Though the line of respectability between traditionally-published and self-published material is blurring, the line regarding publicity has almost disappeared. Promotion budgets are getting smaller and these days, authors must create their own buzz.
So when it comes to marketing, my position as a self-publisher is equal to any other author. Since I self-published my first YA book in 2011, Rachel’s Manifesto and in March 2014 with the rhyming picture storybook Please Let Me In, the most difficult part has been sales and promotion.
And many promotional doors remain closed as a self-published author. Magazines and newspapers will not (normally) review your books, you cannot apply to the Writers in the Schools program, you cannot apply for government grants as an emerging writer because self-publishing does not qualify as experience. Shelf space in national bookstore chains can only be arranged on consignment—one store at a time and only for a few weeks—unless you sell well.
None of this really matters anyway if you’re only selling e-books online, which is a different virtual community requiring a different strategy. Why bother trying to get local attention if you only have an e-book to sell?
But if you’re thinking of jumping on the SP bandwagon and plan to produce and sell hard copies in your region, here are some tips.
1. Leave your angst at home. On the self-confidence spectrum, some of us have more than others. If you are challenged in this area, you’re going to have to swallow your mortification. Artistic self-acceptance cannot be separated from the marketing of the product you’ve created—because you have to sell it. And you will grow through the process if you take yourself seriously.
2. Exploit your network of professionals. Do you have friends or acquaintances in the school system, the media, or sales venues? Just because you can’t be part of the Writers in the Schools program doesn’t mean you can’t speak in school. It just means somebody has to invite you. Sometimes they’ve asked me what I charge, but I’ve always appeared for free. Because my husband illustrated Please Let Me In, he’s come along to give students a drawing lesson and we’ve left behind copies of the front cover (in black and white) to colour at home.
3. Place your book at independent book-sellers. The local owners of new and used shops will likely give you more time and space, especially if you launch your books there and bring more customers in their doors. Their cut of the sale will probably hover around 25 percent, a much more reasonable deal than the big chains like Chapters, who charges 45 percent.
4. Think like a professional, because you are one. Set your goals, grow in your craft and keep moving forward. Don’t listen to the mean voice in your head who says, “Who do you think you are?” Instead, say, “Why not me?”
Rhonda Bulmer is a self-published author, freelance writer, and playwright living in Moncton.