry letter I send, or response to inquiries from media and festivals/conventions.

Handouts – I got 500 two sided colour postcards printed up, with the book cover, the elevator pitch, the ISBN, price, publisher’s name, my website, and some of the reviews. I carry some of these with me everywhere, so I have something to hand people when they ask me about my job, my book, or me.

Facebook – I bought Ads, and run a fanpage. My personal facebook page is also in my pen name; I run it professionally and don’t use facebook for embarrassing family/ inappropriate friend things.

GoodReads – I made sure to register as a “GoodReads Author”, and post my major events on the site. I also have the widget up on my website so visitors can click through.

Amazon – I made sure to set up my author page, and spoke to my publisher about allowing the book to have the “Look Inside!” feature. I also made a bargain with friends who wanted to read the book early – “I will send you the PDF or an ARC, but in return you must write me an honest Amazon review”. Most were more than happy to do so.

Twitter – I made sure to create a hashtag of the name of my book, and tweet every day. But my tweets are not just about my book – fans want a sense of having the privilege of being a part of the intimate detail of a writer’s life. Just look at how much people love the tales of Neil Gaiman’s dogs. I make sure that I tell folks about the other things happening in my life – but I also make sure that it’s all professional and appropriate to the image I’m cultivating. No drunk tweeting! I also tweet about writing, books, and the publishing industry.

Hardcore Nerdity – Great social media networking site for Geeks, where they feature original interviews and content as well as spotlight interesting user content.

TO Nerd Mafia – I am a member of a regional area geek group. We mostly exist for the social advantages, but we also make a point of supporting one another’s projects. Can you find, join, or create a similar group in your area?

Contests – I’ve helped host some writing contests, but I also have give-aways and the like on my own blog. Everyone likes free stuff! It’s not always the book, sometimes it’s crits, and author Leah Peterson is giving away hand-knit UFO coasters!

In Person – I made sure that my book launch was a huge to-do, with a big cake, a raffle for prizes donated by professional and booky friends, and lots of books on hand to sell. I put up posters EVERYWHERE, in all the book stores in my area, and emailed everyone on my mailing list. So did my mother. (Don’t be afraid to ask your family to mention things to their friends, too).

Book Bloggers – They are usually swamped with requests to review books, but are worth the wait. One or two great book bloggers backing you can mean the world. Plus, these are folks who actually really love to read. They are the people you are writing for. Love them back!

YouTube – Book trailers are on their way up. Whether they’re actually useful has yet to be determined, but they certainly don’t hurt. I had a film friend create my book trailer, but I also use my YouTube channel to archive my other film appearances – interviews, web series, short films, etc – and to provide a list of other cool book trailers for people to watch.

Print – I sent the press release, but I also personally emailed the arts / book reporters in my local papers, and the papers of my hometown. I did get some interviews out of this.

Book stores – I walked in to a lot of book stores, especially the independent ones and the ones in my hometown, and spoke to the owners personally about the book. Some have offered to take it on consignment, and some have said they’re just going to order and stock it. I left my contact info so they could call me in to sign the stock when it arrives.

Conventions – getting a table at conventions can be useful, because you can engage your readership as it passes by and handsell the book. You can also appear as a panelist, special speaker, or join in other events. When I go to science fiction conventions, I generally get a signing session, a reading session, time at the table, and then I try to do something else, like offer to judge the masquerade contest or help out at an award ceremony. Showing that you support your local community means that they will be more willing to support you.

Radio – I sent my press release and press kit to most of the local radio stations.

Television – I sent my press release and press kit to some of the local television stations, especially those with chat shows.

My Website – I made certain to engage a professional, talent web designer to create an effective, easy-to-navigate and visually striking website. I archive all of my events, appearances, interviews, films, and photos here, so there is hours of click-through information for readers to enjoy and engage with. I study my analytics to see where people are finding links to my site and what they are visiting and clicking when they get here. I also got my domain name early, and made sure it was really easy to remember – my name. Also, make sure there is a “Call to Action” (i.e. an opportunity to buy your book immediately with one click) on every page. In my case, it’s permanently in my header, and links to DMP’s shop.

Delicious – when I find blog posts about me and my work, or post my own, I archive them all in Delicious, a social bookmarking website. That way people can easily search my archives, and I have a record of everywhere the book has been mentioned.

Speaking Engagements – I volunteer for everything I can. I have made a point to refuse appearance fees for any event that supports literacy, children readers, or libraries. (Though, I will still accept travel and accommodation, because I am now a poor former grad student with huge student debt who cannot afford to travel.) I ask them to donate my fee to a local literacy charity if they still insist on paying me. It’s not a matter of waiting for people to engage you for appearances – you have to contact them so they know that you exist. I have a list of all the local book/writer festivals, conventions, and parties and I am slowly working my way through them, sending polite query letters to let people know who I am and that I exist and am happy to come speak.

Awards – A friend needing some admin experience put together a spreadsheet of every award I think Triptych might be eligible for. In a few months I will begin submitting the book (or asking my publisher to submit, or asking friends who are eligible to nominate to submit) everywhere I can.

Alumni Associations – I am an alumnus of three universities, a local school board, some academic conferences, and the JET Programme. I made certain to send my press release to each alumni association, and a few interviews have resulted from this.

Community Events – April 11 (today!) is “Make Triptych #1 on Amazon!” day, where I’m asking readers to purchace their copies online to try to push Triptych up the rankings; like this, offer your audience something to do TOGETHER as a community, give them a sence of power, of being a force. It builds comraderie and gets your audience in contact with one another.

Other publications – always have something else after the book to keep the buzz and momentum going. I am lucky enough that I have four publications this year – a short in an anthology, an essay in an academic reader, and a chapbook of funny morbid poems with a local small press. But I’m also always querying my other manuscripts and shorts. A writer is only a writer when they are writing. (This is another reason I really want an agent. I have a huge archive of short stories, poems, academic essays, and novels. If I have someone to help me sell these, then I can actually start writing something fresh and new.)

Be an expert in something – have another field that you are an expert in. (In my case, I’m a fanthropologist and Doctor Who scholar). This means that there are more things you can talk about than just your book in all of the above platforms, and you become more than a one-trick pony.

E-mail signature – I have one of my great reviews, my elevator pitch, and a link to buy the book in my email sig.

Google – I search for myself once a week to see what is being said and what the top results using my name and the name of my novel as search terms are. Google tends to pick up websites that update frequently, so I try to add something to my blog once a week, at least a new photo to a gallery, a blog post, and interview, etc. I use Google analytics to inform me of the major blog posts that might mention me, and go read them. I thank the authors, comment on the post, and offer copies of the book as give aways or for reviews, if it’s appropriate.

Find a niche –  figure out what your niche market is. For me, yes, my book is spec fic, so I do want to market to the sci-fi crowd; but my book also has queer and poly themes, so this means I can also try to market to the queer and poly audience – I talk to LGBTQ bookstores, bloggers, festivals, and local venues.

It’s not all about you – I try to make sure all of my marketing is useful to other writers and readers in general. If you make everything you do ALL ABOUT YOUR BOOK then people get fatigued. You have to offer value-added content – writing tips, links to great contests, a video archive, etc. Make your website a DESTINATION, not just a shopping portal.

Above all else, remember the magic “P” – PROFESSIONALISM. Never, never have a hissy fit in public, never badmouth other writers, and always write thorough professional emails. (Yes, that means full sentences, real paragraphs, complete words, and no L33T, emoticons or text-jargon). Communicate clearly, cleanly, and promptly. Always remind people who you are in your emails, and why you are contacting them. Treat others as you’d like to be treated. Always follow up. Always be polite and thank people for their time and interest.

Lastly – think about what you’re posting before you send it off into the world. Remember, the Internet has a long memory.


For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: What Do I Do To Self-Market?


Join the conversation
  • Karen Dales - April 11, 2011

    Excellent article!

  • Leah Petersen - April 11, 2011

    This is a great list! Right now I’m trying to help others since it’s not time for me to be aggressively marketing myself yet. It helps me see what works and what doesn’t. What to do and what not to do.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • JM Frey - April 11, 2011

    You’re very welcome, Leah.

  • Self-Promotion for Authors | Jen's Writing Desk - April 12, 2011

    […] enough detail for us to get a good idea of what it takes to promote a book fully.  Read the entire “What Do I Do to Self-Market” for the whole […]

  • Jennifer Jensen - April 12, 2011

    Wow, what a list! At least I’ll know what to expect when I get there. Thanks. And I blogged briefly about it with a link back to read the whole thing.

  • JM Frey - April 12, 2011

    Very cool, Jen! Thanks for letting me know!

    There is one more thing I did that I forget to mention – I had professional headshots done.

    It seems like an unnecessary expense when an author shot just needs to be in focus, flattering, and not too cluttered. But having really high-res, quality photos make you look serious about your craft, successful, and most importantly, gives the media outlets lots of appealing material to work with – they’re more likely to publish your picture if it’s of publishable quality. It’s also important that your readers know what you look like so they can find you at events and appearances, or can recognise you as they pass by your table at a convention.

    On top of all that, a professional photographer knows all the little tricks to create a really flattering photo, and we all want one of those! I also got a few different looks in my gallery – something casual, something a bit dressy, and some fun things: one with a toy UFO and some with my steampunk goggles to represent the two genres I am writing in at the moment. If my other books ever see the light of day, I will get photos with props for those genres done as well.

    I was lucky enough to already have worked with a professional photographer as a model for one of his shows, so I knew I liked his work style and his products, so I knew who to contact. If you don’t know a photographer, ask a local actor’s agent where he send his clients, or contact a local art school to see if there is a student who works in photography who might want to make some cash.

    Be prepared to spend $400 on average (photographer’s time, studio rental [with backgrounds and lights], and some photo editing), and spend about 2-4 hours in the studio. You’ll also probably have to do your own hair and makeup, unless the headshot professional includes it in their fee. Don’t get a new haircut the day of, in case you hate it; only go to makeup counters for the free make over if you trust them and have seen their work before. However, do go to your stylist for a great blow-out, and do make an appointment at a makeup counter if you know it will be awesome.

    You will also have to provide your own wardrobe, so choose solid colours with no logos, flattering cuts, and clean tailoring. Look at yourself from every angle in the clothing – does it give you saggy arm or can you see your bra through it? Be aware that the light will be much brighter in the studio. Don’t let your clothes muffle you – your face is the most important element of the photo. If your clothes take away from that, instead of framing it prettily, then choose something else.

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