Write about the end of the day. What do you do; where do you go; what rituals, if any, do you have? What’s your favorite thing to do at the end of a day — and how often are you able to do it?
This is an excerpt of L.J. Sellers’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about self-publishing and her path to an Amazon book deal. For more book promo information, and to read L.J.’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/thriller series as well as standalone thrillers. A Readers’ Favorite winner, L.J.’s novels have been praised by Publishers Weekly, Mystery Scene, and Suspense Magazine, and her Jackson books are the highest- rated crime fiction series on Amazon.
Q: Tell us about how your first book came into the world, and how this led you onto the path of being (and remaining) an independent author.
A: I self-published my first Detective Jackson novel in 2007 after receiving rave rejections from major publishers. That was before the Kindle was released and print-on-demand publishing became available to individuals, so I spent a small fortune on a print run of 3,500 mass-market paperbacks. Then I worked like a madwoman to find a distributor and reach out to bookstores. I got lucky, and the novel was well received and reviewed. So I wrote two more books in the series, which were picked up and published by a small press. I spent ten times as much money promoting the books as I made in royalties. Despite the wonderful reviews from readers, I strongly considered giving up the series and even wondered if I should continue writing fiction. Then I was laid off my newspaper job, and the year 2010 looked very bleak for me.
But during those years, e-books had emerged as a growing market, and POD became a viable option for print books. So I started looking at my options and decided to upload my unpublished stand-alone thrillers to Kindle to see if I could generate some income. I quickly realized I needed to leave my publisher, get the rights back to my Jackson series, and self-publish every story I had—both as an e-book and as a POD print offering. Which I spent a good chunk of the year doing. After I uploaded the fourth Jackson novel in late October, I turned down freelance work for nearly a month and spent eight hours a day promoting my novels. I wrote blogs and articles, posted in forums, bought a few newsletter ads, and gave away hundreds of e-books on Goodreads and LibraryThing.
The results were astounding. By the end of the year, my series was a Kindle bestseller, and I was making a living selling e-books. Since then I’ve published another five books, and I’m living my dream of being a full-time novelist. But that term is a little misleading. Because I was self-published with ten books on the market, I spent as much time running my business as I did writing the next novel.
But all that has changed. Last year I signed an eleven-book contract with Amazon Publishing—nine backlist titles and two new novels. For the record, it’s the only publisher I even considered selling to. Amazon’s contracts are writer-friendly and generous compared to other publishers. And now that the new versions are on the market, Amazon is heavily promoting them, and my sales have doubled. I’m finally free to write full- time. My lifelong dream.
Q: What has been your biggest marketing challenge?
A: The biggest challenge in marketing is to keep finding new opportunities. Because what worked in 2010 quit working in 2011 when every other author started doing the same thing. And what worked six months ago is no longer as effective now. The market is constantly changing, and the competition is fierce. So I continuously have to find and try new marketing ideas, and it’s time consuming.
Q: What advice do you have to offer authors who plan to self-publish?
A: The first thing is to have your work evaluated by objective professionals in the industry to determine if it has commercial potential. If your novel is marketable, then you have a green light to make the investment you need to be competitive. At that point, you need to decide what your goals are. Do you simply want to publish your book to see it in print for family and friends? Will fiction be a sideline, or do you want to make a living from it? Determining what you want out of the self- publishing experience will help you decide how much time and money to spend. Because if you want to sell well and earn a living, the next step is to invest real money in editing, cover design, professional formatting, and promotional spots. You also should commit to spending a couple hours a day on promotion—social networking, blogging, posting in forums, and querying book reviewers. If professionals don’t consider your work to be marketable or you don’t have the time and money to invest at an appropriate level, then you may need to accept that writing novels is a hobby and whatever you invest may never be recovered. That may sound harsh, but it’s the reality of a very competitive market.
Write about the last time you were sick.
The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way from Inspiration to Publication, by Dan Millman and Sierra Prasada, is a helpful guide for beginning writers that focuses on five stages of creativity.
Dan Millman, well known for his book Way of the Peaceful Warrior, has teamed up with his daughter, journalist Sierra Prasada, for this new book on writing, creativity, and publication. They include their personal journeys as well as tips and guidelines for authors beginning their own journeys.
The first stage, Dream, is about defining one’s story — finding ideas that stick and going from there to defining character, finding plots, considering setting. I especially like the concept of “dreaming in dialogue,” which encourages the writer and his/her alter ego to have a role-play type conversation that helps in discovering characters’ motives, plot twists, etc.
The Draft section is about telling one’s story, from beginning to end, and this section covers topics from using the senses to doing research. In the Develop section, the authors raise the question of hard work versus talent, revision (and reinvention), and the importance of never giving up.
The Refine stage covers sentence-level editing, from trimming to punctuation, and the Share section addresses how to publish and market your work, as well as how to handle rejection (there are some wonderfully inspiring rejection stories here!). One thing I think will be particularly helpful to new writers is the authors’ notion of Nine Sales — that is, the myriad ways in which all writers must sell their books, from selling it to themselves, to their literary agents, and to their editors, all the way to their sales reps and their readers.
Throughout the book, Millman and Prasada remind us to go back to story whenever we’re stuck — to ask the important questions, such as “What’s the story about?” and “Who’s our audience?” For those writers who are new to workshopping or seeking/giving feedback, the book includes what questions to ask your prospective readers in order to get the most constructive feedback possible.
The Creative Compass features a helpful FAQ index near the beginning of the book, referencing such immediate questions as how to find one’s voice as an author, when to ask for feedback, and how journaling may be useful. Inspiring quotes by authors pepper all pages of the book, and a section at the end devotes five pages to quotations. The Creative Compass is an inspiring guide for anyone just beginning to explore their creative selves through writing, as well as those who are just beginning to get a sense of the stories they want to tell.
Write about a time someone tried to sell you something you didn’t want, from life insurance to a new faith to an item at a flea market.
I was delighted to chat with Pamme Boutselis at The Penmen Review about the joys and challenges of writing, book marketing, being an editor, and more.
A million thanks to Pamme for this Q&A!
And writers: Check out The Penmen Review, which includes not only articles and resources for writers but is an online magazine featuring poetry, fiction, and essays, and more (check out the submission guidelines here).
This is an excerpt of Susan Rich’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about book promotion, asking for what you want, and unique ideas for book events. For more book promo information, and to read Susan’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Susan Rich is the author of four collections of poetry, The Cartographer’s Tongue: Poems of the World; Cures Include Travel; The Alchemist’s Kitchen; and the forthcoming Cloud Pharmacy. Her poems have been published in the Antioch Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry International, and The Southern Review, among others, and her fellowships include an Artist Trust Fellowship from Washington State and a Fulbright Fellowship in South Africa.
Q: What are the most successful things you’ve done to promote your books?
A: I learned this from a poet friend, and it’s very simple: “Ask for what you want.” Be clear on what makes an event or a project a positive experience for you. When one festival in Vermont invited me to read, I wrote back to say I’d love to come but I needed accommodation for my stay. At first the organizer said that he couldn’t accommodate me, but a few weeks later he came through with rooms offered to the festival by a lovely hotel. Since then I have asked museums to host events for free and hotels to give over their penthouse for a performance. There is no shame associated with asking for what you want—and this works especially well when working with other writers.
Here’s one example. For my book The Alchemist’s Kitchen, I decided that I wanted to set up a national tour. This goal sounded overly grandiose to my ears and to my budget (poets are not sent on tours by their publishers), but it was what I wanted: a new challenge. Over a two-week period, I visited San Diego, Boston, and Miami for events in each place. In each city I had friends to see, so I knew it would be fun no matter what else happened. In each city I read with other writers and made contacts that led to other projects. Going on the road facilitated new contacts and new places to do book promotion—because I asked.
Q: What aspect of book promotion has surprised you the most?
A: I’m always surprised that book promotion is actually fun. I am an introvert at heart—happiest with my own company. The idea of “selling” myself makes me want to run off to another planet. However, after several books I’ve found that when a book comes out, I look for other “new” authors in the same position so we can help each other. The writers I’ve met are overwhelmingly a generous lot. We share creative promotional ideas and our favorite bookstores to read in. This goes a long way toward casting the whole expedition as more of an adventure than a burden. My newest idea, “borrowed” from Colleen Michaels, a poet in Salem, Massachusetts, is to create an “Improbable Places Poetry Tour.” Colleen and her students at Montserrat College stage poetry readings where you least expect to find them: a flower shop, a Laundromat, a store window, and a bank. I’m working on an event right now that takes place in a hotel penthouse.
For those of you in Seattle, Susan will be participating in LitCrawl Seattle on Thursday, October 24, 2013 — she’ll be reading at Poco Wine + Spirits (at 1408 E Pine St.) with Karen Finneyfrock, Rebecca Hoogs, and John Duvernoy.
I’m so happy to be a guest blogger on the fabulous website Writers Helping Writers, where you can read an excerpt from Everyday Book Marketing on how to create a great author website. (This excerpt was printed in Author Magazine in September, and I’m grateful that it has the chance to appear again on this wonderful site for writers.
Spend a little time checking out Writers Helping Writers, and you’ll find a wealth of information, from recommended books to online classes to resources for writers. You can also sign up for a free e-newsletter. The site’s founders, Angela and Becca, are both authors who generously share all they know about what it means to be a writer. Enjoy!
Write about changing your hair — color, length, adding hair, cutting hair, shaving it all off. What did you want to be different, and what did you think might change along with your hairstyle? Were there any specific circumstances that led to the change?
It’s been a great pleasure to talk about Everyday Book Marketing as well as to hear what poets and writers are finding useful about it…and this week I’m especially grateful to the poets who have embraced and chatted up the book.
A million thanks to Susan Rich for this generous review on her blog, The Alchemist’s Kitchen (which includes a link where can download a free excerpt of Everyday Book Marketing). And if you already have a copy of the book, don’t miss Susan’s Q&A, which is filled with invaluable advice for all authors.
Thanks, too, to Kelli Russell Agodon, another Q&A contributor with priceless advice, for her review on her blog Book of Kells.
And thanks to Jeannine Hall Gailey for taking the time to chat with me about book marketing, from blogs to reviews to events, on her blog.
I hope you’ll take the opportunity to explore these blogs (all great examples, by the way, of how authors can create and maintain successful blogs!) and enjoy what you find there.
This is an excerpt of Kim Wright’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about her adventures in publishing, from a Big Five house to self-publishing, from nonfiction to fiction. For more book promo information, and to read Kim’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Kim Wright has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than twenty-five years and is a two-time recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Writing. She is the author of Love in Mid Air and the City of Mystery series. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Q: What are the biggest differences between promoting a book published by a big publisher versus promoting a self-published book?
A: At the time that my novel Love in Mid Air came out in 2010, I had a reasonable amount of support from my publicity team at Grand Central. Especially the online publicist, who helped to arrange a blog tour that was quite successful.
But things have changed significantly at the Big Five houses since then. Budgets are shrinking and heads are rolling and any staff left is criminally overworked. What I understand from my friends who’ve more recently gone with a Big Five house is that you just can’t count on getting anything in terms of publicity, especially if you’re a midlist or new writer. That’s one thing that’s always been a bit mystifying about the big houses.
They spend the majority of their promotional efforts on authors who are already established—’cause yeah, Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult really need those ads—and debut writers struggle along on their own.
Of course, the one advantage the Big Five can still give their authors is distribution to bookstores, so if you go with a big house you might have readings, signings, a launch party, etc. There might be efforts made to get you reviewed in newspapers and magazines.
But the key word in both of those sentences is “might” because, once again, these things don’t happen as much as they used to. I don’t know anyone who’s done a book tour during the last two years, no matter how they’ve published.
So … bottom line, there’s not as big a difference as there used to be. Most of the promotional work falls to the writer whether you’ve gone Big Five, small press, or self-pub.
Q: How is marketing fiction different from marketing nonfiction?
A: The biggest difference is that it’s easier to zero in on the target reader and market for nonfiction. For example, each year for thirty years I’ve updated my travel guide for Fodor’s, titled Walt Disney World With Kids. Based on the title alone, it’s not hard to figure out who’s going to buy this book. You’re either going to Disney World or you’re not. You either have kids or you don’t. And a lot of nonfiction is like that. It’s very easy to target a book precisely to its intended market and very easy to build an author platform.
Fiction is trickier. Look at the title of Love in Mid Air— what the heck does that mean? Or the first book in my self-published mystery series, City of Darkness. The titles are evocative but vague. You need explanation before you could guess who would want to buy the book.
So I think fiction requires a little more finesse to market. You have to explain the book in a way that pulls people in and convinces them that even though they don’t need to read this book, they might want to.
To read Kim’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Write about feeling guilty.
This is an excerpt of Ashland library manager Amy Blossom’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about how to approach libraries for events. For more book promo information, and to read Amy’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
And save the date! I’ll be doing a book marketing event at the Ashland library on Wednesday, October 9, at 7 p.m. Click here for more info.
Amy Blossom is the manager at the Ashland Branch Library in Ashland, Oregon, and serves on the board of Friends of the Ashland Public Library. She is the host of Open Books, Open Minds, a local television program featuring interviews with authors from the Southern Oregon community and beyond.
Q: What is the best way for a local author to approach his or her local or regional library?
A: A personal approach is much better than a cold e-mail. It’s so easy to dismiss an e-mail, whereas a phone call or even stopping in allows for a personal connection. Then, after an initial conversation, I like to get a follow-up e-mail with all the details.
Also, authors should be sure to have a hook—a way to let us know what the book is about and why it would be of interest. We get a lot of requests, and it helps if your book or presentation has a fascinating angle to it.
If you’re a new, unknown author or a self-published author, show that you are prepared to help bring in your own audience—if no one knows who you are, it’s hard to get people to show up for an event. Joint events or group events have the potential to bring in more attendees, so you may want to team up with someone, not only to be sure you get enough people but also to broaden the exposure you’ll get for your own book.
Q: What are some of the ways in which authors can support their local libraries?
A: Offering an event is in itself a great way to support the library. We also appreciate it when authors donate a copy of their book. Donating a copy along with ordering information, especially for self-published authors, is a wise idea because most libraries like to have local authors in their collections.
Keep in mind that most libraries require that self-published books meet the same criteria as other books; for example, there needs to be a strong local interest, or the book should have received at least two professional media or industry reviews. So it’s a good idea to ask about such requirements when you consider donating a book to your local library.
I recently read a study noting that library users buy more books than any other type of book buyers. People often don’t think of library users as big buyers, but being big readers in general, they are. So even if you may not sell a lot of books at an event, just by being there, you can still gain readers down the road.
Write about the last time you won something — from a professional award to a holiday raffle.
To take this a step further, write about a time you lost.
This is an excerpt of photographer and essayist Rosanne Olson’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about author photos. For more book promo information, and to read Rosanne’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Rosanne Olson began her career as a photojournalist after receiving her master’s degree in journalism. Since starting Rosanne Olson Photography, she has photographed portraits as well as advertising campaigns for the New York City Ballet, Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony, and Children’s Hospital. Her award-winning work has been featured in Communication Arts and More magazine, among others, and she is the author of the book This is Who I Am.
Q: What do you think makes a good author photo?
A: The photograph needs to convey how the author wants to portray himself/herself. Usually that means approachable, intelligent, engaging. Some people are more dramatic in how they want to be seen. Some are more friendly or sophisticated.
Q: What are the biggest mistakes authors make when it comes to their photos? Sometimes people come here with too much makeup on. Or they bring their clothing stuffed into a bag so everything is wrinkled. Believe me, not just authors do this but lots of people. It is actually pretty amusing except for the fact that clothing then needs to be pressed or steamed here. Aside from that, people are usually willing to trust me to do the best possible job that I can with them. It is an exquisite collaboration.