Saturday, November 12, 2005

Market Thyself!

When a fiction author decides to self-publish, I often wonder if they know what lay ahead for them. Because printing a book doesn’t make it "published," nor does it make it sell. Someone actually has to buy and read the novel (besides family and friends), maybe through Amazon.com or via the writer’s own website (more on this in a minute.)

"Publication" revolves around several aspects, which include: editing/critiquing of the work prior to print, ISBN purchase, artwork (cover and internal), book layout/design, blurbs/reviews, garnering sales locations and, finally, marketing.

Much of this can be handled prior to sending the book off to a printer. But sales locations and marketing come after; you need a product in your hand for these two things to happen. And finding sales locations can be as easy as shaking hands with local bookstore managers and placing the novel under their noses. Most area bookstores where I live love to support local authors.

But marketing is an entirely different animal. I know this from firsthand experience, and it usually involves the following formula: "Made ten contacts last week. Only one returned my call. May cost money I don’t have."

Sound disheartening? Welcome to the world of marketing yourself...

Most self-published authors don’t have money to fling around, so managing your marketing dollar so that you get the most bang for your buck becomes paramount. Having the spine of your book sitting on a bookshelf surrounded by ten thousand other titles just ain’t gonna cut it. So what can you do?

First, get a website. You can find cheap servers out there that’ll charge you less than $100 per year. Problem: if you’re not familiar with HTML or have no experience being a webmaster, you’ll need to hire someone to do it for you (more $$). But there are free blog sites out there—like this one—that can make website management pretty easy. The only problem might be the blog’s limitations (Can you set up a PayPal account to make sales? How many gigabytes of space do they offer? How many pages are you allowed?) But make no mistake, websites are your best friend when it comes to marketing. You can set up monthly updates and, if you’re lucky, a group of followers who are interested in what you have to say and what’s happening with your books might spring up.

Second, get postcards made up with your cover art on them. This is probably the cheapest and most effective marketing tool in your arsenal. They cost pennies to produce and you can hand them out by their thousands. Mail them to friends, family, and acquaintances. Ask your local bookstores to put them on their counters; they make nifty free bookmarks.

Third, you need to get hold of every newspaper and periodical in your area and let them know about your book. And I don’t mean calling and leaving a message. You need to get the name of someone at the newspaper or magazine and set up a meeting with them. Sit down and shake hands. Get some face-to-face time in no matter how long it takes to get the meeting arranged.

Fourth, spend a few dollars to get blow-ups of your cover—this can usually be done at Kinko’s or some other overnight copy place. Glue them to poster boards and see if your local independent store will display them on a highly visible counter.

Fifth, set up a booth at local street fairs (4th of July events, Spring Break Celebrations, etc.) Sell your books and promote yourself. Have some appealing colors at your booth that pull people to you, thus allowing you to plug your book. You may not always make money at these but you will get notice put on your book and this may generate sales at local bookstores after the event (Remember why people often buy Nike shoes or eat at McDonald’s? Product recognition.)

So that ought to get you started. There are other marketing ideas out there, but chances are they’ll cost you more money than they’re worth.

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