I’ll just warn you ahead of time: Of all the things that I don’t know about writing a book, this topic is what I know least about.
Earlier in this series, I discussed the author’s questionnaire, which deals in part with marketing. I dispensed these wise words:
Ultimately, the author has to become his/her own publicist. S/he will need to take the initiative and personally generate buzz about the book. . . . In all likelihood, if you don’t do it, no one will.
When Old Hickory’s Nephew came out, I was not in a position geographically or topically to take advantage of marketing. New Englanders cared very little about Donelson, so my one talk in the region was limited to my campus . Most of my talks came once I moved back to Middle Tennessee, where I’ve given several each year on a historic personage who isn’t well-known here but whose family name is.
I’m anticipating that the publication of the Jackson biography will be very different, of course. First of all, Jackson was a president, so I’m hoping there will be national opportunities to speak and gain publicity. The southern angle of the biography lends itself to a number of different speaking topics that I plan to utilize in setting up talks in the South. In Middle Tennessee, Jackson is still a subject of immense interest, so I’m counting on generating some buzz in the Nashville area as well.
How to do this was a major concern for me, so I turned to three specific places for advice. One was our university’s executive director of communication, Phil Carter. Phil knows the area, the media, and the possibilities of the institution’s media capabilities. We had a 30-minute discussion in late July about some avenues of promotion in the Middle Tennessee area.
The second was LSU Press. Southern Biography Series editor Andy Burstein gave me a couple of suggestions for national outreach, and the Press’ marketing manager, Erin Rolfs, coordinated with Phil to make sure we didn’t overlap media contacts.
The third was a fellow SHEARite, Gene Smith, whose book I reviewed and who gave a follow-up interview as well. During our poker sessions in St. Louis, Gene talked about some of the ideas that he had used to schedule talks across the United States. He graciously agreed to speak at greater length during an airport layover a couple of weeks later.
My marketing plan, then, is a synergy of these four people, plus some things I thought of when insomnia struck. Rest assured, if the idea seems odd, it was almost certainly mine. Here are some of the things I’ve done so far.
1. I made changes to this blog to make it look more like a website and highlight the book and speaking possibilities.
2. I made a list of the possible talks that I could spin off from the book. For example, a general overview of the book is one talk, a discussion of Jackson and Native Americans is another, a survey of Jackson as slave master is another, etc.
3. I made a list of all of the possible groups that I had spoken to before or that might be interested in one of the topics on the list. The list includes local and state historical and non-historical groups (private and public), museums, state parks, universities, bookstores, and book festivals. I made sure to think of entities in Tennessee, the South, and the U.S. Some examples:
Red Clay State Park
Museum of the Waxhaws
East Tennessee Historical Society
White House Historical Association
Colleagues at other universities
4. I identified media outlets (newspapers, TV and radio stations, blogs, magazines, etc.) that might do an interview and/or review the book.
5. I created a sell sheet to e-mail/mail to potential speaking opportunities. It’s not the fanciest, but it contains all the information that someone needs to contact me and get a sense of the book.
6. If I didn’t receive a response to an e-mail within two weeks, I either sent a follow-up e-mail or mailed a copy of the sell sheet with a solicitation letter.
Two of the best ideas came from Gene. One was to contact convention and visitors bureau in Nashville to see if there is a list that hotels and groups consult when they need a local speaker. The other was to develop a talk on Jackson that could appeal to non-historical groups; thus was born the talk on the leadership lessons of Andrew Jackson that I’m pitching to business and leadership groups in the area.
I’ve also seen several historians use social media (Twitter and Facebook) to give away free copies, which I intend to do as well.
One last thing to consider. Often, you will have to bring copies of your book to sell. That means ordering ahead of time and ensuring that you have enough copies on hand. This will cost you money upfront, so be prepared. For paperbacks, it might not mean very much outlay, but for hardbacks, that’s a substantial initial investment. I also invested in a foam-core print of the book cover to take with me to talks/signings. It catches more attention than just a stack of books.
The next post in the series, “Promoting Your Book,” is here.
. I still have a lot of love for my SNHU colleagues who put together and showed up for that talk.