Historian Thomas Kidd recently published some suggestions on the dos and don’ts of promoting your academic book. His recommendations, which included suggestions of not joining social media just for the purpose of promoting your book was good. My aim here is not to repudiate Kidd, but rather to add my own thoughts. Since the content of The Junto is written primarily by early career scholars, I thought I might also contribute some points that may be self-evident to more senior historians, but perhaps less obvious to those who are newer to the field. This advice is also mainly geared towards those who publish with academic presses. Trade publishers function differently.
Self-promotion is not something that comes naturally to many academics, but when it comes to publishing books, it is necessary. When you wrote your book proposal, most likely your publisher asked you to consider who your intended audience is. After all, as Editor Craig Gill reminded us in his guest post on writing book proposals, publishers want to sell books. Although relatively few the proposal stage, it is in part the author’s job to persuade the press that there is a viable audience for your book. The press’ marketing department will use the information you give them to develop a marketing plan for the book. Keep what you told your press in mind, as it will be valuable in promoting your book. To that end, here are my suggestions:
1. Have a clear 2-3 sentence soundbite you can deliver any time someone asks what your book is about. It should be something an educated non-specialist can understand, akin to the job market elevator talk, but intelligible to people outside the academy. Your soundbite should be polished without sounding rehearsed.
2. Have a web presence. Kidd was right about not joining social media strictly for the purpose of promoting your book. Nonetheless, it can be helpful to have some information that you curate out on the web. This can include making a Facebook page (you can tap into your network to like it and share it, but be prepared to reciprocate!) or your professional webpage, if you have one (ideally you do, if you’re on the market). With the host of templates from WordPress, Weebly, and other services, you can produce a decent website without much technical savvy. You can use these resources to curate things like op-eds or book reviews you write, as well as noting any speaking engagements or signings you might have.
3. Podcasts are very popular right now. I have given two book interviews to podcasts, and will do another one later this spring. My first podcast interview was with Liz Covart, who launched the highly-successful Ben Franklin’s World podcast in 2014. I was fortunate to be one of her early interviews. Other history-related interview-based podcasts include Bob Cudmore’s The Historians, and New Books in History. While many publicists at university presses are willing to help authors approach podcasters, they are often understaffed and overworked. If you enlist their help, have a short and reasonable list of podcasters to whom you want to pitch. You might find it more efficient to pitch the podcaster yourself, but do take a look at Covart’s detailed explanation of how to write a good pitch. A bad pitch that doesn’t explain the significance of your book, or demonstrates ignorance of the podcaster or of the podcasts is likely to be unsuccessful (and also to annoy the host). Most podcasts receive far more pitches than they can possibly accept. Do your homework to make sure the podcast is the right audience for your book. If they accept your pitch, consider helping to promote their blog down the road on social media.
4. Journal reviews. Your publisher will probably have you fill out a marketing questionnaire around the time your book goes to press. You will likely be asked to name a couple of journals in your field and subfield that might be willing to review your book. Your press will likely contact a few of your suggestions, but you can also approach journals on your own. Make sure that you coordinate with your publicist so that the book reviews editor isn’t hearing from multiple people. Chose wisely. Fit matters. When you approach a journal, take the time to identify the correct editor. Either email them directly, or at least address your message to them. Briefly introduce yourself, include that short explanation of your book you have developed (making clear why the book is relevant to their journal), and attach your author’s flyer if you have one. If they reply in the affirmative, get your press to send a book out to their attention in a timely manner. If they decline, thank them and move on.
5.) Blogs. There are a number of academic blogs that run book reviews, interviews, and the occasional guest post. Aside from The Junto, there is the AAHIS, USIH, HNN, Religion in US History, The Way of Improvement Leads Home, Borealia, and the blogs of professional associations like AHA and NACBS. If you approach a blog, the recommendations Covart made for pitching a podcaster also apply. Your pitch should demonstrate knowledge of the blog and its contributors. Introduce yourself, and briefly explain your book’s significance and why it’s a fit for that blog. We occasionally review books or interview authors on The Junto, but this depends on time, fit for the blog’s focus, and interest/availability of a Juntoist. If you are inquiring about a guest post, provide a brief overview of your proposed post, as well as when it is likely to be ready.
Do you have suggestions for promoting your book? Add them to the comments below!