Advice on Marketing Your Books from the Perspective of a Reviewer and Website Maintainer
First published 4/26/2005; last edited 4/26/2005
I recently read Francine Silverman's collection of author tips, Book Marketing from A-Z, and it made me think of a few things from a reviewer's point of view (and that of the maintainer of a web site) that some writers might find helpful. Some of you will look at these and say, "wow, those are really obvious hints." But I assure you, judging from the mail that shows up in my inbox nearly every day, they aren't so obvious to many others. So bear with me, and if you think these are obvious, then know that you re already a step ahead of your competition. Or several.
Make sure the reviewer reads your type of book
I've gotten review requests from people who obviously hadn't taken even the barest look at the kinds of books I've reviewed in the past. Sure, you could argue that someone might always make an exception for your book, and that's possible. But at least try to screen out the places that are an obvious mismatch for your topic. For example, I don't do knitting, so why would I review a book for knitters? You're much better off marketing to sites that cater to your target audience, anyway. You'll get a much higher conversion rate of reads to sales.
There's a fine line between "aggressive" and "obnoxious"
Aggressive marketing can be a good thing. You need to get out there and promote your book if you want to get anywhere. However, there's a fine line between good aggressive promotion and being really obnoxious. Here are a few examples of stepping over the line from good to bad:
- If you want to send announcements to people, that's great. But do not sign up lots of people for a regularly-published mailing list without their permission. Yes, this is spamming (it's funny how people conveniently decide it isn't spam when it's their commercial email that's getting sent out). It's very easy to send out a polite email giving the signup information for your mailing list and inviting people to sign up.
- Trying to get all sorts of links to your website is good. Trying to shoehorn your link into sites where it clearly doesn't belong is bad. If a directory doesn't have a place for author sites of any kind, trying to find some barely-related category and put it in there will probably not endear you to the directory's owner. At most you might consider emailing these people and saying, "would you consider adding a category for author sites?" or "I'm not sure if my site is appropriate for your directory; would you mind if I submitted it?"
- Reciprocal linking policies ("you link to my site and I'll link to yours") are so popular now that I suppose it won't make much of a difference for me to say that I hate them and always will. However, you might have better luck with some sites if you simply send them a polite email telling them you've linked to them and asking them to link to you, without any strings attached.
Make sure it's an appropriate website or venue
Some authors have taken to volunteering their articles for others' websites as a means of exposure, and I think this is great. However, keep several things in mind when you do this. First, if there are no submission guidelines available and all the articles are written by the site's maintainer, they probably don't take submissions. Second, make sure your articles are actually appropriate for the venue. For example, my website covers three topics--writing, cooking, and roleplaying. The email zine is only for the roleplaying side of things, yet writers have offered to send me writing-only articles to publish in it. All this does is show me that the person writing me didn't even bother to look at the zine in question, and that doesn't exactly endear them to me.
This one should be a no-brainer. After all, one of the first things you hear when you start freelancing or shopping around articles and books is--"research your market." Make sure the publishers you're approaching publish your kind of book. Make sure you're writing the right kind of article for a given magazine. Similarly, you need to make sure that the "generous" offer you've just made to a website's maintainer is actually appropriate to their website, otherwise you just come off looking self-serving and lazy.
The same is true of link submissions. You wouldn't believe the number of link submissions I get that are totally inappropriate to the site. In some cases it looks like someone just glanced at a word in a sub-category's title and didn't bother to look at anything else regarding the site to make sure it was relevant. It only takes a moment or two to look through enough of a site to get a feel for whether it's on-track with what you do, I promise.
Handle feedback calmly and professionally
There's a lot to be said for the "don't take criticism personally" attitude. After all, there are a lot of amazing books that wouldn't have gotten published if their authors had listened to the agents and publishers who told them their work wasn't publishable. However, you also need to remember that everyone's entitled to their opinion, including publishers, agents, and reviewers. In particular, writing is a very subjective experience. A piece of writing that is golden to one person is trash to another. You need to allow others to have their opinions about your work, even if you don't agree with them. For more on this, see On Being Reviewed.
Make use of the positive feedback you get!
So many writers get good reviews and then don't actually do anything with that. Link to your reviews if they're online. Reprint quotes from them if they aren't. Quote testimonials from readers who've sent you fan mail. Don't expect your reviewers to do all of your marketing for you--milk those reviews for all they're worth!
Marketing yourself aggressively is a good thing. Just remember that if people start taking offense, it might be time to back off a little--or at least to say, "whoops, sorry," and move to the next venue. It's also good to remember that tone is important, particularly via email, where misunderstandings occur readily. A simple "please" or "thank you," or a well-worded letter with all the relevant information a person might need in it, can do a world of good. For lots of great ideas regarding positive ways to market your books, I do recommend Book Marketing from A-Z very highly--it'll give you plenty of creative ideas that I think will make others very happy to receive your marketing materials!