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.