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Online Publicity for Authors

Many authors feel comfortable online. After all, the Internet is an environment based largely on the written word; writers have a distinct advantage here. But when it comes to promoting their books online, many authors feel uncomfortable. They want to tell people about their books without violating the loose prohibition on commercial announcements in most online discussion groups.

You can reach the people online who want to hear about your book without upsetting those who don't. That's the subject of my own new book, Complete Guide to Internet Publicity, based on eight years' experience promoting books and authors online. Here are some suggestions for authors who want to promote their own books online.

As an author, you have what online forum hosts want: authority, name recognition, expertise -- valuable "content" to add to their sites. They want to work with you. Like you, however, they are busy people who are trying to do too much with too little. Anything you can do to make their lives easier will help you get more attention for your book.

If genius is 99% perspiration, promotional success online is 99% preparation. To use your time online to good advantage, you need to assemble a storehouse of materials, properly formatted and tucked into a convenient folder on your computer.

Preparing Materials

I recently placed an excerpt from a new science fiction book on a high-traffic Web magazine called Crisp. The editor confessed that publishers send him 300 books a month for excerpt consideration. How did I break through with a first-time author? I had the excerpt already formatted in HTML and the cover and author photo scanned and ready to deliver. With my materials prepared in advance, I was able to convert the editor's interest into a successful placement within a couple of days. You can achieve similar results if you prepare certain stock materials in advance, such as:

  • Signature File: This piece of text is automatically embedded in all outgoing e-mail. Yours should include the title of your book and either a Web address (URL) or instructions for getting more information.
  • Cover Photo: A color scan of your book cover saved in several popular formats (TIFF, GIF and JPEG). This should cost you about $10 at almost any print shop.
  • Author Photo: A color photo, scanned and saved in multiple formats.
  • Author Biography: A short version (one paragraph) and a long version (resume style).
  • Sample Interview Questions: These will help journalists, radio talk show hosts, and chat hosts.
  • A Giveaway File: This is a short excerpt from your book (1000 words or less). For non-fiction writers, a "top ten" list or similar style works best. For fiction writers and poets, use the most compelling short piece you can find. The giveaway file should include complete marketing information: book description, cataloging information, short author bio, endorsements, and ordering instructions.

The documents should all be saved as plain text files with no fancy formatting such as italics, bold, indenting, "curly quotes", and other non-ASCII characters don't travel well online. Line lengths should not exceed 55 characters. Unless you own the electronic rights, you'll need permission from your publisher, photographer and cover artist to use their materials online.

Announcing Your Book

Now that you have the basic building blocks of an online publicity campaign, you need to plot a road map of Web sites and discussion forums where people might be interested in your book. There are two main types of discussion groups: Usenet newsgroups andInternet mailing lists. The best places to start looking for appropriate forums are Yahoo!Groups and Topica. They make it easy to find discussion groups related to specific topics.

Most discussion groups welcome book announcements if the title is relevant and the announcement is brief (one screenful of text, preferably less). You should avoid any hard-sell hype. Instead, tell people where they can find more information or offer to send your giveaway file upon request.

You can also post announcements on commercial online services such as America Online (AOL) and CompuServe (CIS). Together, they account for almost half of the U.S. online audience. At the very least, you should take advantage of their one-month free trials and promote your book during the month of publication.

You can post your giveaway file in forum libraries on AOL and CIS. Once the file has been approved for release, you can post messages in discussion forums related to your book, telling people where to find the giveaway file. Such announcements are acceptable to most forum hosts as long as they don't contain hard-sell hype.


You can offer yourself as a chat guest to increase the exposure for your book. Transfer your bio, photo, sample questions, and giveaway file to the chat hosts. Then post announcements for the chat in appropriate discussion forums. (Visit my Web site for more information about promoting yourself using chats.)

Most chats are poorly attended, but even so, they're more useful than a bad bookstore signing. Even if no one shows up, you benefit from the exposure you get from the announcements. And chat transcripts can magnify the reach of your appearance several times over.

Web Excerpts

Visit Web sites related to the topic of your book and ask if they'll post your giveaway file as a Web page. For high-traffic sites, you might offer to write a custom piece, or ask your publisher for permission to use a different excerpt from your book. Most Web magazines require a steady stream of good content to hold their clientele and support their ad rates.

Online Bookstores

There are many book retailers online; make sure your book is in their databases and see if you can get more than a bare listing. Most stores solicit artwork such as cover scans and author photos, and are also interested in getting author biographies, endorsements, reviews, and excerpts. Some stores also have chat opportunities, author forums, and other special features.

There are several online superstores that are important outlets: Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com are the top two right now. Keep an eye out for other chains who are just gearing-up.

There are also many boutique bookstores catering to topic-specific tastes such as computers (see CBooks Express), science fiction, cooking, etc. And there are regional bookstore sites -- often associated with large independent bookstores -- where local authors are welcomed.


Forum hosts and Webmasters are eager to find quality material for their sites. As an author, you can be a conduit to such content. In the overworked world of the Webmaster, anything you can do to make their jobs easier will be appreciated. Being sensitive to their needs, providing ready-to-post art and text relevant to their sites, helping to promote your own chats and appearances, will make them want to work with you now and on your next book.

Online bookstores want to sell more copies of your book. If you are ready to offer help rather than ask for help, they will be more receptive to your inquiries.

Publishers need your help, too. As an author promoting your book online, you'll run across opportunities you might want to forward to your publisher. Don't be surprised if you get inquiries about foreign rights, library sales, bulk corporate sales, or requests for review copies. By knowing who to contact and by maintaining a good working relationship with your publisher, you'll be able to convert these inquiries into sales.

STEVE O'KEEFE is author of the books Publicity on the Internet (John Wiley & Sons, 1997), and The Complete Guide to Internet Publicity(John Wiley & Sons, 2002). You can reach him by e-mail at info@PatronSaintPR.com.

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