Promoting Your Own Books: What Is Your Book?

So, last week I started this “Promoting Your Own Book” series with Question #1: Who Are You? Now, I’d like to tackle Question #2: What Is Your Book?

This is a deceptively simple question. After all, your book is a picture book or a novel; nonfiction or fiction; and so on.  It is, however, more complicated than that.

  • Who is the real audience?
    This question has multiple sub-questions:
    *What age range has the publisher listed?
    *What age range do you think it is?
    *What age range do librarians and booksellers think it is?
    *Who will most likely purchase the book? parent, educator?
    *Is it a book adults will love (say for nostalgia reasons) or a book kids will love (despite parental objections) or somewhere in between?
    *Is it a great read aloud?
    *Does it need to be handed to a child or will they pick it up on their own?
    *Is it a book report book or a “under the covers” book?
    *Is the book on a niche topic with a well-defined and easily-found fan base?
  • What are the realistic PR expectations?
    The answers to the questions above will help guide you to your PR expectations. After all, if it’s really a book for research for fifth graders, it’s not going to be reviewed in The New York Times or Parents Magazine. You (rightly) believe every child will love your book, but the newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc. cannot cover every book, so they specialize. If you have a very niche book (say gardening or knitting), there will be some great PR opportunities not available to even the best of sweet goodnight books.
  • What are the realistic sales expections?
    OK, I’ll be blunt. You’re 300 page biography of George Washington will not be sold to Toys ‘R Us. We won’t even show it to them.  However, we’d love the show them your interactive pop-up with soundcard about the circus. Take a look at the stores in your area. What do they carry? In what sort of quantity and how are the books presented? Is your book a good fit? Be really honest with yourself on this one.  The store may have lots of history books — about battlefields — your history book about the making of butter really doesn’t fit. But, wow, you just found out there’s a traveling museum exhibit about butter.  Please send me a link to the schedule of museums!
  • Create your elevator speech (and update regularly)
    This is harder than you think. It’s easy enough to talk to someone for 15 or 20 minutes about your book, where you got the idea, how long it took to write, etc.  However, you need a 60 second (one or two sentences) about what the book is about and its audience. One sentence — when it’s coming out and the audience. Other sentence (just one) — plot outline. And being able to say it with enthusiasm 100 times in a two-hour period (say at a cocktail party) is a good thing too. (Note: if it wins an award or gets a starred review, feel free to go to three sentences.)

We’ll deal with Question#3 next week.

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Promoting Your Own Books: What Is Your Book?