Sara J. Henry
From a comment I left on a post about branding, Steve invited me to do a guest post.
To me, author branding is your name – making sure it’s spelled right. What’s essential is marketing.
I’ve heard writers say that self-promotion is of little use, that website, Twitter, and Facebook won’t help you sell enough books to matter – and hey, as a writer, it’s just your job to write the best book you can.
Yes, you need to write a kick-ass book, but if you don't get the damn thing in front of people (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, reviews, whatever it takes) it can die a lonely death in a dusty corner of a bookstore. I’ve seen it happen to too many fine novels.
I don’t want it to happen to me.
Last fall Reed Farrel Coleman sold out his print run of his 12th novel, INNOCENT MONSTER, in six days - after his first-ever blog tour promoting the book, crossing into non-crime blogs to introduce him to new readers. Maybe coincidence - but I don't think so. Neither does he.
A.S. King, who just won an Edgar nomination for PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, convinced me I had to visit bookstores and meet owners. She basically told me, You can’t afford not to. Who would have heard of her novels, which weren’t in chain stores, had she not gotten the attention of indie bookstore owners, run a blog and contests, and Tweeted? Not me.
Daniel Woodrell is an abso-fucking-lutely brilliant writer - why has the rest of the world suddenly heard of him and sales of WINTER'S BONE are soaring? Not because he's a brilliant writer - he's been that all along. But because now there's a movie out based on the book, with four (well-deserved) Oscar nominations.
What can you do?
You can get your ass into bookstores and meet the owners and booksellers and hand them a copy of your ARC even if you have to buy it off eBay or AbeBooks. (Yes, there’s a horrid irony in this, but if it makes your career, you do it.)
You can set up a basic website and or blog, using free or inexpensive programs.
You can set up a Twitter account and install TweetDeck and learn to use it so you see at a glance every mention of your author name, your book title, and maybe your main character’s name. (And you can use Twitter to applaud your friends’ books you love.)
You can set up a Facebook author page, and post events, reviews, and other happenings.
You can come out of your ivory tower and visit some blogs and leave a few comments, post once in a while on Facebook or Twitter, and put up a photo or report on your website.
Find the concept of self-promotion anathema? You’re not the only one. It helped that I did it for author friends first – and that my agent told me Think of it as reporting, not bragging.
Yes, self-promotion done badly is a minefield. You don’t send emails imploring your friends to “like” your Facebook page or direct messages on Twitter exhorting people to buy your book. Use common sense.
And you don’t force yourself to do things that don’t fit. T-shirts, bookmarks, gifts – not my thing. Amy King just ran a chainsaw haiku contest – not my thing. Blog tours and book giveaways, that I can do.
Some of all this has been fun – and I have met some fantastic people – but of course it cuts into writing time. Here’s how I look at it: If my book doesn’t sell, I won’t have a career.
Unless you’re a blockbuster author, the day that you can write a book and sit back and expect it to sell itself – or expect your publisher to do it all for you – is over. If it ever existed.
LEARNING TO SWIM (Crown), will be published Feb. 22. Because she is promoting it as hard as she can, she will point out that it’s been called “an auspicious debut” (Daniel Woodrell), “a moving and insightful psychological thriller” (Michael Robotham), and “emotional, intense, and engrossing” (Lisa Unger). Her launch is Feb. 23 at Partners & Crime, and the first chapter is available for download.