How to publicize your first academic book (opinion)

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Congratulations! You have published your first book.

Now what?

TikTok video? Same ? Befriend an influencer?

For many academics, opening an account on Twitter is scary. Many of us are camera shy, reluctant to self-promote, and wary of media portrayals. We dream of long interrupted hours of reading and writing and shudder at the thought of a live interview.

I am with you there. But I also know the sinking feeling of having spent countless hours thinking, writing, and worrying about a book, only to see it sit at #581,000 on Amazon’s ranking list. This means approximately eight copies of the book are sold monthly.

Academic monographs, I was told, typically sell 500 to 1,000 copies – over a lifetime, and mostly to libraries. The running joke in academia is that your book royalties will buy you a few lattes, but they’ll also earn you a job, which is enough for most of us.

We also may not feel much external pressure to market our books, but we will receive intrinsic rewards for doing so. We know so much about our subject; it is worth sharing this knowledge with other people. I’ve also found that different audiences make me think about my work in different ways. And it definitely makes my day to receive an email from someone who enjoyed reading my book.

I published my first book on “no excuses” charter schools and discipline last summer with Princeton University Press. It did not become a bestseller. But, along the way, I’ve learned that there are a number of little things you can do to get your book out there and get your story out there to a wider audience. Here are 10.

  1. Target your audience. Determine who you are trying to reach. Besides faculty members and students in your field, would other audiences be interested in your book? I wanted my book to be read by teachers and charter school leaders. To reach these groups, I emailed charter school principals, sent hard copies of the book—with a handwritten note—to charter school leaders and teacher organizations, and created a discussion guide on my website for teachers and schools. In the same way, Mira Debswhose first book was in public Montessori schools, held book conferences at different Montessori schools, and secured funds to distribute free books to participating teachers. She also created school and community resources.
  2. Host a virtual book launch. It’s a fun way to celebrate the publication of your book. You can create a simple To avoid with a Zoom link and email the invitation to your friends, family, students and colleagues. You can present elements of your book, or it may be more lively to find someone to interview you about it. For the launch of my book, I invited Jennifer Berkshire, blogger and educational author, to interview me, because she knew the field well and was a pro of the format. The recording of my book launch was replayed on C-SPAN 2 Book TV.
  3. Work with your publisher and their marketing department. University presses don’t have extensive resources to market your book, but they can still be helpful. Typically, they will send an announcement about your book to a media list and facilitate contact with interested parties. Mine also sent a digital or hard copy of the book to a list of 20-30 scholars I recommended. They also sent copies of the book for book prices, which can be expensive if you have to do it yourself. They made me a Twitter banner. You can also search on the websites of different publishers media tool kits for promoting the book.
  4. Say yes to almost everything. I said yes to almost every media or podcast request for my book. I said yes to all invitations to speak about the book in college classes or university seminars. If your book is very popular you may need to be more selective, but I found I could handle these different events as they were spread throughout the year. By the time I did a few, I had to prepare less and felt more confident to speak off the cuff.
  5. Don’t ignore small opportunities to spread the word. Have you sent a book announcement to your member associations/sections? Would a particular blog feature your book or publish an excerpt? How about sending an e-mail to your colleagues and friends to alert them to your new book? I got one from an author I didn’t know personally and ended up teaching his book. Reach out to colleagues you know in other departments and express your interest in speaking at a colloquium, lecture series or seminar. Send a brief email to journal editors (or a book review editor if listed on the journal’s website) asking if they would consider reviewing your new book.
  6. Use your academic affiliations. Does your undergraduate institution offer a reading series? What about your doctoral institution? I was able to have my book included in the curriculum of my undergraduate institution Featured book of the monthand the college magazine then extract this interview. Have you also contacted the media relations office of your current institution? In every tweet I post related to my book, I tag my institution’s Twitter account and they’ll repost it, expanding its reach.
  7. Read resumes. To identify potential news outlets, journals, and awards, I searched for resumes of scholars who had written bestselling books in my area. That’s how I found the New Book Network, where I participated in a podcast. It’s also how I found two prizes that I ended up winning: one of Society of Teachers of Education and the Independent Publishers Book Award.
  8. Try a different type of writing. Opinion pieces are a great way to get your message across succinctly and to a wide audience. Ask yourself if there is a recent event or anniversary that can serve as a hook to your story. In my case, I framed a piece around the 30th anniversary of charter schools. The conversationan independent, nonprofit news organization that exclusively publishes articles written by academics is a great outlet to try. My post based on my book was out in about a week, eye-catching photos included. The article was picked up by more than 20 news websites and published in the print version of The Philadelphia Investigator. It has been clicked over 57,000 times. You can also experiment with different genres, like writing an advice piece in a publication like Inside Higher Education for teachers who may experience difficulties in the process of writing a book.
  9. Start early. Media interest peaks around your publication date, so you’ll want to start writing op-eds and contacting potential outlets several months before. The OpEd project, in which I participated, is a resource for teachers who want to learn how to write for a public audience. Listen to podcasts. Find bloggers and influencers in your area. Find out which journalists are writing about your topic and contact them. Now is also the time to reach out to independent bookstores. I contacted my local bookstore a few months after my book came out, and they said it was too late to organize an event around the book.
  10. Distribute wealth. Take advantage of opportunities to talk about your book as a way to promote the work of other scholars/activists/stakeholders, especially young scholars and those from underrepresented backgrounds. Spreading the Wealth puts you in interesting dialogues and draws attention to the work of others. At Yale Education Studies, I gave a talk with Michael Martinez, a graduate of Yale University and a “no excuses” charter school, where we discussed our joint research projects.

To learn more about promoting your book, check out this media toolkit set up by the American Sociological Association with advice and experiences from academics. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you might even explore marketing strategies and seminars for writers who publish books independently. Next time, consider working with an agent or publishing an academic book.

Marketing a book takes time, but these strategies are quite easy to execute. And chasing them, who knows? You might even catch the attention of The New York Times or a well-known blogger. Cumulatively, and with such approval, your book on game theory (OK, Jane Austen) may even momentarily pass ranking #200 on Amazon.

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