Adventures in Self-Publishing: Launching a Promotional Campaign

Rocket%20Launch%20140.jpgAccording to proponents of the Brave New World of self-publishing, there’s never been a better time to write a book.  They seem to have caught a few ears with that claim, since in 2012, 391,000 new titles – an incredible number - were self-published in the U.S. alone – up an even more incredible 59% from just the year before. For the lucky few, that approach has succeeded brilliantly

But what about the rest of those authors? The same proponents point out that social media can turn a title into an overnight sensation, and that a self-published author has exactly the same access to social media channels as do published authors. That’s perfectly true. But needless to say, not every author is able to ring the social media bell, or it wouldn’t remain true that the average self-published author still sells only a few dozen books. So what’s the secret? Is it mostly luck, or should any self-published author of a decently written book, well advised and diligent in his or her approach, be able to find an audience?

In order to try and find out, I’m currently gearing up a promotional effort to see how much impact such a campaign can have re-energizing the sales of a cybersecurity thriller I self-published a couple of years ago, called The Alexandria Project. Hopefully, it will also set the stage for the release of the second book in the series (which I’m working on and hope to release later this year). Releasing that book, or at least so the prevailing wisdom has it, will ignite further interest in the first book, and so on.

But will it work? Well, there’s only one way to find out, and this will be the first of an ongoing series of posts that I’ll write describing what the campaign entails, and how much of an impact specific actions actually have. If you’re thinking of writing a book, or launching a promotional campaign for one you’ve already written, you can follow along. Sharing your own experiences with me and other readers, via the comments button below, would be most welcome at any time. 

A great Way To Spend a Dark and Stormy Weekend

 At the outset, I have to confess to a degree of cynicism in connection with the social media-based part of promotion. Given the fact that social media is a mile-wide and a nanometer deep, with many people unleashing a torrent of low-value Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook updates on a daily (and sometime minute by minute) basis, it’s hard for me to understand exactly how an unknown author can create buzz about an unknown book simply by Tweeting into the void. Dan Brown or David Baldacci?  Well, sure. Obviously, I’d love to be pleasantly surprised, but becoming better aware of how this whole social media promotion business works will be OK, too.

As a benchmark, up to now I’ve done all of the promotion myself, resulting in the sale of about 550 copies of the book. As you might expect, by far the greatest number of sales were in eBook form, with most of the balance being purchased in soft cover, as compared to hard cover. That’s considered to be quite respectable as such things go, but it was not only very time consuming, but still less than the kind of constant, day by day efforts that the pundits say is necessary to build and sustain sales.

A great read for the beach or the bomb shelter

If you don’t have that kind of time, that raises the question of whether it makes sense to hire someone to help promote your book. As you would expect, there are quite a few individuals and businesses out there that would love to provide such services to you. Many of the self-publishing outfits out there provide offer promotional packages, and there are endless other options available as well. Of course, they’re not cheap, and they also can’t perform miracles.  

 One reason I haven’t pursued that approach before is because whenever I’ve checked out one of these businesses before, the first thing I’ve done is to check the current Amazon ranks of books that they’ve represented.  Almost always, those books have ranks below 1,000,000 – meaning that they haven’t a copy in weeks. That’s not much of a recommendation, is it?

Still, there’s only one way to find out, so I’ve signed up with an outfit that is not only local but responsive. And what they’ll be doing is fill in many of the pieces of a typical promotional campaign that I either didn’t cover at all, or which I did in a much less thorough way. Here are some of the things that the package offered by the folks I’ve hired includes:

  • Design of a custom Twitter page; you can find the shell here, which I’ll need to start fleshing out before we kick things off. I’ll talk more in a later post about what type of Web presence to build to support a promotional effort.
  • Design of a custom Facebook page – the shell is here, and again, I’ll have to start adding content to make it appealing before we begin with any efforts to drive traffic to it.  If you have a minute to Like that page, it would be appreciated – the threshold I need is 20 Likes for the URL to begin popping up the way it needs to, and 30 for the analytics Facebook makes available to become accessible to me – those will be helpful in gauging which promotional efforts may be having a positive impact and which are not.
  • Drafting of a press kit and press release.  Having done a lot of successful promotion in the past at this site, and also viewing the efforts of many clients, I’m particularly curious to see whether this staple of marketing can be effective in such a massively crowed space. After all, hundreds, if not thousands of press releases are issued every day, so why should mine have any direct impact? Again, in a future post I’ll talk about some of the indirect values of producing a press release.
  • Approaching reviewers of various types to request reviews. Clearly, if these efforts are successful, the results could be very useful.  After I released my book I contacted scores of cybersecurity bloggers with limited success, so professional help in this area will be most welcome.
  • Approaching appropriate media and bloggers to try to line up interviews.  I didn’t even try this on my own. While the number of traditional media reviewers has declined dramatically, the number of reviewers at blogs and book sites has proliferated.
  • Designing and launching a social media campaign, during which the folks I’m working with will write and launch the initial wave, with me playing a supporting role.  After a couple of months, they’ll either continue for a monthly fee, or I’ll take it over. Social media is something I used in only a very limited way in the past (i.e., when I posted a new blog entry).

Will it work?  As I mentioned before, what I read and what I see when I look at the Amazon ranks of other self-published books leads me to have only modest expectations.  But I am looking forward to watching it unfold, and I’m happy to share with you what we’re doing, how it works, and most importantly, whether it works, so that you can get a better handle on how realistic the promotion of a self-published book can be. Here’s hoping.

By the way: if you’re new to this series, you can find all of the earlier entries, covering topics such as choosing the self-publishing model that’s right for you, formatting and pricing your book, and much more beginning here.