I’m asked a lot about how soon an aspiring author should start the book marketing process – sometimes before the writer has finished the first chapter! While I think it is important to keep book marketing in mind during the writing process, to worry too much about it is just to distract from the creative portion of the writing process and I want the aspiring author’s (almost) full attention to be on that. The number one determinant of how a book will sell is whether it is written in a way that meets the needs of the audience, so I want the writer to be thinking about the audience and focus her attention on creating great chapters and polishing her book-writing skills.
I generally suggest that at least 50% of a book be written (in first draft form) before starting to put any time toward book marketing. You don’t really know what the book is about until you get at least that far into it because a book often takes on new dimensions as it is being written.
If it puts your mind to rest, just know that there are very few things the author must do before the book comes out marketing-wise and many things that can be done months after the publication date. For most books, sales are slow to ramp up (slower than the author would like anyway) and after the book is published the best thing you can do is get out and talk about the book by giving seminars, workshops, webinars, teleclasses and pursuing available speaking engagements on your topic with organizations that need what you do.
But there are some good things to think about that will affect the ultimate marketing of the book as you are writing it:
1. Book Title – Book titles are tricky business. You want the title to reflect the “promise” of the book (be accurate about what the reader will find between the covers), but also be short and clever enough to intrigue a potential buyer. Most nonfiction titles are between 3 and 7 words and then there is a longer subtitle.
What you can do while writing: Pay attention to books you are reading or see in a bookstore or on Amazon and think about what words appeal to you. As you are writing, a title may come to you or you may find it hidden in your chapter titles or headings or just in words or phrases that are already in your book. Just write down words that you think should be in a title without trying to come up with the write order or sequence and keep that list for when the time is right to focus on the title. When you talk to others about your book and describe it, listen to how they respond with their own interpretation of what you told them. Sometimes the author is just too close to the book or the subject but a natural audience member (potential book buyer) can sometimes describe exactly what would appeal to him or her about this book and the words they use are often perfect for a title. Remember, you don’t need to make a final title selection until you are ready to have a cover designer start work, so keep playing with all the possibilities.
1. Book Front Cover – You can’t really do anything to market a book without the cover, but you can’t create the cover until you are set on the title. The intent of the front cover is to create emotional appeal, so you don’t want it to be too busy or cluttered – just the title (in an interesting type font), author name and a graphic that will draw the reader in that has meaning considering the title and the topic of the book.
What you can do while writing: Visit bookstores and Amazon.com to get an idea of what appeals to you. Collect links to the books with covers that are similar to what you might want so you can send them to a book cover designer when the time is right. Don’t get too locked into one idea or concept because a book cover is a package to help sell the book and the professional cover designer can really help you come up with a cover that will do that.
2. Author/Book Website – If you are self publishing, you will need a publishing company name to put on the back cover. If you already have a business name, you may choose to use that or a variation of that name.
What you can do while writing: Do a Google search to make sure someone isn’t already using the publishing company name you are considering for a publishing company name. You will also want to reserve the domain name (perhaps at GoDaddy.com or HostGator.com) so it will be there when you are ready to create your website (or add book pages to your already existing business website). You should also buy your own name as a domain name if it is available and you don’t already have it. Finally, buy the domain that reflects the name of your book title if it is available and once you decide on the title.
3. Media Kit – The media kit will be part of your website that is intended to attract journalists and blog, podcast or radio interviewers. There are typical things that go into the media kit (but there will be time for you to think about those later). What you can do while you are writing: What makes a nonfiction book particularly appealing to the media is when they can reprint (printed or web media) or talk in talking points (radio and television) short bullet points like types and strategies. For instance, “The Top 5 Reasons Why Businesses Fail”. Anything original, such as if you do a poll or survey as a part of your research for the book is also a big media draw, so consider how you might poll your audience about some aspect of the topic on which you are writing.
What you can do while writing: Build in checklists, tips, top 5, 7, 9 or 10 lists as sidebars in your book as you are writing and you will have a better chance of attracting media attention when the book comes out.
4. Testimonials/Foreword – Testimonials are generally used to establish credibility on the back cover of a book. The foreword is strictly optional, but wonderful to have if you know a name-recognized individual who can brag about you and your work in a way you really can’t. Consider who you know who might give you a testimonial (you can have unlimited testimonials and continue to gather them long after your book comes out) or who could write a foreword (there is only one foreword for a book). Make sure you let these people know you are working on a book, but don’t ask for a testimonial or other endorsement until you have a professionally designed copy of the pages in the book (which is after you have completed the writing, had the book edited, had it reviewed by possible audience members and had it proofread).
What you can do while writing: Start a list of people you would like to endorse your book, even if these are people you don’t have a personal connection to now. Brainstorm with friends, business associates and at networking meetings if anyone knows the people you would most like to endorse your book (assuming you don’t have a direct connection). When you need a testimonial is not the time to build the type of relationship where you can ask for one and expect you will get a “yes”. Work on building relationships with bloggers and particularly with other authors you admire during the time you are writing by sending them something of interest you find on the web, information on your poll or survey (if you decide to do something like that) or comment on their blogs with something useful for their readers. Make yourself know to them but in a way that serves them, not you. I personally never give a testimonial to anyone I don’t know well and whose book doesn’t deserve it. My own reputation is important to me so I only say in a testimonial what I really believe to be true. If the book isn’t very good, I won’t be saying it is.
Another thing that might help you not worry so much about book marketing as you are writing is that the best book marketing is free – media opportunities, Amazon.com, interviews with influential bloggers, great testimonials and book reviews – all free. Write a great book and everything else will follow.