A lot of writers recently seem to be worrying about getting reviews and other kinds of publicity for their new books. Since the revelations about paid reviews and Amazon’s over-the-top reaction of taking down reviews written by “competing” authors, not many writers I know are willing to pay a professional review-writing fee. Others are similarly suspicious of those sites that offer little revolving ads on Facebook, or Yahoo, or other frequently-visited pages.
So what’s a writer to do? We know that books don’t sell themselves. Thousands of new books appear every day, and it’s all too easy to get lost in the thickets. A book that appears on Amazon does not automatically generate talk, book sales, and raving reviews. The pundits tell us that “word-of-mouth” generates the most interest. But how do we start people talking? How do we help a new book catch the attention of readers, if not with ads or reviews?
One solution? Start locally and hope the ripples spread. Ah, but starting at the local level is not as easy as it sounds, is it? Living in a small town might help. If you’re the only author in town, your neighbors may get excited about your new book. But in a big city? Not so much! I’ve had no luck getting local signings or book talks in Memphis, outside of my own college campus. There are just too many writers here. After all, the city that was home to Shelby Foote just aren’t much interested in some unknown writing about the Civil War.
What to do? If I had the definitive answer to those questions, I’d be wealthy – and obviously I’m not. But I have learned to value one small avenue to “getting the word out” without paying for a review or paying for advertising. Find a small audience and let them do the word-of-mouth for you. Start by offering to do a talk to an open-ended group of people who have a reason to be interested in your book. Check with the local library to see if they happen to be celebrating some holiday that can be tied to your book. Do they have a writing group who might be interested in your route to publication? Do they provide meeting space for a book club to whom you could talk about how to review a book?
Then, it is reasonable – and valuable – to make sure that any venue where you are going to speak makes an effort to publicize your appearance – and the earlier the better. Here’s my most recent example. Women’s History Month is coming up in March, and many libraries will be celebrating it. Since I tend to write about unknown but extraordinary women, I arranged to be in Hilton Head, SC, for a week during March, and I let the local librarians know last fall that I would be available to talk about my most recent heroine, who just happened to be from their local area. Within a couple of weeks I had scheduled a book talk on St. Helena Island, where Laura Towne lived and established her school for former slaves. And from there, I simply sat back and let their publicity people do the rest.
Yesterday I received a copy of the Beaufort County Library’s January Newsletter, and there, featured prominently, was this announcement:
Author Talk: “The Road to Frogmore”
St. Helena Branch
Professor Carolyn Schriber will speak on her recent novel, “The Road to Frogmore:
Turning Slaves into Citizens,” which tells the story of Laura Towne and the founding of Penn School.
Books will be available for purchase after the talk.
Tuesday, March 19 at 12:30 pm
Look at the advantages here. The announcement lets people know that they will be able to buy the book, but it doesn’t shout “Buy Me!” The emphasis is on the talk – what people can gain by coming, not what it’s going to cost them. Further it targets a large and an ideal audience – everyone in Beaufort County who has a library card. They are the readers in the area, and it’s a book about their own area. Notice that it’s an early announcement. There will be two more newsletters coming out before my talk – one on February and another in March. Repetition helps. And finally, it comes from a third party, not from me. That’s word-of-mouth in action.