I always tell my clients at the beginning of a project that marketing a book should start at the same time as we begin our production work together. I am not talented at this—marketing and publicity is a full-time job performed by experts, after all. In fact, marketing and publicity is TWO full time jobs. I think of marketing as any promotion you pay for, whereas publicity is promotion you can get for free. Buying an ad in your local paper is marketing, asking the paper to write a review of the book is publicity.

When you’re self publishing, there are a lot of free and paid resources you can use. And you can hire someone to help you through that process. The costs run the gamut, of course. As they do for everything.

Here are two companies on my radar that my clients have used in the past:

I haven’t used them myself, so can’t vouch for them.

Usually publicists charge a lot and—while they may be knowledgeable and diligent—deliver little more than you could do yourself. The problem is that there are ever-fewer reviews outlets. The ones that exist are either out of reach, or they don’t make an impact on sales. Book consumers are tricky because most people have to hear about a book several times before they get around to buying it. 

If you can’t find a company that suits your purposes, then you can do it on your own. This isn’t necessarily a disadvantage (if you have some spare time and you’re a friendly person who can write a cordial email) because you’re the best advocate for the book anyway. Here are some steps you can take.

  1. Create a list of your friends and family that you can call on with actionable requests—don’t just email them and say “buy my book,” but say “please share my book on whatever social media you use, and let me know if you know of any bloggers, podcasters, or librarians who would be interested in hearing more about the book or the writing process, etc.” Be creative. You might want to strategize a way that you can knock on their door several times in the first few weeks after the book comes out. Friends and family are your greatest resource at this point. 
  2. When you do say “buy my book” to your friends and family, don’t be afraid to say “buy a few copies of my book, if you can afford it, and give them as gifts!” These people want to get involved and help out, and are probably willing to spend more than $15 (or whatever your book costs) if you ask.
  3. Make a list of any review outlets you can find (literary magazines, blogs, podcasts, local community programs, NPR), and email them as soon as possible, asking how you might get mentioned in their publication, or collaborate with them by providing an article on a subject related to your book. Be courteous and professional, because they need content just like you need readers.
  4. In that regard, think outside the box about how you can bring attention to the book. Don’t just ask people to review it, but offer to give an interview, or write an article as I just mentioned. Are you willing to do an event at the library? If so, don’t just do the event, but use it as an opportunity to share the book with any local media that might be interested that the event is happening. Your paper won’t write about the launch of the book, but they might write about the event because it fills a need in the community. 
  5. If you do get some attention, use it to “level up” and get some credibility with other outlets. If the local paper just writes “Local Author will be presenting their unique novel at the library on Saturday,” then you’d reach out to another outlet and say “our local paper just called my book a ‘unique’–would you care to have a review copy?”
  6. Don’t forget to reach out to the same place twice, even if they ignored you the first time. Use any bit of news about your project as a reason for following up. “Hello NY Times! I just did an event at my library and people were very interested in the subject. I wondered if I could send you a copy of my new book, which has been called ‘unique’!”
  7. Ads: you might consider placing and ad with Amazon — they’re good at reaching people who like similar books. This costs money but it is well spent, because it usually results in sales. Or if you can make a video about your book, spend your ad money promoting the video on YouTube. Depending on the subject matter, YouTube promotion can have a bigger impact. (This is complicated and requires a lot of research to be effective.)
  8. There are other good ad networks for books, like litbreaker.com, but they’re more expensive and harder to track.
  9. Build a website and use it as a repository for everything that happens with the book, from your events to the reviews and interviews you can muster up. Share all the links there that you can. You don’t have to become a social media genius to have a good presence online (though it helps, and is within reach), but a website can still be an “extended business card.” Emphasis on “extended”—put stuff on there that is more than just a picture of the book announcing that it exists. I can definitely help with this!

Truly, I’m just scratching the surface here.

What I sometimes do for clients is act as a consultant and help you make a plan that you can implement realistically on your own. For instance, I would help with #2 above, researching the outlets to contact, but then you’d do all the outreach. I’d also help you write your press releases for different circumstances, and identify any free or inexpensive opportunities that you could harness, such as giveaways on goodreads.com or bookbub.com. I’d help make the plan, but then it’s up to you to execute it.

I’ve only done it a couple times and it’s a lot of work for me, and I’m not sure it’s worth it for you, to be honest. But if we’ve worked together pretty well so far, then let’s talk about it!