6. Go on NetGalley: Dock your boat at a big, densely populated island where the inhabitants know you’re coming and at least some of them want to meet you. NetGalley is an online service that connects book reviewers—including bloggers, members of the media, booksellers, and librarians—with authors and publishers seeking to promote their books. As an author, you sign up to have your book listed on NetGalley for a specific term. During that term, book reviewers can request a digital copy for review. Sounds fabulous, right? It is, but for authors, NetGalley comes with a few caveats.
The first is the cost. While NetGalley is free for those seeking to review books, those wishing to have books reviewed must pay a fee for their listing. The cost for an individual author to list a single book for six months is approximately US$450 (C$571), a heavy duty to pay for landing on NetGalley Island (https://netgalley.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/articles/105722-do-you-work-with-individual-authors-). Fortunately, you can join a co-op, which allows you to purchase a listing at a reduced price. Through Xpresso Book Tours, the company who arranged a blog tour for my book, I bought a three-month listing for only US$180 (C$228).
Deciding who should review your book is another challenge. NetGalley has over 175,000 registered reviewers (http://xpressobooktours.com/xpresso-book-tours-netgalley-co-op/). While no book will interest all reviewers, you may be in the lucky position of receiving hundreds or even thousands of review requests. However, as Xpresso cautions on its website, a small percentage of the reviewers on NetGalley are simply looking for free books. You want to promote your book, but you don’t want to be taken advantage of. How do you know which reviewers to trust? Although you can’t be certain of the answer, you can try to weed out the inhabitants who are simply going to grab a copy of your book, run off to the other side of the island, and never be heard from again. Set parameters for who reviews the book. For example, you could stipulate that reviewers must have a social media following of at least 500, and or that they must have posted a review on NetGalley within the last six months. As part of its NetGalley service, Xpresso undertook this weeding process for me. My contact at Xpresso, Giselle Cormier, asked whether I wanted to stipulate any other parameters as to who could review my book (such as the ones I’ve suggested above). As a first-time novelist, I decided that I would welcome everyone who wanted to read my book, so I didn’t include any additional restrictions. I’m glad, though, that I had Xpresso protecting my interests by choosing who would and wouldn’t receive a copy of my book.
Finally, as with all marketing, be careful what you wish for with NetGalley. During the three months that The History of Hilary Hambrushina was listed, it received numerous review requests, which resulted in reviews being posted on Goodreads, Amazon, and elsewhere. Having cleared the hurdle of finding reviewers, I now had to worry about their response to my book. While my book earned some heartwarming praise, it also gathered its share of criticism, some of it snarky. Yes, some island inhabitants are going to roll their eyes at your art, and you are powerless to stop them. Instead, be grateful that your book has garnered interest, and at the risk of sounding a bit slimy, try to make peace with the old adage about all publicity being good publicity. Point nine offers a more in-depth discussion about dealing with negative reviews.
7. Be careful how you set up giveaways: As you’re rowing around the ocean, you may wish to toss a few freebies to the island inhabitants. Keeping the prizes small and light will ensure that you’re not weighed down or distracted from all your other marketing duties. I found this advice in several articles about giveaways, but I didn’t always follow it. So I think it bears repeating here.
I’ve run several giveaways (contests) in connection with my book promotion: two on individual blogs, one through my blog tour with Xpresso, and one on Goodreads. The first guideline of giveaways is to resist the temptation to offer your book as the prize. Otherwise, you’re taking away potential sales. After all, if people think they can get something free, they won’t buy it. On Goodreads, you can offer only books for giveaways, but blogs and blog tours provide the chance for different prizes. On the two individual blogs, I did offer my book as a prize, and in one case, I offered two different rewards: one print book and one ebook. Giving out two different prizes can be confusing, though, because winners may think that they have a choice of prize and they may both want the same one. So if you have multiple prizes, simplify the process by offering two of the same prize.
For one of my blog giveaways, I offered a $10 charitable donation to a charity of the winner’s choice, in addition to a copy of my book. I felt that this was a unique prize in keeping with both my life philosophy and the themes in my book. The prize did involve a bit of legwork in terms of setting up an account with the charities, but I’m happy to have been able to use my success to give back a little. Depending on your values and budget, you may wish to incorporate a charitable element into your giveaways. Overall, though, I strongly suggest keeping your prizes as simple as possible.
What prize is both simple for the donor and enticing to the recipient? You can’t go wrong with an Amazon gift card. Gift cards may seem unoriginal, but they give the winner a choice in what he or she wants to buy. When I was first looking into gift cards as prizes, I began considering other popular stores and places that tied into some of the themes and characters in The History of Hilary Hambrushina, such as The Body Shop, Lush, and Cineplex Odeon. But that just raised more questions. In which countries do these stores operate? Are the cards transferable between countries? Will readers even want one of these cards? A certificate to an online retailer, which can be easily accessed in any country, is more straightforward. And anyone who’s visiting a book blog clearly likes books, so why try to guess what else the person might like?
I think I was trying to be as innovative with my giveaways as I am with my writing. Setting up a giveaway is not an exercise in creative writing, however. By the time of my book tour, I’d learned from my earlier missteps, and as the end-of-tour prize, I chose a US$50 gift certificate to Amazon, which proved popular with blog readers. So don’t get too fancy with your prizes. You have enough other marketing tasks without trying to complicate this one.
8. Take advantage of small promotional chances: In the midst of all the large promotional opportunities—going on a blog tour (see point five), getting your book into bookstores, and running a giveaway on Goodreads—it’s easy to overlook more modest marketing venues. But islets have fruit-bearing plants, too.
For me, the best smaller promotional opportunities came with marketing my book to colleagues. As an editor, I’m blessed to be part of a profession filled with people who love to read. Editors Canada (the national association for editors) provided me with several chances to tell other editors about The History of Hilary Hambrushina. The first came in the monthly e-news update, which contains a section for members’ news. I typed a short description of my book and sent it in. The blurb ran in the next update, which was distributed to 1300 editors nationwide.
Sometimes, a chance to market your book can be the fringe benefit of another opportunity. Three months after my blurb ran in the Editors Canada e-news update, I was featured on the Editors Toronto blog in its series Editor for Life. Although the article’s purpose was to profile my career as an editor, I piggybacked on the publicity by mentioning my book and including a link to my publisher’s website. Similarly, at a recent Editors Toronto monthly meeting, I spoke on a panel about branding for editors. Again, the panel’s purpose had nothing to do with YA novels or marketing fiction, but I made sure to mention my book in the biography the host read before I began speaking.
Have these promotional gambits resulted in many sales? I don’t know yet, but these marketing tasks involved little time and no money, so choosing to pursue them was a no-brainer. I know I made at least one sale through the blurb in the e-news update: The membership coordinator, to whom I’d sent my announcement, emailed me a week and a half later to say that she’d purchased my book and really enjoyed it. As with any marketing task, you need to ask whether smaller opportunities are worth your effort and money. But if they are simple and free, go for them. After all, no sales can be generated from people who don’t know about your book.
9. Manage your emotions: During your journey, you will sometimes be riding high, hair billowing behind you, lungs breathing in the fresh sea air, as your boat crests the top of a wave and you survey all the islands you’ve conquered. The next minute, your boat will be pitched down into the roiling ocean and your body drenched in frigid water. As you emerge, gasping for breath, you’ll have salt up your nose, seaweed in your ears, and a bad case of the chills. The main cause of this cresting and pitching? Reviews. As a friend sagely warned me just weeks before my book went on NetGalley, “Amazon is good, but Amazon is horrible.”
I remember confidently telling two people at a party a couple of weeks later that while I knew my book, like any other, would receive one- and two-star reviews, I simply wasn’t going to read those reviews. “Good for you,” my listeners responded. Yes, good for me, only my resolve was about as adhesive as glue from the Trudeau era—Pierre, not Justin. The first review I came across had rated my book two out of five stars. Unable to stop myself, I clicked on the review, read the criticism, and immediately felt a six-inch-square knot crystallize in my chest. I read the first dozen reviews of my book—including, I’m happy to say, several four- and five-star reviews. Still, I had trouble sleeping for several nights, haunted by the snippy comments in some of the negative reviews. Soon, though, after I’d had my fill of masochism, I found the Justin-era glue, slathered it on my resolve, and stopped reading reviews that were fewer than three stars, a resolution I’ve stuck to.
If your willpower is stronger than mine and you can avoid reading negative reviews from the start, kudos! I don’t believe that anything positive can come of reading bad reviews, so if you can crush your curiosity immediately, you’ll be in a better emotional state than I was. Realistically, though, I suspect that many writers, particularly first-time novelists, will find it impossible not to unstop their ears for at least a moment as they row past that island of hecklers. And that’s OK. Indulging your curiosity about bad reviews is a part, albeit a painful one, of the writing journey. However, if you’re finding that you’ve been sucked in to landing on Heckler Island and you simply cannot move your feet to get back in the boat and row away, put out an SOS call to a loved one to rescue you.
Share your heartache with compassionate, supportive people who are good listeners, people who will let you rant without shelling out that useless advice, “Don’t worry.” It’s easy for people who haven’t had to endure public (or even private) critiquing of their art to tell you not to worry, but many writers are sensitive souls who are natural worriers. With apologies to Geico, if you’re a worrier, you worry. It’s what you do. You can’t will yourself to stop worrying. You will be anxious about bad reviews. How you handle that anxiety, however, is key.
Aside from connecting with supporters and trying to avoid reading bad reviews, you can use several techniques to deal with negative publicity. You can try rationalizing it by telling yourself the following: “One review is just one person’s opinion” and “If that reviewer didn’t connect with my book, that’s unfortunate, but I can’t expect that everyone will like it.” Personally, though, I don’t find rationalizing a very effective technique, at least not at the start of the process of recovering from heartache. When I feel badly, I need to feel well, not think well. So if you’re like me, prioritize positive feeling over positive thinking. I keep a separate file folder on my computer containing some of the four- and five-star reviews given to The History of Hilary Hambrushina. When I’m feeling down about marketing, I read these reviews to remind myself that regardless of what else does or doesn’t happen with my book, it has touched the hearts of strangers tens of thousands of kilometres away. That in turn touches my heart. Rewarding yourself also induces positive feelings. After reading those first dozen reviews, I bought several bags of tea, not of all which I needed. But the luscious lemon liquid and calming camomile concoction revived and soothed my body, mind, and heart.
Most importantly, regardless of how you’re feeling about your marketing, take breaks from both it and your book. Making a small excursion on the ocean before returning to the mainland to rest and refuel before heading out again is more than fine; it’s necessary. As difficult as it is to remember, you are not your book. For your own emotional and mental health, you need to separate the two.
10. Define the extent of your marketing: Decide when you’ll return to the mainland. One of the best parts of being published with a company that doesn’t provide marketing is that you control your book’s promotion. Yes, the responsibility of creating and implementing the marketing plan falls solely on you. But so do all the decisions about where—and how far—you want to take your marketing.
I offer this advice with some trepidation because I don’t want to appear to be contradicting everything I’ve said thus far. So don’t think of this advice as telling you that the marketing route you’ve taken has been incorrect and you need to row your boat back to the dock from which you departed. Rather, see it as plucking you out of your boat, suspending you several hundred feet above the ocean, and giving you an aerial view of the path you’ve travelled and all the possible paths you could take.
When I began promoting my book in earnest this past spring, a well-meaning cheerleader urged me to “Reach for the moon. If you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” While I appreciated the sentiment, I dislike this expression for three reasons. First, it’s a cliché, often said without any deep thought about the particular situation in question. Second, it’s illogical. Think about it. The stars form about as solid an alliance as a sieve. They’re not necessarily going to catch you if you miss the moon. Who’s to say that in shooting for the moon, you won’t wind up flat on your back on the Prairies? Third, it’s harsh. It implies that any endeavour that doesn’t attain, or at least attempt to attain, a heavenly body is a failure. And that’s narrow thinking.
Let’s review. If you’re at the point where you’re marketing a book, you’ve already accomplished so much: creating the story and characters, writing the book, rewriting and editing it, finding a publisher, dealing with the lows and highs of rejection and acceptance, and maybe even running a crowdfunding campaign to cover the book’s publication costs. Those accomplishments comprise more than most hopeful writers will ever achieve. Yet, these achievements are often portrayed as not enough. What’s the motto of the biggest global competition, the Olympic Games? “Faster, higher, stronger.” You can always have more sales, more income, more accolades, more publicity, more glory.
When I first spread the news about the upcoming publication of The History of Hilary Hambrushina, several people made bold predictions: “Think of how much money you’ll make!” “You could be the next J.K. Rowling!” Fortunately, as someone who has worked in the publishing industry for over a decade, I have much more realistic expectations about where my book publication will likely lead. Furthermore, I have no interest in being the next anyone. I’m the first Marnie Lamb, and I’m proud of that.
However, some people will always tell you that you haven’t done enough. Ultimately, though, you need to take the marketing journey for yourself only. Marketing takes time, money, and mental stamina. Most of us have families and careers, from which we can be away for only so long before we begin to suffer in other ways. (Remember: You are not your book.) So one day, you may decide to dock your boat permanently and move on to other oceans and land masses. When that day comes, be proud of everything you’ve accomplished. Moving on is not the same as giving up.
Finally, rout out that festering weed of a word, “enough,” from your vocabulary. Your achievements aren’t impressive enough, inspiring enough, praiseworthy enough, or amazing enough. They are impressive, inspiring, praiseworthy, and amazing. Full stop. Don’t limit your accomplishments by qualifying them. Celebrate them in all their glory.
© Marnie Lamb
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Author Bio: Marnie Lamb is a Gemini incarnate: half writer and half editor. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals, including filling Station, The Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, was published by Iguana Books this past spring. She pursues her other love, editing, as the owner of Ewe Editorial Services, which offers copy editing, indexing, permissions and photo research, and proofreading services to educational, scholarly, and trade publishers. When she is not writing or editing, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka-dots—at Toronto’s One of a Kind Show.