When I was at the Crime Bake mystery conference this fall, two people who were writing their first mysteries asked what, if anything, they should be doing to help their in-progress books sell — to an agent, a publisher, and, ultimately, to readers. They’d both heard advice pro and con (and sometimes scary) about what even an unpublished author should do to market their work.
I assured them that they didn’t need to be a rock star or media personality to sell a book (advice one woman had gotten.) But, yes, in today’s publishing world, whether you are traditionally or indie published, marketing is an important part of your job.
So — here are a few suggestions for (so far) unpublished authors, to show that you’re serious about publishing.
1 – Write the best possible book you can. I know: that’s what everyone says. But it’s true. It’s possible to get so tied in knots about marketing that working on your manuscript takes second place. Always, now and when you’re working on future books, the writing is the most important part of the process.
2 – Begin to create a mailing list, preferably of email addresses. Once your book is launched, you need to tell everyone you know. Once you are published you’ll start adding your fans to the list. But for now, look through your address book or Christmas card list or the contact list for your last high school and college reunions. Consolidate. Don’t forget your doctors; people you know at church or temple; anyone you do volunteer work with. Your day-job colleagues. Your relatives – even the ones you haven’t seen for a while. Once you get started, you may be surprised just how many people would like to know you’ve published a book. (And may buy it!)
3 – Reserve a domain name for your website. If you can get your own name, that’s great. If not, try “Joan Doe, Author.” Or “Author Joan Doe.” Do the best you can to get these rights, even if you’re not ready to create your website yet.
4 – Establish a presence on social media. You define what you’re most comfortable; you don’t have to be on everything! Facebook. Goodreads. Twitter. Instagram. The list is long. Do a little research — Instagram is more important than Facebook if you’re writing for children or young adults. On Goodreads you can have (someday!) an author page, but authors basically stay quiet, posting reviews like other members, but not calling attention to themselves. “Friend” other authors on social media and see how they manage.
5 – Join writers’ organizations. Start with those in your genre (Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Historical Novel Society, Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) and then add any regional organizations (Women Writing the West; Maine Writers and Publishers Association). Writers’ organizations offer insights, contacts, and other valuable information.
6 – Attend conferences in your genre. You’ll meet other authors, and often editors and agents attend these conferences, too. Soak up information. You’ll make friends, and, sometimes connections. (I met my first editor at a conference!)
7 – Read. Read current books being published in your genre. Read to broaden your horizons. Read to research your characters and your plot.
8 – Form (or join) a critique group. (Writers’ organizations may be able to help you connect with other authors in your area. Your local library may even know some.) Or, if all else fails, find an online critique group. You need to get feedback on your writing from someone other than your mother or your wife.
9 – Begin putting together a website. If you decide to blog (it’s time-consuming, but if you have a theme or point-of-view that relates to the book you’re writing, it could be worth it) you could include it here. Write a brief biography. (Include your pets! Readers love pets.) Look at other authors’ websites, and decide what works best for you, and what will look to an agent or editor or reader as though you’re being professional. This includes having a good, clear, picture of yourself that could someday be included in a press kit or on a book cover.
10 – And keep writing …..
Does anyone else have ideas about what a “pre-published” author should be doing?
Lea’s points are excellent!
I’ll only add a few comments about social media and technology.
First, Lea has listed several very good social media channels to start with and I’d like to add another. That is LinkedIn! Many writers have well developed communities of connections from prior careers. As Leah quite rightly points out, many people will buy books written by people they know. Believe it or not, most of the 350MM people in America don’t know a published author. Many are like me, when they actually meet one, they but her or his book. (And, if the author has made the mistake of living within a couple of hundred miles of me, she or he will see me showing up to try and get it autographed.)
Second, your email mailing list. (Yes, email, I don’t bother with physical addresses anymore. Have you seen what first class postage is lately?) You may start with a notebook, an Excel spreadsheet, or a Word document. But, get away from these as soon as you can! Two tools I recommend for managing an email list are MailChimp or Constant Contact especially if you want to avoid running afoul of the CAN-SPAM Act. (I won’t go into details about that because the MCW blog might block me for very good reasons. Drop me a line if you’d like to learn more.) Also, make sure you include either on of these tools on your website/blog.
Finally, if you’re going to all the trouble of setting up social media then remember to engage with your communities and not just when your next book comes out. You’ll be surprised how willing readers are to connect with their favorite authors!
Thanks Lea for a great post!
Excellent suggestions, Con! Thanks for sharing!
This is very similar to the list I passed out as a handout for my session “Four Lies People Will Tell You About Marketing Your Novel.” My only addition is find and participate in book blogs and online book discussion groups related to your genre–as a fan.
Great addition, Barb!