Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Nuts and Bolts of Writing a Press Release

I find in my discussions with new authors that many of them are unfamiliar with what a press release is or how it can best be used. So, I thought I’d provide a brief (okay, maybe not so brief!) overview of important considerations when writing and distributing releases.

Think of your press release as a newspaper article. It should be written so that anyone you send it to can take it as is and publish it in a print publication or blog with minimal changes (and since most of the media are busy people, they will love you for making their job easier!). That means that it should be professional and succinct and should be written in a journalistic (i.e., focusing on the who, what, when, where, and why), third-person style.

Your press release should begin with the line: For Immediate Release, which tells your reader that s/he is free to use the information that follows right away. Immediately following should be the date, written out in full, with the current year included (e.g., November 28, 2010).

Next is the headline, which should always be as succinct and intriguing as possible. Center your headline and be sure to include what’s important, stating what is most exciting or unique in as few words as possible. Here’s an example from a release about my book:
San Diego Publicist Paula Margulies Weaves
A Graceful Tale of Love and Redemption
in Coyote Heart
The body of the press release should follow the headline. I like to use a five-paragraph structure for my press releases:

1) The introductory paragraph. Many PR professionals recommend starting with an intriguing lead-off or hook in the first paragraph of your release. Since I tend to make my initial pitches by phone, I usually forgo the hook and instead open with a journalistic introductory paragraph that gives the who, what, where, when and why of the release. The first paragraph should be prefaced with the city and state where the event or content of the release is taking place. Here’s an example of an introductory paragraph:
San Diego, CA – Book publicist Paula Margulies announces the release of her debut novel, Coyote Heart (ISBN 978-1-933794-16-7), a multi-cultural love story set against the backdrop of the Pala Indian Reservation in San Diego, California. Prior to publication, Coyote Heart received numerous awards, including an Editor’s Choice Award at the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference. Coyote Heart was also a finalist in the Santa Fe Writer’s Project Literary Awards Program, a worldwide competition that included over 350 entries.
2) An informational paragraph or two. In the second and third paragraphs of the release, I like to give a succinct overview of general information about the subject of the release. This should be supplemental information to what you presented in the first paragraph. An example of two informational paragraphs follows:
Coyote Heart tells the story of Carolyn Weedman, a forty-year-old librarian trapped in a troubled marriage with a disabled husband. After a chance encounter with a widowed Pala Indian professor, Carolyn finds herself drawn into an unexpected love affair. Torn by conflicting feelings, she discovers a secret about her husband’s past that forces her to confront her divided emotions and choose between the two men that she loves.

Set against the backdrop of local politics on the Pala Indian Reservation, Coyote Heart explores the intricacies of illicit love and marriage, the strength that comes from sacrifice, and the courage to forgive the injuries of the past. The novel calls on several San Diego landscapes, including the Rancho Penasquitos preserve and the Pala Indian Reservation, to give the story a unique local flavor. Written with haunting natural imagery and lyrical prose, Coyote Heart tells a compelling tale of love and modern Native American culture.
3) Include a quote. Since many in the media will, hopefully, use your press release verbatim, you want to include a quote in your release (so it looks as if you were interviewed by the publication running it). I like to keep quotes to one or two sentences. If you’re writing about your book, a good topic for a quote is what inspired you to write the book. When quoting, always use tags in the past tense (i.e. “said Margulies,” rather than “says Margulies”). Here is a sample press release quote:
“I wrote this novel, in part, because I’ve always been fascinated by what makes a marriage work,” said Margulies. “My sense is that many marriages survive not because the two individuals involved are meant for each other, but because the losses and hardships that they’ve endured forge a bond that is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to sever.”
4) Include a brief bio. The final paragraph of your release should include biographical information about you, but remember to keep it as succinct as possible. Summarize your history as a writer and include information about awards, other publications, media appearances, and any other information that positions you as an expert. I usually end the bio paragraph with a sentence about where the author resides and/or what the author is working on next. An example of a bio paragraph:
Paula Margulies is the owner of Paula Margulies Communications, a public relations firm for authors and artists. She has received numerous awards for her short stories and novels, and her essays have been published in a number of professional journals and magazines. She has been awarded artist residencies at Caldera, Red Cinder Artist Colony, Vermont Studio Center, and Centrum. Margulies resides in San Diego, California, with her husband and two teenagers.
You can also include a final line about where to find more information about you and your book:
For more information on the author or Coyote Heart, please visit or Kirk House Publishers at
5) End with contact info. At the end of your release, be sure to tell readers who they can contact for more information about you. You should include a line that reads: For Further Information, and follow it with your (or your publicist’s) name, address, telephone numbers, email and website information:
For further information, please contact:
Paula Margulies Communications
8145 Borzoi Way
San Diego, CA 92129
T: 858-538-2047
If you are sending a release yourself, you may want to include your book’s cover art in the upper left-hand corner as letterhead. Try to keep your release to one-page; if you have to use a second page, be sure to label it as such with your last name and page number.

If your publicist has written the release, be sure to ask permission before changing its content and/or distributing it yourself (if it’s written in her name, then it should come from her).

You will want to use your press release as a follow-up tool when pitching booksellers or the media. Send the release as an attachment, along with your headshot and book cover art (front cover only, in jpg format) after you have made an inquiry for a signing event or media interview.

Once you have a general press release written, you can use it as the basis for announcing new events (media and book signing appearances, awards, re-releases, etc.). You will need to change the release date, title, content paragraphs, and quote (and update your bio paragraph as information changes).

It’s easy to distribute your releases on free press release distribution websites. My favorites are and Some of the free sites will require registration and many of them will offer fee-based advanced exposure services. Some will provide email tracking, showing the number of views your press release receives once it’s on the wire.

Finally, if you have any questions about your release or feel uncertain about writing one yourself, consider asking a publicist or PR specialist to write one for you. Many PR pros are happy to provide this service for you and should be willing to do so for a nominal fee.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to Get Self-Published Books into Bookstores

A self-published author recently sent me the following email message:

"I conducted a book signing at my local Walden bookstore and when one of my friends tried to purchase my book a few weeks later, she was told that I was not
in their database. How can I get my self-published book stocked in a real bookstore?

This is the dilemma for self-published authors -- most booksellers do not want to stock self-published books in their stores, for many reasons: 1) booksellers order thousands of books per year and don't want to have to order from individual publishers. Instead, they order through wholesale distributors like Baker & Taylor or Ingram, where they can place one order for all the different books they want at once; 2) booksellers don't like having to wait for POD books to ship; they would rather order from a distribution company, which has the books already there in its warehouse; and 3) many print-on-demand books are, to put it kindly, subpar -- they have not been edited and/or reviewed before they are printed, so some booksellers feel that self-published books, in general, are not high quality (whether that's true or not, they have that stigma attached to them).

So, what can be done if your book is self-published?

1) If you want to get your book into stores, it's important to have it listed with a distributor. There are a number of independent distributors, like Pathway Book Service or Greenleaf Book Group, that handle distribution for self-published authors. Some of the wholesale distributors, like Ingram, also have divisions for self-published books. If your book is listed with a distributor, you have a much better chance of getting it into independent and chain bookstores. And, in addition to warehousing and shipping your books, distributors can help with other aspects of marketing including sales promotions, negotiating with buyers, order tracking and reporting, and mailing list maintenance.

2) Some of the bigger booksellers, like Barnes & Noble and Borders, have their own distribution centers. To get into those, you have to approach their small press divisions and ask if they are willing to sell your book in their stores. Both of these companies require that you send a marketing plan for your book, along with one or more copies of the book and a cover letter, to the small press division. You’ll typically receive an answer within a few weeks.

3). Even if Barnes & Noble and Borders won't accept your book through their small press divisions, individual store managers can still order from you directly, if they choose to do so. That's why it's so important that you still try to do signings in as many bookstores as possible. If you hold a successful signing in a store, the bookseller may be willing to order copies (although Borders assigns its own numbers, called "BINC" numbers, to books that it carries, so if your book is not in the Borders system, a store manager may not be able to order it).

If you don't do signings, it's difficult for individual booksellers to know about you or your book -- that's why making appearances at bookstores (even with a low turnout) is so important, especially the first six-eight months after a book is released. Booksellers are willing to have self-published authors in their stores, but only if there is a perceived demand for the book and the author is willing to promote the signing and help draw customers to the event. A good publicist can help convince bookstore managers that your book is worthy of a signing appearance and can be instrumental in booking you for print, radio, and television spots that will drive traffic to your event.

If you do land a signing event, many bookstore managers will ask you to bring copies of the book with you and will purchase an agreed-upon number of those books from you the day of your signing. In some cases, you will have to wait to be paid, since the checks come from corporate offices, rather than the individual stores.

4) Consider offering your books on a consignment arrangement with independent bookstores. Most indie booksellers will take a few copies (usually about 5-10) and will want to keep a percentage of the sales (the typical consignment arrangement is 40-60). If your books sell well, you may be able to convince the store manager to stock them on a regular basis.

5) Finally, don't forget that as a self-published author, you have the advantage of being able to control how your book is marketed. In addition to selling in bookstores, you'll want to explore making your book available in as many ebook formats as possible and consider other venues beside bookstores for sales opportunities.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Some Thoughts on Thinking (and Selling) Outside the Bookstore Box by Carol Newman Cronin

Note: This guest post is by Olympic sailor and author, Carol Newman Cronin, who sailed for the U.S. in the 2004 Olympic games in Athens and has written two fabulous young adult novels: Oliver's Surprise and Cape Cod Surprise. Read what Carol has to say about selling books in places other than a bookstore, and then vist her website: and her blog: Where Books Meet Boats. -PM

Boats Meet Books in Newport:
Five tips for selling books in non-traditional venues

“Author’s Corner - what’s that?”
“You wrote these books yourself?”
“What age group are they meant for?”
“Where do I find a bathroom?”

Those are just a random sampling of the many questions I answered this past weekend at the Newport International Boat Show. Probably not the first place you would think of for book selling, but it turned out to be a great venue for my two Surprises With abundant sunshine and temps in the 70’s, the weather was perfect for boat gawking out on the docks. And once they’d overcome their own Surprise at seeing books - real books - on a boat show booth table, many of the people pouring down the aisles of Tent C were eager to buy some nautical fiction.

The Author’s Corner is a booth provided for those lucky few who are asked to give seminars during the four day event. My seminar (entitled “Where Books Meet Olympic Spirit”) took place before lunch every day, and whether it was because people weren’t yet ready for a sit-down break from boat gawking or due to the vague title, attendance was, well – poor. But sales in the booth were brisk, making the entire effort well worth it.

I had been dreading sitting inside a tent over a beautiful September weekend, and I certainly took several breaks on Thursday and Friday to wander the show and catch up with all my marine industry buddies. But over the weekend, I was simply too busy to get antsy. Handing out bookmarks to anyone who looked like a reader (and US Sailing Team Alphagraphics stickers to all the kids), talking about writing and sailing with those interested enough to stop and chat, and – best of all – signing the books once I’d made the sale; I enjoyed it all more than I expected.

After four days of refining my pitch, I can definitely pass on a few pointers about non-traditional bookselling.

1. Find something in common with the person, and talk about that.
It’s pretty safe to assume that anyone who walks in the door of a bookstore is a reader. I couldn’t make the same assumption about the people walking down the aisle of Tent C, but I could make a different assumption: they were most likely interested in boats (or at least, interested in SOMEONE who was interested in boats). That gave us something to talk about besides the books for sale.

I quickly learned to watch darting eyes, to see if they were caught by the sight of books piled up on a table. Readers notice books; flagging down everyone else by waving a bookmark (or tripping them up) probably wasn’t going to lead to a sale.

2. Create a visually appealing booth that makes it clear what you’re selling.
Since I don’t do many trade shows, I don’t have a lot of big banners that draw in customers. Most people didn’t quite understand what an “Author’s Corner” was right away; it would’ve been very helpful to have a background display that clarified our bookselling/author roles.

Saturday and Sunday our table’s visual appeal was greatly helped by the addition of a large hardback called Steam Coffin.

Author John Lawrence Busch eagerly told anyone who even glanced at his beautiful cover about the first transatlantic steamship. His enthusiasm was infectious, and some of his listeners also bought copies of my books.

Our other booth mate was Captain Graybeard, a boat show veteran who was hawking a wide variety of books, electronics, and weather information – and giving away a free catalog on CD. The world famous cruiser Don Street also made appearances, in between seminars and his visits to the beer tent. So we had something for everyone - softcover fiction, hardcover history, electronic self-help, and nautical legend all represented in the same booth. But many thought we were all selling all of our wares together, rather than independently.

3. Have something to give away that’s easy to carry.
For me, bookmarks work very well as a way to engage people – and I ran through my entire supply. Frequently someone would glance at our table but wouldn’t actually stop until I offered a bookmark. Some just said “thanks” and kept walking, but most would come back to the table and take a second look at what I had to offer. And many of those eventually turned into sales.

4. Have a “special.”
People love to feel like they’re getting a deal when buying at a show, so it’s important to have a special offer. For me it was “Boat show special - two books for twenty bucks.” Only a few people realized they could also buy one for ten bucks…

5. Avoid the hard sell.
There is a well-known parable about the wind and the sun, each trying to get a man to remove his coat. The wind blows hard and then harder, but all that happens is the man clutches the coat tighter to his body. Then the sun comes out, and once the man is warm and happy he gladly takes off his coat.

We’ve all been verbally assaulted walking through a trade show, the human equivalent of the wind blowing harder and harder. After four days of watching my booth mates and the other booth operators around me, I tried to be more like the sun and make people happy. Once I got someone’s attention with a bookmark and had given a very short overview about the books, I asked a question about their boat or where they lived. I haven’t met a boat owner yet who doesn’t like to talk about his or her vessel, and I also enjoyed hearing about all the different ways people work and play on the water.

Selling doesn’t have to be hard. And boat shows, as it turns out, don’t have to be awful – they can be a great chance to find yet another link between boats and books.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Your Fall Book Promotion Checklist

It's that time of year when the kids are heading back to school and the rest of us are making plans to get out and enjoy the last warm days of summer.

With the change in season and return from vacations (hopefully tanned and rested!), it's time to get serious about promoting your book again. Whether you're a first-time author or a seasoned pro, there's still a lot to do in the way of footwork to ensure that readers know about your book.

Here are a few tips for getting back out there and promoting your book this fall:

1. Sign up to speak at conferences and special events
2. Sign up for book fairs, street fairs, and fall festivals
3. Submit your book to traditional and online book reviewers
4. Contact your local library to schedule an appearance
5. Submit your book to contests and award programs
6. Apply for artist residencies and fellowships
7. Contact blog sites related to your book and set up a blog tour
8. Attend a writers conference near you
9. Join a book promotion group (can’t find one? Start one yourself!)
10. Contact local schools about speaking
11. Start a blog, guest blog on other sites, or beef up your own blog
12. Write articles about your subject matter
13. Update your website
14. Use social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) to update fans about your book
15. Upgrade your promotional items - create new bookmarks,posters, and giveaways
16. Set up consignments at local stores, and check in with those that already have your book on display
17. Create an FAQ or Q & A sheet
18. Get new testimonials from recent readers
19. Contact a book club and offer to speak
20. Wear a t-shirt with your book cover on it to the gym, grocery store, bank, etc.
21. Make business cards with your book cover on them and leave them everywhere you go: at restaurants, in stores, libraries, schools, etc., and include them in return envelopes that come with bills and mailers
22. Create a car magnet sign highlighting your book and where to order it
23. Donate your book to charity auctions
24. Write a press release about something recent that’s happened with you and your book and post it on free wire service websites
25. Volunteer your time for a worthy cause (a great way to help others and let them know about you and your book at the same time!)

You get the idea...there are lots of opportunities out there for telling the world about you and your book. Happy promoting -- and happy fall!

Friday, July 23, 2010

How to Get the Most from Your Book Signings

Note: Some of my newer clients have asked for info on how to prepare for signings, so I'm reposting this earlier piece for those interested. -PM

Summer is here and it's a great time for authors to do book signings. For those of you getting ready to appear at bookstores for the first time, here are some helpful hints for making the most out of your signing experience:

1) If the bookstore is near you, stop by a week ahead of time and see what kind of promotion the staff is doing for your book. If they don't have anything up, offer to give them posters, bookmarks, magnets, etc., to use in the store.

2) Talk to your friends and family and try to get as many people as you can to attend your signing. Even if they've purchased the book before or attended other signings, ask them to come and help draw people in the store over to the area where you're reading. Send email announcements to everyone in your address book prior to signings and ask your workmates, students, clients, etc., to attend. Mention that you're doing a signing everywhere you go -- at work, in the grocery store, at the bank, etc. Make up simple announcement flyers and leave them everywhere you can (at the library, on bulletin boards, at coffee shops, etc.).

3) Presign a number of the books you're bringing to help long lines move faster. After your signing, see if you can get the store to keep the presigned copies. You can make or order stickers that say "Signed Copy" for the spine of the book -- these will help the books move quickly on the shelves.

4) A few days prior to the signing, advertise your event on local websites that have calendar listings. Many local newspapers and weekly tabloids have event notice forms you can fill out online for free. Some have longer lead times, so start checking the websites early. You can also put a notice in the events section on Craigslist and on other free networking sites.

5) The morning of your signing, call and ask for the manager (if you're one of my clients, the names are on your reading schedule). Make sure the manager knows what time your signing will be held and has everything ready for you, including table, chairs, microphone, electrical outlet (if necessary), etc. Also, find out if your books are there; if they're not, bring at least 20 copies with you.

6) Get to your signing early and make sure tables and chairs are set up and your books are out. I've been to a number of signings where my clients have gotten there and nothing is ready, so be prepared for that. Be sure to place one of your promotional posters on the table with your books, so patrons passing by will see the cover art and, hopefully, stop to hear you speak.

7) Always have extra copies with you, in case you have a big crowd. Bring plenty of pens and don't forget to bring your business cards, so those who buy your books can get in touch with you later or find info on your website.

8) Be personable and friendly to everyone who walks by. Wait until there is a good crowd gathered before starting and, if there's no microphone, make sure you project your voice so those in the back can hear you (practice this at home in front of the mirror). Talk about what inspired you to write the book, what the story is about, what motivates the characters, and what you love about the book. Read a few pages, preferably something that has some action or conflict. Don't read too long -- less is more with public speaking. Those in the audience will often have questions, so be sure to allow for some after you finish. And don't forget to chat with readers while you're signing -- the more impressed the reader is with you and the book, the better chance s/he will tell others about it and help create the buzz you're looking for.

9) After the signing, thank the store manager and other staff who helped you set up. See if they'll stock any leftover copies and don't be shy about asking them to order more copies from your publisher.

10) Bring your digital camera and have someone take pictures of you while you're signing. After the signing, post the photos on your website and blogsite and write about the experience, the readers you met there, the helpful staff, etc. Be positive about the experience (even if it didn't meet your expectations) and encourage everyone to come out for your next signing.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I struggled a little with this blog post today, not because I haven’t written one in a while (which is true, I’ve been delinquent), but mainly because this is not a subject I’m happy about.

My topic today is those agents, editors, publicists, and publishers, who use their social media sites to publicly belittle the writers who have queried them or inquired about their services. I’m talking about the folks who post sneering comments on their Facebook or Twitter pages about manuscripts and query letters they’ve received from authors. These are the comments about bad grammar, overblown plot lines/characters/dialogue, angry responses to rejections, or even deals that go down in inappropriate places (I recently saw a tweet from an agent who crowed that she had made a book deal while she was in the bathroom at her local gym).

In rare cases, there may be a legitimate reason to gripe (I’m thinking about a recent blog post by another agent who received a number of expletive-laden emails from an individual she had rejected), but that griping, in my view, should never take place in a public forum. If a professional has to vent, there are more appropriate venues (i.e., private conversations with coworkers, spouses, or friends) for sharing frustration about submissions, clients, or colleagues. But publicly humiliating authors who submit work, no matter how bad that work might be, is just not acceptable.

A writing professional has to believe that the manuscripts and letters she receives have been sent with the best intentions. Yes, many of these submissions are error-ridden and a great number of the manuscripts are not likely candidates for publication. But there is never a time when it's okay for a literary professional to poke public fun at an author who is making an honest attempt to submit a written work.

Maybe it’s because I’m an author myself, but I cringe when I read giddy Facebook posts ridiculing author submissions. Not only is it unprofessional to do so, it is extremely unkind. In my view, a client submission is a private document and one to be considered with the utmost courtesy. My policy is to never publicly discuss any type of inquiry sent to me, no matter how bad the writing (and I do receive some gems, on occasion) or how mismanaged the cover letter or email message. To me, every writer, along with his work, deserves consideration and a professional, private response from me, whether I agree to represent him or not. And every author deserves some amount of common courtesy and respect for at least having taken the time to produce a written work.

I don’t understand why authors continue to submit to literary professionals who openly belittle them in public forums. To me, a person who bashes potential clients in public is either unprofessional or unkind (or both), and hardly a good candidate for a business relationship.

To writers who are submitting work: I urge you to check out the public forums used by the professionals you plan to query before you submit. You may reconsider after visiting there.

And to my literary colleagues who have indulged in this type of behavior, I beg you to remember: public humiliation, in any form, is unprofessional. If that statement sounds too chastising, I submit this thought instead: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Making Connections: What to Include in an Author Bio

One of the most important pieces of an author’s media kit is the biographical summary, or bio, which provides the important background information that media folks, booksellers, conference attendees, and, ultimately, readers, seek. A good bio can be more than a means of introducing authors to their market; it also can provide a way to develop a platform for new authors who don’t yet have a lot of experience or a public track record.

So, what kind of information should an author put in a bio, and how much of that information should be included?

I recommend that writers create two kinds of bios: a brief, one paragraph summary that can be used in press releases and for program announcements or spots with limited space, and a longer piece that can be used for media promotion and speaking events.

When I write press releases for my clients, I always include a single biographical paragraph near the end of the release. This paragraph is factual in tone and generally includes the author’s credentials, a summary list of other works and awards, a statement about where s/he currently resides, and what the author is working on next.

In addition to the bio in the press release, I also recommend developing a longer, full-length bio, which is generally three – four paragraphs (I try to keep it to one page) and includes more detailed information about the author’s personal history. This longer bio is the one I use when I approach the media to set up client interviews; it also can be submitted to conference or event organizers to help provide background for program listings and speaker introductions.

When writing a longer bio, I urge authors to include any information that might be of interest to a reporter or producer looking for topics for an article or a radio/television spot. Even if a writer doesn’t have a celebrity background or prior experience publishing, the information provided in the bio can peak interest, especially if timed to tie in with current events in the news.

It’s important to include any tidbits of information that might help a reporter or producer see a possible story for an article or interview. But since public relations is mainly a business of establishing relationships, a thorough and well-written bio can also help build a connection between the reader and the author.

Some potential items to build into a longer bio include:

1. the city and state where the author was born
2. where the author went to high school
3. where the author went to college or trade school and what major and/or degrees s/he pursued there
4. significant achievements, including awards, titles, media coverage, or recognition
5. experience or expertise in specific industries or arenas
6. a list of publications (including ongoing writing gigs), releases, exhibitions, patents, and creations
7. tie-ins or connections to current events
8. volunteer or altruistic work
9. hobbies or special interests related to the content/subject area of the author’s book
10. relevant information on the author’s family members
11. the city and state where the author currently resides
12. future projects or a description of new projects the author is working on
13. links to websites and blogs that provide more information about the author

Not all of this information will be relevant for all authors; writers should take a look at their subject area and background and give some thought to what information might be most useful and interesting when promoting their particular books. If a writer has trouble deciding how much information to include, running a draft by a professional publicity or media person, or a trusted editor or writing partner, can help.

Generally, I recommend that the tone of the bio be professional and simple. Bios are typically written in third person, with the author’s full name used the first time it appears, and only the last name used for each subsequent mention. If an author prefers a more informal tone and wants to use his first name for subsequent mentions, that’s fine, as long this is done consistently. Some authors like to inject humor into their bios, but care should be taken to ensure that the piece is not too cheeky or off-putting and that the bio clearly provides the information that the reader seeks.

Finally, authors should remember that bios are living documents that need to be updated regularly as new information in the author’s life – awards, publications, residential and job moves, personal developments, etc. – occurs.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Fine Art of Persistence in Successful Book Publicity

An author asked me recently what I consider to be the most important characteristic to look for when hiring a publicist to promote a new book. I explained to her that while certain factors are crucial – being able to write a good press release, having lots of media contacts, knowing the ins and outs of a particular genre, and being honest, professional, and personable – I believe that the most important characteristic of a good publicist is persistence. For while industry savvy and a long list of connections are the general hallmarks of most experienced PR professionals, those who are really successful are the ones who have made it their business to keep asking for a yes until they hear one.

There is a fine line, of course, between being professionally persistent and being an annoying pest. Booksellers, reporters, and media producers are busy people, and many of them will not mince words if they’re in the midst of a deadline or are dealing with a rush of customers.

And timing is equally important. Call too often, and you can be branded as a stalker. But call too little, and chances are you might never have the opportunity to make your pitch.

What’s important to remember is that bookstore managers and media reps are looking for ways to draw an audience to their bookstore, publication, or news program. They know that their customers love to meet their favorite authors and, for media types, that their viewers want to hear all about what’s hot in the publishing world. But because booksellers and media pros are busy people, we publicists (and authors who do their own book promotion) have to learn to create good pitches and follow up until we have a chance to give them.

As in any business where you’re requesting or selling something, the secret to hearing a yes is to be persistent in a professional manner. And it doesn’t matter if you’re being persistent by telephone or in writing. I prefer to make my initial contacts by telephone. If I’m successful in reaching the person I’m calling, I’ll have my pitch organized beforehand, so I’m ready to pass along the information as succinctly and clearly as possible. If there is interest, I usually send pertinent information (press release, bio, author photo, and book cover art) by email immediately after I call. And I’ll follow up as much as necessary until I have a definitive answer.

Even if I get an immediate yes to my initial request for a signing or interview, email follow-up is crucial. I’ll contact the author to find out if the proposed appearance date and time will work, and then send a confirmation email to all concerned. I’ll also indicate if the author will be bringing material prior to the signing, or go over protocol and content prior to an interview. And I’ll set up a tickler in my calendar to make a follow-up call close to the appearance date (usually the week prior) to ensure that all the details, including event set-up, book orders, time limits, travel arrangements, driving directions, parking, etc., are covered.

If the person I’m trying to reach isn’t available when I make my initial call, I like to leave a brief message explaining who I am and why I’m calling. I then try to get an email address where I can send the relevant information and follow up again in a day or so.

If a person says she’d like to think about offering a signing/interview/media appearance, I try to give her a respectable amount of time – anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks – to do so before calling again. Sometimes, as in cases where authors are coming to the U.S. from overseas, the timing might be more urgent. I try to account for scheduling crunches by making my initial calls with as much lead time as possible, so that I have enough of a window in which to call back if a contact is difficult to reach, or to follow up if the arrangements are complicated or require some time to nail down.

There is a always going to be the occasional person who will rudely state that his store doesn’t do signings because they’re a waste of time, or the producer who will claim that your client and/or his book are just plain not interesting. But in over 20 years of working in marketing and publicity, I can honestly say that those individuals are the exception, rather than the rule. Most of the book sellers and media personnel you’ll deal with are professionals, and if you are honest and courteous, they’ll respond in kind.

As an example of how being professionally persistent can work, I once had one of my clients call to say that she was going to be in Washington D.C. in a week and could I please set up a couple of book signings for her. A week is generally not enough lead time to set up any type of event, but this particular author was up and coming, with more than one book in a popular genre, so I told her I’d do my best. I managed to set up a library signing, but had no luck with any booksellers. During the last call on my list, I spoke with a bookstore manager who passed on doing a signing, and then mentioned that one of the store’s book clubs would have been interested if my client were coming later in the month. I thanked the bookseller for her time and asked if I could email her some information about the author to pass along to the club anyway. The next morning, the bookseller called me back and said that she’d given the club members the info I’d sent, and they were so impressed with it that they’d decided to move their monthly meeting up a couple of weeks so they could host my client.

The moral of this story is that if you’re organized and professional in your approach, you can usually obtain the publicity you’re looking for. The bottom line is to be persistent, thorough, and respectful of the people you’re contacting. Consider how you prefer to be approached and, when in doubt, treat booksellers and the media accordingly. And, as Winston Churchill so wisely advised, “never, ever give up” until you get the yes you’re looking for.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Marketing 101: Ten Tips for New Authors

I’m often asked by debut authors what they can do on their own to promote their books. Assuming they’ve written the best books they possibly can and built their platforms as much as possible, here are my top ten recommendations for first-time authors with a new book to sell:

1. Write a dynamite press release and post it on free news wire sites.
I usually won’t call a bookseller or a media contact until I have the following at hand: a headshot of the author, a jpg of the book cover art, an author bio, and a press release. Of all of these items, the press release is the most important. Why? A good release is like a complete news article: it contains the title of the book, the ISBN number, the release date, and any other relevant information about the book itself, along with a brief description of the book, a quote from the author, and a one-paragraph bio that includes the author’s background, relevant expertise, and any awards or achievements tied to the book. If you write it well, media experts with little time and news slots to fill will often publish it verbatim, along with any photographs you send.
Once you’ve created your release, be sure to place it on online news wires for distribution. There are a number of free sites where authors can post releases (two of my favorites are and
2. Create a website.
I’m amazed at the number of authors I meet who don’t have a website for either themselves or their books. A website is like an electronic business card – it functions as a place where readers, booksellers, and media persons can return to find more information about you and your book, including contact and sales information. Many authors who are published by small presses think it’s okay to have their book listed on their publisher’s website. That’s fine, but I still think it’s important that each book have a web presence all its own. If cost is an issue, there are many low cost and free website services available online; look for sites that offer good telephone support and are easy to update and maintain.
3. Create a blog.
One of the most powerful ways to let readers know about your book is to create a blog and update it regularly. Your blog can be about anything: your thoughts on writing, your book and events connected with it, your next book, etc. The important considerations are to a.) give your readers something to think about or some information they can use, b.) blog often, and c.) be sure to comment on other blogs with links back to your website and blogsite.
4. Make yourself known on social networking and reader sites.
Although this can be time-consuming, it costs nothing and is easy to do. Create a Facebook and Twitter page for either yourself or your book and spend time cultivating relationships and inviting friends to join. Look for sites that are related to your book or to writing in general and list your book there. Likewise, explore sites like Goodreads, Red Room, LibraryThing,, etc., and do your best to stay current with other reading and writing sites that offer opportunities to tell readers about your book.
5. Work your niche.
If you’ve written a book that is of interest to a specialized group of readers, be sure to capitalize on that as much as possible. Whether its genre fiction like romance, fantasy, or mystery, or non-fiction targeted to a specific audience, having a niche can present unlimited opportunities for marketing your book. Create lists of websites, groups, professional organizations, festivals, conferences, etc., that are oriented toward your book and make contact with each of them to see what marketing opportunities they might offer.
6. Work your local booksellers.
Even if you’ve self-published, your local booksellers can be the go-to place for signing opportunities and advice on how to market your books. Talk to both traditional and independent booksellers and see if they’re willing to offering you a signing opportunity, or if they’re willing to order a couple of copies for their shelves. If signing and ordering aren’t options, ask if they host book clubs who might like a speaker, or if they’ll be willing to keep your bookmarks on the counter to hand out to customers. Offer to donate giveaways you’ve created for your book (posters, bookmarks, fact sheets, magnets, etc.). The more you’re willing to offer them, the more apt they are to respond favorably to requests to help market your books.
7. Think outside the box.
For self-published authors who can’t get their books into mainstream bookstores, consider other opportunities for selling your books. These might include sharing tables at book festivals, farmers markets, swap meets, or street fairs, finding venues that will let you sell your book after a presentation or speaking engagement, teaching classes at community colleges and adult education sites, appearances at professional organization meetings, political gatherings, or church functions, or any other place where readers in your niche would be interested in meeting you and buying your book. Join local writers groups and participate in organized events for promoting your book.
8. Don’t forget your local library.
Libraries are a wonderful resource for authors and many of them are willing to schedule individual book signings for local and visiting authors. Some libraries invite writers to open houses and specialty events, and some hold author exhibits. Many cities have both county and city library branches, so be sure to search for info on both when doing your contact research.
9. Enter contests and go back to step 1 when you win.
There are a number of established local and national contests for published authors and many of them hold annual competitions. New authors should be sure to enter their books in as many contests as possible and create a press release announcing any awards they win.
10. Find a group of like-minded authors and meet regularly to swap ideas and tips.
A good book promotion group is just as important as a good writing group. If you can’t find a promotion group for published authors, don’t be afraid to start one yourself (advertise for free on Craigslist and through your bookstore and connections). Meet regularly to share promotional experiences and advice and, as author Carol Newman Cronin mentions in her blog post on the subject, bounce around ideas.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bloom Where You’re Planted

While clicking through television channels the other day, I came across the program of a motivational speaker, who was urging the members of his audience not to wait for tomorrow to make the changes they yearned for today. “Bloom where you’re planted,” he told them, explaining that rather than wait for their situations to be perfect (which may never happen), they should look for opportunities right now, in their immediate lives.

This is great advice for those of you who are thinking about book promotion, but aren’t sure about moving forward. Although the book you’ve just published have may not be as perfect as you'd like, or your platform may not be as developed as you want it to be, there are still opportunities out there. And the best way to take advantage of existing opportunities is to assess what you currently have to offer in the way of published writing, expertise, and experience, and then capitalize on those offerings.

An easy way to assess your current offering inventory is to do a quick platform analysis. So, grab a pen and a piece of paper and jot down your answers to the following questions:

▪ Who is the audience for my book?

▪ How can I reach them?

▪ What expertise or experience do I have that might translate into interesting topics for media interviews?

▪ What are my strengths as a speaker, and how can I capitalize on them?

▪ What are my weaknesses, and how can I overcome them?

▪ How much time am I willing to put into a book tour or promotional campaign?

▪ What am I willing to spend?

Once you know what you have to offer and how much you’re willing to do to promote your book, the planning and execution become much easier.

And, sure, we’d all like to have had more time to write a better book or develop a more interesting or experienced platform, but if a book is ready to be promoted, then the time to do it is now, wherever we’re planted.

So, go ahead -- bloom.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ten Writers Who Became Famous After Their Deaths

Note: Many thanks for this guest post by Anne Miller, a print journalist from Houston Texas, who writes for Online Degree. You can find out more about Anne and Online Degree at -PM

The old clich̩ states that artists and writers never achieve true fame or appreciation for their creative output until after their death. While the advent of bestselling authors who peddle their wares on television, radio, and other media outlets, the seductive cult of celebrity has begun trickling its way into the literary world at a much faster pace than yesteryear. But the following writers never had a chance to see the greater influence and love that their painstaking, passionate work earned due to dying before receiving recognition. Some, of course, never actively sought critical or academic renown for their novels, short stories, essays, or poems Рthough their intentions do not exclude them from proving the old adage true.

1. John Kennedy Toole

Following his disheartening 1969 suicide, John Kennedy Toole would go on to leave a permanent mark on the American literary landscape with his hilarious and heartbreaking A Confederacy of Dunces. His route towards history is indelibly marked by tragedy and well-known to anyone familiar with the brilliant novel and its lesser-known companion The Neon Bible. Toole’s mother Thelma brought the found manuscripts to Loyola University New Orleans professor Walker Percy in 1976. Initially skeptical of her claims that her son was a phenomenal writer, Percy found himself surprisingly bowled over by the grotesquely entertaining Ignatius Reilly and Toole’s pitch-perfect depiction of life in New Orleans and rallied to find a publisher for A Confederacy of Dunces. Louisiana State University agreed, and in 1980 Toole went on to win a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for the novel. Today, it remains a much-beloved work of American literature with a healthy and continuous following – studied frequently in high school and college-level English classes across the United States and subjected to many painstaking dissections by scholars and academics.

2. Franz Kafka

Today considered one of the quintessential existential (and, to a lesser extent, modernist) writers, many unfamiliar with Austrian writer Franz Kafka’s life will be shocked to discover that his intensive influence never coagulated until after his 1924 death from tuberculosis. Kafka actually spent much of his short life working in insurance and factories with the occasional dabbling in theatre. Most of his dark, deeply psychological short stories, novels, novellas, letters, and essays never saw publication in his lifetime – in fact, he ordered his contemporary Max Brod, the executor of his estate, to burn every manuscript without reading them. Obviously, Brod disobeyed these last requests. As a result, Kafka’s descriptive exploration of the more twisted, unknown corners of the human psyche entered into the literary canon. Loved and appreciated throughout the world, critics laud works such as The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and many, many others as some of the greatest literary contributions from the 20th century. They have gone on to heavily inspire not only other writers, but artists, musicians, and other creative types as well.

3. Henry Darger

A curious figure, Henry Darger enjoyed acclaim as an outsider artist and writer after Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner, his landlords, discovered the massive cache of pen and pencil drawings, watercolors, collages, and manuscripts he left behind. After moving into a Lincoln Park, Chicago apartment in 1930, he remained there until his death in 1973. Darger worked menial labor jobs in a hospital before retiring in 1963, and lived an exceptionally solitary existence revolving around attending mass and collecting discarded magazines, newspapers, and books that served as references for his art and inspirations for his stories. Growing up in a traumatic Catholic mission house after his mother’s death forced his being given up for adoption, Darger channeled many of the anxieties and frustrations he experienced into 3 gigantic literary works and a couple of smaller ones. The preservation of innocence and protection of abused children stood as the main themes of his entire creative output, with the seminal 15,145-page The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion as the most visible and popular example. He kept several diaries, some of them about the daily weather, and also penned The History of My Life (a 5,084-page autobiography) and the 10,000-page Crazy House.

4. Emily Dickinson

Like many beloved writers before her and many after, Emily Dickinson spent much of her adult life living like a hermit and was dismissed as a mere eccentric until shortly after her nephritis-related death in 1886. She attended Amherst Academy and studied literature, math, Latin, the sciences, and other disciplines and counted William Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson amongst her many influences. Keeping to herself, most of her family and peers knew her as a passionate gardener while in private she penned some most unorthodox poetry at the time. Only a small handful of her almost 1800 poems were published during her lifetime, and her sister Lavinia burned a few of her posthumous leavings upon request – mostly letters. However, Dickinson failed to leave behind instructions for some of her notebooks, and as a result her first volume of poetry hit the shelves in 1890 with the help of supporters Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd. Critics received it with a largely mixed response, though later scholars would come to heap praise upon her experimentations in slant rhyming and unconventional punctuation and capitalization.

5. Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath did, in fact, find a modicum of literary recognition in her lifetime before committing grisly suicide in 1963. In 1955, she even won the Glascock Prize for “Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Sea.” Following her graduation from Smith College, she guest edited at Mademoiselle magazine to much disappointment – an experience that inspired her celebrated semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar - and published the occasional poem in the Cambridge University newspaper Varsity. Plath struggled with mental illness all her life, finding solace in her confessional works that discussed her overwhelming emotions with raw, open honesty. However, this intimate peek into her tumultuous inner life gained far more momentum after her death, with 4 children’s books, 6 works of fictitious and nonfictitious prose (including diaries), and at least 7 volumes of poetry attributed to her name after 1963. Prior to that, she had released The Colossus and Other Poems to a small but largely positive critical base that would later come to prefer her posthumous works. She even won the first posthumous Pulitzer Prize for poetry for 1981’s The Collected Poems. It was the publication of The Bell Jar that fully solidified her place in the American literary pantheon, though. Written under the pen name “Victoria Lucas,” it had been accepted for publication and hit the shelves one month before Plath’s suicide – meaning she never had a chance to actually enjoy the subsequent adulation.

6. Jane Austen

Considering contemporary media’s nigh-obsession with all things Jane Austen – a disconcerting many of them jettisoning the truly biting Regency satire in favor of focusing on the more profitable romances – it comes a shock to many that she never garnered hefty amounts of popularity in her lifetime. Austen did, in fact, publish several of her most beloved novels (Sense and Sensibility in 1811, Pride and Prejudice in 1813, Mansfield Park in 1814, and Emma in 1815) prior to her 1817 death from a disputed disease. Many literary critics and intellectuals spoke well of her spunky parodies of English society, though others criticized the novels for their failure to adhere to Romantic and Victorian philosophies and literary protocol. While never huge, they enjoyed a steady stream of moderate success, and her comprehensive Juvenilia series sent her family rollicking with its cheeky, anarchic humor. In spite of all this, however, Austen remained almost an entire unknown entity until after her death…when her brother Henry revealed in the biographical notes of the posthumously published Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (both in 1817) that she spent her entire literary career writing anonymously.

7. James Agee

Known during his lifetime as a moderately successful literary critic and co-screenwriter for the classic films The African Queen in 1951 and The Night of the Hunter in 1955, James Agee’s alcoholism frequently prevented him from ever achieving fame equal to his talents. A lifelong writer, he wrote for Fortune, Life, The Nation, and Time (he also served as a movie critic for the latter 2), published a volume of poetry (Permit Me Voyage), and released a largely ignored novel (Let Us Now Praise Famous Men) prior to his death by heart attack in 1995. Agee’s most celebrated and studied work, the autobiographical novel A Death in the Family, saw publication 2 years later and earned him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1958. Afterwards, interest in his oeuvre skyrocketed and eventually earned him a place as one of the most respected American writers of the 20th century.

8. Nathanael West

As with many who worked as screenwriters in the 1930’s, Nathanael West never enjoyed great success for his literary prowess. Prior to his fatal car accident in 1940, West released 12 screenplays (and 1 remaining unproduced), 2 short stories, and 4 novels all while participating in a few writers’ seminars with the likes of Dashiell Hammett and William Carlos Williams. Most of his works – including the celebrated Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and The Day of the Locust (1939) – drew from his experiences in the tarnished, writhing underbelly of the supposedly glamorous and idealistic Hollywood. It took his sudden and unexpected death to launch any real interest in West’s output, and the 1957 re-release of his collected novels only solidified his popularity. To this day, many regard The Day of the Locust as the quintessential Hollywood satire, offering a portrait into the shady wheelings and dealings of producers, actors, and other movie professionals vying for stardom and glory.

9. Anne Frank

The tragic story of Annelies Frank needs very little introduction. Fans of history and literature alike need to read the young girl’s diary, which she kept from June 12, 1942 until three days her capture by the Nazis on August 4, 1944. Frank died in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in 1945 at the age of 15 as one of the 6 million completely unnecessary Jewish murders during the Holocaust. Miep Gies, one of the women responsible for hiding Frank’s family from the Third Reich, handed her father Otto the famous account. He sought a publisher for it as a means of educating the populace on Hitler’s atrocities, and came to find a valuable ally in historian Annie Romein-Verschoor and her husband Jan Romein. The Diary of a Young Girl was first published in 1947 in The Netherlands, with much of Europe and the United States following shortly thereafter. Critics enjoyed the book as both a harrowing glimpse into life as a hated minority in Hitler’s Germany and as a well-written piece of literature in its own right. Though a teenager, Frank’s experiences granted her work a maturity beyond her years that paradoxically never tarnishes her childlike perceptions of the chaotic world. The result is an entirely necessary entry into the literary canon – a work that absolutely needs reading if humanity ever hopes to quell the possibility of another fascist genocide.

10. Theodore Winthrop

Better known as a Civil War soldier and one of the first Union fatalities, Theodore Winthrop made a name for himself as a Yale-educated lawyer and seasoned world traveler before enlisting in 1861. He published a few articles, short stories, sketches, and essays but garnered little attention beyond the popular, patriotic “Our March to Washington.” Only after his death at the Battle of Big Bethel shortly after entering the army did anyone pay much attention to Winthrop’s writings. His sister, Laura Winthrop Johnson, was responsible for compiling all of his poetry and prose for submission and an eventual collection. At least 5 of his novels hit the shelves posthumously, many of them drawing from his generous academic and travel experiences. However, it was his Cecil Dreeme that garnered the most attention. Challenging and progressive, he turned traditional perceptions of social, gender, and racial roles upside-down using New York University as his backdrop.

No matter their ideology, style, or motivations for writing in the first place, these talented men and women left their undisputed legacy on the literary scene only after passing on. They obtained the level of fame that inadequate, trend-chasing copycats or celebrity-worshipping predecessors and successors only dream about, molding and shaping the written word with oeuvres that far outlived the limitations of human flesh.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Trend: Book Promotion Groups

Note: Following is a guest post written by U.S. Olympic sailor and author, Carol Newman Cronin. Carol's first novel,a YA historical called Oliver's Surprise: A Boy, A Schooner, and the Great Hurricane of 1938, was published by GemmaMedia, with a sequel coming soon. When Carol mentioned that she belongs to a book promotion group, I asked if she'd tell us a little about it works. You can find out more about Carol at -P.M.

The Literary Guerillas: Authors Tackle Promotion, Together

Last fall I got a long-awaited email from writer Roberta Gately: “I sold my book!” Her novel, Lipstick in Afghanistan, (which I’d edited, early on) will be published in October 2010.

We exchanged squeals of glee, and then she asked if she should hire her own publicist.

“Absolutely,” I replied. In this brave new world of publishing, authors are expected to help with marketing—not just retreat to their book-lined study. I specifically recommended Paula Margulies,, who’d done a great job scheduling signings and drumming up press for the second edition of Oliver’s Surprise.

But I couldn’t answer the rest of Roberta’s questions. And she couldn’t answer mine—questions too vague for an agent, too basic for a publicist, too business-oriented for a writer’s group. Finally, one of us dreamed out loud: Wouldn’t it be great to bounce ideas around with other authors struggling to make their books stand out?

A few days later, Roberta invited me to join her for coffee with Randy Susan Meyers, another debut author. I made the hour and a half drive to Boston and we met at a coffee shop near Randy’s house, planning to chat for an hour or so. All of us had braced for disappointment, like a three-way blind date.

There must’ve been something in the air that day (or an extra shot in our lattes). Two and a half hours later, Roberta looked at her watch and jumped up… she was late for an afternoon meeting, and we hadn’t yet solved all the problems of the publishing world! We agreed to meet again, as soon as possible.

That was the spark; within weeks Randy had fanned it into a blazing group of nine authors I’ve since nicknamed the Literary Guerillas. Three have been recently published, four will be published later in 2010, and two are agented and soon to be sold to a publisher. All of us have already “succeeded” by typical writer’s group standards; the focus of our meetings is book promotion.

We haven’t set too many rules, but the next author to “come out” has priority. In January we met five days before Randy’s very successful launch party for The Murderer’s Daughters. We critiqued the chapter she planned to read aloud, since that was her biggest concern. And we discussed which of several outfits she should wear. (I swear, our “token male” started it.) She later told us it was a great comfort to her at a very stressful time.

In March, Holly Lecraw takes center stage; her book The Swimming Pool, is due out April 6. Holly claims she’s much less prepared than Randy, but she’s already received some great reviews. I’m sure her coming out party will also be a success.

And with additional publishing debuts in May and October (and my sequel coming out in July), the LG’s will have plenty of things to talk about this year.

Best of all, when any one of us has a question, we know right where to go.

Are you involved in a writers’ group focused on publicity/promotion? If so, how is it structured?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tricky Business

When I became a novel writer, I had no idea how time-consuming the act of creating a book would be. In addition to the uninterrupted blocks of time I needed to do the actual writing, I discovered that a fair amount of thinking time had to happen in order to get the story where I wanted it to go. For every hour spent putting actual words on the page, I found I needed an equal or better amount of time to conjure up the details necessary to create an imaginary world and people it with extraordinary characters. I needed to think about my storyline, to create a suspenseful and believable plot, to develop a sense of movement and structure, and to make sure that there were high stakes involved. I imagined my characters speaking, so I could recognize their voices; I visualized what their pasts might be, so I could construct their future actions.

Sometimes this thinking time was a conscious effort, where I pointedly outlined different scenarios for the story in my head; other times the thoughts cooked in my subconscious, bubbling up to my awareness at random moments to surprise me or, in many instances, provide a feeling of relief.

I learned that the time I spent thinking about my book was almost more consuming than the actual time I spent putting words on the page. And, frankly, this scared me a little, because as a working wife and mother, there are other people in the world who also needed me to be thinking about them.

All writers sacrifice in order to find time for their writing, and our family and friends and businesses bear the brunt of it. Not only are we physically unavailable while we’re holed up in our writing lairs, but we’re mentally absent, as well. Many of us find that when we’re writing, the stories we’re creating consume our consciousness. Though our bodies are present in the real world, our thoughts are somewhere else.

Unfortunately, the outside world doesn’t wait while we’re living in that creative state – our kids grow up, our parents age, our businesses succeed or fail, the world around us spins forward. We sacrifice our presence to our art, and the price can sometimes be steep.

For this reason, it’s important that we writers take the time to step back once in a while and evaluate whether our desire to tell the story inside us is stealing from other equally important aspects of our lives. Call it whatever you will -- a creative time out, perhaps – but every once in a while it behooves us to check in with those who love and need us. This, of course, is not a mandatory exercise and a lot of writers forego it by choice. But if we don’t balance the demands of the real world with our need to create, the things and people who mean so much to us can sometimes slip away.

It’s a tricky business, this writing thing we do.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My Response to Questions from an Author with a Backlisted Book

Happy New Year to all! I'm wishing loads of success to all the authors out there hoping to sell their books this year.

I recently heard from an author I met while giving a presentation at an out-of-state writers' conference this summer. He wrote to ask what I thought about his book, which had been published by a small press a couple of years ago. He's had some interest from a film producer and wanted to know what I thought about his chances of promoting the book this year.

I thought I'd share my response to him with those of you who are thinking of marketing a book that has been out for a few years (some details have been changed to protect his privacy). I hope you find this helpful! -P.M.

Hello Friend:

Happy New Year! Hope 2010 is a good one for you and yours.

Congratulations on the interest from a film backer. If the offer is legit, my advice would be to pursue that opportunity. You might need to hire someone to write the screenplay (or write it yourself), but once you have it done, you can shop it around to others if this person doesn't come through.

I did read your book when I returned from the conference this summer. It had a good voice (kind of noirish, I thought) and seemed geared toward male readers.

If I recall, the book was written and published a few years ago -- is that correct? If so, that's a bit of a problem, because backlisted books are hard to promote to booksellers for signings -- they usually want books that are recently released (six-eight months is the typical book tour life cycle for a new release). Also, as you probably already know, the book selling market is really shrinking. Experts are forecasting that over 400 independent bookstores will close this year, and the big brick-and-mortar sellers (Barnes & Noble and Borders) are struggling. I heard that Borders resurrected itself from bankruptcy, but my experience with them this year is that they are still in trouble (slow to pay and unwilling to list new authors I've sent their way).

The e-book market is rapidly expanding, so if your publisher hasn't created a Kindle edition of your book, ask him to do that as soon as possible. Price it reasonably ($4.99 is the maximum price I recommend for a book by an unknown author). Make sure the Amazon listing includes reviews and is linked back to your paperback version. The nice thing about e-books is that they sell themselves -- the market is growing, and new Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, and other mobile ebook device owners are hungry for material to download.

As for promoting the hard cover version, I recommend that you do as much as you can to develop your platform. I'm assuming you're an expert on ________, so you may want to consider a speaking tour on the topic. I imagine there are groups dedicated to your book's topic, and you probably know who and where those are. It would be great if you could develop a talk or presentation that you could give at group meetings (your accountant would know if these trips can be a tax write-off, so keep all your travel receipts).

You also might consider developing a blog on the topic and trying to appear as a guest blogger on other sites (this is a great way to build your platform). Keep it active and try to post as often as possible (once or twice a month at a minimum). Another good way to develop interest in you and your book would be to write articles and submit them to journals, magazines, online sites, etc. Always give a brief one or two-line bio and links back to your website and/or publisher's site at the end of each guest blog post and article.

Once you develop a following from your speaking and blogging/article work, that would be the time to try to book some radio and TV appearances. But you have to build a platform (i.e., develop some notoriety and expertise) first -- otherwise, it's a tough sell to the radio and TV producers.

Hope this info is helpful. Let me know when you plan to be here in San Diego, and we'll get together for lunch.

See you soon! -Paula