“Taking a grassroots approach can empower authors to build momentum for their books.”
A small press author makes marketing her
book a part of the publishing process
By Olivia Kate Cerrone
and meeting a publisher’s editorial
demands, an author must often request
blurbs and solicit reviews while func-
tioning as a social media strategist and
events coordinator. Without the backing
of a large press, it’s difficult to have one’s
book stocked in bookstores, let alone to
be supported on a book tour. So it’s not
hard to empathize with the food writer’s
Yet the industry occasionally reminds
us that success is possible, no matter the
publisher. Paul Harding’s Tinkers
(Bellevue) won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize;
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels
(Europa) and Seth Grahame-Smith’s
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk)
have sold millions of copies worldwide.
Lisa Genova self-published Still Alice to
immediate acclaim, later selling the New
York Times bestseller to Simon & Schuster
for six figures.
While I didn’t expect my historical
novella to win a Pulitzer or gross a million
dollars in sales, I did realize that any possibility of success relied on connecting the
book to the right readership. I embraced
the fact that, without a publicist, this
responsibility was mine alone.
It was uncomfortable at first. Self-promotion can be awkward and feel
almost shameful at times. But I reminded
myself why I published The Hunger Saint
in the first place, which was to help raise
awareness of the long-forgotten but brutal
practice of indentured servitude in Italy—
one involving child miners as young as
five years old.
I took a grassroots
approach and cast a wide
net, reaching out months
before my book’s release to
set up readings with organizations that might have
a natural interest in the
subject matter: Italian
cultural centers, universities, regional literary festivals, and reading series. Though
I faced much rejection, those organizations that invited me to do book presentations often assisted with accommodations,
some even offering generous stipends to
cover travel expenses. I embraced an abundance mentality and kept reaching out. I
used my professional networks and social
media platforms, asking literary colleagues for help and advice. I took nothing
and no one for granted.
Whether through word of mouth or
pure synchronicity, opportunities began
to arise, along with some wonderful surprises. Professors adopted The Hunger
Saint into their course curricula,
assigning it to their creative writing and
literature students. The book was listed
as a 2017 bestseller for four consecutive
months by Small Press Distribution.
Barnes & Noble featured it as part of a
special in-store display throughout its
stores in New York City.
That the food writer’s latest book
didn’t receive much attention isn’t necessarily a reflection of its quality (it
could’ve easily been her best yet); without
marketing it couldn’t reach an audience.
Taking a grassroots approach can
empower authors to build momentum
for their books and connect to larger
readerships. The opportunities are there;
we need only to seize them. ■
I recently attended a literary festival,
where I met a successful food author
whose career had included regular appearances on popular radio shows and television networks across the U.S. Her most
recent book, however, failed to get that
same level of exposure, so after a falling-out with her publisher, she chose to self-publish her latest as an e-book.
The results were disappointing, she complained. There were no reviews or spots on Good Morning
America. No one, it seemed, was even
aware that her new book existed. “I put
it out there and nothing happened,” she
said. “I’m a writer, not a marketer. It’s
not my job to do that work.”
She also chose not to hire a publicist.
Without one, I wondered, who but she
would promote her book?
Her frustration was one that I continue
to hear from authors, both commercially
and self-published. In a crowded marketplace—according to Bowker, more than
300,000 books were traditionally published in 2016—the prospect of one’s
book attracting critical attention can
seem dauntingly slim if not downright
impossible. As a small press author, I
knew this intimately. Neither my publisher nor I had the resources to invest in
a professionally run marketing or publicity campaign for The Hunger Saint,
released earlier this year. Still, I published the book hoping it would be read.
This reality puts particular pressure on
authors. In addition to conceiving a book
Olivia Kate Cerrone is the author of The Hunger
Saint (Bordighera), a historical novella about
the child miners of Sicily.
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