Live from the United Kingdom
In a recent Killer Nashville Magazine story, Authors Guild President Roxanna Robinson said writers must be more aware than ever before, and engage in heavy self promotion, particularly those who self-publish. While expat CJ Daugherty is not self-published, she has had to pick up the slack significantly when it came to publicizing her own work. You may be surprised at what worked and what didn’t and how you might be able to use her techniques to boost your own writing career.
Awaiting the Publicity Tsunami
By CJ Daugherty
When my first novel was published in 2012, I sat back and waited for the publicity to wash over me like a soft ocean wave.
It never happened.
I was befuddled. My novel was the lead title for a major publishing imprint in the UK. Surely that meant a publicity tsunami would crash down on me, probably destroying the small coastal village behind me, and creating a fjord of publicity that people would talk of in awed tones for decades.
The reality of modern publishing publicity is less tsunami and more kitchen sink. The average marketing and publicity spend on a debut novel today is around $2,000. That figure includes the postage it costs to send your books to reviewers.
Trust me when I say: this doesn’t buy much attention.
A lucky few books get more. Last year, rumours swirled that a major publisher spent $100,000 publicizing one young adult novel by a debut writer. I have no idea if the rumours were true, but such a spend would be very rare. It usually only happens when a publisher has ponied up a seven-figure advance in a bidding war that got out of hand after too much espresso, or whatever it is that drives a publisher to throw a million bucks at an incomplete manuscript by an untested writer.
The vast majority of writers will experience what I did. I received a mid-level advance for my first book. My publisher sent the book to reviewers and paid for table placement in bookstores (for which I am eternally grateful). They also held a small gathering in their office for book bloggers, to which I was invited along with another author.
That was about it, as far as I can recall.
Welcome to the new normal.
At first I was frustrated—it is so difficult to get noticed in the crowded world of modern publishing. I longed for them to run an ad campaign, send me to book fairs, hold a tickertape parade—something flashy, you know?
When it didn’t happen, I took matters into my own hands. I couldn’t hold a tickertape parade for myself, or run ads on the London underground. But I wasn’t helpless.
Like every other writer, I had a blog from the beginning. Author blogs were all the rage in 2012, but they are largely out of fashion today. Blogs are time-consuming and fiddly, and not hugely interactive.
So my first act was to create a fan page on Facebook. It is a weirdly self-aggrandising concept—creating a “fan page” for yourself. But it’s just badly named. It’s not really a fan page. This is your permanent online billboard. It’s where you announce to the world, I EXIST and I AM WRITING AWESOME THINGS!! HERE THEY ARE!! LOOK!!
No one can stop you from having the world’s best Facebook page. It costs nothing. It can reach an infinite number of potential readers. In a way, it’s kind of amazing.
At the start, I studied the Facebook pages of authors in my genre. I found the ones I liked, and followed in their footsteps. This is the best advice I can give you, actually. See what successful authors do, and learn from them.
I kept that Facebook page busy, updating it at least once a day, regardless of what was going on. I used lots of images and posted lots of links. Kept it active. It grew slowly but steadily.
By the end of 2014 I had 3,000 followers on Facebook. Now I have 8,000.
I also converted my personal Twitter account into a public account, by changing the name to my author pseudonym. Anything you put on Twitter, the world will read. I recommend not keeping secrets there. At 140 characters, there’s only so much you can do with Twitter. I recommend being as charming and interesting as you can be, luring people to your books.
Twitter is where your readers can talk to you directly, and they love that. But this can make it a little overwhelming at times. I limit myself to a few visits to Twitter a day just because it can eat my writing time.
When my fourth novel came out last year, my publisher pushed me hard at Wattpad. Wattpad is an online publishing platform for aspiring authors. Unpublished authors can put their chapters up as they write them. It is unbelievably popular. It has millions of subscribers, drawn by the lure of free fiction. Here’s what I know about Wattpad—every single time you read about someone getting 1 million reads? They put their entire book up there for free.
Really good books get a million reads when they are put up for free in their entirety. So do really terrible books. The nice thing about Wattpad is it doesn’t discriminate. The bad thing about Wattpad is it doesn’t discriminate.
If you just put up a few chapters, expect a few thousand views. Most of them from existing fans.
Wattpad did not help my career. You want to know what did help my career? Youtube.
After the invisible publicity for book one, I decided to make a book trailer. Now, book trailers are usually pretty terrible. Plastic clouds float across the screen, then a still image of a pretty lady appears. ‘She thought she knew who she loved,’ the screen tells you. Then there are more clouds and a picture of a devastatingly handsome man. ‘But her love was a lie.’
So at first, I didn’t want one. But with little else going for me in terms of publicity, I decided I had to have one. My husband is an aspiring filmmaker, so he made me a trailer, using free-to-use stock footage off websites that provide that sort of thing, and free-to-use music to go with it.
He is embarrassed by this book trailer now, but I quite like it. There’s lots of running around and odd, cheap music.
I put it up on YouTube and created a CJ Daugherty YouTube channel where it could live. It got tens of thousands of views.
That made me sit up and take notice. For my second book, we invested a little cash in the book trailer—around $1,200. We hired an actress and a local camera operator. We got permission to film at a local castle (this is England after all).
The second trailer did better than the first. Lots of book bloggers shared it. The actress received fan mail from around the world.
No TV stations wanted to interview me (not famous enough), so I got my husband to interview me (we just put his iPhone on a tripod in the living room), and I put that video up on the YouTube channel, too. Thousands of people ‘liked’ it.
After that, we began making more videos. We’ve made book trailers for every book I’ve written. Earlier this year, we made a six-episode web series based on the Night School series—it got 200,000 views in a few months.
Collectively, my YouTube channel has more than half-a-million views. No other social networking site I’ve used has had this sort of impact.
These days, whenever I have a new book out, I hit the ground running. I personally run a social media campaign to back up whatever my publisher is doing to promote me. I use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. I run Facebook ads, which I design myself—I set a budget of $9 a day, and run them in carefully chosen regions to a targeted audience. I run YouTube ads to promote my videos—setting a similarly low budget. I cross-link everything to Amazon, and have buy buttons prominently displayed.
Social media is free (or damn-near free) advertising. It takes time to build an audience, but once you get the hang of it, it can be better than a traditional ad campaign. You reach people all around the world—opening up new audiences for your work. It can be a game-changer.
That said, it’s not as good as a tickertape parade. But you can’t have everything.
A former crime reporter, political writer, and investigative journalist, CJ Daugherty has also worked, at times, for the British government. She is originally from Texas and attended Texas A&M University. She now lives with her husband in the south of England. Night School is the first in a five-part Young Adult series with an accompanying web series. Her books have been translated into 21 languages.