June 28, 2011

Expanding Your Editing Services: Book Promotion

My series of posts for editors about the print-on-demand (POD) publishing process and ways to expand your services for self-publishing clients is based on my experience as both a self-published author and a freelance developmental editor. My last post this month is about promotion plans for self-published books.

Just as there are many opportunities for editors to help self-published authors with pre-production tasks (like editing, formatting, indexing, proofreading, even acquiring permission for quoted material), editors can also help self-published authors with promotion both before and after the book is published.

Promotion is possibly the most important task for the self-published author. And it begins long before the book is created. Authors need to be clear about where and how they are going to find their readers.

Authors who publish with traditional publishers receive some advantages in terms of promotion. Their publisher will usually send out review copies of their books to major journals and newspapers. The publisher may offer the author a page on their website, pay bookstores to display the book prominently, even send the author on a tour. The self-published author has just gone into business as a publisher and must now figure out how to sell their product—the book—without the authority of an established publisher behind them.

Establishing a Website and Social Media Presence

I just got back from the inaugural Chuckanut Writing Conference, held at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham. One thing that all the presenters agreed on is that every author needs a website, and most of the agents and authors in attendance recommended blogging. This is probably the key way most self-published authors will find their readers. An editor familiar with web design and/or blogging can guide an author through the creation of a website or blog. Editors can also help authors by writing content for a website or proofreading content.

Other forms of social media are also important in connecting authors with their readers. If you are working with an author who does not use Facebook or Twitter, and these are tools you like to use, you might offer a session to help your client set up an account and learn how to use it. And don’t forget YouTube. A clever or informative video that promotes the author’s book can also be an effective sales tool.

Arranging for Online Book Tours and Reviews

Authors published by traditional publishers sometimes go on book tours, although these are becoming less common, as this is an expensive and not particularly efficient way to connect with readers. Now a new version of the book tour has arisen: the virtual book tour, where an author is featured (through interviews or giveaways or reviews) on the websites of several prominent bloggers. An editor who loves research might research blogs (either reader fan blogs or blogs in the author’s content area) and set up such a tour for an author. It’s best for an author to have a presence in these arenas before asking for a favor, so once the right blogs are identified, the author will probably need to establish a connection with the blogger through comments or email exchanges.

One savvy author I know, Andrew Himes, just self-published The Sword of the Lord, a book about growing up in a famous fundamentalist family. He offered free review copies to anyone who would write a review of his book. This is an excellent way to develop a buzz about the book, as every one of those reviews would be seen by the fans and followers of the bloggers who wrote them. Plus, he now has 55 reviews on Amazon—a great indication of his success and always a good way to convince readers of the value of a book. I could imagine an editor acting more like an administrative or virtual assistant and doing the behind-the-scenes work involved in a blog tour or book review campaign.

Preparing Promotional Materials

Self-published authors need promotional materials. This is another place where an editor could help an author, by producing professional-looking flyers to send out, perhaps with (carefully targeted) review copies of the book. Flyers should include an image of the book cover and the ISBN along with information about how to contact the author/publisher and testimonials or endorsements for the book. An editor might also help the author with applications to book distributors or by arranging consignment sales with local bookstores. Again, these are administrative tasks rather than strictly editing tasks, but they might be of interest to some editors looking to branch out.

Of course, authors can hire a professional publicist to do this work, and an editor who wants to specialize in working with self-published authors might want to find a publicist as a partner. But authors who want to do the publicity themselves might still need help producing materials—flyers, press kits, press releases—to send to radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers. And editors can help authors research potential media opportunities. I know one self-published author who just did an interview for an Internet radio station, and she told me that many of these stations are looking for content and are eager to talk to experts and authors.

Putting a Creative Touch on Traditional Media

Many newspapers won’t review self-published books, but they might do an article if the author has a clever book launch idea. (I want to launch my next nonfiction book, My Year in Flowers, with a flower feast created by a Seattle chef—I think that might get me a feature article.) Other ways authors can get publicity include timing their book launch with a significant date or partnering with an organization. (My upcoming humorous mystery novel about a talking Chihuahua will be released in October 2012 during National Adopt a Dog month, and my co-author, Curt Colbert, and I will be donating part of our profits to the American Humane Association.)

There are many other creative ways to help authors promote their books. If you have any recommendations, please share them in the comments section.

I’ve created a list of promotion plan questions that is available for download (as pdf file) and will also be available from my website. The questions are aimed at authors, but editors should feel free to download the list to use with their clients. I will also be happy to talk to other editors about self-publishing. Post your questions in the comments section, email me, or find me at the Red Pencil in the Woods conference, sponsored by the Northwest Independent Editors Guild, on September 24, 2011. I’ll be leading a roundtable discussion on “How an Editor Can Help an Author Get Published.”

—Waverly Fitzgerald


  1. Hmm.. that seems interesting! Why I didn't think about that before? Anyway, thanks for sharing this post. I've got an idea.


  2. Waverly, I can't thank you enough for providing us with such detailed, specific information about the POD publishing process. As an editor, I know I'll be turning to these posts often as a resource.

  3. Excellent post! I just went freelance a few months ago, but I've been surprised (and intrigued) by the number of questions I've gotten from writers who need so much more than "just" editing. They want help finding agents, writing pitch letters, marketing themselves, deciding whether to self-publish, etc. With the publishing industry in flux, there's a lot of opportunity for us editors to branch out into book promotion. Very cool!