Someone wrote and said this: “I have a nonfiction book releasing soon. When it comes to marketing my book, what is the wisest step I can take? Should I invest in a bunch of marketing books? Take a class in marketing? Or should I simply hire a public relations firm to do it for me? I’m just trying to figure out if hiring a marketing company means I get a generic plan, and if I’d be better to do it myself. What do you recommend?”
Here’s my thinking…
First, nobody is as committed to the message of your book as you are. Nobody knows the book as well as you do. Nobody has as much riding on the success of your book as you. So for that reason, I’d say that learning how to do your own marketing is probably the best step most authors can take. That doesn’t mean you have to do all of it yourself — it just means that you need to understand that you can’t off-load all of the marketing tasks and expect it to go as well as if you’re involved in it. So yes, I think one of the things you can do as an author is to learn about the process of marketing.
Second, there are a number of resources you can turn to, and there are numerous excellent marketing tools you can purchase (starting with some general Dummies guides, and moving to very specific marketing tools). Books on marketing are simply a low-cost way to enter the field. You get to glean from a lot of experienced people, and you’ll find both big-picture concepts as well as immediate steps to take. So I’d start by getting a handle on the field of book marketing. For a bit more money, you could order the CD series “Become a Bestselling Author.” That will help give you a step-by-step approach to creating a marketing plan for your book. Check into the website of marketing gurus like Michael Hyatt. And yes, you could attend a seminar. I did a teleseminar with Writers Digest a few months ago on the topic, and you can find several other good workshops online. OR for a bit more money you could sign up with someone like Rob Eager or Thomas Umstadt or one of the several people offering some ongoing marketing training. (Rob, for example, runs WildFire Marketing in Atlanta, and doesn’t do the marketing for you so much as he trains you how to do it yourself.) So in terms of personal growth, most authors will probably start with a few books, then move to a seminar in order to figure out what steps to take, then talk with an expert to really take a step forward.
Third, I encourage authors to become their own marketer, but still be willing to turn to experts for specialty tasks. In other words, go to someone when you need specialized tasks to be done such as landing radio interviews or setting up a tour. For example, if you need to get onto talk radio shows, you might not have the contacts do so, but an experienced publicist like Don Otis should have the connections and could be hired for a reasonable fee. If you don’t know who to send review copies to, a specialist like Karen Campbell or any good PR firm with experience in your field should be able to help you. If you’re doing an event, you might find it much easier to work with an event company so that you aren’t re-inventing the wheel. In fact, at the RWA conference this year, I’m going to be spending some time with a full-time publicist. We plan to record a session called “How to Work with a PR Professional,” so we can explain how an author goes about actually hiring and working with a publicist.
Fourth, remember that not all freelance publicists are created equal. Some are actually pretty bad at what they do, so learn to ask the hard questions (Who have you worked with? What successes have you had? What will the total costs be? Will there be a written plan with dates? Can I check your references? etc). And ask around — sometimes a key person will have left the company, significantly weakening the company’s ability to do the job. There are certain publicists and free-lance marketing companies I think are good, and there are some I don’t think are worth a dime — so talk with more than one, and check around to see what advice other authors can offer.
One of the things that comes to mind in your situation is that you simply may not have the time to do all of your marketing. (And, let’s face it — most authors want to be “authors” and not “publicists.”) So you may find it cost-effective to learn how to do pieces of the plan yourself, then hire a college-age marketing student (or even a well-spoken friend) to take on pieces of the job and assist you with it. Does that help you?