Promotion Countdown Checklist
(a terrific way to develop your book's promotion plan!)
by Lorna Tedder
9-12 Months prior to publication:
At 9 to 12 months prior to publication, you probably have just sold your manuscript or had it accepted for publication. Granted, many books wait 2-3 years for publication. Others hit the shelves in no time. I've personally seen two of my books published in just under 5 months and just under 9 months after the initial offer from the publisher. I have another that was accepted over a year ago and still no pub date, but that's not quite as bad as several friends who have waited 4 years to see publication. If you wait so terribly long for publication, your enthusiasm fizzles. If your book comes out very quickly, you may not have enough time to plan and implement a decent promotion campaign.
Assuming you're not publishing the book yourself (in which case a separate checklist of self-publishing to-do's applies), here's my list of things to do at the 9-12 month time frame, or as soon as possible if your book is coming out even sooner.
1. Take care of getting your business set up. Like it or not, you are a small business now.
a. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see what kinds of licenses are necessary for you to do business in your area. Also, file a fictious name or "doing business as" notice in your local newspaper if you're using a pseudonym or a business name. Administrivia, yes, but you need to make sure you appear to be a business when the IRS comes knocking.
b. Get a post office box. It might not seem like a big deal, but the first time a prisoner sends you a detailed love letter, the first time a stranger shows up on your front doorstep unannounced, or the first time someone with differing political views takes exception to your book by bashing in your mail box, you'll wish you hadn't told the world your
Trust me, folks: there are some really scary people out there. Do the safe thing and get a P O box for fan mail and other business correspondence. Yes, all writing-related correspondence! Just because it's a bookstore doesn't mean they can't have a threatening sort of person working there who might see your real address on promo correspondence--or dig it out of the trash. I hate to scare you, but stalkings happen more than you think and go unreported or unaided because the victims are brushed aside as being paranoid unless they're a major name author (only then, I suppose, are rabid fans justified????). I can name dozens of authors who aren't bestsellers or celebrities, but they've endured frightening, anonymous emails, letters, phone calls, and visitors. Get the PO box and if you don't want to spend that much money, share with a buddy or two.
c. Order your office supplies, including letterhead, business cards, etc. Make sure you use your PO box on your correspondence. You also might consider leaving off your phone number unless you want strange calls after midnight. You can always jot it down for certain correspondence or include it in the body of certain letters. Consider using an email address or home page address, too.
d. Open a checking account. If you open an account under your business name (ie Spilled Candy Books) or you stick words like "Lorna Tedder, writing account" or "Lorna Tedder, business account" on your checks, you may end up paying a monthly fee for the business account. That means you'll pay the same bank fees as the restaurant down the street or the big discount store on the corner, both of which send hundreds of checks through the bank every month. You, of course, would be happy with a couple of checks a year...advance and royalties!
In my area, we have dozens of banks, and the best deal I could find (by far) was $10 per month service charges if you let your monthly balance fall below $1000 at any time during the month. Keep $1000 in there every day of the month, and you don't have to pay a service charge and you get interest. Like I said, that's the absolute best deal I could find locally.
Others started at $20 per month and had minimum balances of $5000 or more. So I'm a tightwad. If I had $5000 lying around, I wouldn't leave it sitting in a checking account either. But given that I wanted checks coming to "Spilled Candy" and not to me personally, I decided a business account was the best way for me to go.
Now here's the secret to opening a checking account CHEAPLY. Shop around for the best possible deal, meaning the checking accounts that cater to low balance, free checks, and no monthly fees--if you can find them. (I know of one in my hometown that caters to college kids--$150 minimum, free checks under 25 transactions per month, and no monthly fees. Perfect if you need a checking account but don't plan to park a lot of money there.) When you open the account, do it under your name. Don't put "writing account" or "business account" or anything that might trigger the customer service rep to drag out her commercial packages, often the same for small and large businesses alike. (You--and the IRS--will know it's your writing account because it's separate from your household account and you can prove it.) You're just another average customer opening an ordinary account. Banks see this done all the time and occasionally try to force you into a commercial account--if they see 200 checks a month made out to "Jane Doe, Avon Lady"! If you're seeing THAT many checks per month, maybe you need a commercial account.
2. Start collecting ideas for your promo campaign. Go to your library and check out copies of books on marketing and self-promotion. Read what you can find on-line. Read old issues of Spilled Candy and other publicity newsletters. Watch what other authors are doing.
3. Talk to your publisher--now. A lot of publishers plan their marketing budgets in this time frame. If you want advance review copies sent to all Christian bookstores in Tennessee, ask for it now. If you want postcards sent to your University's alumni, ask now. You might not get what you ask for, but they can't tell you sorry, they've already written your marketing budget in stone.
4. Join groups and associations related to your book's subject, to writing, or to your community. When your book comes out, they'll all be happy to claim you as their own and they'll help you sell your book. These are also good networking connections.
5. Get your publication date. To be more specific, get the actual shelf date. Granted, some publishers change these as quickly as you change shoes, but you want to plan signings and other events around your book's availability. Otherwise, if you're doing tv talk shows promoting your July book that won't hit the shelves until August or vice versa,
potential readers might not be able to find your book after your interview.
6. Get your author photo done at your leisure during this period. You'll need a black and white shot and maybe a color photo as well. Make it interesting!
7. Send out faux galleys of your manuscript to genre review magazines for an early quote(if your publisher doesn't do this for you). Some of these magazines have a 3-4 month leadtime on publication, meaning that their deadline for an ad or review in the May issue might be late January. They might easily take up to 6 months to read your manuscript, in which
case, you'll barely make their deadline for the magazine and you've already missed any chance of an early quote for your promo material. For example, when I sold my first book in September, I send out faux galleys in early October. One reviewer gave me a superb quote in
mid-October, another in early November. The last magazine gave me a quote in mid-May, 2 weeks before the book hit the shelves. Guess which review didn't get included because my flyers and postcards were long since designed, printed, and mailed? Thank goodness I hadn't put all my eggs in one basket!
8. Ask your publisher if they have a standard list of reviewers for books of your type. If so, ask if you can send along a personal note with each review copy mailed.
If these suggestions seem unnecessary because your book's publication is so far away, don't be tempted to sit back and do nothing. Those 9-12 months will come and go, whether you prepare yourself or not.
6-9 Months prior to publication:
1. Make announcements to all newspapers, magazines, alumni newsletters, trade journals, etc that print a column or list of upcoming books or congratulatory news. Basically, anybody willing to print news of your sale. Most of these want the info about 6 months before the book's release, so at 9 months, start putting together your list of addresses. Also, be aware that some won't accept input by email so make sure you're submitting properly. You may send out an update when you're closer to publication, but getting the news out early and often will keep your name alive.
2. Ask your publisher for extra cover flats. Some will, some won't. Some give you hundreds and some give you...three. If you have plenty, you can leave them on conference goodie tables, cut them down to postcard size to mail to your fan list, or slip them inside left-over Valentine's Day card envelopes (courtesy of your favorite card shop) and mail them to booksellers. If you have only a few, you'll want to use them in ads. Make sure you ask your publisher for at least ONE cover that doesn't have a hole punched in it. They do that so the covers aren't returned to them for credit (covers are stripped off books that don't sell and returned for $$$), but it looks amateurish if the hole shows up in your ads.
3. If you're going to be selling your books yourself (and your contract allows it), apply for a resale license/permit. You may need to collect tax for your state. Your local courthouse should be able to help or you could look up your state goverment's department of revenue on the Internet. Your resale license might also allow you to purchase items tax-free, depending on your situation (whether self-pubbed, etc). You could end up not paying taxes on envelopes, paper, etc. Again, it depends on your situation and the state you live in, but check the fine print and see if there's a benefit to you.
4. Get your author photo taken now if you haven't already!
5. Fine-tune your promotion campaign strategy. At this point, your publisher has probably already decided what to do, how much money to spend, etc. You won't be able to influence their direction much after this point, but you can work on your personal strategy. Will you give talks to high school groups? Will you stay home and wait for radio hosts to call you? Will you go on the road? Look over your calendar and make sure you've allotted time to write, time for your family, and time for yourself. Schedule a vacation for as soon as crunch time is over. Schedule an occasional down-day where you do something absolutely unrelated to your writing and this book's promotion.
Decide if you really want to be on the road for 4 weeks this summer and if you can afford to, both financially and emotionally. Will your health take the stress of tv appearances or long sits at signings? These are important issues that most publicists and marketing hounds don't talk about, but they have a way of stopping you in your tracks. When my second book came out, I had just hurt my writing arm while swordfighting and aggravated the injury by constant click-click-clicking my mouse to get my third book finished and to my editor. As a result of not taking care of myself and pushing too hard, I couldn't hold a pen for almost two months, let alone sign my name. By the time my handwriting was legible again (as legible as it gets), my book was no longer on the shelves anywhere. The lesson? If you don't put your well-being ahead of your promo activities, your body will take care of it for you and in a way you're not going to like.
6. If you don't already have a mailing list, start one now. If you do, fine-tune it. Collect names and addresses of fans, booksellers who are friendly to you, newspapers and other media contacts, libraries, readers' groups, associations, alumni newsletters, etc. Add to the list when you find a new name so the list doesn't overwhelm you. Keep them in a computer program that will allow you to print them on labels when you're ready to mail away.
Another thing you should do is start collecting email addresses. I don't mean that you should go to other authors' guest books and HARVEST addresses, either. Here's how I do it: I have a distribution list set up on my email software. Every time I receive an email asking me a question about marketing or if I'll send them a free copy of my newsletter, I quickly click on the distribution list and add the sender's name. Same with anyone who's on any of my mailing lists or who enters my monthly drawings. Every time I log on to the computer, I add people, so my list is growing nicely. These are all people who have expressed an interest in what I write and talk to their friends about my work. I consider them my personal promo army. :) Consider adding this feature to your web page, if you have one.
7. Start drafting those press releases, news stories, ads, etc. It's not time to send them out yet, but hey, you never know when a swordfighting injury could slow you down! Keep them on your computer and tweak them whenever you think of something you'd like to add that will polish them up. It's also a good time to test any ads you're putting out yourself so you can make sure they're perfect before you pay big bucks for the real thing.
8. Send out any advance review copies or galleys to key booksellers for chain bookstores and influential independents, any key specialty or on-line reviewers who haven't received a copy yet, and key reading groups or association leaders who might prove helpful. Notice I say "key." You don't have to send a copy to anyone who asks. Be wary of on-line reviewers who are actually readers looking for free copies--you send them a freebie and your book gets trashed without the usual subtleties of a professional reviewer who at least knows how to give you a cull-able quote even when the rest of your review sucks dead canaries.
9. If you're sure of your title and pub date, you can go ahead and order bookmarks, flyers, novelties, and other promo materials of that sort. But only if you're sure or willing to risk it. Many an author has been ready to spit nails when he or she's been assured "no more changes," only to discover the day after they've written the check for 5,000 four-color postcards that the pub date's been moved out two months and the title's been changed yet again. We see those materials at conferences and readers' conventions where the pub date has been scrawled through with a new month. Then they look less professional than you'd hoped and you don't feel good about the product or the money you've spent.
10. Start talking to other authors in your specialty or genre about cooperative mailings. These can be much cheaper than going it alone, plus you can share fans. Check out flyer services used by some magazines, such as Romantic Times' Bookstores That Care mailings or mailings sent out by the Publishers Marketing Association.
11. Start planning and putting together your press kits. It won't be long before you're ready to send them out.
12. Keep your publisher's publicity department informed of what you're doing. Believe it or not, some publishers hate for their authors to do anything other than write, write, write. Others fully expect the author to be out there every day, hyping the book and begging for sales. In either case, they need to know what you're doing just as you need to know what they're doing. Otherwise, if you've just spent money on those 5,000 four-color postcards, you're going to be awfully ill when you discover from your editor's assistant that your publisher sent out near-identical postcards to the same mailing list as you did. Coordinate and leverage, and your money will go a lot farther.
For example, your publisher might be willing to mail flyers to 3000 key bookstores if you're willing to design and produce the 3000 flyers. Pool your resources, share the results.
5-6 Months prior to publication:
1. Okay, this can be a critical time if you haven't kept up so far. If you've been leisurely (comparatively speaking!) designing flyers, checking out which novelties to give away, collecting mailing lists, etc, for the past 3-6 months, then you're not going to be too stressed this month. This is the time for you to put the finishing touches on those ideas and place your orders.
Time to implement! Otherwise if you haven't done much yet, this is the time you need to get everything designed, ordered, and printed if you're going to make your deadlines at the 4-5 month time frame. You're cutting it close at this point because it's going to take some of your time up front before you can turn it over to someone else to implement. Not that you have to do everything I suggest here--you may need/want to do more, depending on your time and money budgets. Keep in mind that what I'm giving you is a loose schedule and your own plans may need tightening up a bit.
2. By the 5-month mark, make sure you've got your flyers, postcards, bookmarks, and other promotional mailings printed and ready to go to distributors, bookstores, wholesalers, etc. If you wait until this point to send them to the printers, well, you're depending on someone else to keep their schedule and that doesn't always happen. You don't want to prepare
beautiful flyers and send them to a terrific printer where they'll sit for 6 weeks due to hurricanes, floods, snowstorms, thieving employees, or such astrological phenomena as Mercury in retrograde. Things happen, on purpose and by accident, that can blow your schedule. Allow plenty of time and you can stay in control.
3. Keep updating those mailing lists! This is just like having a clean office--if you let things pile up, you'll never dig out. Take care of things as they come up and you won't be frazzled when you need something.
4. Talk to your local sales reps or distributors and ask them to send as many books as they possibly can to wholesalers because you're going to need them for signings and other promotional events. You can find out who to contact from your publisher or, if they're too busy/big/bureaucratic to help you here, ask your local booksellers who these people are. My local independents have been terrific about giving me names and phone numbers, moreso than any other source I've dealt with.
5. Contact booksellers about signings, workshops, and other promotional events. I know it seems early, but many of them, particularly chain bookstores, need time to coordinate with their headquarters, distributors and wholesalers, and sales staff. Some require a minimum of 4 months' notice.
Even small independents need a little notice. One of my favorite local indies told me that an arrogant author showed up at her store the day after Thanksgiving, when she was too busy to take a potty break, and informed her he'd be there in two weeks for a signing and she could start advertising his books. She had to turn him down flat because (a) the store was packed with holiday merchandise and there really wasn't any room inside the store for an author to sit, (b) she couldn't possibly get a shipment of books in time (c) she didn't have time to focus on any promotional events or prepare window displays as she often does, and (d) she'd just fired a couple of employees and was incredibly short-handed. The last thing she needed was this guy showing up and totally disregarding her hectic schedule. By comparison, another local author chatted with her the same day (while buying a couple of reference books) and casually mentioned her next book coming out in 4-5 months. The bookseller jotted it down on her calendar and suggested the author follow up with her after the holiday rush so they could schedule something special. But a reminder: even if you arrange signings at this stage, you will need to touch base a couple more times with the bookseller. People leave, people forget. That's why follow up is always critical in marketing anything.
6. If you happen to be on the road during this time (whether vacation or a business trip for your day job), visit bookstores wherever you go. Collect business cards, drop them a note when you get home, and add them to your mailing list.
7. Plan a date with your spouse or a Saturday with your kids. You've been spending lots of time concentrating on things other than family. This is a good point to let them know they're still important to you. Really. If you don't stay proactive on the homefront, then a few weeks before your book comes out, your family will start dropping hints about your never being around or always being busy with that $*&#% book. They'll begin to resent your book for the time it takes you away from them, and since it's your baby, too, you might resent them for begrudging you your dream. Keep the harmony and keep the book's publication in perspective. It'll likely be off the shelves in a few weeks or months. Hopefully your family and friends will still be there.
Go to Part Two =>
© 1999 by Lorna Tedder (excerpted from BOOK PROMOTION SAVVY, available from http://www.spilledcandy.com for $4.95)
Tedder is an award-winning, best-selling author who
routinely shares her writing and marketing expertise at
national writers' conferences, online, and through her
writing guides. Her non-fiction guides for writers
include BOOK PROMOTION FOR THE SHAMELESS, BOOK PROMOTION
SAVVY, and RECLAIMING THE MAGIC: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO
SUCCESS. All three books are available at www.SpilledCandy.com .
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