How I Promoted My Book

November 27th, 2006

Note: I really do try not to duplicate my posts between this blog and my personal blog, but every once in a while I write something that I think is pertinent to both places. Feel free to comment either here or on my personal blog entry.

Infoquakes Cereal BoxIt’s now been about five months since Pyr published my first novel Infoquake. It seems as good a time as any to sit back and take stock of my promotional efforts. What worked, what didn’t work, what should I have done more of, what should I have done less of?

When I started to make a list of all the promotional efforts I’ve made in the past year, I started to feel — well, a little embarrassed. To an outsider, it must look like I do nothing all day but come up with ways to move copies of Infoquake. The “Infoquakes Cereal” pic here is meant to be a joke, but honestly, sometimes it feels like I’ve tried everything but a sugary cereal for kids.

(Quick aside: Have you ever noticed that when companies say their cereal is “part of this nutritious breakfast,” the cereal box is always sitting next to… a complete nutritious breakfast?)

Here, then, are the promotional efforts I did that I think were well worth doing:

  • Designed and programmed a website for the book and bought several related domain names (infoquake.net, jump225.com, multireal.net, geosynchron.net)
  • Wrote several original background articles on the world of Infoquake exclusively for the website
  • Started a blog about eight months before the release of the book and began consciously trying to write about topics that I hoped would garner me an audience
  • Joined the group blogs DeepGenre (thanks to Kate Elliott and Katharine Kerr) and SFNovelists (thanks to Tobias Buckell)
  • Attended and got on the programming at a number of science fiction conventions (ReaderCon, WorldCon, Capclave, PhilCon, and upcoming Balticon and Penguicon)
  • Hosted a five-book gimmicky giveaway contest on my blog that received a fair bit of attention
  • Posted all nine drafts of the first chapter of Infoquake on my website
  • Encouraged friends and family members to send e-mails to their contact lists recommending that they check out Infoquake
  • Doggedly hunted down every interview opportunity I could find, and ended up getting about seven or eight interviews on sites like Barnes & Noble Explorations, John Scalzi’s By the Way blog, the Agony Column, SFFWorld, and Suite101.com
  • Created a MySpace profile and spent a couple weeks aggressively seeking friends with an interest in science fiction (1,698 friends to date!)
  • Created a mailing list for the book and added just about everyone I knew to it, then sent out once- or twice-a-month mailings on book news and events
  • Made a conscious effort to make friends in the science fiction industry, mostly just because it’s nice to have more friends (although the Machiavellian in me notes that several of these friends have had some very nice things to say about Infoquake on their blogs and such)

I also did a number of promotional efforts that may have had some positive impact, but it’s hard to tell:

  • Designed and printed 1,000 four-color Infoquake business cards through VistaPrint.com and passed them out liberally to anyone and everyone
  • Recorded the first handful of chapters on audio using my laptop, an old microphone, and free Audacity software, then posted these as a podcast on my website
  • Created and gave away approximately 350 promotional Infoquake CDs at cons and readings, including all of the sample chapters and audio files
  • Started an Amazon blog that basically just cross-posts the Infoquake-related blog entries from my main WordPress blog, and spent some time tracking down Amazon Friends
  • Gave away two signed copies of Infoquake to the Save Apex Digest raffle organized by the radiant Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Convinced a friend (Josef K. Foley) to do some original artwork for the Infoquake website
  • Did a handful of readings and signings at chain bookstores, which had rather disappointing turnouts, despite considerable publicity (listing in the Washington Post literary calendar, front-of-the-store displays, emails and invites sent to everyone in creation)
  • Held two book parties for immediate family and friends on what turned out to be two very inconvenient dates for book parties
  • Took a nice, official-looking author photo, only to decide I didn’t like it nearly as much as the spur-of-the-moment photo my wife took outside a club in Boston in 2002
  • Read and made comments on two drafts of an Infoquake screenplay, which has been in front of a few big Hollywood players (though I’m not holding my breath)
  • Made a conscious effort to participate in the blogosphere by commenting on other people’s blogs
  • Managed to get in touch with about a dozen authors and important people to ask for advance praise (“blurbs”), including an Obvious Legendary Hard SF Novelist, two Bestselling High-Tech Journalists, and a Business Legend With a Name So Big That Yes, Your Mother Has Probably Heard of Him — and only got a response from one person, the terrific Kate Elliott, who provided the gracious blurb you see on the praise page

Of course, there were also a number of things I tried to promote my book that have had seemingly no impact or fell flat altogether:

  • Started a bulletin board-like Yahoo Group to try to encourage author/reader (or reader/reader) dialogue about the book
  • Started a reading group program to encourage people to buy Infoquake in bulk and discuss it in their book clubs
  • Tried my hand at writing short stories to get my name out there in the SF magazines, only to discover that finishing a short story is even more difficult for me than finishing a novel
  • Created a LiveJournal that just mirrors the copy from my WordPress blog
  • Contacted a dozen well-known legal/political bloggers known to be partial to science fiction and tried to get them to review the book; all said they’d take a look at the book, but none of them ever responded to my follow-up emails
  • Sent a couple of free press releases out through PRWeb to try and spur some news coverage
  • Tried unsuccessfully to persuade my publisher to sell advertising in the book (about which see my blog post Should Novelists Sell Advertisements?)
  • Spent waaaay too much time trolling Google, Technorati, Amazon, Yahoo, Icerocket, and other websites to see who’s talking about the book, what they’re saying, how they’re reviewing it, etc.

So now that you’ve gone through these lists of all the shit I’ve done to promote Infoquake and shaken your head in amazement/befuddlement at my persistence/foolishness, what lessons have I learned? What wisdom do I have to impart to other authors about how to promote their books?

1. You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money. Almost everything on the “useful effort” list above is a cheap or free enterprise. Conventions, of course, can be expensive — but surely you can do what I did, which is to attend cons where you can stay with relatives or friends and use frequent fliers/hotel points. Designing and programming a website can also be expensive if you don’t know what you’re doing — but it’s perfectly acceptable to use free WordPress software and a free WordPress template instead of hiring a designer/programmer like me.

2. Play to your strengths. My strengths (luckily) are web consulting and online marketing. As I’ve discovered, I’m a mediocre public speaker and not exactly a champion debater. I don’t have the world’s biggest Rolodex. But I’ve managed to find some areas that fit my comfort zone where I could excel.

3. Recognize that the most important aspects of book promotion are the ones you have little or no control over. Sure, spending time doing an interview with a science fiction fan site might get your name out there and sell 10 or 20 or 100 or 300 books. But the buyer at Borders or Barnes & Noble can give you thousands and thousands of book sales if he/she has enough confidence in the book to place a big order. The reverse, unfortunately, is also true.

4. Nobody knows when you fail… I did some research on discussion groups and ended up settling on Yahoo! Groups for an author forum. I created the forum, publicized it in half a dozen places, and nobody cared. So? I took down the link, I shrugged my shoulders, I moved on. People in the publishing biz might be able to track down your BookScan numbers and see how and where (and if) your book is selling, but nobody else is going to bother.

5. …But let everybody know when you succeed. Emphasize the positive. Spread the good word. Tell your friends. Brag about it on your blog.

6. You, the author, are the only one who really gets to decide if you succeeded or not. Today I got a note on MySpace from a reader saying this: “Don’t think I’m blowing smoke up your hindparts when I say that Infoquake is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read…. The depth and detail of this new world rank right up there with Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age.” It’s comments like that that make me sit back and think, y’know, I don’t care if I sell another copy of the book. I’ve done what I set out to do.

Okay, not really. Buy more. Please.

19 Responses to “How I Promoted My Book”

  1. Sherwood Smithon 28 Nov 2006 at 6:06 am

    Thanks for sharing these insights, David. While I don’t have the guts to attempt any of these things, it’s fascinating to find out what works and what doesn’t for different folks.

  2. Bob Lockon 28 Nov 2006 at 4:53 pm

    Some great tips, David!

    First thing I did upon reading was shoot over to 1&1 and buy the domain name www flamesofherakleitos.com which was something I hadn’t thought of.

    My first SF/F/Horror novel is due out early 2007 so your insight is very helpful.
    Already got a couple of back-of-book blurbs from Neal Asher who read an early draft, and Youwriteon.com which is sponsored by The Arts Council of England.

    Re your photo, yep I agree, the Pratchett-type one is better than the official one. So, now I have to go out and buy a cool hat eh?

    Regards,
    Bob :)

  3. David Louis Edelmanon 28 Nov 2006 at 5:22 pm

    If you’ve already got a blurb from Neal Asher, Bob, you must be doing something right. But no cool hats — that’s my bit! :-)

  4. Jellyn Andrewson 28 Nov 2006 at 5:33 pm

    I agree on the photos.

    Very interesting entry. Thank you!

  5. Bob Lockon 28 Nov 2006 at 6:08 pm

    Aww…David!

    I really fancied getting a coonskin hat (had one when I was a kid, Davy Crockett fan :) )

    I’ll have to get something to hide my balding pate, suppose I could get it tattooed with rabbits, they say that from a distance it looks like hares…

    Bob

  6. Mark Tiedemannon 29 Nov 2006 at 8:59 am

    Good luck. There is one thing you have going for you that is vital to every other point you’ve made–a publisher that will deliver copies to bookstores on time and will send review copies to everyone. Whether or not the book then gets reviewed is beyond your (or the publisher’s) control, but at least you don’t fail as a no-show.

    A point or two about some of this. The short story thing. I’ve sold over fifty short stories and have discovered that very few people who bought my novels ever read any of the short stories. While once it seemed very true that short stories fed into book sales, it seems more and more that these are two separate audiences who don’t do much cross-polination.

    I published three novels in a franchise (Asimov’s Robots) which did very well (at least until the publisher died and the company closed up shop). One would think that the several thousand people who bought those books would be a natural audience for one’s originals. Not so. I experienced almost no cross-over from that. (I’ve since talked to several authors who have had the same experience.)

    I put the website up about a month before my first novel appeared. I’m not at all sure it’s done anything for sales.

    I have been told by booksellers that when I show up at a con, my books sell. When I don’t, they sit there. A quick turn on a calculator shows that at, on average, three to five hundred dollars for a weekend at a new convention, you better be selling dozens to hundreds of books per con to make it worthwhile. The year my first original novel came out, I attended about ten cons. I feel sometimes I’m still paying off that debt.

    Bookstores are more and more wanting guaranteed audience before they’ll book a signing (this varies wildly, but I’m hearing about this more and more, especially from the more successful independents, of which there are few enough). If you can’t tell them you can get twenty or thirty or fifty people, they might book you once, but they won’t do it again.

    A lot of us (me, for one) can’t afford to print up postcards or do mailings and unless they’re in the thousands they don’t do much.

    Authors used to be able to rely on the publishers to do a good deal of this, but with the rise of small press and the huge glut of new work, this ain’t true–which leads to the paradoxical situation wherein new writers get the least attention. Those authors who really don’t need a publicist anymore get one, those of us who desperately need one don’t rate.

    Which, I suppose, leads right back to the age-old admonishion: “Don’t quit your dayjob.”

    Just saying.

  7. David Louis Edelmanon 29 Nov 2006 at 10:49 am

    Thanks for that, Mark. Lots of useful stuff.

    I consider a lot of what I’m doing exercises in building name recognition. For someone like me who knew precisely two people in the field before my book was published (my editor and copy editor), it’s paramount that I get my name out there. I think a lot of people have heard my name now, and so they’ll be more inclined to pay attention when I release another book, or my book comes up for review at their publication, or my book comes across their desk to be considered for an award. Over time, this should build into sales.

    Or so goes the theory, at least.

  8. kateelliotton 29 Nov 2006 at 6:01 pm

    That’s a really useful set of lists, Dave. I actually got one of my kids to sign me up for a MySpace page, but of course now it needs actual content, and I haven’t been over there to deal with it. None of my kids has a MySpace page, I should note, but being of the age they know about it.

    re: short stories. I’ve published three times as many novels as short stories. Sometimes I think I should try to write a couple of short stories for ‘name recognition’ purposes, and then I return to sanity. The short story gig is a grea tone for people who love to write shorts. For those of us who find it easier to write a novel than a short story . . . not so much.

  9. Jellyn Andrewson 01 Dec 2006 at 9:57 am

    A quick turn on a calculator shows that at, on average, three to five hundred dollars for a weekend at a new convention, you better be selling dozens to hundreds of books per con to make it worthwhile.

    I think attending a con isn’t just about selling books at the con. Or even just about acquiring new fans who’re attending the con. With a con of any size, there are going to be dozens or hundreds of bloggers ready to write con reports. If you said something interesting on a panel, said something personally to them, or did anything of note, you’re going to get mentioned on blogs.

    Maybe many of those blogs will only be read by the blogger’s friends (though it’s a fair bet many of those friends are sf fans), but they’ll also be indexed on search engines. Your name will get out there. Maybe they’ll even link to your website.

    Still, probably no sense doing cons unless you enjoy it. Cons should be fun.

  10. Mark Tiedemannon 01 Dec 2006 at 1:17 pm

    Cons are fun, but—

    There is a calculus to deciding on these things. For a writer who is making a comfortable living at his craft, the calculus changes, but for those of us who must still do the Day Job routine, it’s not just the immediate expense of doing the con. If like most people you get two weeks of paid vacation a year, you can chop it up into long weekends and do ten cons without loss of a day’s pay. Of course, that means if you have any other vacation plans, you’re either screwed or you have to be willing to be docked for them–or you simple cannot take off. The expenses entailed here are now not only fiscal but emotional–mainly, your partner (if any) who may be supportive, but not that supportive as to give up a trip to Vegas or Niagara Falls or Whereever on the off chance that con attendance will pay off. It might, it might not.

    All of us probably have one or two conventions a year which we would attend regardless. Parties, friends, a favorite city–none of this counts in the book keeping I’m talking about. It’s all those new ones, which may or may not be conventions you would ever return to.

    Unless I’ve been lied to to my face, I’ve said a few occasionally interesting things at cons, but my blogosphere presense vis-a-vis con reports by attending fans is remarkably…absent. So this is more a matter of timing, alchemy, a phase of the moon, or what have you than anything reliable.

    Please understand, I’m not complaining–I would gladly attend half a dozen conventions a year if I could. I make these points in the context of a writer’s promotional strategy. How many eggs do you put in which basket?

  11. Muneravenon 04 Dec 2006 at 7:30 pm

    All useful info from everyone. Thanks so much.

  12. Elaine Isaakon 04 Dec 2006 at 10:11 pm

    This was an interesting post and discussion! Thanks.

    Re: cons.
    While Amazon rankings are not the be-all, end-all of book sales, and nobody can explain what they really mean, they are an indicator of a certain level of interest in your book. On the weekends I attended conventions last winter, my amazon rankings shot up from the 100-200K positions, to closer to 12K–where the book debuted on the day of release. So, yeah, conventions are the only promotional thing I can point to that clearly and definitively created interest in my book.

    The thing to keep in mind about book signings is that the purpose is not really to sell books that day, it is to establish relationships with booksellers (who may later hand-sell the title because they’ve met you), to get your name and title in the local & internet media, to create signed copies which are more likely to be placed on special displays (endcaps, tables, gift ideas, etc.). I had a book signing where I sold one copy. Lousy, right? However, the local paper ran an article. . .they reviewed the book, and said nice things now reprinted on the cover of book 2. None of which would have happened if I hadn’t done the time at the store.

  13. Jellyn Andrewson 06 Dec 2006 at 1:30 am

    Elaine, I wanted to let you know you’re doing something right. My father and I were at Albacon and attended your reading where you did the drawing for prizes. So now I’m on your mailing list and I recognize your name. I think it was your appeal to bloggers on the fliers you posted that initially caught my attention.

    And my father also recognizes your name now, because when we were in Borders Express, he took note when he saw your books. You’d been in there and signed them. And one of the staff overheard us talking about it and joined in. I think he said he went to high school with you, so he liked to promote your work whenever he could.

  14. Elaine Isaakon 07 Dec 2006 at 2:03 pm

    Jellyn,
    Thanks for reporting–that’s so cool!

    For the series I’m working on now, I’m planning some splashy promotions, like doing a video teaser on-line, and perhaps having a game on the website tied into the books.

  15. David Louis Edelmanon 07 Dec 2006 at 2:15 pm

    FYI… Jellyn and Elaine, your comment exchange here has inspired me to write another post on my blog on web promotion.

  16. [...] David Louis Edelman is talking marketing that he’s tried on his own and apart from his publisher to generate buzz. It’s a good read. [...]

  17. [...] of the regular commenters on the DeepGenre blog I belong to, Jellyn Andrews, posted this in response to author Elaine Isaak’s comment on some of her promotional methods: Elaine, I [...]

  18. Anyaon 07 Jan 2008 at 5:43 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I admit that I dread the promotion part, but some of the things you describe don’t sound too bad. ;o)

  19. [...] of the regular commenters on the DeepGenre blog I belong to, Jellyn Andrews, posted this in response to author Elaine Isaak’s comment on some of her promotional methods: Elaine, I [...]

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