Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks? Internet Book Promotion

Writer BewarePosted by Ann C. Crispin for Writer Beware

Ask anyone – in these days of a less-than-thriving economy, and reduced budgets for book promotion, publishers increasingly count on authors to do much of the promotion for their own books.

For the past three years, I’ve been working on an enormous, “epic” project – a prequel to the popular Disney film series, Pirates of the Caribbean. My novel, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom, will be released May 17 of this year, and tells the story of how Jack Sparrow first became a pirate captain. For most of the time I was writing it, I was uncomfortably conscious of the fact that when I finished the actual writing of the book, my work would by no means be finished. I knew that, for the first time in my life, I’d really have to work at promoting a book.

It used to be that authors could concentrate on writing, and that their publishers would do most of the promotion for their books. Authors like SFWA Grand Master Andre Norton, who rarely traveled and who did few public appearances even on their home turf, could have successful careers and see their books sell very well.

I fear those days have gone the way of the dodo.

A bit of background: I’ve been writing novels as a profession for twenty-eight years. Except for teaching writing workshops from time to time, writing has been my sole livelihood. I’m hardly wealthy, but I paid the mortgage, put food on the table, and managed to travel a bit. Up until now, each time I had a novel released, I’d do a bit of promotion…I’d call up a few local bookstores and let the managers know that I was available for a book signing. Sometimes I’d call my local paper and tell them about the release, and, because Southern Maryland isn’t exactly crawling with science fiction and fantasy authors, and The Maryland Independent focuses on items of local interest in its Arts and Entertainment section, they’d send a reporter out to snap my picture and interview me. I also attended two or three science fiction conventions each year, often because the conventions invited me to come and teach their writing workshops.

This novel has been different. As soon as Disney told me it was okay to “go public” with it, in November 2010, I knew I had to dig in and start promoting the book. It remains to be seen whether my efforts will pay off – The Price of Freedom won’t be released for another two and a half months. But I thought I’d share my experiences with you so far.

From the get-go, I knew I couldn’t spend a lot of money on promotion. For one thing, I still don’t know exactly what Disney plans. I’ve only recently been assigned my publicist with Disney, and she’s still working out what the company plans to do. I have more time than money to spend on promotion (though I’m starting a new novel, of course) so I decided to concentrate my efforts on the internet.

The first step in promoting was, obviously, to update my website ( which was sadly in need of attention. I’d basically ignored it for the three years it took to write The Price of Freedom. I began sending updates to my webmaster: a new photo I’d had taken, the book’s cover, and, each month, I’ve selected an excerpt to post from the book. I chose excepts that wouldn’t reveal too much about the book, but would give readers who recalled the films fondly a glimpse into the “questions” my novel would answer – things like, how did Jack Sparrow first meet Hector Barbossa, and Cutler Beckett? Most of the excerpts have featured Jack as the POV character, but not all. I selected scenes that didn’t give away too much plot, but let potential readers know the book was full of humor, and had magic and treasure – in other words, it had the same components that they’d seen and enjoyed in the films. (Actually, the book has a serious side – the slave trade in Africa in the early 18th century, but in the excerpts I’m keeping it light, adventurous and funny,)

While I was working on the website, I also become active on Facebook. Facebook was easy to learn, and I was gratified to find that a surprising number of my readers asking to “friend” me. In addition to the typical Facebook chit-chat, I’ve written brief commentary about the book, and posted pictures of the finalized cover. Facebook aficionados adore pictures, so I’ve included several relating to the book – for example, a picture of me standing beside the enormous movie skull “standup” at a local theater, and a picture of me about to enter the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disney World. (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth “pirates” film, will be released May 20th, the same week as my novel. I’m really lucky the studio selected that date for the book’s release…it’s just about the best “promo” an author could hope to get!)

In addition to the above, I used Google to find Pirates of the Caribbean fan groups, and Johnny Depp fan groups. I joined the groups, and regularly post links to the new excerpts. The two Johnny Depp groups I joined have proved particularly welcoming, and I’m scheduled to be interviewed by both The Depp Zone and Johnny Depp Reads within a month after the book’s release.

Since events in my novel are considered POTC “canon” (at least until countered by events or dialogue in any of the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean films) I also hunted up the Wikipedia pages written about Jack Sparrow, the other characters in POTC, and The Black Pearl, and edited them to conform to the events as described in my novel. This brought me to the attention of the POTC “Wikia” folks and they’ve been pouncing on each excerpt from the book as I post it, analyzing it for new material about the universe they love. They’re determined to get every snippet of information possible about it…and, of course my book is cited as a source each time they make a new entry.

Next arrow in my promo quiver will be signing on to Twitter and learning to tweet. I figure I have amassed enough snippets of writing and publishing lore that my tweets will help aspiring writers, in addition to getting my name more recognized. I’m taking Victoria as my model – she has amassed a large following with her Writer Beware tweets, because she has something worthwhile to share with writers.

As we draw closer to release date, I’ll begin doing “pre-pub” interviews with some of the internet groups I’ve joined. Leaders of such groups, plus reviewers, can request an ARC of The Price of Freedom, and Disney publicity will send them one. The ARC isn’t the final version, of course. But it’s about 75% the same as the published novel, and I’m hoping it will intrigue those who read it, and make them want to read the actual book.

When the novel is released, I plan to set up an internet “blog tour.” I know lots of writers, and many have excellent, well-read blogs.

Speaking of blogs, I am toying with the idea of starting one of my own – a personal one. I’d like to either have it on my website, or link it to my website. I’m not very computer literate, so I’ll need to research more on how this can actually work. Before I became active on Facebook, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to handle a personal blog. I am not very good at talking about myself. I’d rather write half a chapter in a novel than a brief bio for the dustcover flap! But with the FB experience under my belt, I feel more capable of tackling one.

When the book is released, I will, of course, do my usual thing of contacting bookstores and my local newspaper. That’s an easy and inexpensive way to get a bit of exposure. New authors dream of store book signings – but, realistically speaking, they’re a drop in the bucket for sales. I’ll also do twice as many science fiction and fantasy conventions this year as usual. I’m already scheduled for Shore Leave and Dragoncon, but I’ve already touched base with Balticon, and am considering Renovation and the San Diego Comicon.

I’ll also probably go to the Book Expo America in Manhattan at the end of May. (Lately Writer Beware has noticed that one of the big money-making vanity publishing ventures is inducing their writers to come to BEA and other book fairs all over the world, and charging them hefty fees to do so. These folks sell their authors on the idea of attending by claiming it will boost book sales and get them international marketing and exposure. The reality of BEA is that it really isn’t a good venue for author promotion, unless the author has a new book coming out that the publisher is putting money and time into promoting – which of course doesn’t hold true for vanity publishers. There, the authors are the only ones writing checks.)

So, in summary, my promotion strategy is:

1. Before the book is released, concentrate on (free) internet venues to get the word out about it, in the hope that news of the book will “go viral” as they say. I’m still exploring venues for promoting the book. For example, at Farpoint last weekend, I discovered the world of “pirate re-enactors” and plan to check them out and see what online message boards they have that I could join.

2. As the book gets nearer to being released, coordinate my efforts with anything Disney comes up with, making myself available for any radio interviews, podcasts, cable shows (NOT the ones where you pay!!!!) etc., that present themselves to me, or that my publicist suggests.

3. When the book is released, do the usual booksignings, etc., but also try to attend “pirate gatherings” (yes, they have them!), more science fiction and fantasy conventions, etc. Have “blog tour” arranged and do it.

4. Continue promoting throughout the summer and fall, leaving no (especially free) stone unturned in promotional opportunities. Be very organized, keep a good calendar and records, since events where I have to travel, etc., will be tax deductible.

5. Hold my breath the day my first royalty statement arrives, to see how well my efforts have paid off.

Of course, the best promotion an author can get is simply having a book available in as many venues as possible, including on the shelves in brick and mortar bookstores. Electronic sales are increasing by leaps and bounds, no doubt about it, but many potential readers still like to browse bookstores, pick up books (at 235,000 words, they’ll need to exert some effort to pick up The Price of Freedom!) and page through them. This is where self-publishing services have problems. They can’t get nationwide in-store book distribution. I’m fortunate to have that.

A final comment, my friends. Brace yourself. This kind of work may not be as difficult as actually writing, but it’s very time-consuming, and it is work. So polish up your websites, put your best words forward, and leave no legit promotional stone unturned. When an opportunity to promote your book presents itself, grab it. For example, I wrote this post for two reasons: in the hope that my experience might be helpful to other authors with books coming out and also for…

Well, yeah. You guessed it.

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom
Publisher: Disney Editions
Release Date: May 17, 2011