Someone asked me when to start promoting a nonfiction book.*
My answer? At least a year before publication. Better still, three years before.
This one to three year period before publication day is the "invisible" part of book promotion.
During this time you identify, and build relationships with people in your true audience. The incredible thing about the Internet is that for the first time in history, an artist or writer can build relationships directly with his or her audience. You can learn more about this here, here, here, and here.
Things to do during the year (or three) before publication day:
Step 1: Find your audience and build relationships.
- Clearly identify your target audience. Who exactly are you writing for?
- Find out where they hang out online. For example, if you were writing a book about filmmaking you would want to end up with a list like this.
- Find out where they hang out physically.
- Start a book blog. Write about what you are learning as you research the book. Keep the average post to 130 words, with occasional much shorter and much longer posts. Your book blog might look something like this.
- Become active in online forums where your audience hangs out. A word of warning: do not try to "sell" or "market" anything. People can smell marketing hype from a mile away. Instead, treat people the way you want to be treated--with respect and honesty. If, for example, you are writing a book about health, offer health advice freely when asked. Generously help people solve their health problems. Get known, and build a reputation.
Step 2. Identify your fans, friends and followers within your audience
- As you begin to make friends and build a network, look for passionate experts. You might interview them as part of your research for the book
- Look, too, for interesting people and interview them to learn their stories
- Make a list of people who might review the book
Step 3. Write a remarkable book.
From a practical standpoint, one of the most important things you can do is to write a remarkable book. An ordinary book, one that doesn't stand out, is almost impossible to promote successfully. Here is one process that might improve your chances of writing a remarkable book:
- Write the first draft of the book. The main purpose of the first draft is to *get something on paper.* The first draft doesn't have to be good, it just has to be done.
- Send the first draft out for a structural edit by a professional editor. You can find an editor at the Editorial Freelancer's Association (EFA).
- Write a second draft, incorporating your editor's advice.
- Send the second draft out to be copy edited. A good copy editor will flag two general kinds of problems: 1) facts and libel. and 2) style. When the copy editor flags a factual error or potentially libelous passage, you have to assume they are right until proven wrong. When an editor flags a style problem, however, things are a little murkier. Often the editor is right, but sometimes they are not.
Step 4. Roll out your book
- Design a 'roll out' plan. Who do you want to review the book? Which blogs do you want to write about the book? Where will you publish magazine articles? Where will you speak? Where will you sign books? Where will you appear in person? You might hire a PR person to help design a roll out plan. (Before you design your roll out plan, be sure to look at what Seth Godin did.)
- Three to four months before publication, start your roll out plan. Gradually build up to publication day.
- Publication day. The book is in the stores.
Step 5: Promote your book.
Now the visible part of book promotion begins. The visible part may include: media tours, interviews, book signings, workshops and seminars. Plan on promoting the book intensely for 3 months (minimum) after publication day, and at a less intense, ongoing level for at least a year after publication day.
* This all falls into the "things I wish I'd known when I wrote my first books" category. I hope to hell that this post helps you write and promote your own insanely successful book.