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Author self-promotion

by Shenandoah Chefalo, author of Garbage Bag Suitcase

I call myself an accidental writer. Writing a book wasn’t on my bucket list; I had never been formally trained as a writer. In fact, I didn’t think I had anything important to say.  But a chance encounter changed all of that, and before long I was deep in research and writing. I thought about giving up numerous times during the four years it took me to write my first book.

Some of it was due to my own insecurities, but most of it came from what I was reading about actually selling copies of books.  I realized writing was a business, and I needed to treat it as such. As I was writing, I thought about how I was going to sell the book. It wouldn’t matter what I wrote if no one ever read it. 

By the time my book was in final editing stages, I had several sheets of paper with nothing more than “ideas” on how I could sell my book. As I hashed out a query letter and began work on my book proposal, I organized my scratch pad and made a marketing plan. 

Who is the audience? The first question every author needs to ask themselves is, “Who is going to read this book?” At first, you might be inclined to answer “everyone” but that isn’t the truth. Even best-selling books aren’t read by “everyone.” I knew my book would be most appealing to social workers and child advocates so I started there.

I made a list of service groups and organizations that worked either with social workers or had children’s issues as their mission. My list was long and grew rapidly. One group led to another group. But I figured I might hear a lot of “no’s” so I didn’t limit myself.

Who to contact first? Once I had a list together, I arranged them geographically from where I live. I figured it would be easier to get a “yes” from a local group where I already had connections and knew members. It allowed me to work systematically and make the most of my time.

Create a press release. After I had my list, and before I began pitching groups and organizations, I put together an amazing press release with the help of my publicist. I cannot tell you how helpful this simple document has been in helping me secure speaking events as well as media coverage.

Prepare a talk. Additionally, and when I was waiting for edits, responses to queries, etc., I created a keynote presentation that I could use at events (I tweak it for each group, but I have a starting point). 

Use social media! I also upped my networking both personally and via social media and created a book trailer (very inexpensive) I used to create a buzz. I still use it for various events, keynotes, and social media advertising.

Contact the media, big and small. Once the book was officially ready to be released, I started reaching out to various groups and organizations, always sending a copy of my press release. Whenever I booked a speaking opportunity (in the beginning they were mostly free) I would contact the media in the area (a simple Google search usually turns up lots of opportunities) and send them a copy of the press release with the information on my upcoming appearance.

I also submitted the event to community calendars, to drum up more attendees.  Oftentimes a newspaper or radio station will pick up coverage. I have landed on the front of several local papers and have been featured on news stations across the country. Reaching out to organizations, bloggers or other groups in the area also is helpful for coverage. Several organizations agreed to include event details in their newsletter.

Mix up the presentation. In almost every talk I have given, I have been able to bring in at least one guest that would not have otherwise come to the meeting. This always makes the groups I speak to very happy and oftentimes leads to lots of referrals. When I speak, I set up a small table that includes a tabletop display, a few copies of the book, business cards, and a list for them to sign up for emails.

Sign books … and network! After I speak, I stay and sell and sign books. This gives me the opportunity to meet with the attendees on a more personal level, and often I get asked to come and speak to another group they belong to: a book club or church. I’ve begun to land even bigger speaking opportunities and media coverage.

It takes time and effort, but it’s working for me.  Other authors and my publicist warned me that it takes time, but I underestimated how much time. It starts out very slowly. When groups are booking speakers it is often months and even years in advance, but it gives you plenty of time to hone your talks and prepare your materials.

Other things to help create an ongoing buzz:

  • Create a website and begin collecting names (as soon as possible).

  • Once you have one name, begin sending meaningful newsletters/content on a regular (but not bothersome schedule). I chose monthly.

  • Hire a publicist. I couldn’t have managed without them. They helped with press release and talking points, book distribution for promotions, media pitching and coverage coordination, event pitching and coordination, social media support, literary award submissions, and much, much more.

  • Book launch party in various geographical locations.

  • Start guest blogging and create giveaways.

In the end, this strategy is still working for me. I haven’t even crossed off a quarter of my original list and I am busy talking and selling books.  I think my success has come from having a specific target audience. My audience has grown, and I speak to lots of groups, but when I have dates to fill, I still go back to my original list to fill in the gaps. Without that, I think I would have become distracted and lost my way on the journey. Now, I’m working on my next book and I plan to use the same strategy — except I plan to start even earlier!