In a previous column I wrote about the necessity of reader reviews when it comes to spreading the word of your work. While this is crucial to your success as a writer, it isn’t the only basket for your promotional eggs. You will need the support of fellow authors – preferably successful ones – as well as professional bloggers and book reviewers to essentially “validate” your efforts if you’re really interested in selling your books to strangers.
Occasionally this may require some behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing on your part, like an exchange of supportive services. Cultivating personal relationships with industry professionals is never a bad idea. It’s simply basic networking, AKA “schmoozing.” Every career-minded person does it. At least the smart ones do.
Once you score a quote from a prominent author for your soon-to-be-published book, you can duplicate on the product page, your social media platforms, etc. Likewise an actual review, ideally one printed in advance of publication.
This means that whether you are self-published or are published by a small to medium sized press, you will need to send out ARC (advanced reader copies) to potential reviewers before the book hits the marketplace. The cheapest and easiest way to do this is to email out MOBI files that can be uploaded to any Kindle device. Including the cover art is a good idea as well.
The aim is to rack up as many juicy quotes as possible in order to entice readers unfamiliar with your work into taking a chance on a purchase.
Essentially, it's best for all concerned if you're properly "vetted" before presenting your polished work to the general public as a potential candidate for their time and money. At the same time, you want to avoid the literary equivalent of "Super PACS"...
Pay for Play
Some sites offer to review self-published books for a fee, others for free. Personally I would never pay someone to review my book. There are too many other options. You just need to seek them out, contact bloggers and reviewers, be polite and patient, but also persistent. And eventually, it will pay off.
Just don’t cheat your readers with false claims or manufactured praise. Professional “favors” have a way of eventually backfiring if they’re insincere or dishonest. Make sure that if it's indeed a trade-off of some sort, it's a legitimate quid pro quo. Otherwise, you're ripping off your audience, even if your intentions are innocent.
In professional PR jargon, the practice of "buying" advance reviews is known as the “third party technique,” wherein hired spokespeople – ranging from journalists to scientists – cast a company in a favorable light, essentially manipulating media coverage so its skews positive. This process prompted the creation of a “watchdog organization” called PR Watch, which attempts to ensure that companies aren’t outright fabricating consumer praise in order to popularize their products.
DIY writers and publishers only have to concern themselves with one consumer advocacy group: consumers themselves.
All consumers of any product are discerning when it comes to spending their money, especially on products with an unknown track record. The more comfortable they feel taking a chance on yours, the more books you are likely to sell, which in turn will make you feel more comfortable as a writer.
But hyperbolic promotion harkens back to the early days of “ballyhoo,” when even roving independent movie producers from Kroger Bab to William Castle cooked up publicity schemes rigged to generate word of mouth, even if it was perpetuating a notorious reputation.
This is why I can only hope that one day some ultra-conservative or religious group organizes a boycott of my books, or perhaps a “concerned” politician will formally issue a ban, or better yet: a public bonfire! That would be awesome (and free) publicity!
This would result in a sales boost not only from curiosity seekers lured by forbidden fruit, but the protestors themselves, since an actual book burning would require the purchasing of multiple print copies, and sorry, they will not be donated to the cause. This is like the inverted form of third party validation: thirty party condemnation! Whatever works, I always say.
The problem is not enough people read my brand of pulp fiction these days to warrant that much outrage. In fact, not that many people read any kind of fiction. But enough people still read books to justify writing them.
This is exactly why word of mouth is the cheapest and most effective way to introduce your work to the right audience that will truly appreciate your literary efforts, enough to pay for the privilege.
As to whether readers actually enjoy your work enough to help you promote it, that’s another story, and it’s one only you can write.
PHOTO: ALEX HEALING