You probably think of Charles Dickens as the author of Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, and other incredibly popular works of literature. But did you know that Dickens was also a shameless self-promoter? Sure, his books were popular throughout America, but in order to boost sales even further (as well as Charles Dickens to earn some money) Dickens set out on an extensive speaking tour, traveling from city to city to read from his novels. Learn from Dickens. Don't be afraid to state in the Promotion Section of your book proposal that you'll do things to promote your book. Publishers love to hear it.

Let me tell you an insider secret. This is going to sound a little silly, but it's perfectly true. Over the past fifty or so years publishers have begun to look with more favor than ever on authors who can do what Dickens did — promote their own books. Not only that, but publishers are so keen to have authors promote their own books that a special industry term has evolved to describe it. The term is platform. I don't particularly like this term because it suggests that the author is up on an actual platform droning on about his or her book. But I thought I'd let you know about it because, believe me, it is on the mind of your publisher. In fact right now while you're reading this there are publishers out there who would love to publish a book just like yours who are pacing back and forth in their offices thinking, "If only we could get an author with a good platform."

I like to think of promotion in more glamorous terms. I like to forget the whole platform idea — which sounds antiquated to my ear — and instead think of magazines, radio, television . . . maybe even movies. Imagine your book is published and you get a call from Cosmopolitan or Esquire and they want to interview you about your work. Then you're contacted by National Public Radio and they want you to be a guest on their coast-to-coast program Morning Edition. Next thing you know you're talking to a producer from the Today show. Are you free for an interview next Wednesday in New York? They'll fly you in and pay for your accommodations at a hotel in Manhattan the night before the program. Can you imagine all this? You sure better be able to imagine it, and I'll tell you why. Because your publisher is imagining it. I told you they were dreaming of an author with a great platform, didn't I? Well, guess who that author is? It's you!

Don't tell me you're shy. (You can get over that.) Don't tell me you've never been on television. (There's a first time for everything.) Don't tell me nobody from Esquire or Cosmo would ever call you. (They will if you have a hot topic.) Don't give me any of the hundreds of excuses writers come up with nonstop when it comes to the Promotion Section of their book proposal. You should banish all these doubts from your mind and think positive. In your Promotion Section you should assert boldly that:

  • You will make yourself available to radio and television.
  • You will send press releases to major magazines about your work.
  • You will start a new Web site to promote your book.
  • You will promote your book at any public lectures you do.
  • You will attend professional conferences and promote your book there.
  • You will do any other thing you can think of to promote it.

No one expects you to become an instant celebrity. But the publisher does expect that you will be proactive in getting the word out about your book. So don't hesitate to say you'll talk to magazines and radio stations. Don't hesitate to say you'll make yourself available to national and local television outlets to talk about your work. These media sources are looking for authors every day of the week — and you could be the next guest on Oprah or any of hundreds of other radio and television shows. Think positive. Put it in your Promotion Section. Your publisher will want to see it. It will help to sell your book idea and get you that book contract you've been dreaming of.

And guess what? It may actually come true.

(Photo: Charles Dickens on stage at one of his readings.)