One of the odd paradoxes of authorship is the fact that we work alone, but our business is entirely dependent on cooperation and word of mouth.
Lots of people want to help you, most likely more than you realize. Even before your book releases, family members, friends, coworkers, and members of professional groups may come to you and ask what they can do to help you get the word out. Let them!
The number one thing people can do is buy your book and talk about it. That’s the baseline, right? In practice there was myriad ways willing fans can move the needle for you.
The following is a list of tasks that can make a huge difference in the life cycle of your project. If someone volunteers to help, suggest that they…
1. …Post a dynamic, positive review online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc. Remind any volunteer that the same review can appear at all those sites. Encourage them to eschew vague praise in favor of detailed, enthusiastic references to the book’s hook and distinctive selling points. A hundred words of thoughtful prose always trumps ten words of empty hype.
2. …Gift the book to folks they know would be interested in it. If possible, you should offer to sign/
3. …Request the book at bookstores by name and title, or place an order and purchase it from a local vendor. Showing interest creates interest. This can often break the ice and put you on the store’s radar.
4. …Recommend the book to family and friends, either in person or in a personal note (not a blind email blast, ever). If they are mailing a letter, offer them a bookmark, rack cards, or postcards to enclose as fun extra.
5. …Suggest the book to people they interact with on social media, chat rooms, or forums; in the event of positive responses, encourage those new converts to do the same.
6. …Champion the book in book groups, social clubs, and libraries they attend regularly. Many venues are desperate to get beyond the ubiquitous bestsellers, and a personal connection can tip the scale in your favor.
7. …Place your book in the hands of influencers and social mavens who command plenty of attention and access because of their work, platform, or status. This can be anyone from literal celebrities (on any level) to expert schmoozers in the know.
8. …Contact anyone they know who works in the media, suggesting/
If they actually, practically, tangibly follow through for you, thank them profusely for their time and recognize their efforts whenever and wherever you can. Anyone who helps you do your job because they believe in your work deserves ample praise and gratitude. Be a bright mirror that reflects their respect and affection back.
But…don’t expect the moon and the stars. Nobody owes you anything. No one will ever care as much as you do and they shouldn’t, because it’s not their job.
As an adult human, you should know the eau de BS that lingers around art. 90% of people don’t mean what they say and don’t do what they promise. Pro-tip: make it a point to keep your word and honor your commitments and you will attract a network of folks who do likewise…because A-gamers always seek out A-gamers. Everyone has more fun when they don’t have to deal with parasites, cheats, and jerks….so don’t be a parasite, a cheat, or a jerk.
As the NYC saying goes: it takes ten years to become an overnight success. Calling people “instant bestsellers” or “lucky stars” betrays deep ignorance and toxic delusion about the business of being an artist. Only a willful simpleton thinks art or success or skill happens by accident. A career is a small accretion of positive shifts. What might appear to be drastic, dramatic leaps forward are often the result of a decade of grinding anguish and compromise. Respect those years of backbreaking work and acknowledge the dedication, focus, and patience required to see something through to fruition. Graciousness goes a long way.
Of course that means the best thing you can do for your own career is to help talented people around you by offering the precisely the same kind of support you would like to receive—not as passive-aggressive extortion of favors—but because it is the right thing for a professional author to do. Doing a kindness in order to demand a kindness is NOT a kindness. If you expect payment then you are selling not giving; don’t be surprised if people don’t choose to buy from a bully. Support your genre because it improves your professional ecosystem.
Stay on the lookout for talented people and beautiful books that could use a boost, that need a nudge into the spotlight. Authors are forever trying to come up with things to blog about and tweet about… Not only do you increase bandwidth and boost signal for worthy objects of praise, you actually improve your genre and build goodwill with exactly the kinds of talented colleagues who inspire you. Bonus: you’ll be reading the best and the brightest, which will improve your skills as well.
By connecting with folks in and out of your immediate acquaintance you’re also establishing meaningful networks upon which you can call when the time comes. As Seth Godin says, start building the marketing platform you’ll need three years from now. Seek out books that expand your awareness and reach. When you’re looking for books/
- What is my niche within my genre? My subgenre? My tropes? My vibe?
- Who are the authors with audience overlap?
- What books access overlapping markets or topics?
- What books outside my niches would I recommend enthusiastically to my fans?
- Outside my niches, what writers do I admire for their personality, skill, or grace?
- Who in my trusted circle could use a bump because of personal or professional distress?
- How can I build positive bridges for other members of my A-gang? For respected outlets? For critical colleagues?
By extending a brief, positive helping hand you signal your authentic, grateful support of the community and open yourself to cooperation and reciprocity.
Have you ever been to a picnic or BBQ when someone throws a big beachball out to the entire gathering? The whole party will work in tandem to keep the ball from touching the ground simply by lifting their fingertips, trusting others to do the same—fifty, sixty, a hundred hands raised to keep bouncing that ball into the air as long as they can…because it’s fun and because there is a collective joy in offering gratitude and defying gravity as a community.
I think our careers, our craft, and our art are no different.
Sometimes we have to keep a project, a launch, a deal in the air by ourselves, but more often we keep things up and moving with the help of obliging bystanders willing to bump our effort skyward. Invite helpful cohorts willing to bounce your projects higher. Watch for folks around you who might need a bit more buoyancy to stay out of the dirt. Steer clear of cheats and jerks who want to pop the ball, hoard the ball, steal the ball. Every chance you get, knock every ball you encounter toward other friendly, extended fingertips with the time and energy to pitch in as well. Help everyone keep things aloft.
They’ll return the favor when you least expect it.