If you’re an indie author, I suggest you start your book marketing plans by making three separate lists:
Owned media: Existing resources and assets you control that can help spread the word about your book. These can include your website or blog, email newsletter, social media presence, or anything that reaches readers directly, whether digital or analog.
Paid media: Where you pay for attention or exposure. This includes advertising and paid reviews.
Earned media: Media coverage or attention that you secure for free—what publicists typically help with.
Everyone wants earned media, but, though it comes without cost, it does require effort. Because outlets that cover books are shrinking or disappearing, there is more competition than ever for reviews and attention. Still, traditional book publishers’ marketing plans tend to focus on securing earned media that they know and have experience approaching. These include recognized review publications, as well as TV, radio, print, and online outlets.
As self-published author, you should seek alternative options to gain momentum. These include local and regional media, influencers in your target market, and any person who is likely to answer your emails or pick up the phone when you call.
How thoughtfully you make your approach will determine your success rate, and it’s essential to suggest a specific method of support—and a single action step is ideal. You have to figure out the right ask and then make it as easy as possible for your contact to say yes.
First, here are two things that do not have to happen for people to support your book:
They don’t have to read the book or have a copy of it. Consider that reading a book takes hours of time that someone might not have. Though it may seem counterintuitive (and some authors are hurt by the implication that not everyone is eager to read their books), if your targets already know you or your work very well, don’t put them on the spot to read the book. They may already be prepared to support you. Of course, you should always offer to send a copy. Just don’t make that central to your ask—e.g., “May I send you the book?” Instead, think about what you’d like to see happen if they agree to support the book. Do you want them to tweet about it? Post on Instagram? Have you on a podcast?
They don’t have to review the book to help spread the word. Authors are commanded to secure as many customer reviews as possible in the first weeks after release; as a result, “Would you write a review at Amazon?” tends to be the default ask. Once again, reading the book and then writing a review is time intensive—that may be hard to agree to. It also leads to a low success rate, even when people initially say yes.
Now, here are some things to help you get to yes:
Respect the person’s time. I don’t know anyone who isn’t pressed for time. Just about all of us have too much work, too much to read, and too much we owe others. Though people you reach out to will likely want to help, if it requires too much time—especially if you ask for a conversation or meeting—you’ve just decreased your chances.
Figure out the method of support that best fits the situation. If you don’t know already, you should find out how, where, and when your targets share or discuss books. Is it on social media? Do they run book clubs? Do they have blogs, email newsletters, or podcasts? Figure out their standard communication or publishing channels and make your ask specific to their existing behavior. Don’t ask them to do something they’ve never done before.
Don’t make your request complicated or broad. Your initial ask shouldn’t require research, intensive deliberation, or a multifaceted response addressing several different issues. “I’d love to collaborate with you!” could strike fear in the heart of your contact, especially if collaboration is not strictly defined. Make it easy for targets to agree to something specific—something they can envision themselves doing or adding as an item on their to-do lists.
As someone with an active blog, newsletter, and social media account, I receive frequent requests for coverage, but only a tiny percentage of pitches express awareness that I don’t review books and I rarely interview authors. However, I do run excerpts, so that’s what I offer instead of a review. But not all people you reach out to will offer an alternative method of support. They’ll simply say no.
That’s why, if someone does say no, keep that person on your list for the future. As the author James Clear has said, no often means “not right now” or “not in that way.” Your timing might be better next time—as well as your ask.
Jane Friedman teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia and is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest.