Are you undervaluing your book?

June 27, 2012

I know, I know, you’re looking at me in horror. “Undervalue my BOOK? Are you barking mad?”

Of course, we all believe our books are fabulous things that are worthy of high praise, oodles of money, and undying love from fans all over the world. Not talking about that, though. I’m talking about something deeper, which involves underestimating your book’s potential. This comes from not looking at your book through a marketing prism.

Case in point; I met an author at a writer’s conference who’d written a personal journey about her addiction and how it had impacted her family. The thing that made it noteworthy is that the book included her daughter’s perspective as well. Interesting concept, sez I, it’s a big book.

Blink blink. Big book?

Absolutely. Any editor who signs you is looking down the road as to the book’s impact on the marketplace. This book is unique because, while there are a jillion addiction books, the commonality drops off when you include addiction from the viewpoint of those who had to suffer through it with you. As such, this book would be great for Alateens and Alanon members. You and your daughter could be doing talks about your experience and offer advice, taken from your book, to help others who are still living the nightmare.

The author blinked again. She admitted that she’d never looked at her book in that way. She was simply writing about her and her family’s experiences.

She undervalued her book. And lots of writers do.

Story vs. Potential

Memoirs get their roots from something happening in someone’s life that’s extraordinary, and he/she decides to write about it. Authors suffer from tunnel vision, in that their entire focus is on the story; not the potential.

I’ll let you in on a poorly-kept secret: Potential is why publishers want a book.

Editors don’t just look at the story itself, they look at how far the book can go, how widely they can market it, and how many audiences will find the book interesting. The bigger the target, the more exciting the potential.

Authors who appreciate this have already taken preliminary steps toward approaching that potential target before the book even sells to an editor. For instance, the author with the addiction book already has an established relationship with AA, so she can easily contact the various groups to discuss her book. She and her daughter can develop a few talks that discuss their hard experiences and the factors that got Mom clean and brought their family back together.

She could also be talking to schools in order to reach out to kids whose parents have an addiction problem, or those kids themselves have more than a passing fancy to the drink. They could talk about the damage that path created from a firsthand perspective. And all of these talks lead right back to her book. If she starts giving talks now, then she has an established platform in which to wow an editor, who will do the happy dance.

The other option is to do nothing, which won’t make a potential editor dance quite as wildly because the author has zero platform, and there isn’t much time in which to establish one.

Fiction

And you novelists aren’t immune to undervaluing your books. It’s true that you don’t need a platform for a novel because, well, your world is fake. However, you’d be hardly kicked out to the curb for having a platform.

I’ve referred to my experiences with the Two Surfer Dudes from time to time because he is such a great example of taking nothing and turning it into something. Long story short, this surfer writer penned a fantasy/SF book whose main characters were surfer dudes – sort of a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but with some really oddball characters in a funky SF/fantasy setting. In short, a really tough sell.

Predictably, no editor would touch his book. By the time he sat down in my promotion seminar, he was pretty down in the mouth because he’d gone vanity press and realized he’d get zero promotion help or distribution. He ended up making lemonade by capitalizing on his own experiences as a well-known local surfer to launch his book to his potential readership – other surfers.

Because he knew nothing about how books are sold, he’d undervalued his book’s potential by not considering how his personal life could elevate his book’s footprint.

So for your novelists; take a peek at your own lives. Is there something you can pull out from your life that creates a bridge between your story and your target audience? Are you the the cop who writes detective novels? Are you the Reiki Master who writes about a surgeon who incorporates alternative medicine in her practice? Are you a nurse who writes medical romance novels?

If you look inward, it’s possible that you have qualities that will elevate your book from “eh” to “wow!” After all, if a surfer dude can sell a fantasy/SF about two surfer dudes, anything is possible when you take steps to do some serious analysis.

Vision

Analysis takes vision. It means that you’re looking beyond just your story, and envisioning key elements that will attract an audience. Your story is more than just your imagination. It’s a culmination of your experiences, your perspective on how you view the world, and what’s burning in your soul. It’s that literary itch that needs scratching. It’s passion.

If you’re not emotionally attached to your story, then how do plan to advocate its reason-to-be? Even a fun little romantic comedy has deep roots that drive your passion, right? It shouldn’t be a stretch to expand your vision in order to appreciate the value of your book and decide how far you can take it.

I’ve met more than a few authors whose faces were painted with panic when I suggested huge plans for their book. They simply hadn’t taken the time to look at their story’s potential and didn’t understand the vision it takes to go where no book has gone before. Ah, thank you, Capt. Picard.

So take another look at your book and analyze whether you’re undervaluing your little friend. If you are, then maybe you could think about changing course, and go get ’em!


Online presence – is it necessary?

June 26, 2012

The question comes up periodically as to whether it’s absolutely necessary to have an online presence, so I thought I’d break this question down into bite-sized pieces  because, let’s face it, “online” is an oversized beast. You have the usual suspects; Twitter, Facebook, a blog, a website, LinkedIn…and it all begins to overwhelm, right?

So what’s necessary? Or mandatory?

For starters, nothing is mandatory, and no one is putting a stapler to your head and forcing you to make merry with the Internet. However, the question becomes academic when editors are looking at a book contract. The first thing the sales guys ask for is the promo plan. If I come out and say that the writer lives under a rock and barely has running water, they will laugh me out of the zip code.

No Islanders, Please

Not everyone is in touch with their inner hambone, so what do you do if you’re just plain shy? Well, it makes things a lot more challenging for your editor. Gone are the days where one can pull a Hemingway by writing from exotic locales while drinking with the natives, and sell bajillions of books. It’s all about promotion and publicity – and sitting on an island (no matter how intoxicating) won’t let readers know that you and your book exist.

Of course, your editor and promo teams do their bit by blasting your book out to the national accounts, local bookstores, libraries, media, and reviewers. But be aware that no matter how far and wide your publisher blasts your book, sales depend on one thing; the reader who will buy the book, love it, and talk about it. And this is where social media can be a big help because they reach millions of potential readers with a single keystroke.

Connecting with a large audience vs. Hit ‘n Run

It’s not enough to simply start a blog or sign up for a Twitter or Facebook account, blab about your book, and boOm, instant sales. Those of us who have been involved with social media will attest to rolling our eyes at the “Hit ‘n Run” author. These guys do nothing but talk about themselves and their wonderful book, and always include a link to Amazon. They don’t cultivate online relationships and treat those friends like, well, friends. Instead, they barge into TwitterLand or comment on blog posts with the link to their book and a thinly-disguised suggestion to rush to Amazon and buy their book.

They only take; they never give. This isn’t effective social media. Just because people aren’t sitting across the table from you doesn’t mean a departure from social niceties. If you want people to engage with you, you have to give them something to engage with. The more you give of yourself (and I’m not talking about handing out your locker combination), the more people will be attracted to you. Give and Take is much better for your literary career than Hit ‘n Run.

Natural Curiosity

Having an online presence is two-fold; not only are you meeting new people who have the same interests as you, but it’s the main chance for your readers to learn more about you. Now, that may squick you out because you’re a private person, but many readers who love a book have a natural curiosity about the author. A blog, FB, or Twitter account satisfies a reader’s author fix.

You don’t have to reveal your shoe size or true color of your hair (personally, I have no clue about mine, other than I’m sure it involves lots of gray). I know a few very private, shy people who have a lovely online presence because they deflect away from their personal lives. They’re great about interacting with others by asking how they’re doing, did they finally get over the flu, or how’s that broken toe.

It Takes Time

One thing that bothers me when looking at submissions is when the author says they “plan” on getting involved with social media. For starters, this shows me they are true neophytes. You don’t sign up with FB, Twitter, or start a blog and expect instant attention. It takes time…LOTS of time to gain a readership. If you aren’t established now, then the social media promotion doesn’t flip up my Vickie Secrets.

Who Is Reading Me?

Your potential readers, for one. It’s just like what Ma Bell used to sing on their commercials; “Reach out and touch someone.” Only you’re reaching out and touching lotsa peeps. And you never know who may stumble across your blog or Twitter feed. I’ve received many emails from reviewers or journalists who read a blog post or saw my Tweet about a particular book of ours and wanted a review copy.

While at the ALA last Sunday, a librarian told me that she read my tweet about Ann Meyers Drysdale signing copies of her book, YOU LET SOME GIRL BEAT YOU? at the Consortium booth, and wanted to be sure she got her copy because they were planning on ordering for their library. We’ve also received interview requests because of a tweet Annie did. Huzzah to social media.

People of like minds will follow your blog, Twitter feed, or FB page, so it’s important to pander to that crowd. If you wrote a book about inverted belly buttons, then it’s a good idea to focus to the inverted belly button crowd with tweets or blog posts.

Networking is the most valuable friend in the publishing business (well, any business, for that matter), and social media allows you to network on a much larger scale – provided you’re doing it right.

What do I write about?

This is a big ticket item that plagues lots of blogs. The author has no real idea what to write about, so there’s no cohesion…which means, no steady readers. Too many fall into the trap of writing about being writers, which won’t necessarily appeal to those who will buy your book. I’ve noticed many popular author blogs focus on appealing to their readers by writing about their genre and how it mixes with their lives.

Tawna Fensky’s blog is a prime example of this. She’s extremely clever and always manages to incorporate the romance genre and how she views the world through that prism. The result is hysterical because she taps into the most common denominators that many can relate to. I don’t even read romance, but I did buy her book. Multiply that times a whole lotta other people, and you have an author who is going to sell a lotta books…and I can attest to that because I’ve seen her sales on Bookscan.

But Tawna began her blog two years before her book came out. That’s what I mean by planning ahead, knowing what to write about, understanding that lots of influential people could stumble across your blog, and appreciating the natural curiosity of blog readers.

Maintenance: Once Involved, Stay Involved

Is there anything worse than going to someone’s blog and seeing their last post was in June 2011? You can see the cyber cobwebs in the corners. It’s depressing.

If you’re gonna do it, you hafta maintain it…which is laborious, especially blogs. You need to come up with new blog posts all the time, and there are times when the creativity just ain’t working, and the well runs dry. The easy move is to just abandon it. Problem is, it’s easy to stay away, especially if you’ve been blogging for a long time. You need to come up with fun stuff that keeps it entertaining for you, too.

Maintaining your presence, whether it’s through writing a blog or hanging out in Twitter or FB, is about balance between your real life and your online life, so you need to consider how often you’ll blog. Every day or three times a week? You want to avoid losing readers, so it has to be often enough to keep them coming back.

Interaction Schminteraction

Lots of this stuff gets lost in the ether, so it’s a lot of time spent with possibly little rewards. Interaction can be overrated, and if you’re just not into that, then put up a website. This gives your readers someplace to go to find out more about you and your book. It’s a great place for reviews and links to upcoming events, or news articles.

End All, Be All

There are plenty of readers who don’t follow social media and buy books from talking to friends, trolling the bookstore, or reading the newspaper. That’s why it’s important to have a well-rounded promo plan.

In the end, whether you involve yourself in social media is a personal decision. Your editor can’t make you do it (though you’d be insane not to at least have a website), but I’ll wager my margarita budget that they consider your social media involvement (or lack, thereof).

When I’m considering offering a contract, I check the author’s online presence because I know readers will check. It’s great if they already have an active blog with lots of commenters. Personally, I don’t care if they’re on twitter or FB because I’m not wholly convinced those two mediums sell a ton of books.

Conversely, I get a case of butterflies if an author intends to rely solely on social media as their promotion plan because promotion is a multi-pronged attack. It can be a huge benefit (provided it’s done right), but it’s not meant to serve as a replacement from all other promotion.

The end game is this: If you’re going to do social media, do it right. Is it necessary? Depends on your personality, the kind of book you’ve written, and your ability to appeal to your potential readership. It can be a lot of fun or akin to giving the beagle a bath. Tread carefully and mindfully.


Public Speaking – Tapping Into Your Inner Hambone

June 15, 2012

In light of my post on how to best pitch your seminar to the Ms. Head Bananas of the world, I thought I’d talk a bit more about seminars and public speaking, in general.

Promotion is key to gaining a readership, and one of the effective ways of doing this is public speaking. It’s not for everyone and can be an acquired taste. But it also makes an impact because it’s the only place where potential readers can see you in all your gorgeiosity. They can see your passion and your humor – and trust me, this goes a LONG way to making a sale. I’ve seen great speakers sell out of really crappy books. Conversely, I’ve seen really crappy speakers not sell a single copy of a fabulous book.

So the advice here is, do public speaking if it really floats your boat.

Why Do a Seminar?

Well, for starters, you do a seminar because you have information to impart, and it’s pretty easy to find a place that will give you the platform in which to get that message out. Bookstores are a logical choice, since they’ll sell your book for you after you’ve spoken to your adoring masses. But there are plenty of other places, as well. Consider your readership and figure out where and how to gather them together in a single venue. A captive audience is one who will buy your book.

Topic seems to be a sticking point for a lot of authors – what is my message when I write romance/fantasy/SF/mystery/thriller/historical fiction? I’ve often used the example of Mr. Two Surfer Dudes because he’s a shining example of how to take something from seemingly-nothing and create a wonderful platform for his books. Now that was a gent who really found his inner hambone.

Your message is key. It should teach something, enlighten, or inspire. Nonfiction is pretty much a no-brainer in the seminar department – but even nonfiction writers can miss the mark. They are so close to their book that, oftentimes, they fail to see the marketable qualities that can be pulled out and discussed in a seminar. This is why it’s vital to discuss this with your editor and/or their marketing guys. They have ideas bursting out their pores.

Booking an Event

Bookstores and libraries are more apt to book an author for a signing if they have a talk because they have more to promote than just your book. Which poster would entice you to attend a book event:

Come to a booksigning for Alana Banana, author of If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Time For Margaritas

or

Come listen to author Alana Banana discuss her book, If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Time For Margaritas – a humorous look at bar drinks from around the US. Alana will discuss which cocktails are better, why a single cocktail will add years to your life, and why rum is considered nectar of the gods.

The second blurb is meant to pull in readers who would be interested in a book of this nature, along with learning something.

Consider your book, even if its fiction. Is there something you can pull out that would make for an interesting talk? Back when I doing promotion for Donovan’s Paradigm, I wanted to get readers thinking because that’s an extension of my book. So I had a talk that asked the question, “Do you think your doctor’s beliefs influence the way they treat you?”

It was an intriguing question that brought in readers to hear what blasphemy I had to say. It made for a lively give and take with the audience, which I adored. And they always bought the book.

I”m Shy

Many authors would rather swallow hollow-point bullets than speak in front of an audience, so perhaps doing Skype talks or blog interviews is more your thing. The important consideration is to allow readers to “see” you, to get a feel for who you are. You may not think you’re terribly fascinating (ask my kids; they think I’m as dull as an English muffin), but your readers don’t, and they appreciate the opportunity to hear what you have to say.

In this business, shyness is a buzzkill.

Analyze Your Personality

Writing a book is no longer a matter of, “If you write it, they will come.” They won’t. With all the distractions in our lives, it’s easy to get lost among the white noise, which means that we all have to work harder to be heard. That also means that editors love an author who isn’t afraid to get out and show their pretty faces.

Take the time to analyze yourself; what kind of promotion are you comfortable doing? Personally, as hambone-y as I am, I will bathe in engine grease rather than do a booksigning event because it’s so hit or miss.

Even if I have a great talk planned, there’s no guarantee that anyone will show up. To counter that, I contact my potential audience. In Donovan’s Paradigm’s case, I sent out flyers to local nursing groups, alternative care clinics, and doctor’s clinics. The last thing I wanted to do is talk to the one guy who came in for the free water and cookies. At that, planning doesn’t equal success.

But dollars to doughnuts, I can attest that I always sold far more books after making public appearances. Yeppers, it’s that important. So if you feel you have a hambone just waiting to surface, give it some meat to work with and think about what elements of your book would make for a wonderful talk.


Promo plan – beware the name dropping

March 29, 2012

"I knows lotz of peoplez..."

I’m a one for specifics. I often b-p-m (bitch, piss, and moan) about SPECIFICS when discussing query letters and synopses, and now I’m b-p-m’ing about it in book proposals. In a word, vague bites it. If you’re going to mention The Big HooHa Name in your proposal, then I really appreciate it when you back that up with specifics.

Here is an example of what I mean…something that drives me a bit batty because I see it so much in the promotion plan section of book proposals:

“Joe Bogglesfart is head of Big HooHa Group and has promised to help promote my book any way he can.”

What does this mean? It’s lovely you mention a Mr. BigPants, but how does his name and position specifically play into helping promote your book?

  • Is he going to have you on his radio show?
  • Is he going to host a signing event and make sure all the local media is there to capture your smiling mug?
  • Does he have the stuffing to get you on the Today Show?
  • Will he climb to the top of Mt. Everest and give a big shout out to the yaks?

See, without specifics, I consider this a throwaway statement because it has no meaning.

On the other hand, this is very helpful:

“I am long-life friends with Joe Bogglesfart, who is host of the popular morning show, The Anorexic Yak. He has promised to have me on his show upon release of my book.”

This lets me know that I may be able to anchor some national buzz for your book should this appearance come to pass.

I know it’s fun to be able to toss around important names because we hope that importance will leech over to us. But it has to mean something. The name Antonio Banderas will naturally have me breaking out in a post-menopausal sweat, screeching, “Where? Where? Let me at ‘im!” But unless Tony has offered to do a commercial on prime time TV discussing my brilliance, then he’s little more than a name that has no meaning attached to it.

The Foreword

Another pet peeve that drives me to mainline rotgut gin at noon is the promise of a Mr. BigPants foreword. Unless you really have that promise in the bag – preferably already written – then avoid saying it. I’ve seen all sorts of promises like this only to find out, after digging deeper, that well…um…er…Mr. BigPants’ foreword isn’t forthcoming after all.

It may be perfectly legit, and you thought you really did have that promise, but it looks a bit suspect if you’re standing in my Nikes. Avoid the problem by keeping it under your hat. If it does come through, think how your editor will do the happy happy joy joy dance and sing your praises ’til the beagles stop howling. After all, the fact that a big name has offered to write a foreword isn’t a selling point to me. Your book is the selling point, and everything is else is gravy.

I tend to think of this name-dropping thing as query-stuffing in much the same manner as when Mary Katherine Horner used to stuff her bra in sixth grade. It was as phony then as query-stuffing is now. I realize authors stuff their queries with big names so I’ll get all slobbery and ask for pages. And I may have done that many years ago, but now, after a few bumps and burns, I’m harder to impress.

It all comes down to the book. If the book and the author’s personal platform speak for themselves, then “big name” is simply icing on the cake. That way, if things fall through, I’m not weeping in my margarita.

In other words, no try to foolz us, ‘cos we getz mad.


Love Story – your upcoming bookstore event

February 7, 2012

Emma Straub wrote a very cool article about how authors can create a lasting love story with the bookstore who is hosting your upcoming event. To say that it’s a must-read is the same as admitting the beagle needs an intervention.

Her advice is sound – be nice to bookstore workers because they’re the ones who will either recommend your book or use it to squash bugs. Bringing food is also a great idea because, let’s face it, they’re doing you a favor by hosting your event and went to a lot of work, so bringing cookies is just good manners.

Signings are more work than most authors realize. They have to order your book in plenty of time, they set up your table and chairs for your audience, make posters advertising your event, and hand out fliers. Sometimes they take out space in the local papers. They put thought into hosting you, so there are some things you should do so they don’t regret their decision.

The key is PREPARATION.

Reading Selection

Emma makes a good point here with respect to time and choice of what you plan on reading. I’ve gone to a number of author events, and I’m a huge fan of a bite-sized bits of reading, then stopping to explain or clarify why you like that particular section. What this does is personalize the book to your audience.

I like knowing an author’s character was inspired by his best friend who died of cancer. I like knowing the setting is based on the author’s happy experiences of living there. It’s the inside info stuff that makes me squiggly. And I like feeling squiggly. I get that same feeling from Twinkies and the beagle’s margaritas.

I also like the idea of reading short snippets because you won’t put your audience to sleep. Nothing worse than sitting in an uncomfortable chair, wishing you’d brought your No-Doz.

Practice

Don’t go to your reading without having practiced your reading selections. I’ve thought I was going deaf because the author spoke so softly. I’ve listened to authors read their selections so fast that my brain simply gave up and went home…rendering me alarmingly vacuous. Take care that you maintain an even tempo, not too fast or slow, and enunciate in a solid, strong voice, so even the poor slob sitting in the back row can hear you.

Message

I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating. If you’re going to speak before an audience, have something to say. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and consider topics you think they may want to know or hear about.

  • Why did you write your book?
  • What is the basis behind your plot?
  • Why these particular characters?
  • Is there a socially relevant theme to your book that you can expand upon?
  • What is it about your setting that enhances your story?

As you can see, there are a million things you can discuss, but it takes planning and being considerate of your audience. Yes, you are like the stand-up comedian who’s on stage and needs to maintain audience interest because you want them to buy your book and profess their undying love for you.

Audience

You thought that all you had to do is arrive and your adoring fans would line around the corner, right? I wish. And I do hope it happens to you, but the chances are hit or miss. More realistically, you lack name recognition, so it can be a trying thing to gather up enough people to fill those chairs. I suggest going after ’em.

When I was promoting Tackle Box, I contacted the surrounding writer’s groups in the general area of the venue to let them know where I was appearing, who I am, what my book is about, and what they can learn by attending. Instead of talking to two or three people who were looking for a place to sit down and munch on free cookies and bottled water, I had fifty or sixty people show up.

Bookstores love this. Not only do they sell my book, but those same shoppers buy other books. And this is why bookstores host events. It’s good publicity for them. If more authors worked like this, there would be more bookstores happy to host author appearances. Sadly that isn’t the case, and many stores no longer host author events, or will only host the big names. They have found it’s not time- or cost-effective.

Being prepared ingratiates you to the store, while benefiting from the added exposure for you and your book. A win-win proposition.

Attitude

Many authors go into trying to book an event as someone doing them a huge favor. This attitude always makes me wince because the attitude is all wrong. Think about how you feel when someone is asking you for a favor. You stop and consider the worthiness of their request.

On the other hand, if you propose all the reasons WHY a bookstore would love to host your event, now you make their mouth water. Look at what you have to offer to a store and an audience, and you’ll see that instead of them holding something over on you, they’ll be very excited about hosting your event.

It’s the idea of “what can I offer you,” over “can you, pretty please, with sugar and Twinkies on top?” Here’s the cover letter I used in one particular case:

Dear XXX,
XXX is a good friend of mine, and recommended this morning that I contact you about the possibility of my doing a writer’s seminar, “I’ve Written ‘The End’ – Now What?” at XXX Store. It’s a two hour seminar that shows writers what editors/agents are looking for in a query letter, the ingredients to an effective synopsis, questions every author should ask of a publisher before ever querying, and the dos and don’ts after one has submitted. I don’t normally charge, but some of the venues I’ve been to have insisted upon charging. I’m fine with this either way.

My purpose in doing these seminars comes from the fact that not only am I editorial director for Behler Publications, a commercial press, but I’m also a writer. Education in this business is key, and I’ve created this seminar out of that need. I see so many submissions crossing my desk that tell me the writer isn’t ready for prime time yet. As XXX has told you, there is a plethora of misinformation about the industry. I see this every day in the submissions I receive. Writers have asked me exactly what it is I’m looking for, why I rejected them, and what mistakes they made. This seminar was borne of the vast amount of writer feedback I’ve received.

The natural question is, what’s in it for me to do these seminars? I don’t charge, nor will I accept anyone’s manuscripts. In fact, most of the writers who attend my seminars aren’t ready for publication. As hokey and benevolent it may sound, my sole purpose is to plant seeds of education. As a writer, I enjoy being with other writers. It’s my hope that writers will take whatever knowledge I have to become better at their craft so that at some point they can submit to a publisher with confidence and pride. It’s two hours of my time to create some helpful ripples in the pond. Because I’m a writer as well, I can easily relate and empathize with every bit of angst and frustration they’re facing.

XXX asked me why I didn’t take my seminar over to Borders since I’ve been working closely with their CRM in other cities. I told him that I prefer working with the independent bookstores because they know literature. Chains know about shoving books out the door. Besides, you’re the best. Ask anyone who has been to XXX; they all know XXX.

Lastly, why XXX when I live in California? Over the past four months I’ve seen a dramatic rise in submissions from the XXX area, and each of them were rejected due to their simply not knowing the basics of how to query. I felt I had a ripe audience for hearing my seminar. I’ve attached my seminar outline to this email.

I look forward to hearing from you and thank you for your time.
Regards,
Lynn Price
Editorial Director

Obviously, your letter will be different, but you get the gist of what I’m saying. I’m trying to give all kinds of reasons why that bookstore should host me. In return, I made sure that I’d bring in a lot of people from the surrounding area. Yes, this takes time, but I care a great deal about my book and getting word out about its benefits to new writers who don’t know much about the industry.

And there is no reason why you can’t tailor this to make you equally loveable and in demand…regardless of whether you’re pitching to an indie bookstore or a chain.

Now go out and create your own Love Story!


Here’s the thing about Social Media

February 6, 2012

I’ve been asked by a number of people to discuss Social Media as a way of creating an author’s platform. I’m talking, in particular, about nonfiction authors – but you novelists may find something to take with you as well.

Editors and agents regard platform in terms of how many people know you, not how many people you know. Social media, like blogs, Twitter and Facebook can only take you so far, and you’re wise to consider this as only one element of your Platform Bag O’ Tricks. I know of a handful of authors who have created a platform based on their blogs – and got book deals because of them. And at that, they had created their blogs years before. When you compare those small numbers against the hundreds of thousands of blogs, you can appreciate how tough it is to create a readership.

The thing with Social Media is that you have get started way before your book is even done because it takes a long time to attract an audience of significant numbers. It’s not enough to say in your query letter that you have a blog and Facebook because it’s hard to quantify. Social Media, for the large part, is faceless, and the idea is to connect with your potential readership. Yes, I realize the power of blog book tours and such, but I’m a bit concerned at how many authors are depending on Social Media to be the end-all, be-all.

Media loves authors who are experts. Look at any of the authors you see interviewed on TV. They’re experts on their particular topic – and it’s the main reason why publicity teams work very hard to create that “expert” tag for their clients.  They become “experts” by pulling various elements out of their books and building on it.

Let’s say you wrote a travel essay about chucking it all and moving to a tropical island as a way to reconnect with your family. Your kids are in trouble, and you’ve lost touch with your hubby.

Having an active blog is a start, but let’s say you take this further by establishing a relationship with the island’s Tourist Information Board and suggest writing an article “ABC Island – It’s Not Just a Beach, But a Bridge Back to Your Family.” Now you have a sponsor who will print your article in their tourist brochures as a way to enhance family tourism.

In addition, you talk to parent groups about the importance of reconnecting with the family and keeping your kids on the straight and narrow. Maybe the seminar would be a “10-Point Method of Dealing With a Rebellious Child and Saving Your Sanity.” You might find receptive audiences at recovery centers, youth detention facilities, high schools, anywhere one would find families and kids in crisis. Since your book contains these general elements, you’re always able to refer back to it in your talk.

You might write articles to family magazines that deal with these same issues. This creates an even wider footprint for you and your book.

The wider you cast your net, the more people know you, which makes it far easier for your publisher to promote you to mainstream print and TV media.

Conversely, if your platform consists solely on social media, it’s harder for your editor to push your book into the hands of those who can ensure wider exposure – and bigger sales – because you don’t have a wide audience already established.

Now, of course, your book isn’t solely about a family in crisis. It’s a travel essay, HOWEVER, what you’ve done is create a bridge between families in crisis and your book because the strong inference is, “Hey, we were so fed up, we bailed out and saved our family…and look at the gems we collected because of it.” What you’ve done is double your readership of those who enjoy reading about that particular tropical island and families who are in crisis.

Now your book is newsworthy and you, being gorgeous and glib, can easily pull off national media. Now, do you have to do all of this? No. But the numerous promo ideas make you more attractive to an editor because she understands the larger potential for bigger sales.

And here’s the thing about social media – it’s HUGE, so it’s harder to be the cream that rises to the top. Rather than concentrating on one small element of your platform, it’s wise to branch out. But sure, it takes time and planning – but the rewards can be so much sweeter.

The thing about promotion is to plan and work smart. Amanda Hocking didn’t become a millionaire by sitting around collecting navel lint. She worked countless hours. So regardless of your publishing option, promotion is key to making you and your book stand out.

Now go forth and be brilliant. BTW, my Twitter name is @behlerpublish, nyuk, nyuk.


Consequences of Amazon inheriting the Earth – how does this affect their authors?

February 3, 2012

For those who are living under a rock, Amazon has partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to print and distribute their books. This is in addition to Amazon buying publishers – and their authors. Many are singing from the mountain tops. “Finally, we’ll have store placement AND online distribution. Amazon is wise. Amazon is good.”

But is it? Bookstores are fighting back. Barnes and Noble told Amazon not to count on them to shelve their books. Likewise, Books-A-Million has told Amazon to go forth and multiply with a diseased yak. Those are two huge marketplaces that are shutting Amazon out.

This is an interesting blow to Amazon…and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. And to the authors, who are caught in between.

A large part of me isn’t crying croc tears. Amazon has managed to usurp much of the book-buying business, which has prompted the closing of many bookstores – which adversely affects us publishers. Now they’re doing the same thing with publishing by signing some very big deals with established authors and buying up other publishing companies in a bid to become the premier go-to publisher.

However, this bid to inherit the Earth will be for naught if they can’t get shelf placement with the remaining chain bookstores.

I’m a capitalistic pig, so I’m a proponent of letting the marketplace take care of itself. And sure, I felt my intestines rumble when Amazon decided they wanted to play publisher. They have the money to hire the talent, and are signing only big-whup authors in order to put out a quality product. They have the $$ to undercut any market, and to pay the big advances.

The one thing they lacked was store distribution – which they took care of with the print/distribution deal with HMH. Amazon is good. Amazon is wise.

I saw the HMH agreement as a bit cannibalistic because Amazon is threatening publishers, yet a publisher signed a deal with them. Silly world. What would have been delicious is if no publisher was willing to sign any deal with Amazon that afforded them printing and distribution. But everyone is looking for money, so the deal was struck, which put the monkey on B&N’s back as to whether they’d shelve those books – which they have passed on.

Since it appears as at least one publisher sold out and is willing to sleep with the devil to maintain financial viability, Amazon has overcome it’s last big hurdle – printing and distribution. The only one that appears willing to stand up to Amazon is the book chains. Now Amazon has hit a wall.

We all cheer. Or do we? Let’s not forget those who stand to lose the most – authors.

The Flip Side

At the heart of all this is, of course, the authors. Many were taken along for the ride when Amazon swallowed up their publishing companies. All they could do is hope for the best. With B&N and BAM shutting them out, those authors – many of them solid-selling authors with a faithful readership – are now in flux. Where they used to have shelf placement, they’re orphans.

This means those authors are now going to be e-book authors only, which has a huge impact on promotion because many of these authors do events where their books are sold. And let’s not forget print and TV media, who like to review the physical book before they interview an author. Now what? Those new Amazon-by-proxy authors have to completely reorganize their entire promo strategy that excludes a bound book. Because really, why would HMH print a book if it has nowhere to go?

It doesn’t stop at promotion. What about genre? Not every genre sells well in the e-book format because their readership doesn’t buy Kindles, or they’d rather have the physical book. Bound books in nonfiction still outsells e-books. E-book sales lag behind in YA because that readership owns fewer Kindles.

So what are these authors supposed to do now that no big bookstore will shelve their books? More importantly, how will this affect authors’ sales? Where they once sold 100k units, will that dilute down to a few thousand? And how will those lower sales impact their future with their publisher?

You can see how this is a domino effect. One domino can’t fall without impacting all the other dominoes down the line. This is where it’s vital to pull away from our desks and try to peer into the future and appreciate how intertwined we are in the publishing industry. If you give any one company absolute power of inheriting the Earth, then how does that influence everything else?

The authors who are crowing over their fat deals with Amazon may find themselves not laughing quite so hard. If I’ve learned one thing is this psychotic business is that we all depend on each other to maintain a balance.

My heart breaks for those caught in between. And that’s the way it always works. When Mom and Dad fight, it’s the authors who are most adversely affected. Publishers will find a way to make money, but the individual author may be sacrificed to service the many. It sucks.

Where Do They Go From Here?

This is anyone’s guess. Knowing Amazon, they won’t take the shutout lying down. There are rumors they may open their own satellite stores – something they deny. But they have added new warehouses in strategic locations, so who knows? The explanation is the warehouses will allow them to get product to the customer more quickly. What…two days isn’t fast enough?

What I fear is that a backroom deal will be made between Amazon, B&N and BAM, voila, Amazon’s HMH-pubbed books will magically appear from sea to shining sea. It will be lovely for the authors caught in No-Man’s Land, but it will portend something very different for publishers.


Doing the seminar sashay…how to get the Head Banana’s attention

February 2, 2012


Many of you promote plan on promoting your books have discovered your inner hambone and plan on doing seminars, which means there is a Head Banana who considers each pitch that crosses their desk. Their eyes glaze as they skippie-doo over each email, which are many, looking for those that capture their attention because they stand out from the rest.

Sound familiar? Hey, bing! It’s like querying. Gah, it never ends, does it? And stop rolling your eyes and groaning like you ate too many Twinkies. You never stop promoting your book. Evah.

So you inner hambones need to write a pitch that will grab Head Banana’s attention – just like you did with your agent or editor. I thought I’d offer some tips that may help you when pitching to places for your seminar.

Cover letter/email – be slobber-worthy

You need a compelling cover letter that is succinct and slobber-worthy…just like a cover letter to an editor. Come from a position of strength rather than a “I have a really cool book, so please pick me.” In order to accomplish this, it’s best to convey how your seminar(s) will benefit their group.

If your cover letter is something like dry toast:

Dear Ms. Head Banana,
I would like the opportunity to speak before your Inverted Belly Button Foundation because I wrote a book on this very subject and can speak about the heartbreak of having an inverted belly button. I would love to discuss this possibility and find out what you’re looking for.

I can guarantee that Ms. Head Banana has seen umpeeunth cover letters that say the same thing. Your cover letter shouldn’t be a plea to open up a dialog with Ms. Head Banana because she doesn’t have the time. A cover letter like this is easy to dismiss because it doesn’t say or offer anything newsworthy. She has no idea how wonderful you are and how mahvelous your book is. She sees another letter asking for a chance.

Bleh. Next…

You avoid this by offering some measure of detail that lets Head Banana know exactly who you are, what you have to offer, and why you’re the best one with that information. I suggest giving a very short overview of your book, and be sure to include the link to your author page. And you do have a smokin’ webpage or blog, right? If your cover letter is compelling, believe me, they’ll check out your website.

And just to make sure I don’t leave you with your tongue hanging out, here is a sample cover letter I use when pitching to writer’s conferences. It’s not Hemingway, but it’s not meant to be. It’s barfing out information that I know Ms. Head Banana needs in order to render a decision.

More is Better

This is one of the few times when more is better. What I mean is that it’s best to have several seminars because it gives the organizers more choice. It’s easy to get a rejection if you put all your eggs into one basket. Get more eggs and carry more baskets, and you up your chances of hitting the mark. This may also parlay itself into a series of seminars because Ms. Head Banana can’t make up her mind on just one – which doubles your exposure. Tra la.

The Starring Role – Your Seminar(s)

In addition to my cover letter, I attach my seminars. By doing so, my goal is to get them while they’re hot. No, you potty-minds, not THAT hot. Striking-while-the-iron-is-hot hot.

I know this from experience. I’ll get a proposal for a book that looks delicious, but the author or agent doesn’t include the sample chapters. My iron is hot – yes, yes, I’ll pause for you pervs – and I want to read those pages NOW. Instead, I have to email the agent or author and request the pages, which somewhat cools my iron. If they take too long, my iron will get downright frigid. Taking one last pause for you nasties.

You’ll note in my sample that I include a short synopsis of each seminar, three bullet points of what the seminar covers, and three bullet points of what attendees will learn. This is powerful stuff, and I can’t urge you enough to use this kind of template when writing up your seminars because it’s a clear view of what you provide. Their little fingers will tremble as they marvel at your fabulosity.

And this, dear authors, is where you rope in Ms. Head Banana. Do I need another pause for dirty minds? Your list of seminars is so breathtaking that she will email you immediately, stating that she can’t wait to meet and hear you speak. Or something close to that.

I have to say that in all my years of doing public speaking, I’ve never had anyone say I wasn’t the right fit for their conference – and here’s why…

Research Those You Pitch

I do a thorough study of those I pitch. I make sure their conference or group is right up my alley because I know not all conferences were created equally. For example, the Romance Writers of America probably wouldn’t want me as one of their presenters – not because my seminars don’t apply to romance writers – they do, but because I don’t publish romance.

My being there takes the place of an editor who does publish romance, and authors are looking to pitch to those editors in addition to hearing what they have to say about publishing. I am mindful of the kinds of speakers any particular group is looking for. I do this so I don’t waste their and my time.

Always remember that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Put yourself in Ms. Head Banana’s Victoria Secrets and think like someone who is pitched to all the time and is looking to be wowed. She can’t know of your amazingosity unless you show her.


A word about promotion – it’s about making the sale

January 27, 2012

I attended a book signing a while back and came away empty-handed because the author blew her chance to make the case for buying her book. It was a tell-all ditty about a famous couple she’d worked for. The premise of the book is that the couple wasn’t as fairytale happy as they had let on, and this woman’s book was to expose the great lie.

Ok, I only attended the event because I happened to be in the bookstore at the time. I detest tell-all books. But I’m glad I stayed because I witnessed a valuable lesson on what not to do.

The premise, as I said, was to expose the Great Lie of this couple’s happiness. She ran into big trouble at the very beginning by saying that not all couples get along, and no relationship is a bed of roses…after all, her mother didn’t talk to her father for three days after letting the dog poop in the house. So, marital un-bliss happens. No big deal.

And that’s the way I felt about her book. No. Big. Deal. She shot down the very elements that make her book a saucy tell-all for those who get into that kind of thing.

If you’re going to promote your book, you have to support your thesis by saying, “Oh, the lamps flew, the screeching matches shattered windows, the public shows of affection were a crock…”

That is how you get people excited. You don’t normalize the situation and say it’s no big deal. She sold one book…to her mother.

People buy books because they are interested in learning more about the story inside. If an author trivializes that story in a sudden fit of humility, then book sales are going to plummet. You have to remember WHY you wrote the book. What was your message? What was the point?

These are exactly the things this author forgot. Ironically enough, I saw her on a major morning show, and she did the same damn thing. The hosts were gobsmacked and were trying desperately to squeeze some blood out of the turnip by asking about the couple’s problems, and at every turn, the author would dilute the problems by saying, “ah, these things happen with any couple.”

Thud.

Had I been her publicist or editor, I would have tossed myself under a garbage truck and hoped for a quick, painless demise.

 


The Big Oversell – it’s a domino thing

December 27, 2011

I remember when I got my first job. It was a candy shop, and the manager told me that all their employees could eat all the candy they wanted. Oh, how perfect was this job for me? The manager asked me about when I was available for work. I could smell those chocolate butter creams wafting in the air, making my mouth water. “I’m available after school and on weekends.” Yay. I got the job and was in choccie heaven.

Then came the truth. I really wasn’t available all weekends because I was in pep squad and had to be at our many parades and football games on Friday and Saturday. This put a crimp in the manager’s scheduling because she was depending on me to handle the weekends. She was less than happy and her furrowed brow told me I had oversold myself. I learned a valuable lesson back then. I discovered that it’s all well and fine to promise the moon, but if you don’t deliver, your backside will be hitting a few craters.

And this is something I see quite a bit of in the publishing field. Authors realize they need to provide a promotion plan and are tempted to be like my sideview mirror – you know what I mean…images look further away than they are. But in this case, authors appear better than they really are. In the case of nonfiction, we factor in the author’s platform and promo plan when discussing a book, and we see a lot of fluffery and puffery.

I see fluff and puff in three distinct stages:

Author Platform
Promo Plan
Author’s Participation

Author Platform

I tried to convince the candy manager that I was the best thing since sliced candy apples. Since I was only 16 and my first job, I had zero platform…meaning a record of previous employers who could vouch for my fabulosity. I hang my head in shame that she took my word for it.

And since I tried this little ruse to my own chagrin during my wayward youth, my BullCrappy-O-Meter is on the highest setting. Sometimes it’s like shooting mosquitoes in a tepid barrel of warm beer – like the writer who tried to convince me she’d won a Nobel Peace Prize. I guess she didn’t realize how screamingly easy it is to find that information. Likewise, it’s fairly easy to ferret out the biggest offenders simply by googling them. If someone says they are in huge demand as international speakers and I can’t even find a website or single newspaper article on them, then I get a ping from my BullCrappy-O-Meter.

It has to be logical. Anyone who has the goods has an electronic trail of breadcrumbs that lead back to their name. It’s verifiable. Word to the wise – don’t try to oversell who you are, ‘cos we’re gonna find out at some point.

Promotion Plan

Sadly, overselling doesn’t stop at trying to convince people of your fabulous platform. It also goes to the promo plan – what the author plans on doing to promote their book. In this, editors have to be better detectives because it’s not as easy to determine whether someone has the ability or desire to do what they say they can/will do until the rubber meets the road – meaning publication.

An author  can easily tell me that he has journalists from the NY Times and Chicago Sun Times waiting to do an interview on him, and he has major specialty groups waiting to schedule appearances and signings – and who am I to refute this? I can only vet so much, and then I have to trust at some point – a nerve-wracking thing, to be sure.

We use the promotion plan as an integral part of our overall marketing strategy. If the author says he’s tight with the ESPN producers, and they’re waiting to schedule an appearance, then we pass that information on to our sales teams and blast it out in our media kits. Sales are based on those promo plans, so when an author oversells themselves, those sales can very easily come back as returns.

Author’s Participation

It’s at this point when editors consider the merits of mainlining harsh chemicals and braiding their eyelashes because there’s no warning to when an author oversells himself. The promised plans simply never come to fruition. This means the editor, marketing, and publicity people are stuck doing all the national stuff and getting books shipped out to market, and the book is having a hard time finding footing because the author is AWOL.

It all starts with the submission committee. They discuss the book at great length, its message, quality of story, unique elements that make it marketable. They also take lots of time with how to promote the book, and a vital key to that process is the author’s participation. If the author sits on her hands and fails to do any of the things she said she would/could do, the she has just issued herself an invitation to her own funeral because that book will die. It’s almost a certainty.

Here is a truth:  Genre buyers always want to know what the author is doing to promote their book. Their pre-sales often hinge on author participation.

The Dominoes Begin to Fall

At some point, the big oversell will be very apparent, so what happens? Well, for starters, the author will incur her publisher’s wrath – and that’s never good. Then the dominoes begin to fall. The publisher has to quickly switch gears because all the support they had literally banked on is now gone. The problem is that it takes months to get a marketing and promotion campaign going, so right away there is a big hole that’s very hard to fill.

Meanwhile, bookstores begin receiving the pre-orders they wrote up based on those original promo plans that now won’t happen. Because the author is no longer a factor in promotion, the book loses a healthy amount of publicity, so those books will sit on the shelves until they gather dust. Then they’re bundled up in boxes and returned to the publisher. This costs the bookstore money because they allotted part of their budget to that particular title for that season.

This, in turn, makes the genre buyer a little miffed at the publisher for giving them a dogmeat book. So the buyer has to consider whether to trust the publisher in the future. This makes it harder for the publisher to gain traction in the marketplace, so future books could suffer from buyer backlash.

Publishing is a business where one’s reputation is paramount. We have to deliver what we promise, or we eat it for the simple reason that there are a ton of other publishers all too happy to take our shelf space.

The author’s own domino will also fall. Of course, your current publisher will never publish another one of your books because you’re untrustworthy. If you go to another publisher with your second book, they’ll look at the sales history of your first book. They may go so far as to call the original publisher. I’ve received calls from others, and I’ve made calls as well.

The worst domino to fall is that your publisher will re-prioritize you and your book. Your direct line to them is severed because the trust is shattered. No one wants this. Truly. The publisher will still do everything in its power to sell the book, but any special requests or favors you may have will fall on deaf ears. There are no winners for the author who oversells himself.

Be Honest

As I said earlier, the desire to be well published is strong. Everyone gets that. But when an author promises the moon and sun without fully thinking through whether they actually have the ability or time to accomplish them, they put a lot of people’s necks in a noose. Above and beyond all else, be honest with yourself and your editor. Don’t try to make yourself look bigger and better than you are because you won’t be able to perpetuate the ruse, whether intentional or accidental.

Analyze

The perfect promo plan is where the author analyzes their time and abilities, and plans accordingly. They look at those who can be helpful “big mouths” in promoting their book. For example, if you have a NY Times journalist friend, contact them and discuss the possibilities of having them do an interview. Stay in contact, too, because it’s not all that unusual for journalists to be reassigned or let go. If that happens, you can then alert your editor immediately, so she can make changes to the overall marketing plan.

I see a lot of promo plans that look like the author tossed a handful of darts and just wrote down whatever the dart hit. There’s little continuity or realistic expectation they can pull it off. It’s simply stuff that sounds really good on paper. Oversell.

Authors need to treat their writing careers as honorably and realistically as they do their day jobs because everything reflects back on them. If you tell your editor that you have journalists calling your house every week clamoring for interviews, then she’s going to expect to see those articles gracing the papers. If those articles never appear, then your editor is going to wonder whazzup. Do this too many times, and you’ll be the author who cried promo king/queen to deaf ears.

Conversely, there is nothing your editor won’t do for you if you follow through with your promo plan. Those authors always get attention because both sides are working toward the common goal of big sales.


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