by Ellen Urbani
You wrote a book. It’s been acquired! Now what in the world do you do with yourself?
Every writer has heard the axiom that penning a book is only the first in a long run of hurdles, and if we’re honest with ourselves every last one of us has believed that must be a mendacious proposition. Writing is hard work. Should a publisher acquire your book – Cue the joy! Cue the rapture! – it may still be a long race to the finish line, but you’ll be coasting along and breathing easy, surely.
I’ve long believed that if an author doesn’t relish the idea of a career in public relations and marketing just as much as s/he loves the idea of writing, then that person should stick to jotting notes in a diary and pick a different career. For publishing is a sales industry, and maximizing one’s chance of success hinges on learning to operate within that business model. If you are as blessed as I to partner with a publisher like Laura Stanfill at Forest Avenue Press, who focuses on growing a reputable business by championing her authors’ work, you will be charmed indeed. But if good luck really is the intersection of hard work and opportunity, even without such support there is much you can do to facilitate your own good fortune.
Pre-Launch Marketing Checklist
Beyond writing a helluva book, here are five important things I believe an author can do pre-launch to set him- or herself up for subsequent success:
- Secure stellar blurbs.
People will tell you that blurbs shouldn’t matter; that they probably all come from the author’s friends; that they don’t influence a book-buyer’s purchase. But get a good one, and it can make a world of difference to industry insiders as they decide whether or not to get behind your book.
- Land a delicious cover.
Let’s be clear about two facts: 1) we judge books by their covers all the time; 2) cover design and book-writing are two different art forms. Your art form is complete once you’re done writing, but someone else’s is just beginning. The only person I’ve ever known who can gracefully straddle both worlds at the same time is the multi-talented Gigi Little. Do everything you can to make your cover artist’s job easier – explain your motives in writing the book, call out your favorite parts/aspects, identify themes that matter most to you – and then get out of his or her way. There are going to be a lot of cooks in the kitchen while your book bakes. The sooner you learn to step aside and share the space, the better.
- Get yourself published somewhere else.
Write a book review for your local paper, submit an essay to a literary journal, dredge up that story you know would be great for Modern Love and send it in. Jump on this step as quickly as you can because it might take five months to go from submitting to being published. Be prolific and get yourself noticed. Readers will seek out books by a writer whose work they’ve already enjoyed.
- Make yourself available online.
Like it or lump it, the web is the way most well-read people access information nowadays, and a personal website is the only way you can control the information with which they connect. Keep it short, sweet, and visual; integrate interactive elements; and ensure it’s up-to-date and consistently novel.
- And then be online even more.
You may be convinced Facebook is a time suck, Twitter’s too shallow, and Instagram is for hipsters and tweens. But unless you interact with your audience by cultivating a social media platform, you risk presenting as a friendless dinosaur. Your readers are online. Meet them there.
For tips and strategies and much more detailed information on how to masterfully manipulate each of these five concepts –and a handful of others –to your advantage as you build toward your book launch, please join me on June 2 at the Old Church, 11th and Clay.
Ellen Urbani received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama, and following her Peace Corps stint in Central America, she earned a master’s degree in art therapy from Marylhurst University, specializing in illness and trauma survival. Ellen is a renowned speaker in this field, and her work is the subject of a short documentary, “Paint Me a Future,” which won the Juror’s Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2000. Ellen has guest lectured at numerous colleges and universities and has taught writing at Portland Community College and the SUN School.