Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
It’s nice to think that there’s some kind of publishing instruction manual that you receive once you get a book deal. It’s even nicer to think that your agent or editor, are on top of every detail, ensuring that nothing slips through the cracks and that you can proceed with confidence every step of the way.
But as with any part of life, there’s no manual. First-time authors many times feel as though they’re fumbling through their book release, and try as we may, we agents and editors aren’t always able to stay ahead of the curve. Things get missed. Time slips away from us. And what’s even harder to admit is that this is the kind of business in which the squeaky wheel really does get the grease.
In some cases, so, so much grease.
Marketing departments operate in a similar fashion. They try their best to plan a head and give every book time and thought. But their focus is largely spent on only a handful of titles. These are the titles guaranteed to make the company money (meaning everyone will be able to keep their jobs and continue to take risks on new authors while continuing the careers of mid-list or low-list authors). So, these titles get the team’s focus. And the result?
Marketing teams tend to be reactionary. Their days aren’t spent brainstorming strategies and researching the market. When not in meetings, their days are spent doing a few things for the big-release books and then responding to the dozens if not hundreds of authors who have books releasing in the next six months and who NEED TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE STAT.
Like I said…the squeaky wheel theory abounds in publishing. And it’s so easy for an author who doesn’t want to be a bother…who doesn’t want to create enemies…to slip through the cracks.
So how do you prevent becoming a crack-dweller? How do you get attention and results without ticking anyone off?
First, you must understand the process. Then, you must understand when and how it’s acceptable for you to step in and get things moving.
1. Eight months before your book releases, you should start to think about what YOU are going to do to promote your book. List out people or organizations you’re connected with. List opportunities you could create for yourself. List ideas, no matter how ridiculous.
2. Six months (though sometimes four if the publisher is being particularly slow), you should get on the phone with the marketing department. This is something that your agent can easily set up for you (don’t expect the publisher to set it up!). All you need to do is email your agent and ask about how you can start work on your marketing plan. They should offer to get a call set up with the publisher’s marketing team. If they don’t, demand that they do so. If they insist that you wait a bit, hold off for a month and then make the request again. You don’t want this call to take place less than four months from release (though if you’re in a pickle, ANY kind of call is better than no call).
3. Before the call, talk with your agent about your marketing ideas. Your agent may be able to offer insight and help you refine your strategies. They may also be able to tell you what has/hasn’t worked for other clients. When you have your plan finalized have your agent email it to the marketing team in preparation for the call.
4. During the call, go over your marketing ideas and see if there are places in which your publisher can come alongside you to maximize your efforts. Maybe they will cover the cost of materials? Maybe they will do a social media push in anticipation for an event you’re throwing? Maybe they’ll buy some ad space if you have a big-time interview lined up? Your agent can help with this…they can be the one to make these requests. REMEMBER! A publisher is much more likely to throw money at something than they are to agree to take on any sort of work load. The only time that this isn’t true is when the request includes design work. Publishers and marketing teams seem very open to adding to their designers’ work loads.
5. During the call, ask them about their plans. Ask about review copies, ads, radio spots, blog tours, special sales, and other common strategies. You want to know what they’re doing and when. Maybe there are opportunities for you to piggyback on their efforts.
6. Ask what they need from you. This is very important because it positions you as a team player. At the very least they may want a “Big mouth” list from you. This is a list of possible reviewers. At most they may want to check your availability for events, etc.
7. After the call, your agent should follow up on any commitments the marketing team made and/or press for answers on any unresolved requests.
8. Four months before book release, you should get serious about nailing down your plan. Start contacting people and create a calendar. You want firm commitments and you want clarity. There is no use for someone who says “Sure I’ll help!” but then never says what they’ll do. Fill in the blanks FOR them. Tell them what you’d like from them and give it a deadline. But also make it as easy on them as possible. For example, if you want to be featured in their newsletter, provide the text and images. The less work they have to do, the more likely they’ll be to say yes.
9. Schedule your calendar for marketing efforts to hit 1-6 weeks following your book’s release. It’s okay if some efforts spill over. It’s not okay if efforts happen before your book is available.
10. KEEP IN MIND that release dates are always subject to change. This is why I suggest that you don’t schedule anything to happen during release week. Chances are, bookstores won’t have the book yet. And of course there are horror stories about releases being delayed by months on end. This is where your agent comes in handy. They can get to the bottom of any debacles, and when you’re in the planning mode, they can be in touch with the publisher, letting them know the great things you’re planning, and following up on the marketing team’s efforts.
11. When the book releases and you move through your big marketing push, keep your agent informed of any noteworthy developments. This is important because you want your agent informed, but you don’t want them to feel like they’re being overwhelmed by small updates and tidbits. So in other words, your doing radio spots and a blog tour isn’t news. But what IS news is if you see that your book is climbing rapidly on Amazon’s lists or if you managed to get a mention on a large-platform program or website. These are the kinds of updates that your agent will gladly share with your editor and publisher so that they can see how much success you’re having.
12. Four months after the book has come out, you’ll find that your publisher’s marketing team will be less excited to spend time marketing your book. Don’t take this personally! It’s the ebb and flow of publishing. If you have a clear request, then you can feel free to ask your agent to make that request (many publishers are happy to do what they can to assist your ongoing strategies), but the days of talking strategy and brainstorming with your publishing house are over. It’s on you! Which is scary, but it’s part of publishing and you can do it!
Bottom line? The author should get the ball rolling about six months before release by contacting their agent (if they have one) or going to their editor. It’ll be 8-10 months of crazy marketing focus after that, and then it’ll be over. Just like that. The best part is that you’ll know that you did your best to promote and make your book a success!
Okay, what questions do you have about this process? Ask away!