by Susan DeFreitas
For many debut authors, so much work goes into writing their book—and, for self-publishing authors, editing, designing, producing, and distributing it—that marketing is an afterthought.
But in a world where well over a million new books are published every year, all that hard work can be for naught if you’re not prepared to actually get the word out about it, and do so in a way that compels people to buy it.
Here are three activities you can get started on as soon as you’re clear on your book’s genre and focus, each of which will help you get in the marketing mindset and prepare for the road ahead.
1. Read Back Cover Copy
You’d think the process of writing what’s between the covers of your book would prepare you to write what goes on those covers. But this is seldom the case.
That’s because the back cover description is actually sales copy. In this, it’s very much akin to the sort of copy that will appear in the book’s query letter (if you’re publishing traditionally) and IndieBound and Amazon sales pages. Moreover, the way you’ll eventually talk about your book once it is published has more to do with this kind of copy than it does with the sort of writing that appears in the book itself.
That’s why it’s such a good idea to start paying attention to back cover copy in your genre early on—say, while you’re still writing your book.
For fiction and narrative nonfiction, this sort of copy offers specifics but not spoilers, and it often speaks to the choices that will be made and what’s at stake. For prescriptive nonfiction, this sort of copy speaks to the problem the book will solve for the reader, as well as what makes the book different from others of its type. Beyond these basics, the conventions of back cover copy vary by genre—mystery, travel memoir, cookbook, etc.
Paying attention to the way this copy is written in your genre will help to prepare you for submitting your query letter (if traditionally publishing) or writing your own back cover copy (if self-publishing). Moreover, it will to prepare you for talking about your book with the people who ultimately matter most: readers.
2. Follow a Comp
While you’re browsing the aisles of your favorite bookstore—or clicking through an online retailer—checking out back cover copy, chances are you’ll come across a book that either sounds a bit like yours or has some key points in common. That’s what those in the publishing industry call a comparable title, or “comp.”
Many writers know that literary agents and editors want to see these types of books listed in a query letter. What many writers don’t know is that these sorts of books can actually reveal potentially useful strategies for publicizing and promoting their own book.
Google your comp and spend some time analyzing the results. Which reviewers loved it? Did the book receive mainly industry reviews—like those from Kirkus or Library Journal—or was it covered by smaller book bloggers that speak directly to fans? Was it featured in magazines? If so, which ones? Did the author publish essays or articles related to the book’s subject matter as a promotional strategy? If so, where did those essays or articles appear?
Digging deep on a comp in this way can reveal essential elements of a marketing and publicity strategy that has already proven successful with a book like yours, which can be invaluable in planning which influencers and publications for you to target.
3. Google Yourself
Maybe you’ve already Googled yourself, and maybe you haven’t. Either way, if you haven’t given a whole lot of thought yet to marketing your book, you probably haven’t done so from the point of view of a reviewer, podcast host, or publisher—i.e., from the point of view of the sort of person who could be a big help in establishing your career as an author.
Put yourself in the shoes of a busy journalist or reviewer. Is the essential information about you as an author easily accessible online? Is a short version of your bio available on your website, along with a press photo? (Do you have a website, bio, and press photo?)
Are links to your previously published works available online? If you’ve been interviewed on radio or TV, are those clips available as well? (When deciding how to fill a limited number of guest spots, television, radio, and podcast hosts often go with people who have a proven track record of being good interviewees.)
Are you on social media? If so, what might a potential interviewer or journalist gather about you from your social media presence?
For those who don’t tend to spend much time online, such a search might prove a wake-up call, in terms of what they’ll need to establish before their book launches (e.g., an author website). For those who are active online, the same search might offer insight into how they might clean up or edit their online footprint in service of their aims as an author (e.g., cutting back on the pup pix on Instagram and focusing more on literary events).
And while we’re at it, here’s a related activity that can be just as valuable: Google an author whose work you love and see what their online footprint looks like. Are there some tactics or strategies that you might adopt in establishing your online presence?
Whether you’re still pounding out the pages of your manuscript or preparing yourself for the big launch, these three activities should prove helpful in getting yourself in the marketing mindset.
Susan DeFreitas is a collaborative editor and marketing strategist with Indigo, as well as the author of the novel Hot Season, which won a 2017 Gold IPPY Award. With a background in marketing and publicity, she’s somewhat unique among writers, in that she doesn’t find this sort of thing in the least bit distasteful.