Category — On Book Promotion
This is an excerpt of Susan McBeth’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about how authors can connect with readers through nontraditional book events, and how authors can plan the perfect event to promote their books. For more book promo information, and to read Susan’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Susan McBeth is the founder and owner of Adventures By the Book, which provides opportunities for readers to connect with authors through events and worldwide travels. She has worked as an event coordinator for more than twenty years, including as director of events and marketing at an independent bookstore, and has hosted events ranging from small, intimate gatherings for debut authors to large-scale events with high-profile and bestselling authors. Susan is also hosting the Southern California Author Academy, a monthly series of interactive workshops on book promotion for authors, beginning September 29, 2013, in San Diego.
Q: In what ways can nontraditional book events be good for sales and exposure?
A: Nontraditional book events are a fabulous way to increase sales and exposure for a variety of reasons. Keep in mind that the most successful events are those in which the author and the reader make a connection on some level. And when that magical connection occurs, you are more likely to generate increased book sales and exposure, as these readers will want to share with others the “experience” they just had.
Q: What are a few examples of non-bookstore events an author might try?
A: The best kind of nontraditional book event is one that is a good fit for an author’s particular book, keeping in mind that the primary goal is to make a connection with the reader.
For example, say you have written a lighthearted, fun piece of fiction. Since the best way to connect is to envision what it is you want your readers to feel or experience when they read your book, try to anticipate your demographic. In this case, your audience will likely consist of women who want to laugh and be entertained. A happy hour event would be a great fit, then, because it has the same goals in mind. And if you are not an experienced or naturally gifted speaker, sipping a glass of wine and sitting informally amongst a group of readers is much less intimidating and more natural than lecturing in a more formal setting, and allows you an opportunity to chat one-on-one with readers. And when readers share a glass of wine and some appetizers, they already start off an event having a good time and possessing a mindset that the fun will continue, so your connection has begun even before you start speaking.
For more advice from Susan, and to read Susan’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Click here to visit Susan’s website.
September 4, 2013 No Comments
I am absolutely delighted to be featured on Erika Dreifus’s website in this Q&A, in which we chat about Everyday Book Marketing, my own adventures in book promotion, and what new authors need to know about marketing.
September 3, 2013 No Comments
When Forgetting English was published back in 2009, I was overwhelmed with all the book promotion I had ahead of me. And one thing I learned quickly was that I could promote my book around the clock, and it still wouldn’t be enough. Because there’s always more that can be done, how does an author decide where to start and — just as important — where and when to end?
The bad and good news is that there is no end to book promotion, but you can find a balance. This is one of the reasons I wrote Everyday Book Marketing. And I am absolutely thrilled to be part of Adventure by the Book‘s new Author Academy, which launches in September and offers incredible opportunities for authors to prioritize, strategize, and make the most of their budgets, even if time and/or dollars may be hard to find.
The inaugural workshops for the Author Academy will take place on Sunday, September 29, in San Diego. The day will be divided into two parts, starting with a general overview of Everyday Book Marketing that covers essential book promotion basics (from 10 to 11:30 a.m.), followed by an interactive workshop (from noon to 2:30) that builds upon the morning session and in which, using a checklist, you will create your own customized marketing plan. Click here for more details and for registration details.
I’m particularly excited about teaming up with Susan McBeth of Adventures by the Book, whose Author Academy series will continue with monthly interactive workshops covering everything from how to take the best author photo possible to how to shine at your book events.
Visit Adventures by the Book for more info — we hope to see you in September!
August 12, 2013 No Comments
A million thanks to Joanna Penn for hosting me this week on the brilliant The Creative Penn blog, where you’ll find my post “Think Like A Writer Every Day, Even If You Can’t Write Every Day.”
Best of all, Joanna’s wonderful readers have chimed in with fantastic tips and ideas for how to stay inspired and creative, even when you’re unable to sit in the chair and write — I so enjoyed hearing about so many different processes and learning a few new tips.
For those of you not yet familiar with The Creative Penn, do check it out — you’ll find a wealth of information on writing, publishing, and marketing. In addition to Joanna’s own expertise as a writer, her website features guest posts and interviews with other authors on everything from finding time to write to editing and revising to how best to publish your work.
October 23, 2012 No Comments
If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a book cover’s got to be worth at least forty to a hundred times that, if it’s going to sell what’s inside.
According to Para Publishing, “everyone judges a book by its cover,” and their statistics cite a Wall St. Journal study that reveals that bookstore browsers spend eight seconds looking at the front cover and fifteen seconds looking at the back. Yet the trick is usually getting readers interested enough to pick up the book in the first place.
As many of you know, Forgetting English was reissued last year with a gorgeous new cover.
What most of you don’t know is that I was madly in love with another cover image before falling in love with this one. That first cover was exotic and mysterious and beautiful, in a way completely different from the one above. But we ran into a permissions issue and had to let it go.
Naturally, I thought I’d never fall in love again. My kind and patient publisher, Kevin Morgan Watson of Press 53, assured me that I would.
And I did. Now, I can’t imagine my book having a cover other than the one above.
Below is the first edition of Forgetting English, the cover of which went through several dramatic makeovers (different type styles, different colors, different layouts, with the Gauguin painting the only thing that didn’t change) before turning out like this.
While I’m partial to my new book cover, I’ll always have a fondness for this one — my ex-book, if you will. Going through this process not once but twice was interesting; I think authors (not to mention readers) react to a cover much the way they do to people they meet: There’s an instant connection, or there’s not. A good publisher and book designer understands that and looks for an image conveys what’s beneath the cover as best it possibly can.
Check out this book design case study, featuring Erika Dreifus’s wonderful book, Quiet Americans, which takes us through the steps a book designer goes through in preparing not only a cover but the interior design.
Most authors, unless they publish with a small press, don’t have a say in what their book covers look like (or, they attempt to have a say and are ignored or overruled). For my first book, while the Gauguin painting featured on the cover is one of my favorites, its South Pacific feel evokes only one story in the collection, and I didn’t feel it was a good fit. While I’d already sent along a few cover ideas and even several images, someone had already secured permission to use the art, and there was no room for debate.
When my book was reissued, I was thrilled to work closely with Kevin at Press 53 to find a cover that we both thought was perfect for the book. He understands, as good editors, agents, and publishers to, that while the publisher knows how to best market its books (and is footing the bill for book design, no less), the author also has a valuable contribution to make — and an author who loves his or her book cover will be all the happier to promote it.
For more insights on authors and their book covers, check out this piece in The Awl featuring six writers on book covers and marketing; it’s fascinating to hear from authors who either love or hate their covers, who were consulted or not, and how they approach the strange process of getting blurbs.
When all is said and done, when it comes to our book covers, we authors have to be flexible. If our books are our “children,” as the comparison often goes, we have to let go just as parents do: Parents, after all, never know exactly how their kids are going to turn out. And they love them all the same.
October 3, 2012 No Comments
If you’re a writer in 2012, you surely have a blog. Yet how do you know if you’re using your blog in the best way you can to promote your work (without being that dreaded writer, The Over-Promoter)?
There is no one-size-fits all way to write a blog — for as many writers as there are in the world, there are as many blogging styles. Yet if you don’t blog enough — or if you blog too much, or if you blog about the wrong things — you risk alienating the very audience you hope to engage. So here are a few tips to help you keep up your blog, your writing, and your connection with readers.
- Keep it short and sweet. A blog post need not be the length of a novella — it need only be interesting, relevant (see below), and useful to the reader. Also, if you’re a writer, you need to be spending most of your time on your novel or poems, not blogging. Be brief and have fun — and then get back to your writing.
- Keep it relevant. While you don’t want to be a shameless self-promoter, you do want your blog to be at least somewhat related to your writing, whether you talk about the process of writing your novel (research, writing rituals, inspiration for your characters, etc.) or whether you add content relevant to a nonfiction book (new recipes if you’re writing a cookbook, for example, or — as happens to be the case with this blog — new writing prompts that relate to Everyday Writing) or whether you link to stories thematically related to your fiction (I’ve often linked to travel stories related to settings that appear in Forgetting English).
- Add visuals. Not every post will lend itself to images (and it’s better to use none at all than cheesy, unrelated stock photos), but keep in mind that what engages the eye helps to engage the reader. Make each post as visually appealing as possible. For example, I’m using bold type in this bulleted list to make it more reader friendly. (Is it working?) And, when in doubt, I can always add an image of my book (most people find this cover very relaxing).
- Share the love. Use your blog not only to share your own writing but to connect with others. The more you reach out and share others’ blogs, the more your readers will gain. Link to other blogs, offer and host guest posts, participate in virtual book tours and giveaways. All these things will help foster a true online community. And don’t neglect to comment on others’ blogs and to respond to comments on your own. Both bloggers and readers love the feedback and the sense that there’s a real human behind the posts.
- Have fun. While I saved this point for last, it’s probably the most important. Even if it means posting less, post only when you’re inspired and have something to say. The last thing your blog should be is a chore (and readers can tell when you’ve phoned it in), so take the time to consider how best to keep up with a blog in a way that engages and inspires you, and this in turn will keep your book out there in the world in a subtle yet important way.
Wishing you happy blogging!
August 1, 2012 4 Comments
I couldn’t possibly define “author platform” any better than Jane Friedman does in this blog post, so I won’t even try. This is truly a post that anyone who wants to publish a book should read — even better, prospective authors should read this long before publication is on the horizon.
Whether fiction or nonfiction, books usually take a while to write — years, in most cases. Yet somehow, many authors seem to be rapidly approaching their publication dates before realizing they have to build a platform (a few years ago, this was me). And as Jane so accurately points out, building a platform does not happen overnight: In fact, a solid platform takes years to build (especially if you want to avoid all that she tell us a platform is not, such as “hard selling” and “annoying people,” which no author wants to do).
I have to admit that I began writing and publishing stories even before a “platform” was the first thing an editor or agent asked about. I didn’t know (or care) about having one — but fortunately for me, by the time I had a book contract, I discovered that I sort of did have one. I was a teacher who was developing a mailing list and writing a blog; I’d published stories in dozens of magazines and journals. Today, I work to keep up with all these things, including writing nonfiction articles, and even a book, on the creative process. I’m on Facebook and Twitter (a little reluctantly sometimes) and even though all this takes time away from writing, it’s all so important as it can still be a challenge for an author to find her audience.
For all of you out there who are still working on your books, know that it’s never to early to think about your platform. And if you cringe at the very thought of the word “platform,” you’re not alone — but think of it this way: How will you find an audience for your book? While it’s true that some writers seem to be overnight successes, the vast majority of us will have to find our audience on our own. Many authors think that marketing isn’t their job, that it’s only about the writing — yet this couldn’t be further from reality. This isn’t to say that a platform should come first, only that it’s something that needs to be developed along with your creative project so that when your book is ready for the world, so are you as a writer. After all, what’s the good in writing that book when you’re not in a good position to find all the readers you possibly can?
As Jane tells us, “It’ll be a long journey.” Start now, and you’ll be able to take your time and even have a little fun.
March 13, 2012 6 Comments
With another new year ahead, my new list of writing goals now reads: Writing Goals of
Sometimes we don’t accomplish everything we hope to — but that doesn’t mean we can’t re-evaluate and move on. So I thought I’d offer a few writing tips as we head into 2012 (though I admit I probably need them more than you do).
It wasn’t even two years ago that I discovered Priscilla Long’s List of Works, and I still find that it’s among the best tools I have for keeping track of what I’m doing (or not doing) as a writer. In brief, a List of Works allows you to note what projects you’ve begun (and when), at what stage they are (published or circulating), and what you need to revise, finish, and/or send out.
In all, it’s been a great year. Forgetting English, which went briefly out of print last year, has a fabulous new life thanks to Kevin Morgan Watson and Press 53. I did a book tour with my dear friend and writing buddy Wendy Call, the award-winning author of No Word for Welcome. I published five stories, won a fiction contest, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Then, of course, there’s the rest of it. I also have three unfinished stories (two of which I began back in 2010), and a half-dozen ideas for stories that are still waiting for attention (and again, some of these ideas have been sitting there, half-baked, for at least a year…or more). I have half of a new story collection that I’d hoped to finish this year (definitely not going to happen). And then there’s that novel I’ve been working on for the past two years.
But this is what it’s all about: accepting both the good and the less-than-good. Finding the balance. Celebrating the great news and resolving to make great news from the rest…eventually.
So if you’re like me — juggling storylines and submissions — here are a few tips for 2012…
- Create a List of Works. Whether you’re just beginning to write or whether you’ve been writing for years, you should have a List of Works. Create it in whatever way works for you … just make sure you write down every single project you begin, and be sure you create one for every calendar year. Most important, go back through your ancient files and list every writing project you’ve ever begun…you never know what might happen when you rediscover these “old” ideas.
- Take a close look at unfinished projects. I’ve found many a gem in a long-abandoned project. Even when I have only a vague idea for a story, I’ll jot down a few notes, file it as a “story in progress,” come back to it at least once a year. Often it just sits there for another year, but sometimes I’ll find it at just the right time, and it’ll come to life in new and surprising ways. Never abandon old ideas; you never know when they’ll suddenly be relevant.
- Track all your submissions. This may seem incredibly obvious, but I’m always surprised by how many writers don’t keep track of submissions. Thanks to many magazines and publishers accepting online submissions, it’s easier now than ever — but you’ll still want to have some sort of system for whatever you submit in print. I use an Excel spreadsheet; one writer I know keeps a loose-leaf binder; other writers keep simple lists. It’s helpful for many reasons (among them, making sure you don’t submit the same piece to the same publication twice, or forget what you sent when a form rejection arrives) — but most of all, it’ll remind you to keep sending work out there. It can take dozens of rejections before you get an acceptance, and you’ll want to be sure you keep your work circulating.
- Take stock of your progress at least twice a year. And quarterly is even better. Taking inventory will help you see what you’ve begun and how far you’ve come — and how far you still need to go. And keep in mind this isn’t meant to stress you out about what you’re not writing but to inspire you to stay on course. You may find that you haven’t gotten anywhere with the novel you’d hoped to write but that you found the perfect ending for a short story you’ve been working on for years. Or you may find that the poem you started isn’t coming together but that it would make a better personal essay anyway. Be open to taking things in new directions.
- See how you can use your new work to better promote the work that’s already out there. When Forgetting English was reissued by Press 53 in April of this year, it was in an expanded version with two new stories. One of the stories, “Lost Art,” hadn’t yet appeared outside the collection, so I thought it would be great to find it a home of its own, which would in turn help promote the new edition of my book. I found the story a home in a beautiful online journal, Escape Into Life, and it was a win-win all around. (Note that you may need to check your publishing contract before embarking on such a venture.) I’ve also done guest blogs and articles for The Writer about various aspects of my writing process, all of which bring new attention to Forgetting English. Think about how you can use what you know and do best to highlight your own work.
Happy new year! May 2012 be your best writing year ever.
December 28, 2011 3 Comments
When my writing buddy Wendy Call and I began to plan our joint book tour for this past summer and fall, we proposed events from readings to workshops to writing-prompt sessions. And, as this Wall St. Journal article indicates, we are apparently not alone in thinking outside the traditional book tour. In fact, of the nearly dozen events Wendy and I did together, only two of them were straight readings.
We took this approach for several reasons: For one, we are two writers with quite different books that are very similar in theme; our books cover travel, globalization, and characters facing challenges, yet Wendy’s book, No Word for Welcome, is nonfiction, while Forgetting English is a collection of short fiction. So we wanted to bring readers together to offer something for both nonfiction and fiction readers, as well as to give them a chance to participate as an audience.
We also recognized that neither of us is (quite) famous enough to have fans lining up around the block. And when you are an unknown author, it helps to offer a little something beyond the book when you’re meeting your readers, most of whom will be new.
Finally, we planned to visit a variety of venues, from Grub Street to The Writer’s Center to Boston University, as well as bookstores. And we also recognized that a bookstore event needs to draw crowds and sell books to be a win-win, and it’s up to the author as well as the bookstore to try to make that happen.
We learned a great deal — far more than will fit into a short blog post — but here are a few tips…
- Team up. There are so many advantages to doing a joint book tour — and offering a little something different to participants is only one of them. And, as this WSJ article mentions, sometimes a bookseller will interview an author, which is another great idea.
- Offer a workshop. Wendy and I taught several different workshops on our tour, all geared toward the themes in our books, from narrative writing to travel writing. Though we each chose sections of our books for the other to read, we also offered examples of work other than our own and included handouts and reading lists. You can also, as Wendy did at several of her solo events, offer slide shows with images that relate to your book; many authors use PowerPoint presentations as well. There are really no rules other than making the presentation engaging and relevant.
- Talk about what inspired the book or certain scenes. It’s always fun to learn what’s behind the scenes of an interesting book, and by going this, you offer readers more than what’s between the pages. You’ll want to read enough to give readers a taste of what’s to come — but the idea is that they’ll be buying the book, so you’ll want to offer something they can’t take home with them.
- Make time for audience participation, whether you assign a couple of writing prompts or start the Q&A with you asking the Qs. As novelist Jason Skipper says in this interview, on his recent book tour he took several fun approaches to his readings, from singing Wilco songs to inviting the audience to read with him.
- Structure the event so that reading time is minimal. While Wendy and I both made time to read brief excerpts from our respective works (you definitely want to give people at least a little taste of your book), we spent only a small percentage of our event time on reading, which allowed for us to get to know our audiences and vice versa. We’d often begin with a brief reading and then conclude with one as well — this is a good way to bookend an event — but for the most part, while we were there on behalf of our books, we talked more than read.
In the end, the most important thing is that you have fun — this is something that readers will remember — and often the most fun and surprising events go well beyond the book itself.
December 13, 2011 2 Comments
When Forgetting English was first published by Eastern Washington University Press in 2009, I learned — after the fact and much to my dismay — that it had never been sent out for reviews. It wasn’t long before I also learned that half of the press’s staff had been laid off and that the press would close within the year, which answered the question of why — but I still had to deal with the fact that I had a short story collection to promote without a single review.
And that was a little depressing.
Authors (rightly) expect their publishers to send out review copies (if there’s ever any doubt, they should ask), but of course this doesn’t guarantee that their books will actually be reviewed. With some 200,000 books being published in the U.S. annually, it’s a challenge, particularly for new and emerging authors, to get reviewed by the major media outlets that can get your book the attention you want and need. So what can an author do to help create some publication buzz when the reviews aren’t coming in?
Among the best advice I got from authors when Forgetting English was published was to use my author copies for promotion purposes. I’d been planning to give them all away — what could be more fun than to shower friends and family with free books? — but then I realized that my fellow authors had very good reasons behind their advice.
First, if anyone’s going to buy your book with great joy and pride, it’ll be your friends and family — so let them. It doesn’t cost them all that much, and it’ll support either their indie bookstores or your Amazon ranking, and that’s nice, too. Second, you’ll need to send complimentary copies to those who were instrumental in the writing or publishing process, from those who helped you with research to those who offered blurbs; anyone who donated time and energy to you without asking anything in return certainly deserves a signed copy of your book. And, finally, whatever copies you have left are best used to help promote it — given today’s challenges, from the economy to dwindling attention spans, we authors need all the help we can get. And I don’t mean this in a pessimistic way, just a realistic one: As anyone who’s published a book will tell you, promotion makes writing look like the easy part.
Whether you’ve gotten those PW and NYT reviews or not, you’ll still want to take advantage of the myriad options for generating buzz and/or keeping it going. So here are a few tips for getting reviews and making the most of them…
- About six months before your book comes out, research book review blogs to see which ones might be a good fit for your book as well as receptive to reviewing it. You’ll want to approach bloggers with a good number of followers (these are your potential readers) as well as comments (which shows that the reviews are being read and responded to). Also be sure they read and review in your genre and that the reviews are of the quality and sensibility you hope for in a review. It’s best to query first so that you don’t send a copy that may end up in recycling; if a blogger is interested, he or she will get back to you. Because publishers often offer advance copies to book bloggers as well as more traditional media, check your list against the review list of your publisher so that you don’t send duplicates.
- If for any reason your book doesn’t get sent out for reviews, don’t give up: Send copies out yourself. You won’t get anywhere with Publishers Weekly, which requires copies months in advance, but your local newspaper will probably pay attention, and may even do a feature article along with a review. Alumni magazines and newsletters are also a great resource.
- Think outside the box: Don’t limit yourself to traditional book review sections of publications but also look at other possibilities, from travel columns to cooking editions. Target radio stations, university publications, community newsletters — any venue or publication that might offer a good audience for your book and/or topic.
- If you are fortunate enough to get good press, add reviews to your web site, your Facebook page, etc. — get the good news out there. At the same time, avoid becoming tediously self-promotional; if you get several reviews at once, you might space them out a bit. I often link to reviews on Facebook by expressing gratitude toward the reviewer or publication, which always seems a bit softer than shamelessly showing off my book (even if that really is the point). It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
- Remember that every day is book promotion day: Don’t give up on getting reviews six months past your publication date. When Forgetting English was reissued by Press 53, I reached out to new bloggers and even did another book tour — all of which led to many new readers, even though the book by then was two years old. Always keep an eye out for publications that might be a good fit, or for a local news story that you may be able to contribute to. There’s never any reason to stop promoting your book; there will always be someone out there for whom it’s brand-new.
- If readers tell you how much they love your book, ask for an Amazon/Goodreads/LibraryThing/Barnes & Noble reader review. Having good reviews on these sites will get the attention of online shoppers, and though it feels awkward to ask, you’ll get over it once you see a few nice reviews up there. You don’t have to beg or plead; simply let people know how much a nice review will help get the word out about your book and how much you’d appreciate it.
- And, finally, if you do happen to get a bad review, try to remember how subjective the process of reviewing is. This is especially true with book blogs, many of which are very informal — yet even professional book reviewers are human beings with personal tastes that may not align with what you’ve written. Recognize that no writer or book can satisfy every reader, and, because the book is out there and there’s nothing you can do to change it anyway, do your best to ignore anything negative. And don’t attempt to respond to bad reviews, even if you feel the reviewer was sloppy or missed the whole point of the book; this approach never goes anywhere good. Just let it go.
And keep in mind that, in the end, while reviews are wonderful and helpful, they won’t necessarily make or break your book. Many bestsellers have been made by word of mouth alone, so always remember what you can do for your book, focusing on what is in your power do accomplish rather than what’s not.
November 30, 2011 No Comments
It was a couple of years ago that I first saw an Espresso Book Machine (EBM) at work, at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington. It was impressive to see an entire book printed and bound in less than ten minutes — and even more impressive than the technology is the print-on-demand aspect itself: Books are made to order, which means no print overruns, which means no waste, which means more trees get to live.
Formerly used mainly for self-publishing, the EBMs are showing signs of going more mainstream. HarperCollins recently announced that it plans to make about 5,000 trade paperback backlist available for printing via EBM — and On Demand Books (the company behind the EBM) has also just announced that it plans to register with Google so that all EBM titles will become available through the Google Books website.
I caught a firsthand glimpse of the mainstreaming of the EBM on my recent book tour, when Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, printed up copies of Forgetting English rather than ordering the books and having them shipped. A couple of readers got to see their books being printed, which was fun — and the quality was amazing. The book cover was matte rather than glossy, and the pages were thick, the print crisp, and the binding strong. And I got a kick out of seeing a new and different version of Forgetting English, made to order.
The Espresso Book Machine at Northshire is located in a little nook near the front of the store, close to the cash registers. Northshire also has its own imprint, Shires Press, which offers a variety of packages for authors who want to self-publish their books — a very smart idea and likely one of the many reasons this bookstore is celebrating its 35th birthday and going strong.
And Northshire is far from the only indie bookstore to have an EBM: Check out this list of EBM locations, which comprises indie bookstores, university bookstores, and libraries all over the world, including in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, China, the Philippines, Australia, and England. If there’s an EBM located anywhere near you, I recommend checking it out (and printing up a book!); it’s a fascinating machine that may very well play a very large role in the way publishing looks in the future.
October 5, 2011 No Comments
Years ago, before my book was published, I remember reading an article by a very successful author who was complaining about doing book tours. And I remember thinking, How can any author fortunate enough to have a book published and a tour scheduled complain about the privilege not only of having a book out in the world but of being able to meet her readers?
Now, after having just completed a ten-day whirlwind tour of my own, I can empathize a little more — it really is quite exhausting — but I most definitely cannot complain.
For one, I feel so fortunate to have teamed up with my friend and fellow writer Wendy Call, whose amazing book No Word for Welcome (University of Nebraska Press) was published two months after my book, Forgetting English, was reissued by Press 53. Though my book is fiction and hers narrative nonfiction, our books touch on similar themes — the global economy, home and travel, border crossings both literal and figurative — and we put together a series of workshops, seminars, and joint readings that made for a very busy ten days.
We did eight events in four states, traveling through Hurricane Irene-damaged areas that sent us on all sorts of detours, which were so very minor compared to what most residents were going through. It was amazing to see how these communities we visited bonded together; the photo below is from Woodstock’s Shiretown Books:
Wendy and I gathered a whole series of lessons from this tour, and if I had to sum them up as one, it would be: Be prepared. For anything.
We had water shortages, a car break-in, oddly timed meals (our first meal at 4 p.m. one day, dinner at 11 p.m. on another), and a lot of detour stress. Yet the less-than-fun aspects were offset by being hosted by fantastic indie bookstores and generously taken in by amazing friends. We met with inspiring students and writers, and, no matter how long the day, we always managed to have a glass of wine and at least a few hours’ sleep at the end of it.
I’ve learned that book events are one thing, whereas an extended book tour is another thing entirely. Book touring is for writers who are flexible above all else – you never know what you’ll encounter when you show up for an event. You need to be prepared for detours, of course, and for events that need to start late or end early. Be prepared for crowds larger than you’d expected, or smaller than you’d hoped. Be prepared for more questions than you have time for, or for no questions at all.
But most of all, be prepared to have a lot of fun. I reminded myself, even in the challenging moments, that we were out there talking about our books, which is something many writers don’t have the opportunity to do.
So if you’re a writer considering a tour, remember that, despite the inevitable challenges, when you do a book tour you’re not only meeting your readers but supporting indie booksellers, community centers, and other venues important to the literary world. And if you’re a reader, go to your nearest bookstore on an event day and see what it’s all about.
September 22, 2011 3 Comments
While this post touches on some of the points from Book Promo 101: The bookstore reading, I wanted to devote a little extra time to the art of reading aloud, especially given the wonderful tips I received recently from Jack Straw Productions and Elizabeth Austen.
As part of the preparation for our joint book tour, Wendy Call and I visited Seattle’s Jack Straw Productions, the Northwest’s only non-profit multidisciplinary audio arts center, to record excerpts from our books.
Producer Moe Provencher had wonderful advice for me as I stumbled through a practice reading — an excerpt I’d never rehearsed until that afternoon — and I found her tips as relevant and useful for live readings as they are for audio recordings:
- Mark up the text from which you’re reading so that you’ll know when to pause, what to emphasize, etc.
- Develop a facial expression that reflects a character’s voice and/or mood; when you use your face to express something, this mood and tone will come through in your voice.
- Read far more slowly than you think you need to — to the point at which you feel ridiculous — and this will likely be the perfect pace.
- Practice. Aloud. Many times.
The good news for Seattle-area writers is that Jack Straw offers a Writers Program (Wendy was a 2008 Jack Straw Writer) in which writers spend several months developing a project while learning tips for readings, doing interviews, and more.
I learned a few more invaluable tips when, the week after the recording, I attended Elizabeth Austen‘s workshop at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference: “Beyond the Page: Poems Aloud, Poems Alive” (a session I recommend all prose writers take as well). Elizabeth, with her background in theater, has a gift for the spoken word, and she reminded us first and foremost that language is physical, that we need to remember this when we read aloud, and to feel every word. She offered a few examples — words such as awe, hiss, tip, trapeze — and in speaking them we could hear and appreciate their pitch and length, their sharpness or languidness. (Give it a try, right now. It’s pretty cool.) Elizabeth gave us tips on everything from rehearsing (avoid mirrors or recordings; ask a friend to listen and offer feedback instead) to what to wear to a reading (whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident; also, avoid high heels, and rehearse in the shoes you’ll be wearing at the event).
Among Elizabeth’s wisest tips was this: “The performance requires you, but it’s not about you.” As readers, she explains, we are conduits for getting the words out into the room and to the audience. I love this eye-opening tip, not only because it takes the edge off the self-consciousness most of us feel when we read, but because it reminds us that our words need to speak for themselves — that, now that we’ve written them, it’s time to let them shine on their own.
August 10, 2011 2 Comments
To follow up on Interviews, Part I, I’m happy to present a Q&A with Wendy Call, whose book No Word for Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy, was released last month to fabulous reviews. Wendy is a longtime journalist whose book is based on hundreds of interviews over ten years — and now, as part of her book tour, she is on the other side of the mic. She’s done more than a dozen radio interviews in the last month and has a lot to share.
What are the best reasons for authors to do radio interviews?
The primary reason might not be to sell more copies of your book, but to reach a wider public with the idea(s) behind your book. In the month since my book No Word for Welcome was released, I’ve given fifteen radio interviews. Perhaps two times out of three, I notice a bump in my Amazon sales ranking in the hours after the interview airs. When I don’t, it certainly doesn’t mean the interview was a waste. I can think of many, many times I’ve listened to an author interview, and then checked her book out of the library, or discussed the author’s work with a friend. When I buy the author’s book, it’s usually weeks or months after – most often after I’ve read or heard something else about the author.
If you land a radio interview in a city where you’re giving a reading, a radio interview can bring a larger audience to your event. One of the very first readings I did for my book, No Word for Welcome, was in Los Angeles. I have a few friends and acquaintances in the city; a local organization helped me promote the event; and I did two radio interviews in the week prior to the reading. About one-third of the event’s attendees were my friends and colleagues, one-quarter were members of the organization that helped with promotion, a few came because of a mutual friend’s recommendation, and the remaining quarter came because they heard one of the interviews. So, radio interviews help, but they should be only one part of a wider promotion strategy.
What did you do to prepare yourself for being interviewed?
My publicist and I spent quite a bit of time developing a list of “suggested questions” that were sent out to each of the radio hosts being approached, making sure that those questions covered each of the major themes and ideas of my book. I then devoted about six hours to crafting careful answers to each of the questions. Of course, many of the interviewers asked their own questions, but having those well-rehearsed answers has really helped. My publicist and I also did an hour-long “mock interview” over the phone.
I also do whatever is necessary to get enough sleep the night before the interview – it really does make a difference in both clarity of thought and quality of voice.
If there is one single thing an author should do before an interview, what should that be?
Relax for several minutes before the appointed time, breathe deeply, and review the three key points you want to make in the interview. (Note: “Readers, buy my book!” is not one of them!)
Do you have any tips for writers being interviewed for the first time?
Think in terms of vignette and story.
Listen to author interviews and think carefully about what appeals to you and what doesn’t. While preparing for my interviews, I listened to NPR’s audio archives. I found that the most compelling interviews are those in which the author offers clear, specific, brief vignettes to make her primary points.
Don’t expect the interviewer to read your book.
Radio hosts are extremely busy people; some interview three or four authors each week. I know very few people who read three or four books every week. I’ve had interviewers who had clearly read most or all of my book, and others who hadn’t read past the flap copy. While I’m grateful to those who did read it, I have to say it’s fine either way. To be honest, it’s often easier when the interviewer hasn’t read the book. Those interviewers tend to ask more basic questions, so it’s easier to give answers that will make sense to an audience that knows absolutely nothing about you or your book.
There are far more books being published than there are radio hosts to interview those books’ authors. Any radio host who chooses to interview you is giving you a real gift.
July 13, 2011 1 Comment
For my next two posts, I’ve done a couple of mini-interviews of my own, with two fabulous writers — Elizabeth Austen and Wendy Call — both of whom have vast, invaluable experience as both interviewer and interviewee.
Today’s Q&A is with Elizabeth Austen, who has interviewed dozens of writers over the past ten years years for KUOW, 94.9, one of Seattle’s NPR affiliates. She is also a poet, performer, and teacher who has been interviewed countless times herself — and she has a lot to share about how to give your very best in a live interview. (Click here to find some of Elizabeth’s interviews.)
What are some of the best ways an author can prepare for a live interview?
The most important thing is to spend some time beforehand thinking about what you want to say about your work. Imagine the interview is already over: What do you want to have said? What would you regret NOT saying?
Often, the person interviewing you will not have had time to read your book. So you need to be prepared with a short description of it. What’s your book about? Why did you write it, and why did you write it this way? How is it different from your previous work? Is there an interesting story about how it got published? Also think about what you want to say about how you got started writing and why you continue to do it. You’re essentially interviewer-proofing yourself. Hopefully you’ll get an interviewer who is genuinely interested in you and your book, and will talk with you briefly before the interview starts about what he/she wants to discuss, but you can’t depend on that.
Also, choose a couple of short excerpts or a few short poems that you might read aloud. What would provide a good introduction to the book? Practice reading aloud, and practice giving a concise introduction to what you’re going to read.
If you have time, I recommend listening online to an example or two of your interviewer’s program, so that you’ll have a sense of what to expect in terms of tone and approach. Does this interviewer tend to ask more about craft and process, or about the backstory of the book or individual poems? Is the interviewer looking for anecdotes and stories? Does it seem like the interviewer has actually read the book?
I’m a great believer in preparing for anything, and then letting go of the preparation during the interview so you can respond to what’s actually happening in the conversation. The most important thing is to be present. In the moment, approach it like you would any conversation with someone you care about — by listening and responding as honestly and generously as you can.
What if you’re asked a question you can’t (or don’t wish to) answer?
If there are topics that you consider off-limits for the interview, try to come to an understanding about that with your interviewer beforehand. Remember that it’s perfectly fine to admit that you don’t know the answer to
a question. Maybe the interviewer is suggesting something you’ve never considered before — just say so, and answer as fully as you can in the moment.
And if the question seems intrusive or inappropriate to you, then take a deep breath and pose a different question to yourself, and the answer. Perhaps something like this: “For me, the real question is….” or “Well, I’m more interested in why…”
Do you have any broadcasting secrets for how to sound your best on the radio?
Well, they’re not really secrets, but here are a couple of things to keep in mind. Try to get a good night’s sleep, but don’t freak out if you don’t. For a variety of reasons that I won’t go into here, I got less than four hours of sleep the night before I was interviewed on KUOW along with former poet laureate Billy Collins. I think I was actually too sleep-deprived to be
nervous. However, I don’t recommend this as a tactic, in general! [Editor's note: One would never guess that Elizabeth didn't sleep 8 hours that night. It was an amazing interview and discussion.]
Of course, avoid dairy products for a few hours before and don’t drink so much caffeine that you’re twitchy. Keep your feet on the ground, remember to breathe, and most of all, treat the interview like you would a conversation — that means listening as well as speaking.
And on a technical note – before the interview starts, try to get a chance to talk into the microphone to make sure you’re not too close or too far away.
Do you have advice for writers who get nervous before interviews?
Does anybody not get nervous before interviews? I know I do — whether I’m the interviewer or the interviewee. I have a mantra that I tell myself before I perform, and it’s equally true when I’m interviewing or being interviewed: “The performance requires me, but it’s not about me.” In other words, I need to show up and be present, but the focus is on the work, not on me or my ego (even if I’m talking about my process or any autobiographical connection to the material). The point — whether in a performance or an interview–is to help the reader connect to the work. When I keep my focus on that, my anxiety is much less likely to take over. Another thing to remember is that the nervousness is a kind of necessary fuel.
What if you make a mistake on the air — is there any way to overcome that?
The fact is that the best radio is made when people are actually talking to each other — so that means they’re going to make mistakes sometimes. If you mis-state something and realize it on the air, just correct yourself. If the interview is being recorded, and you stumble while reading an excerpt from your book, just back up to the beginning of a sentence — they can correct it in the editing room. If you’re reading live, just go with it, like you would at a live reading. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be you (hmmm — and maybe that’s the scarier prospect!)
Tomorrow, come back for a Q&A with Wendy Call, with more interviewing advice for writers…
July 12, 2011 1 Comment