How to Publicize Your Book Online
The last year has been brutal (obviously), as the country and the world suffers through a global pandemic. While not as severe as loss of life or the loss of a family member, the loss of professional opportunities is still devastating. That’s especially true for authors who have spent years working on a product only to have your book tour or book parties canceled. Nothing can fully make up for a book launch party, but there are many steps you can take to promote your book online. And so many of these strategies should continue after the pandemic, as they really expand your audience nationally and even globally.
I wrote a little bit about how I’ve made the best of my pandemic experience in this post, but I get so many questions about how to promote a book in a pandemic, that I thought a separate post would be helpful. You can find my book, The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution HERE.
The Pandemic Wiped Out Opportunities, But It Created Them Too
I thought the pandemic would ruin the chances to promote my book. It didn’t.
In the absence of in-person events, many bookstores, historic sites, museums, libraries and more are hosting virtual events. There are pros and cons here to be sure. You can reach more people across the globe and you can actually do more events because you don’t have to travel. Audience members don’t have to change out of their pajamas and they can tune in while doing tasks around the house. Cons: people are getting a bit tired of zoom and I’ve noticed attendance numbers across the board declining. People are less likely to buy books without the peer pressure of the author sitting at the back of the room signing books. You can improve sales by asking the host to email the link to the book after the end of the event. Here are a few other tips to make your virtual event a success.
- Dress up! You should wear event-appropriate attire on top of course, but I recommend putting on the whole outfit. It really helps you get into the right frame of mind to present your work, especially if the event is at the end of the day. I would often find myself dragging after a long day and eating dinner, and the last thing I wanted to do was present online. But putting on a suit and heels reminded me that I do enjoy my job and I’m lucky people want to tune in to learn more. Also, keep in mind, while it might be your 50th event, it’s probably your audience’s first time meeting you. You want to bring your best for them!
- Spend some time arranging a pleasing background. Nothing is worse than tuning into an event and seeing someone’s random corner with awkward angles. Please note, you don’t have to have a separate room! You can make a corner of a room look beautiful and intentional. Just give some thought to what people are seeing.
- Invest in decent equipment. I purchased a Yeti Blue microphone, a ring light, and a separate camera at the start of the pandemic and it was the best money I ever spent. Hosts REALLY appreciate when you deliver good product and I like looking my best as well.
- Mix up the material. Pretty quickly, I developed three separate “tracks” for my book talks. One was focused purely on the creation of the president’s cabinet and George Washington’s presidency. The second included additional information about the Revolutionary War and Washington’s councils of war, before turning to their influence on the cabinet. The third examined Washington’s cabinet in the long history of cabinets and how they’ve developed into the 21st century. I had those slides ready to go and could prepare quickly. But I always tried to include some personalized information or specific details for each host. And it paid off, as I heard from many audience members who tuned into several events and really appreciated that they learned something new each time. The entire talk SHOULD not be from scratch each time, but having a unique element for each talk is essential in the age of filmed talks that live forever online.
I wrote a separate article about why podcasts are such a valuable medium for historians and my favorite podcast recommendations. You can read that article here:
8 History Podcasts That Help Explain America Now
Nothing is better suited to podcast form than history
But, let me emphasize that podcasts are a phenomenal way to sell books (they do NOT replace them) and the hosts have been a silver lining of the last year. I would also add that you should welcome podcast invitations of almost all sizes. Even the smallest podcasts have dedicated listenerships and they are more likely to promote your work broadly.
I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to sign books for readers and that was a big bummer. I initially allowed readers to send me the book for a signature, but I discovered that I’d spend a fortune on return mailing and it was impossible to manage those details. So I took a page from history and designed my own book plates.
In the 18th and 19th century, when books were still quite expensive, readers frequently placed a book plate in the inside of the book to claim ownership. These plates often featured the family crest so that they could be passed down through the generations.
I designed my own book plates featuring my hound (John Quincy Dog Adams). I used Canva to make the design, then loaded the logo to Vistaprint, where you can order the 4x6 sticker in bulk. I then set up a page on my website where readers could submit their information. I received every submission in my inbox, which is much easier to manage than random emails, direct messages, and tweets. You can see my book plate page HERE.
Book clubs are the best way to give your book a long shelf life. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a way to reach all book clubs. But here are a few ideas:
- Reach out to friends and family! Ask if they are in a book club or know someone who is! Most people really want to help, they just don’t know how best to assist your publishing process. If you make a specific request, they are usually thrilled to say yes!
- If you live near a book store, introduce yourself and be supportive! See if they have a book club as well.
- Encourage readers to leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Book clubs often look for recommendations to these sites.
Social media has two main benefits. First, it introduces you to strangers and new readers. Second, it helps you connect with readers. If readers feel like they have a relationship with you, they are MUCH more likely to recommend your work and encourage others to read it. And word-of-mouth recommendations are still essential. A few tips:
- One way to promote your book without just selling is to explain a current event and how your work provides more information.
- Share other people’s work! Being generous is good form in general and makes you a more appealing “follow,” but also encourages others to share your work.
- You don’t have to be on all channels. Pick what works for you. If you hate writing, consider Youtube videos!
- Pick your channels based on your intended audience. For example, LinkedIn is great if your book is non-fiction, and business or self-improvement especially. Instagram super friendly to novelists. Twitter is the place to be for politically-oriented work.
You must have a website. No exceptions. People will google you to learn more. You should be in charge of what they find. It’s not that hard, seriously. A few tips:
- It doesn’t need to be fancy. A description of who you are and what you do, easy links to your work, and contact information is just fine.
- But for the love all that is holy, please make it easy for people to contact you! That’s the whole point. You can have a contact form if you don’t want to put your email online.
- You don’t have to know how to code. Squarespace and Wordpress offer very accessible templates that you can tweak. I find Squarespace more user-friendly for beginners, but that’s just my preference.
- You should own your own URL. It’s just good business practice and helps people find your website.
It’s my hope that all of these strategies continue after the pandemic is over. While I’m really looking forward to in-person events, I recognize that I’ve been able to reach so many more readers online. I also plan to continue my book plates, as not all readers will be able to attend a signing. At the very least, I know how much I’ll appreciate post-pandemic book launches because I know the alternative!
For more tips, check out this post by Dr. Megan Kate Nelson: