I’ve been in marketing/publicity for quite a few years. I’ve sold, promoted, and publicized various products and services over the years. To be effective one has to know the product or service being offered—which in this case is selling you as an author and your book. Knowing the business end of the product you’re selling, which in this case would be publishing.
I write quite a bit about marketing, promotion, and publicity. I work with a couple of small independent publishing companies to promote their authors and increase sales. I am also a writer. So learning about the publishing field is a must. As I learn about it, I write about it. I get comments, sometimes emails from aspiring authors who want to be published and want to be a success. I’ve had questions from published authors on suggestions I might have on marketing.
One unpublished author wrote to me: “I am an aspiring writer. However, I am having a bit of a time getting published. I know it is nearly impossible to connect with a large publishing company. So I am trying to decide if I want to do self-publishing or use a print on demand service. Any suggestions?”
I hear things like this frequently. Everyone wants a shortcut. I have no magic wand. I share what I learn. This is actually a two-part question. The first part is how to get published and the best route to accomplish that. The second part is how to be successful as an author once you are published. I thought about it and answered.
As an aspiring author trying to get published, the main thing is belief in yourself and in your ability to tell a story. The second thing is polishing your craft. That means learning and applying—what works and what doesn't. If you receive critiques or suggested changes from editors, agents, or your writing group, don’t get on your high horse and think your words are sacred and descended from God. Be willing to look at the critiques and suggestions and see if they’re valid. Third, keep an eye on what’s selling out there. What do you see on the bookshelf—especially in your genre? How does your writing compare in premise, character development, and presentation? Fourth, as a published author, building a reader base by marketing yourself and your book.
POD (Print On Demand) isn’t a shortcut, although many think it is. A shortcut denotes a quicker way to get from point A to point B and going POD isn’t going to give you that, other than you have a book out there with your name on it. POD can be a good place for some to start. You can build a readership base, see what works with plots and story lines and what doesn't. An author has more control over their books and any profits generated, which is why some choose that route. Many POD publishers also make the books available as an E-book on places like Amazon. POD has changed considerably over the years and it's not at all like the old Vanity press of years gone by when a person could self-publish anything—most of it poorly written. They went the route of self-publishing because they couldn’t get a contract from a larger publishing house and part of the reason was the story was not saleable due to the way it was written. What came first? The chicken or the egg?
Unfortunately, some POD books out there are still poorly written and there is a reason for that. If you choose to go the route of Print on Demand, be careful which POD publisher you go with. If you have to pay them to publish your book, this is not the one for you. If you find a reputable POD publisher your work is still cut out for you. This is where an author discovers that POD isn’t a shortcut. There are very few POD publishers with an editing staff to filter your writing. That’s up to you as the author. They’ll print your book at no cost to you, they will also offer you a contract—be sure to look it over carefully—and they will offer a percentage of the profits on each book sold and send those royalties to you either monthly or quarterly. Once you receive the proof book back from the printer, be sure you really proof your story well before it goes to final print. Presentation is everything and in this case, it’s up to you to make sure it looks professional and error free.
The thing to keep in mind with POD is it will require an enormous amount of work on your part to promote yourself and your writing. You don't get an advance to work with and funding for publicity and promotion is very important. You don’t have the avenues available to you in promotion and publicity that a traditional publisher can offer. You are writer, agent, and business manager, all wrapped in one person. Getting your name known is daunting but necessary. This actually needs to be started before you have your book in print. Build an interest in you as an author, and create expectation for your book. Creating that interest can seem overwhelming to a debuting author, regardless of whether you are published traditionally or POD. But, it can be done through the Internet, via blogging and social networks such as Facebook, Gather, Twitter, MySpace, and a host of others. Keep in mind; you still have to allow for time to continue writing. Producing a product to sell. That isn’t an easy juggling act as most authors also have a day job and families.
If you don’t want to go POD, and there are many who don’t, make it a point to look into some of the smaller Independent publishing companies. There are a few good opportunities to get on with one if you write genres they publish. Still, even with a small publisher or even a major publishing house, you will be required to promote yourself and generate publicity for your book—unless you’re a debuting Dan Brown—there isn’t much in the way of dollars for marketing/promotion available for debuting authors.
Regardless of the route you take to being published, caution is necessary. Make it a point to check out the company or agent you’re considering with Editors and Preditors. Consider them the Better Business Bureau for writers. There are a lot of scams out there, predators with basically a storefront, whose sole purpose is to make money off your dream and give little or nothing back. The horror stories I’ve heard would curl your hair.
Agent Query has a good list of agents and their submission requirements and they also have a good list of small independent publishers as well the big boys. It’s worth looking at and then doing some research on them. Writing isn’t just a creative endeavor. It’s a business. You are the proprietor of that business.
So, as an aspiring author, you need a strong believe in your ability to tell a good story, spend time perfecting your craft as a writer, and keep abreast with what’s currently selling in your genre on the market. Be willing to invest time in building name recognition long before you’ve been published.
But what if you’ve already sold your book? What can you do to help sell your books? I will discuss this in part two, Being a Successful Author–Magic or Work?
Sia McKye has spent over twenty years in marketing and promotion. She's written and published various articles on writing, marketing, and promotion. She's a Marketing Rep by profession and also writes fiction.