Listening to old-school writers - those whose first book was published forty years ago - I get the impression that the publishing industry is very different these days to what it was. In the old days, once you sold your book, all you had to do was write the next one. The publishing company took care of all the marketing, all the promotion, all the sales. The book jackets didn't always have author pics, there was no Internet, and you could live a lifetime never knowing what your favourite author looked like.
Nowadays, things are different. Writers are expected to play a much more proactive part in promotion. A lot of the small independent publishers don't have PR departments. Even if your publisher does have marketing people in-house, they are going to expect you to put yourself about. Signing sessions, panel appearances, public interviews. Whatever it takes.
I often think that this state of affairs is pretty ironic, given that the act of writing means shutting yourself away, alone, for months at a time, and subsequently writers are, by nature, generally introverts. But the world has changed. At the very least, a writer is expected to have a web presence. I have met one or two that don't, but they tend to be the veteran brand of writer I mentioned earlier - those that had already established a name and and a readership well before the Internet revolution took hold.
For the rest of us, we need a website. And a blog. And a Twitter account. And a Facebook page. Whatever it takes to get our name Out There.
After all, the book being published is only the beginning. It has to sell. And how is it going to sell, unless people know about it? if the e-book revolution is making it easier to get your book published, it's also contributing to a very crowded market place. There are literally millions of books out there. How can you make the casual Amazon browser land on yours and want to buy it?
And this is where it's necessary to become a publicity tart. The Internet makes it easy to reach out to the world, and the more hits you have on the web, the more people will hear about your book.
So where should the aspiring publicity tart start? Get a website, if you haven't got one already. If you're completely ignorant of HTML code, like me, go with something like Weebly, which offers a user-friendly template with drag and drop features. Sign up, choose your template, decide which elements you want on your site, and off you go.
Start a blog. "But why would anyone want to read about my boring life?" I hear you say. It's human nature to be interested in other people's lives. That's why reality shows do so well. Just because something is boring and mundane to you, doesn't mean it's boring to everyone. I find my daily commute into London crashingly dull. But those who don't live in London are often interested in the little glimpses of London life that I experience on the train every day, and sometimes blog about.
Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Librarything are all sites that offer you a way of reaching out to lots of people, all of whom could be potential readers, if they like the sound of your book. If you haven't got an Amazon author profile, set one of those up too. It costs nothing, and you can link all of your books to your account. So if your intrepid reader reads your latest book and enjoys it, she can visit your Amazon page to see what else you've written. And that gives her easy access to buying the rest.
Guest blogging is a very good way of promoting your own work whilst supporting other writers, too. If someone does a guest post on your blog, their fans will follow them to your blog. If you guest on someone else's blog, their existing followers will read your post, and they might decide to check our your blog, too. Everyone wins.
I would recommend getting some decent photos done. Remember what I was saying earlier about going years without ever knowing what your favourite author looks like? Those days are over. You could spend a fortune going to a professional studio, and in some ways this could be money well spent, as these studios include hair and make up artists in the price and you know you're going to look great in your pictures. But you don't have to spend loads of money. I went to a friend who's a semi-pro photographer. He charged me a reasonable fee, I did my own hair and make-up and went to his house with a couple of changes of clothing, and I came away with a good set of usable portrait shots. In fact, all of the images that I use online came from the same photo shoot. Once you have them done, you can use them over again, so every time you do an online interview and the interviewer asks for an author picture, you don't have to fret about not having a decent pic to use.
All of this might sound very exhausting. It's worth remembering that most social networking sites allow you to link to other social networking sites. So your post on Twitter will appear on Facebook, and on Amazon too. Your new blog post will appear on your Goodreads page and on your Facebook profile, and anywhere else you care to link it, too, so it reaches everyone at once without having to multiple post.
Does all this work actually make a difference? It's hard to say. Getting yourself 'Out There' is a very long, very slow process. It's now coming up to two years since the first novel was published, and I'm not exactly hitting the best-seller lists. Sales are decidedly modest, to say the least. But the average monthly sales for SUFFER THE CHILDREN in 2011 were roughly double what they were in 2010, so I think the hard work has made just a little bit of difference.
To check on my 'publicity tart' status, I periodically Google my name, just to see what comes up. There's quite a lot out there, actually. Not just the blog and the website, but every guest post and online interview I've ever done is still out there in Cyberspace, and comes back as a hit whenever someone does a search on my name.
Like it or not, publicity is part of the game for authors these days. Don't be afraid of it. Embrace your inner tart and put her to work. If only one reader decided to buy your book because she happened upon whilst surfing the internet, all the effort is worth it.