Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Watch Your Backside: A Publicist’s Advice on Back Covers

I was dismayed recently to receive a number of books from prospective clients (including three from a small press) that had nothing on the back covers other than the Bookland EAN barcode and a brief paragraph about the book.

That’s it? A bar code and a paragraph?

Some of these back cover paragraphs were poorly written and riddled with typos. One included a glib attempt by the author to downplay his writing skills with self-effacing humor. One had no description of the book, but instead listed a 16-line quote by a reviewer. Another filled the entire space of the back cover in an illegible, shadowed font.

It’s hard to believe that in today’s crowded market, authors willingly choose to ignore the valuable marketing space on their books' back covers. Because that’s what a back cover is – an opportunity to sell your book to a potential reader. But in order to sell, the back cover must be professional in design and compelling in its content.

Here’s what I like to see on a back cover (in addition to the Bookland barcode), preferably in this order:

1. An intriguing, well-written one or two-paragraph summary about the book.

If the book is fiction, think of the summary paragraph as your chance to hook your prospective reader. Focus on the meat of the story: WHO has to do WHAT to cause WHAT to happen/not happen? Then add details that will appeal to your target audience.

If you’re writing non-fiction, describe your book’s contents in a way that sets you apart from any other books on the topic. What makes your book different? What special expertise do you bring to the subject matter that will entice readers? And what will readers learn after reading your book?

When you write your back cover copy, think about what your reader is looking for. Describe the story – or in the case of non-fiction, the book’s content – in such a way that the person reading it feels compelled to open the book.

2. At least 3 one or two-sentence blurbs from reviewers your target readers recognize and respect.

The more well-known your reviewers, the more likely readers are going to want to take a look at what’s inside your book. Network with your friends and fellow authors to locate reviewers who will appeal to your target audience. Send the reviewers copies of your manuscript and ask them to write a blurb for you. When you receive the blurbs, parse them down to one or two sentences that do the best job of relaying what’s good about your book. Remember that endorsements are especially important to media folks, so it’s worth the time and effort to try to obtain blurbs from readers who are well-known.

What if you don’t know any big names who can endorse your book? Ask your writing group members, fellow authors, friends, and even family members if they’ll read your work and give you an endorsement. Choose people who are good representative readers, and/or those who will give you a well-written, pithy quote. A good review from a reader who represents your book’s target audience may be the deciding factor in motivating an interested reader to open and/or buy the book.

3. A headshot and bio.

Readers like to know something about the authors of the books they might buy. By providing a small photo of yourself, and a brief, one-paragraph bio, you are using yourself as a selling point. Be sure your headshot is professional-looking and include the most important facts about yourself and your platform in the bio. Also, list your website and other social media sites where readers can find more information about you.

Your headshot should appear next to the biographical paragraph and should be small enough to fit the space next to the bio, but large enough that your features are recognizable.

In addition to the bar code and pricing information, you may want to include listing the book’s subject category (usually this appears in the upper left-hand corner of the back cover). Doing so helps staff members at bookstores and libraries know where to shelve your book.

Finally, think of your back cover as prime advertising space and use as much of it as you can, with proper attention to design and legibility. If you have won awards, be sure to list those on the back cover, as well. But most important, design your back cover so it inspires your readers to buy. Give them a glimpse of your voice and style with an intriguing, well-written synopsis. Let them know that your work is important and endorsed by others with a few positive blurbs. And introduce yourself and your platform by including an author photo and a brief bio.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Introverted Author & the Art of Co-Promotion

Some authors are natural show persons; they love working a crowd, and have no problem speaking in front of groups, walking up to strangers to offer a pitch, or singing their own praises on the Internet.

You know the type – these are the authors who give multiple presentations at writing conferences, blatantly self-promote at family gatherings and business meetings, post daily blog articles about any topic related to their writing, and forgo the 80-20 rule on multiple social media sites in favor of 100% “me” talk. They’re the ones who have no problem, no matter what the venue, proudly exclaiming, “Hey, I’m an author and you must buy my book!”

We have to give these authors their due, not only because they often lead the way in demonstrating how to self-promote, but because many of them have become really successful as a result of their outgoing personalities. They manage to sell, in many cases, not because of their books deserve to be read, but through the sheer force and dynamism of their promotional efforts.

But many authors are not built that way. A good number of them tend to be shy and fairly humble about their achievements. Even if they have no problem being friendly and outgoing in their personal and business lives, when it comes to their books, they hold back. This is a common tendency of authors who are new to the game; oftentimes they’re unsure of themselves and/or their work, are not certain about how to promote, or just don’t enjoy being in the spotlight. In my publicity business, these are the clients who hire me to set up an aggressive speaking and media tour and then, once the scheduled dates get close, cancel their appearances one-by-one. I can’t fault them; they know they need to do publicity in order to sell their work, but when it comes time to take the stage, they just can’t do it. In truth, they prefer to work quietly on their books and, when finished, are hard-pressed to venture out to promote them.

Some would say that if these shy authors want to sell books, they need to get with the program and learn to be show persons. And speaking from a publicist’s perspective, I have to agree that it’s fairly difficult to obtain exposure for authors (many who don’t have much of a platform to begin with) who prefer not to do book signings or speaking engagements, who refuse to travel, who have no interest in setting up websites and blogs, and who are uncomfortable with promotional efforts that involve pubic exposure of any kind.

But I understand where these authors are coming from – they are first and foremost writers, not public speakers or social media experts. They prefer to complete a book and get on with the business of writing the next one. And they don’t want to change who they are in order to sell their work

So, what can these shy authors, especially those who are new to the game, do if they’re not natural show persons? If you’re the retiring and humble type, how do you get around your natural inclinations when it’s time to sell your work?

My answer for shy writers is to consider co-promotion. If you’re the type who really, truly hates being in the limelight, then promoting jointly, with the help of someone else, might be the solution. That someone else can be a friend or family member who is more outgoing, another author (or authors) with similar book(s), or hired professionals who can help handle day-to-day promotions.

Co-promotions can include joint or group book signings, promotional events, and tours. If you are shy about appearing on your own at a signing or speaking opportunity, teaming up with another author or a group of authors for an event might be a good way to go. Your coauthors will bring people to the event, and if you share a common topic or genre, you might feel more comfortable about selling your books to the event’s attendees. Another option is to ask friends to host events for you; a private gathering in someone’s home may feel less threatening if you’re the kind of author who is naturally shy.

Likewise, if you’re uncomfortable speaking in front of groups alone, consider being part of panel presentations, where you can hang back or stand out as much as you like, and punt any question you don’t care to answer to the rest of the panel sharing the stage with you.

Don’t like working the crowd at an event? Ask others who are more outgoing to come with you to work the room or help out with the speaking/demonstration portions of your talk.

If you’re uncomfortable appearing before live audiences, consider taping interviews or presentations and posting them on YouTube and on your web, blog, and social media sites. One of the nice features of video clips is that they can be edited to make you look better, to erase mistakes or speaking glitches, and to add in information that you might have overlooked.

If you’re shy about your personal appearance, consider creating podcasts of your work, and share those on the Internet on your own website and at other places where readers can listen in. Don’t forget to mention your book, and describe where readers can go to hear more or purchase the book. Seek out radio interviews and ask if you can give them by phone, rather than appearing in-studio, or pursue online interviews, where you can send information via email.

Those who are okay with being seen and heard, but who prefer not to travel for public appearances might consider speaking to book clubs and other organizations via Skype. You can give presentations, take questions, and have pretty much the same interactions with readers that you would at an in-person event or signing without having to leave the comfort of your home office.

Teaming up with other authors or using videos and other electronic means of communication are not the only way to co-promote. You can gain incredible traction for yourself and your work on the Internet by participating in group blogsites or guest blogging on other people’s sites. The same is true for social media sites; if you’re not comfortable with creating your own, consider teaming up with someone else to share a Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads account,

If you’re uncomfortable making personal announcements about yourself on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, a good option might be to use dashboards like HootSuite, where you can upload announcements and schedule them at a pace that feels right to you, interspersing them with other information so that they appear on your social media sites at strategic times. You can even hire professional social media experts to help create content for your sites and post that content for you.

Those who aren’t good at speaking in public, but would like to become so, might consider working with a professional coach to learn good speaking and interview techniques. There are also organizations like Toastmasters, local business networks, and other professional groups and clubs that provide opportunities for free networking and feedback to help you hone your speaking skills.

Finally, if you’re not comfortable doing your own publicity, you might consider hiring a publicist and working with her to create a promotional plan that fits your personality and budget. If you prefer not to tour or do any public speaking, be sure to indicate that up front. Discuss the options for other ways of gaining publicity. A good public relations professional should be able to help you identify unique ways to promote your work that fit your personal style.

There are a number of successful authors (many who have a long list of publications under their belts) who have become literary media darlings and are so comfortable being on the public stage that they spend the majority of their time there. Their success can be intimidating, especially to new authors, who haven’t yet developed extensive platforms or significant numbers of readers, or who struggle with being public about their work.

But authors who aren’t comfortable in the spotlight can still be successful at promoting; they just need to identify creative ways to get their message out. Ultimately, we all want authors to do more of what they’re good at, which is writing. No shame, then, for those authors who know their limits as show persons, and who find creative ways to promote their work so they can spend their time on what really matters: writing good books.