Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Marketing Q&A

I received an e-mail the other day from a writer who went to the ANWA conference where I spoke. I won’t include her name, but if she wants to out herself that is fine. Here is an edited version of her e-mail.


First, quick background. I'm a mom, a 3x published (in LDS fiction) author, and a bit of a hermit.
Now, from what I absorbed at the conference, the trend these days is basically little or no promotion from (national) publishers for a new novel, unless it's Aprilynne Pike's. (wink.) Self-promotion is the only promotion. How true is that?

And...what about us'ns who are more the JD Salinger type, anxiety ridden, caught in the clutches of our "real jobs" as mothers or whatever, wanting to just write and publish and stay anonymous? Is that even possible? Does Obert Skye (whoever he/she is) do that? I mean, I don't see Obert Skye out tweeting and on promo tours, and my kid owns them all. Maybe I'm the only person who shrinks in horror from fame (and still dreams of fortune)--but in that scary national market, do you think it is possible to be just a pen name these days and remain hidden? Surely publishers balk at this. But seriously. Book signings? They're just not that effective mostly. Pain, across the board pain.


This is actually kind of a tricky question. I’ll try to break it into three parts. Do most national publishers do little or no promotion? It depends on how much budget they allocate to your title and what you consider promotion. There is always some promotion. That is, they usually put your title in a catalog. They usually send out review copies. They usually make a cool cover, and that kind of thing. Your agent and your editor usually work together to give you the best chance at success they can. This is where the budget comes in. There are titles that get big budgets. Usually these are titles that got big advances and are premiere titles for the publisher. They are putting in money because they expect to recoup that money with lots of sales. If you are fortunate enough to get a big budget, hurray for you.

But don’t think that gets you out of marketing. After all, they are not just selling your book. They are selling you. You mentioned Aprilynne Pike. Aprilynne got a big marketing budget. Her book was a big title for her publisher. They worked hard to get it on the NY Times and other lists. They created a lot of buzz. Mostly they tried to sell a lot of books. As part of that, they sent Aprilynne on a lot of tours. She did school visits. She did bookstores. She went to shows. (And it’s not just because she’s so dang cute.) They sent her out because they want people to like her as an author. Think Twilight. The Twilight series is huge. But the name Stephenie Meyer is also huge. People like to feel a connection with the author. Can you imagine what Aprilynne’s publisher and agent would have said if she responded to all of this marketing with, “Thanks, but I want to stay home?”

But that’s not the norm. Most of the time you do not get a big marketing budget. This tends to be the case with books that have a smaller print run and are not featured titles. They toss you into the middle of the lake and say sink or swim. In this case sinking or swimming could be only the difference of a thousand books sold one way or the other. Six thousand (I’m purely pulling this out of the air) and you get to do another book. Five thousand and you don’t. Knowing that a thousand books is the difference between another contract, wouldn’t you want to do everything you could to sell those thousand books? Now doing a book signing or two is not going to swing a thousand sales. But a dozen book signings, a blog, some well placed reviews, and suddenly the numbers start adding up.

But as you said, what if you are a hermit? What if the thought of getting up in front of people or sitting at a table in a store makes you break out in hives? I’m not going to kid you, in this market (or really in most markets) not being willing or able to help your own sales is a handicap. Can you succeed without it? Of course. But you are starting behind the eight ball. Just the fact that you are getting out and doing things often encourages your publisher to spend more on you as well. It’s like a boss deciding to give a raise to the employee who does just enough to keep her job or the employee who goes above and beyond every day.

So what do you do? Here are a few suggestions:

1) Start with with little things you enjoy. A lot of people look at marketing the way they would look at used car salesmen or door-to-door vacuum cleaner pushers. Marketing doesn’t have to be getting in someone’s face shouting buy my book, buy my book! You like to write, don’t you? Great, get a blog. And don’t’ just write on your blog, get out and visit other blogs. Make intelligent comments. Suggest books you like. This is not hard sales. In fact pushing your book on someone else’s blog is frowned on. It’s making friends with similar tastes. And you can do this from home.

2) Visit book stores. I’m not talking about signings here. These are a whole other beast. Either you are into signings or not. If you are, do them. If you aren’t, at least take the time to visit employees of bookstores that carry your books. If you are great at making chocolates, bring those. If you toll paint do that. If you can’t make anything to save your life, find something cheap and cute to give away that will remind people about your book. Then go out and have friendly visits. As you make friends with book store employees, you will find that they start to invite you to events and promote your books. Don’t think of this as marketing. Think of it as getting out of the house for a couple of hours.

3) Start a newsletter and link the sign-up page to your blog and web site. People who read, like to know about the authors who they read. You don’t need to go overboard. A quarterly e-mail talking about what you are working on and what you are learning is great.

4) Make friends with other authors. I know authors are a scary and weird bunch. But the more you spend time with them, the more you can learn. They share tips, they invite you to events, and lunches. Authors promote each other’s books. Nothing makes a signing go better than another author to talk with while everyone who comes in the store avoids you like the plague.

5) If you have the money, consider hiring someone to do PR for you. Even on a limited budget, you can get reviews, newspaper stories, even TV and radio spots. But the good news is that it’s someone else saying how great you are and figuring out an angle to promote you.

Finally, recognize that if you want to be a successful author, you need to get out and meet people. It’s just the way the publishing world works. You like to hide behind a keyboard, but people are interested in how you came up with your idea, whether you listen to music, how you find time to write, what you like to read. Just like you work or being a better writer, work on being a better marketer. What you will discover is that it’s not nearly as bad as it seems and that no one likes to do signings except for the authors who have lines waiting for them. I know it’s hard as a mom with young kids. It’s hard with a full time job too. But honestly the getting out part is a week or two around the release of your book. Then you can hide back away in your cocoon.

P.S. Obert Skye spent two solid years visiting schools after his Leven Thumps book came out and still does many school visits and conferences every year. (Sorry :) )


Melissa J. Cunningham said...

You know, Jeff, you always write such insightful posts. I love reading them.

As I was reading your post, my son came in and saw your books there on the side and he exclaimed, "I've read those books!"

I love being able to say, "Yeah, he's my friend. He's going to write a blurb on my book!" You make me feel popular! he he.

But honestly, this was great advice and I'm going to take it to heart. I consider you a mentor, and a mentor I really look up to. I admire you in every way. Thank you for being the shining example you are! Can't wait to see you again at the conference.

Suey said...

As a reader, I think authors do need to be "out there." We readers love to make author connections.

And... I've been to an Obert Skye signing... at least that's who he said he was!

J.N. Future Author said...

Hey! Long time no see! I'm glad I was able to read and comment on a new post while I still have internet!

I really liked the newsletter part of it. I used to do a small newsletter for a few of my friends - they loved them! They were really small, and just talked about life and upcoming events. Throw in a sense of humor, and you pretty much struck gold. Sadly I only did 6 before I stopped, but newsletters totally work!

Also, even though I'm usually pretty shy, I bet book signings are awesome! You get to meet a bunch of people that have read and liked your book! I mean, that must be SO awesome being able to carry a conversation with a random stranger about something you yourself wrote! It really does sound wonderful!

Thanks for the post! I really need to try and get back in touch with you, I feel like I have been gone for far too long! ^.^


Amber Argyle-Smith said...

I'm not really scared of marketing. I love getting out in front of people.

Are you going to Storymakers this year?

J.J. Bennett said...

You gotta play the game to join the team.