When I was looking for an agent, I was surprised to see one agent’s requirements: “If you don’t have a facebook and a Twitter account, don’t even bother querying me.”
Five years later, everyone requires that you have a facebook and a Twitter account. And a blog. They want authors who are willing to promote themselves and their books. They want proof that you’re set up and ready to go if you get the nod from a publisher.
They expect you to do interviews and go to conventions and conferences. They expect you to have contests where your book is the prize, and to offer freebies on GoodReads, for example.
They expect you to have a great blog–funny, or informative, or homey, or friendly–that gets lots of hits and followers. They expect you do guest blogs, reaching out to readers you wouldn’t normally have access to through other writers.
They expect you to find creative ways to connect with your target audience. For example, I know one smart author who writes books that are set in the horse racing/breeding world (Cheryl Rhodes, author of Ringer, a Musa Publishing book). She thought women who love horses might like to read books about them, so she was considering running an ad in her favorite horse magazine. She could also get involved in message boards pertaining to horse owners. Even if she never talks about her book, she could put her book info in her identification or signature line. If people like her–if she’s funny and insightful and helpful–they might decide to give her book a try.
They expect you to review other books published by the same publisher, and do guest blogs or host guest blogs from those authors.
They expect you to come up with creative give-aways. Heather Brewer, author of the Vladamir Todd YA vampire series, had adorable (and cheap) lapel pins made up featuring the smiley-face-with-fangs symbol of her books. She’d give them away to visitors to her blog as well as at school visits. A friend of mine, Carole Lanham, author of The Whisper Jar, made little whisper jar necklaces to give away at an author event when people bought her book of horror short stories.
They expect you to do readings or run writer workshops at local colleges, high schools, and libraries. (If you have an ebook, libraries are a great resource; they are offering ebooks on Overdrive, but the big publishers aren’t participating, so the libraries are lending lots of ebooks from small presses, epublishers, and even indies.) You can even donate your book to the library. If it does well, they buy the next copy. Or another one of your books. (A great promo idea — make one free so people get hooked on your writing and buy the rest of your books. Obviously only works if you have a lot of books.)
They expect you to let your local newspaper–especially the small neighborhood papers, which are often easier to get into–know about your book or any promotion events you’re arranging at your library, for example. Get a lot of friends/acquaintances to attend, and your local bookstore might be willing to host another event.
They expect you to market yourself. Because most of the time, they aren’t going to do it for you. Unless you’re a big author, you’re not getting the marketing dollars. You have to generate interest in your own books. Marketing your book is almost a full-time job, and it’s not for the squeamish. You have to be willing to put yourself and your book out there, spending hours of your time that you might prefer to spend writing.
You have to show an agent or publisher that you’re ready and willing to promote yourself, that you have the basics–facebook, Twitter, blog, social media–in place already. Otherwise, even if they like your book, they’ll give it a pass. Because there are hundreds of other authors with books about as good as yours who are willing. And ready. So get ready.