In the good old days, everyone knew how to carry out publicity. A few months before publication, you met with your publicist. You discussed various possible publicity angles (about the book, about your own story, and so on). Your publicist tried to arrange a serialisation deal (where newspapers print extracts before publication). You whacked out review copies to all the major newspapers. Perhaps you hassled around to get a little PR on local or national radio. Maybe even TV.
And that was that. Job done. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but you’d done what you could.
These days, it’s more complex. Newspapers have far less space given over to books and many more readers don’t consume traditional media anyway. Naturally, those all-important eyeballs have migrated to the internet and any genuinely competent PR campaign today has got to find ways to reach surfers.
Self-published authors are well aware of these facts and have long been reasonably deft about attending to their digital platform. Writers aiming at traditional commercial publication, however, have tended to think that all they need to do is address their writing. Publishers will do the rest.
That attitude is profoundly wrong. I know of only one publisher in the UK that makes a realistic attempt to help their lower budget authors with digital publicity. The others think they help but really don’t. So, almost certainly, even with a literary agent and a publisher on your side, you’re on your own.
Clearly digital publicity is potentially an endless brief. You’ll need a website, yes. A blog, for sure. A presence on Facebook, ideally. A twitter feed – you know you ought to. And what about forums? And Goodreads? And Lovereading? Potentially the journey is infinite.
I’ll outline a more detailed set of guidelines in a future post, but for now, the things you need to know are:
One, you and you alone are responsible for building a digital footprint. You may get help from elsewhere, but don’t count on it.
Second, you need to start very early indeed. Digital publicity can be powerful but it takes time to build. A year is a short lead time, so if possible get started now.
Third, you need to understand your own brand. That’s harder than it sounds. If you write non-fiction books about management skills, then clearly that’s your brand, it’s what you’re going to major on in your online work. On the other hand, if you write contemporary fiction, it’s much harder to identify and reach the audience that matters most to you. Nevertheless, you have to try.
Fourth, you need to think from the outset about search engines and how to use them. If you write books about the history of the Papacy, then clearly “Papacy” is going to be a key search term for you. But there are 3,000,000 pages on Amazon that reference the term and the top entries on Google are dominated by big outfits like Wikipedia. Can you realistically compete with those guys? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s a process that requires careful aforethought because the very design of your website and blog will be affected by these decisions.
And fifth, you need to figure out who you are. If you find you naturally love Twitter, then pursue a Twitter-led strategy. If, like me, you really don’t like Twitter but are comfortable blogging, then pursue that. But either way, you do need to persist. Occasional bouts of intensive activity are pretty much useless. This is a stone you have to keep rolling.
It’s sad that authors have to think about these things. It’s more work than in the past, and you get less money not more. But I don’t make the rules – and if you want to succeed as an author, then digital publicity is a fabulous route to success. Some self-pub authors have sold a million books through online means. That’s the kind of track record that would have your literary agent speechless with admiration. So it can be done. You need to do it. Go for it – and good luck.