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How Much Publicity Does Your Novel Need? by Stephanie Cowell

It is no secret that the lives of published authors are to one degree or another consumed with publicity – and a historical novelist is by nature a person who lives inside his or her world, often so taken with it that the real world seems a very strange place.

Publishing and related publicity have changed enormously since I began my career.

I published my first novel in the early 1990s when few people had home computers and was not yet born. Independent bookstores were everywhere; there were a half dozen near my New York City apartment and I went around and signed copies in each one. Publicity for your book began about six weeks before publication, and if you were fortunate you received several reviews and a little radio. You might do a mailing to your friends (by snail mail) and your publicist procured you a few readings. Then you were supposed to go back to your desk and write your next book. There was little independent publishing; if you were not accepted by a regular publisher, your book often languished in a drawer.

In the mid-1990s, about 55,000 books a year were published in the US. Now I’m told that with all the indies there are more than a million and each book competes for the readers’ time with the internet, movies-on-demand and online social life.  Sometimes books do not receive any professional print reviews. Your publicist is overloaded. Therefore, most of the publicity work falls on the shoulders of the author. But how can you do it?

The online world has made it possible. There are a huge number of books telling you what to do in publicity and how such and such a book sold a million copies on a hundred dollar budget. Don’t be discouraged if your book does not do that well. It is a rare book that does – and you never know. I also have a friend whose publicist told her sadly, “This book won’t do very much.” The book was discovered by book clubs and has remained one of the top selling novels in America for the last few years. She did nothing for publicity… most of us are not that fortunate.

But as a historical novelist, you have a great advantage; you have a built-in audience of people who love your subject. So find and contact those groups: For my novel Marrying Mozart I contacted every music and opera interest group I could find; for my novel on Claude Monet, Claude and Camille, I contacted museums and art sites. I also started a blog called Everyday Lives of the French Impressionists. My husband created a beautiful PowerPoint presentation of Monet’s work, incorporating old photographs of the twenty-year-old Monet, which I presented at many libraries. I am very active on Facebook and at one time I was active on Twitter, from which I got one of my best professional reviews. I guest blog regularly. I do book clubs across the country by phone and Skype. I blurb for other writers’ books.

Create a website and update it with your latest news, reviews and blog posts. Fill it with pictures of your characters and your readings. Carry cards or flyers with reviews and when you meet a stranger on a bus or at a party, share with them what you do. Contact book bloggers for reviews. Do giveaways.

I am a writer, as you are likely a writer, and we are not mainly publicists. There comes a time when you have to retreat back to your creative world and write another book, because no one can write the novel you are writing just like you. Embrace history and travel back. That, in the end, will always be the best use of your unique time.


Stephanie Cowell’s author website:

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Marrying MozartClaude & Camille: A Novel of Monet     We Shall Not SleepSpartacus: The GladiatorA Secret Alchemy

Writing Historical Novels

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. There’s no question that promotions have become much harder of late in the book trade. My experience – mostly non-fiction – matches yours over much the same period of time, in New Zealand. Same story. I’ve also found that the import of books has dropped for the media. In the early 2000s an author might be interviewed by a books editor or journalist with extensive experience in the field. These days I ofen find it’s a cub reporter – I had an experience just a few years ago of having to actually coach a reporter interviewing me in relation to the questions. Apropos promotions. There’s no doubt, it’s a much tougher field these days and the author absolutely has to do much of the work.

    June 21, 2013
  2. This is absolutely the case – even more so in fact – if you are self published as I am. I have managed now to sell 500 odd copies of the first of a historical series with the sequel doing pretty well too, which for SELF published is doing OK. But it takes a lot of time and effort online and offline talking about my time period, etc.

    June 21, 2013

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