Don't Wait! The Importance of Building Your Audience Early
In less than a year, I'll have the great fortune to see my debut novel, Feast of Sorrow (Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster), appear on bookshelves across the country.
"April 2017? That's so far away!" my friends and family have said to me. And technically, it might be, but when I think of the next ten months, to me it feels like a little gift. The gift of time. I still have ten months to continue cultivating a potential audience of readers.
I know that I'm not the typical author. I have a background in marketing, public relations, and social media. I know that gives me a leg up and what feels daunting to many authors when it comes to promotion actually energizes me. When I mentioned that to my publisher, one of their marketing managers said to me, "I can tell, that's why you are a dream author" (and yes, I glowed a little when she said that).
What's important to take away from this anecdote is that publishers want you to be a partner in the success of your book. With the publishing industry facing great, ongoing upheaval and consolidation, it's important for you to be invested. And when they see that you are, they are more likely to reciprocate and invest more in you.
In the world of traditional publishing, one of the first things a newly signed author will receive is an author questionnaire. In it the publisher asks the author how they currently market themselves, not what will they do. Part of this is to understand your commitment level. Part of it is to know how they can help augment work you've already done. Most of it is because they know that the people who are most likely to buy your books and champion your work are the people who already are your audience, or are the friends of people in that audience.
My author questionnaire was 42 pages long when I turned it in. Crazy, I know. In it, I outline my entire social media audience on all channels and list everything from where I currently promote myself to bookstores and libraries that would be perfect for the book, to publications that might be interested in the novel. For example, Feast of Sorrow is historical fiction, but it's a book laden with food, so I listed a bevy of food related outlets that my publicist might not have thought about. It also includes everything from podcasts about food history to conferences that may fit the bill. Doing so gives me say in the process. I know something about my own audience and I want to make sure that those avenues are part of the thinking for the bigger plan for promotion.
When you have zeroes to put down in all the categories of how you promote yourself, it invariably creates a collective sigh from the marketing and publicity team of the publisher. It means more work for them and possibly less return.
Since I signed my contract, I have worked diligently to do whatever I can to boost my audience. I immediately started in on all the tactics I have espoused here, and in the social media courses I've taught. Since I first had word of the deal in late November 2015, I've grown my Twitter followers by 5200 people (and want to add another 10K before my launch). I've created schedules for all my social channels and upped the amount of content I share (using tools such as Feedly, Buffer, and ManageFlitter). I printed up new business cards and postcards that I can hand out to whomever I end up talking to about my book (at restaurants, at art shows, at craft fairs, at the grocery store...I have no shame). I have several book giveaways (other books that are on a similar theme as my own novel) planned in the months ahead to help build my mailing list. To do so, I use software such as MailChimp and UpViral to manage the campaigns. I'm advertising those campaigns on Facebook.
Note that I also have a day job and I'm writing my second book on the side (i.e. I have to prioritize and organize).
I'm also committed. I want this book to be the most successful it can be. I want it to be in the hands in as many readers as possible. So I put in time, and yes, my money. This commitment has enabled me to nearly double the already large audience that I have built over the past few years before I landed the book deal.
All this effort on my part means that my publisher is more committed to me. They retweet my contests and posts. They printed out recipe cards for me to hand out at the Muse & the Marketplace earlier this year when I spoke (over a year in advance of the launch!). They believe in my book, but they also believe that I am a partner in making sure it is successful.
Ten months. That is time ticking down for me to build up my audience. I started my platform years ago but now I am ramping up and up as high as I can.
Don't wait until you have the book deal in hand. And if you do, don't wait until the book is published. And if the book is already published, don't give up on the platform. The moral of this story, kids, is that you should definitely not wait to start, but it's never too late to begin--and don't even think of stopping the day after your book launches. Keep going!
I'll continue to blog periodically about the process of promotion leading up to a book launch (and the book launch), so stay tuned.
Crystal King is a 20-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.comSee other articles by Crystal King