Well first things first–it’s important to note that when you talk about your book that is NOT marketing buzz. Buzz is when OTHERS are talking about your book. This may be readers, bloggers, industry experts…but when you talk about your book you either generate an annoying noise (which you don’t want to do) or build awareness – which is what is required to create a “buzz friendly” environment.
Let’s first cover what not to do, which unfortunately happens too often. In some ways this is good because with most people taking the wrong path, it will make it easier for you to stand out from the pack. Many authors think that what is needed is to create a blog, a Facebook page, and tweet about their books. While all these things are fine in and of themselves, they really don’t create much awareness. The problem is that you are trapped in an echo chamber where you are spending huge amounts of time talking to yourself. Remember, buzz is all about engaging others, so you need to break out and enter the larger world beyond.
Create a plan and start early
An essential component to buzz generation is having a plan and starting early. Ever wonder why it takes so long to release a book traditionally? Well a lot of it has to do with having a runway that will increase your chances of getting some buzz. Too often I see self-published authors that don’t realize this. They are so excited to have their book done that they rush to hit publish, but without any built up anticipation that release day can be anti-climatic. If you don’t know how to create a plan, study how successful authors have rolled out their own books or watch what publishers do for a given title.
Step number one is to set a release date…and make it far enough in the future that you have enough time to get the word out and have people start talk ing. Personally I would schedule your release date once you are done with your first draft. Give yourself plenty of room. It’s better to have a release date a bit further away than so close that you might miss it or not have enough time to start building awareness.
Keep your name out there
When writing a book you are tantalizing the reader. You don’t rush to get everything out on page one…you lure them with a juicy tidbit…then follow it up with another one a little further in…and so on…and on. You are essentially placing candy at regular intervals to coax E.T. from the shed. The same is true when it comes to building awareness. You don’t want to have everything happen in one short window…rather you should space things out. Schedule your time and have something new coming out from yourself every few weeks leading up to the release. That may be a press release announcing the book. A guest post on someone else’s blog (a reviewer or another author that is writing in your same genre), an interview, a podcast. There are tons of sites out there that need content. Create something that their readers would be interested in and provide content that goes beyond just your book. Want some examples? Look at the guest posts on my publisher’s site:
- The end of the story (for finishing series or how to write a good climax)
- Writing like a guy (written by a woman)
- Twisted Characters and why we love them
- Why fun matters
Release the cover
Start with debuting your cover. Most authors will do this on their website…but again that makes it inside your echo chamber. This doesn’t promote buzz as few will see it. It’s better if you do this on a site that already has a lot of eyes. When traditionally published, this might be done on the publisher’s site, or they might grant an exclusive to a particular blog that already has a big readership. But what if you’re self-published? No worries. There are still a lot of techniques you can utilize.
- Goodreads has a bunch of groups where readers and writers come together. Join one of these groups and debut your cover there.
- Why not write an article about your cover creation process? Fill it with advice on things you did right and those you did wrong and post it on a site or forum that caters to other authors.
- Engage readers by presenting a few cover examples and ask them to vote on which is best.
- Remember don’t focus these activities on your blog (in your echo chamber). Find a site that already has eyeballs on it and pitch a story idea to the person who runs it. Make your posts something that has interest beyond just your book. Perhaps a discussion on bad cover design, or the pros and cons of depicting characters on the cover, or how to find a good cover artist.
Advanced reading copies
Known in the industry as ARC’s, these are copies of the book that you get to reviewers (blogger or just readers) in the hopes of getting a review. I recently went through this with Hollow World and broke it down into two groups. Some early ARC’s went out six months before release. The purpose of these were to get quotes that could be included inside the book (or on the back cover) so I needed a lot of lead time. I’ve already had thirteen bloggers finish their reads and provide blurbs I can use. Some have posted their reviews now, others will wait until it is closer to release date.
Then there will be the actual ARCs that will go out two moths or so before release. Currently these are still being laid out, but I already have the comments from the first set of ARC’s included in them. If possible, try to work with the reviewers as to when they’ll post their reviews. Again it’s better to spread them out then to concentrate them all at once. When each one hits you can draw attention to it, which gets the blogger increased page hits and reminds readers of something you have coming out soon.
As the release date approaches, it’s time to get people excited with some early reading. Again it’s best to debut this somewhere other than your own site. When Orbit released my series, they had a Facebook page where they released a new chapter each time a certain number of likes occurred. People wanting to read more would ask their friends to like the page so they could get the next installment.
Orbit and I ran a very successful pre-order campaign for my second series, The Riyria Chronicles. Those that pre-ordered the book, could email in their receipt, and in exchange they received signed book plates, bookmarks, and a short story. Hundreds of people took advantage of this and the first week’s sales for The Crown Tower were three times higher than the first week’s sales for Theft of Swords.
As release date approaches it’s time to turn up the volume. A good way to do this is with a blog tour. Essentially you are doing the same things that was discussed in the “Keep your name out there” section, but the difference is you want concentration (just before and just after your release date) and you want to reserve dates for each activity. You do this so that each venue can have their own “exclusive” day and so that you can promote their sites by indicating who will be posting what when.
Many people think of Kickstarter as a way to fund projects…and it is…but it’s also a great mechanism for helping with pre-release buzz. For my Hollow World project nearly 900 people got copies of the novel in July even though it’s three months from the official release date. This means I had 900 people who were “special” and “in the know” who could talk about Hollow World and make others jealous because they couldn’t get it yet. I think the pre-release promotional opportunity of doing a Kickstarter, was even more beneficial than the income raising potential. I’m still three months from release date but I already have:
- 24 Amazon Reviews
- 2,325 people who have shelved the books on goodreads
- 203 ratings & 80 reviews on goodreads
“Best of” and “most anticipated” lists
The holy grail of marketing buzz is when your books are listed on “best of” or “most anticipated” lists. Again, you as the author can’t make this happen, but you can help plant the seeds by building awareness about your book. If no one knows about your recently (or soon to be) released book then you’ll have no chance in making such a list. But if you employ the techniques above, and your writing is solid then you have the two essential ingredients. I’m proud that my books have made more than 70 of these lists over the last few years, but they wouldn’t have if I didn’t do my part as the author to build awareness and help to generate anticipation. Here are a samples of some of the “best of” lists that my books released this year got on.
- 2013 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy
- Bookworm Blues Best Books of 2013
- #1 on Audible’s 5-star Fantasy Listen List
- Fantasy Book Critic’s Authors to Look Out For
- Audible’s 2013 Best of Everything List
- Fantasy Faction’s Best Fantasy Books of 2013
- Only The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Best of 2013 List
- The Founding Field’s Top 25 Books of 2013
- Shadowhawk’s Shade The Six Best Novels of 2013
And then there is Hollow World which will be coming out in April 2014. Because I got ARC’s out before 2013 ended it was able to make a few lists as well such as:
- Ranting Dragon’s Top 30 Most Anticipated Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels Coming out in 2014
- Book Probe’s Anticipating 2014 Sci-Fi List
- Bibliosanctum’s Top 10 Reads of 2013
- Fantasy Review Barn’s Barney Award (Stand-out reads of 2013)
Summing it all up
“Buzz” is a very important component to a product’s success. Since buzz involves others talking about your book, you aren’t able to create this yourself. What you need to do is write a book that people will want to rave about AND work at developing awareness that the book exists. For some books it may happen due to luck, a publisher’s push, or being in the right place at the right time. For most of us, it will mean a concerted effort, careful planning, and professional execution. I hope this helps put your feet on the path.