On Tuesday, January 17, Five Directions Press will formally announce the release of my latest Songs of Steppe & Forest novel, Song of the Storyteller. I’ll talk more about the book itself next Friday. This week, I’d like to focus instead on the always thorny (from my perspective) topic of promotion. Even in the days when all publishing was commercial, books could not just appear and make a splash. In the current climate, where publishers are huge conglomerates and indie publishing has exploded, even authors lucky enough to land a traditional contract with one of the Big Five have to put in a lot of sweat and toil on social media if their years’ long writing projects are not to sink like ten-ton rocks beneath the roiling waves of public attention.
And that’s too bad, because while I love diving into my story world and exploring its nooks and crannies, its heroes and villains, then letting the writing flow onto the page and even cleaning it up afterwards, I am not cut out for the job of touting my work to the world. I tolerate social media—some sites more than others, but none for long. I’m happy to hold in-person events, but Covid pretty much put a lid on those. Advertising has never paid for itself, nor have reduced sale prices, and although I certainly have a group of fans, as luck would have it, they don’t generally leave reviews. My most consistent ways of reaching out have been this blog and my interviews for the New Books Network.
But one way of promoting a new book that I do love is book teasers. These are one-liners added to vivid, compelling images that offer glimpses into the action and visuals of a particular novel. They are fun to create, and they get me thinking about what are the most dramatic lines of a given story. So I decided to share how I create them, since you might enjoy making your own.
First and foremost, it helps to have the right software. I used Adobe’s InDesign until this book. It’s a wonderful program, but available only for a hefty monthly fee, so unless you use it for work, as I do, a better alternative is Serif’s Affinity Publisher, which costs $50–60 for a lifetime license even when it’s not on sale, which it often is. If you have serious Word chops, you could probably use that or one of the free alternatives, but personally I wouldn’t. I like to be able to place things very precisely, and the publishing programs are designed to do that in a way that word processors are not.
Next you need a source of good images that are royalty free. There are paid sites like Shutterstock and iStock, but those costs add up fast if you make 15–20 teasers per book. Try Pixabay, Unsplash, and other free sites. (Affinity Publisher will connect to several of them directly from within your files.) A subscription service like Clipart.com or iClipart.com (run by the same company), which charges a set rate per year, can be a good investment—and there are often discount coupons available on the Internet, especially for first-time users. But make sure they have a wide-ranging selection of photographs, not just clip art, suitable for your particular novel.
And don’t forget public domain images, especially if you write historical fiction. Anything produced by the US government is public domain by requirement, since the public pays for the government through taxes. That includes most of the Digital Collections of the US Library of Congress, although you need to check to ensure that the donor has surrendered all rights. Meisterwerke der Malerei is a great source for European paintings, and the files are often very high quality. Other museum collections may or may not permit free use; it’s important to validate each museum’s policy.
Wikimedia Commons is a fantastic storehouse of great art and, unlike images for print covers, book teasers don’t require high-resolution backgrounds because they are destined for the World Wide Web, where 72 dots per inch look just as good as the 300 needed for print. So you should be able to make use of all but the smallest images. Book teasers sized for the Web should be no larger than 800 x 600 pixels (900 x 1200 for TikTok; 900–1,200 square for Instagram). I make them proportionally larger in Affinity but shrink them on export, which tells me also how much space they will take up (under 1 megabyte is ideal).
The third essential is good dialogue or description—single sentences that capture essential elements of the story and make a reader want to know more. These should be intrinsic in the writing, but some authors are better at dramatic statements and cliffhanger endings than others. A story can have lots of action yet few single lines that convey a sense of threat or intrigue in a catchy and comprehensible way. It’s worth thinking about that—not while you’re writing but perhaps when you’re revising, after all the main plot points and characterizations are set.
Last, it’s helpful to echo the look of the published novel by replicating the fonts used in the book, which should themselves be matched in style to the novel and its contents. If you create your own covers and texts, you will know what those fonts are; if you hire a designer, ask. If the exact font is not available, there are lots of free alternatives designed for the Internet. Google Fonts is one place to look. Try to find something as close as possible in style to that used on the cover.
In illustration, I have scattered throughout this post a few teasers I’ve created for past novels, my own and other people’s. Each of them corresponds to the principles above, although they range from contemporary romance to historical drama.
Note that these images all have a central image but lots of relatively free space where you can put text without either element overwhelming the other. Think about that as you are selecting between two equally good representations of your prose.
In closing, I offer the first teaser for my new novel, taken from chapter 1. Follow me on Facebook (cplesley.authorpage), Twitter (cplesley), Pinterest (cplesley), Goodreads (C.P. Lesley), Instagram (authorcplesley), and TikTok (authorcplesley) for new hints of what’s to come over the next month or so, as well as general updates on books I’m reading, interviews, and life in general. And of course, buy the book! If you like historical fiction set in a place just a bit beyond the ordinary, with a bit of adventure and a dollop of sweet romance, I promise you will enjoy it.
So if the idea of creating book teasers appeals to you, give it a try. They don’t always sell books, but in my experience, few “sure-fire” techniques exist. Promotion is like exercise: you have to focus on a few activities that you enjoy, or you’ll spend all your time making excuses and see no progress at all.