Dos and Don’ts for a Good Self-Published PR Experience

Don's and Don'ts - 2I published three novels at big houses to good reviews.  Now I’m my own publisher, and the media wants no part of me.”

So begins an article that ran last month in  Called, The Future is No Fun: Self-Publishing is the Worst, the piece is actually about the PR side of self-publishing rather than the overall experience.

While promoting any book is hard, it’s true that for self-published authors, it’s infinitely more challenging.   But does that really translate into the media wanting no part of you if you’ve self-published?  To the point where you might feel like “self publishing is the worst?”

Short answer: Absolutely not.  That is, not if you’ve produced a book of professional quality,  know what to expect and plan accordingly.  So here are a few dos and don’ts to help self-published authors starting out on a promotion journey set expectations and have a positive, satisfying experience:

DO: Accept that you will in all likelihood not land any traditional book reviews.

By traditional, I mean reviews in places like The New York Times, Harpers and other conventional newspapers or magazines, both big and small.

DO: Take advantage, on the other hand, of the indie review programs now offered by Publisher’s Weekly Select, Kirkus Indie Reviews and Clarion.

Over the past few years, these programs have emerged in response to the exploding demand for self-published reviews.  Through them, indie authors now have access to professional, publishing industry-vetted reviews for a couple of hundred dollars a pop.  Whether the cost is fair or not is another topic altogether, but in the past, only the excruciatingly rare self-published book had even a dim chance of a  PW or Kirkus review.  Now, a close alternative is available to all.

DO: Plan ahead. Ideally, promotion efforts will begin about 4 months in advance of your publication date, at which point you should have a final, professionally copy-edited Word file of your book in hand.  Cover and interior design, as well as the construction of your personal web site, should be underway.

DO: Be prepared to write, write and write.  Guest blog posts and bylined articles on news websites are probably the most widespread forms of media exposure for self-published authors.  They’re also extremely powerful at generating visibility.

DO: Accept that while you may get interviewed or profiled by some news outlets, you won’t have any luck with the more prestigious ones.

This means that rather than a story or even a mention in The Boston Globe, for example, you’ll be covered by your local Patch, your town’s magazine or possibly a few community newspapers.  And rather than your local NPR station, you may land an interview on some of the many Blog Talk Radio shows.  But don’t scoff: these can bring fantastic exposure.  And depending on your book, you may also get covered by niche magazines (for example, focusing on parenting or travel).  The trick is knowing what to offer them.

DON’T: Waste your time or energy trying to get the attention of any of the media outlets that you know you won’t have any luck with.  You’ll wind up drained and disappointed.  It’s just not worth it.

DON’T: Assume that if you already have a media platform or have already been traditionally published, your self-published book will be an exception in the media’s eyes.  It might — but chances are, it won’t.  News stories about traditionally-published authors going the indie route (think, Seth Godin) just aren’t…newsy…anymore.

DON’T: Try to do everything yourself.  You just can’t. Nobody can.

DON’T: Fall into the anger and disappointment trap that so many authors — self-published or not — get stuck in when they begin to reconcile publicity expectations with reality too late in the game.

This last point is, I suspect, is what happened to the author of The Future is No Fun: Self-Publishing is the Worst.  Perhaps he thought that, already traditionally published, he’d get reviewed and covered by the biggies who’d covered him before.  Or perhaps he simply wasn’t prepared. He spent a lot of time and energy reaching out  — on his own — to The Boston Globe, The Miami Herald, The New York Times Review of Books, The L.A. Times and various other A-list publications.  He also pitched himself to NPR’s Weekend Edition and Fresh Air.  No wonder he’s frustrated.

On the flip side is the example of one self-published author I recently worked with whose PR campaign was smashingly successful.  Alexis Rankin Popik, who wrote and published Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, was featured in The Hartford Courant, The Hartford Advocate, Sippican Week, South Coast Today and on BookViews by Alan Caruba, who’s a charter member of the National Book Critics Circle.  She was interviewed by the online radio show Literary New England.  And much, much more.

Most importantly, though, Alexis was genuinely excited, positive and grateful for each new PR development.  She knew what to expect, how to roll with the punches when things didn’t work out and how to have fun and spread the word when they did.  She planned a glorious launch party.  She had a beautiful, professional headshot taken that exudes warmth and delight — contributing, I’m sure, to the loop of positive feedback that made her campaign work out so well.

Which leads me to one last, resounding Do:

DO: Remember that only one thing is certain about any author publicity campaign: It’s a celebration of you and your accomplishment, a way to share it joyfully with whomever you can.

And joy is contagious.

What expectations come to mind when you think of publicizing a self-published book?  How about a traditionally published book?

Do you have any experiences to share about promoting your self-published book or reconciling publicity expectations in general with reality?


About Sharon Bially

Sharon Bially (@SharonBially) is the founder and president of BookSavvy PR, a public relations firm devoted to authors and books. Author of the novel Veronica’s Nap, she’s an active member of Grub Street, Inc., the nation’s 2nd largest independent writing center, and writes for the Grub Street Daily.


  1. says

    I love clear cut do and don’t lists. And this one definitely gives me a good idea of what to expect in my little indie adventure for Dark Siren!

  2. says

    I used to work for a major pr firm and, later, NPR. It’s important to keep in mind that most traditionally pubbed authors/books that get pitched to major media outlets don’t get covered either. There are simply too many books being published for them all to get featured. Also, it helps your pitch if you can tie your book into something current — news or a trend, something larger than just “here’s my new book.”

    • says

      Julia – you are absolutely right on all accounts: even traditionally pubbed authors are most often a needle in the media haystack. And by all means, it’s all about the book’s news angle, or “hook.” For example, the latest book interview I heard on Fresh air was with author Anchee Min, whose life in China ended because of her relationship with Madame Mao, the wife of Chairman Mao Zedong. How much newsier can you get?

  3. says

    Sorry, I had to stop when you mentioned “paid” reviews. I would never pay for a review. The thought of it goes against every reason I write. Not only that, I know people who have paid hundreds of dollars to Kirkus and others and have sold no more books than I have with noting more than a blog and social networking.

    It’s sad that self-publishing is still such a challenge to promote. I think this is slowly changing, and I’ll just keep plugging without ever paying for a review.

    • says

      Kirkus Indie is controversial. It seems to be yet another instance of mainstream industry latching onto the self-publishing phenom, with the aim of grabbing a piece of the pie. Meanwhile mainstream media and libraries aren’t paying much attention to Kirkus Indie reviews. Its best use — IF you get a good review out of it — is in your own promo materials as a blurb from a well-known name.

      • says

        Mary – it seems just about everything is controversial these days when you’re self publishing! Sometimes I think it’s best just to take things at face value: Kirkus Indie gives you a nice blurb that can be a great marketing piece and will definitely help open doors among some tiers of the non-reviewer media. And those are the tiers that indie authors have the most success with. As for grabbing a piece of the pie – – akkk! – there’s a lot more pie-grabbing out there that passes unnoticed or is simply tolerated because that’s the way the industry has always worked. And I mean the traditional, mainstream publishing industry. With the numbers grabbed being much, much higher….

    • says

      Dan, as I said, whether or not these costs are fair is a whole other, and definitely valid, topic. But I do think there are many good arguments for the benefits outweighing both the dollar costs and the blow to principals. In the end, all authors wind up paying for many things out of their pockets. And as a publicist, I know all too well that “earned” media — those articles you’ll get in Oprah magazine, for example, that appear to reflect purely the merits of your book — is all too often “earned” at the cost of….hiring a publicist.

  4. says

    Great tips, self-publishing is a hustle and you have to study the business to gain any measurable success. Indie authors also have to have realistic expectations as you mentioned. Just because someone reviewed your book in the past, doesn’t mean they’re obligated to review you again.

    I would like to add one more tip: If you want to be featured or reviewed, then build a relationship with the media. That means following reviewers or journalists on Twitter, or Goodreads and be helpful to them. Also, if someone doesn’t want to review your book, offer to guest post.

  5. says

    Wow, thanks Sharon! This is fantastic. My biggest question about self-publishing is this: how much of a budget should you have going into it? Is it possible to have a good marketing campaign on a small budget?

    • says

      Jessica: Oy, budget. There’s no one answer. Self publishing itself ranges from about $1,500 if you do everything through Amazon. A publicist will run you at least 4 times that for a thorough campaign. I know people who have spent dozens of thousands altogether. Yikes!

      There are certainly many tools for marketing on a small budget, Amazon itself being one of them (with many options being free), plus some of the lower-cost book-blog tour companies MJ Rose has some interesting, pure-marketing packages under $2,000. Facebook ads, Goodreads ads, Goodreads giveaways — all are either free or if not, can stay in the double digits depending on how you manage them. Etc, etc.

      But one thing I find very telling about the importance of a marketing budget: When B&N considers which books to carry in its stores, one of the first things it wants to know is that book’s marketing budget. The higher the better. Gulp.

  6. says

    This was helpful–now I’ll keep my expectations more in line with the reality. It’s true that self-published authors need to use less traditional ways of getting the word out. It takes time and energy. BTW, I’ve used Goodreads book giveaways with some decent success.

  7. says

    Traditional publishers are experts are the big promotional splash. They need to be because booksellers prefer fresh product on their shelves. Most indie-books are sold online and won’t be shoved off the virtual shelf to make room for more recent publications. The sales curve for indie-books is longer and shallower. So … do persevere.

  8. says

    This is a great article full of lots of good advice. Thank you for that to begin with.

    It’s given me a lot to think about as I’m currently working towards promoting my own soon to be self-published book. It’s also put some new ideas in my head of where else to look for promoting. So far I’ve been using social media sites and never actually thought about trying to talk with local papers or indie reviewers. I haven’t actually given much thought about getting a review at all.

    My expectations it seems have been rather low. I purely thought it would be great to have ten people end up buying a copy of the book. I figured that after 7-10 books had been published things would just begin to work out for the better. Basically the thought is that in 3-5 years with 7-10 self-published books there would be a kind of “hey look he’s written other books too!” moment.

    Terrific advice, thanks for sharing! Have a good one.

    • says

      Joseph – if you’re able to produce that many books and have one coming out every couple of years at most, that’s a really good position to be in. And depending on the genre, that’s definitely a recipe for potential sales increases. (Niche genres like paranormal and fantasy do particularly well here.) But the trick is to the first one, or the second, to sell: then you roll out the subsequent books once they’ve started to, and momentum builds.

      Here’s a good example of a YA fantasy author in this situation:

  9. says

    From 2006 to 2009 I self-published paperbacks, ebooks and an audiobook. I wrote newspaper articles; organized a book launch that included music by local musicians; and cold called booksellers. It was fun. But a lot of work. I’m now pursuing traditional publishing–and looking forward to marketing my book with a team.

    • says

      Leanne – it is indeed a ton of work to market and publicize your indie book. The consolation I suppose is that a lot of traditionally published authors now have so little marketing support from their publisher that they have to do almost as much work. But if your publisher turns out to be proactive on the marketing front and gives you a good budget, that’s definitely the best of all worlds.

  10. says

    I remember reading that article, and he had spent six weeks trying to market himself, and the book had been out for two days when he wrote that piece. (He also had it priced at $7.99 on Kindle and Smashwords.)

    I thought at the time that he was complaining about not getting publicity, but he had column space on Salon to do it.

    • says

      Misha – I was thinking the same thing when I read it. I’m also not sure I’d consider the article he wrote the best use of such precious, high-visibility space.

    • says

      Mishna – I was thinking the same thing when I read his piece. I also don’t know if I’d consider what he wrote to be the best use of such precious, high-visibility space…

  11. says

    This is a great article – I love the list format. I’ve been in marketing and promotion in a different industry for a long time, and no matter what you are “pitching”, be it books or widgets, getting PR is just plain HARD. We live in such a noisy world. It’s cliche, but word of mouth has not only retained the power it has always held, it has been made exponentially greater thanks to Facebook and other personal “publicity channels” that we all have available to us. Between personal networks and local outlets – such as Patch – there is the potential to generate some smoke, and we all know smoke begets fire! Localized, small “assets” are valuable marketing tools and important stepping stones – I’ve taken very poorly produced (arguably podunk) local radio interview and chopped it into small MP3 sound bites which I am now using as a pitch tool for speaking engagements… one listened to the radio show when it aired, but it still provided me with great value.

  12. says

    This article reflects many of my experiences. I self-published a novel and managed to get interviewed on the local BBC radio station, and had several reviews in the local press. I did the round of local bookshops and Waterstones… with some success. However, I am anything but a sales person, and found it hard work.
    I got so involved with promoting my novel that I even produced several videos of myself doing naked (yes, really) readings on a website called Vimeo. I had a huge response… from guys interested in nudity.
    The point I would like to make though is that all this promotional work had a real negative impact on my writing time. Two and a half years on from that self-publishing effort, I am still months away from completing my next novel. Without the promo work, I would have finished it by now.

  13. says


    Thanks for an informative article. I concur with most points except the bit about paid reviews. I just don’t think they’re worthwhile (or particularly effective), at least as far as genre fiction goes. In fact, I doubt their effectiveness in any situation. I don’t think the average thriller reader knows Kirkus from Kool-Aid, so the “name” reviews only impact folks with some knowledge of the publishing industry. And those ‘insiders’ will roll their eyes knowingly and say, “Oh! PW ‘Select,’ and Kirkus ‘Indie.’ How Special.”

    In short, “industry insiders” are going to discount those reviews as paid promotion, and the non-industry folks won’t differentiate between those reviews and the one posted by Joe Blow from Kokomo. Thus the paid reviews are, at best, on a par with those posted for free by readers. I understand you may disagree, but that’s my opinion.

    One place I do think most self published writers miss the boat is in the closing pages of their books. There is no better time to thank the reader, invite them to contact you, and ask them to post a review. And yet I read book after book wherein authors neglect this all important chance to interact with their readers.

    I’ve been self publishing for two years this month and I’m making a decent living at it. I’d never written anything before and never been published, yet I have almost 1,000 reader reviews between my two thrillers (Amazon US/UK, B&N, iTunes, and Goodreads combined) with an average rating of +4.5 stars.

    The only paid advertising I’ve found effective is BookBub, and the majority of my promotion involves direct and personal interaction with readers. My readers are my friends, and I exchange personal messages with them constantly. I find that a lot more rewarding than social media and so many other things that are promoted as prerequisites for success.

    Just my two cents. Take it or leave it FWIW.

  14. says

    Thanks for your positive feedback on self-pub biz. I can find many reasons to self-pub &many of the negatives apply equally to traditional pub. Here is the blurb from that guy’s self-pubbed book: “the Overfalls decide to take to the road one more time. Will they survive or will they self-destruct? ” Change the Overfalls to his name. Nuff said?