I did not realize, in my dreams about getting a book published, that promotion would be such a big part of the process. Then I started attending conferences for writers and learning about the need to pitch to agents and “have a platform.” With my first book finally out, I felt overwhelmed with all the social media I was supposed to be using to talk about my book. Who has time for all that? I asked a friend in the business which social media platform is best. “All of them,” she replied. I vowed I would not pester my friends and family on Facebook. And yet I did. And here I am, talking about my book on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, this website. I’ve made cringey Tiktoks. I’ve tried to make a podcast and learned that it’s hard to sound off-the-cuff interesting, especially when you can’t resist reading from a script. “Don’t read from a script,” my kids told me. But I’m all about scripts – I’m a writer!
I’ve also learned that I’m not alone in trying to figure out the world of book promotion. There are some bad ideas out there – like the guys who message me on Instagram offering to review my book for $20 bucks. But there are also interesting innovations – like Bookshop.org, which supports local, independent bookstores, and now a brand new experiment, Shepherd.com.
Launched less than a year ago by Ben Fox and with a name intended to evoke “discovery, exploration, and gentle guidance,” this new website resulted from dissatisfaction with the experience of finding books on Amazon and Goodreads.
Here’s how Ben explains what he is trying to do:
For Readers – I love wandering around bookstores and letting random books capture my attention. Nothing will ever replace the “bookstore experience”, but I want to reimagine book discovery online with a lot more serendipity and delight.
For Authors – I want to help authors meet more readers. Authors illuminate our world, take us on faraway journeys, and entertain us. There is a growing trend that authors have to become their own marketing team. That concerns me because it is very difficult to do. I want to make this easier.
It is very difficult! His model is to have authors create lists of five books that are related to their own book and explain why. The list is titled with a “best” book motif, because “95% of book searches on Google include that phrase, and in user testing, we found that users think that way when looking for a book.”
So my contribution is a list of “The best books for entering the world of imperial China.” Click here to see my five selections.
I remember when I first contemplated setting up a Twitter account. “I don’t have anything to tweet about,” I complained to a savvy, younger friend.
“Don’t worry, you’ll think of something,” she assured me.
And now my account lists 653 tweets. How is that even possible?
Shepherd.com is just getting going, but already its “China bookshelf” lists 288 volumes. I clicked on a recent addition by Peter Zarrow, a historian at the University of Connecticut. Five great suggestions!
And so it begins.