My novel Once upon a Mulberry Field was released on Valentine’s Day 2014, not so much because it is a love story during the Vietnam War but because that’s an easy date to remember for record keeping purpose. That publication date also allowed me to enter some popular book award contests that happened early in the year and only accepted published works. On the big day, however, aside from the thrill of finalizing and submitting my production files to CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand service, I didn’t have my writer’s “platform” anywhere near ready to support the book launch. The website was still being tested, and all my social media accounts were brand-new with hardly any contents or followers.
But it was my hope–more like wishful thinking, in retrospect–that somehow things would neatly come together before the book went live on Amazon. After all, I had been told to be patient since it would take one to two weeks to get processed through the CreateSpace-Amazon juggernaut. It took two days. I was floored when my book page appeared on Amazon, albeit without all the bells and whistles (“Look Inside” feature, Author’s Page etc.). The book had officially gone on sale, but my electronic business cards–the links to my finished website and social media pages–weren’t yet ready to be passed out to potential readers. As a consequence, I had to hold off announcing my book to the world for two weeks while I scrambled to wrap up all the loose ends. It was wasted time and unnecessary stress, a rookie’s mistake that I hope other debut authors would try to avoid.
My marketing plan, such as it was, consisted of a two-pronged approach. I enlisted the help of a book publicist to approach the “book media” using her professional contacts, while at the same time I embarked on a personal email and telephone campaign to reach out to my social network (family and friends, neighbors, coworkers, service vendors, long-lost acquaintances etc.), asking them for their support and for their help in spreading the word. Together, we aimed to raise my book’s profile across all media (internet, print, radio, and TV), and I will now share the results of our efforts after the first two months.
Internet: My publicist tapped into her extensive list of book reviewers and bloggers and emailed out a formal press release, a Q/A fact sheet, and inquiries about reviews and/or interviews. By my estimate, we probably got a 10% response rate, resulting in my book and myself being featured on a handful of websites. A few weeks back (March 14, 2014), I shared such a feature article (on the website Confessions of a Reader) on this blog. For my part, I managed to post some information about my book on a few other websites owned by: readers/writers/publishers groups that I belong to, service vendors (editor, book cover and page designers, portrait photographer), book award contests, very kind and supportive writer friends with their own websites and social media pages.
Print: Not for lack of trying, my publicist only succeeded in getting me one promised book review and follow-up interview with a local magazine. Two months after the initial response, it still remains a promise. I was more fortunate in my personal efforts. A good friend and mentor read my book and published a generous full-page review in San Diego Woman, a beautiful magazine with a circulation of 60,000. Also, early last month I participated in the Desert Writers Expo in Rancho Mirage, California, a big annual affair organized by the Palm Springs Writers Guild and the Rancho Mirage Public Library that attracted 41 authors this year. After I blogged about this on April 7, 2014, my book was selected with a few others from the Expo and featured in the Coachella Valley Weekly, circulation 50,000.
Radio and TV: Here, my publicist got no break whatsoever. Neither did I, until the son of a former colleague of mine happened to mention Once upon a Mulberry Field to one of his friends who work at KPBS radio station. This raised some interest, which was followed by an exploratory phone call that ultimately landed me a 15-minute interview on KPBS Midday Edition. This goes to show there’s no telling how or when the kindled buzz about your book may catch the attention of the right person.
Miscellaneous: I approached all my reader friends and made a case for my novel to be considered for their book clubs’ to-read lists, and I also blind-contacted countless other book clubs with whom I had no connections. Not surprisingly, the “cold calls” had a very low success rate, netting me exactly one iffy response, but two of my friends’ clubs showed definite interest. However, the biggest surprise came when I offered 5 free copies of my book during a month-long give-away contest on Goodreads. Close to 900 people entered, with 400 among them adding my title to their to-read lists! How’s that for exposure at minimum costs?
Such are my modest results after a two-month full-time all-out marketing campaign. I should add, though, that the actual effect of these results has been impossible to gauge: I detected no immediate upticks in sales following any of these events, but I can’t help believing that in the long run the cumulative effect of all these efforts, if I keep at them, should reach critical mass and begin to bear fruit. What do you think, authors and book marketing experts out there, whether you be an old hand at this or just starting out like myself? What did I do wrong, and where can I improve? What other things should I try? Any suggestions or experiences you’d like to share so we can all learn together?