Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Publicity Questions from the Twitter Zone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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