I knew selling my first book, IT’S OK NOT TO SHARE…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids, was going to be hard. I was an unpublished author with a meager to non-existent platform. But I believed in my book and so did Joëlle. When she found just-the-right publisher, I poured my soul into book promotion. My first book had to succeed. I cared about my first book, but I cared even more passionately about my long-term career as a writer. My first book had to do well enough in book sales so I could write a second book.
At first the news was discouraging. I was told my book “only” sold 173 copies in the first four days of its release. Not good enough to earn stars in the publishing world. Then ten days after my book’s release, the publicist assigned to my book quit. I was on my own.
I pressed on. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I made myself a promise that I would devote a full year towards promoting my book, for the sake of my book and my future books.
Every day for a year, I used all my writing time for promotion. Speaking was a big help. I scheduled events at bookstores and libraries, ladies’ luncheons, book festivals and college classes. At first I spoke for free, then $100, then moved up to give keynotes at statewide conferences.
I traveled, too. I staged my own book tour (staying with family and friends), and realized that my event became “news” when I traveled from a distant state. One event that drew 10 people in the audience resulted in 200 book sales because the local paper ran a feature story. I held two book launch events, one in my hometown and one in my parents’ hometown.
I did interviews everywhere I could: radio, TV, satellite radio, podcasts and Google Hangout interviews. I sent free books to giveaways, wrote op-eds in newspapers, printed my own postcards as handouts, started an author newsletter, and dipped into social media. I reached out to people, did endless follow up, and sent thank you notes. I Skyped with book clubs, blogged regularly and wrote guest posts for multiple blogs.
After a year, my soul was rather sick of book promotion, and I longed to get back to writing. For a long time my book sale numbers were still mediocre. Then something changed. People started to fall in love with my book and recommend it word of mouth. Sales started to grow. In the first 6 months, I doubled my sales from the initial (very modest) distribution.A year out from publication, my book was considered “old” in the publishing world. But readers were still discovering it. It was “new” to them. More and more, readers and conference organizers were contacting me now. My year was up. I could relegate book promotion to 5 hours a week instead of 25 and still keep things humming.
Then my publisher called. “Your numbers look great,” she said. “Do you have another book in mind?” All that promotion work had paid off. She offered me a book contract for a sequel.
Now I still pay attention to promoting book one, but the time I invest is manageable. My main focus is writing again. Book promotion is part of the fabric of being an author. I keep at it. Every week, every day, I keep doing something to ensure the book’s welfare.
Now I see that writing and sustained marketing go hand in hand. Every book I write supports my readers and my readers support my future books.
Heather Shumaker is the author of It’s OK Not to Share…and Other Renegade Rules to Raise Competent and Compassionate Kids (Tarcher/ Penguin, 2012) with a sequel due out in 2015.