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Successful Author Promotions, Grassroots Style

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One of the biggest challenges small publishers face is convincing our authors that they have work to do after they turn in their final manuscripts. Promoting a book is just as important as getting it published in the first place, and ongoing contributions to promotion are an essential part of the author’s job.

Many authors assume the publisher is solely responsible for promoting and publicizing their books–after all, they have just worked themselves silly on the writing. But even though a publisher implements a publicity program that includes press releases, contacting the media, sending out review copies, and relentless follow-up, the book will eventually stall if authors aren’t working their own angles and coming up with author-based promotions. And a stalled book quickly becomes a forgotten book.

We have been able to keep our authors active on behalf of their books by stressing three goals.

Get Endorsements

The best way to keep your authors committed and excited about promoting their books is to involve them in the process well before the book goes to print. We ask all our authors to provide us with endorsement contacts before they turn in their finished manuscripts.

Most new authors will say, “But I don’t know anyone.” This is almost never true. Authors know people who know people, and it’s surprising what a quick letter to a friend of a friend will get you. Our books have been endorsed by university presidents, bestselling novelists, directors of state agencies, CEOs, and well-known sportscasters, all through those, “Oh, wait–I think a friend of my brother might know a guy who knows a guy . . .” kinds of introductions.

Always ask your authors for any relevant names and contact information, whether this seems like a long shot or not, and have them call in favors for comments to put on the covers of their books. Strong endorsements can make a big difference and open a lot of media doors.

Appear as an Expert

Once their books are on the shelves, help your authors think of ways to promote them in their fields of expertise. Many first-time authors don’t see themselves as experts in their fields, even though they just wrote and published books about them. But they are.

Encourage your authors to approach local and regional media with articles, op-ed pieces, and pitches for columns related to their books. The more authors get their names out as experts in a field, the more often publications, institutions, and organizations will call on them for quotes and advice. Several national magazines regularly contact Nomad authors for quotes in articles on subjects ranging from parenting to boating. And after Nomad author Carmella Van Vleet (How to Handle School Snafus, November 2004) pitched herself to a regional parenting paper as a school and parenting expert on the basis of her book, she landed a column that reaches 500,000 people and mentions the book every month.

Also encourage your authors to speak at relevant conferences, accept invitations to be on panels, take part in community events, and get their names out in any way they can. Chris Lincoln (Playing The Game, June 2004) was invited to speak as part of a panel on academics and athletics at Princeton University based on the information he presented in his book about Ivy League athletic recruiting.

Even local events–such as book and author lunches, Rotary talks, and library discussions–can be great ways to get a little press and sell some books directly to readers.

Keep the Backlist Alive

Perhaps the most crucial time for authors to get involved in book promotion is after initial media interest has faded. Whether books stay on store shelves depends heavily on how much promotion authors are willing to contribute, especially as their books move from the frontlist to the backlist. One of Nomad’s most successful self-promoting authors is Jenna Glatzer, author of Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer (2004). Jenna is the editor-in-chief of AbsoluteWrite.com, the biggest ezine for writers on the Web. Her book came out in April, but Jenna finds a new angle for pitching it every month in a newsletter she sends to 75,000 subscribers.

But what if your authors don’t have a built-in audience of 75,000 subscribers? Have them think of markets for their books that they can access. Jenna Glatzer compiled a list of more than 100 online writing groups with a point person to contact for each. We sent an email to the contacts, offering them a review copy, a press release about the book suitable for printing in their newsletters, and discounts for members who ordered direct using a specified code. We’ve had strong direct sales as a result and–more important–Jenna’s name and her book’s title were seen by tens of thousands of writers who might buy from a bookstore in the future.

Another Nomad author, Yvonne Bender (The Power of Positive Teaching, September 2004, and The New Teacher’s Handbook, September 2003), is a member of the Maryland chapter of the National Education Association, and she leveraged her connection with the NEA to pitch article ideas to affiliate publications throughout the United States. As a result of interest generated by Yvonne’s articles, many NEA affiliates bought her book for use in their new teacher programs.

The Bottom Line: Author Promotion Pays

We have had our share of authors who have written terrific books, been disappointed that Oprah didn’t call, and given up on promoting their own work. But for those who continue to come up with innovative ideas to help support their books well beyond the first few months of publication, strong, ongoing sales have been their reward.

Alex Kahan is publisher of Nomad Press, which offers more information about helping authors contribute to promotional efforts in Book Promotion Ain’t for Sissies by Jenna Glatzer, free at www.nomadpress.net.

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