Thursday, March 18, 2010

10 Things You Can Do Now to Promote the Novel You Haven't Even Sold Yet

When you’re constantly receiving rejection letters from publishers or agents, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is publicizing a novel you can’t even seem to sell.

Before I continue, let me stop a moment and give this very loud and clear disclosure: nothing, nothing, NOTHING, matters more than writing a killer book. Spend 99 percent of your writing time perfecting your craft and fashioning a story that will change the lives of those who read it, or at least entertain the heck out of them.

But with the other one percent of your time, even if you’re just starting out, start building yourself a PR folder. You’ll thank yourself later.

My debut novel, Crossing Oceans, is releasing this May with Tyndale House Publishers. Though it's the first to earn a publishing contract, it is actually the fifth novel I’ve written. I started my marketing folder back on book two because I was sure it would be published. Although book two still collects dust, as does three and four, I’m lucky to have gotten that head start.

The thing with publicity is if you wait until your book is releasing or even about to release, you’re almost too late.

Once you sell your first novel, you often are under contract for a second, and possibly third. I am contracted for a second novel which is due the end of the month my first novel is releasing.

I had more than a year to write this novel, so I didn’t stress. I’m stressing now. Why? Well, I had some personal things that set my writing back. I got married to an amazing man who distracts me just by walking by. Major life changes, no matter how good have a way of slowing the literary flow—for me at least.

After what seemed like a ridiculous amount of time, I finally turned my sample chapters in for approval… they weren’t approved. The story was too different in tone from the first. I was asked, for my own career good, to hold off on this one and try something else. Both my agent and publisher were in agreement, and after a little consideration, so was I.

Now I find myself with just weeks left to publicize my all important, debut novel, and write my all important sophomore novel.

I also have five children, a day job and Novel Journey to tend to. Guess what? I’m stressed, but not as stressed as I would have been had I not started preparing for this moment years in advance. I’d like to share some of what has helped me.

What can you do now to get ahead of the eight ball?

1. Buy your website URL and begin to build it. You can go very expensive and pay thousands for a professional site, or you could start small and do something like godaddy, where you build your own site. I took a third route and hired someone to make me a template and then set it up like a blog, so that I could tweak and update it easily.

2. Get professional headshots. I hired a friend whose work I admired but who is still considered an amateur. For fifty dollars and my husband agreeing to baby-sit for an afternoon, I got a few really great and professional looking pictures. Don’t let anyone convince you that a good headshot is a waste of money for a novelist. On Novel Journey we post lots of author photos, many of which look like candid shots that other people are cut out of. Remember how important perception is. I look at a substandard picture and I subconsciously think this author is no perfectionist, and am less likely to want to read their work. Spend the money and get a good promo picture of yourself.

3. Keep a file filled with the names of magazines you come across that fit your writing. For example, if you write Victorian era historicals, Victorian magazines might later be interested in an article written by you. Jot down the names of them and any other publications you come across that might be a fit. This will save you a lot of research time later on.

4. Keep a folder of book reviewers you’ve come across that seem to enjoy the type of stories you write. I send myself emails with the reviewer’s name, books they’ve reviewed and liked, their email address and, if I know them, how I know them. While it’s true that they might not still be reviewing when your book finally releases, it won’t hurt to try.

5. Start reading marketing/publicity books now and take notes. My personal favorite is the simply titled Publicize Your Book. If you can only afford one book on marketing/publicity, I highly recommend you make it that one.

6. Read The Tipping Point. It will explain some very important concepts on what makes things popular. It’s an easy and surprisingly entertaining read.

7. Read How to Make Friends and Influence People. The book has been around forever for good reason.

8. Keep a list of natural influencers. You’ll call upon these folks later for help in getting the word out about your book.

9. Help anyone you can. For one, it’s just the right thing to do, for two, what goes around comes around.

10. Start building your platform now. Write articles, create a blog with excellent and frequently updated content, volunteer to teach classes on what you’re an expert in, or for whatever committees in ACFW, or other writing organizations you belong. People are much more likely to be interested in your book if they feel like they know you and you’ve shown interest in them.

In conclusion, Crossing Oceans is my debut novel, available for pre-order now on Amazon and CBD and May 1st in brick and mortar stores. Watch my sales numbers. Will my platform and diligent efforts pay off? I’ve tried to do everything right—to write an excellent story, to build a platform, network, help others, and everything humanly possible to publicize my book.
Will it make any difference?

That’s the kicker, maybe yes, maybe no. The thing with publicity is that no one really knows what works. All we can do is write the best book we’re capable of, not let any chance pass that will help get the word out about it, and say our prayers.


Dolly said...

This is a great post. Something more to think about. I must admit, while writing my book, on top of editing it being the main concern, I am worrying about query letters, agent research, website etc. that to consciously work about publicity hadn't even occured to me. But now is as good time as any to actually think about it, so by the time I am ready, I might actually know something about it.

Sandy Diaz said...

Hi Gina,

Good luck with the launch of your book! I work for Smith Publicity and we specialize helping authors promote their projects. I wish all our authors were as prepared and proactive as you!

Your head shot comment was right on. Can't tell you how many times we have to gently ask the author for a different photo, rather than the one taken by Aunt Betty at the family wedding.

Smith Publicity has many articles (posted on our website) that will help an author as he or she journeys from the writing stage to book promotion. One article that may be of interest is "Fictional Promotion: How to Get Real Broadcast Publicity for Your Make-Believe Book"

Again, Gina, best of luck and I hope you have lots of fun!

Sandy Diaz

Debra E Marvin said...

Thanks Gina!

Ane Mulligan said...

Taking a moment's break in the board meeting to check in here GREAT article, Gina! Such good advice ro follow.

Courtney Walsh said...

Such good advice, Gina, thank you for this! I have to tell you I love the cover of your book! Can't wait to read it! :)

Gina Holmes said...

Thanks everyone.

Ron Estrada said...

Good post, Gina. If I may ad this from my marketing experience with my company: Don't just use twitter and facebook as a billboard. Interact! Respond to people and build relationships. You'd be amazed how much difference it will make, even if it seems like you can only talk to a few people. A few thousand may be watching.

Aggie Villanueva said...

Gina, what great advice. Since I'm also a photographer, I would have forgotten the headshot advice, as I did my own. As usual, I've learned something by coming here!

Mel Menzies said...

Well done! And congratulations. Hope your book does well and that the next one (gorgous husband permitting) is exactly what's required by your publishers.

Mel Menzies, author of A Painful Post Mortem

Marcia said...

Looking forward to reading your new book Gina and many more in the future. Thanks for the great advice. I can attest to it as my second novel will be released soon.

D. Ann Graham said...

Great advice. Especially the book recommendations. When I first started out (way before Internet), the only thing I knew about the market was that it was where you buy groceries. Which is exactly where I was when I missed one of the biggest opportunities of my life.

I was a stay-at-home mom with three children under school age and a husband just starting his career. Even though I came from a successful journalism background, I knew nothing about the book industry. I just knew I could write, and I needed more money. So when the first manuscript I sent out got accepted by the first publisher it went to, I should have been ecstatic. Instead, I cringed at the thought of an eight-month lag between then and a publish date -- I couldn't survive that long without extra money! So, I sent them a polite but firm letter stating if they couldn't do better than that, I would have to find someone who could. After all, there were a lot more companies than them out there.

On that same day (somewhere between the frozen foods and the cereal isle), a still, small voice deep in my conscience said, "You better not send that letter." I raced home so fast one of my kids giggled from the back seat, "Hey-- we went to the store and we didn't even buy anything!" But the mailman had already come. The company sent my manuscript back with regrets, and it was years before I ever got another break like that, again. It also took a few hard knocks for me to find out an agent was not just something you cleaned with, and there were even some laws against impersonating one.

Back then, I had no resources of the calibre we have today (like Novel Journey -- thank you Gina!) to draw the right kind of information from. If I would have stumbled onto tips like these in those early days-- believe me -- I would have tried every one. I would have raced to the library and stayed up all night reading those books.

So, even if you think you know enough already, or can learn everything you need from just cruising the Internet... read the books. Because in a market as competitive as today's, it's sometimes only the slightest edge that ends up putting a project over. Just how probable is it that you might find the last little thing your own marketing strategy needs by simply taking one more piece of advice from these wildly successful people?

Read the books!

johnny dangerous said...

Excellent points, Gina. I think that doing advance promotional work builds one's confidence: "I am going to publish this book (or one after it) and I will be profesional about it and will be prepared." One thing I'd add is writing the pitch and jacket copy in advance. It helps the writer to focus the story and to imagine the print on the back cover (a great motivator), and when the book DOES sell, you wouldn't believe how often you'll need that copy for press releases and other places. Your final sentence sums it up so well: write the best book you can, be diligent about promotion as opportunities arise, and pray, pray - it's ultimately in God's hands.
John Desjarlais

Gina Holmes said...

Ron, you're exactly right. Constantly pushes ourselves ends up repulsing instead of the result we're trying for. John- great point. Very true. I would have done well to have done this. I thought the paragraph summary I used for my proposal would be sufficient but when I really thought of it on the back of a real book, I wasn't satisfied with what I'd come up with.

Really great thoughts everyone. Thanks for taking the time to share with me and others.

Tina said...

Gina, this is a great article. I usually tell unpublished authors not to worry about promotion until they have contracted their book, but you have done a great job over the years preparing for this. I think you are a great example of how to do it correctly.

Pepper Basham said...

Thanks so much for this info. Even though I am unpublished, it's so nice to know there are things I can actively do to 'get ready' for the publishing world..

Elizabeth said...

Hi Gina,
Thank you for these wonderful tips! I have a dream of being published and this year have started to work towards it. I read somewhere else about the wisdom of thinking ahead about publicity and so I have begun a blog. So, great to know I am on the right track and encouragement to keep thinking about it and acting on it.
Thanks heaps for sharing! :o)
God Bless and may He give you supernatural strength to accomplish all those things you've got going at the moment!
Elizabeth from NZ!

Gina Holmes said...

Thanks so much ladies. Blessings to you as well.

Anita Mellott said...

Thanks for sharing such great and practical advice. I'm looking forward to reading your book.

Gina Holmes said...

Thanks Anita :)

Ann Charles said...


Great tip on keeping a log of book reviewers who like books similar to the style you write. I hadn't heard that one before.

Thanks for an excellent, helpful article! Platform development seems to be a thing that is here to stay for fictional authors, and I keep hearing more and more agents and editors wanting unpublished authors to build a platform before getting the contract. Articles like this help immensely.

Ann Charles

Theresa Milstein said...

Congratulations and good luck with your novel.

Thanks for giving us a glimpse of what happens after the book contract. It has seemed unimportant to think about promotion after receiving rejections, but you make a good case for it. Thanks.

Katie said...

Awesome post, Gina! I'm currently doing what you suggest -- creating a platform and doing PR for my novel-in-progess -- and was relieved to read that I'm on the right track. Best of luck with your book!

Gina Holmes said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment, ladies. Best of luck on your writing.