How to Create Digital Publicity - A Guide for New Authors
by Harry Bingham
In the good old days, everyone knew how to carry out publicity. A few
months before publication, you met with your publicist. You discussed
various possible publicity angles (about the book, about your own
story, and so on). Your publicist tried to arrange a serialisation deal
(where newspapers print extracts before publication). You whacked out
review copies to all the major newspapers. Perhaps you hassled around
to get a little PR on local or national radio. Maybe even TV.
And that was that. Job done. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't,
but you'd done what you could.
These days, it's more complex. Newspapers have far less space given
over to books and many more readers don't consume traditional media
anyway. Naturally, those all-important eyeballs have migrated to the
internet and any genuinely competent PR campaign today has got to find
ways to reach surfers.
Self-published authors are well aware of these facts and have long been
reasonably deft about attending to their digital platform. Writers
aiming at traditional commercial publication, however, have tended to
think that all they need to do is address their writing. Publishers
will do the rest.
That attitude is profoundly wrong. I know of only one publisher in the
UK that makes a realistic attempt to help their lower budget authors
with digital publicity. The others think they help but really don't.
So, almost certainly, even with a literary agent and a publisher on
your side, you're on your own.
Clearly digital publicity is potentially an endless brief. You'll need
a website, yes. A blog, for sure. A presence on Facebook, ideally. A
twitter feed - you know you ought to. And what about forums? And
Goodreads? And Lovereading? Potentially the journey is infinite.
I'll outline a more detailed set of guidelines in a future post, but
for now, the things you need to know are:
One, you and you alone are responsible for building a digital
footprint. You may get help from elsewhere, but don't count on it.
Second, you need to start very early indeed. Digital publicity can be
powerful but it takes time to build. A year is a short lead time, so if
possible get started now.
Third, you need to understand your own brand. That's harder than it
sounds. If you write non-fiction books about management skills, then
clearly that's your brand, it's what you're going to major on in your
online work. On the other hand, if you write contemporary fiction, it's
much harder to identify and reach the audience that matters most to
you. Nevertheless, you have to try.
Fourth, you need to think from the outset about search engines and how
to use them. If you write books about the history of the Papacy, then
clearly "Papacy" is going to be a key search term for you. But there
are 3,000,000 pages on Amazon that reference the term and the top
entries on Google are dominated by big outfits like Wikipedia. Can you
realistically compete with those guys? Maybe, maybe not. But it's a
process that requires careful aforethought because the very design of
your website and blog will be affected by these decisions.
And fifth, you need to figure out who you are. If you find you
naturally love Twitter, then pursue a Twitter-led strategy. If, like
me, you really don't like Twitter but are comfortable blogging, then
pursue that. But either way, you do need to persist. Occasional bouts
of intensive activity are pretty much useless. This is a stone you have
to keep rolling.
It's sad that authors have to think about these things. It's more work
than in the past, and you get less money not more. But I don't make the
rules - and if you want to succeed as an author, then digital publicity
is a fabulous route to success. Some self-pub authors have sold a
million books through online means. That's the kind of track record
that would have your literary agent speechless with admiration. So it
can be done. You need to do it. Go for it - and good luck.
Harry Bingham is an author and boss of the Writers' Workshop, which helps
with literary agents. His blog is a useful resource for all
matters connected with writing,
publishing and literary agents.