Privately Publishing and Promoting Your Novel

By Frank E. Bittinger

            After you have written your manuscript and polished it to the best of your abilities, your attention turns to putting your novel out there for the public to read. Deciding to privately publish your written work, instead of or after you have submitted your manuscript to mainstream publishers, is arguably the second most important decision you will have to make in your professional writing career—the first being your decision to begin a writing career.

 Speaking as an author who has chosen this route, I know the effort that goes into researching private publishers, for there are literally dozens and perhaps hundreds out there from which to choose.

The biggest piece of advice I can offer you is to select a publisher who can make your book available to Ingram Book Group, the largest wholesale distributor of books in the world, because most book stores order product from Ingram instead of from individual authors or publishers. If one of your goals is to make your book available to chain stores such as Borders or Barnes and Noble, it is imperative for your chosen publisher to have the capability to make your work available to Ingram. This also gets your foot in the door when approaching book stores about scheduling signings for your novel, but we will talk more about that later. Amazon also offers a nice publishing set up and your work will be available on their sites worldwide.

My second piece of advice is to select a publisher who can offer you the total package. Watch out for those who will offer you a list of services—such as cover design, ISBN assignment, etc—priced individually as extras even if they claim the basic publishing is free. Request publishing guides so you can gain a better understanding about what the publishers have to offer you. And look for deals. Many times publishers will have incentives for submitting your work by a certain date. For instance, if you submit your manuscript by such and such date, providing it is ready to be submitted, you may get a bigger discount on copies or a certain number of copies free. And do not be afraid to ask the hard questions such as “If I am paying to have my cover art designed, do I retain the copyright or will I have to pay a royalty to the artist if I choose to use the artwork on publicity posters or postcards printed in order to promote my book?” (A hint about cover art or editing: Local colleges and universities are full of students looking for projects as part of their class work or work experience; seek them out!)

Take your time and do the research, get the most for your time and effort. It will be worth it.

If you find one or more publishers who look good to you, remember you have the ability to go to the bookstore or library to check out books they have published, to see firsthand the quality of the merchandise. Look at the binding, the quality of print and the paper on which it is printed, the dust jacket, and any and all artwork on or in the book. You want your published work to be something of which you are proud, as well as a book that will hold up to more than one reading.

Once you have made your decision and your book is in the process of being published, the next step is planning your battle strategy for promoting your novel. It’s never too early to begin promoting, unless you have not yet written the book.

Local newspapers and magazines are a terrific way to get exposure. They are usually interested in artists living in the community and may be able to offer you an interview or an article. Radio stations are also a viable option. Remember, you can offer one or two autographed copies of your novel as “give-aways” to the above-mentioned to sweeten the deal.

Bookstores are always on the lookout to host author signing events. This is why it is imperative to have your book available to Ingram Book Group. Don’t be afraid to go to bookstores and introduce yourself. Tell the manager or assistant manager you are an author, take a copy of your book with you, and you are interested in scheduling local book signings. Ask if your book is available for the store to order. Persevere, for every no you get, you will get a yes.

Libraries are also places which host author signings and offer a great opportunity for promotion. In most communities, when an author donates a copy of his or her book to the library, the local paper or magazine will print an article and perhaps a photograph.

Find out if there are any book clubs in your area. A good source for this information is the library and the newspaper. You will often see blurbs in the paper or flyers in the library for these events. Make your offer attractive to the book club, tell them you are available to come to the club meeting to discuss your novel and to answer any questions. Trust me, readers discuss the books they read with family, friends, and other people they know. My experiences with book clubs have proven to be enriching and worthwhile.

Offer to give readings: this is where an author will read excerpts from his or her work at events. This is an excellent way to intrigue people who may be walking by or merely browsing. Select what you believe are some of the best scenes from your book, ones which will capture the attention or imagination of your audience.

The biggest piece of advice I can offer about promotion and publicity is to network, get out there and get to know people. Hand out bookmarks and flyers, mail postcards, and, yes, even give away a few copies of your novel. Word of mouth has proven to be the most effective method of advertising and it’s free in most cases. The more people you have talking about your book, the more publicity you will have.

You can’t sit back and wait for it to happen. Be active.

Get your book out there—get the buzz going.

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