Last go-round, I said I’d follow up my earlier post with some suggestions surrounding publicity and promotion. First, I’ll refer you to the experts.
Agents have differing opinions on this next point, but I think it’s worth considering hiring a freelance publicist, provided you realize that hiring one does not offer a guaranteed return on investment. But it does create a scenario in which you have a publicity professional reporting to you, in which you collaborate on/advise/help shape the efforts, where you are generally assured of the extra mile, the assiduous follow up with producers/editors etc. Freelance publicists rely on customer satisfaction and good word of mouth, so they have a vested interest in doing their utmost.
If hiring help is not an option, as it is not for many authors, then plan on investing some percentage of the time you spent actually writing the book promoting it. I know I’ve used this metaphor more than once, but imagine, if you will, that you are participating in the publishing world’s answer to the folktale Stone Soup. (This version of the story is less about the potential of cooperation and collective action than it is about your soup-making acumen.)
The publisher brings the magical soup-making stone, you bring the stock, the vegetables, the diced meat, noodles or legumes, the grated cheese and the freshly baked bread (without which no soup is complete) and ideally a crisp Pino Grigio or unoaked Chardonnay. All the years you spent mastering soup-making, all your assembled ingredients, those represent your platform, and most major publishers/magic stone owners will not so much as invite you into a kitchen if you’ve not got those in order. So why then, would a competent soup chef require a partner? Not everyone thinks they do; plenty of people self-publish. But like most folks involved in mainstream publishing, I still believe that sometimes the stone really is magical—and it can transform a single pot of good soup into a blockbuster phenomenon. Publishers still have the editorial vision, cultural clout, and retail distribution to make bestsellers.
If you’ve just completed the marketing and promotion section of your proposal or an author questionnaire, you will have inventoried every literate, potentially book-buying person you’ve ever known and listed every plausible method you can envision to promote your book/get a blurb/call in a favor. Think about how you’d put together your own DIY tour, whether real or virtual—I know a novelist who ran a cross country tour from his car, traveling from one independent bookseller to another, blogging all the way, and another author whose tour unfolded from her studio apartment, spanning 15 guest posts in 15 days. Where might you go? Physically? Virtually? Who/where are your people? Do you have connections to bookstores, community organizations, alumni groups, professional associations, clubs, writers’ leagues, bowling leagues? Can you craft a talk/workshop/presentation/video short/interpretive dance around your subject that offers something richer/stranger/more interesting than a straightforward reading? Can you team up with another author? Where can you place essays related to the book? If your subject is a tough or unlikely one, can you write about the process of writing? The business of publishing? Investigate the authors/thought leaders/experts who are writing about issues that your book addresses. Engage with them online, suggest a guest post on their (heavily trafficked) website, interact via Twitter. Emulate fellow writers who seem, by your lights, to be doing it right. Say yes to local media and podcasts, and any venue that will provide you with a good quality video of you speaking. You never know who might be paying attention, and clips of interviews or discussions are terrific tools, and should be housed or linked to on your website. Take possession of your author page at online booksellers. Skype into bookclubs. Remain a pleasant but persistent presence in the life of your publicist even after you’re certain she’s moved on. Be gracious. Solicit suggestions for what more you can do, suggest ideas for outlets and venues that might be outside a house’s usual remit. Designate a time each week that you devote to publicizing your book, and stick with it. Like a sustainable diet or exercise plan, choose methods that you don’t find abhorrent (or so completely absorbing that you cease to write!)
Finally, talk to your agent and be on the receiving end of an interminable e-mail a lot like this one.