How to promote a debut fantasy novel?
September 18, 2018 10:31 PM   Subscribe

My debut novel came out six weeks ago. Hooray! It got an enthusiastic starred review from Publishers Weekly. Hooray! Then nobody else reviewed it, and it sailed into oblivion. What do authors of weird small-press literary fantasy novels do to find readers?

The publisher is a well-respected but low-octane small press. They sent out review copies to all the standard venues, but obviously only PW picked it up.

Things I've done: a reading at a con; a reading at a science fiction bookstore in the nearest city; a guest post on a well-known author's blog; one written interview; asking friends to request purchase at their local libraries; tweets, of course (and retweets when other authors tweet about it). All except the con reading were things I hustled for myself. I know that all of these are good moves, and I mostly just need to do more of them, but they've all had very limited engagement -- I assume that without reviews, people just don't know who I am.

I work full-time and won't finish graduate school until the end of this year, so I don't have much energy for promotion, but obviously I know that small press authors need to make their own luck. Writers of Metafilter: what am I missing about the art of getting books in front of faces?
posted by thesmallmachine to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
(I am queer and so is the protagonist, if that changes anything.)
posted by thesmallmachine at 10:48 PM on September 18, 2018

Are you publicizing through various LGBT avenues? For example, Lesbian Connection (if that is appropriate)?
posted by maurreen at 10:51 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Are you active in the book/reader/author community on social media? You could try connecting with some BookTubers/Bookstagrammers.

I am part of the community myself and I always go to great lengths to promote debut authors, both indie and traditionally published, with reviews everywhere and lots of shoutouts.

If you could afford to send some copies of your book out to people, or even e-copies, just find some content creators you like and send them a message. Most of them are very willing to help, and experienced in writing reviews.
posted by Youremyworld at 10:57 PM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Don't want to threadsit, but these first suggestions are very helpful. I didn't know there was such a thing as Bookstagram!
posted by thesmallmachine at 11:08 PM on September 18, 2018

Congrats on getting it out there and my sympathies on the challenge of letting people know. Reddit's r/Fantasy has a bi-weekly self-promotion thread. A post on Projects might also make sense. If you send a copy to John Scalzi, a good bunch of people would probably get to see the spine.
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:11 PM on September 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

Get active on popular, relevant forums, ideally ones that let you include your own graphics (like your book cover) and what-not in your "signature" at the bottom of each post. Post lots of interesting, on-topic stuff. You don't need to write long posts, but post links and videos that people would find interesting and comment a lot on other people's posts. Every time you post there will be an image of your book cover and a link to your website, and you'll be stealthily promoting your work to the exact audience you're trying to reach.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:32 PM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Might you get publicity through the university newspaper, or the university's public relations? And local town or city papers are often interested in local authors. Possibly you could get an event at the local library, or ask the library if they highlight local authors in any way.
posted by maurreen at 11:39 PM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Did you send review copies out to specialist SF/F reviewing venues? You could try submitting it to Locus (although they prefer pre-publication submissions), The Book Smugglers, Strange Horizons, or Looking further ahead to awards season, the Crawford Award is specifically for debut fantasy novels (I'm not sure how you get on their radar) and you could keep an eye out for the start of submissions for the World Fantasy Awards for 2018 novels.

I will almost never go to a reading at a con, but I have bought books because I saw someone on a panel and liked them, so you could try doing a wider range of programming at any future events.
posted by penguinliz at 11:43 PM on September 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

I would put a link to your website or a plug of some kind in your Metafilter profile, for a start. :) Anywhere you are already active, make it easy for people to find your work.

Goodreads would be a venue to drum up some interest, as well -- I and other readers do specifically seek out books with good representation.
posted by Gordafarin at 2:01 AM on September 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

Is there a Kindle edition of this book? Because nothing you've mentioned seems geared for e-book promotion specifically.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:38 AM on September 19, 2018

Did your publisher make it available for book bloggers to download on NetGalley? That's a great way to get reviews on blogs, Goodreads, and Amazon, but it's a thing the publisher should do for you as it's not cost effective for authors to do.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:38 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Broadly speaking, when you're figuring out where to spend your limited promotional time, you should look for the intersection of "wide reach" and "hungry for guest content."

A lot of podcasts fall into this category -- anybody with a weekly interview show is always on the lookout for people to interview. Try to think as broadly as possible about what topics you could talk on. You could pitch yourself to podcasts about fantasy; the writing/publishing process; general nerdery; books; LGBTQ+ issues, or anything else you think might be relevant.

I assume you know this but just in case you're taking it for granted because it happened on your debut novel: a starred review in Publisher's Weekly is a big deal. It instantly establishes a certain amount of credibility. Definitely mention it whenever you pitch yourself, and maybe include a copy of the review.

Finally: my (totally unscientific) theory is that 99.9% of author marketing has no significant effect on sales. It's still worth doing, because you might stumble on that .1% that makes your book blow up. But don't spend money or time you can't afford on marketing, and don't beat yourself up if your book doesn't end up selling. They say the best marketing for a book is another book, and there's some real truth in that. History is full of authors whose early books didn't get much attention until later books made them famous. You've done your job by writing the best book you can, and most of the rest is up to fate.

above paragraph copied from a peptalk I often give myself at 4AM
posted by yankeefog at 4:55 AM on September 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

Autostraddle promotes & reviews a lot of queer media so they may be an avenue!
posted by coppermoss at 5:10 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wanted to second the r/Fantasy self-promotion thread and, you know, putting a link in your Metafilter profile. This is the second time recently I've seen an author on Metafilter mention having a book but not having a link in their profile. I've bought MeFites' books before and I'll do it again as long as they also sound like something I actually want to read.
posted by Caduceus at 5:38 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

> "Wanted to second ... putting a link in your Metafilter profile."

Thirded. I read a lot of queer fantasy and would love to buy your book. (And if you don't want to make a public association between your real life identity and your Metafilter identity, please feel free to MeMail me.)
posted by kyrademon at 6:20 AM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have a friend who is an author. She is not a novice, either at writing or at promoting herself and her books. She has a web site and a presence on Facebook. She participates in panel discussions, book talks, etc and gives advance notice of them on FB. She has participated on various Amazon discount/promotional programs.

In your place, I think I would find an online forum, somewhere on Reddit for example, where potential readers can be found. Though there might be rules against direct promotion, you can establish a presence by participating in the discussion and work the book into the discussion now and then. Or even just have the book in a profile.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:47 AM on September 19, 2018

Have you checked out Jeff VanderMeer's Booklife? I'm not at the stage where I have a book to promote, but it did give me plenty of stuff to consider when I do. There's a companion website you may also find helpful.
posted by xenization at 9:31 AM on September 19, 2018

I've been getting Dan Blank's weekly newsletter since before he left his full-time job, and it provides a lot of good information, as well as a big self-confidence boost. Check out his website and the link to his blog. (No affiliation with him at all; I just have found it quite helpful for growing readership.)
posted by hydra77 at 11:14 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am a book blogger and get most of my recommendations from book bloggers. I also get books from Netgalley and listen to word of mouth.

A lot of this is about having an internet presence; once the book's come out, it's a bit late. But having a Twitter presence, following authors you like and posters you like, can be a big deal. It's worth investing time there for the future. It's not the kind of thing you can blunder into with a book to sell; it's about having relationships and a wide reach of people.

Please do put a link in your profile; I'm curious to know more about your book.
posted by gideonfrog at 12:16 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have purchased many queer-focused genre books through seeing them talked about on Tumblr, often on posts like "Lesbian fiction where they don't die!" or "YA lit with LGBT protagonists" lists, or in discussions of things like #ownvoices. Or because I see someone making good posts, and they post about their book, and I think "I think I would like that book," so I buy it. Or an author is adding relevant stuff to a conversation and uses some of their own work as an example, and I think, hm, they seem cool and the book sounds good, I should check it out.
posted by oblique red at 1:56 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might want to send a copy to Liz Bourke, who reviews a lot of queer SFF for
posted by suelac at 3:43 PM on September 19, 2018

Another track is also making your book, if it is appropriate, to awards committees such as YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association). They do receive a lot of books to review but you got a good review from Publisher's so that will give you an edge. There are librarian lists that may work for your book like the ALA's Rainbow List. As for all things, find a librarian.
posted by jadepearl at 4:38 PM on September 19, 2018

Do you have a Goodreads account? I find almost all of my new books via three channels: 1) friend recs, 2) AskMefi, 3) "Recommended Reading" on Goodreads. Make sure your author account and book have a good summary, tick the boxes, etc. It's not going to be THE thing that propels you to stardom but it will help!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 5:51 PM on September 19, 2018

Thank you, everyone! This is just what I needed. I feel much more optimistic about what I can do, and also much better about what I can't.

Answers to your questions:

1. I was nervous about linking my MeFi identity to my book, but then I thought, like, why? Who cares? So there's a link to the book in my profile now.

2. Review copies did go out to SFF venues, but I don't think we cast a very wide net. (Locus did get a copy well in advance; I think they've just declined to review it.) I'll talk to my publisher.

3. There is a Kindle edition (and for inevitable small-press-economies-of-scale reasons, it's much cheaper than the print one; certainly it's the one I'd have bought). Do I need to think differently about publicizing that?

4. I do have a decent established presence on Book Twitter.

5. I'm not on Goodreads and didn't even know authors could control anything about how their book shows up on Goodreads, but I have a friend who's kind of a power user; I'm sure she can advise me.

6. I do know that the PW star is a big deal, and I have basically had it tattooed on my forehead so far as approaching people about the book is concerned, but thank you for reminding me of that -- it's easy to focus on the negative and forget what an achievement that was.

7. I have always wanted to go on a podcast anyway!
posted by thesmallmachine at 7:49 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

One more thought: when you talk to your publisher, it's worth asking if they should re-contact Locus and anybody else who declined to review it, and ask if they'll reconsider in light of the starred review. I have no idea if this A Thing That Is Done, but it's worth asking about.
posted by yankeefog at 1:44 AM on September 20, 2018

Definitely have your friend who's a Goodreads power user write a review. These days, I find almost all of my next reads through Goodreads, and I mostly decide not by general rating (although that counts if it's really low), but from reviews from some of the big reviewers I follow whose tastes mostly align with mine, and from reviewers that give good reasons why the book was good (and that I may then add to my list I follow).
posted by LoonyLovegood at 6:37 AM on September 20, 2018

Bookbub may be another avenue for you to try. Usually they have limited time offers on ebooks at 2.99 or less. A lot of novels by well-established authors as well as newbies are featured. They reach thousands of avid readers every day. Check out their website. They have author profiles, and 'submit a new deal' tabs at the bottom of the page.
posted by Enid Lareg at 10:26 AM on September 20, 2018

I read a lot of new (or new to me) authors by selecting the Sponsered books that appear on Amazon, just because they appear in my feed when I'm searching for books. Maybe look into doing the Sponsered Products?
posted by gt2 at 10:36 AM on September 20, 2018

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