Monday, November 11, 2013

Ten Tips on Using Social Media to Promote Your Books

Many of my clients are stumped by the social media aspect of marketing their books. They understand that establishing a strong social media presence is important, but a good number of them avoid it because it appears time-consuming and somewhat daunting.

But creating an effective social media marketing strategy doesn’t have to be difficult. I recommend that authors focus on sites that will give them the most bang for their time and effort. Rather than attempting to establish a presence on all sites, it’s better to start with two or three of them. For those new to social media, I usually recommend beginning with Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, and building a presence on those sites first before expanding to others.

As far as what to post on a site, the most important concept to understand is why readers use social media in the first place. Most people don’t visit social media sites in order to be sold goods and services; they’re there to connect with others and to learn about topics that interest them. So, the best way an author can sell books via social media is to build relationships with readers. Authors will find the most success by being themselves and sharing items that are relevant to them personally. And those interested in the same topics are the best folks to friend or follow; ultimately, they’ll be likely to follow back and peruse an author’s posts and tweets with interest.

Here are ten tips on how authors can make their social media sites work for them:

1. Start your social media efforts early, at least a few months before your book is scheduled for release. Many authors wait until their books are out before becoming active on and/or participating in social media sites. Don’t wait until the last minute – it takes time to build an audience, so give yourself a few months to friend/follow others and develop relationships. And don’t stop with a few friends or followers; set aside time each week (one hour a week is plenty) to follow others and add friends to each of your social media sites.

2. Use your author name as your Twitter handle or your Facebook page title. Take some time and prepare a good, strong sentence for your bio (my recommendation is to keep it professional and brief, and avoid overused catch phrases regarding food, cats, being a nerd, etc.). Also, for consistency, be sure to use this same biographical sentence on all your social media sites. Include a photo of yourself rather than your book cover (this helps with the relationship-building, so that readers identify with you as a person). Include a URL that links to your blog or your website, so that readers know where to go to find out more information about you.

3. Focus on readers (rather than other writers) in your posts and tweets. Spend some time determining who your target reading audience is, where you can best reach those readers, and what will interest them the most.

4. Be a generous participant – post often on your social media sites. Share information that you find interesting and/or that you think readers might like.

5. If you’re stumped on what to post, retweet others’ posts on Twitter, and express your thanks when others retweet you. Comment on readers’ blogsites and social media sites and link back to posts that you find interesting or that you think your readers might like.

6. Use dashboards like HootSuite, Threadsy, Tweetdeck, etc., to schedule posts on social media sites. Be sure to schedule at different times to reach readers who reside in different time zones. If finding time to manage your sites is an issue, consider hiring someone to do some of the scheduling work for you. It doesn’t have to be expensive – a tech-savvy high school or college student can be a great help with scheduling posts and updating info on sites.

7. Don’t be a selfish friend or follower – refrain from posting constant invitations to buy your book, and be judicious about sharing snippets from your work. Instead, be a source of information for your followers --- build relationships with them by providing valuable information and responding to their questions and comments in a friendly, professional manner.

8. Use your social media sites to distribute interesting info about yourself or your book. Announce contest wins, event appearances, new releases, blog posts, and general news that will help readers learn more about you and your book. Do this without pressuring your audience to buy; instead, keep the focus on providing information and developing relationships with your readers.

9. Offer to guest post on other social media sites and blogs and return the favor to those who might be interested in appearing on your sites. Contact other authors whose work is similar to yours or who write in the same genre, and consider working together to create genre or topic-specific blog sites with posts you can then share with your social media followers.

10. Be careful with the content on your social media sites. Steer clear of political or religious statements, and avoid undue criticism of others. Your goal is to build relationships, not destroy them, so avoid any topic that is likely to offend readers who might not share the same views.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Straight Talk for Authors: What to Consider Before Hiring a Publicist

Ah, publicity.

As soon as a book is published (or sometimes sooner), many authors -- especially first-timers -- believe that hiring a publicist is the first step on the promotional to-do list.

But is it? Should all authors hire publicists?

You’d think, since I’m a publicist, I’d be the first to say yes. But before you hire a publicist, please consider the following:

1. Public relations, or publicity, is just one aspect of promoting a book.
Many authors assume that in addition to promoting the author and his book to the media, publicists will also issue daily Tweets, upload Facebook and blog posts, take care of marketing the book on social cataloging websites, handle distribution issues, create and place paid advertisements, send in contest entries, mail out copies to reviewers, set up blog tours, schedule signing events, etc. While many publicists have branched out and do handle some of these tasks, a number of them don’t.

Traditionally, publicists create press releases and media kits, handle media inquiries, and pitch their clients’ work (or the client himself) to print, radio, television, and Internet media representatives, including producers, editors, and reporters. Publicists also assist their clients with interviews and event appearances and (in the case of celebrities or better known authors) can help with damage control when public images become tarnished.

Some publicists have become adept at doing more than just media work and offer additional services, such as booking speaking engagements or setting up blog tours. But the majority of the publicists out there are focused on media relations. For this reason, authors shouldn’t assume that a publicist is trained or interested in handling all aspects of marketing. Publicity is just one part of marketing, and many publicists specialize in media work and nothing else.

2. Not every author has a platform or book that is promotable.
Many readers will shudder at the audacity of item 2 here, but it’s necessary to speak this truth. Not all authors have developed their platforms enough (in fact, some have no platform at all) to be worthy of attention from the media. And not all books (brace yourself here) are written or edited well enough to merit media coverage.

In order to be of interest to the media, an author or his book must be newsworthy; i.e., the author must have some specialty or area of expertise that is interesting to a news producer or editor, or the book must cover a topic that is relevant and newsworthy to a media audience. Before rushing out to hire publicists, authors need to first do a little honest soul-searching and ask themselves, “Do I have specialized expertise or some type of compelling experience that is news? Does my book cover a topic that is in the news right now? Am I or my book (or a combination of both) truly newsworthy?” If an author can answer yes to any of these questions, then the next question (and this one can be much harder to answer) is: “How so?”

If an author can’t answer these questions (or isn’t sure that the media outlets he’d like to approach would consider him or his book news), then perhaps it isn’t time to hire a publicist. This is often the case with first-time authors, who haven’t yet developed a track record with readers or haven’t created a unique and memorable brand for themselves.

Instead, those who need to develop a platform should probably work on that first. How? By creating and maintaining meaningful social networks, developing a following of dedicated readers (which might mean writing more than one book), creating a brand or image within a specific genre, developing a reputation as an expert through teaching, speaking, or writing articles, etc. Then, once there is something of interest to offer media outlets, consider finding someone to help with exposure.

3. Even with a compelling platform and/or a book that is somehow newsworthy, there is no guarantee that a publicist will be able to obtain media exposure.
This fact might be surprising to some, but here’s the honest truth: hiring a publicist does not automatically guarantee coverage in the media. An author can have a compelling background, and her book can touch on a topic that the author and her publicist consider a hot news item. But authors need to remember that producers and editors (along with book bloggers, book reviewers, and contest judges) are inundated with queries about authors and their books every day. So, even if you have a newsworthy story, and your publicist does a good job of pitching it, there is no guarantee that a media representative will be interested, or that she hasn’t seen/heard that story before. It may be a good story, but timing, saturation, deadlines, space issues, and a host of other reasons can cause even a good pitch to be ignored or refused.

Being passed over by a producer or editor doesn’t mean that the author hasn’t written a good book or doesn’t have a great platform (or that the publicist isn’t doing her job). What it means is that coverage in the news is a tricky – and sometimes serendipitous – business. A publicist cannot force a media representative to like a pitch about an author or his book. The reporter, producer, or editor who hears the pitch has to decide if it’s a story that a) he can use, b) will interest his audience, and c) hasn’t been covered already by that particular (or any other) media outlet. Of course, there is no way to know if an editor will to say yes to feature coverage, but authors should realize that even if their platforms and stories are good, they will sometimes (more often than not, in some cases) hear a no.

4. Publicity sounds good, until the first interview.
I can’t tell you the number of clients (okay, I can, but I won’t) who have hired me to handle publicity for them, and then panic as soon as the interview requests come rolling in. If you hire a publicist, then you have to expect that you’re going to be in the public eye, which may include speaking engagements and interviews. If you’re uncomfortable in front of a camera, a microphone, or a live audience, then hiring a publicist could be problematic. Yes, you can ask your publicist to only to obtain online or print interviews for you, but that might limit how much exposure you allow yourself. In general, you can bank on the fact that, if you and your book are newsworthy, a publicist is going to help you to be seen in the public eye – and that usually includes public appearances and radio and television interviews.

5. Publicity costs money that you may not have budgeted.
Many authors become so wrapped up in the aspects of writing and publishing their books that they forget that marketing the book will require some capital. Generally, most publicists charge a monthly retainer or, like me, work on an hourly basis. It’s a good idea to shop around and see what agencies and individual book publicists are charging, so that you have a clear idea of what a publicity campaign might cost. It’s also important to know what kind of publicity you’re looking for and how much you’d like to spend on that aspect of your marketing budget before you contact a publicist, so that you can ensure that there is a good fit between you and the professional you’d like to hire.

So, now that I’ve discussed caveats to consider before hiring a publicist, when is it safe to do so?

The best time to hire a publicist is when:

a) You have a well-written, professionally designed and edited book and its contents are somehow newsworthy.

b) Your book is set up for distribution in both online and print versions.

c) You have a platform that is newsworthy.

d) You have a clearly distinguishable brand image for you and/or your book.

e) You have a clearly defined genre and audience (your book may fit into more than one category and appeal to more than one audience; if so, that’s good – just be sure you can articulate it/them to your publicist when you’re ready to hire her).

f) You are comfortable with being in the public eye and are committed to making appearances once they’re booked.

g) You have a budget for publicity.

h) You are willing to trust your publicist’s expertise and let her do her job.

Once you feel you and your book are ready, pay attention to what your potential publicist requests from you in the way of information. Most will want to read the book first and discuss with you what you’re looking for in the way of publicity, so be ready to provide that info. Network with other authors for recommendations on publicists they’ve worked with who might be a good fit for you and your book, and always ask for references before you hire.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Marketing 101 (and How Publicity Fits Into the Picture)

This article appeared in the May 2013 issue of Author Magazine:

When it comes time to market a book, many authors believe that certain aspects of promotion are more important than others. Some feel that Internet marketing is the answer to sagging sales, while others think that simply hiring a publicist will address their sales problems. Some focus mainly on items like book videos or blog tours, while others rely on repeated pleas to their social networking followers in the hopes of encouraging them to buy.

But savvy authors know that it takes an integrated marketing approach to succeed in today’s crowded book market. And, although many authors don’t want to hear it, the traditional rules of marketing apply to selling books, just as they do for other products.

So, what are the rules of marketing? Authors who have studied the subject (most likely in college) will recall that a marketing mix is made up of two components: a target audience and a marketing strategy.

Defining an author’s target audience is not too complicated. Authors can look at the books they’ve written and ask themselves: who would read this? Women? Men? Young adults? Children? Authors can also break down those broad audience categories by genre (mystery readers, fantasy readers, fiction readers, nonfiction readers etc.) and demographics/psychographics, including age, sex, religious and political preferences, economic status, etc., to help identify more precisely the different audiences to whom their books might appeal.

The marketing strategy, however, is the more involved part of the marketing mix. Those who’ve studied traditional marketing will remember that a marketing strategy is made up of what we call the Four P’s: Product, Promotion, Price, and Place. Let’s take a look at each of them in terms that are helpful to authors.

Product – In traditional marketing, we define a product as either a physical object or a service that one person might sell to another person. In the realm of writing, an author’s primary product is the book itself.

But that’s not all an author is selling; in addition to the book, the author is going to be selling himself (his expertise, background, character, etc.). This is what we call the author’s platform, and it’s something that publicists and other marketing professionals consider part of the product package, along with the book.

In addition to the book itself and the author’s platform, the author can also sell or promote what I refer to as add-ons. These include events, appearances, signings, written articles, Internet and blog posts, and other items that the author creates to promote his book. These events or written items can be used as promotional collateral to pitch to media or other agencies that are looking for content for their websites, publication, and media programs.

As a publicist, I can’t emphasize how important having a good product is to the marketing effort. The book itself, and its ability to engage its audience, is the number-one factor in the entire marketing plan. Without a good book, there is no hope of success – a book must be well-written and professionally edited and designed in order for it to sell. The author must also have a platform; without it, the publicist (or the author herself) is left with only the book to sell. If an author is willing to writing articles and make public appearances, then that completes the product picture that she and/or her publicist will have to sell or promote to media.

Promotion – The traditional definition of promotion encompasses a number of techniques that help an author’s audience become aware of the book and motivate that audience to purchase it. These techniques include (but are not limited to) advertising, publicity, social media and Internet marketing (including the creation of websites and blogs, blog tours, book videos, podcasts, etc.), personal selling, direct marketing (via postcards, flyers, etc.), giveaways and tie-ins, etc.

The important thing for authors to note about promotion is that publicity is just one part of the promotional mix. I often get messages from authors insisting that they can’t hire me because they are going to hire a social media expert instead. I agree that authors should hire social media experts, especially if they feel they need help with setting up blogs and Facebook and Twitter pages, tweeting, blogging, etc. But that doesn’t mean that they also can’t hire a publicist (who, by the way, may use some of those social media tools to publicize the author’s work). The two are not mutually exclusive.

Publicity is just one part of an author’s promotional plan. Its purpose is to create awareness about the book and the author among the book’s target readers. A publicity plan usually includes creating a media kit (which contains items like the author’s photo, the book cover art, a press release, an author bio, and other items that describe the book and the author to the media), putting press releases on the newswires and relevant social media sites, setting up book tours and author appearances, scheduling online, print, radio, and television interviews, setting up blog tours, and creating other exposure opportunities for an author and his book.

Publicity is different from paid advertising in that it cannot be commissioned for a fee – a publicist can call and ask the media for an interview, but unless the author and the book are somehow newsworthy, there is no guarantee that an editor or producer will say yes. With a paid ad, an author is guaranteed that the ad will run in whatever publication or media it is placed. A feature that is obtained through publicity efforts, however, is not paid (aside from what the author might pay a publicist to pitch the idea to a media producer). Instead, a publicity feature in a newspaper, online news site, blog, or radio or television program is one that the editor or producer has chosen to produce because she feels the topic is of interest to her audience.

Price – Much has been written about the importance of correct pricing for books, especially now that the ebook market has changed the game for how readers buy. For hardback and paperback books, price is an important consideration in terms of the current economy and what an author’s target audience can afford (or is willing to spend) on a paper version of a book. Those booksellers that are still around generally advise authors to take care with the pricing of paperback books – if the price points are too high (generally over $16), booksellers will often refuse to shelve them in their stores.

Similar trends have developed in the ebook market, where the growing numbers of self-published authors have pushed the amount of offerings to a staggering collection of over three million titles. Competition to sell ebooks is now so fierce that authors and ebook-selling entities like Amazon, are offering them for free (with the hopes that the free books will help build awareness about the author by encouraging readers to promote via reviews or word-of-mouth).

The ebook market appears to be an elastic one (meaning that when the price is lowered, sales volume increases), making the .99 – 2.99 range the general rule-of-thumb for most self-published ebooks.

Place – Before the ebook explosion, distribution was a key element to making a book available to booksellers. Because booksellers prefer to do their ordering from one wholesale source, making a book available via distribution entities like Ingram and Baker & Taylor was an important consideration for publishers and authors. The traditional publishing houses with multiple titles would set up relationships with distributors for all the books they printed, and booksellers would then buy books from a number of publishers by going through one or two distribution companies.

Now that many authors are self-publishing their books, distribution has become a tricky issue. Because self-published authors typically only have a few books to sell, they’ve found that they have to locate distributors willing to work with individuals. There are companies out there that will do distribution for individual authors and help them place their books with those booksellers who still exist, but many authors have not thought about placement and distribution, and thus are often surprised that they have to address this aspect of marketing.

The advent of print-on-demand publishing (POD) has also changed distribution. Before POD publishing, traditional publishers printed large runs of books (called offset printing) and stored them in warehouses. These offset runs made ordering easier for wholesalers, who could immediately fulfill booksellers’ orders via a publisher’s warehoused stock.

With the advent of POD, especially among self-published authors, books are no longer warehoused; instead, they are printed in specified quantities as the books are ordered. For booksellers who prefer to buy from distributors, POD books present a problem – they are not always immediately available, and therefore (in the minds of booksellers), cannot be easily ordered through the sellers’ preferred distributors. Self-published authors will often find that booksellers turn down their requests to stock their books simply because the books are POD and/or unavailable through the sellers’ preferred distribution channels.

This situation can make self-published books less available to readers, especially those who have not yet purchased an ereader or who to prefer to read paper books. While the ebook market is growing exponentially, it still represents a small percentage (approximately 20-30%) of the reading market. This means that if self-published authors don’t have distribution for their books, they can be relegated to selling mainly via the Internet, and thus must compete for fewer readers in a channel that has a huge number of titles available. Competition and availability are key components of the Place element in the author’s promotional plan, and therefore, it’s not one to ignore or take lightly.

The bottom-line here is that authors, and especially self-published authors, must take all of this – audience, product, promotion, price, and place – into careful consideration when they’re ready to market a book. Some fight it, and/or deny that certain of these elements aren’t important (or worth addressing) But those who do pay attention to each aspect of the marketing mix are the most likely to achieve success.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Profile of a Rising Star: Texas Author Pamela Fagan Hutchins

I’m often asked by bloggers and prospective clients to talk about some of my clients’ success stories. Here’s one I’m happy to share: Pamela Fagan Hutchins, a Houston attorney who has written a number of nonfiction books, is experiencing great success with her first novel, a romantic thriller called Saving Grace. Pamela and her husband, Eric, who was once a bookstore owner, have sold over 5,000 copies of Saving Grace since its launch in November of 2012. They delivered an additional 33,018 copies of the book in a free download on Amazon that pushed Saving Grace to three weeks on the bestseller lists and netted Pamela’s novel nearly 100 reviews.

Pamela has been featured in numerous print, radio, and television interviews and has given over 30 blog interviews. She has appeared at bookstores throughout Texas and will be touring nationwide with Saving Grace this summer.

I decided it might be better to let Pamela describe the reasons for her success in her own words. My interview with her is listed below. -PM

What have you done in the way of promotion to help sell Saving Grace?
A LOT! Of course we did the big giveaway with Amazon’s KDP Select, but we’ve also given away about 100 hard copies of the book to reviewers and in contests. I’ve done 14 book signings so far, with another 60 scheduled for this summer. I’ve done Q&As for book clubs, and a speech that dovetailed with the profession of my protagonist for a writers group, as well as several other speeches on general writing topics for writers groups. You mentioned the media (thank you for that, Paula!), and we even did some advertising in print media to promote some of the book signings. I also blog weekly (about 3000 views per month), and I actively engage in social media, mostly through Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. I entered Saving Grace in several contests, and was lucky enough to score some wins.

What would you say are the overriding reasons for your success with this novel?
I believe in my heart that Saving Grace is an enjoyable read, but my success comes mostly from the promotional efforts made by many, many other people to get some attention for this book. It’s easy to remain just a needle in a haystack with over half a million books published in 2012. I indie published, which makes my book an even smaller needle, but we -- my husband and I are partnering on this indie publishing adventure -- decided to really go for it with my debut novel, including pitching the book for chain distribution with Hastings Entertainment and Barnes and Noble, as well as booking me for roughly 80 events. In the end, it comes down to good, old-fashioned hard work.

Many pundits are dismissive of authors who sell books at bookstores. Do you agree? Why or why not?
I don’t agree! I’ve found that having a presence in book stores is important for a number of reasons. First, when I hold a book event, like a signing, I reach new readers who prefer to shop brick and mortar stores. Yes, there are still millions of diehards who refuse to give this antiquated practice up! Second, a print book placed in someone’s hand has a life beyond electrons. You’re making a tangible connection with a reader, who in turn can carry that book around with them where other people see it, lend it to others, or even give it as a gift. Third, placement in book stores stimulates ebook sales. I’ve found that most people need to see the cover of Saving Grace and/or my name several times before it tips them to the buying point. Seeing my book on the shelves in a store counts as one of those times, a highly-legitimizing time. My ebook sales always surge in the wake of book events.

How has the publicity work we’ve done together helped you? Would you recommend that other authors hire a publicist?
Paula, you’ve been such an important part of our marketing and promotion. You were absolutely key to achieving our goals for Saving Grace in its first six months. For us, this first novel is all about gaining readers for my future books. You’ve booked me in print, radio, and TV, gotten me events in great stores, and helped us net fantastic reviews with Kirkus and Midwest Book Review. You’ve placed timely and effective releases on the wires, too. Because of these things, my events exceeded our expectations, helped us gain distribution with chain stores and made this 60-city tour feasible. We’ve learned so much from you, too. I highly recommend working with a publicist for other authors. I didn’t have the time to do what Paula did for me, nor the expertise and contacts to do it as well as her, even if I had the time.

What do you consider to be the most important advice for authors who are just starting out?
Patience, Grasshopper. Write, write, and re-write. The writing is the most important thing, and the publishing side is a sloooowwww process. Even when you get published, you need patience, because then you will have to do things outside your comfort zone to promote your book, at the same time as you keep writing. It’s hard work and definitely not a get rich quick scheme, but it’s so rewarding. I wouldn’t trade it for any other work.

If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would change?
Yes!! As an indie author with a debut novel, Amazon is a tremendously important venue for me. I did KDP Select Free Days very successfully. However, two weeks later, Amazon removed Saving Grace from KDP Select because Apple’s iBookstore had not pulled the title down as I had requested through Smashwords. However, one week later I had the chance to put it back in KDP Select once Apple finally complied with the removal order, and we chose instead to experiment with ebook distribution through every available channel. My instincts told me then we were making the wrong call, and boy did it ever turn out to be a bad choice. I lost a lot of traction, sales, and rankings as a result, and we never got it back. The book has continued to do well, but it was doing amazingly well until then.

How would you describe your lifestyle since promoting this book? Do you have lots of time, or have you had to make some sacrifices to sell your book successfully?
I spend all my spare time working on book promotion and writing. I still have a day job, a husband, five kids, and four dogs, and manage to exercise, but that’s about it. We no longer have any social life outside book events. The planned tour itself, while exciting, will take me away from my husband for most of the summer, which for us is a huge sacrifice (we really like each other ;-)). However, I will have one of the dogs and a revolving cast of my young adult children with me, and I treasure the thought of all the one-on-one time I will have with each of them on the road.

What are your future plans for Saving Grace, and do you have any other books in the works?
Saving Grace is the first novel in the Katie & Annalise series. The second novel in the series, Leaving Annalise, comes out in August 2013. The third novel is called Missing Harmony, and we will release it in February 2014. I plan to continue promoting Saving Grace¸ but in conjunction with the other two. Each will get its turn in the spotlight. And, of course, there are more books -- fiction and nonfiction -- on the horizon as well! I’ll release What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One Too? in August 2013, as well.

If you’d like more info about Pamela or Saving Grace, visit or

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Interview in Hippocampus Magazine

From Hippocampus Magazine (

Interview by Lori M. Myers, Interviews Editor
with Paula Margulies, owner of Paula Margulies Communications

Several months ago I took part in a writers’ panel and was asked about my greatest challenge. I didn’t hesitate. “Knowing when to create and knowing when to market.”

Experts like San Diego-based Paula Margulies, owner of Paula Margulies Communications know how crucial it is for authors to reach their audience… and she helps them do just that.

Lori: It used to be that traditional publishers did all or most of the work when it came to marketing a book. What is the reality today?

Paula: Here’s the reality: whether they’ve decided to self-publish, or have signed contracts with traditional publishers, most authors will have to spend some time marketing their books. For many authors, this can be a stumbling block; they understand and enjoy the process of creating a book, but when it comes time to market it, an entirely different set of skills comes into play. For those authors who have no experience at all with marketing a product, there can be a steep learning curve. And many authors are unprepared for the amount of money and time involved in successfully promoting a book.

What are the most effective ways for authors to get the word out about their book AND sell?

There are a number of different ways an author can market a book. Having a good sense of the book’s audience (who are the typical readers, and where can they be found?) is the first step. Once an author has identified his reading audience, he should try to ascertain where his readers go for information about books, and then make sure that his book is mentioned in those places.

Generally, most authors will use a number of marketing methods to reach their individual audiences – they can place paid advertisements, hire a publicist to garner media features, appear at speaking engagements, professional meetings, book fairs, and other venues, do book signings (although bookstores are disappearing, there are some indies and chain stores still out there), write articles for journals, newspapers (print and online), and magazines, hold blog tours, give online interviews, gather book reviews and post them on their web and social media sites, reach out to readers on social networking sites, enter contests, etc. The list is endless and much of it will be dictated by the author’s platform and the book’s genre and audience.

Also important is the continuity that authors offer readers. Because of the extraordinary number of books released each year, readers are overwhelmed with information about what’s available to them. When readers find authors they like, they tend to stick with them and want to see more. Authors who have done the hard work of creating a fan base will need to hold on to it, and the best way to do that is to keep writing the books that their readers are eager to buy.

How effective is social networking (Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc.) when it comes to a book’s sale?

Social networking is crucial to marketing books, but it’s also just one piece in the marketing mix. Many authors spend a lot of time trying to promote themselves on social networking sites, often because it’s inexpensive and something they can do themselves. But if they neglect the other aspects of marketing (advertising, publicity, appearances, etc.), they may be missing opportunities that can give them more reach with their individual audiences. It’s important for authors to make sure their marketing plans are complete and balanced – spending too much time and/or energy on only one marketing channel will give them some audience reach, but they’ll want to explore as many avenues for reaching readers as they can if they want to achieve good sales numbers. (Note: There may be some authors who are successful marketing their books solely via social media; again, the correct marketing techniques will depend on each individual author’s platform and the book’s genre and audience).

How do you help authors as a book publicist?

I offer authors a chance to get their names and stories out in the media. I create media kits, write press releases and place them on the newswires, book speaking and signing events, pitch feature interviews to print, online, radio, and television editors and producers, provide information and assistance with gathering reviews and entering contests, and handle media relations.

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, I play a number of other important roles for my authors, including acting as an information resource, a sounding board for ideas, a cheerleader when the going gets stressful, a devil’s advocate when sorting through different promotional options, a reference for writing jobs, artist residencies, and contests, a reality check, and a source of inspiration and ideas. I’ve written more about this topic on my blog in a post called More Than Just Marketing.

How much I do for a client depends on what an author is looking for when s/he hires me. Some want only media exposure, while others want help booking speaking tours; some prefer not to make appearances and want help promoting themselves via blog tours or social media, while others are looking for help with reviews and contests, or need assistance with creating press releases, advertisements, or media kits. Each client is different, and his or her particular needs, platform, and budget dictate how I can help.

Are there certain genres of books that are easier to promote right now than others? What about creative nonfiction/memoir?

Yes, certain genres have large audiences and tend to be easier to promote, especially mystery, romance, and science fiction/fantasy. For example, many booksellers have mystery and romance book groups who meet regularly at their stores and are interested in signings with authors. These genres also have a number of professional groups, some nationwide, who hold meetings and conferences in states across the country. Some genres, like science fiction and fantasy, have huge followings and hold large conventions where fans gather (think Comic Con). Many genres have online groups and bloggers who discuss the books their readers like (historical fiction, romance, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, political nonfiction, LGBT fiction, and Christian fiction, for example).

Creative nonfiction and memoir are popular categories with authors; I’m approached every year by a huge number of memoir writers, who would like to generate publicity for their books. But in order to have a successful memoir, authors have to be sure that their personal stories are compelling to readers. This means that the book should have a traditional storyline structure, with a beginning, middle, and end. It also should have unusual characters or individuals who face high-stake circumstances that force them to change in some significant way. And, generally, in order to break out, memoirs have to be unique in some way – either the author is a celebrity, whose life story holds some interest for its audience, or the story is so different and compelling that it stands out from the readers’ own personal experiences. I’ve written in more detail about this in a post called What Makes a Good Memoir.

What challenges do self-published books bring when it comes to marketing? How about ebooks?

The biggest challenge for self-published books is the sheer number of them out there. Because there are so many books released each year (something like 3,000,000 of them in 2011; I haven’t seen data yet for 2012), the number of authors trying to get their readers’ attention has grown, and standing out in a crowd that large can be daunting.

Also challenging for ebook authors is the lack of printed copies of the book to send to reviewers (many still require them) or to sell in-person at fairs or after speaking and signing appearances.

And even though ebook numbers have increased by an exponential rate each year, there is still a significant number of readers (70 percent or so right now, although I believe that number will continue to shrink), who still prefer to read physical books, rather than ebooks. So, authors who choose to only sell in ebook format might be missing out on a significant portion of their reading audience if the majority of those readers still tend to buy printed books.

You are an author as well as a book publicist. Does that give you more of an understanding of what an author goes through to garner sales?

Yes, being an author myself definitely helps to understand both the writing process and what’s required to market a book. I had an agent for my first novel, Coyote Heart, which ended up being published by a small press. This happened a few years ago, just before the self-publishing market took off; if I had to do it over again, I would probably choose to self-publish. I like the idea of authors being able to control their marketing and sales efforts; perhaps this is why I’ve chosen to focus primarily on authors in my publicity business.

Is there a success story or two that you can share with us concerning authors you’ve promoted?

I have so many clients who have been successful with their books, that it would be hard to pick just one or two! Some of my clients choose to do national tours, and have had great success selling their books at signings and appearances across the country (like Amy Snyder, for example, with her nonfiction account about the Race Across America, Hell on Two Wheels); some with successful ebooks have had their publishers offer to create print versions (like HarperCollins/Authonomy author, Mary Vensel White, whose ebook, The Qualities of Wood will be coming out in print in April); many, like Kim Petersen, author of Charting the Unknown, have won awards, while others have created a successful series with a strong following of readers (U.S. Olympic sailor, Carol Newman Cronin, for example, with her nautical YA series, Oliver’s Surprise and Cape Cod Surprise, and Caroline Taylor, author of the P.J. Smythe mystery What Are Friends For?, whose publisher, Gale-Cengage, is issuing book two in the series, Jewelry from a Grave, this April).

So…can you tell a book by its cover? How important is that cover in promotion?

Having a professionally designed cover is crucial to a book’s success. The book’s cover is a part of its packaging and must not only represent the contents of the book itself, but must resonate with potential readers enough to motivate them to look at it and buy. I’ve seen many covers created by authors who have no experience with graphic design, and they inevitably experience poor sales. Self-published authors should be sure to have their book covers designed by an experienced professional; this is as important as making sure that the book’s contents have been edited by a professional editor before the book is released.

There’s no doubt you love writing and authors. But what are your favorite things to do when you’re apart from the written word?

I do love both writing and working with my clients. I also teach part-time at two of our local community colleges here in San Diego. I hold single-subject and community college teaching credentials, and even though I didn’t go into teaching as a full-time profession, I’ve always taught a course or two each semester (I guess you could say it’s a hobby of mine!). I enjoy the mental exercise of preparing for classes and exchanging ideas with students, and I especially enjoy teaching adults – it’s challenging and hugely rewarding at the same time.

When I’m not doing client work or teaching, I write, read, practice meditation and yoga, try to get my orchids to bloom, and take care of our animals (we currently have two rabbits and a parakeet – all rescues, and all with us for a number of years). My husband and I are now empty-nesters, and both of our kids go to out-of-state colleges – our son attends the University of Oregon, and our daughter plays softball at Ball State University in Indiana. Even though they’re far away, there’s still a lot that we do with them (including traveling around the country to watch our daughter’s games), so they continue to keep us pretty busy.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

What Makes a Good Memoir?

(Note: This is a piece I wrote awhile ago, but I've received so many inquiries lately by authors who are writing memoirs, that I thought it might be time to post it again. Enjoy. -P.M.)

As a publicist, I’m sent books of all genres by authors interested in my services, but lately I seem to be on the receiving end of a lot of memoirs. I’ve also spoken to a higher-than-usual number of memoir writers, who either telephone or approach me with questions at writer’s conferences. The bulk of these conversations have to do with why their memoirs aren’t selling and what the authors can do to make them better.

My first suggestion for all memoir writers is to take a look at their market and identify the different types of people who would want to read their book. This is tricky, for while many memoir writers have done a good job of detailing certain aspects of their personal history, a number of them have not thought about who might be interested in reading what they’ve written.

A lot of memoirs I’ve seen recently are nothing more than personal recountings of an individual’s experiences – some of which are, indeed, memorable. But I’ve found that a great number of memoirs contain information that might only be interesting to the author. In this category, I include stories about having a child out of wedlock, rescue missions by health care workers, struggles with family members over an elderly relative’s care, vacations or trips abroad that the author found life-changing, collections of stories that the author told his/her children while they were growing up, or collections of a family member’s letters from World War II. Although engaging and, occasionally, entertaining, books with these topics typically focus on material and/or experiences that a number of us have already encountered in our own lives. And, thus, because we readers are familiar with the situations ourselves, stories like these don’t always make interesting reading.

So, what makes a compelling memoir? I believe that in order to become a bestseller, a memoir must have a strong storyline. That means that there is a beginning, middle, and end to the events that are recounted in the book. Examples of breakout memoirs with clear timelines are Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, where the author, Danish baroness, Karin von Blitzen-Finecke, describes the political and emotional barriers she faced while trying to build a coffee farm in Kenya, and Before Night Falls, by Reinaldo Arenas, the rebellious and flamboyant Cuban poet and playwright, who describes both his early years as a homosexual artist under the Castro regime, including his imprisonments and escapes, and his last days as an exile in the United States.

Successful memoirs also have compelling or distinct characters in them. Just like fiction, a good memoir will introduce the reader to individuals who are memorable and, sometimes, highly unusual. Examples include Augusten Burrough’s mother, Deidre, and her unorthodox psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, in Running with Scissors, or the sadistic mother in A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer.

Oftentimes, as in fiction, the individuals in a memoir will be sympathetic, so that readers strongly identify with them. This is particularly true of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, who begins her book by depicting herself in a heap on the bathroom floor, devastated by a recent divorce, or Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, who lost her husband to a sudden heart attack and shares the aftermath with the reader in a way that is heart-wrenchingly honest.

Another reason for the success of these two memoirs is the fact that they both tell love stories. In Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert begins the memoir with the loss of love (after a failed marriage) and then ends it with the start of a new relationship with the man who will become her next husband. Likewise, Didion recounts the significant moments of her marriage to her husband, John Gregory Dunne, as she describes her attempts to grapple with her grief at his passing. These two books are skillfully written, with clear, strong voices and brave directness, and both authors draw painful moments with great tenderness.

People in successful memoirs often face situations with high stakes consequences and experience an emotional trajectory, or arc, whereby the individuals are changed somehow at the end of the book. Many memoirs have to do with the author or a parental figure teetering on the brink of alcoholism (Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller), destitution (Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt), poverty and spousal abuse (All Over but the Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg), drug addiction (A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey), cultural adversity (Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver-Relin), and life-threatening adventure (Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer). What makes these books stand out above the others is that in all of these stories, the authors and/or their loved ones faced extreme circumstances – incarceration, kidnapping, starvation, emotional abandonment, and, sometimes, immanent death – and somehow survived.

In addition to the victim/survival type memoir, there are celebrity memoirs, where the author recounts his own story as a celebrity or his experiences living or working with one (examples include Here’s the Story by The Brady Bunch star, Maureen McCormick, or Everything about Me is Fake and I’m Perfect by supermodel Janice Dickenson). There are also tell-all or insider memoirs, where the individual describes events in an environment that most of us would never have a chance to experience. Many of these are political in tone, such as John Dean’s Blind Ambition, the anti-Nixon tome published in 1976, or George Stephanopoulos’s All Too Human, which described intimate details about the first family during the Clinton administration.

The message here is that unless your memoir is something like the ones I’ve mentioned in this post, you might have a tough time selling it. That doesn’t mean that authors shouldn’t write memoirs – on the contrary, writing a memoir can be a wonderfully revealing and cathartic experience for the author and of great significance to family members and friends. But to reach further audiences, memoirs that don’t involve a celebrity connection or insider information must have a definable storyline, remarkable characters, high stakes, and a great love story – or some combination, thereof – in order to experience breakout success.