Know what’s out there. Check out Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for ways to interact with potential readers and others interested in your subject matter. Provide content for related websites and online magazines related to your subject matter. Guest blog on related blogs. Join forums, bulletin boards and groups that talk about your subject matter.
Online promotion is more casual, more about story-telling and being present than anything else. The key to making it work is to establish relationships.
- Decide what you want. Is your goal to get people to ask you for more information about your work? Do you want them to be able to buy your book? Do you want to establish your expertise and attract readers by contributing articles to online magazines that cover your subject area? Or all of the above?
- Start small. Years ago, when I decided it was time to have a website of my own, I started with a basic three- or four-page site. I had a bio, a list of books, some information about my workshops and a link to www.booksense.com so people could buy my books if they wanted. As my promotional efforts increased, my website grew. The same approach can work for you. If you decide to offer an article to blogs in exchange for advertising, approach five or ten sites first, not 100.
- Don’t pursue ineffective strategies. What works for one person may not work for another. So give your promotional strategies a chance, but be willing to drop what doesn’t work and try another avenue.
- Your mama should be proud of you. Most of us have no intention of turning into carnival hucksters. We have the opposite problem – we’re too shy and introverted to promote ourselves effectively. If this is you, keep in mind that many subtle ways of promoting yourself exist, including creating free e-newsletters (with content), maintaining a website, providing content to other websites for a byline and more. But don’t forget that you want to be professional and courteous about your promotions – don’t dominate groups with your latest self-promotion, don’t become the king of spam. You don’t have to yell the loudest to be the most effective.
Building Your Platform
As a nonfiction book author, you have to market yourself to several audiences. First, you have to sell your work and yourself as the right person for the book to an agent, who will then help you sell your work and yourself as the right person for the book to an editor. But beyond that, you need to appeal to readers. It’s not enough to get an editor to buy your book – you have to get readers to pick it up, too. Otherwise your career will end before it even gets off the ground.
Successful book authors often position themselves as experts; others as journalists who can go to the experts, get information and present it in an appealing way. (Think Malcolm Gladwell). Some writers co-author or ghost-write books for experts; for these writers, writing credentials matter but platform building and promotion doesn’t. The expert will be expected to promote the book.
If you’re positioning yourself as the subject matter expert or as the journalist ferreting out the information, you need to be sure to establish your credentials and maintain them by continuing your education, keeping your day job (if it’s related to your area of expertise) and acting as a consultant or coach.
You don’t have to have the same credentials everyone else has, though. For example, many reporters talk to psychologists about work-life balance issues. Does that mean you have to have a Ph.D to be quoted on the subject? No. I’ve been quoted on this topic because I pitch myself as someone who can show how to follow the principles of martial arts to lead a balanced life. So, use your imagination and creativity. Take a step back and look at how you can most favorably present yourself and your life experience.
Having the appropriate credentials to write a book is related to but distinct from the platform you need to establish to promote your book.
For example, my having a black belt is a credential that allows me to claim subject matter expertise. But it doesn’t help me promote my books. However, if I teach martial arts classes, that is a platform I can use to promote my books to my students (who will, one hopes, tell all their friends about both the book and the class).
Once you have a publishing contract, you can work with your publisher’s publicist to develop a plan, but even before you reach that stage, you need to be able to show agents and editors that you have a certain amount of visibility in your field and a way to reach potential readers.
When people in publishing talk about platform building and promotion, they’re talking about strategies that result in getting your name in front of people who will buy your books.
Examples of building your platform before you get your publishing contract:
- Being interviewed in print, online and broadcast media as the expert in your subject matter.
- Giving talks, workshops and seminars on your subject.
- Practicing your subject – be a coach or consultant, or own your own organization related to your subject. For example, if you’re writing a book about mutual funds, it helps if you’re a working financial advisor. Some writers earn these credentials as they establish themselves in a niche.
- Joining organizations related to your subject matter and related to writing/book publishing itself. You can stay on top of developments this way.
- Starting and maintaining relationships with a lot of people, especially those in your subject area and in publishing. Get out there and network! You don’t have to be a smarmy salesperson to do this. You just have to be genuine. It gets easier with experience.
Many books are the result of two (sometimes more) people working together to create a great manuscript. Sometimes two authors are experts in the subject matter (Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, the authors of The Renegade Writer, are both accomplished magazine writers). Sometimes one partner is a writer and the other is the expert. In either case, it’s important to set your expectations up front and be clear about what each partner is doing and what compensation each will get in return.
If an expert approaches you and wants to collaborate on a book, you need to be compensated fairly for your time. Especially if the expert does not have a publishing contract, you should be paid a certain amount upfront for writing the book proposal and then the book. This will come out of the expert’s pocket, and he or she can be reimbursed from the advance and royalties when the book is published. Don’t assume that you’ll be rewarded once the book is published (it often isn’t) and it zooms to the top of the best seller lists (it usually doesn’t).
If you have a book idea that you care about but not the right credentials to write it, you may be able to convince an editor to publish the book if you collaborate with someone who does have the right credentials. Since the idea is yours, you wouldn’t expect to be paid upfront for the work you do, and you’d want to keep control of the vision through a carefully written collaboration agreement.
If you’re the expert looking for a writer to collaborate with, you do need to understand that there are costs involved. It’s unrealistic to expect someone else to work on your idea for free or for a promise of some future payment that you’re not guaranteeing.
Any collaboration should start with a letter of agreement between the partners, which clearly outlines their roles and their compensation. Be sure to include deadlines. Decide what will happen if one partner can no longer continue the project because of illness or death. Think all of this through ahead of time to avoid nasty surprises six months into the project.
Both the National Writers Union and the ASJA have model collaboration agreements for you to use, although you have to be a member to access them.