Literary Executors: Why you don’t want to be one, and how to know if you need one

Last Will TestamentSo. A writer friend asks you to be their literary executor. You’re not exactly sure what a literary executor does, but you know you should feel honoured: after all, your friend has just asked you to look after some of their most cherished possessions – their creative works –  after they have died.

How complicated can it be? you wonder.

How can you refuse? you ask yourself.

You are now well positioned to make a very big mistake.

This article is going to explain why you should consider your friend’s request very seriously before you say “Yes.” It’s also going to give you enough information to decide whether you need to find a literary executor for yourself. It is not intended to offer legal advice but rather to let you know when you might need legal advice –  in order to save yourself (or someone close to you) a lot of potential aggravation and wasted time.

Executors and Literary Executors

As most people know, an executor is an individual (or company) that you name in your will to manage and dispose of your estate when you die. (If you do not have a will, provincial legislation determines how your estate will be divided.) The responsibilities of your executor may include – among other things – making a list of all of your debts and assets; having those assets evaluated for tax purposes; locating beneficiaries; advising your banks, the government, insurance companies, and other institutions of your death; paying money owed by your estate; having the will probated, if necessary; distributing any remaining assets to your beneficiaries; filing a final tax return; etc. It is an onerous job, as anyone knows who has done it, but barring battles among beneficiaries, it can normally be concluded within a year or two.

A literary executor is an individual (or company) that a writer names to manage all issues relating to the written (or other creative) works that form a part of their estate. Literary executors are normally chosen on the basis of their familiarity with the writing and publishing world as well as the literary mind-set of the writer of the will: in other words, they have specific knowledge that most general executors don’t have.

Such assets as your home, your investments, and your mint-condition Star Wars figurines are known in the law as “real property,” while your written works (and any other creative assets to which you hold copyright) are called your “intellectual property.” As a writer, your intellectual property includes everything you have written during your lifetime to which you retain copyright – including published and unpublished works. These may range from poems to plays to short stories to essays to diaries to blog posts to novels to non-fiction works to letters to your lover, and on and on and on.

Generally speaking, your general executor manages your real property, while a literary executor manages your intellectual property. If you don’t appoint a literary executor, your general executor will be responsible for managing and disposing of the entire estate, including your intellectual property.

Most executors, knowing nothing about literary matters, will consider it too much hassle to do anything with your literary works and will simply let them languish. Unless you are earning a significant amount from your writing, this may be the sanest route for them to take. But then again, maybe not. Copyright in Canada lasts for 50 years. What if someone comes along forty years from now and wants to turn your first novel into a movie? Who will do the negotiating then?

What A Literary Executor Does

Your literary executor will need to take such actions as the following:

  • find all of your copyright works (including published and unpublished works) and have them evaluated for tax purposes;
  • figure out who pays/owes you royalties and what paperwork needs to be completed so the royalty flow continues;
  • destroy any documents that you have requested that they destroy (or make that kind of decision themselves);
  • investigate whether any library or university is willing accept your papers in exchange for money or tax receipts (unlikely, unless you are very well known) – and if not, decide how to dispose of those papers;
  • advise agencies like the Public Lending Right Commission, Access Copyright, writers’ organizations, etc. of your death;
  • create financial reports showing income and disbursements relating to the creative works in the estate.

The literary executor will typically have the right to make decisions regarding all aspects of the literary works you have created, deciding, for example:

  • whether your unfinished novel should be completed by someone else and then submitted for publication;
  • whether a contract with a publisher should be renewed;
  • whether your out-of-print books should be republished;
  • whether your blog posts should be published as books;
  • whether to take down all the books you are selling online;
  • whether to grant permission to an editor who wants to publish one of your poems in an anthology.

All proceeds that accrue to the estate as a result of the management of your intellectual property – after the taxes, expenses, and literary executor have been paid – will go to your beneficiaries, as set out in the will.

Think Twice before You Say “Yes”

As the lists above suggest, people who agree to serve as literary executors for their writer friends should expect to invest untold hours – often not only for months, but for years – to complete the winding down of a literary estate to the point where it can be managed by the beneficiaries.

Before you agree to be someone’s literary executor, interview that person closely about what they are asking you do to. Find out how you will locate all of the contents of their literary estate, including both published and unpublished works. Get them to put their specific directions to you down in writing, so that you can show them to the beneficiaries if necessary: it can be very hard to explain to a grieving spouse that the newly deceased’s draft novel isn’t worth completing, and that the author wouldn’t have wanted you to bother anyway, or to explain that the estate really needs to hire a professional editor to complete the work that is required.

Before you accept the offer to serve as a literary executor, think about how much of your own writing time you will need to give up in order to comply with the request. It might be in your best interests to tell that person that you have sought some kind of (legal, medical, psychological, spiritual) advice, and been advised against accommodating their request.

The Racehorse Analogy

In preparing this article, I consulted with Edward Olkovich, a Toronto estate lawyer and an Ontario Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts Law, who has spoken and written widely on the subject of wills and estates. (He can be found online at mrwills.com) Among the helpful guidance he provided me was the following analogy.

Edward Olkovich said, “Imagine that someone has recently purchased a young thoroughbred that has not yet run a race, but has extraordinary potential. The owner dies, and the executors – who know nothing about racehorses – say to the beneficiaries, ‘Do you know how much it is going to cost to feed and take care of this horse? And to find someone to train it? Do you know how much time and trouble this is going to be?’ The beneficiaries agree. The horse is sold, the taxes are paid on the income from the sale, and the estate is concluded.”

Mr. Olkovich then pointed out what might have happened instead if the racehorse owner had named a “racehorse executor” – someone who knew all about the business of horse racing and was an excellent manager – and charged that person with taking care of all aspects of the estate that related to the horse. The racehorse owner would also have been wise to have earmarked an amount of money that the racehorse executor could use to do all the things that were necessary to allow the horse to realize its potential. The horse’s future winnings (and maybe even stud fees, in the long term) would then ultimately have flowed to the estate, and thereby to the beneficiaries.

The Money Issue

Mr. Olkovich and I agreed that no one in their right mind – especially not those who knew how much work would be involved – would be willing to take on such a challenging and time-consuming task unless they were being paid. Not even if they really liked the owner of the horse and really believed in the horse’s future.

Mr. Oklovich explained to me that most professional executors charge five percent of the value of the estate to carry out the work. Then he said, “But what if you offered that racehorse executor 25 percent of the winnings?”

A light went on in my head (as I’m sure it just has in yours). If the racehorse executor stands to earn a significant amount of money from that racehorse, they will be highly motivated to do everything possible to ensure that the horse succeeds.

Do You Need a Literary Executor?

The racehorse analogy should help you decide whether you need a literary executor or not. If your written works are likely (a key word here) to bring significant benefits over the short and/or long term to both your literary executor and your beneficiaries, you should find a lawyer who knows something about how to set up a literary executorship or literary trusteeship in your will (this is not an easy task, as it involves copyright – a federal law – as well as estate law, which is provincial. The lawyer will be your first expense).

If you do need a literary executor, it is imperative that you ask the person you’ve chosen as far in advance as possible – i.e., while you are still hale and hearty enough to take “No” for an answer, and while the person you’ve asked is still able to say “No” without being crushed by guilt. Before you ask a fellow writer, consider the burden you are about to place on that person’s time at some point in the future, and think about whether all that work is going to be worth it to your beneficiaries. If it is, decide how you can adequately reimburse the person who is going to do the work – or even motivate them to do it exceptionally well.

If you do not need a literary executor, you should still consider what you are going to do about your books and blogs and other creative output. You own the copyright to all that material, and unless you legally entrust those rights to others in advance, the copyright is going to flow to your estate at the time of your death – and stay there for fifty years. Keep in mind that if you die without a will, and there are no obvious beneficiaries, any proceeds from your estate will go to the government.

It seems wise at least to think rationally about whether your literary estate can best be compared to an up-and-coming thoroughbred or a lame and aging hack (no offence), and then to share your expectations for your intellectual assets’ future with your beneficiaries before you hit the finish line.

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Amazon Author Pages: Build Your Presence in the USA, the UK, Germany, India, and beyond

Let’s Get Visible (IV)
How to Sell Your Book No Matter Who Published It (7)
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Figure 1

Figure 1: Sample Link to my Author Page from Book Description page

Through its Author Central program, Amazon provides a great opportunity to expand your presence by linking information about you to all editions of all your books – not only on the amazon.com site in the U.S., but also on Amazon sites in other countries. It takes a bit of time to get yourself set up on these platforms, but maintaining your presence once the pages are set up requires very little effort.

While you are at Author Central, you can check out your sales figures through Nielsen BookScan and Amazon Sales and Author ranks, and read all of your Amazon reviews in one place. All of which can be depressing experiences, but there they are. (See Figure 2, below)

Start with your Amazon.com Author Page

Start by completing the Author Page on amazon.com (Amazon’s U.S. site). Once you have done that, readers who are looking at the “About the Author” section of your book’s title information on Amazon will be invited to check out your Page and to “follow” you (see Figure 1, above).

In order to set up your Author Page on Amazon, first go to Author Central. The page is user-friendly, and setting up your Author Page is the first thing it explains to you. Follow the link, follow the instructions, and you’re done. When you’re finished, your Amazon Author page will look like this (except, of course, that it will feature you instead of me).

A few things to note:

  • Anyone with a book listed in the Amazon “catalog” can have an Amazon Author Page.
  • You can set up links to your blog site on the Author Page, and intros to your newest posts will appear there after you post them on your blog.
  • If you have any videos you want to share, you can post links to them on your Author Page as well.
  • There is a section on the Author Page where you can add speaking engagements, readings and other events. I don’t use this section because since I am not Stephen King I don’t think that it would be worth my time to post in it, in terms of who would see the notices. Posting about my upcoming appearances on Facebook is more likely to attract the attention of people who might attend – i.e., those who live in my city and might even know my name. (I also have a section for events on my website which I don’t always remember to update either.)
  • You can post a link to your Amazon Author Page on Facebook, Twitter and anywhere else you want to: Amazon provides the url in the upper right corner of your Author Page. You cannot, however, post a clickable link to your website on your Author Page: at least as far as I’ve been able to determine. (If you have done it, let me know.)
  • You can link all of your books to your Amazon author profile, including those from different publishers, as long as the books are available on Amazon. If you have changed your name or your books are out of print, you may have trouble with the links, but I have found that in the past couple of years, Amazon has become increasingly helpful when I run into any problems. They have a specific page on which you can email them with any problems relating to Author Central here.

Increasing your World-Famousness, Amazon-style

Once you have completed your amazon.com Author Page, you can fill in the same information on the Amazon Author Central site in the UK. If you are multilingual, or want to try posting your bio in English in non-English-speaking countries (I haven’t done this… at least not yet), you can set up a page on the amazon sites in Germany, France and Japan through their Author Central pages:

For other countries that have Amazon sites (including India and Spain, for example. Hey! I just found out that my Rita book has a five-star review in India! I never would have noticed this if I hadn’t written this blog post!), the information from Author Central at Amazon.com should be available to readers automatically. The one exception I have discovered to this practice is on amazon.ca, the one located in my own home country. I find amazon.ca very aggravating for many reasons, not just this one, and prefer to deal with amazon.com

Figure 2

Figure 2: Recent Amazon Sales Rankings

Although having an Author Page in German would probably be of more use to someone whose book had been translated into German than to one whose book hadn’t, it doesn’t hurt to spread your name around. If you have the time and inclination and decide to set up an English page for yourself on the Japanese Amazon site, let us know how it goes. And it’s definitely fun to check out your sales figures from time to time – and watch them climb, we hope, in relation to your various marketing efforts.

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Next time, I’ll be talking about getting yourself an author profile on GoodReads. In the meantime, I apologize to all of those who have tried to contact me in the past few weeks when I was out of town and then side-tracked: I forgot for several weeks to check the email address to which comments on this blog are sent for approval. Argh. Particular apologies to Michael Lowecki who left wonderful messages all over the place and must think me very rude. I resolve to do better in future. :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building an Author Presence on Facebook

My Facebook Author Profile page

Let’s Get Visible (III)
How to Sell Your Book No Matter Who Published It (6)
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If you are not on Facebook, you probably have a lot of good reasons not to be there, maybe relating to privacy issues or concerns about wasting valuable (writing) time. However, if you are not on Facebook, you can’t build yourself an author platform on Facebook, so you might as well just skip this post and wait until the next one comes along.

Personal Facebook Pages: Friends and Followers

If you are one of the more than 1 billion people who are on Facebook, that means that you already have a personal Facebook page or “profile.” People can ask to “friend” you on your Facebook profile and you can agree by “friending” them in return.

Most of us have the privacy settings on our personal Facebook pages set so that only our Facebook friends can see our posts. However, if you set the privacy on your personal Facebook page to “Public” under Settings, you can be “followed” as well as “friended.”

Anyone on Facebook can “follow” you if your default privacy setting is “public”: they don’t need to ask you for permission first. If you decline friend requests, the people who sent them can still follow you – unless you block them.  Your friends are also automatically also your followers. Followers can see anything you post with a security setting of “Public,” but unless they are also friends, they can’t see any individual posts that you set for broadcast only to “Friends.” (You have the option of “Friends” only or “Public” publication for every post you create, no matter what your permanent/default setting is.)

Some authors have only a personal Facebook profile. They prefer to let anyone who wants to follow them see almost everything they post, and they use “Public” as their default setting. They do this as a favour to readers who want to know everything they can about their favourite authors. They think it feels more personal. And they also do it because more people are likely to follow your personal Facebook page than they are to “like” a professional or business page.

I, on the other hand, prefer to have a professional Facebook page in addition to my personal Facebook page. On my personal page, I have set my privacy so that only people I have “friended” can see my posts. Even  though I have 500 plus friends on Facebook, and I don’t actually know quite a few of them in real life, I have vetted every single person I have agreed to friend. (A lot of them are writers, from all over the world. I love it.) I’ve made sure they are a real person, and that if they don’t know me directly in real life, they have solid friendships with one or more of my other Facebook friends. I delete them – poof, they’re gone – if it turns out that I don’t like or trust them.

Professional Facebook Pages: Where you can get “Liked”

A professional Facebook page is the platform on Facebook that is used by businesses, public figures, organizations and other entities that are not individuals… including many writers, such as me. Facebook pages offer different options than do personal pages: e.g., templates, links to websites, selling platforms, etc. Facebook business/professional pages don’t acquire “friends”; they accumulate “likes” instead. When someone likes your Facebook writer page, you will be notified, and when you post something on your writer page, it will appear in the timelines/newsfeeds of all people who liked your page. (You can also “promote” your page or one of your posts by spending money. We’ll get into that later, when we’re talking about paid advertising.)

Note: If you don’t have a personal Facebook page, you won’t be able to set up a business/professional page.

My Mary W. Walters Writer page is public. Anyone can see it, and anyone can like it. This means that I’m careful of what I say on my writer page. I don’t talk politics or religion or (usually) sex. I don’t want to lose potential readers of my books just because our political opinions don’t mesh, nor do I want to attract sock puppets.

I do talk about politics, religion and many other things on my personal Facebook page, but I don’t push my writing there: I am there to exchange thoughts with friends, tell them news from my life, vent my spleen, or make them laugh. I always hope that my personal Facebook page is interesting enough that everyone who sees it will want to read my books as well, but I don’t use it as a deliberate sales vehicle.

I do repost items from my writer page to my personal page that I consider “objective” information rather than sales pitches: such as notices about readings and talks I am giving, and announcements of blog posts such as this one. But most of what I post on Facebook in any given week (which is way too much) goes out only to my “friends” via my personal Facebook page.

For me, this arrangement is easier than trying to remember to set every post I make to “friends” or “public” visibility. Also, when people have “liked” my professional writer Facebook page, they are essentially requesting information about Mary the Writer, so I don’t feel badly when I tell them what I’m doing with my writing, or about writing-related achievements, or any accolades my books have received.

How to Set Up An Author Page on Facebook 

On the right hand side of the blue bar across the top of your personal Facebook page, you will see a little arrow pointing down. Click on it, choose “Create Page,” and then follow the instructions. You will need to choose what kind of Page to have: whether a “business or company” page (probably the best choice if you want to sell books directly from Facebook, which I don’t), a “brand or product page” (might be good if you have only one book or series to sell), an “entertainment” page (I’d guess that spoken word poets looking for gigs might want to check this out, although I haven’t), or a “public profile” page. I chose the latter. I like the sound of it. :)

Once you’ve chosen your page category, you can indicate your particular area of focus. “Writer” is one of the options on the “public profile” page, and probably also on Entertainment and Company pages.

Facebook is very user-friendly when it comes to setting up a page, so just follow the directions. If you get stuck, type in your questions under “Help,” and for further guidance check out other writers’ Facebook pages to see what they are including and posting. There is an option under the three dots below your cover photo to see how the page looks to visitors, which I find handy.

Maintaining Your Facebook Writer’s Page

Facebook will send a friendly reminder to you when you haven’t posted on your author’s page for a while, but I try to remember to post something there at least once a week. It may be an article from elsewhere about writing or about one of my favourite writers, or it may be a notice about a new blog post I’ve done or a reading I’m about to do. I have my Goodreads profile set up to repost notices automatically to my writer’s page on Facebook about books I’ve read, etc.

I think of my Facebook writer’s page the way I do about my website: it is there if anyone is looking for me, and it is important to be there in case anyone does look for me. If they do, and if they “like” my page, they deserve to hear interesting things from me from time to time: about my writing, or about writing in general. They can find links to my books and my website and other online things they might want to check out about me from that page, and I let them know when there are special discounts happening on my books on Amazon or elsewhere.

However, I don’t think of my Facebook writer page as a page where I am likely to attract new buyers for my books. People don’t like being harangued about how they should buy my books, so I don’t harangue them, and haranguing doesn’t work anyway (as I have said before. Several times). So the page is just part of the wallpaper.

You should keep in mind when you are building your Facebook author page that it’s not likely to be much of a marketing vehicle. The wallpaper should be hung straight, and look nice and tidy, but don’t bother making it flash in the dark or animate it or do anything else that is going to waste your precious time unnecessarily.

P.S. If you like MY Facebook Writer’s Page and then ask me to like YOUR Facebook writer’s page, I will, and that will help us both. You can also add your Facebook author page link to the comments section below so other readers can follow your page and you can follow theirs, and so on….

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As always I encourage readers to share their experiences and knowledge about book promotion through the comments section below. If your comment isn’t posted immediately, be patient. I review them first, to avoid spammers, and (believe it or not) I’m not always online.

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How to Sell your Book, No Matter Who Published It (5)

Using your Website to Promote your Book

(Let’s get visible, Part II)

You do have a website, right?

An author website is essential to your promotional efforts. Even if you have a page on your publisher’s website, you should have one of your own as well. Remember that no one is more interested in the well being of you and your books than you are: not your agent, not your editor, not your publisher’s promotion department. They all have other horses in their stables. Their interest in you grows and wanes, depending on the season. Your interest in your career remains, by contrast, consistently high. You are the only one who will make it your priority to update your website with the latest news and the most recent publications.

It goes without saying that you should own the domain that is your name (for example in my case, marywwalters.com), and once you own it, you might as well use it.

A website is a static element of book promotion. This means, on the negative side, that it’s not going reach out and grab anyone: people who want to see it need to come to it intentionally. You can invite them, but they aren’t going to come unless they have a good reason to do so. Therefore, with a website, you are investing time and money in something that is just going to sit there like some 18th-century society hostess, waiting for visitors to come to her. This is a good reason not to break the bank when it comes to website construction.

On the other hand, a website serves many purposes once someone does land on it (as did the salons of the aforementioned hostesses, I’m sure). In addition, once you’ve created it, you don’t have to update it very often. The only changes I make semi-regularly to my website are the upcoming and recent events, although occasionally (when I’m procrastinating on something else I should be doing) I will add a new photo or a new quote from a particularly nice review.

What Does A Writer’s Website Need to Include?

Back in the day (i.e., when I was working as editor in chief at Lone Pine Publishing, and during the years when I was reviewing books), publishers used to create “media packages” to send out with the review copies of the books they published.

Books editors at magazines and newspapers (remember them?) would receive a copy of the newly published book (or an advance copy, if the author was well known) with photocopied pages tucked inside. These pages of promo and background materials might include:

  • a bio of the author along with information on other books or stories or articles that person had published;
  • a brief summary of the book itself (the kind of thing that was usually also found on the flaps of the book or the back cover);
  • blurbs (a sentence or two each) about the book that had been solicited from other writers, or excerpts of reviews of the author’s previous books;
  • contact information for the publisher, and the author’s agent or the author;
  • upcoming author appearances on radio, tv, or in person; and
  • (sometimes) an excerpt from the book

These are the same elements you should make available on your website to help promote your book. If you have more than one book, you can have a page for each.

When I reviewed books, I was very happy to receive a raft of print materials as the information contained in them allowed me to include background on the author and the book, and directed me to other resources I might want to check out before starting my review. This was in the days before online searches were available, s0 the more information I was given, the better.

Your website should fulfil a similar purpose for those writing reviews on blogs or in traditional media, and for readers who want to know what else you have written and done. It should also provide contact information for those who want to invite you to do a reading or a workshop.

A website should look professional, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be created by a professional web designer: most of us can’t afford one. Fortunately, creating a website has become very easy – you don’t need to know html or any other technical language – and most web hosts (e.g., SquareSpace, BlueHost, GoDaddy, etc.), will walk you through the process of creating one, and help you by phone 24-7 if you get stuck. If you Google “Best web hosts for non-techies” or something like that, you’ll get lots of suggestions. If you really don’t want to do it yourself, ask friends and relatives to refer you to someone – perhaps a student – who can help.

While I think it is a good idea to pay for technical help if you need it, there’s no reason to purchase a Cadillac manufacturer. I once paid $2,500 for a website, and I hated it and I had endless problems trying to change the elements that I didn’t like. The sites I have now are very user friendly.

How Many Websites Do You Need?

I used to have a different website for each of my five books, one for my editing and grantwriting businesses, and one for me. That got to be expensive and time-consuming. Now I just have one website for my literary works. (I continue to maintain another one for my grantwriting initiatives, because that one speaks to a different audience, and there’s too much detailed information on it to be suited to my writer website.) On the other hand, for one of my clients whose book is a byproduct of his business rather than the core of it, we did create a website where the book itself was the main focus.

At my own website, where all of my books are listed, all of the information in the bulleted list above is available, no matter which book a reader/reviewer is interested in exploring.

How Much do You Need to Spend?

You need to invest in two components to create a website: a domain name, which is like the sign with your business name on it, and a web-hosting site, which is where you hang your sign.

You own your domain name as long as you maintain your ownership of it, and you can transfer it from web host to web host if you find the hosting unsatisfactory. You can also sell your domain name if someone wants to buy it down the road. A domain name should cost you no more than about $25 (it will probably cost much less), and you will need to renew it annually. Sometimes web hosts offer a free domain name if you purchase a hosting package, but this usually includes only the initial registration. You will need to continue to pay to own it annually.

The web host is where you hang your sign, or park your domain, and you will pay rent to the host for the use of that space for as long as you want to have it. Depending on how much you want to include on your website, you can spend from about $50 to $150 annually for website hosting. If you are not building the website yourself, you will also incur a one-time cost to build the website.

One of the first things people look for when they want to know more about you is your website. I hardly ever think about mine now that it is up, but when I occasionally get around to checking the traffic on it (which you can do through the web host – tracking visitors will be part of the package you purchase – or through a web-wide system like Google Analytics; I use both) I am always surprised to see how many new and returning visitors have been checking out my site each month.

The website is the first step in building your online presence. Next time we’ll talk about creating your Facebook author page, and then about other “static” components of your book promotion plan.

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As always I encourage readers to share their experiences and knowledge about book promotion through the comments section below. If your comment isn’t posted immediately, be patient. I review them first, to avoid spammers, and (believe it or not) I’m not always online.

 

Let’s Get Visible (I)

How to Sell Your Book, No Matter Who Published It (Part 4)

Ieye icon.jpgn this section of How to Sell Your Book No Matter Who Published It, I’m going to talk about the things you need to do to make yourself visible (online, mostly). I’m going to talk about the content and look of the static components of your online presence, by which I mean those that normally stay the same from day to day and week to week – like your website, your profile on Goodreads, your Twitter handle. I am not talking about the things you update, like your status on Facebook.

The topics I’m discussing in the “Let’s Get Visible” section are not specific marketing techniques. If they happen to attract actual purchasers it will be a side-benefit. Their purpose is to make certain that if someone wants to find out more about you or about your books, and they go to the usual places where people go to look for things online (e.g., the Google search engine, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) they will find you. It is not enough that they can find you as an entry inside your publishing company’s website or in its online catalogue (although that’s a bonus): they need to be able to find you as an independent entity.

This doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. In fact, it doesn’t need to cost any. And it doesn’t need to take too much time… unless you let it: beware the tendency to make yours the most beautiful, complex website on the Net, or the most outrageous Facebook page in existence.

Simplicity is more helpful to readers than are bells and whistles. And the most important characteristic of all of your online initiatives is consistency.

Which brings me to your “look” or “style” – a component of what marketers refer to as your “brand.”

Getting Recognized

Remember the last time you saw someone famous in the real world? Maybe it was even a recognizable writer – Margaret Atwood or John Irving or Salman Rushdie or Anne Rice. The moment you saw that person, you felt like you knew them. Warm thoughts for them and admiration for their writing rushed over you (I hope). You had never seen that person before, but you knew their sense of humour, their verbal talents, their interests, the mood/tone of their writing, etc. It was definitely not like seeing a stranger about whom you knew nothing.

That’s what we’re trying to attain online: not fame (well, not necessarily; at least not right away), but recognition. We want to put the viewer/reader’s ability to associate to work: your name goes with your face goes with your book cover(s). If everyone changed faces every time they went out in the world, we’d never recognize them; by the same token, if you have a different photo or name on every social medium, you lose the traction you gain as your prospective readers move from site to site.

Therefore I suggest that you choose three images to use everywhere online – one of yourself, one of your most recent book, and one background image that is wider than it is tall (approx. ratio, 3 wide to 1 tall; known on Facebook as your “cover photo”). Keep them together in one folder on your computer so you can find them when you think of a new place where you might want to use one.

Which Photos?

Much as I love changing the photo on my Facebook profile page every few weeks or so, I use only one on my Facebook page (we’ll discuss the difference between profiles and pages soon), and I use the same photo on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, GoodReads, the “About Mary” page of this blog, etc. That photo also shows up when I make comments on other people’s blogs or on online articles. I also send it out for use with my bio when I am speaking at a workshop or doing a reading. Recognition is a powerful tool.

The background image can be anything you like. If you write horror novels, you might want something spooky. If you write humour, your background image should convey that. Since my novels are all over the map, I have taken a photo of a stack of my books that I use wherever a generic background photo, wider than it is high, is needed. Mine looks like this (I’ve linked it to my Facebook page, which you are welcome to “like” while you’re there….or not):

background

To further reinforce the “recognition” principle, you could also use a segment of your book cover as a background photo, if it works (mine doesn’t, very well):

screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-1-53-15-pm

So, your homework this time is to choose permanent (or at least semi-permanent; you will probably want to change them occasionally) photos to represent you online.

Next time, I’ll talk about websites: Do you have one? Do you need one?  If you decide to have one, what should go on it?

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Throughout this series, I encourage you to share your own experiences and knowledge about book promotion through the comments section below. If your comment isn’t posted immediately, be patient. I review them first, to avoid spammers, and (believe it or not) I’m not always online.

How to Sell Your Book, No Matter Who Published It (3)

Introduction, Part III

Your Online Friends and Followers Are Not Your Target Market

Fishing line icon in prohibition red circle, ban or stop sign, forbidden symbol. Vector illustration isolated on whiteIn future sections of this guide, I am going to talk to you about setting up a Twitter account, a Facebook page, an AuthorCentral page on Amazon, a Goodreads author profile, and other kinds of social media contact pages. I am also going to discuss the merits of establishing and / or maintaining a blog.

However, I do not want you to think of these platforms as ways to reach out to book buyers, because they are not. (Which is a good reason not to spend too much time on them.) Way back in 2013, I wrote a post entitled “Promoting Your Book on Twitter and Facebook is a Total Waste of Time.” My thinking on that subject has not changed. I cannot trace a single book sale to anything I ever did on Twitter, Facebook, or even this blog. I will talk more specifically about this in a future post.

In the meantime, I want to you to make a mindset change before you even start on your book promotion. Do not think of your real-life friends, or your Facebook friends, or your Twitter followers, as the people who are going to buy your books. Resolve that you are not going to waste your time or theirs by pitching your book to them. If you do, you will end up being very disappointed in your friends and aggravated with your social media contacts, because most of them are never going to take your bait. (There are always a few loyal and generous exceptions. Connie, Ruth, Chris and a few others: you know who you are). In general, you need to forget about  marketing to those in your immediate and ongoing / extended circles.

The way to do this is to imagine that you are standing at the top of a hill. All around you, in every direction, as far as you can see, are all the potential readers of your book in the world. There are kazillions of them, or at least many thousands. Closest to you are your friends, relatives, acquaintances, and the guy who just reposted your tweet about your cat. You know the names (or at least the social-media handles) of all of those whose faces you can see.

Resolve right now that beyond letting these people know that your book has been published (if they do not know already), you will ignore them when it comes to book promotion. You will never urge them, nag them or try to guilt them into buying anything you have for sale. The people you will target with your promotion plan are, instead, the ones beyond this circle, the ones whose faces you cannot see very clearly or at all, because they are too far away. These are the readers who comprise the market for your book.

Always keep this image in your mind when you are developing a book promotion strategy. It will do two things for you: 1) it will mean that you do not feel disappointed and petty when your friends don’t by your book because you will know you were not targeting them anyway, and 2) it will mean that you don’t worry about trying to gear your promotion scheme to people you know and end up conflicted by doubt over what they will think of you when they see it. Most likely, they won’t even notice it.

Besides, just think about how many friends you have in the real world and on the Internet. How many are there in total? A few hundred? Why would you try to flog so few people to death to get them to buy your book? Don’t you want to sell thousands? To do that, you need a bigger vision. To sell to thousands, you need to speak to thousands. So let’s do that.

* * * *

I am going to cover five major areas of book promotion in this series. They are as follows:

  • Let’s Get Visible (building your online presence)
  • Legitimizing Your Book (reviews, launches, etc.)
  • Free promotion
  • Paid advertising
  • Extensions / Cross-Selling

In the next post, we’ll actually get started!

* * * * *

Throughout this series, I encourage you to share your own experiences and knowledge about book promotion through the comments section below. If your comment isn’t posted immediately, be patient. I review them first, to avoid spammers, and (believe it or not) I’m not always online.

How to Sell Your Book, No Matter Who Published It (2)


screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-4-39-55-pmIntroduction, Part II

Why You Should Exploit Amazon – Even If You Don’t Like the Company

Throughout this guide, many of my suggestions for book marketing and promotion will assume that your book is for sale on Amazon. For most of you, this will be an obvious premise, a given. However, for some – including a number of writers I have known and admired for a long time – this assumption will create a problem: because they are boycotting Amazon.

There are valid reasons to boycott Amazon, the primary one being that it is a megacorp that is taking over the world, destroying everything in its path – from publishers to bookstores and beyond. On the basis of news stories, many consider the company to have behaved unethically towards its employees – rebuttals notwithstanding.

I respect anyone’s decision to boycott Amazon if that is what they have decided to do. Even if they have, they will find a host of useful strategies in this guide to help them market their books; I will include a range of tips and suggestions that have nothing to do with Amazon.

However, before we start, I feel the need to point out that writers who choose to boycott the Amazon sales platform are shooting themselves in the feet. Both feet. And in the head as well.

Because Amazon is a megacorp that is taking over the world and chewing up everything in sight, it is the one place where – if you can get noticed – you are going to sell a lot of books. Statistics (now three years old, but I couldn’t find any more recent ones) estimated that 41% of all new book purchases were Amazon purchases – and we’re not just talking about online new book purchases, but about all new book purchases. (For online purchases, the number was 65%.)

Humans are more often lazy than they are principled. Even if everyone in the world felt that Amazon was the most despicable company on the planet, most of them would still shop there – because it is so easy, and because, unlike my local bookstore, which happens to be Indigo – another big company – it always has the book I want, at a low price, and will get it to me tomorrow. I want my books to be available on a platform where people can make impulse book purchases from the comfort of their couches, as I do.

Amazon is not only friendly to buyers. It is also friendly to writers. It offers incomparable royalties to those who publish with it, and it makes it easy for Amazon authors to promote their books. For those who publish with traditional presses, as I will explain in later installments, there are still many opportunities for authors to use Amazon to serve their own purposes.

Not selling on Amazon makes as much sense to me as not driving anywhere because cars pollute the environment. In other words, it makes sense, but I am not going there. I have done so many principled things in my life that have got me absolutely nowhere, that nowadays I am being very careful about who I boycott. (I am not justifying this behaviour, just telling you where I stand.) To salve my conscience perhaps, I think of myself as exploiting Amazon. This guide will explain how you can do that, too.

In the next installment of this series, I will talk about the Four Stages of Book Promotion – and then, in installment 4, we will get started.

* * * * *

Throughout this series, I encourage you to share your own experiences and knowledge about book promotion through the comments section below. If your comment isn’t posted immediately, be patient. I review them first, to avoid spammers, and (believe it or not) I’m not always online.