Best way to promote a nonfiction book?
January 28, 2009 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Calling all Mefite book authors (especially nonfiction types): what was the single most effective thing you did to promote sales?

I'm about to embark on my first nonfiction book project, a combination historical adventure/romance/travel/personal memoir through a major publisher, and I know I'm going to eventually have to shoulder most of the promotional efforts myself.

So where should I focus my efforts: book tours, radio/TV interviews, slick website, hiring my own publicist, Amazon stuff, walking around with sandwich boards, or...other?

I know it's hard to connect promotional efforts with their results, but I'm still curious what the hive mind's experience in this realm has been.
posted by gottabefunky to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a literary agent, not an author, but in my experience, you'll get the best bang for your buck on a website/blog to promote your book, a newsletter (if you have ongoing info that would be useful to your website visitors), and interviews (and don't forget social networking). You're right to realize that you're going to shoulder a good part of the burden of publicizing--as I always tell my clients, your inhouse publicist has dozens of books a season, at least, to promote, but you have one, and it's one you believe in and know well. With that in mind, providing your publisher's publicist with any media contacts you may have that would be interested in reviewing the book would be helpful--don't assume anything about what your publisher will be doing on your behalf.

Unless your publisher is footing the bill, book tours are not necessarily the most time- and cost-effective way to promote your book these days, unless you already have a bit of a toehold in the marketplace already--I've had the misfortune of sitting with authors where not a single attendee showed up.
posted by carrienation at 2:20 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm also not an author, but I work for the publisher of a major house and do a lot of the marketing talks with authors. I agree, you are right to realize that you're going to have to shoulder a lot of the work, and I agree with carrination above that the best way to do it is by web.

Start building a platform NOW. Start creating an audience that is just ravenous for your work when it's available. Get on every single social network there is. Create a slick website that is your author name AS WELL AS the book name (wait until the title is finalfinalfinal before buying the URL), and do a blog rather than a newsletter*. Link to all online retailers and also support any independent stores in your area that might carry your work. Start putting forth a consistent, interesting online presence, participate in blogs or social networks that can help you build a following. Your publisher might not send you on a store tour, but we're doing more and more blog tours these days. If you can say you have XXthousand of friends on Myspace/facebook/twitter and your blog averages xxthousand subscribers via email and RSS--your publicist will pay attention to that.

*For a couple reasons--blogs are becoming more popular than newsletters in terms of push/pull interest, managing unsubscribe requirements can be a nightmare, and if you do it right, people can subscribe to your blog via email, so you can track blog followers/RSS readers as well as email subscribers, making everyone happy. You should ALSO collect email addresses for a database, but I definitely think a blog is more user-friendly than an email newsletter.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:32 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Being interviewed on Talk of the Nation shot my sales way up. Then they plummeted down again, but it was a fun few hours.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:36 PM on January 28, 2009

Glad you realize that you're "on your own" like Bobby Brown. Watch out for company-hired publicists who will talk a big game in order to justify their fees. Trust but verify. In my case, I made the mistake of believing my own publicist's outlandish promises that he was going to book me all over cable TV and that this would be the biggest thing ever, when it wasn't and I should have been sending out my own press releases.

Getting on a medium-sized radio/TV show will spike your Amazon rankings more than book tours.

Making a cool short film that got on some big blogs was worthwhile.
posted by Kirklander at 3:14 PM on January 28, 2009

I had a book come out in November. My coauthor and I concentrated on print press and got very nice articles in the Economist, Financial Times, etc. Each time our sales bumped up a bit, and then dropped back down. I know of another author who appeared on the Today show and sold... drumroll please... an extra 140 copies.

I wish that there was an easy way to get sustained sales. My coauthor and I have the website, we are speaking at conferences, etc. but it is a slow process. Building a community of ravenously interested people would help.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:39 PM on January 28, 2009

Getting my book reviewed in a venue where many likely readers would see it.
posted by Crotalus at 7:10 PM on January 28, 2009

Go read M.J. Rose, who is IMHO the leading authority on how to promote your book yourself. She runs a program called "Buzz Your Book" which answers the questions you are asking... except that she's actually DONE it and been successful. She also gathers best practices from other industries.

Her web site.
posted by micawber at 7:34 PM on January 28, 2009

I'm not an author, but I have booked authors to talk about their books on air.

Your publisher ought to provide a PR person to handle promotion for you. They know that writers are not always great salespeople, and it's in their interest to make sure your book sells. If you do end up doing it all yourself, here's what I'd recommend you do:

- As soon as the book is printed, send review copies addressed specifically to the TV and radio programs within whose brief your book falls. Search the organisation's website and work out which programs will be genuinely interested. Don't assume that if you get the book through the mail room door, it will magically find its way to someone who is interested.

- Include a short, coherent press release. Don't try to do the journalists' work for them, and don't write your own review. Do try to link the themes of your book to some strand of the zeitgeist - don't just say your book is good, explain why it matters now. Include the book's release date, your contact details and a travel itinerary, if any.

- Be easy to contact. Be willing to put time and enthusiasm into a pre-interview. Be prepared to read passages from your book on air. Be willing to talk about yourself, your life and your writing process - not just about why people should buy the book. Be able to supply a digital photo of yourself for the program's website.

- Follow up, but don't harass the staff. If they turn you down, ask politely if they could pass your book on to a program which might be more interested.

Of course, traditional media matters much less than it once did, and everyone upthread is right when they say that a blog is probably your best bet.
posted by [ixia] at 1:11 AM on January 29, 2009

How about LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program? You give them books, LT users ask to be considered, and then they give away the books -- with the only caveat being that the reipient has to read & review the book somewhere.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:46 AM on January 29, 2009

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