PR and Marketing for Self-Publishing: Do’s and Don’ts

iStock_000013224874XSmallIt (finally) appears the stigmas once associated with self and indie-publishing are disappearing, or at least waning – though in some cases there are new ones arising and there will always be naysayers. Let me clarify that while I think there are pros and cons to traditional publishing, self publishing and Indie publishing alike, I have always been a supporter of each and never agreed with those stigmas. As a PR and  marketing professional having helped launch several successful self and Indie published books, I knew there were high quality stories out there by talented authors that needed to be told that didn’t have a publisher for various reasons. It’s been great to see some of the national media open up and begin writing about these books and authors more. For me, it’s been great to see these authors and books find readers and success – sometimes as much so, or even more so, than books I’ve worked on that have a big publisher.

More authors, agents, and readers are embracing Indie of self-publishing. It’s even becoming a viable option for several of my very successful traditionally published authors who are seeing that success and now considering making the leap.

But thus far the media has covered the breakout stories of self-publishing that are not the norm – often leading to unrealistic expectations. The purpose of this post is to share well thought-out tips from several self-published authors who have been successful on many different levels and in their own right – not just those that have sold millions of copies. (Note: most of these authors are clients of mine. Through years of innovation and creativity working on Indie and self-published books on a case by case basis – along with our traditionally published clients – we’ve helped these authors become award-winning, bestselling – or both – and many have gone on to sign with agents, publishers and even sell film rights. Or they have continued to successfully self-publish). But hiring professional PR and marketing is only one piece of it – they have each done their own things to make their success unique. I tapped them to share the tips direct from their experiences and mouths.  

Because the one thing I’ve learned is that self-publishing is not going to garner the same results for every author who chooses this path–you will still run across the same hit or miss situations as you would with a traditional publisher. The bottom line is that it’s not for everyone (it’s a LOT of hard work and is a big time and financial investment) and there are things that you must do and must not do, and those things may be very different than what another author is doing. But for those considering self-publishing or in the thick of it, I’ve pulled some tips together from BookSparksPR‘s incredibly successful self-published and Indie authors, and others.

5 Must-Do PR and Marketing Tips When Self-Publishing

  1. “Give your novel the professional treatment, including hiring two freelance editors (developmental and copy) and an experienced designer who can create a cover that ‘pops’ as a thumbnail. Make sure your book is ready for prime time, because you’ll get one chance with readers.” – Jess Riley, author of the upcoming self-published Mandatory Release (July 2013). Her debut novel was Driving Sideways, a Target bestseller now in its fourth printing, published by Random House in 2008.
  2. “Know and court your book’s audience. No matter how great you think your book is, you need to recognize that there are probably readers to whom it won’t appeal. Courting them may earn you a few sales, but it isn’t likely to increase your fan base. Scattershot marketing is a waste of valuable resources.” – Grant Jarrett, author of More Towels: In Between the Notes and Ways of Leaving (coming this Fall).
  3. “Be generous. Of course you want readers to buy your (undoubtedly fabulous) book, but what are you giving them? (Besides your fabulous book.) I’m a yoga teacher, so I offer yoga tips that are relevant for both writers and readers—things like the best yoga pose for boosting creativity, lowering stress, stretching the computer muscles, and beating insomnia on my blog and social media.” – Sara DiVello, debut memoir author of Where in the OM Am I? (coming June 2013).
  4. “One thing I feel indie or self pub authors MUST do for publicity and marketing is to hire a really good publicity firm to handle marketing and public relations. Trust that the firm knows more than you do, and if you can’t afford it, find a way to make it happen!” – Fleur Philips, award-winning author of I Am Lucky Bird and upcoming novel, Crumble
  5. “Think of PR and marketing as in investment in you and your career, not just your book. It’s much easier to pour heart and money in something that you’re ‘building’ instead of waiting to pay your rent. You’d be amazed how much attention you can draw to your book and even other projects by focusing on building up your bio. And remember, investing in YOU is something that won’t fade when your book hype period is over or god forbid, it doesn’t make the New York Times bestseller list (gasp!). If you’ve invested in you, all those creds get to be taken to future projects, products and services you might offer.” – Amy Scher, Amazon bestselling and award-winning author of This is How I Save My Life.

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5 Must-Don’t PR and Marketing Tips When Self-Publishing

  1. “Don’t keep to yourself. Be generous with what you’re learning, help others and you’ll find your networks grow and your expertise deepens as you teach others.” – Kathleen Shoop, bestselling and award-winning author of The Last Letter and Love and Other Subjects.
  2. “Don’t follow the crowd and then get upset when you don’t see the success XYZ saw. Everything you do must be personalized to your audience and genre.” – Steena Holmes, bestselling and award-winning self-published author who scored a book deal with Amazon Publishing for Finding Emma and Emma’s Secret (coming June 2013).
  3. “Don’t undersell your book. You worked hard on it, make sure the price you set reflects your hard work and is consistent with the market. With many buyers it’s all about perceived value.”- Dina Silver, author of One Pink Line and Finding Bliss, also scored publishing deal with Amazon Publishing because of her self-publishing success. (Note: Dina is a friend of BookSparksPR and we are big fans of her work, but she is not a client).
  4. “Don’t get lost in being a do-it-herselfer. If it’s going to take you four hours to do something you could pay someone to do in an hour, do it. As Indie authors, we tend to think we have to take on the world, but we don’t always do it well. Save yourself the nightmare of trying to do it all, so you can do what you really rock at – writing.” – Amy Scher, Amazon bestselling and award-winning author of This is How I Save My Life.
  5. “Don’t overdo self-promotion on social media. Build relationships with others and be your interesting self.” – – Jess Riley, author of the upcoming self-published Mandatory Release (July 2013).

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I encourage you to comment and add do’s and don’ts of your own. After all, there are various levels of success and no “one size fits all” when it comes to publishing a book – no matter how you publish it. 

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About Crystal Patriarche

Crystal Patriarche is founder of BookSparksPR, her full-service boutique PR agency that provides strategic public relations and book publicity support, social media, branding, marketing, and consulting to authors - from digital campaigns to traditional media. She’s also a journalist. Her articles and her clients have appeared in many national magazines, newspapers and websites. For more, visit <www.BookSparksPR.com. Follow BookSparksPR on Facebook and Twitter.

Comments

  1. CG Blake says

    Crystal,
    Thanks for sharing these tips. PR and marketing are huge challenges for self-published authors. Breaking through the massive clutter of online promotion is a daunting task. I prefer to look at it as relationship building based on mutual sharing, but I admit that is not a good strategy for racking up big sales numbers. I agree with you that self-pubbed writers must invest some money to produce and market a quality book. Thanks again for this post.

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  2. says

    For those all ready in the self-publishing world – where do you get the most “bang for the buck”? What are the priorities for marketing? I hear so much about the need for promotion and marketing and very little on specifics. So I’d love to hear what works. The internet offers so many options – but which ones work?

    Is it worth it to get real paper copies printed? Should a first time author stick with e-books? Which of the many platforms are worth the effort to build an audience?

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  3. says

    Crystal-

    Thanks for advising realistic expectations. Self-publishing is a more brutally Darwinian experience than “traditional” publishing ever has been.

    Whatever the path, I find that marketing fiction and non-fiction are different. For most fiction authors an audience is grown over time.

    Successive novels build a fan base, which becomes its own growth engine. Word of mouth is second only to in-store displays in winning new readers. Reviews and best seller lists far outweigh social media in influence. It’s a cumulative game.

    The most important marketing? Your last novel. That’s why making every one great is imperative…and why your #1 “Do” is #1.

    Series help. Nice covers are nice. Blurbs somewhat reassure consumers. Good reviews further lower resistance. But all of that pales in comparison to your first line and page one…and the pages that follow.

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  4. says

    Thanks for the post. The takeaway from the “Do” list is – be professional. Independent (self) publishing is not a shortcut, but a different route. The support team – partnership – that traditional publishing offers is still needed; independent publishing allows the author to craft a team. But with the allowance comes responsibility. (Sorry, Spiderman, and parents everywhere.)

    The takeaway from the “Don’t” list is – respect. Respect yourself and respect your audience. This follows as a natural consequence of the first item, of course, but needs its own emphasis.

    Excellent pointers, regardless of where one is on experience scale.

    And Donal Maass, wonderful advice.

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    • says

      I’ve no need to add a separate comment because my thoughts are but an expansion of what David said so well: “Respect yourself and respect your audience”

      In launching my debut novel, my most productive (and least stressful) efforts stem from those actions that fully reflect me and the devotion I gave the writing. My least successful have come when I slavishly followed others or did simply what I thought was expected.

      Now whenever I undertake any promotion, discussion or action regarding the book, I ask myself: “Does this align with the spirit of the novel?”

      If your book is fun, then make your promotion fun – for you and your readers. If you’ve written of great sadness, then share the serious issues that drove you to write it. Make your promotion an extension of your work.

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  5. says

    I have a non-fiction book coming out in January from a traditional publisher about writing a novel with a famous author. I’m going to put the novel out as an ebook and use both to cross-promote each other. It’ll be interesting to see how the two do in sales, how many copies of the novel I sell from promoting the non-fiction book and vice versa. Hopefully there will be some crossover between the two. Maybe none? We’ll see. Wonder if anyone’s tried this tactic before?

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  6. says

    All good points! Thank you for being so direct. What seems really just as important in those 10 points is BOOK REVIEWS. We all know good reviews enhance sales. For a new s-p debut author, getting a decent number of reviews (20 to 30?) is quite a challenge. We are advised not to “pay” for reviews since it appears unethical, don’t swap reviews with other authors because it’s unethical, don’t ask friends, etc. These are big stop signs for the s-p author.

    So the traditional publishers, lit agents, and/or literary managers, marketing or PR agents, or authors traditionally published have NEVER paid for book reviews? True or false?

    I’d like to see a discussion on this because so many reviewers are no longer reviewing s-p books; so many bloggers and websites are overloaded with s-p books they have stopped accepting books for 5 and 6 months. Even Goodreads readers/reviewers are saturated now with read to review freebies. What are the options for reviewers for new s-p authors?

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  7. says

    Hi Crystal,

    I’m intrigued by no. 4 on your Must-Do list:

    “hire a really good publicity firm to handle marketing”

    I was under the impression that hiring a good PR firm was cost-prohibitive for indies.

    As an indie author, how do you go about finding an affordable publicity firm?

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  8. says

    Great stuff. Many writers just want to write and ignore the PR aspect of the publishing game. But then they’re disappointed with the results. An author has to put in the time and effort to build those relationships and, as the post mentioned, expand the fan base. It won’t happen by itself or overnight!

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  9. says

    Thanks for the tips! I just subscribed to your blog and will continue to read it. I am working on a book myself and right now I’m just having friends read chapters as I finish them. Can you tell me how to find an editor and how will I know if they are good or not before I hire them?
    Teresa

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