This is the one-year anniversary since I self-published my debut book of poetry, Every Watering Word. It’s been a wonderful and yet overwhelming experience at the same time. Wonderful in terms of poems that I have written for over 20 years culminating in book form. That my book is getting out into the world, into the hands and hearts of others. Yet, overwhelming in that the publicity required to make this book thrive is serious heavy lifting, lifting that is unfamiliar to me. Like living in a foreign country whose tongue I do not know and what little I do know I trip up in speaking. A year in, I’m just learning to navigate this new domain of book publicity with some success.
As an indie author, I am learning a lot from my achievements and blunders. Doing my own marketing for my book, and a fledging at that, here’s some suggestions for what to consider when you independently publish your book. I’ll share some things about my experience in retrospect, as well as epiphanies I am now learning as I go.
It’s not enough to complete the manuscript. Complete a marketing plan. When I finished my manuscript, I was so thrilled that it was done! I proofed it, selected an independent press, created the cover and sent it off for printing and publishing. The question I had not considered alongside my struggle of completing the book was how would people find out about my book? Just because your book is available for purchase does not mean everyone will instantly know about it. Your book being available through online sites does not mean such forums will instantly provide enough promotion. As an indie author, if you don’t outsource the marketing of your book and instead plan to do it yourself, several things you will need to consider and master. Create a plan in which you identify (1) your reading audience, (2) the social media influencers that impact and have access to that audience, (3) the places where you can do readings of your work and (4) a timeframe for rolling out your book promotion BEFORE and AFTER your book is released. The first two recommendations I’ll tackle here.
Selecting criteria to identify my target audience is challenging and ever changing. My life occurs within multiple intersections. Woman. Mother. Wife. Educator. Blogger. Poet. Christian. African-American. Those are the “big” ones alongside others. My challenge is to convincingly build bridges between the things I write with the intersections and experiences of others. My friends and people in my immediate circles of influence are awesome supporters who oblige the purchase and support of my book, but beyond that, how to figure out a larger possible audience remains a mystery. I’ve whittled it down to demographics of people with similar intersectionalities, however, that “conclusion” is diminutive and presumptive. Bestselling mass market books access not just a swath but a swarm of people from various walks of life.
I identify my (hopeful) reading audience as being diverse and global. I want my book to reach an international audience because the poems included in the book, though personal and grounded in my specific life, deal with universal themes found across our individual human experiences. Also, because several of the book’s poems have a journalistic lens to them—examining themes, issues and experiences of people worldwide and on a global scale—I thought the book would appeal to readers worldwide.
So, I’m venturing out to test what other broader audiences might be interested. I am corresponding with representatives from book clubs, individual book bloggers and reviewers who live worldwide, and bookstagrammers.
Create a reputation for your book by getting others to review it. Build outward from close cadre to influential reviewers. When I set out on my plan to solicit reviewers globally, I began with first garnering reviews from people already familiar with me as a person or with my work. I assembled a small cadre for reviews, asking acquaintances, friends, family, neighbors, mentors, fellow writers, former colleagues and students to share their reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. They pulled through for me and were phenomenal in their reactions and responses to the book. They came from various perspectives and considerations. Although I did not always agree with what they said, each was authentic in his or her reactions. Their reviews, and the topical diversity throughout each of them, provided the fodder I needed to share in my pitch letters to potential reviewers who knew nothing about me, with the hope that these reviews would intrigue and entice such reviewers enough to read and review my book for themselves.
I use Instagram to find and identify potential reviewers. Using the analytics on my account(@every_watering_word_author), I had some useful baseline information. More women than men engage and follow my account. My account has the most engagement from major metropolitan cities in the United States. Using this information to engage and appeal to such audiences with whom I have had the least appeal to date, I set out to identify men who might be interested in reviewing my book, as well as audience members globally. To potentially expand my reach, I began looking for potential reviewers through targeted hashtags (#bookclub, #bookreview, #bookstagrammer, #bookish, #menread, #untwineme and #bymepoetry to name a few). It can also be daunting given the massive access to data and people that is ever changing by the minute (literally). I feel at times that I am digging through massive data deposits, not always sure of ranking and relevance, but poring through them nonetheless to learn more. But I have been successful in reaching people globally to review my book. Reviews of the book have come from people throughout the United States as well as British Columbia, Quebec, Dubai, Switzerland, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the Philippines. One reviewer reading my work currently resides in Qatar.
Create criteria for how you select reviewers of your book. I first began with thinking to go for the most popular bookstagrammers and booktubers, the ones who have tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of followers. After assessing their writing and visual aesthetics, I contacted several. Given the math, I figured one post about my book could reach thousands of followers, and if just 10% of those followers purchase the book, well it will sell well in no time. That is rarely the case. As I later found out, many are sponsored and subsidized by large publishing houses to promote their books. Even those that do accept reviewing your book do always follow through with reviewing it and promoting it on their social media platforms. For those that do follow through, it can take months given their backlog of books to read. Such reviewers are longshots, but perhaps still worth a try for that big break if you can afford mailing books nationally and internationally (as I did several times).
So, I revised my targeting to include different criteria—booktubers and bookstagrammers who have smaller numbers of followers (the range being from a few hundred to few thousand), reviewers that had niches of books they read and/or who had specific audience members they themselves target. My thinking now is to create a groundswell, to build momentum across various groups rather than target the big few influencers with the hopes of making a blip on their radars.
Create a campaign for your book that includes YOU in it. Slightly separate but related to promoting your book, consider that you need to promote yourself as well. You must create a successfully married portrait of book and author for your audience. Advice I’ve been given in how to use Instagram is to provide a variety of posts that do not convey your talent exclusively but who you are as a person as well. People like to know that you are real, not just a steady and ongoing advertisement or bot always asking people to buy your book. Here I’ll talk about what I did with my Instagram site to improve its content and potential reach (I also have Twitter and Facebook accounts, but have devoted a different type of work in promoting them).
So, I started my account with first highlighting excerpts of my book. That is when this same friend suggested including photos. Then I began including lots and lots of family photos, but feedback I got from this same friend is that the site can confuse audience members, as the confluence of images could make it difficult to determine whether the site is about me as a mother or about my book and me as a writer.
My alacrity and discernment are evolving. Decisively, my site rotates excerpts of (1) my poems, (2) reviews people are saying about my work and (3) various posts of my other published works (including book and movie reviews and feature articles). I also include a few family and personal pics, just a few, so viewers can get a sense of who I am as a writer and a person. I also include inspirational words and phrases to inspire others because that’s who I am. I try to I say and do things to help others around me.
I hope this has been a helpful piece to read as you navigate the expression and exposure of your new (or current) publication.
Link to Goodreads reviews of Every Watering Word:
Link to my Instagram account (@every_watering_word_author)
Links to various Instagram, blog and magazine reviews of Every Watering Word:
Melan Mag: http://melanmag.com/2018/09/09/why-you-should-read-this-raw-and-honest-poetry-every-watering-word/
La Page Ouverte: http://www.lapageouverte.com/2018/03/poesie-every-watering-word-de-tanya.html
Konstantin Kulakov: https://www.instagram.com/p/BmtGrXol8Qh/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet
The Book Supplier (YouTube): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiDuSJ922_Q
Link to Amazon reviews of Every Watering Word: