18-24 months out from publication there are still a lot of things up in the air. You probably don’t have a book cover yet. Maybe you don’t even have a title finalized. You may be in the middle of revisions, meaning the actual text is still changing too. This definitely limits what you can share online about your book, which makes it the perfect time to start thinking beyond this one book and to your author brand as a whole.
With more than a year until my publication date (which is also still TBD) here are the things I’m focusing on in the meantime in order to establish connections with potential readers and solidify my online public persona.
1. Become a Regular Patron at Your Local Book Store
I’m a library girl. I love reading on my Kindle, I love listening to audiobooks on my commute, and I love the convenience of having a school library right down the hall from me. I’m spoiled like that. But now that I have some extra income, I want to make it a priority to become a regular patron at some of the local bookstores in my area.
Booksellers, like librarians and teachers, are incredible allies in this industry. But you can’t leverage those relationships if they’re nonexistent. As a traditional publishing newbie, it’s also likely that I could learn a lot from local book people about how certain books make it into certain readers’ hands. Booksellers are also key to arranging school visits and making sure they’re lucrative. In other words, establishing this relationship is essential.
But it must be cultivated genuinely. That means supporting your local indie booksellers financially, attending other author’s events, and bringing family and friends to shop there as well. We all have the same goal, after all. To create thriving book-loving communities.
2. Create a Consistent Newsletter Schedule
Seriously, y’all, my newsletter is what made my self-publishing career and it’s never too early to start one. Even if at first it’s just friends and family interested in your publishing journey, that’s great! What’s most important is that it’s consistent.
My newsletter has evolved so much over the years but I finally feel like I have a format and schedule that works for me. Entice people with behind the scenes exclusives, share snippets of your WIP, record video messages specifically for your subscribers. The possibilities are endless in terms of what you can offer your growing audience. But the point is that it’s growing. And if you start now, by the time your book comes out, you’ll have a personal and immediate way of getting the word out to hundreds of people.
3. Familiarize Yourself with the Cons & Book Festivals Near You
Book festivals and conferences tend to post applications very far in advance. Research all of the festivals within driving distance and map out when and where they are, as well as typical application deadlines.
As a debut, it might not be possible to book yourself for larger festivals, but you’d be surprised to know how many smaller festivals exist that would probably love to showcase you and your book. Definitely, don’t overlook small towns and rural areas. If you’re willing to make the drive you might end up being their keynote speaker as a debut!
4. Recycle Old Content for New Platforms
I’ve been blogging since 2012. That’s almost an entire decade’s worth of words and not all of them garbage.
My old blog posts have given me a treasure trove of inspirational quotes related to writing, creativity, and dealing with mental health issues that I’ve been repurposing for Instagram. I’m using Canva to create some simple graphics and posting them a few times a week. The next step may be slapping these things on some coffee mugs or custom notebooks.
I’m also planning to use some excerpts, essays, and original poetry to make chapbooks to be sold on my website. I’ve seen poets hand selling them at markets and they look like so much fun to create.
Think about what you’re particularly good at and then think about all of the ways that could exist in the world. And remember, you’re only limited by your own imagination.
5. Join a Professional Organization
This step is one I’m taking as much for personal reasons as professional ones.
Making friends as an adult is hard. Recently, I was thinking about how I used to make friends when I was younger and I realized that I did most of my socializing through school and community clubs and organizations.
I recently joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and am looking forward to attending their regular meet-ups and events. I also found some organizations for creatives and entrepreneurs in my area so you definitely don’t have to stick to just writing communities. Any way to get connected with people who may know about local resources that could help you with marketing/promotion later is a good idea. And connecting with people across different industries may inspire you to think outside the box.
*Due to the recent issues with RWA, make sure you’re approaching a reputable organization that shares your beliefs and values. If you attend a few meetings and something feels off or you notice implicit bias or discriminatory practices, know that you don’t have to continue that relationship.
Professional organizations can be helpful but they’re not absolutely necessary. The most important thing is finding a creative space where you feel safe and supported and where you know people from marginalized communities feel safe and supported as well.
6. Keep a List of Marketing & Promotional Ideas from Other Writers and Creatives
One of my favorite things about social media is seeing how others use it, especially other introverts. Usually, when we think of social media we think of something curated or even fake. It can sometimes feel performative and disingenuous. I’ve been trying to get over these hang-ups and one of the things that’s helped has been looking at my social media accounts as another mode of story-telling, except the story I’m telling is my own.
This has allowed me to think of it in terms of my values and priorities. What do I want to amplify? What do I want to celebrate? What do I want to share with others that brings an even deeper meaning to my work? I’m a writer, yes. But it’s the experiences and unique perspective that I bring to my writing that gives it life. That makes me interesting.
Luckily, there are so many writers out there who have mastered the art of being authentic, unique, and accessible. Now when I’m scrolling through social media, I’m looking for inspiration. Who is posting content similar to the things I’d like to create? What glimpses into their personal lives do readers resonate with the most? How are they engaging the community both on and offline? What’s aesthetically pleasing about their feed? What design resources are they using? Can I access those same resources? Can I learn those same skills?
I have a Pinterest board full of aesthetic and design ideas and a checklist in Trello of marketing and promotion ideas. Right now I’m collecting everything that seems relevant to my book and sounds like fun. I’ve heard over and over again that you should only invest time into marketing and social media that brings you joy. Otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed and miserable.
So far there are things on my list like character quizzes and Instagram polls, custom pins and accessories, collaborating with a local bakery, creating custom postcards for teachers and librarians in my area, pre-order giveaways highlighting Latinx artisans and shop owners, developing an educator’s guide, and creating annotated copies to giveaway through my newsletter.
Every single one of these ideas I got from other writers and while I might not end up doing all of them it gives me a starting point. From there I can determine which things are actually feasible, which I would actually enjoy, and which just aren’t a good fit for me and my project. After that, I’ve got the information I need to create a marketing budget and timeline, which I can then use to plan and complete things in between drafting and revising new projects.
These are the things I’ll be tending to between projects until summer break. Then, for the first time, I will NOT be teaching summer school, which means I can complete some of the more time-consuming things on my to-do list as well as experiment with some ideas I wouldn’t otherwise have had the time to try.
And that’s the point. Not to do this whole social media thing perfectly. But to just try. To take chances. To have fun.
This brainstorming phase when your book is still just a tiny blip in the future can be incredibly blissful. The future is full of possibilities and despite all that’s out of your control on this traditional publishing journey, there are still things you can do to try to get the word out about your book. That’s a great feeling because it means we don’t just have to sit and wait. We can do something. And it may not move the needle quite like our publisher can. But if the result is a supportive community, or the discovery of a new creative outlet, or even just one reader, then it is absolutely worth it.