5 book marketing lessons from an author who is getting royalty checks

Our guest blogger today is nonfiction author Laura Laing, who took my Book Publicity 101: How to Build Book Buzz e-course in February 2011 in preparation for the July 2011 publication of Math for Grownups from Adams Media. When I learned that Laura earned out her advance in less than a year, I knew I wanted to share how she did it.  Here’s her story; let it inspire you!

5 book marketing lessons from an author who is getting royalty checks

By Laura Laing

So let’s get one thing straight from the beginning. I wrote a book about math. Yes, math. And I’m proud to say that sales are churning along, and I’ve gotten some great media attention. In fact, I’ve discovered a quirky little niche, writing articles about math, giving interviews about math education. Who knew?

If a book about math can sell, you’ll have no trouble making the most of sexier topics, say caring for your elderly parents or a science fiction novel featuring the microscopic inhabitants of Pluto who are pissed off at its downgrade to dwarf planet.

In the year since Math for Grownups first hit the bookshelves, my professional life has completely changed. And it’s fair to say I’ve learned a few a few things along the way.

1. Go in for the long haul. 

Old-timers tell me that before Amazon and the internet, a book’s success was determined within two months of its birthday. That’s because brick-and-mortar bookstores handled all sales and publishers took care of all promotion.

Those days are over.

I’ll be promoting Math for Grownups until it goes out of print—and then I might very well take back my rights, have it republished and go for another round. These days, sales don’t end and neither does book promotion.

Because of that, you’ve got to pace yourself. Come up with a doable plan that won’t put you six feet under within three months. Be very realistic about the number of hours in a day you have to devote to this project, and then give it all you’ve got.

2. Make the most of your publisher’s publicist. 

Even though your book could conceivably be on the shelves for the next 100 years, your publisher isn’t going to offer you undivided attention, even if your name is Malcolm Gladwell.

First off, be nice to your publicist. This person is handling several titles at the same time, so don’t expect it to be all about you. But second, milk that relationship for all it’s worth.

I sent my publicist weekly reports detailing the promotion I did and media mentions I received. These reports included guest posts for other blogs, interviews and reviews. In return, she sent out copies (for reviews and blog contest prizes), handled most of the press inquiries and pitched me to the major media outlets.

My goal was to be the easiest author she worked with, so that I was front-of-mind when she wondered whom she should pitch next.

3. Invest in promotion.

These days, you need a blog, headshot and more. Don’t skimp. When I developed my blog, www.mathforgrownups.com, I ponied up for a dedicated URL and a great designer. When I held my book launch at a local bookstore, I sprang for cookies and iced tea from a fantastic local café.

You want to look like a professional? Act like one.

You can also make your promotion work double duty. My web designer recommends me when his clients need writing. The café owner did a Math at Work Monday interview with me for my blog and promoted my book launch in her café.

4. Stay on message.

Mine was simple: Math doesn’t have to be your BFF, but you do have to get along in public. Once you have that message, find the different angles and make sure that everything you do circles back.

The worst day of my book promotion was last fall, when USA Weekend unexpectedly ran a piece about everyday math—based completely on my book. Should have been the best day, right? Problem was the poor writer got the math wrong. Readers noticed. And they blamed me.

I posted a comment to the web version of the story, explaining that the math is right in my book. Then I started promoting the heck of out of the story. Already, Huffington Post had blogged about it, and it was mentioned in Daily Kos and the Columbia Journal Review’s blog.

When I wrote my own blog post, I chose my message carefully: We all—even fancy reporters at USA Weekend—make math mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes are scary and public. But the world doesn’t end.

In the end, the error played beautifully into my own message: Math is hard, and it’s worth it to get it right. The story became a great example of why my book is important.

5. Don’t be afraid to fail.

You will make mistakes in your book promotion. You will miss opportunities.  You will get tired and take a break. And all of that is a-okay. Take some risks and cut yourself some slack if things not working out.

It’s just a book, not world peace (unless your book is a solution to world peace). Plenty of other people out there have much harder jobs than ours. And if you don’t take the risk, you’ll never know what could have happened.

What lessons did you learn while promoting your book? Please share them by commenting!

If you’re ready to learn how to promote your book, actually use what you learn, and get all of your “how do I do it?” questions answered, join us for the next Book Publicity 101: How to Build Book Buzz e-course June 4-29, 2012.

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28 Responses to 5 book marketing lessons from an author who is getting royalty checks
  1. Denise Schipani
    May 8, 2012 | 3:26 pm

    Great advice, Laura! I literally just wrote, in an email to some writer friends about my own book publicity efforts, “I’m going for the long haul.” I also love, and am living, #4. Thanks for inadvertently validating my own approach so far!

    signed,
    Denise, Mean Mom and hopefully future royalty-earner!

    • Sandra Beckwith
      May 8, 2012 | 3:33 pm

      A wise comment from another outstanding Book Publicity 101 student! I’m glad to hear you’re in it for the long haul, Denise. Your “Mean Moms Rule” parenting book is evergreen and should stay in print for a very long time.

    • Laura Laing
      May 8, 2012 | 3:34 pm

      So glad you liked it, Denise. That long-haul thing was such a relief. I hated thinking that I only had one shot.

      I figure if you approach your book promotion, like you do your parenting (in other words, take your own advice!), you’ll be very successful. :) Be a mean author!

      Laura

  2. Rosemary O'Brien
    May 8, 2012 | 3:39 pm

    I agree and would like to add. In this day of virtual connections, you have to use every single connection you have. Posting on other people’s blogs, in forums in which you are a member, interviewing other authors for your blog – all of it can lead to sales. My first novel was published in ’02 before blogging was so popular. The marketing for my next book (which I just signed with a publisher) is going to take advantage of the thousands (millions maybe?) of people I know through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and years of participation online.

    Congratulations, Laura!
    Rosemary

    • Sandra Beckwith
      May 8, 2012 | 3:47 pm

      Congratulations on the contract, Rosemary! Things sure have changed in the past 10 years, eh?

    • Laura Laing
      May 8, 2012 | 3:50 pm

      Thanks, Rosemary. The whole social media phenomenon is part of the crazy-making of book promotion these days. It’s both wonderful and exhausting. Of course, I’m a girl who doesn’t do so well with too many choices!

      That’s why I say to pace yourself. When my book came out last summer, I had a to-do list as long as both arms and legs. I gave myself two months to get as much of it done as possible and then I took a break. I got my second wind and then took a break. (Repeat as needed.)

      Social media is great, and it also requires a great deal of care and feeding. But you’re right, it does put a great deal of the control in our own hands.

      Laura

  3. Karin Mesa
    May 8, 2012 | 3:55 pm

    This excellent practical advice!
    The long haul and pacing oneself. I also like the bit about treating your publicist kindly! They really are treasure!!!!

    • Sandra Beckwith
      May 8, 2012 | 4:14 pm

      Thanks, Karin. I agree with you about publicists. I always emphasize collaborating with your in-house publicist. Let them do what they do best (and do what you can to support that process) while you take on other important tasks. And remember how overworked they are!

    • Laura Laing
      May 8, 2012 | 6:01 pm

      Glad you found my experience helpful, Karin. I do love my publicist — in fact, I need to get something in the mail to her. She just had a baby!

      Laura

  4. Jason Alster
    May 9, 2012 | 1:54 am

    Hi,
    That was great. I tutor students with learning challenges , test anxiety, math phobia and also published books for learning success. I am also a professional reviewer/ book trailer video producer. However , if you want to send me your book, I would be happy to review it on Amazon.com since it is in my field.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      May 9, 2012 | 7:45 pm

      Thanks, Jason. Math can be a particularly challenging subject for students of all ages!

      Sandy

    • Laura Laing
      May 9, 2012 | 8:12 pm

      What a great offer, Jason! I’ll shoot you an email.

      Thanks!

      Laura

  5. Brian T Shirley
    May 9, 2012 | 7:17 pm

    Great points, I’m working night and day on my promotion. As an independent though, I have no publicist. Lord, that would be nice. I do have a new publisher I’m working with, who asked me to write this book, so maybe there is a publicist in my near future.Thanks

    • Sandra Beckwith
      May 9, 2012 | 7:47 pm

      Hey Brian, don’t worry about not having an in-house publicist to help you with your current book. They generally only have time to help launch the book before they move on to the next new title on their list, and there’s SO MUCH you can do beyond that initial launch. And, if your publisher assigns a publicist to your new book, well then, WHOOHOO! You’ll have a publicity partner, which is pretty exciting!

      Sandy

    • Laura Laing
      May 9, 2012 | 8:14 pm

      What Sandy said. While I am ever grateful for my publicist, I certainly had a lot of work to do on my own. The main benefit was having someone else send out the press release and keep up with advance copies.

      Of course now that my publicist is on maternity leave and had already moved on to other projects, these things are falling to me. You can do it! And who better to promote your book than the person who knows it best?

      Best of luck.

      Laura

  6. Janice N. Richards
    May 9, 2012 | 8:42 pm

    I appreciate your helpful input. I have done many of the things you suggested. My challenge is the rural area I live in. There is no culture, and no interest. Book signings average 5-10 books on a good day. Some days nothing. I don’t give up and I keep writing. What I need to know is how to get an in with someone who will do an outstanding review such as the Time News. My once a week paper isn’t helping. I am on disability an very limited income so I can’t do some of the things I would like to do at this point. If you have any suggestions I would appreciate them. Best of luck to you and great job.

    • Laura Laing
      May 9, 2012 | 11:10 pm

      Listen to Sandy, she’s the expert!

      I would say that a limited budget and a rural area calls for virtual promotion! The internet is the perfect place to promote your book. (By the way, 5-10 books at your local bookstore is great!) Social media is exhausting, but it does really pay off. So here’s my advice:

      1. Create a website or blog. I favor blogs for this, because a) you can get one for free with WordPress and b) you can continue to engage your readers.

      2. Plan to update your blog on a regular basis. Consider this part of your job.

      3. Promote the heck out of your blog on facebook and twitter (at least). This drives traffic to your blog, creates interest in your book and sets you up as the expert.

      4. Use your internet presence to create your platform and get press. You are the expert on your topic (even if you are a fiction writer; Sandy has great advice on that). Make sure journalists know to contact you as a source in your area of expertise. Then promote your book (using your message).

      As I said, it’s not easy. I’m just now getting to #4. But I’ve had a good time exploring all of this. Sometimes I throw my hands up in frustration, but I eventually come back to this cycle. Good luck!

      Laura

      • Blaise Freeman
        May 10, 2012 | 4:30 pm

        Great advice Laura!

        What are you doing to “make sure journalists know to contact you as a source in your area of expertise”? I’m also interested in that.

        • Laura Laing
          May 10, 2012 | 8:34 pm

          Great question, Blaise. Right now I’m still working out those details. Fortunately, I am part of a great circle of freelance writers, most of whom know about my book. Several of them have interviewed me for stories in various publications.

          But now it’s time for me to up the ante. I’m signing up for a variety of press services — like HARO and ProfNet. If I can keep up with those emails, I’m guessing I’ll find some queries from journos that are the right fit for me.

          Next up is investing in a media list. One great piece of advice that Sandy offers is to send out press releases that can quickly become stories. Sadly, I just couldn’t fit that into my original promotion plan. But it’s never too late.

          To make the most of this media list, I’ll also set up google alerts for news and events that will fit with my book. If a study comes out about math education or credit debt or something similar, I might be able to spin my press releases to meet those needs.

          Of course the key is to be on message for me and for the journo. I hate receiving press releases that are off-topic, so I won’t be stretching things. Luckily, my topic is applicable in lots and lots of places.

          Another cool piece of advice I got recently was to look for other upcoming math books. I can pitch reviewers to do a joint review of my book and the new one. Not sure if that will work, but it’s worth a try!

          Hopefully that helps. If Sandy wants, I can come back and share the good, bad and ugly of this next step! :)

          Laura

  7. Sandra Beckwith
    May 9, 2012 | 8:53 pm

    Janice, I suspect that you didn’t write your book solely for the people where you live — your book’s target audience might be national or even global, right? Identify your target audience, then work to get your book title in front of that target audience. Reviews are one tactic, but not the only one, for sure. Perhaps there are bloggers who write about your book’s topic and you can be interviewed by them, or your topic might be perfect for talk radio.

    There’s a lot you can do with a computer and a telephone that doesn’t cost anything.

    Your goal with book promotion is to be very clear on who is most likely to buy your book, and then get your title in front of those people. There are lots of free or inexpensive tools and tactics to use. If you put all of your energy into reviews or your local media, you could be missing opportunities.

    Good luck!

    Sandy

  8. Sandra Beckwith
    May 10, 2012 | 10:47 pm

    Laura, you’re always welcome to come back!

    FYI … you can also build an in-house media list with the names of the reporters writing the math stories.

    Sandy

  9. Carole Cancler
    May 23, 2012 | 5:18 pm

    Wow. Thanks to Laura and Sandra and everyone for the helpful info. My first book is due to be published in October, so I am soaking up all of this and making a plan, getting a website, etc. Love your advice, Laura. Very practical and wise advice. (Of course, I’m signed up for Sandra’s “How to Build Book Buzz” workshop in June!)

    • Sandra Beckwith
      May 23, 2012 | 5:24 pm

      I’m glad you noticed that Laura ROCKS, Carole! And I’m sooo looking forward to working with you in just a few short weeks. I know I’ll enjoy it!

      Sandy

  10. Joy V. Smith
    May 24, 2012 | 5:07 am

    Thanks for those helpful ideas! My book, Detour Trail, (fiction)won’t be out until next year, but I want to be prepared.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      May 24, 2012 | 1:16 pm

      Good luck, Joy. Learn as much as you can now — it will make a difference!

      Sandy

  11. Dotun Adewunmi
    August 8, 2012 | 5:39 pm

    WOW!
    Thank you for this valuable advice. It’s very insightful and will help me. I’ve been blogging since 2010 and released my 1st ebook, called Downfall, on Amazon last month. I figured since I’m an unknown writer, a good way to present myself and my book was to write individual blog posts about the book’s main issues, then just keep blogging. Overdoing it defeats the purpose of my book, so I keep it average but try to be compelling. Your advice gives me an oversight that I appreciate for internet marketing. Self-publishing really is a career for itself, but as you say, it’s a long term business. The more I read from like-minded authors and experts, on common issues and ideas, the more I feel it is worthwhile.
    Cheers! :)

  12. Kerry Alan Denney
    February 4, 2014 | 9:05 pm

    Thank you, Laura, for this excellent article, and thank you, Sandra, for your wonderful and informative site. I’ve recently been slogging through multiple articles and sites about self-promotion for writers because I have two novels being traditionally published this year, and I must admit I’m SEVERELY overwhelmed not only by all the info available, but also by the numerous avenues by which a writer can and must promote his/her work… I hardly know where to start. But thanks to Sandra’s excellent tips and advice, I’m slowly getting a firm grasp on developing my platform. I’m starting by building my email list, creating my brand, and pinpointing my target audience so I’ll know the best places/ ways to advertise and promote my work… and whoa! Overwhelmed again, lol. But thanks to your #5, Laura, I’m learning to fear the “epic fail” less, and brave the challenge without worrying so much about skinning up my knees and elbows. Thanks again for sharing, both of you!

    • Sandra Beckwith
      February 4, 2014 | 9:14 pm

      Thank you for such a thoughtful and positive message, Kerry! You made me smile!

      : )

      Sandy

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