Our guest blogger this week is multi-published, hard working Ian Irvine, who’s going to give us an insight into book promotion. Take it away, Ian…
(Watch out for the give-away at the end!)
Picture me back in 1998, a (relatively) young, bright-eyed, keen new author, about to be published for the first time and not having a clue about how it was going to work …
It’s February; in another 6 weeks A Shadow on the Glass, the first book of my Darwinian fantasy The View from the Mirror is due to be published by Penguin Australia. And I’m more than a little worried.
Why, I hear you ask? After writing this quartet for ten years, and thinking about it for ten years before that, you’re finally about to be published. You should be over the moon.
And of course I am. After receiving the publication offer for my quartet, I floated for at least six months. Penguin is a great publisher but … at this time they don’t have a fantasy list in Australia. I’m their first such author, and I’m actually being published through the Children and Young Adults section even though my epic fantasies are for the adult market. What if it goes horribly wrong?
Then, browsing in a bookshop in February 1998, I discover copies of A Shadow on the Glass on the shelves, even though it’s not due to be published until April. Why have they put it out six weeks early? Why didn’t they tell me? I’ve not been asked to do any promotion and I’ve read all about books disappearing without trace. Help!
The View from the Mirror is one 800,000 word novel in four volumes, so if the first book flops, it’s all over. I’ve got to do something to promote it, but what? I don’t know anything about book promotion and at this time the net is in its infancy. I can’t find anything useful there via my 28K dialup.
I decide to get thousands of large postcards printed, showing the front and back covers of A Shadow on the Glass. It’s a beautiful cover, based on artwork originally done around my kitchen table, and I print the titles and publication dates of the other three books on the back of the postcards. It’s expensive, but I have a big extended family to spread the word, and lots of contacts. By the time Book 2, The Tower on the Rift, is published seven months later I’ve given 3,000 postcards away.
Did it work? I don’t know. That’s the problem with traditional means of promotion – there’s no way to determine if it’s been effective or a waste of money. What about sales? A Shadow on the Glass had a big print run for an unknown author, 7,500 copies, yet it had reprinted three or four times by the time the final book in the quartet appeared eighteen months later. I suspect its success was mainly due to word-of-mouth, that readers just liked the books and told their friends. But it felt good that I’d done my best to help it along.
Now it’s late 2000 and things have changed. Amazingly, I have several overseas publication deals (this was still a rarity for Aussie authors at the time) and my books are going brilliantly in the UK. My first eco-thriller about catastrophic climate change, The Last Albatross, has just been published in Australia by Simon and Schuster, so why am I really worried now?
The thriller market is the most difficult of all to succeed in, and I’ve just been told that local readers rarely go for thrillers in Australian settings. Eco-thrillers are even worse – hardly anyone wants to read them. Now they tell me! And The Last Albatross has a terrible cover, a good idea gone badly wrong.
Postcards aren’t going to sell any books this time, but targeting specific interest groups might. In my working life I’m an expert in marine pollution and at this time I’ve been a consultant for 20 years. I put together a tantalising publicity sheet about the book (and my fantasy novels, of course) and do a mail-out to all my business contacts, then every environmental and pollution consulting firm and conservation group in the country. Between myself and my publisher, we send out thousands of letters.
There was a significant spike in the sales of my fantasy novels over the time I ran the mail-out, enough to pay for the postage, which showed that it had been effective. The Last Albatross itself racked up modest sales, though without this promotion they might have been dismal.
My new fantasy quartet, The Well of Echoes, which began with Geomancer, also sold well. So has my trilogy The Song of the Tears, which ended with The Destiny of the Dead, and through this period I did not need to do a lot of promotion on my own behalf. Nonetheless, I concentrated on the following things.
I put up a big web site with a huge amount of useful content – for example my long article The Truth About Publishing, which aims to tell beginning writers everything they need to know about writing and publishing. It has been republished a number of times and I still get a lot of mail from writers who have found it helpful (though scary).
Other things I do: whenever I’m in a big city with some free time I go to the largest bookshops, give them a swag of my bookmarks or postcards, and sign as many of my books as they want. Bookshops love signed books because they increase the sales rate by 30%, and one time in Melbourne I signed 700 books in a couple of days. Staff in bookshops rarely meet the authors they sell; it’s nice to chat with the specialists in your genre, and afterwards they’ll hand-sell lots of your books or sometimes make a special display for them.
My next big promotion was for Runcible Jones The Gate to Nowhere, the first of a children’s fantasy quartet. Promoting children’s books is different; my contacts were little use to me here, and five years ago social media promotion was in its infancy.
Nonetheless, I wanted to do something different and innovative, and my son Simon, who has qualifications in both graphic design and digital animation, had just finished uni. I asked him to design some posters for me, featuring scenes from the first and second Runcible Jones books. The posters had to be effective from A1 right down to postcard size, and I also wanted a couple of brief animations to use in a book trailer about the Runcibles.
Simon designed several of the poster images in 3D in Maya, the movie animation program. I had each poster printed at A1 or A2 for use in school talks (one of the most effective ways to promote children’s books), plus lots of A3 copies for competition giveaways, 4,000 copies of each printed at A4, and 5,000 of each at postcard size. This is, of course, a very expensive promotion. It would not be worth it for a single book but could be justified to promote the number of titles I had out at the time.
I used the A4s and postcards in a mail-out to 4,000 school and public libraries in Australia (also including info about all my other books, of course). This was highly effective in raising awareness about my books. Many libraries put the posters up, and it also resulted in over a thousand additional library sales.
Small version of these posters can be seen here. And the book trailer, which contains two of these animations.
I have several other book trailers up on YouTube. I’ve raised awareness about them by emailing my fan email Inbox, several thousand people.
To promote my little Sorcerer’s Tower books in 2008, I did a week of school talks during one of Scholastic’s Book Fairs, speaking to about 1,900 kids from 10 schools. This was exhausting but effective – they sold 99 of the first Sorcerer’s Tower book, Thorn Castle, after one talk. Every primary school child wants the speaker’s autograph so I brought enough signed postcards and bookmarks with me to hand out to everyone – a graphic reminder of my books to show their parents.
This brings me to my latest books, The Grim and Grimmer series of humorous fantasy novels for children, which are being published in 2010 and 2011. The first three titles are The Headless Highwayman, The Grasping Goblin and The Desperate Dwarf, and the following will give you an idea of the style:
“It’s not easy being a hero when your bum is the size of an airship and you’re bobbing around the ceilings, mocked by a host of angry dwarves.”
The explosive success of social media sites over the past few years, especially Facebook, has changed the promotional landscape forever. Young people are huge users and they don’t want to be marketed to – they want to have a two-way dialogue with the authors they love.
To this end, I’ve set up a business page for my books on Facebook. Business pages are different to personal pages and are much more customisable via thousands of different Facebook applications. The paths to success here are – have a lot of interesting content about yourself and your books, add to it regularly, and interact frequently with people who post on your wall or contribute to discussions about your books.
My Facebook page is here, and it’s huge. I’ve included cover images, blurbs and key reviews for all 27 of my books. Also first chapters, audio readings and links to samples from the audiobooks. I will put up more audio and video files frequently, as these are of great interest to younger readers. They also love quizzes and competitions, so I have both, and there will be new ones every few weeks.
To drive traffic to this site I’ve begun a huge book give-away entitled 300 BOOKS IN 200 DAYS. Every week from January 1 until late July there’s a new competition where about 10 copies of my books or audiobooks will be given away. Later on I will also do Facebook advertising, which can be carefully targeted (eg, to everyone who likes Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books, or the Harry Potter books, or Tom Clancy’s).
Social media marketing has another great advantage, terrific metrics. You can tell very quickly if the promotion is working, and if not, redesign it.
These are just a few of the ways to promote your books – in the end, promotion is only limited by your imagination. And being writers, our imagination is unlimited, right? Good luck.
Giveaway question to win a copy of The Headless Highwayman and The Grasping Goblin:
If you had magic, would you use it for good, for evil, or for your own selfish purposes? What would you do first?