How to Market Yourself as an Author for Free
Why Writing the Book Isn't Enough
A common misconception held by prospective authors is that now that they've written the book, they're done and a publishing house or literary agent will do the rest. Not so.
But wait, isn't the daunting task of self-promotion exactly why you didn't self-publish?
While an agent or a publishing house's Marketing Department do a tremendous job, you would still be doing yourself a major disservice if you didn't build your own platform first--known as a brand. in fact, many Literary Agents only seek clients who have a noticeable media presence. At my first literary agency job, I regularly did just this: evaluate the author's marketability. "If no one else listens to them, why should I care?" my boss would say. Lack of a following makes the author harder to pitch to a publishing house and therefore harder to sell. A Literary Agent's job isn't just about pitching the book, it's pitching the author, too, and at the end of the day Publishing is a business.
But you don't have the budget to hire a Publicist. Or maybe your book isn't even done. Maybe you've never made a website before. So what do you do?
These 4 suggestions below can be invaluable tools to help you collect a following and develop your brand by the time you're ready to publish. If you have already finished your book, you can also check out this article by Laura Smith!
It should be mentioned that all of these suggestions can be done for free.
1 - Using What You Already Have
In 1929, Frigyes Karinthy founded the idea of "6 degrees of separation"--everyone in the world is connected by only 6 levels of separation. Your close friends and family have webs of influence all their own. Just as they try to help a younger member get a job, so too can they help market your book. Surely they're champing at the bit to help you in any way they can. Here's their chance. Are you looking for reviews or feedback on your work before you officially submit it? Are you trying to gauge if a certain scene works? Are you trying to determine an ending? Are you deciding between genres? Think of how many people you can reach out to this way! Does your brother work at a hospital, and can suggest your medical thriller to his coworkers? Is your nephew a boy scout and itching for a new children's adventure novel? You're not exploiting your family so long as they volunteer. But it's usually good form to pay them something back in return, whether it's cross-promotion of their business, helping them move later, or pizza.
2 - Utilizing Social Media
Like it or not, social media is the new way in which humans communicate and absorb information. You may not like posting selfies and pictures of your lunch on Instagram, but that doesn't mean you can't use those platforms to reach thousands of potential readers! Even if your book isn't finished, knowing how to make social media your friend will prove to agents and Publishers that you can connect to audiences, and that their job will be very easy.
Facebook & Twitter
Firstly, you'll want to make a separate page for your book (or each one if there are multiple). You have two options which can work equally well when used correctly: make it into a fan page, or a personal page. If it's a personal page, you have complete control over the creative and security aspects--who can see you page, what admins can do with your page, how people can react to your page--however, you lack the reach of a fan page. Fan pages are extensions from your own page so that you can link Author to Work in the eyes of followers. These are better for someone who wants to be found by fans, as fan pages are naturally more public and more accessible to new followers. However, fan pages typically have to follow guidelines set by the Facebook or Twitter Administrators (no hate speech, no personal attacks, no explicit content, no spam, etc) and take more supervision. Here's a video how for Facebook. Here is how you do it on Twitter.
When you've done that, upload pictures of your book, other books, yourself, fan art, you at events, quotes from your book, etc. Write posts that engage your audience: questionnaires, hashtags (#TeamEdward / #TeamJacob kind of thing) or Ask the Author discussions. If you want to get really creative, you can write posts as your characters! This is a good way to flesh them out if you haven't finished yet, and to attract readers of the same demographics as your character. Rick Riordan, bestselling author of the Percy Jackson books, often engages with his fans this way.
Though not quite as popular as Snapchat or Instagram, this platform is far more relevant and effective at connecting to readers. This is the social media platform to have if you want to attract readers. Goodreads started as a free service/platform owned by Amazon to help potential customers connect to books they like, but is now the hub of booklovers of all kinds. One of the immediate perks is that if you have a Facebook account; you can link the two automatically and skip the creation process entirely. This means that you can post about something on your Goodreads account on your Facebook account. It also allows for people to find your Facebook more easily. If you've connected your Work's Facebook account, you now have cross-traffic, which will help readers connect to you and get you more publicity.
For the most part, the interface is a combination of Facebook and Pinterest; you can chat with friends, send suggestions, write on walls, visit other pages, comment, use hashtags, create boards or "shelves" for books you've read, organize your shelves, etc. But there are a lot of unique features Goodreads has that you need on your side. For example, unlike Facebook, Goodreads provides links to Amazon, bookstores and libraries so that anyone who frequents a certain book's page has the means to obtain/purchase the book. If you have a book that's published (self or not!), making an entry for it and linking any purchase method can boost your sales and your publicity at the same time. Creating entries for your Work also allows people to leave comments and reviews of the book. Goodreads will then average them together and give your Work a rating that can attract readers. Goodreads does another thing that can prove crucial to publicity: when you make an entry for your work, and fill out information such as genre, synopsis, etc. Goodreads will take that information and recommend your work to readers who have read similar books. Every Goodreads user has an entire page of recommendations Goodreads gives them per genre they like. A reader can have a "Fantasy" recommendations page, a "Science-Fiction" page, a "Biography" page, etc.
Did I mention Goodreads will do all this for free?
There is only one thing that Goodreads can't do for free, and that's Book Giveaways. Giveaways are a great way to get readers talking, especially if your book is about to come out, or maybe the sequel is on its way. Goodreads will organize the event for free, but it will be up to the author to provide the prize copy, either paying for an Amazon copy so Goodreads can send it to the winner, or paying shipping to send their own copy to the winner. If you do the former, Goodreads will be responsible for shipping it to the winner, though you could save a bit more money by doing the latter.
If you don't have a completed manuscript and you aren't published yet, Goodreads can give you a sense of what readers want. Use the newsfeed and recommendations pages to see what's trending and what are stable staples. Use the discussion boards to help readers evaluate your own work. Look at the Ask The Author forums to see how accomplished authors got where they are.
Besides Social Media, you may need your own website as well. Here is the first installment of a video tutorial series on how to make a Wordpress Blog, which is a free service that gives you your own domain, and a nearly limitless supply of creative freedom in designing your site. It also gives you helpful templates and doesn't require a thorough knowledge of HTML to use (and if you don't even know what that is, don't worry about it. Wordpress has you covered).
3 - Local Press
You don't have to make headlines on your town's news to make local media coverage your friend. Do you volunteer somewhere? Are you friends with influential people? Is your family connected to people with more influence? Did you recently attend a large conference? How many went? Do you speak publicly on issues relevant to your book? Answering any of these questions can help your pool of influence tremendously.
Showing up on the news certainly helps...hopefully for the right reasons!
If you spend your time developing a skill or giving back to your community, you have an ample opportunity to self-promote. Your fellow volunteers will either be interested in your Work, or may know someone who would be. No matter what connection they have to your product, they could be persuaded to help you! This can be especially helpful if your place of volunteering has a large influence on the town. If you self-published, could your children's book be featured at a children's art gallery hosted by your local library? Could you host a contest at a craft's fair to come up with a title for your book and give a prize to the winner? If your book isn't finished, you can always ask for feedback or tips. Is anyone connected to an editor who can help? Is one of your fellow volunteers in Publishing? This kind of networking can really pay off in the long run, especially if you can get cross-traffic to your social media and personal pages! Vistaprint creates business cards for cheap, and is a good way to get people to visit your social media and personal pages. Hits, followers and "friends" are important to defining your media presence.
Even if you aren't invited to attend an event as a speaker or a panelist, being a guest at a large event such as BookCon, BookExpo or other crowd-gathering conventions can work wonders! With BookCon and BookExpo respectively, Publishing Houses and Literary Agents have tables where you can familiarize yourself with published books, their respective markets, and where you can network and scope out potential agents! At panels, you can listen to people only a few steps ahead of you describe how they ultimately succeeded. I always attend with a pad and paper. Others use these events as opportunities to hand out their cards to attract followers to their platforms, or hand out copies of their book to get noticed. This will get you varying degrees of success, as many event-goers are anxious to reach an event on time, or may not be interested in that particular genre.
Outside of conventions, there are many other events to consider depending on your work's relevance. Supermarkets always put batteries and candy near the register because they know customers will make the last-minute decision to purchase. It's psychology. So think like a grocery store: where can you place your book where people will need it? Does your library have author meet-and-greets you can sign up for? Is there a crafts fair where you can appear to show off your art book? Is there a neighborhood block party where you could bring your famous BBQ and cookbook? Are any nearby animal shelters having adoption events where you could pitch your animal care book? Will the local YMCA or Boys & Girls Club be open to a display of your fitness books? They may not result in autographs, but it will make people more aware of your intentions and your work. If it gets you readers, endorsements, or attention, it's worth it!
Stephen King didn't start out as the King of Horror we know him to be. He wrote Carrie as a short story intended for Cavalier magazine on his wife's portable typewriter while he was living in a trailer. If you can believe it, he threw that draft out. So don't despair if things don't take off immediately! Have a little patience. Do as he did though, and don't give up on submitting shorter pieces to local magazines or newspapers. Diversifying your content and getting published even in small-fry media can be put on a CV, resume or profile's Accomplishments page, which will make literary agents' ears perk up a bit higher.
4 - Public Speaking in the Modern Age
Public Speaking doesn't just happen in auditoriums anymore. With the rise of Live Streaming, you can arrange a public speaking engagement anytime and anywhere. You don't even have to leave your house!
Why would this be useful? If you want to get the word out or connect to your followers when text just doesn't cut it, then this is your opportunity to diversify your content. This can be done through existing social media features (Facebook has FacebookLive, Twitter has "live tweeting", Youtube has Live Streaming) or through supplementary software (Twitch channels, Skype calls, etc). Live Streaming can be used to post questions to readers, cover an event you're attending, generate hype for your product, and many other uses. You don't have to try to rent spaces, coordinate parking, pick a rain date or any of that anymore. Now you can connect with followers directly!
There are two basic approaches to making live stream videos, since if you make a mistake, you can't edit it out as you would a normal video. The first method is to work right off the cuff and speak about whatever's on your mind until you're finished, which works well for "Q&A"s, where you answer questions that you have hand-picked, or ones that appear in the comments. The second method is to write and practice a script, which is best for presenting news, explaining an event, or giving instructions on how else to find you (giving links of course!) Whatever method you choose, make sure you feel comfortable, and have the right equipment. A good camera, great natural lighting if possible, a flattering wardrobe and a workable location are all vital to a good video.
All in all, you are more prepared to self-promote than you think. A lot of this may even happen organically as you naturally follow your own path to publication. There are a plethora of blogs, articles and videos on how to brand yourself, so you have the resources at your fingertips. I just hope I gave you enough to get started. Maybe one day I'll attend BookCon and see you as a panelist!
Sarah has worked with two Literary Agencies, and freelance edits manuscripts for clients seeking Literary representation.