Thinking Straight in a Fantastic Moment
“Every writer I’ve talked to has said the thing they most wished they’d done was learn how to publicize their work,” says Mark Ernest Pothier, whose debut novel, Outer Sunset, is forthcoming in May from the University of Iowa Press. “You write your very best and hope the rest will take care of itself. It doesn’t.”
While publishing a first book is a career milestone that many writers spend years dreaming of and toiling toward, it’s all too common for authors to find themselves unprepared to pivot from writing the book to marketing it. The reality is that publishers often have limited resources for marketing, so an author’s ability to effectively promote the book can make a real difference to its success. To help writers take full advantage of the release of their first books, Poets & Writers recently launched Get the Word Out, a publicity incubator that gives debut authors access to a range of expertise in publicity and promotion.
This past fall, Pothier and nine other writers with books forthcoming in 2023 were selected to take part in the initial fiction cohort, led by seasoned publicist Lauren Cerand. “Like most other writers I’ve met,” says Pothier, “I’ve always found it difficult to promote my own work; whether that’s false modesty or fear of failure, I don’t know.” He added that Get the Word Out has helped him “think straight in the middle of this fantastic moment.”
“The most surprising—and, as it turns out, useful—information I’ve taken away so far,” says Chin Sun-Lee, whose first novel, Upcountry, is forthcoming in November from Unnamed Press, “is that while there are many approaches and avenues to marketing, each of us should narrow it down to what we can handle and feel most comfortable pursuing. This takes some of the pressure off, emphasizing sanity and genuine enthusiasm—want over should—in promoting our books.”
“As a debut, especially, you want to give your book its best chance of finding readers, but it’s hard to know how to do that when the publishing process is new and you’re not sure how far to push yourself to publicize the work you’ve done, which to me feels very private,” says Ada Zhang, author of The Sorrow of Others, forthcoming in May from A Public Space. For Zhang, the most useful thing she has learned so far is that the experience can and should be your own. “It’s really about the readers you want to connect with and the communities you want to reach,” she says, “and from that standpoint publicity doesn’t seem so daunting. It feels less like a cry for attention and more like a personal journey you get to take with your book. That’s been really empowering.”
Kristen Gentry, whose story collection, Mama Said, is slated to be published in October by West Virginia University Press, says that Cerand has offered “many gems,” but the overall message is that there is no cookie-cutter formula. “We have to work in our own time and moment, play to our strengths and interests, know our goals for our book launch.”
Federico Erebia, author of Pedro & Daniel, forthcoming in June from Levine Querido, draws strength from the other writers in the cohort. “All debut authors seem to have the same worries and uncertainties about the process between writing their book and getting it in front of readers,” he says. “Working together in this publicity incubator, with an experienced publicist, we share our individual knowledge and expertise to the betterment of every person in our group. We each have a de facto street team.”
In April, Get the Word Out will welcome a cohort of poets with forthcoming collections. To learn more, visit at.pw.org/GTWO. Get the Word Out is supported, in part, by generous contributions from Leonard and Louise Riggio and Macmillan Publishers.