It’s common knowledge that nowadays most authors have to do their own book marketing. That’s a given for self-published authors, the so-called “indies” whose ranks are swelling like never before. But even traditional publishers, in constant struggle mode in an ever-evolving and fiercely competitive industry, now find themselves squeezed for advertising funds. Only their very best-selling authors are still accorded a marketing campaign for their latest efforts. For the rest, aside from the obligatory press release and access to the publishers’ distribution channels, it is everyone for themselves in the Wild West of the modern book market.
Even the marketing venues are changing by the day. It used to be sufficient to conduct publicity campaigns in print and traditional media like radio and TV, but no longer. Increasingly important is the role played by the fast-growing but nebulous Cyber media: a plethora of websites, blogs, social media, electronic newsletters that target book lovers of all ages, alongside a mushrooming network of internet broadcasts (aka podcasts). This new media is forever morphing, and even though its cumulative reach and impact is undeniable, it’s all but impossible to determine where the sweet spots are that an author should focus his or her limited advertising resources on.
But that’s only part of the problem, as related to the “supply” side of book advertisement. A larger issue is the rapid and staggering outpacing of “demand” over “supply”: it just seems these days like everybody and their brothers and sisters are all cranking out books and all clamoring for a platform on which to promote their literary efforts. So much so that an obscure book blog whose few followers wouldn’t even constitute a decent-sized book club can find itself routinely turning away desperate authors requesting to be interviewed. Some book reviewers don’t even consider works by self-published authors, while others select books to highlight based on their sales performance and rankings, or sometimes on the number of customer reviews posted online. Which creates a catch-22 situation similar to the one confronting first-time job applicants with no prior experience: how is an unknown author supposed to gain notice that would help generate sales when his debut work is being passed up by critics (even non-professional ones) because of practically non-existing sales?
The options thus appear very limited for a new author. You can always hire a campaign manager or a book publicist, but the more successful ones are 1. extremely selective in who they choose to represent (the same way literary agents have grown to be), and 2. prohibitively expensive. So in the end it really comes down, as always, to self-reliance and good old networking. You have to somehow dig deep and find the gumption to reinvent yourself and become your own champion and publicist, not a very palatable proposition for most introvert writers who simply prefer to remain ensconced at their messy desks or kitchen tables and write.
There’s no getting around it. You just have to get out there, join any book discussion groups (online or otherwise) that you can join, approach as many book bloggers and reviewers as possible to pitch your book, start networking with other authors and help each other out, call in old favors or plead for new ones to gain access to media people, beg all your friends and relatives to deploy their social media to make noise for your book, attend book fairs to meet potential readers, give away books and promotional material at every chance you get. In other words, raise a goddamn ruckus about your product, as uncomfortable as that makes you. But the sad truth is, even with all that effort–there’s no guaranteed result. There’s no proven strategy that works for everybody, and what seems like a brilliant publicity stunt for one author may prove a dismal flop for another. But one thing is certain: in this modern book market, without your personal involvement and your single-minded dedication to at least try to get out in front of the pack, your precious baby is as good as dead on arrival.
Next week: My own modest results so far.