Irrespective of your means of distribution, whether you wish to do it yourself or employ a distribution agent, you have to generate awareness that the book has been published and is available for sale. You therefore need to promote the book.
On immediate publication, a book can be promoted in several ways. If you have managed to create a mailing list, you can send out a mass mailer drawing attention to the publication. In addition to obvious details such as the title of the book and the author, you should include a small description of the book, supply the ISBN, indicate the number of pages, as well as quote any short blurbs that you may have included on the back cover. If it is a book of poetry, you might want to include a short poem from the collection, or an extract from a longer poem. Most importantly, you need to indicate where the book will be available from (and from what date, roughly) and an estimated retail price. If you have a website, you can also advertise it online.
A common and often effective way to promote a book is to organise a launch. There are several possible venues you can select as a launch, such as a bookstore, a community centre, an art gallery, a university or even a restaurant. You might be able to organise the venue free of charge, though some may charge a rental fee. It is best to organise snacks and drinks for your guests, and you may want to invite a guest speaker. For a small venue, it may not be necessary to organise a microphone, but for a bigger venue, this is preferable.
If you are going to read from the book, keep it short. If you have published a book of poems, maybe read about 4 or 5 short poems – don’t, as I have witnessed on one occasion, read the entire book!
Organise the event at a time that will be suitable for most people. Organising a launch at 5pm rush-hour is not the wisest, nor should you leave it till later in the evening. A time at about 6.30pm – 7pm is best. If you want to organise a launch for the weekend, select a Saturday. Sundays should be avoided.
You can invite guests to the launch by sending out a mass mailer electronically, by normal post, or both, depending on how much money you have budgeted. In addition to friends, family and interested parties, also make a point of sending invites to the media, particularly those publications or radio stations that have book pages or programmes.
A word of caution, though. While you obviously want to draw attention to your book in order to generate sales, you are once again investing money. Book sales at launches are usually good, but this is not guaranteed. You also may be disappointed at the number of people who attend, so avoid over-catering. Remember it is a book launch you are organising, not a party with free food and drink!
Also be sure that you have an adequate number of copies of the book to sell at the launch – in fact, ensure that you have copies to sell at all. Even commercial publishers have found themselves in panic-stricken situations where the launch date has arrived and due to delays at the printers books have not arrived. There have been occasions when the books have arrived at launch venues only about half-an-hour before the starting time.
Another common means of promoting a book is to send review copies to newspapers, magazines, literary journals, radio or even TV stations. Send a review copy with a press release to the respective books editor, containing similar information to that suggested for the mass mailer.
Remember however that, in South Africa particularly, books editors on newspapers and magazines usually have very limited space, and they are not obligated to review your book. Also don’t nag editors to review your publications. Commercial publishers may employ the services of a book publicist to undertake such tasks but for an independent publisher you would probably just irritate the editor. The same applies to radio and TV programmes.
Should your book be reviewed in print, create a clippings file, not only for your own records, but also to assist your distributor – or yourself – when approaching bookstores for orders. Evidence that a book has received publicity in the media assists a purchasing manager in deciding whether to purchase a book, and if so, in what quantities.
(Originally published as Dye Hard Press newsletter 8)