According to a recent study by Bowker, over 589,000 traditionally published books were published in 2016 alone. In such a crowded marketplace, making one’s book stand out to readers can seem impossible. What’s more, as a small press author, neither my publisher nor I had the resources to hire a publicist to promote The Hunger Saint, my historical novella about the child miners of Italy. Yet the book was listed as a 2017 bestseller for six consecutive months by Small Press Distribution (SPD), and Barnes & Noble recently featured it as part of a special in-store display throughout their stores in New York City.
How’d that happen?
Small press authors can help foster a larger readership for their work even on a limited budget. And with that grassroots approach, it’s possible to build a successful marketing campaign around your book.
Here are 4 keys to your success.
1. Build strong relationships
Being a “good literary citizen” can sometimes foster cynicism, perhaps as it might suggest purely transactional relationships. A better approach lies in participating in groups and organizations that you’re passionate about.
If investing in your literary community is a part of your life, then you will already have a healthy, positive network to help support your book in various, sometimes unexpected, ways that will prove to be essential.
2. Begin spreading awareness as early as possible
The reality is that you have a relatively small window of opportunity (6 to 9 months) before your book is no longer considered new on the market. Begin strategizing your marketing plan as soon as you sign that book contract. Most organizations, bookstores, and universities will also need to be contacted months in advance to consider your work and fit you into their schedule.
3. Cast a wide net
Be open to every opportunity. Given my book’s setting in Italy, I heavily targeted Italian cultural centers, museums, and university departments. The buzz that was fostered within these communities about the book led to other opportunities. You never know who in your networks can connect you to an opportunity because they received or passed on a recommendation about the quality and content of your work.
4. Focus on Activity
In the months leading up to your book’s release and shortly thereafter, set aside an hour each day where you are doing something to market your book, whether that’s soliciting blurbs, author interviews or reaching out to bookstores to set up readings.
Be flexible and pragmatic in your approach. Do not be deterred by rejection. The more things you do, the more you invite positive, even unexpected events.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. The many organizations—dozens of them!—that invited me to do book presentations often assisted with accommodations, some even offering generous stipends to cover travel expenses. They did this because I asked.
Olivia Kate Cerrone is the author of The Hunger Saint (Bordighera Press, 2017) a historical novella about the child miners of Italy, which was named one of the “Best Books of 2017” by The Brooklyn Rail, and also listed as a 2017 Fiction Bestseller for six consecutive months by Small Press Distributor (SPD Books). Her writing has appeared in Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, Publishers Weekly, The Rumpus and other publications. Her Pushcart Prize-nominated fiction won the Jack Dyer Prize from the Crab Orchard Review, the Mason’s Road Literary Award, and first place in Italian Americana’s 2012 literary contest. She currently resides in Boston, MA, where she is at work on a novel called Displaced.