Marketing in the Author’s Journey, Part 1: Pre-Release

Today, we continue our ongoing Publishing 101 series with a look at author marketing.

After this series finishes, I’ll be running a summer series with a focus on author marketing, but since marketing is a part of the author’s journey to publication, we’ll be taking a bird’s eye view of the process as part of this series also.

One note: this series focuses on traditionally published authors, but that doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the self-publishing road. In fact, starting tomorrow I’ll be hosting a weekly guest post series by independent author and editor Tammy Salyer. Tammy’s posts will offer the same kind of advice we’ve been talking about in this series, from the point of view of a successful self-published author and editor.

Successful authors (traditional or self-published) engage in three phases of marketing: pre-release, “release phase,” and post-release (or “maintenance”). Today, we’re looking at phase one: pre-release.

In the new paradigm, few authors receive high levels of pre-release marketing from the publisher. Publishers’ budgets rarely stretch to extensive advertising for debut and mid-list authors.

The key, for authors, is developing a marketing plan, growing a platform, and spreading the word without becoming a mindless spammer.

During the pre-release phase, an author should focus on three key areas:

1. Building a platform. Platform means visibility–how many people know you and your book exist. Obviously, more is better. You don’t have to participate in every website, Internet forum and social media outlet. Pick the ones you like. More importantly, pick the ones you can maintain. For example, If you can’t commit to blogging at least once a week, blogging won’t help you. Stale blogs make people think you’re no longer writing. If you’re new to social media, pick ONE option and learn it before adding another. Overwhelming yourself is a recipe for failure. We’ll talk more about platform building in the summer series, but for now, realize that pre-release is the time to work on this.

The take-away tip for platform building is to remember that it’s about RELATIONSHIPS first, and selling second.

2. Reviews. Pre-release reviews help build buzz and spread the word about your book. Publishers help obtain reviews by sending ARCs to bloggers and reviewers, but authors can help with the process too. Do you know a reviewer, book blogger, or author who writes reviews? It’s ok to ask if they would consider reviewing your book in exchange for an ARC.

However, reviews also represent a trap for the unwary (or unprofessional author). A negative review of an author’s book (or even more than one) is not the end of an author’s career. Making an ass of yourself in public can be.

The take-away tip for reviews is: do your best to obtain them, and it’s ok to appreciate the good, but NEVER speak publicly about bad ones.

3. Targeted (and tasteful) ads. Advertising is a tricky subject for authors. There’s a myth that only the publisher “should” pay for ads, and also the trouble of figuring out which ads really work. While it’s nice when a publisher pays for ads, it’s not economically reasonable for a publisher to advertise every book it publishes equally. The purpose of ads is to sell a product. Therefore, it makes sense to spend money on ads only when that expenditure gets a return.

The problem, for many debut and mid-list authors, is that people who see an ad won’t “know” you and rush to buy. Remember that platform I mentioned? A platform, and relationships, make people want to buy your books when they see them advertised.

However, Authors CAN benefit from targeted ads in places readers go to find new books. Goodreads ads are a good example of this. There are others, too, and we’ll discuss them in more detail in the marketing series.

The takeaway tip for advertising is: do not mistake spam for “tasteful, targeted ads.”

Most people ignore twitter and Facebook messages that say “MY BOOK IZ AWSUM U SHUD READ IT NAO.” That’s neither targeted nor tasteful. Use each element of your platform to its advantage, rather than merely as a mouthpiece for your ads.

Platform, reviews, and advertising form a three-pronged approach to the pre-release marketing phase. There’s a LOT more to say here, but for reasons of space I’ll defer the deeper discussion to the marketing posts a few weeks from now. There, we’ll examine this, and much more, in detail.

Next week, we’ll take a look at release-phase marketing, and three tips for not getting lost in the moment.

Have questions about this or other publishing law and business issues? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!