Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Terry Shames here.

We are being asked this week to talk about how we promote our books these days to catch the eye of readers during this stay-at-home time. What worked yesterday may not work today.

I assume this question means, “Anything short of standing on street corners, next to a stack of your books, beating a drum.”

I remember as a new author being timid about beating that drum, and then someone said to me, “If you’re proud of your books, you want people to read them, and the only way they are going to know your books exist is if you tell them.”

You have to let people know, what you books are about, what readers might like it about them, and how they can get their hands on them. With bookstores closed or only partially opened, that last part is more important than ever. Is your independent bookstore mailing out books? Does the reader read ebooks? Are you an independent author who will be selling your own books?

It was frustrating enough to tout our books before Covid threw everything we knew out the window. Last summer our local magazine featured me on the front cover and inside was a great article about the books I write. Many people in my community said, “I didn’t know you were a writer.” Sigh. I thought I had been obnoxiously blatant about it. I had done everything but run through the streets naked with a banner screaming the name of my latest book. I know, a vision you don’t want in your head.

The fact that I don’t have a book coming out soon has been bittersweet. On the one hand, I feel bereft. I have become used to publishing a book every year. I liked the excitement of planning events, doing interviews, traveling, being on panels at conferences. It’s part of what I had come to think of as normal ways of publicizing my books.  On the other, publicizing books is really hard these days.

I’ve watched friends whose books have debuted in the last couple of months frantically trying to figure out how to let people know their books are out. They have done the  “new thing,” of having virtual book events. So far, I haven’t heard any reports on how well that works. Virtual events are enticing in the Bay Area than they might be other places, because it means not having to travel two hours round trip. Time I could spend reading the book!

One of my friends had a non-fiction book published in April and the book hit the LA Times best-seller list. How did that happen? He had been preparing for months, doing what all of us should do—contacting review sources, writing emails to influencers in his field to ask for their endorsements, and being friendly and professional to every human being he comes in contact with. I had been slated to interview him at a local bookstore. Instead of moaning about our need to cancel because the bookstore was closed, he cheerfully said, “We’ll do it when things calm down. It may be a while, but we’ll make it work.” I pitched the book every chance I got. Of course, it helps that I think the book is wonderful.

Writers have also stepped up their hype on social media. I don’t mean hype in in a perjorative sense. Even in the best of times authors have to do everything they can to let people know they have a new book out. I don’t think it works to be coy. The hype I like best is simply “please buy my book” with a picture of the cover and a few enticing words describing it. Professional.  

There have also sprung up social media sites designed to help authors showcase their books. Again, I don’t know how well they are working to sell books. It’s an ongoing experiment.

One last personal note, off subject: For too many years the publishing industry dismissed books by writers of color, books with “different” settings, with “different” concerns from those written by white writers. That is changing, gradually, (as so many changes occur in the publishing industry.) I have been paying special attention in the last year or so to buying books that expand my reading to those traditionally under-published authors—thereby, I hope, expanding my understanding and appreciation of other lives and concerns that don’t touch my life personally. It has enriched my understanding. In this time when it’s so hard for all authors to promote their books, I’m especially mindful of seeking out those traditionally underserved writers. Try this one: 

P.S. Anthony award nominations came out today, and they are heavily-weighted with traditionally under-represented authors. I’m so pleased. What that says to me is that under-represented authors have probably been producing great books for years, but have been ignored by publishers, meaning readers were short-changed. Let’s hope the change continues to expand and flourish.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Some excellent points, Terry.

Terry said...

Thanks, Dietrich. I felt like the subject was too big for one post. I'm sure others this week will have other perspectives.