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Book Promotion: Part 2

June 13th, 2008 5 comments

Just to recap, last month I detailed my first two suggestions for promoting your book:

  1. Write the best book you can. 
  2. Don’t get stuck with a bad cover.

If you’ve got those two things taken care of, you’re well on your way to having a successful book! Now, let’s take a look at a few other foundation elements necessary for effective book promotion.

The things I’m discussing this month are mainly of concern to authors and editors with small-press books. So, if you’ve had the good fortune to score a deal with a big house, you can skip this post and check back next month, when I’ll be talking about blurbs and book reviews.

3a: Make sure your book’s listed at Amazon.

Once the cover’s set, check with your publisher to make sure the book will be listed on Amazon.com. If your publisher is a small specialty press, a little (or a lot) of wheedling may be necessary. But if you’ve got more than 300 books to sell after preorders have been accounted for, it’s best to get the book listed on Amazon.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Amazon.com; some of you may have a hate-hate relationship with them. If so, I sympathize completely. Amazon demands a 55% commission on top of account setup fees, and they’ve been bullying POD publishers into using their Booksurge service instead of LSI and other printers. Amazon is the 80,000-pound gorilla of book sales, and they’ve been taking full advantage of their status, often to the detriment of small publishing companies.

So, I understand a small-press publisher’s desire to tell Amazon to go blow; the publisher’s got their own site and can sell books through their own secure shopping cart just fine, so distribution’s covered, right?

The problem is, for many prospective readers, if your book isn’t on Amazon, it’s as if it just doesn’t exist. Your book’s being available at the publisher’s site won’t help if a reader has never heard of the publisher before and is therefore reluctant to release their credit card info to them.

So: if your book’s not on Amazon, you will lose potential sales. Also, because so many other sites grab book information directly from Amazon’s feeds, your book’s absence from that site means it will also be absent from a bunch of other sites.

(Side note: because book information posted on Amazon gets distributed far and wide, double-check that the publisher is posting accurate, complete information about your book from the start. The publisher can make changes later, but I’ve noticed changes often don’t propagate to Amazon.uk and other sites. It’s better if the book description is correct from the beginning).

I’ll be discussing Amazon more in future posts, but for now, the basic goal is to make sure your book is listed. If your book is a small-run limited edition from a specialty press, the cost of selling the book on Amazon might not make sense. But if you’ve got more than a couple hundred books to sell, get the book listed on Amazon (and price it to compensate for their commission), or else be prepared for slow sales.

3b: Make sure your book’s listed in WorldCat.

WorldCat is a gigantic database of books in libraries around the planet. WorldCat gives you basic publishing and authorship details about a book and tells you how you can borrow it for free through Interlibrary Loan. If you’re the least bit of a library geek, you already know it’s very cool, and you probably already wanted to be in WorldCat just on general principle.

If your book’s not on Amazon, getting it listed on WorldCat is important. Why? WorldCat is the other main source of information about books that websites like Bookmooch and LibraryThing refer to. It cuts to one of the most basic goals of promotion: making sure potential readers know your book exists. Getting your book listed in as many places as possible is part of that goal, and WorldCat helps you achieve it.

Furthermore, if your book’s not in WorldCat, to the librarians of the world it’s as if your book just doesn’t exist. And since librarians can be some of an author’s strongest allies, you want to make sure they can easily reference your work.

How do you get a listing in WorldCat? In theory it’s pretty simple: just make sure that at least one Worlcat-member library immediately gets a copy of your book when it comes out.

If you’re an established author, there’s a good chance your local library already knows about you and is planning to order a copy of your latest book (and if your local library doesn’t know about you, shine your shoes, brush your teeth and go make friends with the library staff).

But if this is your first book, or if your local library’s suffering from funding cuts, chances are good you will need to donate copies of your work if you want specific libraries to carry it. On the plus side, you can write the donated books off your taxes. On the down side, this usually isn’t quite as simple as popping a copy of your book in an envelope and mailing it to the library (if you do this, your unsolicited book may go straight into the box of books culled for the next library book sale).

First, find out who the acquisition librarian is if you haven’t done so already. Drop him or her a polite, professional email to tell them about your book and to ask if the library would like a copy for their collection. Make sure to mention that you are a local author and that your book is not self-published. Otherwise, if you and your publisher are unknown to the librarian, he or she is very likely to assume you’re self-published and the answer is probably going to be “thanks, but no thanks.”

Libraries have only so much room on their shelves, and to avoid being inundated with amateur work most patrons will never check out, many have explicit policies against accepting self-published books. Some may send an email back to you asking for evidence that your small-press publisher has produced a certain quantity of books; don’t take this personally. Just politely send them back the information they’ve asked for (above all: don’t piss off your local librarian).

Be prepared for a “thanks, but no thanks” response no matter what; a library may be in the midst of downsizing their collection or undergoing renovation and they may not be acquiring new books. Again, don’t take this personally; follow up with a thanks-for-your-time email and query the next library on your list.

Once you’ve moved past the probably-small list of local libraries who’ll look favorably on your work because you’re a local author, you’ll want to have a more formal press release to send out to promote your book. But to put together a good press release, first you’ll need some good book blurbs and review excerpts … but that’s a topic worthy of its own post, and I’m out of time.

So, come back next month for tips on getting your books reviewed and blurbed!