Sunday, November 4, 2012

More than Just Marketing: The Many Ways a Book Publicist Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

Hiring the right book publicist is one of the most important steps an author can take when it comes time to promote his work. A good publicist can help craft the author’s brand, identify his target audience, and promote the author’s book to the world of readers hungry for the next good story.

But a publicist can be much more than a megaphone for an author’s work. In addition to creating press kits and pitching the media, publicists play a number of other important roles for their authors. Here are a few of them:

1. Information Resource
An experienced publicist with good industry knowledge is an invaluable resource for all types of information an author might need. In addition to crafting press releases and booking speaking and media gigs, a publicist can help authors connect with professional cover designers and editors, identify the right blog tour companies, provide lists of top and mid-tier reviewers, pinpoint the right contests to enter, suggest options for distribution, and define and locate the author’s target market. A good publicist can also provide tips on different aspects of the overall process, including suggestions on how authors can best represent themselves at promotional events and media interviews and the right timing for various aspects of the marketing campaign.

2. Sounding Board
One of the benefits of hiring a publicist is that she can help be a sounding board for ideas you might have about marketing your book. As a new author, you may want to try certain techniques you’ve discovered or consider advice you’ve received from others authors. Your publicist should be willing to discuss the available options and share her experience with different marketing strategies and methods.

3. Cheerleader
Many authors find the marketing process to be time-consuming and stressful, especially if their publicists have been successful at setting up a number of events and interviews. At some time during the process, those who are exhausted from the rigors of traveling, speaking, and promoting can lose focus and may reach a point where they want to give up altogether. Your publicist is there to listen to your concerns and help you reconnect with the joy of having created a published work. She can buck you up when you’re down and help you to regain your focus and energy by providing encouragement and support when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

4. Devil’s Advocate
Your publicist can also provide feedback on your efforts and help you to ferret out what’s working and what isn’t as you go through the promotion process. She can encourage you to consider other options, ask the “what if” questions, and help you think outside the box when you’re feeling less creative or have run out of ideas.

5. Reference
Oftentimes authors need references to help with obtaining speaking spots, applying for artist residencies or writing jobs, or networking with important connections. Your publicist can support you by sending out letters, answering inquiries, and acting as a character reference on your behalf.

6. Reality Check
For some authors, the sky’s the limit as far as where they hope to go with their publicity campaigns and how much time and effort they’re willing to spend. A good publicist will help you define parameters and manage expectations, so that you focus on obtainable goals and don’t waste time chasing opportunities that might be unattainable or not in your best interest.

7. Source of Inspiration and Ideas
Your publicist is your resource for anything related to the marketing and promotion of your book. Use her to evaluate ideas, explore resources, and identify sources of inspiration. A good publicist will support you, cheer you on, and work hard to help you obtain your goals.

When evaluating potential publicists, check their references and make sure the one you’re considering best fits your personal style and understands your goals. Choose wisely, and your publicist can help you – in many different ways – to make the most of your book marketing efforts.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Publicity Questions from the Twitter Zone

Many authors who use Twitter have sent me questions about book publicity and marketing. Listed below are some of the questions I receive most often, along with my responses.

1. What can I do to make my book more marketable?

The best way to make a book more marketable is to produce a quality product. I’m surprised at how many times I receive books from prospective clients with covers that aren’t professionally designed and copy that hasn’t been professionally edited. I also receive a good number of manuscripts from authors who have clearly never taken a writing class, or have written books that have never been workshopped; these books often have storylines that suffer from basic writing problems, such as too much back-story or clumsy dialogue. Add in the fact that the author has no platform, and you pretty much have a book that will not sell.

Authors who have chosen to self-publish should be sure that their books are able to compete with the number of quality books already out there by first taking writing classes and workshopping their manuscripts.

Once a book has been workshopped and judiciously revised, the next step is to have it professionally edited. A lot of authors skip this step because of cost, but it’s the most important thing they can do to insure that their books appear professionally written and error-free.

It’s also crucial that authors hire professionals to develop the cover art for their books. Homemade covers by those with no experience in book cover design won’t cut it in today’s competitive book market.

And authors must be willing to establish some kind of platform for themselves if they want their books to sell.

2. What are the biggest mistakes new authors make, and what suggestions do you have for fixing them?

There are a couple of mistakes I see quite often. The first is not having a book that’s been professionally edited. A lot of authors write to me and say that they don’t have the money to hire an editor. But if they plan to self-publish and skimp on editing, they risk not having the book sell because of low quality. So, the investment in a good editor is worth it.

For those who are really strapped for cash, I suggest at least having the front end of the book (the first three chapters, for example) edited. If money is truly an issue, authors should try to do as much with what they have and plan to spend whatever they can afford on professional editing (the same is true for cover design).

The other mistake a lot of new authors make is the attempt to build a platform by marketing to other writers. Authors need to appeal to readers, not just other writers. But many new authors waste a lot of time writing blog posts about being an author, including topics like how to be a good member of a writing group, how to write reviews, how to sell books, etc. While these are worthy topics, unless the book is about writing or the author’s an established industry expert, they’re are not going to help position an unknown author as an expert in his field or genre.

New authors who want to build their platforms (and readership) should focus on readers who buy the kind of books they write. For example, a new mystery author will want to focus on forums and blog sites that mystery and crime readers visit; the author should post there and on her own site about mystery and crime, review books on mystery and crime, and discuss topics that interest mystery readers. She should find a niche in her market and do what she can to establish herself as an expert in it (write articles, teach classes, give presentations, post on her own and others’ blog sites, etc.).

Likewise, if an author is trying to break into the YA or fantasy market, the focus should be on topics that appeal to readers of those genres. There are a number of topics related to young readers (thematic issues, life issues, favorite books and characters, etc.) that YA authors can talk about in their blog posts and articles. The same is true for fantasy – there are myriad aspects of the fantasy genre that should offer rich ground for generating compelling posts that will appeal to readers of those kinds of books.

To help reach readers, authors will want to concentrate on sites where readers go, including Goodreads and targeted forums, blogs, and review sites. They should be sure to friend and/or follow readers (not other authors) on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and other social media sites and aim to create informational articles and posts, make promotional offers, and develop relationships with as many readers as they can before their books launch and after they’re available.

3. I’ve decided to publish in ebook format only. What are the challenges/benefits of doing so from a publicity standpoint?

A lot of authors have contacted me recently about promoting a book that is only available in ebook format and, while it’s doable, it does present some challenges. The biggest challenge is that these authors don’t have printed copies that they can bring with them to sell after public appearances. And they’re not able to send hard copies to reviewers or bloggers who request them, or submit to those contests that require hard copies.

That said, there are still lots of opportunities where ebook-only authors can find exposure for their work. There are a number of web and blog sites that focus on ebooks and offer discounted versions to readers. And ebook authors can still make public appearances; when they do, they should plan to give their audience printed information about where to go online to buy the book. For some authors, this hasn’t been a problem – many readers bring their Kindles and Nooks with them to author appearances and, as the ebook market continues to grow, I think we’ll see more of this in the future.

Some of my clients with ebooks have opted to have a number of copies printed, so they can send them to reviewers and bloggers and sell them after public appearances. Others opt to only approach reviewers who are willing to read e-versions. As always, the most important considerations for selling any book, whether printed or in e-format, are to make sure it’s well-written and professionally designed and edited and to target readers when it comes time to promote.

4. As a publicist, what trends are you seeing for promoting books?

One trend I’m seeing is that while booksellers are now more open to accepting self-published books in their stores, they’re also focusing more on celebrity clients and big-name authors for signings. Many of them are willing to allow self-published authors to bring in books on consignment, both for signings and for sale in the stores, but as fewer stores remain viable, the competition for spots in those stores has risen. There are still independent and chain bookstores that will allow authors to hold signings, so I urge authors to take advantage of what’s out there now, since the future for brick-and-mortar bookstores looks pretty uncertain. But authors must build their platforms if they want to appear in these stores.

Another trend is that author appearances still remain a good way to sell books, especially at targeted venues (professional organizations, speaking engagements, conventions, fairs, etc.), where the author can connect with the audience and then sell books afterward. Many of my clients have found that these kinds of events bring the highest sales in their marketing efforts.

For those who don’t have a content area that allows for speaking engagements, blog tours are a good method of promoting books and getting the word out to readers. I’ve found these to be especially effective for my clients with specific non-fiction topics that have a large number of blogs dedicated to them (for example, those that focus on specific health issues, like ADD, MS, cancer, etc.). Also, those who write genre fiction (romance, for example) will find a number of blogsites dedicated to readers and can work those sites for exposure to their target audience.

Finally, the increase in the number of readers willing to read books on devices like Kindles and Nooks is changing the way we market books. In addition to author appearances, blog tours, and marketing via social media, authors are learning that they must develop ways to help promote ebooks to readers. These methods can include offering discounts, bundling books in a series, offering books at no cost for limited periods, etc. The continued growth of ebooks as a major section of the book market share is forcing authors to think about how they’ll reach those who read ebooks, as well as readers who still buy printed books.

5. What advice do you have for new authors who are just starting out with their promotional efforts?

First, if you’re planning to self-publish, you must be committed to putting out a professional product. So, authors should make sure they become educated about writing, workshop their manuscripts, and include professional cover design and editing in their budgets for creating their books.

Second, authors should think about their platforms. When it comes time to market the book, the author’s background and expertise is going to be as important as the book itself, especially when pitching the media.

Third, authors should have a game plan before they start writing, which includes taking the time to answer the following questions: Why am I writing this book? Who is likely to want to read it? What is the size of my target audience and how will I reach them? Am I willing to take writing classes and workshop my manuscript, so it’s marketable to today’s savvy readers? Am I committed to hiring professionals to help with cover design and editing? How much time and resources (including money) am I willing to spend to promote the book once it’s written? And what are my long-term goals as an author – will I be a one-hit wonder, write more books like the one I’ve written, or move on to a different genre?

There are no right answers to any of these questions, and the answers will be different for every author out there. But it’s important that authors consider purpose, audience, budget, and future goals in order to be prepared once their books are ready to market.

Finally, many authors see the success of those who are managing to make a living from self-publishing and assume that once they self-publish a book, they will be able to do the same. This is far from true; in fact, very few self-published authors with only one book are able to generate enough sales to support themselves and their families full-time, especially if they are unknown. So, managing expectations is a huge part of self-publishing a book.

Authors should remember that those who are making a living from self-publishing have done so after many years of writing. Many of those successful authors were once traditionally published, as well as self-published, and have spent years developing audiences that are familiar with them and willing to buy their books. New authors will have to build their own audiences, step by step, by focusing on readers and reaching out to them in as many ways as possible. And it may take some time before substantial results occur. Being patient (and realistic) and doing the hard work of getting out there and building relationships with readers is necessary if new authors hope to realize success in today’s competitive self-publishing market.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Writing with Intention: How Understanding Why You Write Can Help You Sell

I spoke on the telephone recently with a potential client who has written a nonfiction guide to help parents recognize the signs of late speech development in their children. Besides being articulate and able to clearly describe the book’s contents and its audience, this author was particularly succinct about what she was looking for in the way of publicity. “I want to reach as many parents, teachers, and pediatric health professionals as I can about how to recognize the signs of speech and language development issues in children,” she said. “I also would like to cast as wide a net as possible via the media, so that parents and pediatric associations know about the information in my book and how it can help them.”

This particular client’s clarity about her goals is similar to having a corporate mission statement, which many companies use to provide vision and direction to their employees. When a company has a clearly written statement, employees can use it to tune in to upper management’s expectations and determine how they fit with the corporate mission. They can more easily grasp the company’s purpose and who its customers are, as well as develop a better sense of how to serve those customers.

Likewise, having a clear sense of the purpose your book serves and what you’d like to do with it can be very helpful to you (and the marketing professionals you might hire) when it’s time to promote your work.

In New Age circles, pundits call this sense of clarity and direction working with intention. When we work with intention, i.e., when we’re clear about why we’ve written something and understand its value to others, not only does the work flow more easily, but we are much more likely to be able to correctly describe and promote it.

The intention behind a written work can take many forms. Some authors intend to write books that are instructive or informational. Others write to entertain.

Some write because they feel compelled to do so, or because a certain storyline keeps playing over and over in their heads and they want to capture it in written form.

Some write to heal, as is often the case with memoir. Those who keep diaries or journals may do so as a means of knowing themselves better.

Many authors write because they love language or because they like playing with ideas. Others use writing as a way to develop a community connection, through meetings with other writers and the readers of their work.

Some write to document family history for future generations, while others do it purely for pleasure, as a way to pass blocks of time.

But no matter what the reason, it helps to know why you’re writing, so that when the writing is done – be it a novel, a short story, a nonfiction guidebook, a memoir, or a collection of poems – you’ll better understand it’s purpose and intended audience. This understanding makes it much easier to pinpoint what you need to do to explain that purpose and reach your audience which, in turn, will help you make decisions about how you’re going to promote your work.

So, before beginning your marketing efforts, ask yourself, “Why did I create this piece? What is its purpose? Who is my book written for, and how will it help those who read it?” Write down your answers; they’ll help you understand your original intention and determine what you need to do now to sell it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Answers to First-Time Authors' Publicity Questions

I receive a lot of calls from first-time authors with questions about how they should promote their books. Here are a few of the questions I hear most often, along with my responses:

1) Do I really need a website and a blogsite to market my book?
Yes, you really do need both. When I contact media producers and editors on your behalf, they will be looking to see what kind of presence you have on the web and whether or not you’re starting to develop any kind of following among readers. And readers interested in your work will want to visit your web and blog sites to learn more about you.

2) I edited my book carefully myself, and my wife/husband edited it, as well. Isn’t that enough?
Sorry, but self-editing (or editing via friends or family who are not professionals) doesn’t cut it. Whether you plan to self-publish or go the traditional route, you should have your work edited by a professional.

Your book is your product – it can have the greatest storyline or nonfiction content in the world, but if it’s poorly written and/or contains errors, readers will notice and say so in reviews. And it will be more difficult to obtain that all-important word-of-mouth promotion that helps some first-time books breakout. There are always exceptions to these guidelines (some might list Fifty Shades of Grey as an example), but in most instances, if you want to sell well, you must have a product that is polished and well-written, and the best way to do that is to have a professional editor review your work.

3) I want publicity for my book, but I don’t want to blog/travel/appear publicly/give interviews. What can you do for me?
If you are a first-time author, you need to find methods to reach your target audience. The best way to do that is to put yourself out there; if you’re unwilling to do so, then hiring a publicist is probably not going to help you.

And, yes, there are methods of reaching out that don’t require personal appearances or blogging. You can pay for advertising, for example, or hire a blog tour company to get bloggers to post about you and your book on their sites.

But remember, there are over 32 million books on the market right now, and experts predict that number will continue to grow. How will you make your book stand out from all the others? If you want readers to know about you and your book, you’re going to have to get yourself in front of them in as many ways as possible, be it online, on paper, via traditional media and advertising, or through in-person appearances. The more of these activities you do, the better chance you have of reaching readers.

4) How can I promote my book if I don’t have a platform?
Having a platform means that you, the author, have a strong background or some kind of expertise that is newsworthy and will make you a good potential interview candidate for the media. Promoting a book without a strong author platform is difficult, so if your platform is weak or nonexistent, you’ll need to build one.

The best way to build a platform is to establish yourself as an expert in your book’s content area (this is true for fiction, as well as nonfiction). Many authors mistakenly believe this means that they should try to position themselves as experts on writing. That’s true if your book is about writing, but if it isn’t, you’ll want to position yourself as an expert in the genre or subject area that your readers buy. The best way to do this is to create blogs on topics that interest your readers, become a guest blogger on other sites in your genre or specialty area, teach classes, write articles, and do whatever you can to be seen as someone with expertise in the realm in which your book (and its potential readers) reside. Again, this means putting some effort into developing a following on social media sites, writing blogs, making public appearances, writing articles for online and print publications, etc. (Those who are uncomfortable with doing these things, please reread my answer to question #3).

5) I have a good book, but no platform, or I have a great platform, but my book isn’t quite there yet. Will you represent me?
When I read a book by a potential client (and I always read potential clients’ books before I agree to take them on), I ask myself three questions: Is the book well-written and professionally edited? Does the author have a good platform? And can I successfully promote this book and author to my contacts? I will only represent an author if I can answer yes to all three questions.

6) Some pundits are saying that I should have at least three books published before I start any promotion. Is this true?
Many established authors have discovered that if they are successful in a certain genre, they can generate more sales by creating sequels for those books that sell well. And readers are proving loyal to characters and storylines that they love. So, if you write a book that lends itself to creating a series, particularly if it’s genre fiction, it can be a good idea to do so.

But, if you’re self-publishing your work, it’s sometimes hard to know if you have a potential success (or a potential successful series) until you get that first book out there. Even if you plan to write follow-on books, I believe it’s still a good idea to spend some time promoting the first book. And if you have a second book in the wings, you can often build on the publicity for the first book to successfully promote the second.

7) From a publicity standpoint, what general advice do you have for me as a first-time author?
Great question – here’s what I recommend:
● Make sure your book has been heavily workshopped, ruthlessly revised, and polished to perfection by a professional editor before submitting it to agents, editors, or publicists, and certainly before publishing it online or in print.
● Educate yourself on promotion and marketing. Read everything you can by experts and successful authors who publish in your genre. Some of the advice will be tremendously helpful, while some of it may not fit you or your goals for your book; adopt what is useful, and commit yourself to doing what those experts recommend to help your book sell.
● Decide how much in the way of time, effort, and money you’re willing to spend on promoting your book and develop a schedule and budget you can live with.
● Plan to promote your first book full-bore for a set amount of time (6-8 months after release is a good rule-of-thumb) and then consider creating a self-sustaining/long-term strategy, so you can focus on writing the next book.

More questions? Post them here, and I’ll do my best to share what I know.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Advice for Authors: Create A Twitter Profile that Sells

Many social networking pundits agree that Twitter can be a powerful tool for authors looking to sell their work (Jonathan Gunson, for example, calls it the most effective book advertising tool ever).

But like most social media tools, Twitter is only powerful if you use it effectively. If you're an author hoping to use Twitter to sell books, then how you describe yourself on Twitter is an important component to encouraging a potential reader to follow you. It can also help a book blogger, reviewer, or media producer/editor who is researching you learn more about how you’ve positioned yourself as an author. Remember, how you describe yourself on social media sites is a crucial part of creating a platform and presenting yourself to those who might buy your books.

With that in mind, here are my thoughts (from a publicist’s perspective) on the do’s and don’ts for authors regarding how they describe themselves on Twitter and other social networking sites. First, the don’ts:

1. Don’t deprecate yourself
I’m stunned at the number of authors out there who describe themselves in unappealing terms. Some of the most common self-deprecating monikers are “loser,” “geek,” “nerd, “newbie,” and “wannabe.” I recently came across one author who described her own books as “smutty”; another who claims that he is an “ineffective woman chaser,” a third who calls herself a “troll.” Now I know that some of these descriptions are meant to be funny, but there is so much overuse of these kinds of statements that they’ve lost their uniqueness and risk falling flat with readers. Some might argue that the terms “geek” and “nerd” are a badge of honor for those who are technically competent, but if that’s true, consider positioning yourself with more positive words that might entice readers, bloggers, reviewers, and media folks to see you as an expert, rather than a person who describes himself with over-used and self-deprecating terminology.

2. Don’t label yourself as “aspiring”
Okay, maybe you’re new at the writing game, but if you’re in the process of writing anything, even for the first time, it’s perfectly okay to simply refer to yourself as a writer (no “aspiring” adjective necessary).

3. Don’t say you’re a bestselling author unless you truly are
There are bestselling authors out there, most of whom either have big-time breakout successes or extensive backlists. In either case, these people have sold many, many books. If that isn’t true in your case, please don’t label yourself as something that you aren’t.

4. Don't use religion and politics as descriptors unless they're relevant to your readers
Many authors list Jesus as the first item in their Twitter moniker. Others throw in the terms “conservative” or “liberal.” While this kind of disclosure is fine for those who write Christian or political books, it’s not always great for selling. Remember, some of the readers you may be looking to attract will not be Christian (or Buddhist, or Jewish, or whatever other religion you’ve mentioned). Likewise, if you list yourself as liberal or conservative, you’re sure to scare off the other half of your potential readership. Keep religion and politics out of your descriptions, unless you want to sell only to those who think, and believe, as you do.

5. Don’t refer to your husband, wife, or kids in your profile unless they have something to do with your book
Listen, we’re all members of some family or another. Unless your book is about parenting or family relationships, consider saying something else about yourself that potential readers might find more interesting and relevant.

6. Easy on the cat references
The other extremely over-used descriptors I see out there are “cat-lover,” “cat-owner,” “owner of XX number of cats,” etc. Unless you’ve written a book that has something to do with felines, consider leaving Fluffy where he belongs, on your living room couch.

7. Food is good, but watch that it doesn’t become the only thing that sets you apart
If you’re a cookbook author, then yes, by all means mention certain types of food in your profile. But if you’re not, realize that mentioning anything having to do with coffee (or caffeine), alcohol, or chocolate has been used by thousands of other Tweeps who can’t find something more creative to say about themselves.

8. Don’t overkill with hashtags and website addresses
#There’s #nothing #worse #than #trying #to #read #a #string #of #words #that #are #preceded #by #hashtags #or

9. Don’t say “I follow back” – just do so
Enough said.

Now for the do’s:

1. Think like a journalist
The best advice for positioning yourself to your readers comes from the school of journalism, where writers are advised to focus on the who, what, where, when, and why of the story. The same guidelines apply for your Twitter moniker: tell potential followers who you are, what genre you write, and, if relevant, name your books. A good example is the profile for well-known mystery author LJ Sellers, who describes herself thus: Author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mysteries & standalone thrillers: The Sex Club, The Gauntlet Assassin, The Baby Thief, and The Suicide Effect.

2. Keep your profiles brief
No one likes overkill in anything, even Twitter handles. Remember that less is more when it comes to describing yourself, so be brief and descriptive. A good example comes from self-publishing guru, JA Konrath, whose Twitter profile is simple and elegant: I write thrillers.

3. Keep them on-point
If your goal is to use Twitter to sell books, then make sure that’s a main point of reference when you describe yourself. If you have other goals for yourself, list them in your profile. For example, best-selling suspense author Bob Mayer describes himself thusly: NY Times Bestselling Author, Speaker, Consultant, Former Green Beret, CEO Cool Gus Publishing.

4. Be professional
In summary, if you want yourself and your books to be taken seriously by readers, then be serious about how you present yourself on social media sites. Your potential Twitter followers (and, hopefully, future fans) will thank you for it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Tao of Book Publicity

Of all the books I’ve kept on the nightstand next to my bed, there are two that stand out as mainstays over the years. One is Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. I am perpetually fascinated by the simple truths – self-reliance, economy, and simplicity – described in those pages, and find myself going back to them often for inspiration and guidance.

The other book that has provided years of inspirational nighttime reading is the Stephen Mitchell translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Written during the 6th century BC by the sage Laozi (or Lao Tzu, which means "Old Master"), a record-keeper in the Zhou Dynasty court, the 81 poems that make up the book comprise an instructional guide for everything from politics and governance to practical wisdom and tips for self-knowledge. The concepts have to do with developing humility, compassion, and moderation in how we govern ourselves and others, including learning to yield when the chips are down. Rather than pursuing desire, the Tao emphasizes being willing to step back, listen, and operate from a central place of quiet certainty. In the world of the Tao, those who are stubborn and rigid in their beliefs will suffer, while those who remain open and flexible prevail.

While perusing the Tao the other night, I was struck by how much of its simple wisdom applies to book publicity. Many authors find the marketing side of publishing crass and stressful, but there are aspects of promotion that can be explained and illuminated by some of the principles in the Tao. Here are a few that seem to apply:

The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is open as the sky.

Most of the authors I work with come to me for one of three reasons: they know what to do, but don’t have the time to promote their work themselves; they don’t know what to do and would like some help; or they’ve already tried to promote their books, but have not had much success. My first suggestion in all these cases is that these authors take a moment to observe what is happening with their genre and target market, and then sit quietly and consider what it is they want in the way of promotion. I ask them to decide what sales numbers they hope to achieve, what kinds of publicity they’d like (media interviews? book tours? speaking tours? reviews?), and finally, how much they’re willing to spend to make those goals a reality. Authors have to be comfortable with what we’re doing as a team and how much they’re spending on their publicity programs, and they also have to have some level of trust with what I’m recommending for them. The clients who end up having the most success are often those who listen to suggestions about how to proceed, are willing to embrace the process we agree to undertake, and open their hearts to new ideas and ways of doing things.

Those who know don't talk.
Those who talk don't know.

Those who contact me and want to tell me that they already know everything there is to know about book promotion and publicity are often, ironically, authors who have never published a book before, or who have tried it and have not had any success. But those who are willing to admit that they don’t know much about the process, and who listen to and trust their publicist’s expertise, are generally more successful than their all-knowing brethren. Why? Because the business of PR, strangely enough, comes from a place of not-knowing. We have no guarantees that a producer or editor will like our pitch, nor can we strong-arm him or her into accepting it. All we can do is use our established connections and relationships, our experience, and the knowledge at hand to make the best pitch we can.

Likewise, we can make educated guesses about the target readership for a book and where that readership exists, but there are no guarantees that after we reach them, the readers will buy. With publicity, the best we can do is put our work out there and trust that our publicity contacts and knowledge will open the path and allow the right exposure to happen.

Those who claim to already know it all are often surprised at this; they mistakenly believe that there is a magic formula (a certain number of radio appearances, a certain kind of media list) that will make their sales suddenly sky-rocket. That kind of magical result usually doesn’t occur; in most cases, it is the author who takes careful, steady, well-planned steps toward reaching his audience who will ultimately achieve a desirable level of awareness for himself and his books.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

I receive a lot of books from potential clients and so many of them are, sadly, not ready for public consumption. As the Tao suggests, rushing a piece of writing to market without the proper preparation, revision, editing, and packaging, can be a recipe for failure. Better for authors to allow adequate time for writing projects to develop and flourish, giving them the experienced, professional polishing and packaging they require before releasing them to the world.

Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.

Making the long journey of book promotion a successful one by breaking it up into small steps is wise advice for authors when they begin work with a publicist. At first, starting out can seem overwhelming, but there is a system to promoting a person’s work. Initially, we plan our strategy – we define the audience we’re targeting, we create lists of places where those targeted readers can be found, we map out our next steps, including setting up book and blog tours, scheduling speaking appearances, contacting media, sending out books for review, etc. We develop media kits, including press releases, author and cover photos, Q&A’s, etc. We place the releases on the news wires, we work with our established contacts, we develop a schedule, and we move forward, knowing that this series of small steps will eventually help us to complete our journey and accomplish the great task of allowing the author’s work to become known.
Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at, or visit her at, on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Easily the most compelling WWII narrative I've ever read. The story of Olympic track star Louie Zamperini, from Torrance, CA, starts out slow, but as other readers have noted, it is indeed worth staying with the book -- after the first 100 pages, the story explodes with details about Zamperini's stint as an Air Force bombardier, flying in the notoriously dangerous B-24's before being shot down and lost at sea. The details of his harrowing 46-day-journey on the ocean without food or water, where he and his pilot are the only survivors, are barely outdone by the twenty-seven months of horrific starvation, torture, and vicious beatings at the hands of the infamous psychopathic Japanese corporal, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, referred to as "the Bird" by his captives.

Carefully and compassionately written, Hillenbrand's narrative never veers into melodrama or accusation; instead, she faithfully documents the details of Zamperini's life, including his family's steadfast belief that he was alive, even when the war department declared him dead, and his struggles with PTSD and alcoholism during a rocky return to civilian life after the war ended. I found some of the details in this book so amazing and, in parts, horrifying, that I read a number of passages aloud to my husband and daughter. Most unbelievable to me was the number of U.S. airmen lost due to aircraft accidents, engine failures, gas leaks, oil pressure problems, and faulty landing gear. In WWII, Hillenbrand writes, "35,933 AAF planes were lost in combat and accidents," and "in the air corps, 35,946 personnel died in non-battle situations, the vast majority of them in accidental crashes." It was a dangerous time to be an air force recruit, and for those who survived crashes in the ocean or on land, the horrors were just beginning if they were unlucky enough to be captured by the Japanese who, at that time, were indoctrinated into believing that POW's deserved to be beaten, starved, and enslaved, and ultimately executed in "kill-all" orders at the first signs of American invasion.

Everyone should read this book; it simply and clearly describes the horrors of WWII without sensationalizing or amplifying the details. The ghastly events that American POWs experienced during WWII become achingly vivid and real, which makes Louie Zamperini's trials and those of his fellow surviving servicemen, more compelling and unbelievable because, as Hillenbrand's book illustrates, their stories are true.

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Writers’ Salon: When It’s All About the Writing

A couple of months ago, I entered a Red Room ( writing contest and won free admission to the USC Writers Conference. Since this was the first annual writers conference for the university, I correctly assumed that it would be small (it was) and that most of the attendees would be USC students (they were). Even so, it was nice to spend some time at a conference as a participant rather than a speaker, and I enjoyed meeting the attendees and hearing the presentations, especially the keynote by Red Room founder and CEO, Ivory Madison.

Madison’s talk focused on the amount of time writers spend on peripheral writing activities versus the time they spend actually writing. As Madison pointed out, writers spend a lot of time on activities associated with writing that don’t involve creating any words. For example, she explained that talking about writing is not writing, reading about writing is not writing, blogging or perusing social media about writing is not writing, and yes, attending writers’ conferences is not writing. The only activity that can be considered writing, she said, is sitting down and actually putting words on the page.

One of the activities writers spend a great deal of time on is meeting in groups to critique each other's writing. Meeting in critique groups, Madison pointed out, can be useful for helping to revise a finished work, but it’s still time spent not writing. Although writers need feedback on their work, Madison recommends that they wait to do that until after the first draft of a work is completed.

Madison does acknowledge that writers are social animals, and that group energy and camaraderie are important to writers in helping to provide inspiration, keep each other motivated, and lend a shoulder to cry on during times when the writing gets tough. Although she doesn’t recommend critique groups during a work’s creation, she advocated belonging to what she calls writers’ salons. These are groups of writers who get together for a specified amount of time to do a limited amount of socializing, but whose main focus is to write (she runs a number of these for writers in the Bay Area).

I have personally been a member of some writers groups and found them invaluable when I was writing my first novel, Coyote Heart. Although the meetings did take up some time (my group usually met once a week for about 4 hours), I found the feedback and the interaction extremely helpful to honing my work. But Madison’s point about activities like critique groups taking time away from writing struck home with me. Though the feedback in these groups was useful, why did I have to get it as I went along? Couldn’t I finish a book and then work with a critique group, as Madison suggested?

While mulling this information over at the conference, I discovered that a number of the students there were also big fans of writers’ salons. One woman said that she was in a group that met weekly and found it productive and stimulating. Another said that her salon met online via Skype “We all just sit there and type,” she said. “All you hear are keys clicking while everyone gets the work done.” All of the attendees who are salon members agreed that they were the best way to get work done and still have a social connection with other writers. And all of them said that they were willing to wait until their books/works are completed before having anyone edit or critique them.

Since I had recently begun work on a new novel, I decided to try the writers’ salon concept once I returned home from the conference. There are a couple of organizations that run salons here in San Diego (San Diego Writer’s Ink, for example, runs weekly open writing sessions that cost $5 each to attend). But I decided to start my own unpaid group; I ran ads on Craigslist and in the newsletter of a friend who runs writing workshops and, within a week, was able to form a group of five members that has been meeting for two hours once a week.

What have I learned since starting a writers’ salon? First, it’s a lot easier to set up than a regular critique group. Most of the critique groups to which I’ve belonged required that the group members wrote in a similar genre (for example, all were novelists or short story writers). They also required that everyone wrote at a somewhat decent level, had the same level of comfort and experience with giving critique, and were committed to generating work every week for the group to review. Finding a group that meets all of these criteria can be a daunting task, and when a member or two drops out, groups often fold.

None of that is necessary in a writing salon. The salon concept requires that everyone be there to write, but what each person writes is up to him or her. So, in our salon, we have novelists, short story writers, poets, and song writers. Our group liked the idea of starting out with a ten-minute writing exercise, but after that and a little bit of chit-chat, we get down to work and write for a solid hour and a half (we usually set a timer). After that, the group is free to discuss the writing, share ideas, questions, and concerns, and then disband until the next meeting.

At first, I was a little leery of the notion of writing with a bunch of other people sitting around the table, but I’ve found the group sessions to be amazingly energizing and productive. And the best part of being in a writers’ salon is that there is little-to-no drama. Since we aren’t there to critique each other’s work, there is none of the hurt feelings or resentment that often comes with honest judgment of what we’re each producing. If any of us wants his/her work critiqued, we can easily arrange that as a side option with our fellow group members or with beta readers and/or professional editors.

So, I’m glad I entered that Red Room contest and especially glad to hear what Ivory Madison had to say. If I hadn’t entered, I would never have met the members of my salon group, who I’ve come to treasure, or made as much progress on my new novel, which is moving along nicely.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why the Rush? Make Sure Your Book is Ready Before You Put It Out There

Ripeness is all. King Lear, Act V. Scene II., William Shakespeare

In a recent interview at the blogsite On Fiction Writing, OFW editor Renee Miller asked me to name the three specific things a writer can do to ensure success (you can read my response here). Even though my job is to market books, my answer has little to do with marketing.

We publicists prattle on an awful lot on our blog and social media sites about the importance of building a platform. We urge authors to develop their celebrity and expertise by giving talks, teaching classes, and writing articles. We push authors to set themselves up as experts in their fields, advising them to create web and blogsites and spend hours of precious time introducing themselves via social media.

But if a book isn’t good, no amount of platform-building is going to help to ensure its success. Many of the samples I receive from authors who believe their work is ready for publication are sadly lacking in character development, structure, or content, and a good majority have not been edited. Some have inappropriate covers, often designed by the authors themselves, or by those who have little experience in cover design. These books, no matter how much the author works the marketing side of the equation, will never be successful.

My question to these authors is: Why the rush? Why be in such a hurry to put out work that has not been properly revised and correctly packaged? And why in heaven’s name would you want to spend your hard-earned money publishing a book that has never been edited?

My sense is that many authors yearn to follow the paths of those who have self-published and are making a living selling their books. The possibility of earning income, combined with the ego-stroke of being a published author, can be tantalizing, creating an anxiety that results in a rush to release work before it’s ready.

But authors should remember that many of those who are successful have worked a long number of years to get to this point in their careers. And the majority of them have taken the time to make sure their books are polished and ready before they are available to readers.

It takes a long time to write a book. And, if done correctly, it can take even longer to revise it and have it edited and properly formatted. But authors should ask themselves: Do they really want to throw a book out there that isn’t ready and risk negative feedback and poor sales?

Or, is it worth it to wait, giving the book the necessary revision, editing, and design that will ensure its success? Only the author can make this decision, and it is a crucial one.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Best Timing for Book Publicity

To everything, there is a season, and after many years of helping authors publicize their work, I’ve learned that some seasons that are better than others for certain aspects of book promotion. Here are my recommendations on timing for book publicity (note: this is general advice based on my experience as a publicist; your experiences may be different, depending on the kind of book you’ve written, whether you are traditionally or self-published with ebooks or print versions (or both), and the specific media and venues you plan to approach):

1. The best time to promote a new book: the first 6-8 months after its release
The first 6-8 months that a book is out is the best time period to promote it, because that is when authors are most likely to receive yes nods from booksellers and members of the media for signings and interviews (except for those topics that tie in with breaking or hot news topics: then an older book can be considered timely). When I work with new clients, I tell them to plan on spending the majority of their promotional time, travel, and budget during the first 6 months after release; after that, I recommend they get back to work on their next books.
2. The best time for book signings and tours: spring, summer, and early fall
Booksellers are more apt to say yes to signings in the spring, summer, and early fall, especially in those areas of the country where winter weather might be an issue. Most bookstores don’t want to host authors during the holidays; they have enough traffic in their stores at that time. And many of them don’t begin to set event dates on their calendars until after the start of the new year.
3. When to begin calls to book spring, summer and early fall signing tours: January – March
See #2 above – most booksellers start filling out their spring, summer, and fall schedules right after the new year. Big name bookstores will sometimes book signings months in advance, so be prepared to start early for those venues that are highly sought after.
4. The worst time for book tours: late November – early January
Winter is quiet for booksellers, but it can be a good time for presentations to clubs and professional organizations (although many organizations set their schedules early, so plan to start calling at the beginning of the year to obtain speaking spots).
5. The best time to hold giveaways for new books: just prior to or immediately after release, and ongoing
To help drive initial reviews and buzz, giveaways are best held just before a book is released or immediately after its release date. Some reader sites have specific windows for giveaways (Goodreads, for example, allows authors to give away prerelease copies of their books, but will only allow giveaways for published books that are within six months of their release dates), so check the guidelines for timing. Ongoing giveaways are good, as well, especially if you are an author with a number of books and can give away some titles to help drive sales with others.
6. The best time to book conference speaking engagements: 6 months -1 year in advance
Those authors who would like to give presentations or workshops at conferences should plan to do so early – most conferences schedule presenters a year in advance, and some are even booking two years ahead. If you know you want to speak at a certain conference, check the website for dates when calls for presenters begin and note deadlines for submitting applications.
7. The best time to seek jacket blurbs: 3-4 months prior to publication
Most authors who are traditionally published will have help from their editors on soliciting blurbs for their back covers, but self-published authors have to do this work themselves. I recommend contacting those whose endorsement you seek at least 4 months prior to publication. Be considerate to those you’re approaching and submit all or a portion of the book (this can be done in manuscript form) with enough time for the endorser to read what you’ve sent. And remember to acknowledge the generous gift of a positive blurb with a thank you afterward.
8. The best time to seek reviews: ongoing, but good to solicit some 3-4 months prior to publication, so that they are available when the book is released
Again, authors who are traditionally published will usually have help from their publishers with initial reviews, but self-published authors will have to handle reviews themselves. Traditional publishers will usually prepare advance review copies (ARCs) and send them to top-tier reviewers (New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, Library Journal, etc.) four months prior to publication. Self-published authors can approach reviewers (generally, mid-tier and online) once their book is in printed form or, in the case of ebooks, when the formatted files are available.
9. The best days to pitch news producers and editors: Tues/Wed/Thurs
When making publicity calls, I’ve found that the best days to actually reach news editors or producers fall during the middle of the week. Editors and producers tend to be busy or unavailable on Mondays, and Fridays seem to be the most difficult days to reach media people.
10. The best time of day to pitch radio and TV morning show producers: 6 – 8 a.m.
If you plan to pitch morning show producers, be ready to get up early. Most producers are in the studio well before 6 a.m. on days that shows are taped, and many of them will be unavailable once the show begins. If you miss a producer, be sure to leave a voice message and follow up with email info (press release, author photo, and book cover art). Be aware of time differences if you’re calling cross country, too.
11. The best time to pitch media for event coverage: 3 weeks prior to event date
This is my own personal preference, but I like to give print media the most lead time for feature stories (about 3-4 weeks). If you are calling magazines, their lead times can be quite long – from 3-6 months in some cases – so research their submission guidelines and plan accordingly. I usually make calls to radio and television producers about 2-3 weeks prior to events (I like to set up my clients’ events first, usually booking 6 months out, and then make media calls about 3 weeks prior to each event to help drive traffic to it).
12. The best time to send out calendar listings: 2 weeks -1 month prior to event date
Many print and online publications will let you post listings on their websites. But check the guidelines for when listings must be done – most publications want them 2-4 weeks in advance of the event date.

Finally, many authors ask me about the best times to schedule their social media posts. For those who do a lot of posting on different sites, I suggest using a management dashboard like Hootsuite to schedule updates. As to specific timing, in his research on blogging, Hubspot's Dan Zarella gives the following guidelines:
-The best day/time to post on Twitter: Friday at 5 p.m. EST is considered the most retweetable time of the week.
-The best time for readership on blogs: early morning.
-The best days for Facebook sharing: Saturday and Sunday.
-The best time for Facebook sharing: around 9 a.m.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

On Fiction Writing- Interview on Book Publicity

This week I had the pleasure of being interviewed about the ins and outs of book publicity by editor Renee Miller at On Fiction Writing. You can read the entire interview here:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Stop Hiding Behind that Laptop! How to Use Events to Get More Media Coverage

Okay, we’ve all read the success stories about big-name authors who have gone the self-publishing route and are making a living selling their books. These authors appear to have it made, as they pump out books and chronicle their sales on blog and social media sites. Writers flock to these sites, eager to hear news of the demise of traditional publishing and the latest tidbits about sales numbers. To new authors who yearn for similar success, the path certainly appears rosy and paved with a certain amount of gold.

But what many new authors don’t realize is that a good number of successful self-published authors have a long list of books they’ve spent years writing and promoting. Some of these successful authors have, at one time, been traditionally published, in addition to being self-published. And many of them can describe long days and evenings spent pressing the flesh at book signings, selling their books out of the trunks of their cars and at conferences and street fairs, building and growing social networking communities, and doing the hard slog of developing a following of readers who will eagerly buy the next book they have coming out.

For those who are new to the game, especially you first-time authors, things are a little different. There is no built-in fan club anxiously anticipating your first book. Most brand new writers have yet to do the hard work of building that base, reader by reader, reviewer by reviewer, social networking follower by follower.

Despite not yet having a following, many first-time authors will call me and say, “Hey, I want media coverage for me and my book.” But, here’s the thing: unless you are a celebrity or subject expert, or have a built-in following of readers, you’re not likely to get much interest from the media because of your book alone.

To be successful with media producers, editors, and reporters, you have to offer them news. And, no, just the fact that you – a first-time author with no following – have written a book, is not news. There are 300,000 other authors each year who also have written books and are calling these same editors, reporters, and producers.

So, tell me: What makes you special? What makes you stand out from all the other first-time authors who have published a book this year? And what is newsworthy about you and your book?

Authors should take some time to reflect on these questions and figure out what they can say about themselves and their books that is of value (i.e., is news) to the news media. Most of the time (especially in the case of fiction), there isn’t much to say. The book may be good, the author may be a nice guy or gal, but that’s not enough of a newsworthy pitch to give to a producer or a reporter.

So, how do you break through if you’re a newly published author?

There are a number of options out there for authors who want to build a platform, and many of them are oriented around using online videos, web and blog sites, and social networking forums to establish expertise and build a following. Networking online is an important part of platform-building, and all authors should still pursue these outlets as part of their promotional plans.

But having an online presence doesn’t always translate into media coverage. So, in addition to building their online networks, I recommend that authors create news around their books by scheduling speaking engagements at bookstores, libraries, professional organizations, or other targeted venues. Why? Because when you have an appearance scheduled, you and your publicist now have a local news event to pitch. The fact that someone has agreed to let you give a presentation gives you credibility and allows the media representative who is reporting on you and your book to give readers, viewers, or listeners a place to go to see or hear you after an interview.

Now wait a minute, some of you may say, we’ve heard that book signings and speaking engagements are a waste of time. They’re a lot of trouble to set up, promote, and even get to, and often no one comes to them.

Well, sometimes that’s true – you can’t always predict who will show up for an event, even if it’s well-promoted beforehand. But, at least with an event, you have something to submit about yourself and the book to the local newspaper event calendars. You have something (besides your platform and the book) to write about in a news release that can go out on the wires and appear in search engines and on all your social networking sites. And you have something, other than the fact that you wrote a book, to pitch to a newspaper/radio/television editor, reporter, or producer. In other words, you have news – the fact that you are appearing somewhere – to share.

So, why do authors resist the idea of making appearances to promote their books? Some do because it can be time-consuming and expensive to set up speaking engagements. Many authors don’t want to take the time to book the event, print promotional items, create and run ads, prepare presentations, and then travel for an appearance. Other authors resist because they’re shy, or they have issues with speaking in public. Some don’t like the idea of having to take time away from their writing. And many resist because they stubbornly believe that all it takes is the right pitch and the media will magically say yes to a feature article or radio or TV spot.

But here’s something for authors to think about: even big name celebrities in entertainment and sports have to go out and do the appearance drill. Even though they are known to millions, teams that win the Super Bowl, actors with a new movie out, and singers with new CDs to hawk, all make appearances on late night television shows and at movie premieres, award ceremonies, fundraisers, and community events. Why? Because those events are necessary to promote whatever it is they’re selling. Even though they’re known commodities, the public’s attention span is short; most celebrities won’t be known for long unless they get out there and smile for the cameras.

So, before you call a publicist and ask for media coverage, think about getting out from behind your laptop and scheduling some book signings and speaking events. If you feel you don’t have much news to share, create some by scheduling appearances and using those events to help convince the media that you are worth an interview.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Taking a Moment to Thank Our Mentors

I love watching cooking shows on television, and Bravo’s Top Chef has always been one of my favorites. Last night’s episode, titled Mentor at Work?, included a challenge where the contestants had to prepare a dish for the chefs who had mentored them in their careers. One contestant, Paul Qui, became visibly emotional when his mentor, Tyson Cole at Uchiko, walked into the room. Of course, that started the waterworks for all the chefs and, I’m sure, some viewers (Paul won the challenge, which seems enormously fitting).

It’s no surprise that these talented chefs, who earn a living in an extremely demanding and creative field, exhibited such strong emotions when their mentors appeared before them. Those of us who have experienced some level of success in our careers, no matter what type of profession we’ve chosen, are likely to have had some help along the way. I know I did, and last night’s Top Chef episode got me thinking about the people who have made a difference in my work life.

I’ve worn many hats in my career – marketing communications expert, nonprofit director, college instructor, author – and in every job I’ve had, there have been individuals who have played an instrumental part in teaching me the ropes and encouraging me to carry on when the going got tough.

One of my mentors is Paul Woodring, now retired president of Respironics, Inc. Back in the 1980’s, Paul, then a VP at Puritan–Bennett Corporation, hired me as the fledgling manager of the communications department. Paul taught me to forget about my age and gender (I was in my early 20’s at the time) and be confident in my skills and decision-making. A consummate professional, he stood by me every step of the way during my time at the company.

But Paul’s greatest gift to me was the way he “walked the talk.” Whenever I came into his office, no matter how mundane my issue or how busy he was at the time, he laid his pen down, folded his hands together, and gave me his full attention. He was the best listener, and one of the best bosses, I’ve ever known.

I’ve had other strong mentors along the way: Donald Guss, Ph.D., the mercurial Milton scholar who mentored me while I was a graduate teaching assistant at UC Santa Barbara; Bob Bartholomew, my manager at Culler Scientific, who gave me my first chance at being a supervisor right out of college (I’m blessed to still be in touch with Bob and his wife, Cheryl, who live in the Bay Area); Michael Plopper, M.D., medical director at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, who was one of my bosses during my eight-year tenure as the executive director of the APA in San Diego. I’ll never forget my initial meeting with Mike – we sat down in his office and his first words were, “Tell me what I can do for you.” I feel so lucky to have worked with him, and the other physician leaders of the SDPS, who supported me in a job where I was the sole regular employee dealing with national councils, advocacy groups, state legislators, medical leaders, and local media.

As a writer, I’ve been lucky to live in an area that is rich with talented authors and teachers. In 2003, having never tried my hand at writing fiction, I took a creative writing class at Mesa College with author and college instructor, Bonnie Zobell. Bonnie pulled me aside after class at the end of the semester and told me about the San Diego State Writers’ Conference, which was coming up that weekend. “I really think you should go,” she said. I did go, and won my first Editor’s Choice Award from then Atria editor, Brenda Copeland. Brenda encouraged me to write a book (the piece I had submitted was a short story); I took her advice and wrote my first novel, Coyote Heart, another Editor’s Choice Award winner, which was represented by literary agent, Bob Tabian, and published in 2009 by Kirk House.

Another mentor in my writing life is fellow author, John Van Roekel, who I met in Bonnie’s class. At the time, John had already completed his first novel and had much more experience than me at writing and searching for an agent and publisher. He gave me terrific writing advice, acted as cheerleader and coach while I was drafting my own first novel, and has always been an encouraging supporter of my writing career.

I am blessed to have worked with all of these wonderful individuals, along with a host of others who I don’t have time or space to recognize here. My heartfelt thanks go out to all of them; they should know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without their encouragement and guidance.

Are there people who have made a difference in your life? If so, take a moment to thank them (or, if you're a chef, cook them a meal), and pay their generosity forward by mentoring those who can benefit from your support and expertise.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The 80/20 Rule: How to Promote Your Books Properly on Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, etc., have become an integral part of promoting books and building an author platform. However, authors must realize that there are right – and annoyingly wrong – ways to use these sites. Used correctly, sites like Facebook and Twitter can help authors position themselves as valuable sources of information and entertainment. Use these sites incorrectly, and authors risk coming across as self-absorbed and inexperienced.

When posting on social networking sites, authors should remember the 80/20 rule. This rule dictates that you spend 80% of your time posting about things other than your book, and 20% selling. That’s right – 80% of what you post should not be a sales pitch. Why is this true? Remember that readers are human beings, who long to make connections with others. They join social networking sites not to receive non-stop reminders to buy, but to develop relationships and learn about topics that matter to them.

So, what should you post 80% of the time? Well, the most important reasons to network are to build relationships with your readers and position yourself as an expert. Therefore, 40% of your posts should be personal: readers want to know about you, your personal life, your thoughts about writing, etc.

The other 40% should be about your subject area, so provide information that your target audience will find interesting and useful. If you’re not an expert in your field or are uncertain about writing on a specific subject area, write about things you do know, such as the steps you took to become a writer, what you’ve learned about your subject area while writing, etc. Share whatever expertise you have that your followers might find useful themselves.

The other 20% of the time, you can remind readers that you have a book they might be interested in purchasing. But be judicious with these posts; remember, some of your followers and friends will have already seen posts about buying your book before. Do your best to make your sales posts relevant and interesting; i.e., only issue these kinds of posts when there is something new to announce, such as a price increase, a revised edition, or an interesting review of the book.

What happens when you ignore the 80/20 rule? Do so at your peril; authors who post nothing on their social networking sites but constant reminders to buy their books will usually be ignored, or worse, deleted by their followers.

For those who wish to make the most of social networking and sell books (rather than offend visitors), here is a list of important do’s and don’ts:


…set up profile and fan pages on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google+, etc.

…post often about what’s happening in your life, your thoughts about your writing and your book’s subject area, and about topics relevant to your audience.

…if you use Twitter, retweet relevant posts by your followers. And thank them when they retweet yours.

…if you share information on Facebook, be sure to acknowledge the original source.

…if friends sign up for your Facebook fan pages, be gracious and follow theirs. Likewise, if someone follows you on Twitter, be generous and follow him/her back.

…share news about interviews, awards, sales, plans for sequels, etc.

…be inquisitive. Ask friends and followers for information and advice, and end your posts with invitations for others to weigh in.

…be social. Respond to your friends and followers when they post, and they will respond to you.


…constantly post announcements reminding people to buy your book. One announcement every few weeks is okay, but daily reminders will only serve to alienate your followers.

…constantly announce pricing changes and giveaways. Once in a while is okay, but do this too often and your audience will begin to tune you out.

…hog up the airwaves by posting too often. Be judicious and thoughtful about what you’re putting out there for others to read.

…post inane or useless information; especially avoid constant updates about mundane chores, errands, and household tasks,

…incite others with inflammatory political and/or religious statements. Unless your book is about one of these topics, you stand to alienate 50% of your audience with political and religious posts. Keep your posts professional and relevant, and leave the controversial topics for private conversation at home.

…send out automatic responses to new followers urging them to “take a look” at your website, Amazon account, or segment of a book. Develop a relationship with your followers first, before you clobber them with a back-handed sales pitch.

…send automatic responses at all (they come across as perfunctory and meaningless).

…blow your own horn. Listing yourself as an amazing, bestselling, renowned, etc., author, especially if the book is your first, can be off-putting and make readers see you as pathetic and insecure.

…trash agents, editors, reviewers, or other writers (and if you’re a publishing professional, don’t bash or belittle potential or actual clients). Nothing alienates writers and readers more than someone who appears unkind or has a personal axe to grind.

Finally, as with all other areas in your life, do your best to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Follow the 80/20 rule, be a gracious, supportive, and conscientious social networker, and readers will look forward to reading your posts and buying your books.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Top Four Methods for Increasing Brand Recognition and Sales in Book Marketing

I recently asked some of my clients to let me know how their sales went this past year and what methods they thought worked best in their book publicity campaigns. A number of methods stood out, but here were their top four picks:

1. Targeted Speaking Engagements

The number one method for building brand recognition and sales, according to almost all of my clients, is targeted speaking engagements. Those who appeared before niche groups to give presentations, and then sold their books afterward, said that this method was by far the best way to reach audiences and sell books.

Here’s a comment from Ona Russell, author of the legal mysteries The Natural Selection and O'Brien's Desk ( about the power of targeted speaking engagements:

“Book signings rank pretty low on the effectiveness scale, while speaking engagements are, for me, the best way to increase exposure and sales. That gig you got me at the Writer's Guild far exceeded expectations – I sold a ton of books there. Same goes for the law lectures you arranged. When you get a chance to showcase your skills and tell your personal story, audiences are more receptive to hearing about (and purchasing!) your book(s).”

2. Media Interviews

Many of my clients also mentioned media interviews, including print, radio, and television, as being effective marketing tools for selling books. Here’s what Greg Fournier, author of Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel (, had to say about his radio interviews:

“The WDET - PBS interview was the high point of my experiences and the timing worked out great for me. My webmaster added it to my novel's website, and it is getting hit regularly. I hooked up with a free online radio booking outfit and have two web-radio interviews lined up - one at the end of the month and one in March. The subject is "Racism in America and the Obama Era" or some variation of that. The PBS interview online helped me score these new bookings.”

3. Giveaways and Promo Items

Other clients found that using giveaways and promotional imprinted items helped increase sales. Carol Cronin, U.S. Olympic sailor and author of Oliver's Surprise, Cape Cod Surprise, and A Game of Sails (, explains how this method worked for her:

“My most successful selling tool is business cards I made up with the book's cover and a brief synopsis plus blurbs. I hand them out everywhere, on airplanes (see my blog post called "Airplane Sales"), in restaurants, at parties. Those that are already reading ebooks are psyched to be given a recommendation; those who are not yet reading ebooks are intrigued (especially by the QR codes).”

4. Social Media/Blogging

Finally, almost all of my clients mentioned using social media, especially blogging, as a powerful way to engage with readers and build brand identity and sales. Greg Fournier said, “The surprise of all that has happened is that my blog seems to be a qualified success. I have had over 2,700 hits in seven months, starting at ground zero. I have written fifty-six posts, and I enjoy the result of writing them more than the agony of deciding what to write about.” Carol Cronin added: “Social media has been a good tool, especially blogging. People like getting to know the "behind the scenes" stuff, as long as it's not too technical. And passion and personality continue to be the best sales tools.”

What methods have you found to be the most successful for creating brand recognition and sales for your books?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

10 Tips for Writers on Where to Find Ideas for Blog Posts

A friend of mine posted on his Facebook author page that he was looking for ideas for posts on novel writing. Running out of ideas is a common problem for people who post a lot (or those of us who are just plain stumped when it comes time to write a post). Since blogging is an important component of an author’s promotional mix, it’s crucial to keep the topics flowing. So, what can authors do when the well runs dry? Here are my suggestions:

1. Write about what's happening with you and your writing – your writing process, your writing group, conferences you're going to (or would like to attend), your thoughts on writing, your status with your latest book, what you’re reading, what you’d like to be reading, writers who inspire you, etc.

2. If you’re comfortable with sharing your personal life, intermix your writing posts with a few personal anecdotes about what’s happening in your life. Sometimes an event in your day-to-day life will trigger thoughts or ideas that work their way into your written work; share those.

3. Discuss your writing hopes and dreams, how you plan for the future, your vision for yourself as a writer. Other writers are always interested in future trends

4. If you’re an expert in a field, share tips on that subject area.

5. Post a photo or a quote and describe why it pleases or inspires you.

6. Write responses to articles on writing. You can post them and then comment on them, or just share your thoughts about them (reference them with a link).

7. Use Twitter and LinkedIn to get ideas for posts. You can build up your Twitter lists by following other writers (there are thousands of them out there!). If you're not sure who to follow, go to the pages of people you follow who have a lot of followers and choose from their lists. Or check the Twitter hashtags for writing ideas.

8. Google any topic on writing and you're bound to find lots of links on subjects that will strike a chord with you. Give your followers your take on those topics, or start a thread about a subject you find in your searches.

9. Check out other writers’ web and blogsites and see what topics are trending there. Likewise, look at social media, networking, and publishing sites that focus on reading and writing (Goodreads, AbsoluteWrite, Publetariat, BookTrib, The Passive Voice, etc.)

10. Finally, you don't always have to reinvent the wheel. If you’ve been blogging for a while and have posts that are popular or followed a lot, post them again, with updates and comments on what others have said.