Book Promotion Countdown Checklist
9-12 Months prior to publication:
At 9 to 12 months prior to publication, you probably have just sold your manuscript or had it accepted for publication. Granted, many books wait 2-3 years for publication. Others hit the shelves in no time. I've personally seen two of my books published in just under 5 months and just under 9 months after the initial offer from the publisher. I have
another that was accepted over a year ago and still no pub date, but that's not quite as bad as several friends who have waited 4 years to see publication. If you wait so terribly long for publication, your enthusiasm fizzles. If your book comes out very quickly, you may not have enough time to plan and implement a decent promotion campaign.
Assuming you're not publishing the book yourself (in which case a separate checklist of self-publishing to-do's applies), here's my list of things to do at the 9-12 month time frame, or as soon as possible if your book is coming out even sooner.
1. Take care of getting your business set up. Like it or not, you are a small business now.
a. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see what kinds of licenses are necessary for you to do business in your area. Also, file a fictious name or "doing business as" notice in your local newspaper if you're using a pseudonym or a business name. Administrivia, yes, but you need to make sure you appear to be a business when the IRS comes knocking.
b. Get a post office box. It might not seem like a big deal, but the first time a prisoner sends you a detailed love letter, the first time a stranger shows up on your front doorstep unannounced, or the first time someone with differing political views takes exception to your book by bashing in your mail box, you'll wish you hadn't told the world your street address.
Trust me, folks: there are some really scary people out
there. Do the safe thing and get a P O box for fan mail and other business correspondence. Yes, all writing-related correspondence! Just because it's a bookstore doesn't mean they can't have a threatening sort of person working there who might see your real address on promo correspondence--or dig it out of the trash. I hate to scare you, but stalkings happen more than you think and go unreported or unaided because the victims are brushed aside as being paranoid unless they're a major name author (only then, I suppose, are rabid fans justified????). I can name dozens of authors who aren't bestsellers or celebrities, but they've endured frightening, anonymous emails, letters, phone calls, and visitors. Get the PO box and if you don't want to spend that much money, share with a buddy or two.
c. Order your office supplies, including letterhead, business cards, etc. Make sure you use your PO box on your correspondence. You also might consider leaving off your phone number unless you want strange calls after midnight. You can always jot it down for certain correspondence or include it in the body of certain letters. Consider using an email address or home page address, too.
d. Open a checking account. If you open an account under your business name (ie Spilled Candy Books) or you stick words like "Lorna Tedder, writing account" or "Lorna Tedder, business account" on your checks, you may end up paying a monthly fee for the business account. That means you'll pay the same bank fees as the restaurant down the street or the big discount store on the corner, both of which send hundreds of checks through the bank every month. You, of course, would be happy with a couple of checks a year...advance and royalties!
In my area, we have dozens of banks, and the best deal I could find (by far) was $10 per month service charges if you let your monthly balance fall below $1000 at any time during the month. Keep $1000 in there every day of the month, and you don't have to pay a service charge and you get interest. Like I said, that's the absolute best deal I could find locally.
Others started at $20 per month and had minimum balances of $5000 or more. So I'm a tightwad. If I had $5000 lying around, I wouldn't leave it sitting in a checking account either. But given that I wanted checks coming to "Spilled Candy" and not to me personally, I decided a business account was the best way for me to go.
Now here's the secret to opening a checking account CHEAPLY. Shop around for the best possible deal, meaning the checking accounts that cater to low balance, free checks, and no monthly fees--if you can find them. (I know of one in my hometown that caters to college kids--$150 minimum, free checks under 25 transactions per month, and no monthly
fees. Perfect if you need a checking account but don't plan to park a lot of money there.) When you open the account, do it under your name.
Don't put "writing account" or "business account" or anything that might trigger the customer service rep to drag out her commercial packages, often the same for small and large businesses alike. (You--and the IRS--will know it's your writing account because it's separate from your household account and you can prove it.) You're just another average customer opening an ordinary account. Banks see this done all the time and occasionally try to force you into a commercial
account--if they see 200 checks a month made out to "Jane Doe, Avon Lady"! If you're seeing THAT many checks per month, maybe you need a commercial account.
2. Start collecting ideas for your promo campaign. Go to your library and check out copies of books on marketing and self-promotion. Read what you can find on-line. Read old issues of Spilled Candy and other publicity newsletters. Watch what other authors are doing.
3. Talk to your publisher--now. A lot of publishers plan their
marketing budgets in this time frame. If you want advance review copies sent to all Christian bookstores in Tennessee, ask for it now. If you want postcards sent to your University's alumni, ask now. You might not get what you ask for, but they can't tell you sorry, they've already written your marketing budget in stone.
4. Join groups and associations related to your book's subject, to writing, or to your community. When your book comes out, they'll all be happy to claim you as their own and they'll help you sell your book. These are also good networking connections.
5. Get your publication date. To be more specific, get the actual shelf date. Granted, some publishers change these as quickly as you change shoes, but you want to plan signings and other events around your book's availability. Otherwise, if you're doing tv talk shows promoting your July book that won't hit the shelves until August or vice versa, potential readers might not be able to find your book after your
6. Get your author photo done at your leisure during this period. You'll need a black and white shot and maybe a color photo as well. Make it interesting!
7. Send out faux galleys of your manuscript to genre review magazines for an early quote(if your publisher doesn't do this for you). Some of these magazines have a 3-4 month leadtime on publication, meaning that their deadline for an ad or review in the May issue might be late January. They might easily take up to 6 months to read your manuscript, in which
case, you'll barely make their deadline for the magazine and you've already missed any chance of an early quote for your promo material.
For example, when I sold my first book in September, I send out faux galleys in early October. One reviewer gave me a superb quote in mid-October, another in early November. The last magazine gave me a quote in mid-May, 2 weeks before the book hit the shelves. Guess which review didn't get included because my flyers and postcards were long
since designed, printed, and mailed? Thank goodness I hadn't put all my eggs in one basket!
8. Ask your publisher if they have a standard list of reviewers for books of your type. If so, ask if you can send along a personal note with each review copy mailed.
If these suggestions seem unnecessary because your book's publication is so far away, don't be tempted to sit back and do nothing. Those 9-12 months will come and go, whether you prepare yourself or not.
6-9 Months prior to publication:
1. Make announcements to all newspapers, magazines, alumni newsletters, trade journals, etc that print a column or list of upcoming books or congratulatory news. Basically, anybody willing to print news of your sale. Most of these want the info about 6 months before the book's release, so at 9 months, start putting together your list of addresses. Also, be aware that some won't accept input by email so make sure you're submitting properly. You may send out an update when you're closer to publication, but getting the news out early and often will keep your name alive.
2. Ask your publisher for extra cover flats. Some will, some won't. Some give you hundreds and some give you...three. If you have plenty, you can leave them on conference goodie tables, cut them down to postcard size to mail to your fan list, or slip them inside left-over Valentine's Day card envelopes (courtesy of your favorite card shop) and mail them to booksellers. If you have only a few, you'll want to use them in ads. Make sure you ask your publisher for at least ONE cover that doesn't have a hole punched in it. They do that so the covers aren't returned to them for credit (covers are stripped off books that don't sell and returned for $$$), but it looks amateurish if the hole shows up in your ads.
3. If you're going to be selling your books yourself (and your contract allows it), apply for a resale license/permit. You may need to collect tax for your state. Your local courthouse should be able to help or you could look up your state goverment's department of revenue on the Internet. Your
resale license might also allow you to purchase items tax-free, depending on your situation (whether self-pubbed, etc). You could end up not paying taxes on envelopes, paper, etc. Again, it depends on your situation and the state you live in, but check the fine print and see if there's a benefit to you.
4. Get your author photo taken now if you haven't already!
5. Fine-tune your promotion campaign strategy. At this point, your publisher has probably already decided what to do, how much money to spend, etc. You won't be able to influence their direction much after this point, but you can work on your personal strategy. Will you give talks to high school groups? Will you stay home and wait for radio hosts to call you? Will you go on the road? Look over your calendar and make sure you've allotted time to write, time for your family, and time for yourself. Schedule a vacation for as soon as crunch time is over. Schedule an occasional down-day where you do something absolutely unrelated to your writing and this book's promotion.
Decide if you really want to be on the road for 4 weeks this summer and if you can afford to, both financially and emotionally. Will your health take the stress of tv appearances or long sits at signings? These are important issues that most publicists and marketing hounds don't talk about, but they
have a way of stopping you in your tracks. When my second book came out, I had just hurt my writing arm while swordfighting and aggravated the injury by constant click-click-clicking my mouse to get my third book finished and to my editor. As a result of not taking care of myself and pushing too hard, I couldn't hold a pen for almost two months, let alone sign my name. By the time my handwriting was legible again (as legible as it gets), my book was no longer on the shelves anywhere. The lesson? If you don't put your well-being ahead of your promo activities, your body will take care of it for you and in a way you're not going to like.
6. If you don't already have a mailing list, start one now. If you do, fine-tune it. Collect names and addresses of fans, booksellers who are friendly to you, newspapers and other media contacts, libraries, readers' groups, associations, alumni newsletters, etc. Add to the list when you find a new
name so the list doesn't overwhelm you. Keep them in a computer program that will allow you to print them on labels when you're ready to mail away.
Another thing you should do is start collecting email addresses. I don't mean that you should go to other authors' guest books and HARVEST addresses, either. Here's how I do it: I have a distribution list set up on my email software. Every time I receive an email asking me a question about marketing or if I'll send them a free copy of my newsletter, I quickly click on the distribution list and add the sender's name. Same with anyone who's on any of my mailing lists or who enters my monthly drawings. Every time I log on to the computer, I add people, so my list is growing nicely. These are all people who have expressed an interest in what I write and talk to their friends about my work. I consider them my personal promo army. Consider adding this feature to your web page, if you have one.
7. Start drafting those press releases, news stories, ads, etc. It's not time to send them out yet, but hey, you never know when a swordfighting injury could slow you down! Keep them on your computer and tweak them whenever you think of something you'd like to add that will polish them up. It's also a good time to test any ads you're putting out yourself so you can make sure they're perfect before you pay big bucks for the real thing.
8. Send out any advance review copies or galleys to key booksellers for chain bookstores and influential independents, any key specialty or on-line reviewers who haven't received a copy yet, and key reading groups or association leaders who might prove helpful. Notice I say "key." You don't have to send a copy to anyone who asks. Be wary of on-line reviewers who are actually readers looking for free copies--you send them a freebie and your book gets trashed without the usual subtleties of a professional reviewer who at least knows how to give you a cull-able quote even when the rest of your review sucks dead canaries.
9. If you're sure of your title and pub date, you can go ahead and order bookmarks, flyers, novelties, and other promo materials of that sort. But only if you're sure or willing to risk it. Many an author has been ready to spit nails when he or she's been assured "no more changes," only to discover the day after they've written the check for 5,000 four-color postcards that the pub date's been moved out two months and the title's been changed yet again. We see those materials at conferences and readers' conventions where the pub date has been scrawled through with a new month. Then they look less professional than you'd hoped and you don't feel good about the product or the money you've spent.
10. Start talking to other authors in your specialty or genre about cooperative mailings. These can be much cheaper than going it alone, plus you can share fans. Check out flyer services used by some magazines, such as Romantic Times' Bookstores That Care mailings or mailings sent out by the Publishers Marketing Association.
11. Start planning and putting together your press kits. It won't be long before you're ready to send them out.
12. Keep your publisher's publicity department informed of what you're doing. Believe it or not, some publishers hate for their authors to do anything other than write, write, write. Others fully expect the author to be out there every day, hyping the book and begging for sales. In either case, they need to know what you're doing just as you need to know what they're doing. Otherwise, if you've just spent money on those 5,000 four-color postcards, you're going to be awfully ill when you discover from your editor's assistant that your publisher sent out near-identical postcards to the same mailing list as you did. Coordinate and leverage, and your money will go a lot farther. For example, your publisher might be willing to mail flyers to 3000 key bookstores if you're willing to design and produce the 3000 flyers. Pool your resources, share the results.
5-6 Months prior to publication:
1. Okay, this can be a critical time if you haven't kept up so far. If you've been leisurely (comparatively speaking!) designing flyers, checking out which novelties to give away, collecting mailing lists, etc, for the past 3-6 months, then you're not going to be too stressed this month. This is the time for you to put the finishing touches on those ideas and place your orders. Time to implement! Otherwise if you haven't done much yet, this is the time you need to get everything designed, ordered, and printed if you're going to
make your deadlines at the 4-5 month time frame. You're cutting it close at this point because it's going to take some of your time up front before you can turn it over to someone else to implement. Not that you have to do
everything I suggest here--you may need/want to do more, depending on your time and money budgets. Keep in mind that what I'm giving you is a loose schedule and your own plans may need tightening up a bit.
2. By the 5-month mark, make sure you've got your flyers, postcards, bookmarks, and other promotional mailings printed and ready to go to distributors, bookstores, wholesalers, etc. If you wait until this point to send them to the printers, well, you're depending on someone else to keep their schedule and that doesn't always happen. You don't want to prepare
beautiful flyers and send them to a terrific printer where they'll sit for 6 weeks due to hurricanes, floods, snowstorms, thieving employees, or such astrological phenomena as Mercury in retrograde. Things happen, on purpose and by accident, that can blow your schedule. Allow plenty of time and you can stay in control.
3. Keep updating those mailing lists! This is just like having a clean office--if you let things pile up, you'll never dig out. Take care of things as they come up and you won't be frazzled when you need something.
4. Talk to your local sales reps or distributors and ask them to send as many books as they possibly can to wholesalers because you're going to need them for signings and other promotional events. You can find out who to contact from your publisher or, if they're too busy/big/bureaucratic to help you here, ask your local booksellers who these people are. My local independents have been terrific about giving me names and phone numbers, moreso than any other source I've dealt with.
5. Contact booksellers about signings, workshops, and other promotional events. I know it seems early, but many of them, particularly chain bookstores, need time to coordinate with their headquarters, distributors and wholesalers, and sales staff. Some require a minimum of 4 months' notice.
Even small independents need a little notice. One of my favorite local indies told me that an arrogant author showed up at her store the day after Thanksgiving, when she was too busy to take a potty break, and informed her he'd be there in two weeks for a signing and she could start advertising his books. She had to turn him down flat because (a) the store was packed with holiday merchandise and there really wasn't any room inside the store for an author to sit, (b) she couldn't possibly get a shipment of books in time (c) she didn't have time to focus on any promotional events or prepare window displays as she often does, and (d) she'd just fired a couple of employees and was incredibly short-handed. The last thing she needed was this guy showing up and totally disregarding her hectic schedule. By comparison, another local author chatted with her the same day (while buying a couple of reference books) and casually mentioned her next book coming out in 4-5 months. The bookseller jotted it down on her calendar and suggested the author follow up with her after the holiday rush so they could schedule something special. But a reminder: even if you arrange signings at this stage, you will need to touch base a couple more times with the bookseller. People leave, people forget. That's why follow up is always critical in marketing anything.
6. If you happen to be on the road during this time (whether vacation or a business trip for your day job) , visit bookstores wherever you go. Collect business cards, drop them a note when you get home, and add them to your mailing list.
7. Plan a date with your spouse or a Saturday with your kids. You've been spending lots of time concentrating on things other than family. This is a good point to let them know they're still important to you. Really. If you don't stay proactive on the homefront, then a few weeks before your book comes out, your family will start dropping hints about your never being around or always being busy with that $*&#% book. They'll begin to resent your book for the time it takes you away from them, and since it's your baby, too, you might resent them for begrudging you your dream. Keep the harmony and keep the book's publication in perspective. It'll likely be off the shelves in a few weeks or months. Hopefully your family and friends will still be there.
4-5 Months prior to publication:
1. Start planning your book tour, if you haven't already and you plan to do one. You may already have contacted bookstores about signings and might want to incorporate those events into your tour. Don't rule out discount stores, such as Wal*Mart, military base/post exchanges, and libraries.
Prepare a list of all media, writers' groups, reader groups, and associations for each town you visit. Make a list also of any bookstores or discount stores you might pass on the road between events and drop in to sign their stock and meet a few of the sales staff. (Yes, we may be jaded, but in a lot of small towns, people are still awed by writers and they'll brag to all their friends that they met a "real, live, published author.")
2. If you're running an ad in a magazine, you're probably near the ad deadline. Get it polished up and mailed off along with any author profiles, press kits, or interview questions that might be included with the ad or an article about you. If you wait much longer, the magazine's lead time of
typically 4 months will leave your story behind as old news.
3. Start sending announcements/press releases/news stories to local and regional papers, alumni associations, business associations, etc. This may be your second announcement, but don't worry. You'll want the public to see your name several times so they can remember it and your book. If you already sent announcements out earlier, you likely announced the sale. This time, tell a little about the book and that it's coming. Next time, you'll send out announcements that the book is available. I've heard it said that consumers need to see your name 5 times, 7 times, even 15 times to remember it.
4. If you plan to make radio/tv appearances when the book is released, start putting together your audio/video clips from past interviews to pitch to the media and show them what a good guest you can be. Start with small, local stations to practice.
5. Near the 4-month mark, send out a mailing to booksellers. Target carefully and use a scrubbed mailing list or you could pay out megabucks in postage and see those finely crafted posters returned to sender. Best if you can get into a cooperative mailing with a limited target market.
Bookstores like to look at materials around the 4-month mark to see what they might like to order, usually in the 3-4 month time frame. Send your mailings out a little earlier or later, but the 4-month mark is sufficient and gives you time to answer booksellers' letters and send them any goodies they might request (bookmarks, etc)
Here's a handy-dandy calendar for remembering when to target booksellers so they'll order your books in time for them to hit the shelf when they're officially released:
If your book comes out in January, aim for booksellers in Aug/Sept/Oct/Nov.
If your book comes out in February, aim for booksellers in Sept/Oct/Nov/Dec.
If your book comes out in March, aim for booksellers in
If your book comes out in April, aim for booksellers in
If your book comes out in May, aim for booksellers in
If your book comes out in June, aim for booksellers in Jan/Feb/Mar/Apr.
If your book comes out in July, aim for booksellers in
If your book comes out in August, aim for booksellers in
If your book comes out in September, aim for booksellers in
If your book comes out in October, aim for booksellers in
If your book comes out in November, aim for booksellers in
If your book comes out in December, aim for booksellers in
6. At the 5-month mark, you'll want to target distributors with flyers, mailings, or--if at all possible--personal visits. Sandra Hill, a big-name author and a talented marketeer, once told me that, to target distributors, count back 4 months from your release date and add a week. It's a great rule of thumb, but you might want to check with your publisher to find out when your publisher's sales reps will be pushing your book to distributors (some will vary).
Here's a handy-dandy calendar for remembering when to target distributors:
If your book comes out in January, aim for distributors in August.
If your book comes out in February, aim for distributors in September.
If your book comes out in March, aim for distributors in October.
If your book comes out in April, aim for distributors in November.
If your book comes out in May, aim for distributors in December.
If your book comes out in June, aim for distributors in January.
If your book comes out in July, aim for distributors in February.
If your book comes out in August, aim for distributors in March.
If your book comes out in September, aim for distributors in April.
If your book comes out in October, aim for distributors in May.
If your book comes out in November, aim for distributors in June.
If your book comes out in December, aim for distributors in July.
3-4 Months prior to publication:
1. Okay, if you've been following along, this is follow-up time. Follow-up is a major factor in making your promo campaign successful. You can't simply have wonderful ideas and scratch at the surface. You must implement and see if your plan worked or what you need to do to fix any problems.
For example, if you send a fabulous press kit to a major columnist who asked your publicist for more information on you, it won't do you a bit of good if your publicist didn't send the requested info. That's follow-up and follow-through. It doesn't matter how good your plan is if you don't carry
it out (follow-through) and make quite sure it was carried out (follow-up). Double check your work up until now.
2. Visit local bookstores and introduce yourself. If you're in a discount store that has a book section, introduce yourself to the employee who handles that area of the store. (Later, when the book shows up, you'll want to stop in and say hello.)
3. Consider taking a local newspaper columnist to lunch. Give him/her an advance review copy. This is a good time to make nice to your local media.
4. Prepare a list of 10-12 questions about you and your book. These should be questions you'd like to be asked in an interview, and you must have great answers to these. Put this list in your press kit or save it to send to interviewers before your interview. Reporters and radio/tv hosts don't always have time to read your book before the actual interview and tend to wing it on the air or in person.
5. Make sure all your press kits are ready.
6. Complete any press releases/news stories you drafted earlier.
7. Update all your mailing lists if you haven't already.
8. Budget time to answer mail/calls from recipients of your recent mailings.
2-3 Months prior to publication:
1. At 2-3 months, you're in the downward stretch. Everything should be planned and well under way by now. If you've waited until now to get started, there's not much you can do by the time your book hits the shelf. If you've done absolutely nothing, I'd advise preparing press release/news stories with hooks specific to the newspapers and other media you're sending them to. Many smaller papers will use these news stories you write about yourself verbatim. Some will even put their byline on what you've written, so don't claim credit for it yourself. Put someone else down as the contact point and create your own organization that's releasing this news. It could be your critique group, for all the newspaper reorter knows! Think about it: "Tremendous Writers Club announces....awesome mystery set in local alley." Who knows that the Tremendous Writers Club is actually you and 4
on-line buddies? For all the reporter knows, it's an elite professional organization. Your press release, if you write it as a news story under the auspices of an important bit of journalism c/o an impressive organization, can get a lot of positive attention because (a) the work's done, (b) the
reporter can claim credit for it, (c) it says exactly what you want it to say without any of those gosh-awful misquotes and (d) you've got exactly the hook you want as opposed to a lazy reporter who can't think of anything to ask about but a sex scene. So if you're just now beginning your promotion
campaign and you want to make a whallop with little time and money, I'd say go with the personalized news story.
2. If you've been following along, there's not much new to add at this point. You should be pulling all your precious efforts together, answering questions, scheduling interviews, visiting bookstores, following up on previous contacts, and adding to your mailing lists.
3. If you have your book covers yet, request permission to reproduce them. If you received them early enough, you may already have had postcards made up. Many publishers don't send the covers until a month or two before the book's shelf date so this might be your first opportunity to do anything
with them. You'll need permission to reproduce them because they are copyrighted. Get permission in writing as many photo shops won't touch the job unless they have the letter on file (they risk a huge, bankrupting fine if they don't have it).
4. Have you sent out your press kits yet? If so, great, but make a few extras. You'll want to send out a few last minute kits to unexpected contacts. At the 2-month mark, you'll want to send out press kits to national and local media. Ideally, they'll schedule interviews sometime in the 2 week to 6 week time frame and the interviews will appear close to the
shelf date of your book.
5. Call the booksellers where you'll be giving signings and other events, especially if they're scheduled for your book tour. You'll want to verify that they've ordered the books. You don't want to drive 500 miles on a week-long book tour only to hand out flyers at stores that forgot to order.
6. The 2-month time frame is a good point to send your last mailing to booksellers. This was the point where, for my first book, I included a postcard that listed the type of promo goodies they wanted to give their customers. I printed cards that had my name and address on one side. On the other side, I provided space for the bookseller's name and address and a checklist that included stickers, bookmarks, autographed labels, flyers, etc. I had about 60% (phenomenal, but it was a very targeted mailing) respond with requests for goodies, which I sent to arrive just when my book did.
7. If you have copies of old books or out-of-print books, this is the perfect time to give them away to reader groups, booksellers, and local libraries. If you send them to libraries, get your photo taken with the happy librarian and send it to the newspaper. Having grown up in rural Georgia, I found that many, many county libraries are thrilled to get my
books and pose for a picture and that just as many small town newspapers are happy to print the photo with a caption I write. Small towns don't always have bookstores, but more and more rural residents have Internet capability--and that means they can order online.
1-2 Months prior to publication:
1. All right, we're almost down to the wire. If you've stayed proactive (good business management buzz word) everything should be moving smoothly along. There'll be potential problem areas so plan for those. Known unknowns as they're called in those Dilbert-esque management classes my employer sends me to. Plan, too, for those unknown unknowns or "unk-unks." Those are the things you generally can't plan for but you need to plan for anyway. Allow yourself extra time to get things done because life happens and things do go wrong.
Don't get too stressed--there's nothing you can do when these
unk-unks happen except to know that you've lessened the problem by allowing yourself a little leeway. Easy for me to say--I'm the quintessential planner--but this is one time you need to be as organized as possible.
Keep a folder with a checklist inside. No matter how many books you've published, check off the items with the date you started and/or completed each one item.
This information will be useful for the next book you promote. Jot down any lessons learned. You may think you'll always remember your major faux pas on your first book's promotion, but with your busy writing career and the promotion of several books waiting in the wings, it's easy to overlook something until it's happening to you all over again.
2. If you've planned a book tour, you'll need to book your airfare and hotel around 6 weeks to 2 months before your tour, minimum. If you've been promised author escorts, verify their availability. If you're driving, plan your route. Allow time for flat tires, upset tummies, and mis-directions.
3. If booksellers and librarians have been especially kind to you, send them thank you notes or some form of appreciation. One of my personal success stories was with sending laser printed certificates of appreciation to the booksellers who passed out goodies for me. I think the certificates cost me 17 cents each and I put them in the goodie packages so I didn't pay extra for mailing. These were such big hits that the booksellers posted the certificates over their cash registers or in special "I know the author" areas. What a pleasant surprise for me!
Thank you notes (email doesn't count in this case) are very rare these days. Don't underestimate their power. When the neighbor's daughter doesn't send a thank you note for the gift you sent her for high school graduation and then turns up her nose at the wedding present you gave her, do you really want to send her another gift when her baby's born?
On the other hand, you help a child you barely know to find her lost kitten and you get a hug and a painstakingly scrawled note, the words simple but sincere. Chances are, you'll stash the thank you note some place special. You might not keep it forever, but it's unlikely that you'll trash it. I thought about thank you notes again this week when I cleaned out some ancient files to make more room in the office. I came across several dozen thank you notes I'd had for years. Three really caught my attention. They were for simple things that I didn't expect a thank-you for. Like giving a talk online. Like sending a care package to a terminally ill friend. Like praising an author's book at a conference. Because so few people bother to say thank you to the people who willingly bust their butts for them, notes like these stand out in the crowd.
I'm so glad now that I kept these notes because those 3 special ones were from fellow writers who have since died of cancer. Two of them never sold their books (they were SO close) and those notes are all the words I have of them now. Remember to thank those special people in the industry who help to sell your book--not to win their good favor but because you mean it.
4. To save time when the book comes out and you're too busy with "book stuff" to think about family duties, consider taking off one whole day and cooking/freezing enough meals for the first month after the pub date. Seriously. Either use your own favorite recipes or buy one of those cooking-a-month-at-a-time books. This is one of my secret weapons for getting everything done. By spending one day a month in the kitchen, you can have dinner ready in 20 minutes without thinking and you can keep some vague sense of normalcy in your home--which will be appreciated by the spouse and kids who by now are sick and tired of hearing all this "book stuff."
If you're one of those lucky souls who has someone else to cook for you, send them flowers or balloons because their sacrifice allows you more freedom to write or promote. One word of caution: if you spend your cooking day on your feet, wear comfy shoes and rent several books on tape to keep you entertained. You'll be exhausted by day's end, but the effort is worth it.
5. Start thinking about your book tour wardrobe. Look for garments that travel well, wash out in hotel sinks, and match just about anything. Try to mix and match if possible--you won't want to haul a bazillion heavy suitcases with you (and if they are heavy, it should be with promo goodies and not clothes).
One strategy I've used for travel is this: I head for the local
thrift shop, buy several washable silk blouses for $3-5 each and several washable silk pants for a little more, and then find one or two silk blazers (also washable) for around $ 7-10 each. I buy bright colors that will mix easily, and for under $50, I have about 10 days' worth of outfits that look
good and are comfy to wear. I carry a travel iron with me because while they are washable, they're also wrinkle-able! The good thing is that they're light to carry, plus I can wash them out in the hotel sink and they're dry by morning when I'm ready to move on to the next location. See? Plan, plan,
6. If you're making goodies to pass out to fans and potential readers at signings and workshops, go ahead and make the goodies now. Often these do require a little assembly, even if it's nothing more than stuffing peppermints into tulle and tying it with a satin ribbon attached to a miniature, picture of your book. Better yet: hire the kids to make them for you.
2 Weeks prior to publication to Debut-Day:
1. First, take a deep breath. Life may seem pretty crazy at this point. Chances are, you've already seen your book cover and maybe even held an advance copy in your hot little hands--all questionable proof that this really is happening and not some wonderful fantasy that will leave you disappointed when you wake up. If you're a first time author, then these
next few weeks will leave you dazed and exhausted. Your dream is coming true right before your eyes and you're almost tempted to believe it. You're still convinced your editor made a mistake and will call you at any moment and tell you the book really isn't going to happen after all. Either that or the editor bought the manuscript because her cat accidentally used it as a litter box and the editor was too embarrassed to return a dirty package to you.
You know the feeling. When you finally know it's for real is when you walk into the bookstore--or the grocery store, pharmacy, local Walmart, or online bookstores--and see your book there on the shelf. Ha, you think, that editor
can't renege on her offer now! Don't get so caught up in the work of marketing that you forget to savor the moment. Make time to celebrate--you deserve it.
2. About a week before your book's shelf date, send your last mailing to readers/fans/favorite booksellers. The most popular mailings are author newsletters or postcards with the cover pictured (for easy identification in the stores). The postal service should take a few days for your mailing to arrive, just in time for readers to take it to town for their next
bookshopping spree and to remind booksellers to push your book.
3. Touch base again with bookstores where you'll be conducting signings and other events. It's possible for employees to be moved or fired, including your point of contact. Make sure you sound enthusiastic about the event--you'll get the bookseller excited as well.
4. Mail out any last minute press releases, particularly to local papers and papers in cities where you'll be touring.
5. Send out happy, fun emails to everyone on your personal fan/reader mailing list. Give them online sites where they can buy your book quickly and easily.
6. Tell all your family and friends that you need their help in spreading the word about your book. Let them know you need their help. You'll be surprised at how far people will go for you if you ask sincerely. Ask them to tell as many people as they can (or email) about you and your book and why they should buy it.
7. Ask people on your email mailing lists and news groups if they'll let you know when they see it in stores so you'll know what kind of distribution the book is getting. Not only will they function as book spotters for you but they'll likely buy the books they spot.
8. Visit bookstores/outlets on the first day of the book's release. Have fun. When one of my books was released a few days before the official pub date, I received word that it was "out!" I took the day off from work and drove from one end of my county to the other, stopping at every grocery
store, pharmacy, bookstore, and discount store I could find. I went into each armed with bright "local author" stickers and a pen. First I checked to see if the book was actually there, then I introduced myself to the manager and asked if I might sign and sticker the books and why it was a good idea.
Almost all agreed enthusiastically. And why not? My stickers call attention to stock they want to move. We both win. As for the one or two clueless outlets where assistant managers frowned at me and refused to let me "deface the property," I used my old sticky note trick. I carry a pad of the tiniest neon sticky notes with things like "Wow! Great book!" and "Terrific Read" scrawled on them. When no one's looking, I stick one--just one--note on the front book in the stack. Shoppers assume the book is recommended (it is, isn't it???) and pick it up.
Then they buy the one behind it because they don't want to mess with the stickered copy. It's so amusing to watch and it really works! I picked up a lot of local readers this way. If you have several days or a weekend, map out a 50 mile (or whatever distance is comfortable) radius of your home and
practice these "drive-by signings."
You'll meet lots of nice people who have "never met a real author before" and you'll sell tons more books in your local area. These are especially helpful if you can't take time off from family and a day job for a full-blown book tour: every weekend, throw the family in the car and hit every book outlet you can in a different town within couple of hours of home. I call this the concentric circle method. You start with selling to people close to home and move outward, like a ripple in a huge pond.
9. Be gracious. No one wants to deal with a prima donna. The bookstores don't have time for that and won't push your books if you're a jerk.
Bookstore clerks are not your servants and it's shocking how many authors seem to think they are. Be arrogant or mean and readers won't come back.
Whether you're flamboyant or shy, just be nice and let the
people who buy your books, the people who sell your books, and even the people who pan you know that you're a nice person and you appreciate all the feedback and help you've received.
Now a note to ebook and self-pubbed authors: don't despair if your book coming out in 2 weeks and you've done virtually nothing. Your book will probably be out there longer than the typical, traditionally-published print book. (Been there, done that.) Pick up wherever you can on this checklist and go promote! The timetable I've given you is more crucial to trad-print authors because their books will be on the shelf for only 4 weeks (for category novels) to maybe 3 months. What I call the shelf life of a banana. It is vital that they make a big splash in the first week or two after the release date because so many bookstores are now giving books only 2 weeks (!) before they pull the books, strip them, and send back the covers for credit.
That precious book authors have been waiting for for so long lands in the bookseller's dumpster, minus the cover, or sometimes in the local girl scout's charity fundraiser (illegal, but it happens and authors look like ogres for fighting with little kids over the selling of stripped books).
Bookstores are hurting for cash flow and want to make room for the better sellers and best sellers, not a book that's soon shopworn. For the trad-print author, especially category novels with a 1-month shelf life, everything done in promotion of a single book points to those first couple of weeks after the release of the book. For those following the non-traditional
routes, you'll have a while longer to promote because your book will be physically available longer.
Whew! This has been a long year of promotion in the countdown to release, hasn't it? I failed to mention one really important thing: you're supposed to be working on your next book while you're preparing your promotions and if you're making a living writing, you might very well have one book released and in active promotion mode, one book coming out and in the earlier promotion stages, one book you're supposed to be writing, and one book with a synopsis/proposal due any day. Stop that maniacal laughing--I don't know where you'll find the time either, but at least now you have an idea of what to do when and how much of it you want to do.
© 1999 by Lorna Tedder (excerpted from BOOK PROMOTION
SAVVY, available from http://www.spilledcandy.com for $4.95)