This week I have been looking ahead at book visibility. This particular aspect of self-publishing is pretty wide-ranging; it can be complex, it can be hard work, but it can also be fun.
Obvious parts of the process (at least in modern terms) are things like social media strategy, a blog timetable, and traditional PR (newspapers etc.).
However, looking at it from this angle first is pretty much cart-before-the-horse stuff. There’s an objective (and sadly a little pessimistic) position you need to consider first:
Why should anyone care about your book?
At least in the first instance, your book is likely to gain local/ niche attention, and that’s when things are going well. However, even that attention will only come if the press can make a story out of what you’re doing.
The headline ‘Local Author Self-Publishes Book’ isn’t exactly going to turn heads. However, ‘Local Author Uncovers Town’s Secret Past’ is much more likely to catch the eye of a local newspaper’s readership.
I’m on my third draft at the moment, following Beta-reader comments and fixing and amending as I go. It’s safe to say that if I don’t know what my book is about by now then I never will. With this in mind, now is a pretty good time to start working on the elevator pitch for the book. I’ll have to figure out how I’ll summarise this book to potential readers but I should also be ready to explain it to people with influence, like reporters, head-teachers, and class teachers.
Your own book may not be for kids so where you see ‘teacher’ insert someone else who might be in a position to tell someone about your book.
The content of your book may not be enough by itself to turn the heads of these influencers so be prepared to do some extra work at this stage. Is there something you could do to make a story out of the publication of your book? Is there a real-world story about what you’ve gone through to get it out there, or even a story about how this particular book might be relevant to a contemporary news topic?
It has taken me years to realise that neglecting this step is truly foolish; the real issue is that there are a lot of new books coming out this year, there will be even more by this time next year and as a writer, you need to have some means of highlighting what makes your book different. In a traditional publishing situation, a lot of this work would be done for you, you could even be lucky enough to have a real-world and blogosphere book tour set up and coordinated for you.
Laying the Groundwork
In self-publishing, you are responsible for your own PR and the seeds you sow in the minds of potential readers (and in those of influencers) will decide whether your book sells. To navigate the next year or so you’ll need answers to a few key questions:
- Who is this book for?
- Why should they care about it?
- Can you help your target market in some way (not specifically tied to your book)?
- Who are the main people that your target market will listen to?
- Why should they care about your book?
- Can you help these influencers in some way (not specifically tied to your book)?
Putting a plan together
With answers to the above questions in hand, you should hopefully be in a position to create a genuine and authentic connection with them without sounding like your going on a hard sell for your book. I can certainly confirm the fact that you will receive considerable benefits over and above book sales if you develop a true connection with your audience.
This component of the book strategy can make some authors feel a little uncomfortable. Can we feel an honest connection if that connection comes as part of an ‘organised strategy’?
It can help to think of this element of your book release as being less like a business plan and more like planning a social event like a party.
Where the focus of a party might be a person’s birthday, your strategy here is to highlight and celebrate a book. You don’t bring business into it at a birthday party and you don’t (have to) bring business into it when organising a book launch.
Instead focus on building a community, a list of ‘guests’ who you would like to celebrate with. One difference between a book launch and a birthday party is that you may not have met some of these people prior to the organising of the launch. The chronology of this doesn’t have to detract from the real connections you form though.
A beautifully organised book launch shouldn’t leave you with that sense of unease over whether you’re on a hard sell. If you are careful about the process then you, your readers, and your influencers will be connected in ways that go far beyond your book by the time it lands on shelves.
What does that look like?
I can’t speak to how every developed network will look once it’s established but I can give you a little insight into my own.
I write for children, in many ways children aren’t the ones who actually purchase the books. They may choose it but typically there are parents/ guardians who approve of a choice and either buy the book or give them the money to make their purchase.
It’s also typically the case that children will often hear about new books through their school. As a result of all of this, it’s a long-established part of writing children’s literature that school visits and workshops are part of your job.
With this in mind, you have to remember how subtle your connection with your audience will be. Most of the time you will meet your readers through their teachers or at some other event organised by parents and other responsible adults. Personally, I feel this is as it should be. I have two children myself and I find it reassuring to know that my kids encounter books that have been vetted a little by a responsible adult.
Things change in your teens and you may choose to read books in a way that breaks away from this format, this is also something I approve of. My own experiences in reading were enriched by the safety net in place in my early education and the releasing of that network in my teens.
This ‘network’ of people who supervise what children read are understandably wary of new books, and this goes doubly for self-published authors. Let’s face it, the fact that you have printed your book yourself means that it hasn’t been vetted in the same way that it would through a traditional publisher. There’s a slight hint of added risk involved in considering a book like that for children.
A self-published children’s author has to take extra steps to ensure that they are accessible, accountable, and easy to understand. Just as you needed an elevator pitch for your book, you will also need to get one ready for yourself. Who are you? What are your views on things? Are your books likely to come with an agenda? What subject matter is dealt with in your books?
An additional element that I’ve come to notice is that teachers, in particular, tend to also look at the educational nature of your interactions with their pupils. Does your talk cover any topics/ outcomes that they need to cover in that term? Can they use your visit to add extra energy into their segway into a core topic within the curriculum? Will your visit offer an aspirational benefit?
Whether you’re witing for children, teens, or adults the question of who you are will jump right to the forefront when you choose to take the self-published route. You’re a little riskier, a publisher isn’t standing behind you with their hard-won credibility so you’ll need to win that credibility yourself. Keep this in mind.
Serve your Community
The questions above will be present in your potential readers’ minds whether they ask you explicitly or not. Try and be as upfront and honest as you can be in how you deal with them. Your niche is there waiting for you, be as true to yourself and your book as you can be, that way your community can grow from a place of trust and authenticity.
When you’re self-published it’s not so much a sales pitch as it is a case of developing the trust that you (and your book) may lack by not having that publisher’s logo behind you. There are some brilliant things about being self-published but this part may feel like one of the negatives. However, it can be one of the most positive things if you do it right.
Be helpful to your community not because you want them to buy your book but because you identify with them and enjoy hearing what they have to say. If your book really is good enough they’ll let each other know and your sales will go up.
If your book isn’t as good as it can be you can at least hope that some members of that community will let you know what went wrong. They may even offer to be Beta readers for your next project. Be as open to them as you can be and your writing career will benefit in its own time.
A Weekly Dose of Self-Publishing Advice?
I’m publishing a new post about the self-publishing process every Monday. Each post is different and focusses on what I’ve been up to that week. Each post uses that week’s activity to look in-depth at a topic that’s important to the overall self-publishing process. (You can find all of my ‘Getting Serious About Writing’ posts by clicking this link)
Eventually, you’ll follow me through final edits, formatting, printing, and digital publishing, along with the other essential aspects of self-publishing (like this week’s topic of community growth and reaching your audience).
If you want to make sure you don’t miss a post you can subscribe to receive each post on Monday by e-mail, simply click this link to subscribe to my mailing list via Mailchimp.
I’m the only person using that account so you’ll only receive what I can type (so don’t worry, you won’t be getting ten e-mails a day).
As always, thanks so much for reading, please feel free to add a comment/ question here or over on Twitter (you can find me at @Johntoyshopguy).
All the best, John