I was asked by a reader to discuss book promotion, and since that's the phase I've got gearing up, I thought it would be a good topic for today's writing post.
I have to say that this is one area that's constantly changing. My day job career was in public relations, and that world has changed almost entirely since I left twelve years ago. Back then, it was all about the traditional media and possibly their Internet presence. Now the traditional media are on a downswing and social media is the current emphasis.
But one thing remains true: the best way to promote something is to find ways to reach the people most likely to be interested in it. That means you need to figure out your target market and then figure out how to reach them. For the kind of publicity you can do yourself for a book (unless you have a huge budget), reaching the market of "readers" is too big a task. You need to slice that up a bit. For example, I generally think of the target audience for my books to be primarily women who like fantasy, romance or mystery and who have a hard time finding books to read because they don't like a lot of sex or dark grittiness. There are certainly other people who would like my books, but I think this group is the most likely to glom on to them.
The next step is reaching them. I go to a lot of science fiction conventions because that's a good place to find readers who like fantasy (one section of my readership), and I find that there's a lot of crossover with romance and mystery among those readers. People who go to conventions are obviously passionate about their interests, and they're social about it, since they're connecting with others. That means they're likely connected away from conventions, so they're probably talking about books elsewhere. I don't ever directly sell enough books at a convention to cover my cost of attending, but I figure there's a multiplier effect if the people who discover me at a convention go on to talk about my books away from the convention, either online or in person. This doesn't necessarily directly hit that more narrow slice of "not finding the books I want because I want something without a lot of sex or gore" group, but there's a good chance they'll be in the greater audience, and once those people find something they like, they get really excited about it and share it with other people they know.
Reaching people via social media can be a challenge because there's so much noise out there. I blog and use Facebook but haven't yet delved into Twitter because I find it overwhelming. What I think is more effective than an author presence on social media is getting readers who have a presence there to talk about your book. Really, the best way to do that is to write something people want to talk about, but even so, people have to discover it. With my self-published books, I've been using NetGalley. There's some cost to this, but it ends up being a fairly easy way to get copies in the hands of reviewers and people who talk about books on social media.
I'm very picky and targeted about selecting who gets copies, though. I've found that way too many reviewers/bloggers don't give the info I need to help me make a decision, or they give the wrong info. A lot of the people will go on and on in their profile about how much they love books, what their favorite reading day is like, etc., without telling anything about what giving them a copy will do for me. It's great that you love to read, but I'm passing out galleys for publicity purposes, not to support someone's reading habit. So I look for someone who has a blog or who contributes to one. I check the blog to see how frequently it's been updated. If there's a book review at least once a week, that looks good. If the last posted review was from six months ago, I generally stop considering. I like it when they list their various social media outlets and what their readership is likely to be -- average daily/weekly/monthly page hits, number of friends or followers, etc. Once I have a sense of how legitimate this person is, I look at the targeting -- does the reviewer cover other books that might appeal to the same people who might like mine? Someone who writes about gardening books or whose reviews are all for erotica probably isn't a good fit.
In addition to reviews, I might look around for places that would like me to do guest posts or interviews. I'm probably not as aggressive about this kind of thing as I need to be, but I'm fortunate to be in a position where people often come to me.
Really, all of publicity is more of a marathon than a sprint. It's about building relationships over time. It's about word of mouth spreading from reader to reader. The most an author can do is make sure enough readers have heard about it so they can talk about it.