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Authors typically hold their finished manuscript and declare the hard part is over. They're only half right. Once a (good!) manuscript is completed, it is time to market the story.

There are two roads to choose at this point. Send it out to publishers and agents is the high road. It is fraught with disappointment and rejection letters – and crackling with the chance that it may get picked up by Tor, Bantam, Random House, or one of the other big publishers.

Many authors decide to take the low road and use the Print-on-Demand companies (POD) to get their story out.

Either way you go, once the book is ready to go out the door, you should have a marketing plan in place. This how-to guide will show you how to help promote your book on a shoestring budget.

All websites are listed in {curly brackets}.

STEP ONE: Can You Buy My Book?

One of the hurdles a POD author will face is just where to get their books printed. Some POD companies sell expensive packages, typically from $300 to $1500, depending on what extras you want.

Do you need to spend a fortune up-front? In many cases, yes – assuming you want other people to do your work for you. If you don't mind doing a lot of the grunt work, you can save a small fortune. One inexpensive POD site is {http://www.lulu.com}, which is free to use as a book supplier.

If you want to have your book available in stores and Amazon, it must have an ISBN number assigned to it. An ISBN is like a social security number for your book. It is unique throughout the book world. If you Google for ISBN, you can find several places selling single ISBNs for about $60. If you intend to sell five or more books, you should seriously consider getting a block of ten ISBNs from your local monopoly. If you live in the USA, you can only get a ten-block from R. R. Bowker. The website is at {https://commerce.bowker.com/standards/cgi-bin/isbn.asp}, and a ten-block will run you about $255. Again, if you want to sell one book, it's cheaper to get a single ISBN.

The second item you'll need is a unique barcode, generated from your ISBN number. This special item is called an EAN13 Barcode, and it is a requirement for selling in any commercial bookshops, including Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. There are many websites who would love to sell you one, but don't worry – you can generate one for free at {http://www.tux.org/~milgram/bookland/} or {http://www.barcode-soft.com/online-barcode-generator.aspx}. I prefer the latter, it's easier to understand. Just include your ISBN as the data, select EAN13, and choose an appropriate image format. I use 'jpeg' to put them on my covers in Photoshop, and then send them off to get printed.

If you decide to use one of the expensive POD companies, make sure you get an ISBN and EAN13 with your package.

One thing I should mention is that Amazon only wants to list POD books printed through Booksurge. Check with yours if you want your book to appear on Amazon, or consider jumping through hoops (and pre-buying and shipping, at your expense, copies to Amazon).

STEP TWO: Who Cares About My Book?

You do, of course, as do many of your friends and relatives. In reality, they only want to read your book, or get free copies. You are the sole person who really cares about your little literature baby, and now it's up to you to get others to see things your way.

Your first job is to put out a press release. Newspapers in your area need news, so why not let them know they have a future best-seller sitting in their back yard. A press release is simple to write, and there are many websites online that can help you construct a good one. My suggestion is to send it to every newspaper, television and radio station near you. If your newspaper or radio station has a book section, send a review copy to the editor in charge. If they like your book, it can lead to an interview or an invitation to a talk show guest spot. What did this publicity cost you? At best, paper and postage; at worst, a copy of your book sent to an editor. It's worth the gamble, since your local audience is the easiest to capture.

Your second job is to create a website for your book and for you, as an author. Don't spend a fortune on some Flash-based monstrosity. Get some friend-of-a-friend, your neighbor's kid, or even a kindly college student to make it for you, assuming you either don't know how or don't want to learn. An example is sci-fi author Robert J. Sawyer's site {http://www.robertjsawyer.com/}. It is simple, yet has a lot of information for people who are interested in him or his books. When you construct your own site, refer to it in everything you do, including press releases. Put it on cheap business cards from VistaPrint {http://www.vistaprint.com} and hand them out like they're gold nuggets. Let your website be your spokesperson.

Your third job is to get your name out in cyberspace. Change the signature line in your email to include "Author of MyNiftyBook", and include a direct link to your book on Amazon. Whenever you post something in a forum or write a blog, make sure your signature line has this information. If you sign up as a Amazon Associate, you will get kickbacks from people buying your books.

Sign up at Amazon, then buy a copy of your book. Yes, you could get it cheaper direct, but make your first sale to yourself. There's nothing like getting a copy of your book in a sealed box from Amazon. Once you set up an Amazon account using your real name (or pen name), and you've purchased something, you have access to a lot of free promotional tools.

Go to {http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp} and fill in the details for your account. Make sure you note you are a published author, and include links to your book where appropriate. Make the page friendly and inviting. Sound professional, because you are professional. Invite questions from your visitors and readers, and (this is the hard part) follow up when someone communicates with you. Make it a habit to stop by Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and your web site at least once a week. Follow up on any questions or comments. If someone is a jerk, don't get pulled into a mud bath. Thank them for their opinion and drop it. Visitors will see you're a pro, and that's the impression you want them to have. Think about the last time you got a three-star review on FanStory because they didn't "get your story". Be polite, and move on.

Make sure you upload a photograph. A picture makes you a human to the visitor. Include a quick biography, and take your time composing it. If you're biagraphy is having lots of errors, nobody will buy your book. Yes, I purposely put in errors in the previous sentence just to make you cringe – just like your readers would. Craft your information as though it was a flash fiction piece. Make every word count, and make sure it shows a bit of your writing style.

Your signature should indicate your credentials. If you have a PhD, include it, but also put in that you're a published author.

Amazon has an interesting (and free) blog and wiki system. A blog is a web-based log or diary, and a wiki is a documentation system, most famously Wikipedia.com. Sign up for both of these, and post there at least once a week. Your signature will show up under every post you write. Getting your name and book under your audience's eyeballs is the end goal of marketing, so keep pushing it onto as many Amazon pages as you can.

One great thing about being a member of this community is your reviewing skills are honed from countless hours of reading. It's time to take those skills and put them to use towards marketing your book.

We'll assume your book is a horror novel. Since you wrote a horror novel, you must be a fan of the genre. Go to every book you've read and post a review. This will accomplish two goals – your signature will be visible on similar books (hopefully driving them to your book), and you'll build up a reputation on Amazon, just like Everything2. You could even kill two birds with one stone – write a solid review on Amazon and post it here as a node. If a book sucked, do not post a review. Only post a four or five star review. You may insult someone, and they might retaliate by saying your book sucked, or you could look petty. You could compare it to your book, but only do that every so often. People may see your trashing other books as bad form, and your reputation is easier to maintain than repair.

On your profile page, you can create lists of suggested books called "Listmania!". Make several lists, and include some of the most popular books in your genre, including your book, of course. When customers see your book in with big-name authors like King, Koontz and Straub, they begin to think about your book in the same terms. They may find they have a copy of everything King wrote, so perhaps they should try a new author – and your list is there to help.

One of the options Amazon gives an author is the ability to show a couple of pages for free. In order to do this, you need to supply them with a PDF copy of your book. They will scan it, and not only will customers get to look at a couple of pages (you did put in a great hook, didn't you?), but the Amazon search engine will have a lot more words to associate with your book. If you cite other books or authors, the search engine will pick it up and remember your book when someone visits the book you mentioned.

Speaking of your book, go to the page for your book and find the "Authors and Publishers" update link. Fill in as much information as you can to entice people to buy your book, and note that you have a profile and blog if readers wish to communicate with you.

Use the "Tell a Friend" link on your profile to let everyone you know, or at least everyone in your email contacts list, that your book is available on Amazon. You'd be surprised how many sales this can generate. It isn't spamming, it's telling people you know that you're a published author on Amazon – isn't that cool?

Enough about Amazon, let's discuss your local bookstore. If you're brave, you can do a book-signing event. If you are shy, don't do it. There is nothing as sad as an author sitting by a stack of books, and nobody is paying any attention. If you have a book-signing, you must sell-sell-SELL! Look people in the eye, engage them with a hearty "Hello", and tell a few good jokes. Make people comfortable around you, and they'll hang out. Act morose and introverted -- you're furniture.

STEP THREE: Oh No! Not Again!

Yes, it is time to work on your next blockbuster. An author who doesn't write is a footnote in literary history. The next trip through the cycle should be easier. Updating your Amazon account with the new book is easy, and it will automatically update everything you've done on Amazon, down to the signature lines in your reviews. Your website just needs a bit of tweaking.

The more books you have available, the more eyeballs you will attract. If you're really fortunate, a publisher or agent will pick you up, especially if you can sell a good chunk of books.

Keep writing, and keep marketing. You're your own best salesperson, so get to it.

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