Book Promotion from the Inside

The two phases of publication that occur after the author has finished writing the final draft of the manuscript are production and promotion. A couple weeks ago, I shared the production aspects of what happened behind the scenes with The Book Proposal Book after I submitted the “final” manuscript. Most of my work as an author during the production phase occurred in the first six months after submission — you can read about that in that previous post. Around the same time that my production activities (such as reviewing copy edits and page proofs) were winding down, my promotion efforts started to ramp up.

This post will break down what I did to promote The Book Proposal Book to make sure its intended readers would find out about it. If you’re thinking about promoting your own future book, or are tempted to compare my promotion efforts with yours (if you’ve already had a book come out), please know that every author and book is unique and will have a unique promotion plan as a result. A lot comes down to what your personal goals for your book are and what you’re personally comfortable with and have time for, so don’t assume that your plan has to look exactly like mine, at all. I’m just sharing what I did in case it helps anyone with ideas and to offer perspective on what one potential mix of promotion activities might look like.

My promotion efforts for The Book Proposal Book really began before the book itself even existed. I started talking about writing the proposal for the book in this newsletter and on Twitter back in summer of 2019. By continuing to talk about it over the next year and a half, I was able to bring readers and followers along on my publishing journey, getting at least some of them interested in the content and invested in the success of the book from the start. The process of getting a book published happened to be the topic of my book, so I hoped that making this journey transparent would help to build my authority and trust among the book’s future readers as I went.

You’re probably not writing a book about publishing a book, but you can similarly talk about your topic during the research phase in order to start to build interest and investment in your eventual book. You don’t have to think of it that instrumentally either. Look at it as facilitating an ongoing conversation about something you care deeply about, with your book being just one eventual contribution to that conversation.

The first official step of the promotion process with my publisher occurred in April of 2020, when I submitted a complete draft of my manuscript for peer review. At this point someone from the marketing team at my publisher sent me an author marketing questionnaire to fill out and return within a couple weeks. This questionnaire asked for information like my contact info, CV info (previous education, jobs, publications, etc.), a bio that could be used on the book jacket, a 250-word description of the book, a 50-word description, a 25–50 word summary of each chapter, hooks and key features that could be used to talk about the book to media outlets and booksellers, a list of 5–20 keywords, a list of comparable titles, descriptions of the book’s intended audiences, names of groups that might make bulk purchases, groups that should be added to the press’s mailing list, courses in which the book could be adopted, conferences where the book could be exhibited, academic publications where the book could be advertised, websites and online discussion lists that would be interested in the book…….. the form goes on for 5 pages so I’ll just stop here. You get the idea.

Every press has some version of this questionnaire, though they may administer it to you at a different point in the timeline. It’s a tedious document in which you provide your publisher with all kinds of information intended to help them with their marketing plan. It’s straightforward enough to provide the info but I think most authors agree that it feels like the most exhausting chore when you’ve just finished your manuscript and would prefer to take a rest instead. (If you follow the steps for drafting a proposal that I lay out in The Book Proposal Book, you’ll already essentially have your author questionnaire done before you even finish your book. You’ll thank me when your press sends you the AQ and you can just copy-paste from your Book Proposal Book worksheets. :D)

The next time I talked to my press about promotion was in January of 2021, right around the time I was wrapping up the proofreading process (my last contribution to the production phase). I had a Zoom meeting with my editor and the publicist who had been assigned to my book at the press. This was a general meeting just for the publicist and I to meet each other and discuss an overview of the promotion schedule. My publicist informed me that she would be mailing advance review copies in PDF form to potential reviewers and other influential people and that the real publicity would ramp up about a month before the book’s release date when finished copies of the book would arrive at the press. We discussed my personal media connections and the opportunities I might be able to pursue as far as pitching public-facing publications. We also talked about my upcoming events and possibilities for interviews and media appearances (e.g. podcasts). We agreed to reconvene in April or May to talk more specifically about publication ideas and venues we might pitch.

Your publisher will hopefully set up a meeting like this for you, about six months before your book’s release date. If they don’t, you can ask for the meeting yourself. Different presses have different kinds of marketing plans, and they vary from book to book too, but your press should have a plan of some sort and be willing to share it with you. You may need to take most of the initiative on things like pitching essays and media appearances, but it’s best to at least check in with the press’s publicist about those things, so you’re each aware of what the other is doing and can support each other’s efforts where possible.

Not much happened on my end between January and May (other than me continuing to write my newsletter and tweet about the book). I did receive a request in January from the advice editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education to contribute an essay related to the book. This was one of the top places I was eventually planning to pitch, so it was a nice surprise when she reached out to me, having received a blurb of the book (I’m not sure if this came to her directly from my press, but I assume so). I suggested an essay on “the six types of scholarly book proposals that don’t work” and agreed to submit my draft in early June so that it could go through the editorial process in time for publication around the same time as the book’s release date in mid-July.

If you’re approached by a publication before your release date, you can definitely ask them if your piece could be timed to coincide with the book release (or at least the availability of a pre-order link) because you want people who see your piece to be able to order the book right away. It shouldn’t be a problem unless the piece is very time-sensitive and pegged to a current event.

I also did a handful of media interviews in March and April, but those occurred purely because I happened to be a contestant on Jeopardy (a nationally televised quiz show) in early March. I talked to a few local reporters in Michigan (where I’m originally from), including one from the campus newspaper at Michigan State University (where I went to undergrad). These interviews were not initiated based on the book but I made sure to work it in, because any extra publicity helps, right?

In May—two months pre-release—I met up again with my editor and publicist to get more specific about promotion strategy. We brainstormed some essay ideas and potential publications to pitch them to. We came up with a bunch of possibilities, but one thing I really appreciated at this point was my publicist asking how much bandwidth I had for writing these essays so we could land on a realistic number. I decided three was workable, but that I could expand that number if anyone was willing to run excerpts rather than original essays. We also discussed a few podcasts that the press had been in contact with and decided which ones I would give interviews to. My editor shared his prong of the promotion strategy, which would be to reach out to influential writers and publishing people he knows to make them aware of the book (with the hope that they might say or write something positive about it publicly). I asked for a discount code I could share with people who read my newsletter and attend my workshops. (The code is LPS21! You can get the paperback here for 30% off!)

Over the next several weeks, I worked on my essays, sending drafts to my publicist so she could give me feedback and then take them to the publications we’d discussed (she’s an angel and I love her). Though we had hoped to get all of the essays placed before the book’s release date so we could do a sort of media blitz during release week, the timing didn’t work out that way in all cases. (In a future post, I’ll go into more detail about our strategy for the essay pitches, so stay tuned.) These were the essays and excerpts we tried to pitch — they’ll all be appearing at one point or another, though there’s one we’re still trying to place.

  • “When Should You Submit Your Scholarly Book Proposal?” (original essay placed at Inside Higher Ed, published on release day July 13)

  • “The Peer Review Process: What Sets University Presses Apart” (an excerpted guest post on publishing expert Jane Friedman’s widely-read blog, published on release day July 13)

  • “6 Types of Book Proposals that Don’t Get Contracts” (original essay placed at The Chronicle of Higher Education, published July 19)

  • “Trying to Get Your Scholarly Book Published? Some Tips for Maintaining Perspective and Staying True to Your Vision” (an excerpted guest post on the Princeton University Press Ideas Blog, to be published this week)

  • A more narrative essay on what I learned about acquisitions and peer review from trying to publish a book about how to publish a book (this is the one we’re still trying to place, I’m pretty confident it’ll land somewhere eventually)

The podcast interviews will trickle out a bit more slowly. A couple will come out in August (I’ll let you know when I have exact dates) and the others will likely follow later on.

The print and online reviews of the book will also trickle out over the coming weeks and months (maybe years, where academic journals are concerned). The groundwork was laid months ago by my publicist sending advance copies out, but we have yet to see what all will pop up. The first review (that I know of) appeared in Robin Sloan’s newsletter, and it was a really nice one!

I also have a bunch of stuff coming up that *could* be seen as promotion for the book—workshops, courses, and a free 5-day challenge to help people find the perfect publisher for their book projects—but these are primarily intended to help people make progress on their proposals, not to sell my book. More about that—and why I’m not planning any “book talks”—in a future post too.

If you read last week’s newsletter you know that the other major piece of my promotion strategy is to encourage word-of-mouth buzz among readers via social media. I know that the most trusted recommendation about a new book probably comes from someone you already know who has actually bought and used the book. That’s why I’ve asked my readers to help out by sharing photos of their purchased copies of the book on Twitter and Instagram. My hope is that everyone out there who needs a guide like The Book Proposal Book becomes aware of its existence and aware that they have a friend who could give them a first-hand review if they needed one.

As I hope you can tell from this (already too-long) rundown, a lot of the “work” of promoting this book has fallen to me. This would be true even if I’d hired a professional freelance publicist (I didn’t), because I’m the one who can write essays about my topic and in most cases I’m the one who already has the ear of the core people who might buy this book.

My publisher has been amazingly supportive, which I feel very fortunate in, because I know not all authors find this to be the case. I will say that the intimate knowledge I’ve gained about the way publishing works as a result of writing this book has helped me to see some of the work my publisher has done that would have been opaque to me otherwise. That’s part of my purpose in sharing posts like this — so you can see what might be going on behind the scenes even if you’re not always directly informed about it. I also want you to know what things you can ask your publisher about; everything might not be possible at every publisher for every book, but you should at least be able to have a conversation about what is possible.

I haven’t even gotten into the emotional component of all this promotion stuff. Know that it is indeed exhausting and that a lot of it kicks up a general feeling of nauseous anxiety for me, but I’m trying to fight through it. I believe in the book, and I know that the more people who know about it, the more people it can help. I return to that thought when I’m tempted to just hide in a hole for the next few months!

I’ll be back next week with a follow-up post on how we decided which essays to pitch and which publications to take them to. In the meantime I hope you’re enjoying some rest this month and/or making great progress on whatever you’re hoping to get accomplished. If you still need to get your hands on a copy of The Book Proposal Book, you can do that right here!

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