Agent Monday: Free Ways to Help an Author Friend’s Book Succeed

Green Green signing - Let's Play Books - Emmaus, PAHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Phew, it’s been quite a summer. My debut picture book GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY (FSG/Macmillan, co-authored with my husband Baldev, and illustrated by Sonia Sanchez) just came out. That means I’ve been doing a number of book signings and radio interviews and author appearances. Simply put, a book must be found by readers if it’s going to be successful — so authors must do promotion. The truth, however, is that an author can only do so much, and because of this, many books are just never found by readers — even readers who would really want that book. What we really need for our book to be found and to succeed is reader promotion. Do you have a friend or family member with a new book out? Then they and their book need your help – big time! You can make a huge difference fast, no matter where you live. Best of all, it won’t cost you a cent. Here are six simple ways that you can be their book hero :

(1) Have a library card? Then you can tell your library to order the book. Simply go onto your library’s website, and request that they order it! On my library’s site, I can click on Catalog, and there on the right side of the page is “Item Request.” Imagine if every friend and relative that knew your author buddy did that? And imagine how great it will be for readers all over the country to discover that book on their library shelves!

(2) On Goodreads? If you mark the book as “to read,” all your followers on Goodreads will see it! Give it a bunch of stars as a rating, and they’ll see that, too. Or go for the whole enchilada and write a review! These all really matter, because nothing is more valuable than word of mouth, and making a book visible to potential readers. You can also enter it on various lists on the site that apply, like Best New Picture Books, or something like that? 😉

(3) Read the book and loved it? Then say so – to your friends, to your book group, to your librarian, and bookseller. Write up a review – even if it’s something REALLY simple and short, like “Wow, loved this!” And don’t feel you have to write that review over and over on different sites — just copy and paste your review in. Where can you put it? Go for Goodreads, barnesandnoble.com, amazon, librarything.com, etc. And don’t forget your social media spots, like Facebook and Twitter.

(4) Stopping by a bookshop? Then find the book on the shelf, pull the copy out and re-position it so that it is cover out, vs. spine out, so it’ll be seen easier. That simple move can make the difference of someone skimming past it, vs. noticing it, picking it up and buying it. You could ask the bookseller if you could do this, or, sssh, go covert and just do it on the sly…

Presenting(5) Support your author by retweeting their posts and reviews, and plain old showing up at a signing just to show you are on their team. Don’t feel you have to buy the book if you don’t want to or can’t afford it. Just showing up and cheering the author on will be much appreciated, believe me.

(6) Have a blog? Perhaps invite the author to guest post or do a Q&A on your site. It’s all about being seen by others.

So there you have it – 6 simple, easy and FREE ways you can be your author buddy’s book hero.  It isn’t about spreading money around. It’s about helping to spread the word. And if you get a few others in on doing this with you, it’ll magnify the positive results for your author in HUGE WAY.

Your author friend will definitely feel the love. And their wonderful book will make it into more hands, all because of you. I hope you’ll share these tips with others. And I sincerely hope this info helps those wonderful books written by the wonderful people you care about.  And to all the wonderful people who continue to support my books – I send my deep and heartfelt thanks!

Green Green signing - Tinicum Arts Festival 2017

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Making the Most of Book Festivals (even if you don’t sell gobs of books)

Eliza Bing jktHappy Agent Monday, and happy September everyone!  Fall, for me, is a time of new beginnings. New books to read. New books to pitch to editors. New things to write… If you are writer, you may soon be staring down at a terrifying new thing: THE BOOK SIGNING. Well, fear not. Today I have some words of advice and encouragement for you from my wonderful and talented author, Carmella Van Vleet. Her most recent titles include the middle grade novel ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER (Holiday House, 2014), which features the hilarious and endearing Eliza (who also happens to be coping with ADHD); and the picture book TO THE STARS! co-authored with astronaut Kathy Sullivan (Charlesbridge, 2016).  Take it away, Carmella!

Making the Most of Book Festivals – Even If You Don’t Sell Gobs of Books!
guest post by Carmella Van Vleet

When I walked in the door, exhausted from spending the day at a local book festival, the first thing out of my husband’s mouth was, “So, how many books did you sell?”
I’m proud to report I resisted the urge to unleash some inner-ninja on him. I knew he was doing his best to be supportive, but it’s a loaded question. Those of us who attend book signings and festivals know that it’s not always about the number of books we sell.
For the record, I sold and signed around nine books that day. I’ve had better days in terms of sales and I’ve had worse. But despite the lower sales, I had a great time and was glad I participated in the event. Why? (I mean other than the fact I spent the day sampling the candy I’d set out to lure readers to my table.) Simple: I focused on all the other successes of the day.

Here are the cool things that happened that didn’t include actual book sales:

I got to meet another writer from the Class of 2k14 (a group of 20 debut YA and MG writers who’ve banned together online to support and help promote each other). This was a first for me.

I spent the day chatting with several writers sitting nearby me. We shared advice and tips for other book festivals, school visits, and promotional materials.

I handed my card to a librarian who was interested in me doing an author visit at her school.

I got to participate in two well-attended panels about writing for children. Not only did I get a chance to do one of my favorite things in the whole world – talk shop – I met an editor who asked me if I would be interested in writing for their new biography series for middle grade readers.

While doing the second panel, I also got to connect with an illustrator I heard speak a while back. Something she’d said in her workshop resonated with me and it ended up being a key puzzle piece that allowed my picture book to finally fall into place. It was such a gift to be able to tell this other writer she helped me and my book sold and is now scheduled for release in 2016.

I was able to help a fellow writer who was struggling with the close-but-no-cigar stage of her career. (I told her the old adage is true – just when things seems darkest and most hopeless is usually when your “Yes” is just around the corner.) And I got to rave about Marie to another writer who queried her.

At lunch, I spent a few minutes hanging out with an author whose writing I deeply admire – and totally experienced the “getting to sit at the cool kids table” thing.

Something really funny happened to me at the festival, too. This boy around ten years old walked up to my table. When he noticed my cover, he pointed and said, “I read the first two pages of that book.” (I was pretty sure he didn’t realize he was speaking to the author.) “Oh yeah?” I asked, all excited. “Did you like it? What did you think?” The boy shrugged. “Eh. It was okay.” His mother turned red and promptly began apologizing. But I waved her off; I thought it was hysterical. I thanked the boy for his honesty and offered him a candy bar.

So, in other words, I got a good story about humility to tell!

You never know what you’re going to encounter when you attend book festivals. They aren’t always going to be rainbows and glitter, long lines and adoring fans. But if you keep yourself open – and remember there’s more to these things than just selling books – you’ll never have a bad day.

My tips for book festivals

* Get to know your book neighbors. Listen to their pitch and give them yours. When they step away for a break or lunch, help cover their table and talk up their books to readers walking by. They’ll do the same for you.
* Standing up at your table is a great way to increase your visibility during crowded times.
* Bring your own water and snack in case you can’t get away or there’s not a nearby volunteer. You’ll need them to keep up your energy.
* Have readers spell out their names and write them on slips of paper before you sign a book. This will help cut down on inscription mistakes.
* Always give a reader more. For example, I have a collection of rubber stamps I like to use after my signature. (Each stamp corresponds to a specific title. For instance, I have an old fashion key stamp that I use in my Ben Franklin book.) Another writer I know personally attaches “Autographed Copy” stickers to her books after signing. An illustrator friend sketches a kid-friendly doodle. These little touches make the book extra special.
* If you’re comfortable talking to groups, volunteer to participate in panels and other activities; the people who plan book festivals really appreciate this and will remember your name when it comes time for the next event.
* Don’t be afraid to connect with people even if you don’t think it’ll mean a sale. Compliment someone on their cool shirt or ask what kinds of books they read. Always be genuine but never pushy.

 

Carmella Van VleetCarmella Van Vleet is a former teacher and the author of numerous hands-on science and history books. Her debut MG novel, ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER (Holiday House) is a Junior Library Guild Selection  about a girl with ADHD who takes up taekwondo. Carmella is looking forward to the release of her first picture book, TO THE STARS! THE STORY OF ASTRONAUT KATHY SULLIVAN, which she co-authored with Dr. Sullivan (Charlesbridge, 2016). For more information, please visit www.CarmellaVanVleet.com

Blog Tour Tips!: On Planning Your Journey

Running a blog tour to promote a new novel is an amazing way to connect with a wider audience, to get a concentrated bunch of reviews, and to get your name out there!  If you are a subscriber to my blog, you know that I ran my very first blog tour to help launch my new novel Drawn.  It was a great experience, and I’m kicking myself for not doing this sort of thing sooner.

So why didn’t I do a blog tour sooner?  Well, truthfully this is a fairly new thing in the world of book promotion…something that wasn’t around when I was a Book Promotion Manager for a publisher years ago, or even when my first novel What I Meant… came out through Random House.  It felt mysterious, plus I knew authors who paid a ton of money to do a tour where they appeared on just 5 or 6 sites.  Surely I must be missing something here… Surely I didn’t understand the nuances of setting up and running such a tour…

So, of course, I decided to go for it on my own!  On The Drawn Blog Ghost Tour I made 22 stops in 5 weeks.  On tour I did 10 guest posts, 10 interviews, 4 giveaways, and got 9 reviews.  Was it a lot of work? Not more than writing a novel. Was it worth it? Oh yeah. Did I make any missteps? Absolutely.

And so, dear author, here are Marie Lamba’s Blog Tour Tips, which I humbly offer to you in the hopes that you can run your own blog tour, and kick some promo butt of your own…

MAKE CONTACT:

Make up a list of the best book blog review sites for your genre, the authors you have relationships with who can feature you, and send out a request for tour stops on writing-related sites you belong to.  Then start emailing and planning!

And expect decent results… When I was contacting book bloggers this summer about reviewing my YA novel OVER MY HEAD I got spotty results.  Many didn’t respond, others responded but weren’t interested (indie pubbed, right?), and still others DID take it on, giving it a nice review, BUT many of those reviews were slow in coming, some as much as 6 months later.  BUT when I contacted reviewers about a DRAWN blog tour, the response was dramatically different.

MOST bloggers that I got in touch with got back to me immediately (knowing that a deadline was involved), and signed on for the tour! Something about the word “tour” makes them respond very positively. The bloggers were eager to take a spot (I gave them a 2 month lead time) on my month-long tour. As I’ve mentioned, I planned for a mix of  reviews, interviews, guest blogs from me, and a bunch  combined this with book giveaways. I took about a day’s total time to contact everyone and to set up my calendar.

BE ORGANIZED

I kept a folder with a chart so I could track who needed what, what the deadlines were, what the blog stop dates were, and this list included all contact names and emails.

Send out ebook ARC’s and cover images immediately to the ones who want to do reviews.  Also turn around any interview questions  sent to you quickly (I did this within 24 hours of receiving)  just to stay on top of things. And record all actions in your blog chart (you’ll go nuts otherwise wondering what is and isn’t done).

The biggest challenge? Of course those guest posts. You think you’ll have enough to write about but then you find you have to dig deep to do them all and make them high quality.  Be careful you don’t over commit on that part.

I worked hard to make sure no two stops were the same. Original interviews or guest posts on every stop, so if someone were following the entire tour, they’d be rewarded with new stuff. No cut and paste answers! I also tried to create guest posts that would fit with a particular blogger’s audience.  Like a post about ghosts for Jonathan Maberry’s paranormal crowd, or one about medievel romance in history for The Elliot Review, which is run by a librarian, that sort of thing.  The idea is for you to meet that audience on its own terms and make it interesting.  Trying not to repeat yourself can be a challenge!

You can check out my tour stops to get a feel for the sort of varied posts, etc. I did by clicking here.

With each stop, make sure they have a cover image, an author image, and that each interview or post includes your bio and book blurb.

BE NICE!

The most important components involve keeping the good vibe going.  Be courteous to your blog stops.  Thank them.  Buzz them well so they benefit from traffic too.  I created a page on my website dedicated to the tour, with links updated…and also I created blog tour graphics and widgets that every stop can use and sent them that.  I blogged each week about the week’s tour stops, and send out daily updates on my FB and twitter, which were retweeted a bunch. There was a lot to do, but it was all good stuff.  Now here, for you, are…

SOME LESSONS LEARNED

1. DOUBLE CHECK: I ran into some nearly missed tour dates. Why? I sent the material well in advance of the date, and assumed it was received.  Yes, assume. Ass-u-me.  I learned to ask for confirmation that material was sent…and if I didn’t hear back, to email the blogger.  And two days before each post, I learned to “check in” with the blogger just to make sure things were on track and to ask if anything were needed.  People have busy lives, stuff happens, and so a friendly nudge can really help.  *Also, I recommend you don’t have inter-related blog stops where people have to gather clues or anything interconnected like that.  That way if one post doesn’t happen, the world will surely go on.

2. INCLUDE LINKS:  Put the link to your book sales page in whatever you send to folks.  I’d assumed they’d naturally link to the purchase spot and admittedly felt a little obnoxious about typing it into any post I’d sent, but some sites won’t automatically do links for you. Lesson learned!

3. INCLUDE SEARCHABLE MATERIAL:  This is a lesson I learned too late. In your guest posts for the tour, etc., be sure to mention within your post those huge popular authors/books most like your own title…And/or an “if you enjoy (fabulous popular title or author), then you will like (your book)…”  That’s the sort of searchable material you want to have so that folks will find you online.

4. GIVE THE TOUR A LANDING PAGE on your website, which shows ALL the stops and links to those stops. Set this up before the tour starts, so you can send the bloggers on the tour the link to this page, along with your widgets. Update that page as final details trickle in, such as the actual title/subject of your guest post, and on the day of, replace the general blog link with the actual post’s link so future readers will find you there.

5. CREATE A WIDGET that is simple and legible even as a small button (include your book cover), and then put it up on your own website in a post so that other folks can “grab” it and use it on their pages.  I made 3…one banner sized, one half-banner sized, and one button sized.

6.  BUILD EXCITEMENT: Once a week, do a post on your website highlighting that week’s stops to build excitement. To give you an idea of how I tried to keep the energy and interest up, you can read an example of one of these posts here.

7.  BUZZ IT: Take advantage of what’s popping up each day by buzzing it on your facebook and twitter pages… If there’s a particular theme to your post, highlight that…if you’ve gotten a great review, paraphrase it on your FB and in Tweets…  Make those great reviews go the extra mile by either asking the blogger if they will kindly put their review on goodreads/amazon… or if it’s a hot review, put it on your Barnes&Noble.com and Amazon pages under editorial reviews.  I was able to add a bunch to these sites, plus some of my tour bloggers posted on Goodreads…and one beautiful 5 star review was posted as a comment on DRAWN‘s Amazon page.

8.  HIGHLIGHT ON-GOING STUFF: If you have on-going giveaways going on, then continue to buzz them on your FB and twitter so that people will be reminded there is still time to enter.

9. COMMENT! Visit your tour stops to comment back where appropriate to folks who put in replies. The personal touch really makes a difference.

10. DON’T BE A SHMO: Try to somehow balance your tweets and posts with other news and other people’s news so you won’t be a steady stream of book P.R…. I found this to be a little tough because with jam-packed weeks of booktouring there is SO much news coming at me each day…all different, but all about my book!   I made an effort to retweet others in between, and to now and then put up a post on my blog page that wasn’t tour related.  You don’t want to weary people with your news…  Twitter is nice because you can vary your hashtags (#) to reach different people, but also put keywords within your tweet.

11. SAY THANK YOU!  After each stop, take a moment to send a personal note of thanks to your tour stop host. They have used their valuable time to help you, and you want them to know that this matters to you.
Hosting a blog tour is a phenomenal way to build up a quick stable of reviews and buzz about your book.  And you can use these reviews as a stepping stone to even more blogger reviews.  For example, I made a point of contacting bloggers who listed TwilightMoms.com as one of their favorite blogs they follow, and asked if they’d review DRAWN.  Of course I included the rave review from TwilightMoms, and guess what? Those bloggers were eager to give my book a look!

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So is it work? Some. Is it worth it? YES!  You want more readers to find your book, don’t you? Can YOU do this?  You can.

SO GO FOR IT and start mapping out your own book tour.

Marie

Workshop: Become Your Own Book Publicist

Learn Low-Cost and No Cost Techniques that’ll get you Noticed
A Liars Club Class

Registration now open!

Whether you are working on a manuscript, are self-publishing, or have a book deal with a major publisher, these days you are expected to know how to promote yourself and your book. Are you ready? Author/actor Keith Strunk and I are offering a 3-session class to help you get the skills you need.  We’re both members of The Liars Club, a group of authors who basically lie for a living and who work together to promote literacy and our love for literature.  This’ll be a great workshop…no lie!

Instructors: Marie Lamba and Keith Strunk (bios below)
Date:
3 Classes, Mondays, November 1, 8 and 15
Time:
7-9 p.m.
Location:
Lower conference room at Saxby’s Coffee, 22 N. Main St, Doylestown, PA
Cost:
$95, payable at start of first class by cash, or by check made out to The Liars Club. *Do not mail payment.
Pre-registration required:
Class size limited to first 20 registrants. To register, send an email to marielamba@hotmail.com with “Publicity Workshop” in subject line.  Please include your name, address and phone/cell in your email. We will email you your enrollment confirmation.

Class Details:

This 3-session workshop will show you how to become your own best publicist.  We’ll explore the skills you need to present yourself professionally and effectively to publishers, the media and your readers.  We’ll also share public relations and publicity techniques, combined with out of the box ideas that can have you connecting with local, national and even international audiences…all without breaking the bank.

This interactive program will address the unique needs of workshop participants and how they can best publicize themselves and their works. Class size limited.

Subjects to be Covered:

Creating a compelling author image based on who you really are:
Identifying and reaching your true market
Building your online identity
Blog and website content essentials
Sales techniques you need to know
Unusual/effective marketing through public relations, publicity, Internet/social media
Getting free press online, in newspapers and in magazines
Approaching booksellers, setting up your own book tour, and growing relationships
Face to face interactions with readers
Public reading skills
Interviewing skills/media coaching for print, radio and TV

Your Instructors:

Marie Lamba: Marie is author of What I Meant…(Random House), and has an essay in the anthology Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishers). A full-time freelancer, her work has been published in over 100 magazines including the national publications of Garden Design, Writer’s Digest, Gardens & Landscapes and Sports International. Marie has also worked in publishing as an editor and as a promotions manager, and is an award winning public relations writer.  She has used her P.R. and marketing skills to garner attention for her novel, snagging coverage online, in newspapers, and in magazines. Some of her most effective out of the box marketing ideas include extensive reading workshops for more than 1000 teen scouts, and the Truth Tour parties her group the Liars Club has thrown for independent bookstores (featured in indiebound.com, in Shelfawareness, and on the American Booksellers Association’s online site). Her article “Priceless Promotion” appeared in the August issue of Romance Writer’s of America’s national magazine RWR, and her piece “Beyond the Bookmarks: Marketing Partnerships that’ll get you Noticed” is scheduled for the January 2011 issue of Writer’s Digest. Marie has also done book promotion coaching for a number of authors, including Dennis Tafoya (Dope Thief, St. Martin’s), C.G. Bauer (Scars on the Face of God, Drollerie Press), and Jeanne Denault (Sucking Up Yellow Jackets, O Books).

Keith Strunk: Keith is an actor, teacher, and author.  He is a partner in Interlude Group LLC, specializing in interpersonal communication training and development.  With a business perspective developed through a career that spans the corporate, non-profit, and academic sectors, his work experience includes teaching at Rutgers University and Ursinus College, film and video production in NY and regional markets, freelance writing, and corporate training and development.  He is co-founder and Managing Director of River Union Stage, a professional Equity Theater based in Frenchtown, NJ in its ninth year of operation (www.riverunionstage.org).  He attended Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts Professional Training Program in Acting where he earned his MFA. An award winning scriptwriter, Keith has written scripts for both corporate and artistic venues, including a stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol that has been seen on various stages in New Jersey.  He is the author of Prallsville Mills and Stockton from Arcadia Publishing and has written brochures, workbooks, scripts, marketing materials, and multi-media for corporate clients including Chase Automotive Finance, King Pharmaceuticals, Medco Health Solutions, PNC Global Investment Servicing, Princeton University, and Sika Corporation.  Keith has led workshops and presented at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education National Conference, the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Garden State Council, SHRM Central NJ Chapter, and the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) Conference.  He’s scheduled to lead a workshop at 2011 The Write Stuff Conference for the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.

Special Marketing Workshop for New and Aspiring Authors

Aside from the ability to write great stuff, these days the most important skill a writer must have is the ability to promote.

You need to know the best way to get your manuscript to the attention of editors and agents.  And because publishers now leave so much publicity in the hands of the author, you have to hit the ground running with your own promotion efforts as soon as your book is accepted.

Are you ready?

I’ve prepared a special one-night workshop to give new and aspiring authors the innovative promotion skills they’ll need:

Marketing Outside of the BoxBringing Your Book to Life and Keeping it Alive, a workshop with author Marie Lamba
When: Thursday, October 7th at 6 p.m.
Where: The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency Office, 31 East 32nd St,  New York, NY
Cost: $150, registration limited
For more info or to register: Call 212-481-8484 ext. 362 and leave your name and number

This workshop will have you selling your manuscripts and your published books like a seasoned pro. I’ll be sharing my most effective low-to-no-cost publicity techniques, from unorthodox (and minor rule breaking) ways to rise above the slush pile, to great tips for nailing free national press.

I’ve worked on the publishing side as an editor and as a book promotions manager.  I’ve paid my dues as a public relations writer.  And I’ve experienced just how tough it can be for a debut author with an “orphaned” title destined for obscurity. People told me a lone author couldn’t make a difference in the success or failure of a book.  I chose not to believe them.  Instead I worked tirelessly, came up with numerous fresh ways to promote by combining new technology and traditional wisdom, and I definitely did make a difference. Even several years after publication, What I Meant… is still finding new readers and going into reprints.

You can make a difference in your own career too.  So take heart!

Topics to be covered in this workshop include…
BRINGING YOUR BOOK TO LIFE:

– Nail the description of what you are selling
– Forget the traditional synopsis…how to shape one that gets to the heart of your work
– Form your one-minute pitch
– Make sure your manuscript is perfect before submitting, but not too perfect…
– How to jump the line when submitting
– How to speed up response times to your work

– Ways to break down the door at houses closed to unagented submissions

– How to rise above the slush and stand out
– Being the consummate professional

This workshop will also include…
YOU’VE GOT A BOOK DEAL! — HOW TO KEEP THAT BOOK ALIVE THROUGH PROMOTION:

What you can and can’t expect from your publisher
– How to become your own super-charged publicist – for free!
– Website…No money? Completely ignorant? No problem!
– Start early to think big – and nab national attention

– Provide your own press releases and feature stories to the media
– Innovative ways to locate and reach your audience
– Why there’s no such thing as a bad book signing, if you do it right…
– How family and friends can create a groundswell of support
– Become the expert – and market through this!
– My best out of the box idea…What can be yours?
– Power in numbers – should you create a marketing partnership?
– How to do all this and still be true to yourself

Hope you can join us on October 7th for this special event!

“Priceless Promotion” article published

My article “Priceless Promotion” has just been published in the August issue of RWR Magazine, the national publication of the Romance Writers of America.

As authors these days, we have to be REALLY savvy about promoting our work, so in this article I detail the many free and unusual methods I’ve used to publicize my own work.  If you are a member of RWA, you should have that mag right now.

Hope the info there is helpful!

My One Marketing Tip

On the Liars Club site, a series of answers to burning questions about writing and publishing continues today with Burning Question #2: What one marketing tip would you share with a new author? Each day, a different Liar will offer a response.  I’m cross-posting here, but check out http:liarsclubphilly.com daily for all the author’s responses!  Here’s my answer:

Workshops. Invent and do workshops. That’s my big red-hot tip.

See, folks just don’t come out to signings at bookstores like they used to. They’re busy. They forget. They have to make a lasagna. Whatever. And there are several gajillion books coming out every second, so you need a way to stand out, and to get folks away from their lasagna to you for at least a while.

My first novel WHAT I MEANT… is for the teen market.  Picture book and middle reader authors have it easier, because elementary schools have the bucks to bring authors in to speak and to sell.  Those folks can get anywhere from $500 to a few grand to spend an afternoon with the kids, and the PTA foots the bill, and the parents send in checks to pay for the books, and it’s all good. But when you’re a YA author? Not so much. Middle schools and high schools usually don’t budget for appearances. Authors of adult fiction and non-fiction face the same dilemma.

Which brings me back to workshops.  I knew my market: teens.  And I knew that teens were notoriously busy.  And that they have all these crazy obligations with school, and trying to impress colleges and whatnot. So I needed to find a way to fit into their lives. To give them something they could use and enjoy…plus sell my books too.

Since I’m also a Girl Scout leader, I knew that teen scouts need to earn a certain number of badges for their Silver and their Gold awards. I also knew that these badges could take several months to complete. And there’s this reading badge. Hm…

So I’ve developed my So What’s the Story? workshop that earns scouts the badge in just 2 hours. I made sure it was fun and interesting, and that I’d give participants a taste of my book through a series of mini readings that corresponded with activities we had to do. Each scout gets a copy of my novel, and at the end, I sign them.  It’s been a huge hit, and sometimes I get writer’s cramp from signing as many as 100 books at a shot! To date, I’ve easily sold over 1,000 books this way, and I’ve also cultivated relationships with over 1,000 teen readers.

I encourage any author to think hard about the audience of his or her book. And what does that audience NEED?  Sometimes entertainment is what your audience craves.  If you write memoirs, can you teach senior citizens how to write their own? Is your heroine a huge pasta fan? How about a cooking lesson/book reading package, with your book included in the package price?  Be inventive and creative.

Sometimes your audience needs to fulfill certain requirements.  Have an inspiring story? Corporations hire motivational speakers. Have an unusual skill that is highlighted in your writing? Different associations require continuing education credits from professionals in order for them to keep their licenses. Even Landscape Architects must do this. Teachers too.  Can you find out the requirements of these continuing ed credits, and work with an association to meet their needs through your specially tailored workshop? And can you include a copy of your book in the fee?

Of course you can!  Your audience gets what they need. You sell your books.

Win-win all around.

Marketing Outside of the Box

I recently gave a presentation to the Bucks County Romance Writers group about “Marketing Outside of the Box: Bringing your Book to Life and Keeping it Alive,” and it stirred up some common misconceptions about just what an author can and can’t do to promote her book.  Mainly, there is a pervasive belief that promotion is entirely up to the publisher, and the actions of the author can make no difference one way or the other in the success of a novel.

Okay, I think that used to be true to some extent. But these days a few things have changed.  First of all, all publishers are doing less and less for their authors. They tend to put their marketing muscle and dollars behind that huge book at their house that got the big advance…mainly because they don’t want to lose their shirts on it.  And for the rest of the books? Well….  You get in their catalog. Advanced Reader Copies get sent out for reviews. Um, and? Well, good luck to you!

I equate it to throwing spaghetti onto the wall and seeing which bits stick.  If a book gets a starred review and happens to win a major award, then cool.  Otherwise, push it aside for the next batch a mere 3 months later.  But if a book is beautiful enough for a company to accept it and to spend a year editing and producing it, isn’t it worth putting a bit more effort into? And if an author has poured her heart and soul into that work, isn’t it worth the author’s time to do whatever she can to be sure that the book doesn’t go quietly into the night?

Publishers are now banking on just that.  Why waste their precious resources on things like booking signings and sending out press, when the author could do that herself? Clever, right?  Now this isn’t exactly a spoken policy, and authors don’t all do this, but I think if you have a book out, or coming out, you need the whole eyes wide open approach, and you need to get busy.

You will have to work with your publisher to let them know what you’re doing.  At the outset, you should have a frank talk with your publicist at your publishing house about what you would like to handle, and how to do it without stepping on toes, or repeating what they do. You might find at first some resistance to having you handle some things, but since they aren’t handling them, what the heck? I think they are afraid that some authors may represent themselves badly, but once you show that you are professional and courteous, and once they have moved on to the next season’s lists, you’ll probably see that they are glad of what you are doing, and will be happy to get occasional “keep you in the loop” emails about what’s going on.

There’s a notion out there that you should take a good part or at least some of your advance and hire a publicist with it to get the word out. Nice. But what if you actually need the money for like, say, living? And what can you really get with that money that you can’t provide yourself?

photo by Pat Achilles cropped

photo by Pat Achilles

I decided I could promote WHAT I MEANT… on my own, and I have done this quite successfully at almost zero cost. Yeah, it takes tons of time, but I’d already spent tons of time writing the thing, right? And I have two things that a publicist does not: 1. Absolute passion for my book.  Remember, no one (not even your mother) will love your book the way that you do, and be driven to promote it the way you will; and 2. I have unlimited access to the author!  I can quote her in releases and features, book her at appearances, and connect her with readers in a positive way.

Just a few years ago, having passion and author access wasn’t enough.  You needed contacts. You needed a huge budget to print up ad materials, posters, bookmarks. You needed to go out on tour. You needed to cozy up to book reviewers.  Today, contacts in the media are readily found online. Okay, I’m not talking Oprah, I’m talking newspaper folk, radio folk, bloggers, book reviewers, etc.  Easy to find. Easy to send a personal note to, or a feature story to about an upcoming signing (with images of yourself and your book cover attached, of course).

And these days, it’s also easy to book signings yourself.  I’ve done SO many signings over the past few years, and I’ve booked every single one myself. Forget the cold call. Personally go to every bookstore within driving range, and introduce yourself, drop off info on your book (which you have printed up beautifully on your computer), and chat with the manager, asking if they would like to do a signing with you.   I’m sure if you were willing to travel, you could email stores in different areas and book a string of signings that way, and ta-da! You’re on tour.  This will cost you in terms of travel expenses, of course.  Remember that independent bookstores will be your most ardent supporters, so be sure to build your relationships with them (and shop at indies, and include a link to indiebound.org on your website so folks can buy your book through them!).

I tell booksellers that I will send out press to area media about the event, and wow, are they happy to hear that.  A few weeks before any signing, I create a nice feature story about the event and my novel, and send it out with pix. I ALWAYS get coverage. So if you don’t know how to format and write a press release, a public service announcement and a feature story, learn. Now.  The library has books that will show you how.

With color printers, you can make your own publicity info.  Printing bookmarks through a company is pretty cheap to do, but I haven’t done this.  Personally, I’ve never bought a book because I’ve gotten a bookmark…  I’ve created great signs on my computer and brought the file to Staples, and had them create large posters, mounted on foam core, that I display on an easel at my events.  This is all nickle and dime stuff, folks.

As you market, you need to think of who your audience is, what is your book’s angle, and how do you reach your audience in an unorthodox way?  You don’t want to be a spammer, or to spend a fortune creating junk mail that ends up in the circular file. My approach is to be the anti-spammer, meaning that I make an effort to contact people personally. And I use their name in my note. It takes a lot of time, but I don’t care. I’m asking for their time when they read a note from me, aren’t I? It’s old school, and that makes it retro and charming.

Author J. A. Konrath is a gifted promoter with a personal touch. His website (which he’s changed since I first found it) is loaded with advice on how to personally make a difference in the life of your book, especially if you follow the link to his tips page.  Start with Self Promotion for Authors Tip 6 by clicking here, and read on from there, going to more tips at the bottom of this page. His ideas are wise and witty and absolutely on target.

Aside from making personal contacts, another “outside of the box” way I found to reach my audience of teen readers is through workshops that I offer them to help teen scouts earn badges they need for important awards like the gold award.  It’s been unbelievably successful, and I’m in reprint again!  Because they were unusual, my workshops were also featured in Publisher’s Weekly’s Children’s Bookshelf and at shelfawareness.com, so remember that a quirky promotion can be news in itself.

Since my book features a biracial character who is half Indian, I contacted the international publication of India Abroad, and they ran a huge cover story about it.  I also contacted lots of great people who write about the mixed race experience, and they were really responsive. I was featured at AsiansofMixedRace.com, did a podcast with Mixed Chicks Chat, and in the UK, WHAT I MEANT… was a featured book on the site Intermix.com.uk.  I also contacted librarians via email who were in areas with high concentrations of Indian populations. The best part of all this has been the personal relationships that I’ve built with all of these talented and wonderful people and their organizations.  In the end it’s not just about selling a product, it’s about becoming a part of a community. You are building a future in the book-reading world.

So, what angles are in your book? What organizations out there would be interested? Can you write for their newsletter or blog, relating your personal experiences that tie into your book? Can you create a great presentation for their chapter meetings? Give an inspiring speech at their conventions? Give an honest piece of yourself to your readership, and they will respond to you.

This post would be woefully remiss if I didn’t mention a bunch of on-line stuff.  First of all, your website. You have to have one. That’s all there is to it.  But you can do what I’ve done and easily make your blog your website. It does all I want it to do, plus I can control it myself, plus it’s FREE! Then if you purchase your domain from a site like bluehost.com, they have a free redirect service. In my case, everyone who types http://www.marielamba.com arrives here. Can’t get any cheaper and easier than that, folks.

You have to get onto facebook.com.  The best feature on this is the event invite.  Create invites for all of your signings and appearances, and invite folks.  Pimp up your invite with added pix, links, and remember that once someone rsvp’s, they can then invite all their friends to the event too.  This has worked out amazingly, especially when I tell bookstores with facebook pages to do this.  My last event was able to send out over 500 invites!  A few days before the actual event, you can go to the invite page and message all invited with a cheerful reminder note.

Twitter.com can work in tandem with your invites, and press, etc.  Build up your follow list with librarians, booksellers, publishers, editors, reviewers, readers.  Then post on twitter links to your facebook events, or any online press you get.  Keep it short. If you leave at least 40 characters remaining, folks can easily retweet it to their buds.  And you can shorten your links by going here.

Don’t be a shmo. Also use these sites to promote other writers, other events, to praise books that you’ve read.  Balance is key, and you are part of a wide-spread community, so share the love.

Reader-oriented sites offer a great way to connect with your audience. Create an author page. Friend folks who have read your book. Friend folks who have read a competitor’s book and suggest they check yours out!  Here are the sites I spend time on: librarything.com, shelfari.com, goodreads.com.  Librarything and goodreads also let you post your events. Also, join indiebound.org and friend all your fav bookstores.

Booktour.com is an amazing site. Create an author page, and type in all of your appearances. They will automatically send out your appearances to a huge number of online sites.  And, I also suggest you go onto your book’s page at amazon.com and click on your author page. You can now add a picture, a bio, and link your blog posts here.  PLUS booktour.com will make sure that your appearances appear there as well.

Linkedin.com is a more professional site, meaning you can’t just friend, or connect, with everyone.  But join some groups, like one for bookstores or libraries or publishing, and then you can use that connection when you invite someone to connect to you.  Create a beautiful profile, and link your blog to it so that the content is always interesting and changing.  They give you a really simple way to do this.

Now, back to the human side of things… Involve your friends and family everywhere to help you in your promotion.  Like I said before, I’ve never bought a book because I’ve gotten a bookmark, but I have bought a book because someone recommended it to me.  I think J.A. Konrath wisely pointed this out on his site, and it really stuck with me.  So do encourage folks to write reviews for barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, and on goodreads and shelfari.  Enlist this army of supporters to request your book be purchased at their libraries (most library sites allow this on their online sites, and require a library card number). Have them visit their local bookstores and put your book face out, instead of just spine out.  Hem, hem.  This comment may get some flak from the industry that actually pays to have a title face out on a shelf so it’ll get noticed faster, but if Aunt Minny quietly goes into a bookstore and does this, no harm, no foul I say.

Liars club25One more thing. There is definitely power in numbers. If you can create a group of writers who will blog together, or do panels and talks together, you can turn any event into something noticeable and special.  I’m a proud member of the Philly Liars Club, and it has been an incredible journey. We support each other, and we are able to support independent bookstores through our special truth tour events. Are there other debut novelists that you can link up with? Other authors you know in your genre who could do a panel with you at the next huge convention? Power in numbers, baby!

So you can see there is a lot that you can do, most of it while sitting at home in your jammies in front of your laptop.  After I gave this talk about marketing (not in my jammies), the members of the Bucks County Romance Writers group all wanted to know when I actually found time to write.  I told them that in the last two years I’d done all this promotion, AND written two additional novels. I encouraged them to get to work.

I’m pretty sure they will.