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Book Promotion And Marketing

Author Dr Gail Aldwin presents a case study, sharing her experiences of promoting and marketing her debut novel with publisher Victorina Press

Quick links on this page:

Introduction by Chris Fielden

About a year ago, Gail and I met at a writing event in Bath. We're both fortunate to be signed to Victorina Press, so had lots to chat about. While talking, we discussed the possibility of Gail writing a post for my blog.

Victorina Press

Gail's book, The String Games, was published in 2019. Since then, she has been actively promoting the book.

I often receive emails asking questions about how to promote a novel, so I asked Gail if she would write about her real-life experiences and share any marketing ideas, tips and advice that other authors could learn from. She kindly agreed.

The String Games by Gail Aldwin

Book promotion and marketing is an essential part of a writer's life. Many authors assume that when they finish a novel their work is complete. I believe that only accounts for about 10% of the job. Book promo should be ongoing and never end.

Gail's post clearly illustrates the importance of book marketing and also gives some excellent examples of the results you can achieve if you invest some time and effort. I hope you enjoy reading her post.

As always, comments are welcome. You can find the comments form at the bottom of the post.

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Book Promotion and Marketing, by Gail Aldwin

Introduction

My debut novel The String Games was released in May 2019 and I committed much of the following six months to the promotion of my work. As my novel is published by Victorina Press, a small, independent publisher, much of the responsibility for publicity falls upon my shoulders.

Victorina Press VP logo

This article explains how I approached the task and gives examples of how you can promote your book whether it is self-published or traditionally published. Many of these strategies can also be applied to raise your profile as a writer of non-fiction, short fiction or poetry.

Many authors would prefer to be writing their next novel rather than use up valuable writing time focusing on marketing their current work. But any future work is more likely to be successful if you can piggyback on the success of previously published writing.

The strategies I used to promote The String Games built on the earlier marketing successes I enjoyed with my flash fiction collection Paisley Shirt. This was published in 2018 following an open call for submissions from Chapeltown Books, a Salford-based publisher.

Paisley Shirt by Gail Aldwin

To launch the collection into the world, it was reviewed by book bloggers and later made the longlist in the Best Short Story category of the Saboteur Awards 2018.

It’s important to see marketing as an extension of the creative process. You need to use your imagination to think up pitches and posts which don’t scream BUY MY BOOK. And this is where writers can gain satisfaction from the marketing process. It’s fun to gather ideas and carry out research that helps your book to reach a wider audience.

Blogging and Social Media

30 November 2021 is the tenth anniversary of The Writer is a Lonely Hunter, my blog where I celebrate writing and writers in Dorset. I used WordPress to set up the blog (there are easy to follow instructions) and I pay a few pounds so that adverts don’t appear alongside my posts.

The Writer is a Lonely Hunter

The blog provides an excellent platform for promoting and marketing my publications. Cover images on the sidebars link directly to purchase options. I currently have over 6,000 followers who receive notifications every time I publish a new post.

You’ve probably gathered from my starting point nearly a decade ago, it takes a long time to develop a substantial blog readership. But writing my weekly blog is something I enjoy and over recent months, I’ve also used this as an opportunity to share my experience of volunteering in Uganda with Voluntary Service Overseas.

Gail Aldwin in Uganda

Twitter is the preferred social media platform for the publishing industry so I have spent little time investigating Instagram. Tweetdeck is free to download and provides a good way to manage a Twitter account as tweets are shown in columns that are easy to navigate.

To find out what’s going on in the publishing world, check out your favourite authors, publishers and agents to see who they are following and do likewise. You can also engage with many book bloggers on Twitter. When I started out, I read book blogger reviews for many debut novels and commented on the posts. When it came to organising my own blog tour, I knew who I could turn to for support.

To organise a blog tour, authors need to reach out to book bloggers who love reading the type of book you write. Each book blogger runs a site where they post book reviews in order to share their passion for reading and books. Some book bloggers get inundated with requests for this freely given support, so it’s important to make contact weeks or months before publication.

For a blog tour, you need to identify a week or a fortnight (I chose the week before the official launch of The String Games) and asked different book bloggers to offer a post on each day of the week for the duration of the tour. Victorina Press provided a poster for my blog tour and promotion for the blog tour on Facebook and Twitter began.

Blog Tour Poster

Book bloggers offer a wonderful service to authors by writing reviews on their blogs and frequently posting these reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. This means by launch day, writers already have some feedback on their book to quote on social media. Many book bloggers are also very active on Twitter and as a community they spread the word. This means your book title and name will be out there and the review may entice readers to purchase your book.

Use #bookblogger on Twitter to identify people who may be willing to read and review your book. On a book blogger’s Twitter profile there is usually a link to their blog page. There you are likely to find a review policy which outlines the genres they review, waiting periods, contact details etc.

You can also use Facebook to find book bloggers. Join Facebook groups dedicated to linking writers and readers and begin making contacts. Book Connectors is a good place to start and once you’re a member of the group it’s possible to access files where the names and contact details of book bloggers are listed.

It’s really important to build relationships with book bloggers who may potentially review your book before making a request. Read their reviews and make a comment on their posts. Chat to them on Twitter. When making an approach, remember you’re asking for an honest review. Not every book blogger is going to love your book, so choose your bloggers carefully to give your book the best chance of a positive review.

It was by getting to know Anne Williams on Facebook and Twitter that I plucked up the courage to ask her to review Paisley Shirt. Short fiction collections are not her normal reading material but she was very obliging and offered to give a review and interviewed me. Anne is a thoughtful and generous book blogger so I had no hesitation in asking for her assistance again when it came to launching The String Games. And by early 2019, I had built relationships with other book bloggers who were also happy to help.

Here are the best bits from the reviews of The String Games and links to read the whole review: 

  • "A story with an astute and lucid understanding of what it means to be a female growing up in a world of adversity and loss." Linda Hill, Linda’s Book Bag
  • "The author writes really well and the attention to detail and the authentic feel to the narrative make this a compelling and thought provoking read." Joanne Barton, Jaffa Reads Too
  • "It’s ultimately a story of hope and forgiveness, fresh starts and new beginnings: it’s quite beautifully written, and I enjoyed it very much." Anne Williams, Being Anne
  • "You can tell from the start it’s going to be something special." Jennifer Rainbow, Bookworm Jen

Book Launches

There were two book launches for The String Games. One was organised by my publisher at Housmans Bookshop in Kings Cross. This allowed my friends, former colleagues and fellow Victorina Press authors to have a get together in London. I see book launches as a way of saying thank you for the support I’ve received, so it’s rather like a party with canapes and plenty of wine.

The other launch was held in my local branch of Waterstones in Dorchester. I invited every local person I knew and there was a full house on the evening.

Waterstones Book Launch

All the books that had been ordered for the event sold out and I organised a small gift to accompany purchases. Included in each bundle was a postcard, a bookmark, a pencil with a small notepad plus a set of instructions for making simple string figures. Everything was tied up with a loop of string so people could immediately get busy practising string games.

Vivien Brown, a Facebook friend, saw my posts about the launch and asked if my gift idea could be included in a feature in Writers' Forum. Of course, I said yes! This is an example of how successful promotion leads to more promotion. And I could add the photo which was included in the article to my publishing list in my claim for ALCS (where authors receive financial compensation for work that is photocopied).

Writers Forum Gail Aldwin Feature

Virtual book launches are also popular and next time I launch a book I will try this. You can offer an online book launch on Facebook or Twitter by announcing the day and time of your launch on the social media of your choice.

If you use Twitter, make sure you include a hashtag, usually the name of your novel – for example, #TheStringGames – to draw attention to the event. Participants at your Twitter launch will also need to use the hashtag in all tweets so that followers find the messages and keep the conversation going.

Virtual book launches are really fun to attend and can include Q&A sessions and distribution of virtual food / drink through beautiful photographs. Some people even dress up in their finest clothes and attach a picture.

Press Releases

Writing a good press release is key to getting news about your book into the print world. I invested in a copy of Media Writing by Craig Batty and Sandra Cain to enable me to understand the field. Journalists are so often pushed for time that good press releases sometimes appear unedited on the pages of local newspapers. Add a photo of suitable quality for printing and it is also likely to appear. Don’t forget to send the information to local radio stations, too. They are often very keen to support local writers.

As the launch date for The String Games approached, I kept an eye on what other debut novelists were doing to promote their books. This is how I came across the online publication Female First where an author friend on Facebook had an article published. I found the editor’s contact details on the website and sent the following email. (There is plenty of advice on the internet to assist in writing a press release, but this is how I did it.)

Dear Lucy

The experience of losing a child in France inspires author’s debut novel

Victorina Press releases Gail Aldwin’s coming-of-age novel The String Games

9 May 2019

Gail Aldwin’s debut novel The String Games draws inspiration from a summer holiday where the author lost her three-year-old son on the beach at Saint Jean de Luz in France. As a mother of two, Gail was applying sunscreen onto her young daughter and when this task was completed, she looked up to find her little boy was gone. This experience of losing sight of a child, even for a few minutes, is an almost universal experience for parents and fed into the opening of The String Games, a novel which examines how the loss of a child splinters a family. Fortunately for Gail her son was found after forty minutes, a mile along the beach, where he was jumping the waves and completely unaware of the search for him. Gail has never forgotten the sheer panic of losing her child but has been able to forgive this lapse in parenting through the process of writing The String Games. Gail says, ‘My son disappeared in a moment. It could have happened to anyone.’

For the novel, Gail didn’t want to use a mother’s voice and replicate her own experience but imagined what the loss (and in the case of The String Games the murder of a child) might mean for an older sibling. Thus, ten-year-old Nim was created and the novel charts her journey from childhood, through the teenage years and into adulthood where she is able to address issues of unresolved grief for her little brother.

The novel has received praise from American novelist Jacquelyn Mitchard, bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean which was the first novel selected for Oprah’s Book Club. She says:

Gail Aldwin’s The String Games takes hold of the reader and the juncture of the head and the heart and simply does not let go. With courage and tenderness, and an unblinking eye, Gail Aldwin explores the ways in which the loss of a child explodes a family. Treat yourself and read this one.

Bio

Settled in Dorset since 2006, Gail Aldwin has lived in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Spain. Her work includes a collection of short fiction Paisley Shirt which was longlisted in the Saboteur Awards 2018. As chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network, Gail works with the steering group to inspire writers and connect creative communities. She supports undergraduates on the Creative Writing BA (Hons) at Art University Bournemouth as a visiting tutor.

The String Games is available for pre-order from Victorina Press: www.victorinapress.com/product/the-string-games/

I hope the above press release will be of interest to you at Female First. Alternatively, I would be very pleased to appear in your author interview section or as part of the ten things you might like to know about me. I attach the AI sheet for The String Games for information together with the cover image and author photo.

Best wishes

Gail

Gail Aldwin

(address and telephone number supplied)

The String Games by Gail Aldwin

One minute after sending this email, Lucy Walton-Lange replied asking for a bespoke piece for Female First. You can read the resulting article here.

To be included in a print magazine may involve coming up with a pitch. I decided to approach journals with the idea for a feature on older women writers. Although this didn’t actually get off the ground, I was interviewed by Dorset Magazine, in my role as Chair of the Dorset Writers' Network.

Book Competitions

Many novel competitions require entries to be traditionally published (the Rubery Book Award is an exception).

Victorina Press submitted The String Games into The People’s Book Prize. The aim of this competition is to find new and undiscovered works and to allow the public to vote for a winner in each of the book categories:

  • fiction
  • non-fiction
  • children’s

Thanks to voters, The String Games became a finalist in 2020 and this gave the novel a platform amongst other quality titles in this prestigious competition. The String Games was also awarded a finalist badge for its cover design (by Fiona Zechmeister) in the 2019 International Book Awards.

These prizes raise the status of The String Games and offer further exposure for the novel.

Open Mics

There’s been real growth across the country in open mic events where writers share their poetry and prose with a supportive audience. In my home county of Dorset, Bournemouth is known for its large spoken word poetry community but other venues are now offering this opportunity.

My nearest open mic is called Apothecary and is held during the evening on the second Tuesday of every month in Bridport. (And online during social distancing restrictions.) It’s a great way to build skills and confidence in reading work aloud and to become part of a writing community.

Regional events include Novel Nights, where submissions are invited and selected writers share extracts from their novels in support of the main input from an established writer. On the occasion I shared an extract from The String Games in Bath, Maggie Gee delivered input on character and comedy in relation to her novel Blood. I loved that novel and found myself chatting away with Maggie. I also followed up on introductions to other invited writers Judy Darley and Debby Holt who are now Facebook friends.

Novel Nights Poster

This was also the occasion of my first meeting with Chris Fielden. Of course, I knew about his website, with all the fantastic listings and resources, and I was aware that he had signed with Victorina Press so we had much to talk about.

It was then we hatched a plan for me to write an article for publication on christopherfielden.com. That meeting was over a year ago, so you can see it’s taken me considerable time to enable this article to meet Chris’s exacting standards!

Chris Fielden Meh

NOTE FROM CF: That's supposed to be a pic of me shrugging all 'meh'-like, but selfies have never been my forte ("An understatement beyond all understatements," I hear you mutter...)

Networking

Networking has never been one of my strengths but I’ve certainly got better at putting myself and my novel forward. I volunteer at the Dorchester Literary Festival and was invited to the annual launch event. There I chatted with other volunteers until a friend suggested I should be mingling. She directed me to a group of suited young men who were radio journalists. Thanks to her introduction, I secured a slot on BBC Solent later that month.

The Society of Authors offers quarterly regional meetings and I was pleased to join fellow authors in Salisbury for lunch and a presentation. When I attended my second meeting, I was invited to sit at the top table next to Tanya Bruce-Lockhart, director of the Bridport Literary Festival. I seized the opportunity to pitch an idea for a panel session at the festival. After email exchanges, it was agreed that Rosanna Ley, Maria Donovan and I would offer a presentation on the Spirit of Place. Our talk related to inspiration we took as writers living in West Dorset. Promotion for the festival meant we also featured in Dorset Magazine.

Dorset Magazine

Other networking opportunities draw upon chance. My daughter was on the train home from work when her colleague bought a packet of Nim’s fruit crisps. In The String Games, Nim is the name of my protagonist so my daughter celebrated the coincidence by sending me a photo.

Nim's Crisps

As Nim is such an unusual name, I decided to contact the crisp manufacturer. It turns out that the product is named after the CEO and founder of the company Nimisha Raja. I got in touch through Twitter and negotiated a book swap in exchange for a box of fruit and vegetable crisps. I’m now able to supply a sample whenever I sell copies of my book at events.

Do follow up on any coincidences you encounter with your work – you never know where it may lead.

Conclusion

The steps that I have outlined above are completely do-able. Any writer, whether self-published or traditionally published, can use these ideas to promote and market their books. Those with short fiction and poetry successes can also have their time in the sun.

Think of marketing and promotion in a positive way and you begin to see it as a creative process. Things don’t always turn out as you expect but enjoy the opportunities presented when you put yourself and your work out into the world.

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Gail Aldwin's Biography

Gail Aldwin

Gail Aldwin is an award-winning writer of fiction and poetry. Her work includes The String Games (Victorina Press, 2019), a coming-of-age novel which is a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2020 and adversaries/comrades (Wordsmith_HQ, 2019), a poetry pamphlet written on the theme of siblings. Her flash fiction collection Paisley Shirt (Chapeltown Books, 2018) was longlisted in the Saboteur Awards 2018.

Short plays and comedy sketches that Gail has co-written have been staged at theatres in South West England. She appears at literary festivals and fringe festivals in her home county of Dorset. Gail holds a PhD in creative writing and teaches fiction in a range of settings including universities, schools and community venues.

You can find Gail:

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Big Thanks To Gail

I'd like to thank Gail for sharing her experiences so openly and in such great detail.

Investing time in marketing books is as important as writing them. If you don't allocate time for promoting your work, very few people will find and read your stories.

I hope Gail's advice has helped illustrate how important book promotion is, and that it's given you some ideas for promoting your own writing.

Book of the Bloodless V1: Alternative Afterlives from Victorina Press

If you have some writing experiences you'd like to share with my readers, please review my submissions guidelines.

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Malcolm R
Many thanks for all the self promotion advice and guidance, Gail.  I don't think it comes easy to most of us, but so good to hear how you overcame some of the obstacles. Good luck with the book!

Adrian H
Gail, some excellent ideas, and it sounds like a well-written and moving novel (always a good starting point!). Great timing for me, as I've just released a first collection of short stories. Will definitely try to court some book bloggers...

I'd be really interested in knowing how a particular promotion/campaign may have translated into sales, and what were most successful for you (though, of course, understand that you may not want to share numbers).

Good luck with the promotions ...

Chris Fielden
Thanks for your comment, Malcolm.

Adrian, I'll let Gail know about your question and tell you when she replies.

I will add that some of the types of promotion Gail is talking about is very hard to track accurately. At a book launch, you know how many books you've sold at the event. But some of the other advice Gail has shared, like reviews and mentions in magazines, are impossible to track. EG, books with positive reviews are more likely to sell because the reviews are a trust indicator, but it's impossible to say reviews resulted in X amount of sales. This is one of the inherent problems with marketing. I used to receive a fair few complaints from clients back in my days of digital marketing, because they wanted to see ROI against their marketing spend, which was often impossible to give them. That old cliché - if you throw enough shit at the wall, eventually, some of it will stick - can definitely be applied to marketing. It's just sometimes hard to evaluate which bits have stuck.

Enough waffling from me... let's wait to see what Gail says :)

Margaret D
Thank you, Gail, for this interesting and informative article and to you, Chris, for publishing it.

Chris Fielden
No problem, thank you Margaret :-)

Gail A
Thank you for the kind comments, Malcolm and Margaret.

Adrian, in answer to your question, as my novel is traditionally published, I don’t have access to sales statistics regarding trends and peaks in sales as the data is held by my publisher. But I do know The String Games is selling well because it has gone into a second print run. On my wordpress blog it shows when readers click through to purchase points but this isn’t confirmation of sales. Self-published authors have an advantage because they can track promotions and offers to see how these translate into sales.

Authors can supplement their writing income through paid opportunities such as delivering workshops and presenting at literary and writing festivals. This is where promotion and marketing is important to raise your profile. I have been engaged to deliver paid input both at home and abroad. (I appear online at the Stockholm Writers’ Festival later in May.) Where events are held in person, I sell copies of The String Games which I purchase from the publisher at a discounted rate or booksellers are appointed to do this on behalf of the author. Some events have resulted in just a few sales, at others the books have sold out and orders have been taken.

Chris mentions it is very difficult to match marketing and promotion directly to sales but anecdotally readers have told me they’ve made purchases in response to specific reviews and articles.

Adrian H
Many thanks for all your reply, Gail. It was interesting, and you seem to have really cracked it, making your advice worth listening to. Slightly naively, I'd thought you'd be able to track sales in the same way as self-published authors can on Amazon (and I'm at the stage where I'm cheering every sale), and also a bit surprised that your publishers don't share sales data with you. Do you have to ask for it?

I worked in PR myself for a long time, though not commercial, and completely understand the issues of tracking down the result of your work in column inches generated/media interviews, or whatever, much less the behavioural impact that has resulted. But some great stuff there. Thanks again for your tips and wise words.

Chris Fielden
Thanks for your reply, Adrian.

Publishers do share sales data, but not regularly, simply because of the amount of work involved in preparing stats for lots of authors across multiple sales channels. It’s time consuming. Victorina Press give us a royalty statement and payment once a year, usually around January for the previous calendar year. Some larger publishers may do it every six months, and a few every 3. It’s the same with music. Using Amazon, we’re spoiled. Their data is automated, which is why it’s possible to deliver it daily.

I hope that's helpful. I will see if Gail has any further comments to add to this :-)

Gail A
I think Chris has covered everything. Thanks!