At the 2024 Nebulas convention, I attended of the very last sessions, Planning Your Own Publicity Campaign presented by KC Grifant, Jaye Viner, Eva Elasigue, and Robyn Dabney. It was a great presentation but, as I said in my earlier post about the Nebulas, I didn’t feel like there was a whole lot here that was new to me. It was still nice to know that I wasn’t missing anything obvious. Since I took relatively detailed notes, I thought I’d summarize them here.

The first question for the panel related to the timeline for planning a publicity campaign. Aim to start at least a year out: establish an online presence for yourself: set up a website, start a newsletter, identify people to help and support your campaign, and make a plan. Three to six months out, you should start trying to schedule in-person events (readings, book signings, etc.) You can find a lot of resources on the internet about running a book launch and you should educate yourself. And make sure to have fun.

Another question asked what can you expect your publisher to do. The short answer, of course, is doodlysquat. In the past, trad-pub’ed authors could expect a publisher to mount a publicity campaign for you, but that’s pretty rare now. Small presses mostly don’t have the resources to do very much. They might contact some of the higher-tier trade reviews and provide ARCs, but you mostly have to do the rest. Reviews are critical. The panels suggested reaching out to book bloggers, bookstagrammers, and booktokkers and the like: familiarize yourself with their work to make sure they review stuff like yours, politely send a message with an ARC, and don’t follow-up or expect a response.

Several people talked about planning joint events with other authors, which can increase the draw for readings and signings.

Most panelists agreed that your local indy bookstore is, after your publisher, the most important relationship to foster. They are generally supportive of genre fiction and can help you organize a launch event. Local libraries can also be effective partners.

The moderator asked how people spent money in support of their campaign. Few panelists found advertising to be very effective. It’s an artform and requires a lot of expertise to pull it off effectively. This is consistent with my experience as well. One mentioned boosting some posts at Facebook for $15. But swag was a popular thing to spend some money on: stickers, bookmarks, and other promotional materials. And events: conferences, conventions and, in particular, local comicons, which would often have an “authors alley” where you sell books and meet with fans.

One potential way to spend money is to hire publicist. Nobody on the panel had worked with one. One suggested that they tended to be outrageously expensive (e.g. a $10k monthly minimum).

They mentioned some expenses that didn’t really sound like “publicity” to me. One mentioned the importance to a cover when selling on the internet and not cheap out. Also it might be worth paying for a developmental editor to help sharpen your story. Or line editing. These are definitely important, but seem like they should be part of the publishing process. But perhaps important to remember for self-publishers.

They finally offered a few closing thoughts: Don’t try to do everything. Go for it, but remember to be happy with your book. And, finally, always be writing the next thing.