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Archive for category Book marketing
A while ago I was at an author event about book publicity. Finding magazines, blogs and broadcast media that will review our book or interview us. How do we do that? The first thing to do, said my friend Ben Cameron of Cameron PR, is to get the right mindset. Think of it as creative. And fun.
Afterwards, I fell into conversation with Tina, who didn’t see it as fun. She said: ‘I don’t feel comfortable putting myself out there. Asking people if they’ll interview me or feature my book. I just can’t. How do you do that?’
I’d just been conducting my own campaign for Not Quite Lost. It went better than I expected. I managed to pitch successfully to bloggers, mainstream print magazines and BBC radio stations. The first time I pressed Send I had to gird my courage, but after that it didn’t feel embarrassing.
I told Tina that. She wasn’t convinced.
This interested me because Tina wasn’t exactly a mouse. She taught workshops. She controlled groups of creative people and made them do stuff. She was also a playwright, and accustomed to plain-speaking feedback from actors and directors. Yet she was saying: ‘Asking for publicity … it’s like walking into a roomful of strangers and trying to talk to them. Don’t tell me you find that easy?’
I agreed I didn’t. Not remotely. ‘But that other stuff is different.’
‘Why?’ asked Tina, which made me think.
Obviously, you get used to pitching. You learn that magazines, newspapers and radio shows are looking for material. They don’t open your email and cackle at your ridiculous hubris. You’re all in a day’s work. They actually hope you’ll match their requirements.
But the biggest realisation – the one that let me pitch without a qualm – was the realisation that none of it, actually, was about me. I was not seeking attention for me. It was for my books.
So it’s not about you, tiny naked vulnerable mind being dragged into a big bright light to explain yourself. It’s not even about personal confidence, whatever that is. It’s about confidence in your work.
This week I had a book club event for My Memories of a Future Life. It went well, but last night, I had the anxiety dream. In it, I was talking to a presenter from BBC radio who said: ‘I think I’ll cancel this interview. I don’t like you very much.’
And this is the thing. Whether we’re seeking publicity or releasing a book, it will always take a little of our skin. But I think this is like the anxiety that puts a performer on their mettle, or makes a doctor careful with their responsibility for a human life. It’s unavoidable, so we might as use it as a strength.
Though I still have problems walking into a roomful of strangers – and had reason to consider this in my latest newsletter.
Give me your thoughts!
This week I’m interviewing Laura Stanfill, author, all-round literary citizen and founder of the literary imprint Forest Avenue Press in Portland, Oregon. Part 1 is here. This is Part 2. Find her on Twitter as @ForestAvePress
Roz There’s no getting away from the fact that literary fiction is trickiest to market.
Laura Oh it’s so hard! Every time I create marketing plans and metadata for a new novel, I am envious of publishers putting out subject-based nonfiction books, because it’s so much easier to identify and connect with a target audience.
Novels are tools to build empathy, they are self-care objects, they are escapes and escapades and circuses to entertain your mind. There are readers out there for them, readers who need these stories, who deserve to find themselves in books and those who deserve to escape by reading about people completely unlike them. But if I were doing, say, a paleo cookbook, with a few clicks I could find statistics on the number of people eating that way, do a price comparison and fit my book into a hole I’ve identified in the market.
Literary fiction is trickier. And so many people I meet on my travels say, “How do you find time to read?”
“How can you survive without reading?” I want to ask them, but instead I shrug, and say that I make time.
Roz You’ve found readers, though. I’d guess that’s by building a reputation in the right places?
Laura Yes – the reputation of Forest Ave and our authors. A lot of that, especially after we went national, was connecting with booksellers in other parts of the country, so they could become fans and handsellers of our authors’ titles. Then I started going to national conferences where I could meet more book-related media and other mover-and-shaker types who might choose one of our titles to review, feature, or list in an article.
Forest Ave has gotten a phenomenal amount of press in the past year or two, but we still don’t get a lot of reviews from the established trade journals. That’s frustrating; we make it into these journals as a press, but our books aren’t consistently picked up for reviews.
Roz I’m surprised by that. And I shouldn’t be, if I think about the sheer number of titles being published. I guess this shows how much time it takes to get on reviewers’ radar.
Laura I’m not sure if that’s because we aren’t having New York lunches all the time or if the literary fiction slots are reserved generally for small presses with larger catalogs or what. But I treasure the publications that regularly cover our titles, especially Foreword Reviews, which amplifies new titles by many small presses. And I’m going to keep showing up on the scene and publishing great books.
Roz Slow and steady. Another reminder – as if we needed it – that this is such a long game.
You’ve said that getting word out about your books is essential so that you aren’t swamped with returns and the business remains viable. How do you do that?
Laura We definitely had a sales lag last year, and in brainstorming with other US fiction publishers, we have theorised it’s due to the 2016 election. Many readers started anxiously following the news instead of picking up another book. Book Riot named one of our titles from 2017, Renee Macalino Rutledge’s The Hour of Daydreams, one of 9 Debut Novels You Might Have Missed Because the World Is on Fire.
Roz You have a distribution deal – how does that work?
Laura Getting distribution totally changed my business—increasing its national and international reach, helping me grow my brand, and allowing me to fulfill my mission of urging readers to buy at indie bookstores. My field sales reps at Publishers Group West do an excellent job getting us shelf space across the US, and that allows me to say ‘find this novel at your local bookstore’. Our titles are also available online, but I want readers to go to their local bookstores, have conversations with authors and other readers, and shop locally. Without distribution, it’d be much harder to make our books available in those channels.
Roz I’m going to say a few words here as an author who’s so far been indie. With Forest Ave you’ve got something that few indie authors can. Availability is one thing – a line in a catalogue, on paper or on line. But you’ve got champions talking about your titles to booksellers, who then recommend them to customers who’ll love them. We’ll talk about this more in later posts, but I wanted to emphasise this. Certain kinds of books thrive with this personal touch; ambassadors do better for them than algorithms.
Coming next time: a week in the life of a small press
bookshops, distribution, Forest Avenue Press, Foreword Reviews, getting into bookshops, how to market literary fiction, Laura Stanfill, marketing literary fiction, print distribution, Publishers Group West, publishing literary fiction, Renee Macalino Rutledge, The Hour of Daydreams
What do you write? Not so long ago, most authors had to choose a genre and stick to it. But many of us are far more versatile. Our minds and our hearts don’t stand still. Book by book, we push boundaries or leap into genres where we hadn’t previously felt at home. As life reinvents us, we move on in our work.
No-one worried about that in the Renaissance, but it rarely went down well in traditional publishing, perhaps for sound commercial reasons. But now authors have more tools to reach audiences by our own efforts. We can take charge of our careers and our creative destinies. Will this breed of polyphonic, genre-agile author finally have their day?
I do hope so.
This path isn’t always easy, and that’s what I want to explore today.
We’ve both got eclectic portfolios. I’ve done non-fiction with my Nail Your Novel books and literary fiction that sometimes nudges into futurism. Victoria writes Cold War historical thrillers and personal essays. We’ve both written memoir after a fashion – she has Cold; I have Not Quite Lost. And Victoria has a radical new departure into young adult historical romance, Breath (coming summer 2018). What’s more, she’s having her first stab at crowdfunding – another brave new world.
We’ll come back to the crowdfunding in a bit. My first question was this: how have you ended up with such a varied oeuvre?
Victoria Honestly, I think I’m just bored easily. And I’m usually writing more than one story at a time, too. I find it keeps the creative juices flowing and also adds texture to my work.
Roz How do you manage them all?
Victoria Currently, I’m switching between Breath edits, storyboarding a new Cold War thriller, and writing essays on everything from family squabbles to creating compelling male characters.
Roz So much for versatility. What’s consistent in your work?
Victoria History, spirituality, family lore, dark humour. All of those tend to find their way into my work in one way or another.
Roz I have recurring themes too. I am curious about forces that lie beneath the surface; unusual ways we can be haunted and how we seek soulmates. At heart I’m an unashamed romantic. Places with lively pasts are often a trigger for me – crumbled mansions, houses scheduled for demolition, seaside towns closed for the winter.
Victoria I’m so with you on this, and I, too, get haunted by places. I wrote The Bone Church after visiting an ossuary near Prague with my then infant son. There were bones piled up all over the place. It occurred to me how there were so many different manners of death in that small chamber. People who had died of childbirth, a sword to the ribs, plague, a broken heart. The whole experience made me ache – but in a good way.
Roz Your latest project is for a new audience – YA fantasy. What steered you in this direction?
Victoria I never thought I’d write in this genre. Especially a romance, which is a genre I haven’t read very much of. But several years ago, I wrote a piece for the New York Times Modern Love column in their Sunday edition. It was about my youngest daughter being born with a catastrophic illness and how that brought my mother and me closer together. It was also about the curious, counter-intuitive blessings that come with tragic events. Things like wisdom, deeper friendships and getting to know people so far out of my own little universe. Hospitals are tremendously equalising that way.
I could not have imagined the response I got from that essay. People began writing to me, telling me about their stories – their love stories specifically. I have a blog, Cold, where I write personal essays, so it wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary for people to tell me about their lives, but this was different.
Without meaning to, I started training my writer’s eye on love. I noticed that every time I wrote an essay about love – especially the romantic kind – there was a swell of interest. Then I started writing little love stories for my own amusement – sometimes no more than a paragraph long. One of those, about a girl born at the dawn of civilisation, became the basis for Breath.
Roz And Breath is more than just prose, isn’t it? There’s artwork too.
Victoria I’m a very visual person. I love old photographs especially, and as I was writing Breath, I dreamed up a pre-Sumerian civilisation and imagined myself on an archaeological dig, excavating my characters’ lives. That’s when I started thinking of adding a visual component to this novel – original artwork from the world I’d dreamed up and old, brown-tinted photographs from some of the great archaeological digs, like the ones taken in Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century. And I loved the idea of writing about past, present, and perhaps even future archaeologists, as they uncovered my fictional universe and helped my characters solve the mysteries of their existence.
Roz So the visuals will be published in the book? Or will they be a separate special edition?
Victoria Both. I think prose and images go together like a face and a voice and can really enhance a story – especially if it’s a planned epic, where a whole world is being created. This isn’t to spoon-feed a certain aesthetic to a reader, never that, but to enhance their experience with elements of beauty and mystery that go beyond the written word. Take their imaginations even further.
Roz Let’s talk about crowdfunding Breath. How did that happen?
Victoria I’m one of 10 authors selected by Instafreebie – a company that connects readers and authors – to pilot a program that teaches authors how to use crowdfunding not only to fund projects but to energise and expand their fan base.
Roz To me, crowdfunding has one rather offputting aspect – having to push for contributions. But obviously you’ve found a balance that suits you. Tell me how you do it – and how other authors might be persuaded to embrace it!
Victoria This is without a doubt the hardest thing to get over. I’ve come to look at it this way: crowdfunding is a bit like venture capital for artists. No-one blinks when any other business raises money, but somehow artists are expected to self-finance, often work for free and even give their work away without any compensation. I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking and in fact find it untenable.
Roz I’m totally with you there. I’ve blogged about it at length elsewhere. We can’t give the impression that books can be produced out of fresh air or just for love, like a hobby. Even priests and doctors get paid. All the other people who work for us need to be paid. Creating books is not free. And writing them isn’t either.
Victoria For most artists, entrepreneurship is the only way we can continue to do what we do. We need to move beyond our own reticence and value what we offer. Joy, meaning, reflection, empathy, and entertainment are worthy and important elements in our lives. They should never be taken for granted.
You mentioned doctors, so I’ve got a good analogy for you: I remember my doctor, who was from Sri Lanka and used to run a medical clinic for the poor there, telling me how once they started charging patients, the entire dynamic of the clinic changed. They were serving the poor, so they only charged a pittance, and were barely able to buy coffee with what they took in, but both the function and the spirit of the clinic changed remarkably. Not only did the patients become more vigilant about their health, they trusted the doctors more and were far more likely to listen to their advice and change unhealthy behaviours. The overall health of the clinic population improved as a result.
The same is true with us artists and the people who consume our work, I think. It’s a pretty basic human response – to invest in something that means something to you rather than just be a passive observer.
Roz I want to do some tyre-kicking here because what you say is so important. A lot of crowdfunding campaigns don’t meet their targets. How do we get people to care enough? Especially as readers could buy a book that’s already finished and have it immediately. What makes them want to pledge money and wait for the product? How are you tackling these challenges?
Victoria Not only has this crowdfunding process forced me well beyond my comfort zone, it has illuminated how to deepen my relationships with present and future readers so that they feel connected and my characters begin to feel like a real part of their lives. Like family.
Roz How are you doing that? Can you give examples? You’ve mentioned to me that it’s already been a formative and amazing experience. Tell me how! And what feedback have you had from supporters to show that it’s working?
Victoria For me, it’s about creating value and making the experience as interactive as possible. Writers spend a lot of time alone and most of us are interior people, but we’re not necessarily introverts. We love being able to talk to readers and feel honoured when they share their stories with us. In fact, I truly consider readers like friends. We confide in each other, support each other, and are there during times of loneliness and self-doubt. The rewards I’m offering in my Breath campaign reflect that. It’s not only a matter of offering advance copies, which are great, but deleted scenes from the novel, personal emails, an exclusive short story and even story-consulting.
Roz Are there any common mistakes that authors make with crowdfunding and community building?
Victoria The first mistake is that they won’t try it. I can tell you without reservation that even if my campaign isn’t a funding success, what I will have learned and experienced in this process has been worth it. As for campaign mistakes – there are a lot of them, and I would have made them all if I hadn’t gotten such excellent advice from Instafreebie.
Videos are crucial. People want to know who they’re dealing with. It builds trust and makes your page more interesting. Really thinking through rewards you offer, so that when people get involved, they feel like they got something substantial in return for their support. Always, always focus on the reader. That’s probably the most important part.
Roz You mentioned that Instafreebie is helping with tactics, especially in terms of using the campaign to establish a long-term fanbase. How does that work? Can you tell us a few surprising things they’ve taught you? What is the basis of their expertise?
Victoria First, they will be featuring our books in their newsletter and then sharing our campaigns with those who expressed interested in our genres. They’re doing their best to create a virtuous circle for us. Most importantly, they’ve taken us through – step by step – the way to build a successful campaign page. That doesn’t mean the campaigns themselves will all be successes – even veteran campaigners have unsuccessful campaigns under their belts – but it helps us minimise mistakes, certainly.
Roz I want to return to where we started – the author who doesn’t fit into tidy boxes. There supposedly are two ways to market books – by category and by author. The latter is the slow road, because we have to seek commitment on a deeper and more individual level.
But whatever we write, I think community will become more significant for all of us. And everything you’ve been saying here chimes with this prediction by Orna Ross at the Alliance of Independent Authors.
More and more authors will embrace the craft and trade of publishing and business as well as that of writing, and develop sustainable author businesses that allow them to make a living from their writing. At the heart of this will be working out their offering to readers and how to build a community around that offering.’
I love this emphasis on community. Although writing is apparently a solitary activity, we have phenomenal resources for harnessing the positive energy that readers give us if they like our work.
I think readers enjoy keeping in touch and – like you say – feeling involved. I’ve particularly noticed it after publishing Not Quite Lost. People feel they know me. It opens a conversation and they want it to continue. And that’s lovely. It’s not cynical, about selling.
Some authors are setting up private Facebook groups – though I feel that’s risky because Facebook likes to move the goalposts if they think they can monetise. I’ve started using my newsletter much more. In that past, I didn’t know what to do with it.
I used to send newsletters only when I had a book or a course to launch. A year could go by before I had a piece of news, and all the while I was losing touch with people who hoped I was working on another book. So I decided I’d try writing more regularly, about the in-between times while a book is taking shape. Sometimes it’s about making progress; sometimes it’s about life and going round in circles. Like a blog but more personal. Some people unsubscribed because that wasn’t what they were expecting, or they’d forgotten why they were ever interested, but most have stayed with me. (Winning smile: if you want to try it out, it’s here.)
What I’ve described here is slow, of course. It has to grow organically. And here’s where I guess crowdfunding creates an occasion, a way to invite people in because it’s the start of something. It not only kick-starts a book, it can kick-start your community.
Have you got any final thoughts on this?
Victoria You said it so well. We’re in this for the long game and it’s not cynical. It’s actually very special and deeply gratifying.
Thanks for the ossuary pic Davis Staedtler on Flickr
What am I up to behind the scenes? My latest newsletter
And this blog begins 2018 on two lovely best-of lists. Both The Write Life and Feedspot nominated it as a Top 100 site for writers and self-publishers. If any of you were instrumental in this, xxxxxxxx
Alliance of Independent Authors, author platform, Breath, Cold, crowdfunding, Instafreebie, Kickstarter, Kickstarter for authors, Kutna Hora, marketing for authors, memoir, Orna Ross, ossuary, Prague, self-publishing, The Bone Church, Victoria Dougherty, YA, young adult
Are you using Twitter to build your online presence? If so, what’s your handle? Is it your author name or a readily recognisable variant? If it’s not, you could be wasting your time.
I love Twitter. For discovering lovely distractions, uniting in the face of shocking news, tripping over quips that restore faith in the human spirit – and, in a professional capacity, for networking. I’ve had numerous good opportunities that started with a humble tweet. And when I meet a writer I might get on with, I naturally seek them out on Twitter.
But sometimes that’s not straightforward. Eventually after a bit of a hunt and a beakful of guesswork I might track them down and discover they have a name that’s many species away from the name they write under.
Forgive my blue-faced cheek, but this seems to be a mistake.
1 It makes you hard to find
On Twitter, you really want to be found. That’s how the Twitter world revolves. Somebody shares your blogposts, or talks about your work. They use your name, which brings others to you.
So you want to make sure that any stranger could find the ‘right you’. And thus you can be introduced to a new and eager flock. This is incredibly powerful – unlike other social networks, you don’t have to already be friends with a person to start tweeting to them.
It’s as easy as calling their name.
Here’s how it goes. I’ll look up Jane Austen and find @JaneAusten – but she’s an estate agent, unlikely to be my author. I ‘ll look down the list at the other users whose real names are all Jane Austen. Which one is mine?
I squint at the avatars and the biographies. If I’m lucky she might be @AuthorJaneAusten or @JaneAustenAuthor, in which case, all is good. But she might be @Bonnetgirl5, or @InventorofElizabeth. Or @WriterInFarthingaleLane.
Finding her handle has now proved quite the expedition – which is not ideal in our attention-deficit world, and especially not in the 140-character-squeezed bird-brain world of Twitter. If I’m on a slow connection, or using a fiddly device that won’t tolerate a lot of searching and footling, I might not persevere any further because Jane Austen has made it too hard.
2 The much more important reason to use your name
You know how comedians traditionally sign off a set with their name? ‘Thanks for being a great audience, I’m Joe Bloggs.’ It’s the last thing they do before they leave the stage – make sure you remember their name.
They’re not going to trust that you’ll look in the programme, or the sign outside the pub, or that you’ll remember how they introduced themselves at the start. Their last task before they leave you for the night is to TEACH YOU THEIR NAME.
This is one of the reasons you’re putting yourself about on social media, talking to strangers. To teach them you exist. To teach them your name as it appears on your book covers.
So why teach them @WordHoarder, @PagesBeforeBreakfastAtHelens, or @ToastAt10am? You may laugh, but these are name-forms that I see used by otherwise respectable authors on Twitter. Every day.
So can you change your Twitter name?
Yes, it’s easy. Just open your profile, type the new name in and see if you’re allowed to take it. Start at your profile page and look for your icon at the top. Hover over it and you’ll see ‘Profile and settings’ appear. Then look for ‘account’.
What if your name is taken? Yep, I have that problem. Read on.
Can’t use your actual name? Good solutions and not-so-good
Here are some of the tactics authors use to convert their name for Twitter.
By far the easiest thing to do is to put an underline in the middle. It’s as close to your real name as possible and doesn’t eat up many extra characters. That’s why I’m @Roz_Morris. Out there on the wires there’s another @RozMorris – who is actually rather quiet, but that’s another story.
Underlines in other places – beginning or end, or a double underline in the middle – are trickier for users to spot. A double-underline is hard to type reliably on some devices. If the underline option is already taken, you might be better adding something that makes it clear you’re the writer Jane Austen, not the vet or whatever. You could also preface with ‘author’ – @AuthorJaneAusten. Or put it afterwards @JaneAustenAuthor.
Initials – if you use initials I think you’re becoming harder to remember, but @AuthorJAusten at least looks professional. However, an initial is straying away from the name on the book cover (is she Jane, Jean or Josephine?). @JaneRRAusten gets both elements of the name in, but might be tricky to pick out from search results and autofills, or difficult to remember if typing from memory.
(Scenario: ‘oh darn, she’s JaneRR, not Jane like she is everywhere else – I always forget that’.)
Reverse your names – @AustenJane – Just my personal opinion, but I find this is easier to recognise at a glance, and have no problem remembering it the proper way round. Maybe that’s just the way my brain works. Your grey matter may differ. But – another point in favour of this format – Hootsuite seems to include swapped names in search results quite readily.
Numbers – you could add a discreet number – @JaneAusten1. Again, this is a personal view, but I find this to be a good solution that doesn’t interfere with the readability or memorability of the name, and it doesn’t cause search problems.
Character names or book titles – I don’t think this is such a good idea. Certainly it’s useful for people to know your books. But social media are about people, not products. Readers would rather connect with a person, not a figment, although @MrDarcy would probably be a notable exception, especially if tweeted from @RealJaneAusten’s brain.
(That’s another option if you have the chops for it: Real. Or Himself.). Back to book or character names, think long term – do you want to build a presence for one work when you might one day something completely different? For instance, if, like me, you swerve into a completely different bookwriting lane with a travel diary (which is coming along quite nicely, now you ask). But build your platform in your name, and you can use it for anything.
Abbreviations – @JaneAstn. The other day I came across an author who dropped some characters from her name to make a Twitter handle. It was infernally difficult to find her. What’s more, the result was so unintuitive that I kept mistyping – had she dropped the second r, or the vowels ….?
The abbreviations were probably logical, but people in the rush of Twitter don’t have time to learn the rules you used to create your name. Copying letter by letter is laborious and squinty. And anything that creates an obstacle might be enough to make a person lose heart in trying to contact you. Although Twitter and Hootsuite has an autofill option, you only have to misremember the contracted version to be tweeting the wrong person.
Cutesy or oblique versions of your name or anything that makes sense only to people who know you or your books – these are the most difficult of all. They’re fine if you only want to be found by your personal friends – and that’s how some people use Twitter. But it’s not ideal if you want to be visible to the wider public.
And yes, I’ve flirted with less suitable Twitter names. For a while I was @NailYourNovel, because I was dividing my teaching side from my fiction-writing side. For my fiction I had a separate account, @ByRozMorris – more here about that, and why I stopped it).
My first Twitter name, though, was the epitome of unsuitable, and if you’ve been with me for a long time you can enjoy an in-jokish kind of chuckle. We live and learn.
Other tips to help good Twitizens
Anyone who mentions you on Twitter is doing you a favour. Help them to help you.
- Make sure your description includes as much identifiable stuff about your writing as possible, not just who you read or how you take your tea. Make it absolutely obvious – if you put ‘changing the world, one word at a time’ people might think you’re just a sweet teenager, not an author.
- Use a consistent headshot so that people who know you from your blog or Facebook recognise you instantly on the list of possibles.
- Put your Twitter handle prominently on your blog and in the byline of your blogposts – change it in your blog settings). Like this:
But most of all, make us remember your name.
Literary fiction is much more about individual visions and the people who don’t fit. And if you’re publishing literary fiction as an indie, you’re usually a tribe of one, squeaking your tiny squeak in a roaring wind. I have friends in mainstream publishing who give me furious pep-talks about how I’m on a hiding to nothing, which, of course, is excellent for morale. Thanks, guys. (Here’s where I thanked them more extensively.)
That’s why I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss this – a campaign that aims to represent the work of literary writers, small presses, independent bookshops and anyone who struggles to be heard or find their audiences. It’s called the Main Street Writers Movement and it’s the brainchild of Laura Stanfill, of litfic publisher Forest Avenue Press.
Laura’s vision is for a number of hubs around the US with live events and networking, but if you’re not one of her geographical neighbours, don’t be put off. Wherever your desk is (I’m waving to you from London), we can blog, tweet, share, meet IRL (heavens!). And support each other to do what we must do.
It could be a lifeline for literary.
Of course, by its very nature, the term literary spans a vast range of writing. Not everyone likes all of it, or even agrees what it is. Laura faces this head on. She says Main Street Writers is for ‘Writers who are tired of writing fluffy reviews about books they don’t particularly like due to a sense of obligation. Let’s replace that instinct with better, more genuine ways to support each other.’
I like this immensely. This is about honesty; making meaningful connections. If enough of us get involved, we’re all more likely to find the people we really do click with. Writers, publishers, agents, bloggers, reviewers, events organisers – and readers.
There’s a pledge (which, alas, you can only sign if you have 5-digit zip code), but you can register separately for the blog and the newsletter. There’s also a hashtag #mainstreetwriters so we can all get – and stay – in touch.
I think it looks exciting.
#mainstreetwriters, Forest Avenue Press, Laura Stanfill, literary fiction, literary writers, Main Street Writers Movement, networking for literary writers, Writers Helping Writers, writers supporting writers
Last week I spoke at the New Generation Publishing summit and this thorniest of questions came up: how do you strike a balance between writing books and working on marketing and sales?
We had good examples of two extremes. In the marketing-gone-mad corner, we had debut author Toni Jenkins. She cheerfully confessed that when her first book launched she went to the mattresses, working until late every night, identifying possible audiences, writing emails introducing herself, following up leads. She added that her mentors at NGP, while applauding her energy, reminded her not to lose sight of her writing.
In the other corner, the ‘just-leave-me-alone-to-write’ department, we had staunch representation too. NGP director Daniel Cooke told me he has too many authors who can’t be persuaded to consider marketing at all. Joel Friedlander had a good piece about this recently by Judith Brile – is your plan for success ‘I just want to write my books’?
Clearly neither situation is ideal.
Whether we go it alone or have the backing of publishers or PR agencies, we need to accept that we have to be our books’ ambassadors. But not only is marketing a separate job that takes time to learn, we can’t easily measure what works. (This remains an eternal conundrum even for experienced marketers.) Small wonder that we either get marketing frenzy (like Toni) or cover our ears (Daniel’s authors).
If you’re writing, it’s easy to measure results. More words added to your manuscript, more scenes feeling ‘right’, more research done.
With marketing, you don’t know if you’re wasting a whole heap of time. Some activities give measurable results, but a lot more don’t. Marketing is about presence as much as sales – your Facebook adverts, social media activity, newsletters, guest blogging may not always ring the cash registers. Your shot-in-the-dark letters to book bloggers or other persons of influence might not get a reply, but they might still make an impression. They let people know that you exist; that you produce.
The rewards of marketing are long-long-longterm. Like adopting a healthy lifestyle, the most significant benefits aren’t instant, they’re cumulative. Stick at it, over months and years, and you start to see that people know of you, they’ve heard of your books. (Then you can get embarrassed when they introduce themselves to you at events, and you rack your brains in case they’re a Facebook friend or devoted blog commenter you can’t remember, ahem.)
And the converse of that is …. If you don’t do it, your book launch is like a tree that falls over in a wood with no one to hear.
Time for both
So we must make time for both marketing AND writing.
And we must make sure that one doesn’t swallow the other (barring exceptional circumstances like a book launch, or the final push to polish a book for press).
But so many possibilities…
The trouble is, marketing could drive us bonkers with possibilities. Every week I trip over several new wonderful things I could consider. To evaluate them takes time – and I might end up discarding them because they won’t reach my audience. This is why we get so overwhelmed, because we could do this 24/7 and never, ever get to the end of it. Then we enter a panic cycle of thinking we’re not doing enough, or not doing the right things, or everyone is somewhere we’re not.
But it’s possible to develop a sensible approach.
This is mine. It has two principles.
1 A formal list. Each Friday, I make a to-do list for the next week. It includes the marketing tasks I’ve decided are worth doing, balanced with my writing, editing and mentoring commitments. (This also allows you to audit how much time you’re spending in the marketing and writing camps.)
2 Obey the list. Do not do any task unless you’ve added it to your list. Have you stumbled across a Brilliant New Thing? Do not do it this week if your dance card is already full. That great new gimmick, website, social media platform, hot books blogger will still be there in seven days’ time. It will not leave the planet. So whenever you read about a new wonderful opportunity, resist the urge to do it immediately. Unless it has an urgent deadline – eg a competition – put it on the list for next week. You already have a plan for this week. Continue with that. And remember: you’re working on long-term presence as well as short-term sales.
It’s actually bleeding obvious, isn’t it? Again, I’m going to use the comparison with diets. Diets work if you stick to the rules. They don’t if you don’t. And the great thing about this marketing/writing diet is that you’re allowed as much cake as you like.
And the other part of the plan, of course, is to have a solid writing process that leaves you free to create. So allow me to discreetly mention Nail Your Novel, a system I developed from the questions I’m most commonly asked by writers, and still use now, with many books behind me. Even more audaciously, allow me to suggest that Nail Your Novel trio make groovy gifts for other scribblers you know.
Have you hit on a plan to balance marketing and writing? Let’s discuss!
book marketing, how to find time to write, how to manage time as a writer, how to market a book, how to use social media successfully, Joel Friedlander, Judith Brile, New Generation Publishing, social media for authors
Where do you find the books you want to read? There are theories galore about how authors and publishers should advertise, use categories, keywords etc. But I often find myself a bit bemused by them.
Because I don’t buy books that way. These theories seem to describe a behaviour that I simply don’t recognise. But I do buy books. All the time. So where am I discovering them?
I don’t expect this post will set the world of book marketing alight. But I hope to illuminate some less acknowledged processes. And I’m curious to know what you do, so I hope you’ll join in at the end.
I’ve never bought a book that I’ve seen on a Facebook advert. Yes, I know that advertising is there to remind you a book exists, not necessarily to grab your £££ immediately. I know that adverts have to be seen a certain number of times before they get noticed. And that they work in conjunction with other forms of exposure.
But Facebook has never managed to show me book adverts that I find appealing. This must mean I’m giving it some very wrong signals. (How many other readers are giving the wrong signals, I wonder?)
I’ve certainly bought books by people I know on Facebook, but not because of adverts. I’ve bought because of meaningful contact – chatting to them, or an interview. More on that later.
I don’t browse for books on Goodreads. I go there AFTER I’ve read a book, to keep the karma going with a review, when (ahem) time allows. (For the last few months it hasn’t. I’ll be rectifying that soon.)
Bargain book newsletter services
BookBub et al. I know these are smart sales tools, but they’ve always seemed rather superfluous to me as a reader. First, I don’t buy books because they’re bargains. I don’t find a book more appealing because it’s on special offer. I want the right book.
Second, these newsletters are selling ebooks, and I’m one of those throwbacks who likes a solid version. To have, to hold and to keep. To remind me, by its bulk on the shelf, to give it attention. But I do use Kindle samples to check books out, so it wouldn’t be totally useless to me.
Still, they are popular and effective for authors, so I thought I’d better evaluate them properly. What gems might I find by subscribing as a reader? An excellent article by the Alliance of Independent Authors compared them in terms of value for advertisers, and rated BookBub, Fussy Librarian and Bargain Booksy top. Fussy Librarian got a special mention because it wasn’t just promoting bargains.
I subscribed to Fussy Librarian as a reader, asking for news of literary fiction. After two months of emails, I can report they – or the authors who advertise with them – are not remotely fussy about what they categorise as literary fiction.
And this is a problem when you shop in this category. It’s easy for us all to agree what’s meant by categories such as crime, thriller, romance, paranormal or YA. But literary? The term gets put on everything that might not fit in the other boxes (and so, in Fussyland, it seems to mean cross-genre or two timelines). Here’s a post where I attempt my own definition of literary, in case you haven’t had enough. Meanwhile, several writers I know avoid the term altogether because they’ve learned their readers are put off by it.
But Fussy Librarian isn’t everything. I decided to try BookBub, the grandaddy of book email lists. And here’s where I was surprised. I have seen a few titles that I’m keen to know more about, so it will be interesting to see if my buying habits change as a result of BookBub.
So how do I discover books?
My sources are:
- Newspaper review pages and the London Review of Books
- Publishers’ lists (because of The Undercover Soundtrack, publishers send me their catalogues and I invite authors whose work appeals to me. What’s The Undercover Soundtrack? Sleeve notes here)
- Recommendations from friends and my bookseller friend Peter Snell (our radio show, So You Want To Be A Writer, is here)
- Blogs – the Literary Hub and David Abrams’s blog The Quivering Pen, which has interviews and a regular feature of upcoming titles. If you have a blog that showcases upcoming titles that correspond to my idea of literary, do let me know.
- Amazon’s ‘people who bought this bought that’ algorithm. I could wander in there for hours.
- Oxfam bookshops – a great way to find books everyone else has forgotten about. Especially non-fiction. Yes, I know that’s dodgy because the author doesn’t get a royalty. But often these are books that aren’t available anywhere else or I’d never have known to search for them.
- For research, I use Library Thing – this is the only time I search for books by categories, tags and all that labelling, because I’m shopping for something specific. But my pleasure reading is all surprise finds.
My favourite way to discover books
This has to be blogposts or interviews. I’m most likely to go hunting for a book if I’ve enjoyed the writer’s company in another piece of prose. I’ll check their reviews too, obviously. If I read a really thoughtful review, I’ll often want to know more about the reviewer – especially if they have a book of their own.
This means, therefore, that I’m a lot more influenced by gut feeling about the writer’s curiosities, thought processes and delivery. I’ll follow a good voice into any genre. I don’t read fantasy but I love Jack Vance. I don’t read crime but I love Barbara Vine and Dorothy L Sayers. I’m wary of horror, but I’ve been joyously sucked into the latest by Josh Malerman (who is coming up next week on The Undercover Soundtrack … that’s another place where I find glorious reads).
In short, I seek the quality that categories can’t measure. And this possibly means that if you’re a writer whose distinctive strength is nuance, your best marketing tool is an interview, a personal essay or a well-turned review.
Anyway, this isn’t a post that provides theses or theories, it’s a post of open-ended enquiry. Not a ‘how-to’; more of a ‘how-we’.
What are the last 5 books you bought?
Let’s examine our book discovery habits. How did you find the last five books you bought? You don’t have to have read them yet. I want to see how you met them. And I hope you’ll teach me some new shopping tips.
Here are mine
A personal essay: I read this post and so I bought this. The piece is hardly about the book at all, but I feel I’ve been shown a piece of the author’s soul. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Search by category + friend recommendation: This one’s for research. I was looking for accounts of bereavement and Library Thing did its thing. I haven’t read a Didion before, but she’s a favourite of a friend of mine. The irony in the title made it irresistible. Joan Didion – The Year of Magical Thinking.
A friend: Another friend this time. He said: ‘You’ll like this. It’s weird and it really stays with you. I don’t know why. It just does.’ The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Lucky find in an Oxfam bookshop: I would never have thought to search for this. But there it was in a display. A sane biography of the teenage idol I’ve never grown out of. Under The Ivy. The Life and Music of Kate Bush by Graeme Thomson.
Over to you. Where do you discover most of your books? On line, by browsing in a shop? How did you discover the last 5 books you bought and what were they? Any opinions on FB adverts and bargain book newsletters like Bookbub? Your favourite tip for book shopping?
Amazon categories, categories, Curtis Sittenfeld, David Abrams, defining literary fiction, Facebook advertising for authors, genre, Graeme Thomson, how readers use BookBub, how readers use Fussy Librarian, Josh Malerman, Kate Bush, Library Thing, London Review of Books, Stephanie Gangi, tags, The Literary Hub
Social media are an inextricable part of author life these days – and for some, the value seems dubious. Writers might flog themselves to blog, tweet until they turn blue, but months in, the magic hasn’t happened. Where are the book deals, the viral quantities of fame? Is it worth all the trouble?
I am here to tell you it is. But you may be looking at the wrong things, or have mistaken expectations. Social media have been an absolute transforming force for me, and if the channels were closed tomorrow I’d be howling for their return. So I thought I’d quantify the ways I’ve found it so worthwhile.
Quick background. I’ve been on social media since 2009. My major haunts are Twitter @Roz_Morris and Facebook. And I blog, obvs. I probably get most of my results from those platforms as they’re where I’m most consistently active, but I also have profiles in the outer reaches of Linked In, G+, Pinterest and Tumblr (see my sidebar).
Building useful contacts
Networking is, of course, the number one aim. Like all professionals, we make our luck by bumping into the right person. Unless you’re born into a clan of literati, you have to build your own black book. Before social media, that came mainly from real-time encounters – book launches, writing groups, courses, conferences. Now we can strike up relationships without being on a guest list. On the internet, a cat can look at a queen (and will probably be photographed doing so).
And it’s much easier to keep our contacts warm. Quick DMs, text messages, Facebook posts are much less effort than letters, emails or – gulp – face-to-face coffee. Indeed, as most of us perform better on the page than at a party, written encounters probably allow us to be more genuine.
But Roz, you might say. What about the numbers? We might have thousands of friends and followers, and thousands we befriend and follow. Setting aside the times we might use social media just because the contact is fun, is it working for our careers? In that clamour, is anyone actually getting anywhere?
I can only speak for myself, of course. But I know this: my career under my own byline has been entirely generated from social media (if that sentence makes no sense, here’s an explanation). Because I blog, tweet etc, I have sold enough books to make it worth writing more; been offered paying jobs, speaking gigs, editing work and spots on online courses; found supporters among influential figures in the writing and publishing world. And I’ve met fantastic people who have become more than colleagues.
Social media work. But for most of us, the results are best measured in annular rings, not by weeks or months. But look back several years and you start to see a big change.
(Of course, much comes down to how you use it. What to blog about? This post has some ideas.)
But there are other benefits too, and you don’t have to wait for them to mature.
Social media helps create a work environment
Non-freelances ask me how I stay motivated if I don’t go to an office. I think they imagine I’m running amok watching Breaking Bad or surfing eBay or strolling to the shops or idling away an afternoon with my horse. Personally I’m too much of an obsessive to skive, but if you are too tempted by the distractions of home, social media can create a circle of colleagues to keep you accountable. On Facebook and Twitter, if you look, there are plenty of writers sharing their milestones or their to-do lists. They just finished a draft. Got edits back. Wrote or approved a press release. Signed up for a course. It’s like mini-Nanowrimo community, except you can use it year-round, 24/7.
If you know how to set up lists on Twitter and Facebook, you can assemble a posse of virtual team-mates whose work ethic will spur you to achieve. (And then make a separate list of people to hobnob with in downtime.)
Social media are a tool for book research
Somewhere, one of your contacts (or perhaps more than one) can verify a snippet of research or point you to a trustworthy source. Of course, you might also get misinformed nonsense, but hopefully you’ll have enough contacts for a reality check.
Social media are a resource for reliable advice on publishing, whether traditional or indie
Thanks to social media, the author corps 2016 is a savvy beast. We’re more clued up about fair book deals. We have our eyes open about the pitfalls and pleasures of the many publishing routes. We have access to fantastic watchdogs like Victoria Strauss, the Alliance of Independent Authors. Other terrific places for advice are Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer and Jane Friedman – generous, knowledgeable professionals who are raising the general level of publishing knowledge for everyone’s benefit.
But there are so many platforms…
Well you don’t have to do all of them. Which platforms should you choose? I only know what works for me, so put these questions to social media expert Adam Waters in this edition of my radio show.
Although social media might seem ephemeral, they are actually permanent. Years on, you might feel a twitch on a thread, and hook a new person.
Over to you. What social media platforms do you like? How do you use them? What works for you and what doesn’t? If you look back over the long term, what have social media helped you accomplish? Any questions? Let’s consult the hive mind.
I know email newsletters are the holy grail of marketing and building an audience. I fully accept that we need to nudge people to sign up. I know we need to use calls to action, and not be afraid to say ‘here’s my book and here’s where to buy it’ or ‘this offer will end soon’.
But a lot of email marketing now seems to overstep the mark. And some particularly odious tactics are being taught as techniques for success.
I’ve been provoked to write this because I’ve been sent a rather tempting offer – to promote a course on email marketing, for which I’d get a 75% affiliate fee. Very generous, but … I loathe many of the tactics they teach. I can’t promote a course that teaches them. Not even for 75%.
Are there any email marketing tactics you’d like to see outlawed? Here are my top three.
Bullying pop-ups on websites
I go to a website and I’ve barely spent a second there before a pop-up nags me to sign up. A great big banner, difficult to banish, that stops me seeing anything else. People, if I can’t read your stuff, I don’t know whether I want to invite you to my inbox. Please, let me mooch around and get to know you at my own pace. It’s like being accosted by a pushy shop assistant. Yes, I know your purpose is to sell things, I’m not using you as a free museum. But before I know if I want anything, I need to look. Really look.
Sometimes these pop-ups have a ‘don’t show this again’ option. Often, they have the memory of a goldfish because clicking them makes no difference. And they even pounce on you if you’re already subscribed.
Hysterical chain of build-up emails
I know we get excited when we’ve got a launch. And we want to make the most of it. Cover reveal, early-bird review copies, paperback release etc. I don’t see anything wrong with emailing about those because they’re tangible new phases. And it’s fair enough to warn people that a special offer is about to close.
But some people send a blizzard of emails just for the sake of buzz. Watch out, an email will be coming. Then: the offer is nearly ready to send to you, are you excited? (No, I’m not.) Then: tomorrow an email is coming. It’s me again, don’t forget I’ve got a thing and I don’t want you to miss it.
Our inboxes need to lose weight. We don’t need the extra flab of empty nagging.
Prodding when you don’t respond to an offer or call to action.
‘I just wanted to make sure you didn’t miss this offer/release/crowdfunding campaign/ because I was worried that I hadn’t heard from you and I was worried that my email might accidentally have fallen into your spam folder or been forgotten or been deleted by your mischievous nephew or your arch-rival who wants to see your career collapse in tatters.’
No you didn’t. You’ve got an add-on that snitches when people don’t jump at the first email. That’s just nasty.
But do these tactics work?
I’ve seen the arguments. Pop-ups apparently get more subscriptions even though nobody ever welcomes them. Email nagging gets more sales or click-throughs, even if they’re deleted immediately because it’s the number of exposures that does the magic. But does it work, long term? What has it cost you in terms of your relationship with the reader? One of the functions of an email newsletter is to build trust, isn’t it?
The principles aren’t bad. I’m sure these tactics could be used persuasively and with grace, rather than to alienate. So let’s brainstorm – what do you respond to in email newsletters? What do you like? What makes you unsubscribe – and indeed, subscribe?
Oh, and mine is here. (Winning smile.)
Following my post about not talking about novels I’m writing, I’ve had this question:
I am a new author (just signed) and I am struggling with how to share parts of the story to entice readers while also protecting its integrity. Any suggestions?
Don’t be a tease
My first question is this. How far off publication are you?
If it’s more than a couple of months, you might be wasting time by giving specific details about the book. Internet shoppers are slaves to impulse. They want to buy instantly. There’s no shortage of shiny new stuff to keep their £££s busy. If you can’t offer an instant purchase or pre-order, they’ll go somewhere else and who knows if they’ll remember they even considered your book? And if you flirt with them too often without following through, you’ll wear out their interest. Don’t waste your shots.
Be discreet about the book until you have readership
If you’re starting to blog, don’t feel pressured to talk about the book. Everyone’s doing that anyway. Think of blogging as a conversation opener, like any other part of social media. Talk about other material you’re interested in, things you have in common with the people you hope will be your readers – themes, locations, historical periods if appropriate, other books that have been influential. Go out and find like-minded souls in Facebook groups, Twitter, Linked In groups, Google + communities. Comment on posts at other blogs.
You could put a progress thermometer on your blog sidebar with the status of your books. This would let people know you’re writing and help the title become familiar for them.
Ready for my close-up
If you’re close to publication, you can start your dance of the seven veils. Aim to generate intrigue. Here’s what I do, and what I’ve noticed seems effective for the writers in my blogosphere.
Cover and visuals
Readers love to see the evolution of a cover. (Writers do too, to learn!) This is one of your chief opportunities to attract attention and you can get several blogposts out of it, whether you’re indie or traditionally published. Talk about how you fixed on a design concept, any wrong turnings you took (I’ve got a humdinger here as I nearly loused up my second novel with an unsuitable jacket. But it gave me a great yarn for my blog.)
Some authors create mood boards on Pinterest for their work in progress. Or they lay a quote from their book over a picture, like an advert, and put it on Pinterest. This is enormously satisfying, and Pinterest is certainly a phenomenon. Does it lead to book sales? Who knows. I doubt that people go to Pinterest looking for a book to read. But they do look for stuff to share, and if your picture has wide appeal it might get spread around. Again, does that get it to people who might want to know about your book? Who knows. We’re venturing into the haphazard, unmeasurable realm of advertising here. do it if it satisfies you, but don’t let it become more important than spreading the word… in words.
Stories about your stories
What made you write your book? Most of us could pinpoint an experience or a twinkling idea that set us on the path. Work out your origin story – it’s an excellent way to reach out to new readers while remaining discreet. On the blog for My Memories of a Future Life I’ve got a section called Glimpses . And on Lifeform Three it’s Origins.
There are more ideas in this post – keep your stories about your stories.
Should you post excerpts?
I’m cautious about excerpts. Either they spoil a carefully laid surprise or they look bonkers because the reader doesn’t have the context. But there are certain excerpts that a browsing reader would expect to find, and I’m happy to post those. On my novel pages I’ve got the first page and the page 99 test.
Once the launch party’s over
There will come a time when you can’t squeeze much more out of the launch. Know when to draw back. Now your blog isn’t about an agenda, it’s back to conversation – your personality, little snatches of life. It’s giving people your company, not your campaign. Indeed, this is where you’ll be glad you established this from the start.
Here are two different approaches: Chris Hill has a mix of author interviews, thoughts on reading and writing. Or this more visual group blog (right) from Joni Rodgers, Colleen Thompson and Dr Kathryn Peterson. And so we go back to the start, until another book is ready.
Thanks for the bird pic TheRealBrute
Have you had to grapple with this issue? How much do you share about a book in progress? How far in advance do you talk about the content? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t? Let’s discuss!
blogging, blogging about your book, book excerpts, book launch, Boxing The Octopus, Chris Hill, Colleen Thompson, David Penny, Dr Kathryn Peterson, how to blog about your book, Joni Rodgers, mood boards for your book, using Pinterest as an author
You are currently browsing the archives for the Book marketing category.
- Feel the fear and put yourself out there – advice for shy authors July 8, 2018
- What I wish I’d known at school: two instructions for making a creative life June 17, 2018
- Five tips for writing good prose June 10, 2018
- Thinking on your feet: writing and my love-hate relationship with exercise May 28, 2018
- Umming and ermine – how to avoid getting in a right royal mess May 18, 2018
- Movements, movers and shakers: publishers and authors as literary citizens .. an interview May 17, 2018
- A week in the life of a small press .. an interview May 16, 2018