Launching a book isn’t easy, especially without a pandemic that affected the publishing industry so much that we have had two ‘Super Thursdays’ this year, with hundreds of novels published in September and October alone. Unless you’re a bestseller at a big publishing house, all authors are expected to do some of the legwork to get the word out about a new novel. Those who publish through a smaller indie house take on even more of the PR/marketing. And doing it during a pandemic? All I can say is that we’re lucky to have the internet.
My debut novel was due to hit the shelves April 13, 2020, but we all know what happened in March. I lost my in-person launch at a Waterstones, my in-person launch and party at one of the conventions I attend each year, and the party I was going to throw for the hell of it in early May (because outside of weddings we don’t really get a good reason to throw a big bash once we’re all grown up).
Amazon—yeah, I know, but they’ve made themselves important in the current publishing world and so I must mention them … well, Amazon changed the info for the book in late March, showing the ebook on pre-order but not the physical book at all. I had a chat with my publisher (one of the best things about working with an indie press is they are readily available when things go kablooie) and it turns out shipping physical books was pushed waaaay down the list of Amazon’s essential business, so we decided to move the publishing date to July 13. And all was well, until April 13. Suddenly the ebook was available right now. Another email to my publisher, and it turns out that if we wanted the ebook taken down from being immediately available, we would lose paperback pre-orders. So, we spun it a bit: the ebook is out now for readers stuck at home (yay!), with the paperback pushed to July (cool?). This meant that promotion could really get rolling, and the launch would be about three months long instead of being a one- or two-day big deal that would fizzle out quickly.
Luckily, my publisher has a PR person. After the cover reveal happened in very early spring, she asked me to send her a list of places/people/blogs/websites/magazines/bookshops I had any contact with that would be interested in the book. She then would start contacting them in an ‘official’ capacity. It was time to get to work and come up with ideas of where my book would find an audience and get some attention. What follows are things I did: a bit of advice to take you forward if you find yourself publishing a book, pandemic or not.
Think beyond the obvious. Sure, you want reviews and other events, but there might be angles that you’re not considering. My book is historical fantasy set in a garden over 400 years. Our list included the usual outlets such as the British Fantasy Society, but we knew we could expand from there. Because the book is historical, we put organisations such as the Historical Novel Society on the list. I also remembered that I used to go to the Garden History Museum in London when I was a student and had a slight correspondence with the director, so I put him and the museum on the list along with National Trust houses near me with inspirational gardens and giftshops in hopes of maybe getting the book on those shelves.
Go local. Smaller towns (and some larger ones) love stories about locals. If your town has a paper, send a press release. If you work in a different town, send one there, too. Writing a release takes some practice, but there is plenty of advice on the ‘net. Small stories about me showed up in the paper where I live and the paper in my work-town, along with a magazine in my work-town. From those, I’ve sold several copies out of the local book shop.
Research your connections. If you have made connections in your genre and have a network, now is the time to reach out. This is not the time to hide your light under a bushel! Don’t think of it as being pushy; instead, ask yourself if you would help out other writers if you could. I’m sure the answer is yes (because we all need a hand up sometimes!), and you won’t get what you don’t ask for. I made a list of all the people I knew who were published, who had a presence, who had popular blogs, etc., but also who I was on good terms with. I especially noted where I would see these people in person (this was back before the pandemic!) and who I would need to email. I did this to set up blog posts (Scalzi’s Big Idea was one) and to ask for blurbs for the book’s cover.
What’s your day job? If your career is in any way linked to your book’s topic, take advantage of it. Weirdly, I’m a university lecturer in creative writing and publishing. I’ve used that expertise to write articles about doing PhDs in Creative Writing (something that people are curious about); because my novel was my PhD, it made sense to use that in any way I could. You’re a lawyer who’s written a crime thriller? A chef who’s written a romance? A bus driver who’s written a memoir? The link between law and crime is obvious, but just think of how you can link cooking with romance (eating and sex, amirite?) and how driving a bus puts you on the front line of human behaviour. You can use this expertise and experience to pitch article ideas, and journalists love the angle that links people’s careers with their writing.
Look beyond blog tours. Because we are all stuck at home more than before, we live our lives online more than before, but I didn’t do a traditional blog tour. Instead, we arranged a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), an annotated excerpt for the Civilian Reader site, several blog interviews (one was about food and gardening, another about writing historical fiction/fantasy, etc.), and a couple of online readings. Work to make a connection to any sites that are linked to the genre you write in; these sites always need material and are open to posts on a variety of topics.
Instagram (and other social media platforms). You don’t need to be a book blogger to use Instagram. Think of your book’s settings, subject matter, characters: any details that are visual. Then take photos related to that—a beautiful tree in October (if your book is set in autumn) or a pile of tasty toast (if your character’s favourite food is Nutella!). Post those photos, adding in a photo of the cover, and write something that links the photo to your book. Luckily, I did years of research on English gardens for my novel, so I had scads of photos and could post them according to themes, such as a certain colour or garden element, and then write a teaser linking the theme to a storyline in the book. Be sure to use hashtags! Better yet, write up a list of them that you can easily cut & paste into the end of your Instagram post to make things quicker. After posting on Insta I’d then post the same copy with the same photos on Facebook (being sure to post to Public), and then shorten it and choose the best 4 photos (including the book cover) to post to Twitter, making a hashtag of the book’s title (be sure to use capital letters for each word to make it easier to read and accessible for those with certain disabilities). I did this every few days for weeks ahead of the book’s launch to build a bit of buzz.
Writing a book is hard work, getting it published can be more difficult, but promoting it doesn’t have to be a chore. It just takes some creativity and a bit of confidence—and a way with words, which you already have!
Tiffani Angus teaches creative writing and publishing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. Her short fiction—historical fantasy, science fiction, horror, and even erotica—has been published at Strange Horizons and in several anthologies. She lives in Bury St Edmunds with her partner and really wants a cat.