An old college friend of mine is a very successful venture capitalist (VC) dealing mostly in the tech world. Since I’m a curious guy, I often ask him about the latest apps or cutting-edge marketplace ideas. And since I’m in my classroom or at my writing desk most of the time, I need someone to help keep me current. When I was shopping my upcoming novel, NICKEL, he suggested that I crowdfund it through Kickstarter or a similar platform. I knew very little about crowdfunding and even less about crowdfunding books, so I started to research the idea. In addition to reading (a lot), I interviewed people in the know. While I was in New York visiting friends, I went to the very hip Kickstarter offices and met with the person in charge of publishing outreach. She helped me understand how Kickstarter ultimately wants to partner with publishers by raising funds to offset the risk publishers take when making and marketing a book.
I then took my research a step further, and met with a successful entrepreneur who, in 90 minutes, taught me about what it takes to fund a small startup. His philosophy was that real entrepreneurship is when people invest in you, not in one of the many products you will create in your lifetime. When I asked him what people gain from investing in my book or someone else’s bakery or software program, he gave me a funny look. He is so invested in community-based philosophy, my questions made no sense to him. Why wouldn’t we invest in our friends, colleagues, and neighbors?
After all my research and interviews, I ended up selling NICKEL to Leaf Storm Press. Even though I didn’t choose crowdfunding for my novel, I realized that the lessons I learned from my research connected directly to book launches and book marketing. These ideas could apply to any part of trying to gain readers for your work, over and above sales—raising awareness, promoting events, getting reviews, advertising, creating news. Here are a few of those lessons.
1. Define your networks and identify your pods
We all live busy lives and move among many spheres. You need to identify those spheres and start researching. One sphere could be your daughter’s soccer league. What do the parents do? What are their hobbies? Are any of the parents in the media? Publishing? Do they participate in book groups? Other spheres can include work, religious affiliations, high school or college friends, businesses you frequent, and local clubs and groups, including your child’s school. Don’t forget to dip into your past, either. Try to recall former co-workers, students, teachers, coaches, and the like. Title each pod and keep a list of the members and their contact info.
2. Elect a captain
A lot of what we read, view, or eat comes from personal recommendations. Because self-promoting is so hard for many of us, we need champions of our work. Sit down (or email) with each captain of each pod and ask if they will help. Be very clear and specific about what you want them to do and how long you need them to do it, and give them resources and tools to make it easy for them to help and to lessen their load.
3. Gather your tools
Before you reach out to your captains, you need to get your ducks in a row. If you are able to compile an email list of your pod, pass it on. If you are using social media (and you should), connect them with your event, product, or author page. Then, make sure they have an author photo and bio, book cover image, book summary, and any other promotional materials necessary. It might help to draft a letter that they can send other pod members.
4. Respect people’s time and energy
Some of your friends may have more energy for your book than you could have possibly imagined, but others may be too busy to do more than one thing. So make sure you ask your captain to help in one specific way only. Besides encouraging sales, do you want them to rally the troops to all post photos of the book on the publishing date? Do you want them to promote your book launch? Do you want your book trailer to try to go viral? Get your book in local book groups? Try to get your book in local stores or reviewed by local media outlets? Each pod can unite around one task or do a myriad of them. That’s up to you. Strategize, but limit each pod and captain to only one thing. You want everyone to be excited for your book, not grow tired of all the work surrounding it.
5. Pay it forward
If you are going to ask others to help you, you need to return the favor. (And the ideal scenario is if you’ve already been helpful to people in the past—that you don’t turn up only when you need something.) Be sure to reach out to your captains and thank them (obviously), but also ask how you can help them. Make a thank-you list and post it on your Facebook page or website. Throw a thank-you party. Bake some brownies. Print up some T-shirts or hats or tote bags and spread the merch. And, when they ask you to be captain for their project, say yes.
Some experts say you have three months to promote your book in a way that seems newsworthy to others. If you can identify and define the different spheres in your life and rally them during that brief window of promotional time, your book’s reach will be a whole lot wider. It’s like that classic ’80s commercial for Faberge Organics shampoo, in which customers “told two friends about it, and they told two friends, and so on and so on.…”
Rob (@RobertTWilder) is the author of a novel, NICKEL (Leaf Storm Press), and two critically acclaimed essay collections, Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge and Daddy Needs a Drink, both published by Delacorte Press.
A teacher for twenty-five years, Wilder has earned numerous awards and fellowships, including the inaugural Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation. He has published essays in Newsweek, Details, Salon, Parenting, Creative Nonfiction, plus numerous anthologies and has been a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition.