Valuable Lessons in Book Marketing an Author Needs to Know by guest @BarbaraDelinsky

I’ve been in publishing a long time – which doesn’t make me an expert, simply says I’ve tried lots of things. Some worked; some didn’t. Here’s a rundown.

I began as one of many women writing genre fiction, and given that the publishers in that field did zero publicity, the buzz at conferences was, “Yes or no, do you self-market or not?” We’re talking pre-Internet days, when my mailing list consisted of people who sent letters to my publisher, who maybe ( or maybe not) forwarded them to me. I did distribute bookmarks when I could, but honestly? I reached paltry few people – and besides, I was writing 7-8 books and had little time to go out looking for more.

I also had little knowledge of marketing, but my gut told me that several thousand dollars on a tiny ad in a magazine would be several thousand dollars wasted. My gut told me that the investment had to be way more than that in order to have an effect – but I didn’t have that kind of money to spend!

Come mainstream publishing. Once I began working with well-known New York publishing houses, they did place occasional ads for my books. But I wasn’t a big enough author to warrant a big enough ad budget, and I had to ask for everything I got. Which leads to …

Lesson #1: The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

I did learn to ask. It wasn’t easy. I was low on the author totem pole, and being a middle child anyway, it’s hard for me to make waves. That’s actually the subject of my WIP, the middle child who avoids conflict until that becomes self-destructive – but ack, I digress. Back then, I learned that rather than demanding my publisher do blah-blah-blah, if I asked in a sensible, thoughtful way, as in, “If we want to grow my audience, and if my target demographic is the serious reader, wouldn’t even a small ad in The New York Times Book Review help spread the word?”

This whole process got easier, of course, once I had an agent to do the asking. And she wasn’t my first agent. My first didn’t want to make waves himself (maybe he was a middle child, too?).  Either that, or he was simply lazy. Whatever, I realized I needed a fighter, subsequently found her, and she’s been a dream, so much so that my publisher started talking about sending me on tour.

The Author Tour. It’s every writer’s dream, yes? Mind you, it’s grueling and lonely and it takes time from writing. But it does familiarize readers with your name. Touring can be weeks on end, or a single week, or a single appearance at a booksellers convention. Publishers love planning the author tour. It’s nowhere near as expensive as an ad in People magazine or The New York Times Book Review, and the cost of creating swag and mailing it out is easily the cost of a week’s worth of hotel rooms. Hell, given that the advance publicity for a signing is good publicity, some publishers don’t even care if no one shows up for the actual event.

I do. I used to go everywhere they wanted to send me, and I told myself that it didn’t matter if only a handful of people came. I remember one event at a bookstore (it’ll remain unnamed) at a mall in Thousand Oaks, California, on the opposite coast from my home, where no one, NOT ONE person came. It was so humiliating, so demoralizing, that even the bookseller stayed as far out of sight as possible.

I learned from that. The next time my publisher planned a tour, we agreed (I insisted, after pouring it on about the demoralizing part) that they wouldn’t book anything unless the bookseller promised that he or she could get 75 people there.

Halfway through the tour, when only 20-25 people attended each event, we canceled the second week. Which leads to:

Valuable Lessons in Book Marketing an Author Needs to Know by guest @BarbaraDelinsky via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo

Lesson #2: Prioritize

I decided that racing around the country talking with a few people here or there just wasn’t as important as my sitting at home at my desk writing the very best book possible for my readers.

Now, in fairness, if I had been willing to tour for three months a year, and if I just went along for the publicity of the event, rather than the attendance, it probably would have grown my audience in time. But I know me. And yes, it is about prioritizing. Not only is it more important that I produce a good book. But if I’m demoralized, I can’t produce any book at all!

Author tours aren’t as common now, at least, not physical ones. Now they’re virtual tours – blog tours, live chats, site takeovers. For my last two books, Sweet Salt Air and Blueprints, my publisher has set up impressive blog tours that are easy to do and reach a whole lot of readers.  That said, I am the key player in these. Which leads to:

Lesson #3: The Buck Stops Here

No matter how high on the publishing food chain you get, there is no sitting back and letting others do the work.

You know your books. You know the audience you have. You know the audience you want. You know where you want to go. Think about all these things and about what image you want for yourself.

For instance, while I have help in some social media (Rachel is my wonderful right hand in all things social and Street Team, which works out so well), my Instagram postings are all me. I have a concept of how I want my whole page to look and what I want individual postings to convey. They’re consistent with the feel of my books, so one helps the other.

As for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and so on, I still do check them to make sure they feel right. If it’s my name on the page, I need to pay heed. That means no rest for the weary. I’m involved at some level, even a small oversight one, in everything that’s done.

Being a writer is like motherhood in that regard. The buck always stops here.


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Valuable Lessons in Book Marketing an Author Needs to Know by guest @BarbaraDelinsky via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo

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  1. Sonia Boal on May 8, 2018 at 4:05 am

    Invaluable advice there, how hard is it to change publishers, is it completely uphill or is the author seen as marginally less risk than a complete first timer?

    • Rachel Thompson on May 11, 2018 at 9:30 pm

      Sonia, I will pass this question along to Barbara and ask her for an answer. I know she has changed publishers a few times. Will get back to you on this one. Thanks for asking a great question.

    • Rachel Thompson on May 12, 2018 at 8:38 am

      Here is Barbara Delinsky’s response to you:

      Good question, Sonia. I highly value loyalty, so it’s always been hard for me — on my end — to change publishers. I think there’s merit to being with a single publisher, if only to control my backlist. That said, when I’ve felt that my publisher wasn’t fighting hard for me or had lost interest altogether, I’ve done it.

      It’s relatively easy finding a new publisher. Assuming you’ve sold marginally well and have a record to tout, a new publisher will definitely consider you less risk than a total unknown. You have a proven ability to deliver a completed manuscript, and you have however-many established readers.

      The most important thing is to find a publisher who is enthusiastic and creative in discussing your future direction with you — and to make sure that you’ll be working with an editor who shares that enthusiasm.

  2. Jena on May 8, 2018 at 5:10 am

    There were books and marketing before the internet?? Sounds like hard work and focus are always the way to go! Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Steven on May 8, 2018 at 5:15 am

    Looks like the best shot I’ve got is my next book. Enjoyable article, Rachel. Thanks.

  4. Pauline Wiles on May 8, 2018 at 7:37 am

    I am constantly reminding myself (and trying to encourage others!) to prioritize – otherwise we just end up a frazzled heap of wasted hopes.
    The squeaky wheel lesson came to me at a different stage of life, when I worked for a particularly crazy start-up. They were shockingly disorganized and in order to get anyone’s attention for anything, much squeaking was needed!

  5. Cynthia Herron on May 8, 2018 at 7:47 am

    Wow – Barbara Delinsky??? Are. You. Kidding. Me. How do we know it’s really YOU??? 🙂 Okay. Now, that I’ve peeled the stars out of my eyes – SO, SO glad you spoke to this. (And since this is a public forum and I can’t ask the burning questions I’d really like to ask, let me just say thanks so much for being here and offering insight into the process.)

    It’s hard enough (mind-blowing, actually) to think of everything authors must do now. Toss in a few other things (like, say, jumping back into the writing field after a five-year medical crisis with one of our children and reinventing oneself after years in the desert) and it’s a wonder we’re not holding our eyelids open with toothpicks from sheer exhaustion. *sigh*

    I. Can’t. Even. BUT… I’m trying. 🙂

    I applaud you for taking control of your career and for saying it like it is. Best wishes, blessings, and continued success, Barbara!

    *RACHEL* Seriously – HOW are you going to top this post???????

    • Rachel Thompson on May 8, 2018 at 8:40 am

      I know, right??? I pinch myself daily that I get to WORK with Barbara. She’s lovely and so, so smart. I learn so much from her! When I asked if she’d be interested in writing a post for #NaNoProMo, she said ‘well, of course. what is it?’ LOL. I adore her.

      If anyone wants to learn HOW TO WRITE, just read her books. That’s a lesson right there in the craft of writing. If anyone wants to learn how to be human and authentic, follow her social media and read her blog posts — she’s GENUINE. A true class act.

  6. Frank Kelso on May 8, 2018 at 7:51 am

    Great post. I share your pain on having a book signing where 4 people showed up (just happened to be in bookstore?)

  7. Daniella Shepard on May 8, 2018 at 7:54 am

    Great article. Definitely need to learn more about blog tours. Adding this to my favorites.

  8. Dana Lemaster on May 8, 2018 at 8:23 am

    It’s refreshing to read an article on promotion written by someone like myself-and also terrific to see that you’ce succeeded. Best wishes for your continued success, and thanks for sharing practical advice in such an accessible manner.

  9. McKenna Dean on May 8, 2018 at 8:31 pm

    I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that though I love going to conventions, they aren’t a priority for me right now. I have limited funds to spend and that money needs to go to good cover art and excellent editing.

    Early on, I realized I was spending too much money in ads when I simply didn’t have the backlist out there to support it. I’m concentrating on building that up right now before doing that again.

    I know I should try to put together a street team and I should hand out ARCs as well. I confess, part of the reason I haven’t done so is because it seems somehow arrogant to think anyone would want to be a part of either. I sincerely believe this is a mindset women struggle with more often than men because we’re frequently raised to be self-effacing. Something else I need to set aside!

  10. Kelly Wilson on May 9, 2018 at 8:52 am

    Thank you for the reminder to say what we need and prioritize what’s most effective!

  11. Jessica on May 9, 2018 at 9:12 am

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with marketing. One of the reasons I don’t do book signings is a fear of no one showing up. That and the waste of time. Like you said about priorities, I’d rather be writing the next book.

    Thank you for your time writing this blog.

  12. Lisa A. Listwa on May 9, 2018 at 7:26 pm

    This is just so smart. Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your experiences. Nothing quite like wisdom from the trenches.

  13. KJ Waters on May 11, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    I struggle with this daily. It is so hard to balance all of the new ideas I have with what is the most important thing to get done today. Thank you for putting this into a new perspective. Great post!

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