Promotion Countdown Checklist
(a terrific way to develop your book's promotion plan!)
by Lorna Tedder
4-5 Months prior to publication:
1. Start planning your book tour, if you haven't already and you plan to do one. You may already have contacted bookstores about signings and might want to incorporate those events into your tour. Don't rule out discount stores, such as Wal*Mart, military base/post exchanges, and libraries.
Prepare a list of all media, writers' groups, reader groups, and associations for each town you visit. Make a list also of any bookstores or discount stores you might pass on the road between events and drop in to sign their stock and meet a few of the sales staff. (Yes, we may be jaded, but in a lot of small towns, people are still awed by writers and they'll brag to all their friends that they met a "real, live, published author.")
2. If you're running an ad in a magazine, you're probably near the ad deadline. Get it polished up and mailed off along with any author profiles, press kits, or interview questions that might be included with the ad or an article about you. If you wait much longer, the magazine's lead time of typically 4 months will leave your story behind as old news.
3. Start sending announcements/press releases/news stories to local and regional papers, alumni associations, business associations, etc. This may be your second announcement, but don't worry. You'll want the public to see your name several times so they can remember it and your book. If you already sent announcements out earlier, you likely announced the sale. This time, tell a little about the book and that it's coming. Next time, you'll send out announcements that the book is available. I've heard it said that consumers need to see your name 5 times, 7 times, even 15 times to remember it.
4. If you plan to make radio/tv appearances when the book is released, start putting together your audio/video clips from past interviews to pitch to the media and show them what a good guest you can be. Start with small, local stations to practice.
5. Near the 4-month mark, send out a mailing to booksellers. Target carefully and use a scrubbed mailing list or you could pay out megabucks in postage and see those finely crafted posters returned to sender. Best if you can get into a cooperative mailing with a limited target market.
Bookstores like to look at materials around the 4-month mark to see what they might like to order, usually in the 3-4 month time frame. Send your mailings out a little earlier or later, but the 4-month mark is sufficient and gives you time to answer booksellers' letters and send them any goodies they might request (bookmarks, etc)
Here's a handy-dandy calendar for remembering when to target booksellers so they'll order your books in time for them to hit the shelf when they're officially released:
If your book comes out in January, aim for booksellers in Aug/Sept/Oct/Nov.
If your book comes out in February, aim for booksellers in Sept/Oct/Nov/Dec.
If your book comes out in March, aim for booksellers in Oct/Nov/Dec/Jan.
If your book comes out in April, aim for booksellers in Nov/Dec/Jan/Feb.
If your book comes out in May, aim for booksellers in Dec/Jan/Feb/Mar.
If your book comes out in June, aim for booksellers in Jan/Feb/Mar/Apr.
If your book comes out in July, aim for booksellers in Feb/Mar/Apr/May.
If your book comes out in August, aim for booksellers in Mar/Apr/May/June
If your book comes out in September, aim for booksellers in Apr/May/June/July.
If your book comes out in October, aim for booksellers in May/June/July/Aug.
If your book comes out in November, aim for booksellers in June/July/Aug/Sept.
If your book comes out in December, aim for booksellers in July/Aug/Sept/Oct.
6. At the 5-month mark, you'll want to target distributors with flyers, mailings, or--if at all possible--personal visits. Sandra Hill, a big-name author and a talented marketeer, once told me that, to target distributors, count back 4 months from your release date and add a week. It's a great rule of thumb, but you might want to check with your publisher to find out when your publisher's sales reps will be pushing your book to distributors (some will vary).
Here's a handy-dandy calendar for remembering when to target distributors:
If your book comes out in January, aim for distributors in August.
If your book comes out in February, aim for distributors in September.
If your book comes out in March, aim for distributors in October.
If your book comes out in April, aim for distributors in November.
If your book comes out in May, aim for distributors in December.
If your book comes out in June, aim for distributors in January.
If your book comes out in July, aim for distributors in February.
If your book comes out in August, aim for distributors in March.
If your book comes out in September, aim for distributors in April.
If your book comes out in October, aim for distributors in May.
If your book comes out in November, aim for distributors in June.
If your book comes out in December, aim for distributors in July.
3-4 Months prior to publication:
1. Okay, if you've been following along, this is follow-up time. Follow-up is a major factor in making your promo campaign successful. You can't simply have wonderful ideas and scratch at the surface. You must implement and see if your plan worked or what you need to do to fix any problems.
For example, if you send a fabulous press kit to a major columnist who asked your publicist for more information on you, it won't do you a bit of good if your publicist didn't send the requested info. That's follow-up and follow-through. It doesn't matter how good your plan is if you don't carry it out (follow-through) and make quite sure it was carried out (follow-up). Double check your work up until now.
2. Visit local bookstores and introduce yourself. If you're in a discount store that has a book section, introduce yourself to the employee who handles that area of the store. (Later, when the book shows up, you'll want to stop in and say hello.)
3. Consider taking a local newspaper columnist to lunch. Give him/her an advance review copy. This is a good time to make nice to your local media.
4. Prepare a list of 10-12 questions about you and your book. These should be questions you'd like to be asked in an interview, and you must have great answers to these. Put this list in your press kit or save it to send to interviewers before your interview. Reporters and radio/tv hosts don't always have time to read your book before the actual interview and tend to wing it on the air or in person.
5. Make sure all your press kits are ready.
6. Complete any press releases/news stories you drafted earlier.
7. Update all your mailing lists if you haven't already.
8. Budget time to answer mail/calls from recipients of your recent mailings.
2-3 Months prior to publication:
1. At 2-3 months, you're in the downward stretch. Everything should be planned and well under way by now. If you've waited until now to get started, there's not much you can do by the time your book hits the shelf. If you've done absolutely nothing, I'd advise preparing press release/news stories with hooks specific to the newspapers and other media you're sending them to.
Many smaller papers will use these news stories you write about yourself verbatim. Some will even put their byline on what you've written, so don't claim credit for it yourself. Put someone else down as the contact point and create your own organization that's releasing this news. It could be your critique group, for all the newspaper reporter knows! Think about it: "Tremendous Writers Club announces....awesome mystery set in local alley." Who knows that the Tremendous Writers Club is actually you and 4 on-line buddies? For all the reporter knows, it's an elite professional organization. Your press release, if you write it as a news story under the auspices of an important bit of journalism c/o an impressive organization, can get a lot of positive attention because (a) the work's done, (b) the
reporter can claim credit for it, (c) it says exactly what you want it to say without any of those gosh-awful misquotes, and (d) you've got exactly the hook you want as opposed to a lazy reporter who can't think of anything to ask about but a sex scene. So if you're just now beginning your promotion campaign and you want to make a whallop with little time and money, I'd say go with the personalized news story.
2. If you've been following along, there's not much new to add at this point. You should be pulling all your previous efforts together, answering questions, scheduling interviews, visiting bookstores, following up on previous contacts, and adding to your mailing lists.
3. If you have your book covers yet, request permission to reproduce them. If you received them early enough, you may already have had postcards made up.
Many publishers don't send the covers until a month or two before the book's shelf date so this might be your first opportunity to do anything with them. You'll need permission to reproduce them because they are copyrighted. Get permission in writing as many photo shops won't touch the job unless they have the letter on file (they risk a huge, bankrupting fine
if they don't have it).
4. Have you sent out your press kits yet? If so, great, but make a few extras. You'll want to send out a few last minute kits to unexpected contacts. At the 2-month mark, you'll want to send out press kits to national and local media. Ideally, they'll schedule interviews sometime in the 2 week to 6 week time frame and the interviews will appear close to the
shelf date of your book.
5. Call the booksellers where you'll be giving signings and other events, especially if they're scheduled for your book tour. You'll want to verify that they've ordered the books. You don't want to drive 500 miles on a week-long book tour only to hand out flyers at stores that forgot to order.
6. The 2-month time frame is a good point to send your last mailing to booksellers. This was the point where, for my first book, I included a postcard that listed the type of promo goodies they wanted to give their customers. I printed cards that had my name and address on one side. On the other side, I provided space for the bookseller's name and address and a checklist that included stickers, bookmarks, autographed labels, flyers, etc. I had about 60% (phenomenal, but it was a very targeted mailing) respond with requests for goodies, which I sent to arrive just when my book did.
7. If you have copies of old books or out-of-print books, this is the perfect time to give them away to reader groups, booksellers, and local libraries. If you send them to libraries, get your photo taken with the happy librarian and send it to the newspaper. Having grown up in rural Georgia, I found that many, many county libraries are thrilled to get my
books and pose for a picture and that just as many small town newspapers are happy to print the photo with a caption I write. Small towns don't always have bookstores, but more and more rural residents have Internet capability--and that means they can order online.
1-2 Months prior to publication:
1. All right, we're almost down to the wire. If you've stayed proactive (good business management buzz word) everything should be moving smoothly along. There'll be potential problem areas so plan for those. Known unknowns as they're called in those Dilbert-esque management classes my employer sends me to. Plan, too, for those unknown unknowns or "unk-unks." Those are the things you generally can't plan for but you need to plan for anyway. Allow yourself extra time to get things done because life happens and things do go wrong.
Don't get too stressed--there's nothing you can do when these unk-unks happen except to know that you've lessened the problem by allowing yourself a little leeway. Easy for me to say--I'm the quintessential planner--but this is one time you need to be as organized as possible.
Keep a folder with a checklist inside. No matter how many books you've published, check off the items with the date you started and/or completed each one item.
This information will be useful for the next book you promote. Jot down any lessons learned. You may think you'll always remember your major faux pas on your first book's promotion, but with your busy writing career and the promotion of several books waiting in the wings, it's easy to overlook something until it's happening to you all over again.
2. If you've planned a book tour, you'll need to book your airfare and hotel around 6 weeks to 2 months before your tour, minimum. If you've been promised author escorts, verify their availability. If you're driving, plan your route. Allow time for flat tires, upset tummies, and mis-directions.
3. If booksellers and librarians have been especially kind to you, send them thank you notes or some form of appreciation. One of my personal success stories was with sending laser printed certificates of appreciation to the booksellers who passed out goodies for me. I think the certificates cost me 17 cents each and I put them in the goodie packages so I didn't pay extra for mailing. These were such big hits that the booksellers posted the certificates over their cash registers or in special "I know the author" areas. What a pleasant surprise for me!
Thank you notes (email doesn't count in this case) are very rare these days. Don't underestimate their power. When the neighbor's daughter doesn't send a thank you note for the gift you sent her for high school graduation and then turns up her nose at the wedding present you gave her, do you really want to send her another gift when her baby's born?
On the other hand, you help a child you barely know to find her lost kitten and you get a hug and a painstakingly scrawled note, the words simple but sincere. Chances are, you'll stash the thank you note some place special. You might not keep it forever, but it's unlikely that you'll trash it. I thought about thank you notes again this week when I cleaned out some ancient files to make more room in the office. I came across several dozen thank you notes I'd had for years. Three really caught my attention. They were for simple things that I didn't expect a thank-you for. Like giving a talk online. Like sending a care package to a terminally ill friend. Like praising an author's book at a conference. Because so few people bother to say thank you to the people who willingly bust their butts for them, notes like these stand out in the crowd.
I'm so glad now that I kept these notes because those 3 special ones were from fellow writers who have since died of cancer. Two of them never sold their books (they were SO close) and those notes are all the words I have of them now. Remember to thank those special people in the industry who help to sell your book--not to win their good favor but because you mean it.
4. To save time when the book comes out and you're too busy with "book stuff" to think about family duties, consider taking off one whole day and cooking/freezing enough meals for the first month after the pub date. Seriously. Either use your own favorite recipes or buy one of those cooking-a-month-at-a-time books. This is one of my secret weapons for getting everything done. By spending one day a month in the kitchen, you can have dinner ready in 20 minutes without thinking and you can keep some vague sense of normalcy in your home--which will be appreciated by the spouse and kids who by now are sick and tired of hearing all this "book stuff."
If you're one of those lucky souls who has someone else to cook for you, send them flowers or balloons because their sacrifice allows you more freedom to write or promote. One word of caution: if you spend your cooking day on your feet, wear comfy shoes and rent several books on tape to keep you entertained. You'll be exhausted by day's end, but the effort is worth it.
5. Start thinking about your book tour wardrobe. Look for garments that travel well, wash out in hotel sinks, and match just about anything. Try to mix and match if possible--you won't want to haul a bazillion heavy suitcases with you (and if they are heavy, it should be with promo goodies and not clothes).
One strategy I've used for travel is this: I head for the local thrift shop, buy several washable silk blouses for $3-5 each and several washable silk pants for a little more, and then find one or two silk blazers (also washable) for around $ 7-10 each. I buy bright colors that will mix easily, and for under $50, I have about 10 days' worth of outfits that look good and are comfy to wear. I carry a travel iron with me because while they are washable, they're also wrinkle-able! The good thing is that they're light to carry, plus I can wash them out in the hotel sink and they're dry by morning when I'm ready to move on to the next location. See? Plan, plan, plan.
6. If you're making goodies to pass out to fans and potential readers at signings and workshops, go ahead and make the goodies now. Often these do require a little assembly, even if it's nothing more than stuffing peppermints into tulle and tying it with a satin ribbon attached to a miniature, picture of your book. Better yet: hire the kids to make them
2 Weeks prior to publication to Debut-Day:
1. First, take a deep breath. Life may seem pretty crazy at this point. Chances are, you've already seen your book cover and maybe even held an advance copy in your hot little hands--all questionable proof that this really is happening and not some wonderful fantasy that will leave you disappointed when you wake up. If you're a first time author, then these
next few weeks will leave you dazed and exhausted. Your dream is coming true right before your eyes and you're almost tempted to believe it. You're still convinced your editor made a mistake and will call you at any moment and tell you the book really isn't going to happen after all. Either that or the editor bought the manuscript because her cat accidentally used it as a litter box and the editor was too embarrassed to return a dirty package to you.
You know the feeling. When you finally know it's for real is when you walk into the bookstore--or the grocery store, pharmacy, local Walmart, or online bookstores--and see your book there on the shelf. Ha, you think, that editor can't renege on her offer now! Don't get so caught up in the work of marketing that you forget to savor the moment. Make time to celebrate--you deserve it.
2. About a week before your book's shelf date, send your last mailing to readers/fans/favorite booksellers. The most popular mailings are author newsletters or postcards with the cover pictured (for easy identification in the stores). The postal service should take a few days for your mailing to arrive, just in time for readers to take it to town for their next bookshopping spree and to remind booksellers to push your book.
3. Touch base again with bookstores where you'll be conducting signings and other events. It's possible for employees to be moved or fired, including your point of contact. Make sure you sound enthusiastic about the event--you'll get the bookseller excited as well.
4. Mail out any last minute press releases, particularly to local papers and papers in cities where you'll be touring.
5. Send out happy, fun emails to everyone on your personal fan/reader mailing list. Give them online sites where they can buy your book quickly and easily.
6. Tell all your family and friends that you need their help in spreading the word about your book. Let them know you need their help. You'll be surprised at how far people will go for you if you ask sincerely. Ask them to tell as many people as they can (or email) about you and your book and why they should buy it.
7. Ask people on your email mailing lists and news groups if they'll let you know when they see it in stores so you'll know what kind of distribution the book is getting. Not only will they function as book spotters for you but they'll likely buy the books they spot.
8. Visit bookstores/outlets on the first day of the book's release. Have fun. When one of my books was released a few days before the official pub date, I received word that it was "out!" I took the day off from work and drove from one end of my county to the other, stopping at every grocery store, pharmacy, bookstore, and discount store I could find. I went into each armed with bright "local author" stickers and a pen. First I checked to
see if the book was actually there, then I introduced myself to the manager and asked if I might sign and sticker the books and why it was a good idea. Almost all agreed enthusiastically. And why not? My stickers call attention to stock they want to move. We both win. As for the one or two clueless outlets where assistant managers frowned at me and refused to let me "deface the property," I used my old sticky note trick. I carry a pad of the tiniest neon sticky notes with things like "Wow! Great book!" and "Terrific Read" scrawled on them. When no one's looking, I stick one--just one--note on the front book in the stack. Shoppers assume the book is recommended (it is, isn't it???) and pick it up.
Then they buy the one behind it because they don't want to mess with the stickered copy. It's so amusing to watch and it really works! I picked up a lot of local readers this way. If you have several days or a weekend, map out a 50 mile (or whatever distance is comfortable) radius of your home and practice these "drive-by signings."
You'll meet lots of nice people who have "never met a real author before" and you'll sell tons more books in your local area. These are especially helpful if you can't take time off from family and a day job for a full-blown book tour: every weekend, throw the family in the car and hit every book outlet you can in a different town within couple of hours of home. I call this the concentric circle method. You start with selling to people close to home and move outward, like a ripple in a huge pond. :)
9. Be gracious. No one wants to deal with a prima donna. The bookstores don't have time for that and won't push your books if you're a jerk. Bookstore clerks are not your servants and it's shocking how many authors seem to think they are. Be arrogant or mean and readers won't come back. Whether you're flamboyant or shy, just be nice and let the people who buy
your books, the people who sell your books, and even the people who pan you know that you're a nice person and you appreciate all the feedback and help you've received.
Now a note to ebook and self-pubbed authors: don't despair if your book coming out in 2 weeks and you've done virtually nothing. Your book will probably be out there longer than the typical, traditionally-published print book. (Been there, done that.) Pick up wherever you can on this checklist and go promote! The timetable I've given you is more crucial to trad-print authors because their books will be on the shelf for only 4 weeks (for
category novels) to maybe 3 months. What I call the shelf life of a banana. It is vital that they make a big splash in the first week or two after the release date because so many bookstores are now giving books only 2 weeks (!) before they pull the books, strip them, and send back the covers for credit.
That precious book authors have been waiting for for so long lands in the bookseller's dumpster, minus the cover, or sometimes in the local girl scout's charity fundraiser (illegal, but it happens and authors look like ogres for fighting with little kids over the selling of stripped books). Bookstores are hurting for cash flow and want to make room for the better sellers and best sellers, not a book that's soon shopworn. For the
trad-print author, especially category novels with a 1-month shelf life, everything done in promotion of a single book points to those first couple of weeks after the release of the book. For those following the non-traditional routes, you'll have a while longer to promote because your book will be physically available longer.
Whew! This has been a long year of promotion in the countdown to release, hasn't it? I failed to mention one really important thing: you're supposed to be working on your next book while you're preparing your promotions and if you're making a living writing, you might very well have one book released and in active promotion mode, one book coming out and in the earlier promotion stages, one book you're supposed to be writing, and one book with a synopsis/proposal due any day. Stop that maniacal laughing--I don't know where you'll find the time either, but at least now you have an idea of what to do when and how much of it you want to do.
© 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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