Book Promotion Tip of the Week #17: Get a media person to complain that there’s too much sex in your novel

Even if he is your own son.

Dan's DV Review“I tried to imagine it was my mom’s coauthor who wrote the sex scenes and that somehow my mom’s role in the writing process did not even involve reading those passages at all. That didn’t work, though.” – Dan Riskin, PhD, bat biologist, host of MONSTERS INSIDE ME on Animal Planet, co-host of DAILY PLANET on Discovery Channel, and author of the forthcoming MOTHER NATURE IS TRYING TO KILL YOU (Simon and Schuster, March 2014).

(Note: I put in the time: I’m entitled to name-drop.)

Book Promotion Tip of The Week #16: Get serious about Goodreads

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 7.54.20 PM

Update Nov. 8: I’ve signed on to read and discuss three works of fiction in two different groups on Goodreads. (Because I have so much time to read… )/(Because I’m wasting too much time on Netflix.) The books are Gilead OR Atonement (I’ve read those two and hope they pick Gilead, which is brilliant), Olive Kitteridge (interconnected short stories. I’d never heard of the author, Elizabeth Strout, but I’ve read two stories so far and they’re great) and The Blue Notebook by James Levine. The groups I’ve joined (if anyone else is interested in reading/discussing those books) are Bound Together (1,502 members; women’s group), and Literary Award Winners Fiction Book Club (83 members).


I have been inspired to get more active on Goodreads, thanks to a six-months-old article on The Huffington Post that I just recently discovered.

There are so many blog posts and articles out there offering promotional advice for authors that it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. But the information contained in “How to Become a Goodreads Power User (and why you’d want to)” by Penny C. Sansevieri sounds practical and viable.

Sansevieri points out that “the average demographic” of Goodreads “is adult female, many with college age kids and surprisingly, a whopping 81% of them are Caucasian. They are avid readers, though many are less affluent than the average Internet user so low-priced books and free books do very well on this site.” Sounds like a healthy portion of my audience – at least for The Woman Upstairs and The Whole Clove Diet – although it also sounds like the reading demographic in general. And I have seen many young and middle-aged adults (and lots of men) in Goodreads’ book discussions.

Sansevieri offers some concrete guidelines on how to increase your visibility on Goodreads and I intend to test drive several of them. I’ve already found that the giveaways are a great way to attract attention, although I’m not sure they translate into sales. But then I haven’t been a very consistent presence over there, so I the fault is no doubt mine.  You can’t just post a new book and then go away and expect it to attract attention to itself.

Sansevieri also suggests subscribing to two Goodreads newsletters: the Goodreads Author Newsletter, and the main Goodreads newsletter.

I have occasionally heard some grumbling from other writers about Goodreads, but I’m not sure if this came from people who were active on the site, or were only drop-in visitors as I have been. Since I am normally an avid reader (although not so much since I got hooked on Breaking Bad), I can’t see a downside to getting more involved in Goodreads. Even if it just means I end up finding more people to talk with about other people’s books, it’s a win.

If you have more experience than I do as a writer on Goodreads, I would be interested to know your thoughts about the Sansevieri article. Is it as useful as it sounds?

And if you’re on the Goodreads site, make contact. This is me.

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #15: Win Nobel Prize for Literature

Note to self:

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 9.52.13 AMI’ve been reflecting on this issue in the past week. The only way I know of to win the Nobel Prize for literature is to write the best you can, and to keep publishing what you write… for decades. Even though attempting to win the Nobel seems like the slowest route imaginable to major book sales, and offers little satisfaction to the “I want it now” mentality from which most of us increasingly suffer, it may be the only route that offers any real satisfaction to those of us who are truly called to be writers.

In the past few months I have had absolutely no time to work on my own stuff (hence my absence from here. And the good news is that it has all been positive work that has kept me away from my creative-writing work – and that I see hope for a strong return on the horizon now). During these past few months I have noticed that I have not found myself longing to be a best-selling writer (i.e., to be rich and famous), I have found myself longing to write. Just write. That’s all. Whether it sells or not has been immaterial in the longing … I’ve just longed to write.

However, I have also had some interesting book promotion ideas during my hiatus, and I’ll be back to share them soon. Along with a wind-up column on the subject that summarizes what I have learned so far about book promotion.

In the meantime…

Thanks to Alice Munro’s win, it is not only interest in her writing, but interest in short stories in general that has picked up of late. (Maybe even short stories by women writers who live in Canada? One can hope. Or at least I can.)

I should therefore point out that I too have a traditionally published short-story collection, and that copies are available. It is entitled Cool (River Books 2001). It is out of print and I have not yet re-released it for sale online, but you can send me an email and tell me you want it and I will send you a copy. It is $10 plus postage and handling. Here are the covers, front and back:

I also have several stories written towards my next collection, which will be entitled Machisma.

Till soon….

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #13: Host Your Own Reading/Book Launch

Me, reading at Secret Handshake Gallery May, 3013 at a triple launch co-hosted with authors Kathleen Whelan and David Bateman

Me, reading at Secret Handshake Gallery May, 2013 at a triple launch co-hosted with authors Kathleen Whelan and David Bateman (Photo: A. Resnick)

Make it an event to remember

So many books are being published now that most of us will wait in vain for a bookstore owner or an established reading program to invite us to come out and strut our stuff. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for anyone to invite us. For very little money, we can put on an event any old time we want to – to celebrate the publication of a new book, or just to celebrate being writers.

If you are new to writing, most of your guests will likely be family and friends who have not been to readings and book launches before. They will come to the event out of curiosity in part, but primarily to share your excitement and toast your achievement. Your number one goal as host should be to make sure that when they get there, they  have a fantastic time. (In fact, if that is not your goal, forget about doing it at all. This event is all about you,  but it is also not all about you, if you get my drift.) With some planning and some thinking, you can make those who attend your event eager to attend the next book-launch or reading: thereby doing a service to writers everywhere.

The first thing you need is a venue. You can hold your event anywhere. Last summer, I was well into the planning of a picnic-style book launch in a ravine park when a few well-wishers insisted that I think about the weather possibilities and hold it inside instead. (I still like the idea of an outside reading. I think I’ll do it at some point.)

What we did instead proved to be a great alternative. We held the launch at a small art gallery in Toronto which was very reasonable to rent for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon (it’s called the Secret Handshake Gallery on Mutual Street, and it is managed by the noted Toronto poet and artist David Bateman).

It had a kitchen, which was handy for preparing tea and coffee, washing fruit, and arranging plates of crackers, cookies  and dips. The same kinds of facilities would also be available in apartment-building party rooms, someone’s living room, the basement of a church, a community hall, etc. You don’t actually need a kitchen — think a room in a library, or the back room of a pub.

The next thing you need is a date and time. Give yourself plenty of lead time: you need to order books that will be available for sale, and you need to promote the event.

Begin the promotion three weeks or so ahead. Don’t rely on Facebook and Twitter: these sites are not too effective in attracting actual people to an actual event – although you will get lots of back-patting there, which always feels good. Check out where established reading series publicize readings in your area and submit a notice there (Open Book Toronto and Open Book Ontario are good examples from this region). You should also post notices on writers-organization events lists and in other arts publications. Your local newspaper or neighbourhood journal may also list your reading for free. If you are going to be reading at an art gallery or library, they probably have their own promotional methods – handouts and on-line items – and they will likely add your appearance to their list even though you are hosting it yourself, in the hope that you will bring people out to see other exhibitions or events they have on offer. And don’t forget that great “old-fashioned” method for spreading news: the email.

You need some kind of refreshments. These can be very modest: tea, coffee, juice, cookies, bottled water. Or you can get fancier and add wine, cheese, grapes, beer, tacos and dip, steak tartare and oysters – whatever you want, depending on your budget, your audience, the venue and the time of day. It’s true that people who’ve had a drink are much more likely to love your reading and buy a book than are the (tee)totally sober, but you have to figure out whether the potential payoff is worth it. Remember that you’ll need to sell several books to pay for even one half-decent bottle of wine: for economic reasons if none other, you may have to convince your guests to buy your books by giving an excellent reading rather than by lubricating them.

You might want to introduce a theme at your gathering that is in keeping with the subject of your book. When I launched The Whole Clove Diet, I invited people to bring Nanaimo bars – a sweet delicacy which figures largely in one of the novel’s comic scenes – in exchange for a free copy of the novel. Not only food, but decor, costume and music can be customized to suit the subject of your book.

Mary W. Walters, Kathleen Whelan, David Bateman

To my left (your right), Kathleen Whelan and David Bateman, co-hosts and writers extraordinaire (Photo: A. Resnick)

You need books to sell (and autograph). This may sound obvious but I cannot tell you how many readings I have been to (including my own most recent one) where fate hung in the balance until the very day of the reading: would the books appear on a delivery truck in time for the event or not? Don’t give yourself a panic attack: order the books well in advance. (Of course, this problem will not occur if  you are dealing only in e-books, but I am not sure that you can hold a viable book launch if you only have an e-book. I could be very wrong about that. Perhaps I just haven’t thought it through properly. Reader input on this subject is welcome.)

You also need a book sales table, and someone to sell the books for you (that’s what friends are for). You will need to provide a float. If your book is $15, have some $5s on hand to give as change for the inevitable $20s you will receive. You might also want to prepare a handout featuring the title of your book and a sales link or order form as a takeaway for those who didn’t bring enough money – or in case you run out of books to sell.☺

You need an itinerary. Plan to read for half to three-quarters of an hour maximum, and figure out what time you intend to start. I don’t recommend starting right at the time that the event begins. It’s a party: not just a reading, so let people mix and mingle for half an hour or an hour before you read. (This also gives the latecomers a chance to arrive.) Think ahead about whether you want music playing in the background while people socialize. If so, you’ll have to organize that in advance as well. (It’s pretty simple to bring a laptop computer with a playlist on it and a couple of speakers, but someone has to do it.)

You need someone to introduce you. This person will need to get people’s attention when it’s time for you to read, invite them to be seated, turn off the music, etc. During the introduction, this person should point out where your books are available for sale and announce how much they cost. When it comes to your introduction, you might want to write it out yourself and email it to your introducer ahead of time, just to make sure that all the points you want covered are covered. If the person who is introducing you might be insulted by your writing your own blurb for him or her to read, you could send a list of points to cover. Or else you could hope for the best, and fill in any oversights yourself when it is time to read.

Even if only one or two people show up, carry on. Poor turnouts happen to lots of writers, even those who are invited to read by established reading programs and bookstore owners. No matter how few there are, you should read anyway. Those people came all the way across town/around the world/down the street to hear you, and you want to blow them out of the water. Also, reading to a very few people will be good practice for when you become as famous as Margaret Atwood and you have people lined up down the block to hear you read.

(I encourage you not to read like Margaret Atwood does, however. She can get away with a deadpan delivery, but most people cannot. Further to this bit of gratuitous advice, in my next blog post I am going to talk about how to give a good reading. Too many writers don’t and there is nothing worse than a boring or inept reading. The only comparable experience in my life was a philosophy class I took at university where the lectures were delivered at 8 a.m. by a prof who leaned against the blackboard with his eyes closed, and spoke like Margaret Atwood reads. He seemed to still be half asleep – his half met my three-quarters and no knowledge was transferred.)

You need a photographer. (This is also what friends are for.)

You need people to help you clean up afterwards. These same people should take you for a drink after all the cleanup is done so that you can celebrate the celebration. For if you have done it properly, it is only when your well planned, well delivered, fun event is over that you will actually be able to start enjoying it yourself.


Note to my FaceBook friends: I’m taking a break from Facebook, which has lately been turning into more of an addiction than a pleasurable diversion.  If you think some of our mutual Facebook friends would be interested in this post, please post the link as I can’t do that at the moment. Thanks. – Mary

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #12: Get Lucky, and Live with the Guilt

To Warn Prospective Buyers or Not To Warn: That Is the Question

This week, the outstanding American novelist Claire Messud published her fourth book of fiction. It is entitled The Woman Upstairs. My first novel (1989) is also entitled The Woman Upstairs.

The publication of Claire Messud’s new novel is an event that I, along with thousands of others, have eagerly anticipated. I read The Emperor’s Children, and was impressed. Messud has won several prestigious writing awards and, according to Wikipedia, was even “considered for the 2003 Granta Best of Young British Novelists list, although none of the three passports she holds is British.” That’s how good she is.

Little did I know that the publication of Messud’s newest book was going to be of some modest financial benefit to me. But it has been: ever since the pre-promotion started on her latest novel, sales of my first novel have increased. Not enough to save me from financial ruin, by any means: we’re talking maybe ten books a week total on amazon, including both the Kindle version and the paperback. (And who knows? Maybe one or two of those book buyers really did intend to buy my book.)

Nonetheless, it makes me uncomfortable. I feel like my book is selling under false pretenses, and that I should put some kind of warning on my book’s page on amazon – BEWARE: THIS MAY NOT BE THE NOVEL YOU THINK IT IS!!!

On the other hand, my name IS on my Woman Upstairs. I’m not trying to impersonate Ms. Messud. And I was there first, having chosen my title very carefully many years ago. (It refers to three entities: to the mother of my protagonist, who is dying in an upstairs room;  to the protagonist’s landlady and friend, who lives on the main floor of the house where Diana has the basement suite: and — of course — to the female correlative of “The Man Upstairs,” which is how some people refer to God.)

Occasionally someone returns a copy of my Woman Upstairs to amazon, and I can hardly blame them: in fact, I am surprised more of the people who have bought my book by mistake have not returned it. Maybe they don’t know they can.

Friends and loved ones tell me I should not feel guilty, but should just accept it. Not much else I can do, short of adding the warning, which is a silly idea really. (Titles are not copyrightable, by the way, and even if they were, I wouldn’t, so don’t even go there.) I sometimes wonder what will happen if Claire Messud’s Woman Upstairs wins some big award.  (You go, girl.)

I also hope that, having bought my book by mistake, perhaps a few people will accidentally read it, and will like it enough to purchase something else I’ve written  — like The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel or The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid.

On the other hand, they might well intentionally read my novel, like it, and then go off and buy other books that Claire Messud has written. I guess that would be fair.

In the meantime, I’ll use some of my ill-gotten gains to purchase The (Other) Woman Upstairs, and maybe that will help to salve my conscience. Even though I was going to buy it anyway.

And I guess I’ll get back to work on my next novel (working title: Moby Dick).

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #11: Don’t Give Up

Mary W. Walters Militant Writer(With a special P.S. for fiction writers)

This can be a very discouraging undertaking, this book promotion business.

Most of us didn’t set out to be book publishers, business managers, and self promoters – we set out to be writers. We wanted to communicate with readers, to tell a story, to express our dreams, hopes and nightmares. But however well or poorly we have done in the writing of our books, these days it is only the beginning. Even getting what we’ve written published is only the beginning. It’s the promotion that is the long, long haul and it can wear down the most determined and self-reliant among us, and devastate those of us who are lacking in confidence already.

For some of us, the writing is what sustains us: it is what we are meant to do. It is what gives the rest of our lives meaning. (I am one of those.) But a work of art (or wanna-be art) is only complete when it reaches its audience, as far as I’m concerned. And nowadays whether we are self- or traditionally published, the need to promote ourselves and our work eats up way too much of our writing time (such as it is in the first place, for most of us). And when it doesn’t eat up the time, it eats up our morale.

The Courage to Write

It has long been my conviction (like for 20 years or so) that it is necessary to have a whole lot of self-confidence in order to write a book. It takes gumption to complete any book, and as much courage as vision to complete it with any élan. When our self-confidence is eroded, we run into writer’s blocks, procrastination and all the other impediments that (in addition to our jobs and families and friends) can prevent us from writing well – or indeed from writing at all.

The problem, we are discovering as we put on all these new hats (publisher, publicity person, agent, bookseller), is that it also requires courage to promote a book or to promote oneself, and that our courage is threatened at every turn. Every time we check the sales stats on our books, or peek at the visitor-counters on our websites, our morale is likely to take a hit. Those hits affect not only our desire to keep promoting our books, but also whatever confidence we might have had stored up for writing the next book.

Some people probably decide to give up on promotion, but they are shooting themselves in their heads to spite their faces (or however the expression goes).  (Those who publicly announce that they are “giving up” or that they have been defeated are really only taking a new promotional tack. Check out this bit of self-promotion written under the guise of “being a failure” that recently appeared on the Salon website. Clever marketing.) To stop promoting means to disappear completely off the promo circuit, and the only result of that is  . . .  nothing. You sell even fewer books. And no one really cares but you. (The result is similar – or even worse, if that is possible – when you allow yourself to whine in public.)

Keep on Truckin’

In short, the only options are to a) move forward, and b) to sink without a trace. Which leaves only option a. And the only way to move forward is to “keep on keepin’ on.”

It helps to stay in touch with other writers who are doing the same thing we are, in places like this and other sites where people go to commiserate and encourage and share tips, rather than to promote themselves. (One might argue that I established this blog to promote myself, but I assure you that the strategy is not working. I have noticed no sales resulting from the blog, not even any clicks through to my books despite the 50,000 hits The Militant Writer has received, and therefore I claim innocence – albeit inadvertent – in the blog-as-marketing department.)

Ironically perhaps, I think it helps to be a writer in this strange new digital world of book sales – by disposition, writers are better equipped than most to take on solitary uphill battles where we slip backwards more often than we move forwards, where no one cares but us if we get anywhere, where giving up is really not an option: we do what we must do. It could therefore be argued that those who give up on book promotion are not real writers. :) (I am prepared to hear arguments that contradict this point of view. In fact, one of this blog’s regular readers, Kim Velk aka Woolfoot, is going to write a guest post on that very subject one of these days.)

It also helps to get enough sleep. Sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of evaporating self-confidence as well as care, and everything looks more do-able in the morning.

A Special Note to Fiction Writers

I have followed down link after link of tips on book promotion, as I am sure you have as well, only to find myself reading lists of strategies that relate primarily to non-fiction. Certainly some of the suggestions can be applied to fiction as well, but most non-fiction (with the exception of some creative non-fiction) is easier to promote than is most fiction: there is no doubt of it. Whether it is how-to, biography, history, memoir, even philosophy or psychology or economics, non-fiction always has an obvious hook that is more likely to interest the media – both social and traditional – than is a “made-up story.”

Because of this, perhaps, I was particularly disappointed to have wasted an hour of my life on a webinar entitled  “Create a Marketing Plan to Sell More Books” put on by CreateSpace, of all companies. (For the uninitiated, CreateSpace is the publisher of choice of most of us self-published authors who choose to create a paperback version of our books. You’d think they’d know that most of their customers are small-time authors, primarily of fiction.)

I was going to save you an hour of your life by telling you all the reasons why there is no point in listening to the replay of the webinar if you are a) a fiction writer and/or b) on a small or nonexistent promotional budget. However, another blogger saved ME another hour of MY time by writing a most eloquent explanation of why Brian Jud’s message is irrelevant to most of us. (Hint: Jud has been selling non-fiction, how-to books for decades and has built up a critical mass and a bank account to support the promotional tactics he suggests: most of them are far beyond the resources of most of us and irrelevant to any book with a literary bent. Take this suggestion of his for example: you should hire an accountant and a lawyer before you go to the bank to apply for a loan for the funding of your next book. All I can say to that is Hah!) Thank you, Ellen Larson, aka The Constant Pen and author of the sci-fi mystery In Retrospect, for an excellent summary and critique.

As Ellen does on hers, I have been making an effort, based on my own self-interests, to make the tips I present here on this blog specifically relevant to fiction writers—even if the majority are also relevant to writers of non-fiction – and I will continue to do that. If anyone finds other sites that are specifically directed at promoting novels and short stories, please let us know. Thank you.

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #10: Turn Your Book Into A News Story

Book Promotion TipsAs we all know, all is not well in newspaperland: journalists are being laid off left and right, daily papers are getting smaller, quite a few of them have gone – or are slowly, painfully going – under.

People just don’t consume news the way they used to: by which I mean all at once, in one package, from one source, once a day. We no longer wait for the news to land on our front porches, or to arrive in a coin-release box at the end of the street: we go hunting for it on the Internet. Since people aren’t reading newspapers the way they used to, advertisers aren’t buying ads in them, which means that the papers have to cut and cut, and on it goes.

If you’re a writer (no one else much cares about this part), the situation appears to be particularly dire when it comes to books coverage. “Books editors” have all but disappeared, and finding a books page or even a single book review in a newspaper is less likely all the time. For those who have self-published, the situation seems even more discouraging (although we have to admit that no one forced us to self-publish): almost all of the books that do get reviewed are from traditional presses.

Perhaps A Silver Lining?

In considering the implications of the decline of the print media, I’ve made some observations that could perhaps add up to a window of opportunity for those of us who find ourselves promoting our own books at this particular point in time. The situation could be very different even two years from now, but at the moment, with a bit of creativity, we might be able to put these points to use in ways that may not only help us to sell books, but may also solve some problems for the people who are running the skeleton staffs of the world’s remaining newspapers:

  1. The print media have not disappeared completely. Lots of people are still reading newspapers on the subway, in coffee shops and doctors’ offices, on park benches and maybe even in their bathrooms.
  2. Most of us approach the papers we read differently than we used to. When I sit down with an actual newspaper these days, I tend to skim over items I’ve already read online (i.e., most of the news stories), and look instead for editorials and other opinion pieces, investigative journalism and those items known as “human interest” (to distinguish them from items of merely ferret interest, I suppose). I’m also more likely to read an article all the way through in print than online, because when I do sit down and open a newspaper, I’ve usually got a cup of tea at my elbow and have already mentally committed some time to checking out what’s inside of it.
  3. In addition to daily papers, there are weekly and monthly specialty newspapers, some of them subscription-based but many of them free: community and small-town newspapers, real estate papers, seniors’ newspapers, advertising flyers that break up the monotony with brief general-interest articles, etc.
  4. Since there are too few writers left on most newspapers staffs today, I am guessing that editors might be having a hard time generating items of local or general interest for the papers that do remain. Rather than ignoring it, if a compelling story falls into their hands that is already well written from a journalistic point of view (intriguing, apparently objective, answering the who-what-when-where-how questions, etc.) and that is about the right length for what they need, they might just sigh with resignation if not relief, and run it.
  5. Most people who are working on newspapers have an interest in writing and writers: many of them are would-be book writers themselves — even those who edit the automotives section or cover regional politics. An interesting subject line in an email might just attract such an individual’s  attention, and compel him or her to call you for an interview.
  6. A story about a book that appears in some section of the paper like “City News” or “Lifestyle” is going to reach a lot more potential buyers than is one that appears in a cultural silo, such as the Arts and Entertainment section or The Weekend Reader.

Two Plus Two = Just a Hunch

There has got to be a news story relating your book somewhere, even if it is only “Historic novel took took twenty years to write,” or “Nightmare inspired fantasy,” or “Author swears erotic novel is invention; husband begs to differ.” If there isn’t, maybe you can create one (“Book launch at swimming pool makes big splash”). (I’m sure you can be more creative: the more creative the better, in fact.)

Once you’ve written your news item, Google “daily newspapers Canada” or “weekly newspapers North Dakota” or “newspapers Roman Catholic” – whatever suits your fancy – and start sending out your story. In my brief experience with this type of endeavour to date, at least I feel as though I’m working on book promotion, even if it has so far failed to bring forth any fruit.

Who knows? If all else fails it might lead to another news story: “After 500 media releases without a single nibble, despairing writer seeks refuge in new novel.” Now that has a human-interest ring to it, don’t you think?

Update: After you’ve read this post, go immediately to the first comment below, from Marcus Trower, and read it. I was writing about my hunches on this issue in this post; he provides some genuine, practical advice from the field. THANK YOU, Marcus! (I’m hoping he’ll do a guest post at some point.) (I love the Internet.)


I am looking for someone to do a guest blog post on book promo blog tours. Experience (with blog post tours) necessary. We want to know: How you set one up. What you do. What you offer other bloggers in exchange. What the outcome has been for you. If you can write such a piece, apply within (i.e., at mary at marywwalters dot com)

I am also looking for a few people to talk to about their experiences with video book promotion (YouTube or other) – either as the focus of the video or as a consumer of author videos. What is most effective  format? How long should they be? What should they be about – the book? The author? Does anyone actually watch these things? If you can help, contact me at mary at marywwalters dot com.


Establish a S.M.A.R.T. book promotion goal

iStock_000018615175XSmallBook Promotion Tip of the Week #9: Figure out how many copies of your book you want to sell before you start promoting.

(You can always adjust your targets later.)

After floundering around in the book promotion literature for quite a while now, and blogging about what doesn’t work, I am learning that one principle is more basic than the rest: if I don’t set some promotion goals for myself, I’m never going to get anything done. I could continue to research promotion forever, rather than doing anything about it.

Not that I’m giving up the research, but I’ve decided that even if I haven’t read and learned everything that’s out there yet (by a long shot), the moment has come when I must start to make a focused effort on the actual promotion.

A key word here is “focused” — because I’ve also come to the realization that the goal I set for myself cannot be “to sell books.” That just isn’t a very “SMART” goal.  If “to sell books” is all I’m striving for, I’m never going to get anywhere. It’s like setting myself the goal “to lose weight” or “to read Tolstoy” or “to learn another language.” Those are ultimate goals, but they are not specific, measurable, attainable, relevant or time-sensitive goals, which is what SMART stands for (more on S.M.A.R.T. goals later).

First I need to decide what I want to do with my promotional efforts. Do I want to get to number one (which I think is the general hope that most of us have as we set off on our non-specific promotional adventures)? If so, what does this mean? Do I really think I am going to sell 300 copies of my book EVERY DAY on Amazon? According to this article on Salon, that’s what it takes to make a book an Amazon bestseller. I must face whether that is my specific goal and intent, or whether that is a pipe dream.

And even if that IS my goal, then how many days of 300 sales/day am I aiming for? Would I be satisfied with 300 sales for just one day? – enough to get my book to the top of the Amazon list just once, at which point I could legitimately say (for promotional purposes) that my book had been an “Amazon bestseller” (as in, “My book was once an Amazon bestseller”)? How much practical good is that going to do me in the long term?

Maybe it is The New York Times bestseller list to the top of which I wish to climb. That one is far more prestigious, of course, when it comes to putting a plug about it on my promotional materials. The NYT list is based on weekly sales of books and ebooks across the USA, and no one really knows how many copies of each book must be sold before you make it to the top of that particular mountain, but I’m pretty sure it’s more than I can realistically plan to sell at this point.

Maybe I just want Don Valiente to top the list of bestselling Westerns on Amazon for a day, or for The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel to appear and then stay in the top-ten list in women’s fiction. Maybe I’m eying a local newspaper’s weekly posting of the top ten fiction books sold. (Or maybe I’ve written a family history and I’m not interested in top-ten lists at all: maybe I’ll be happy if I sell ten books, period.)

According to whomever wrote the Wikipedia entry on “bestsellers,” the term is relatively recent and means so many different things in different contexts that it actually means nothing. The entry points out that, depending on the venue, in the U.K. a “bestseller” can mean anything from 4,000 to 25,000 copies sold. In Canada, 5,000 copies sold (ever) constitutes what we call “a national bestseller.”

Why do the numbers matter anyway?

There are a couple of reasons why the numbers of copies of books sold matter (quite aside from the royalties that accrue). First, purchasers do respond to books that are at the top of bestseller lists, even though such lists have nothing to do with quality. (I go back to my Fifty Shades of Grey example which proves that book-buyers can be total sheep exhibiting no taste, and no sense of literary or even erotic discernment whatsoever.)

In addition, and of equal importance, in the case of Amazon when you reach a certain level of sales, the site starts recommending your book to other people who have bought or looked at similar books – which means that Amazon is now doing some of your promotion for you.

And yes, once your book has made a bestseller list, you can call yourself a “bestselling author,” and no one can ever take that away from you. (Although I guess they can demand to know which list you were a bestseller on, and for how long, and they could ask you that in a radio interview, so be prepared.)

It is for such reasons as these that some writers are paying to get onto bestseller lists which – as I reported last week – you can do if you have enough friends and money.

Does the number of books you want to sell affect your promotional efforts?

I think it does, even if you aren’t aiming for the top of a bestseller list. This is the crux of the question when it comes to this week’s Book Promotion tip.

In recent days, I have been thinking about S.M.A.R.T. goals. This is a term which has been in use in the business world for decades, and which I keep coming across in my reading about marketing and even in some of my editing for clients. The acronym stands for  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-sensitive. Many experts consider these five attributes to be key indicators when it comes to establishing and attaining goals in such areas as personal and professional development, project management, employee performance, etc.

If your goals don’t have these five attributes, such experts would point out, how can you possible attain them? “Selling books” has none of those attributes, and therefore it’s a lousy goal. (For me it also leads to madly riding off in too many directions at once, as I have several books to sell, not to mention my podcasts on grantwriting, and dozens of places I could sell them, and dozens of ways I could approach the promotion in each case.)

So for me, here is what I am setting as my first S.M.A.R.T. goal: Within six months, to attain at least thirty days of sales of at least ten copies a day of The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid (Kindle version). I have chosen this number because I estimate that this will get us onto the “top 50 Westerns” list on Amazon for those 30 days, which will help to propel us towards ongoing sales with diminished effort.

This goal is Specific because it says I am going to focus only on Don Valiente and ignore my other books for now, and it also sets a specific number of sales per day for a specific number of days.

This goal is Measurable because six months from now (mid-September) I will be able to tell whether I have attained the goal. I can see on my KDP page how many copies we are selling. (I can also track our progress vis á vis other western novels on Amazon. If we need to up the sales numbers per day to get to the top 50, we can do that.)

This goal is Attainable — with an attractive promotional campaign that targets readers of Westerns, given a consistent promotional effort for six months that (at no significant cost to us) positions our books in as many places as possible, I believe that this goal is attainable.

This goal is Realistic. It allows for the fact, for example, that if I send out a review copy of Don Valiente, even if someone does review it, the review will likely not appear for three to four months at least. On the other hand, hitting The New York Times bestseller list is not a realistic goal. I don’t even think that getting into the top 10 list of bestselling Westerns on Amazon would be realistic, when I consider the competition. And I know me: if a goal doesn’t seem realistic, I am going to give up on it very quickly.

This goal is Time-Specific. I have given us six months. (I am now putting a memo in my calendar to report back to you here then, and let you know what happened.)

Do you have a SMART goal for your book promotion? Do you want to declare it in public here so we can cheer you on?

Do you think that setting goals is necessary or of use?

Let us know! I love your comments and so do my readers.

Next week: a book promotion tip that is more specific — that takes less time to write. :)

Effective book promotion is not about the book. It’s not about the author. It’s about the audience.

Book Promotion TipsBook Promotion Tip of the Week #8 March 3, 2013

Why is it that so many writers forget all about who they are talking to when they start promoting their books? All of us (I hope) have an audience in mind when we are doing the actual writing of the books – even if we think of that audience only as “readers like us.” And yet when it comes time to tell other people about what we’ve written, and to get them interested in buying our books, many of us completely forget about our prospective readers. We focus only on ourselves.

We say, “Special promotion this week only!” or “Help me reach 100 sales this month!” We announce that our book is new and hot, that it is well edited, that it is the third book in a series, that it is available at Barnes and Noble. Maybe we say, almost timidly, “I hope that you will take a look.”

Statements like these offer nothing to our readers. We have to remember that (like us) other people are basically selfish. Aside from our closest friends and a few relatives, our prospective readers are not going to read a whole book for our sake: they are going to read it because it does something for them, or at least does something to them.

Whether you are writing jacket copy, a blog post, an email to a book reviewer, or your author profile, take your focus off yourself and direct it at your audience. What do your readers want? What do they need? What is going to grab their attention because it appeals to them?

How to Do It

In order to write effective promotional copy, you need to figure out what is going to get your potential readers to sit up and take notice. What would it take if you were in their shoes?

Think about what you are offering them in your book. If – as is the case with much fiction– you are offering a diversion from real life, divert them in your promotional text as well. Grab their attention away from reality by asking questions, giving clues, whetting interest, building suspense. On the website for The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid, for example, we make bold statements that are intended to pique audience interest. We say, “The West will never be the same.” We use terms like “seduced,” “in flagrente delicto,” and “escaped-convict killers.” Contrast this to the first page of my author website, which is intended to convey information only, is all about me, and (unless you want to know all about me) is dry as dust.

If your book is non-fiction, give your prospective readers a taste of what you are going to give them in your book: share a tip or a bit of unusual information that will make them immediately want to read more, or tell them how your book will help them improve their lives. Using this principle, last week I changed the front page of my podcast website for non-profit organizations so that the first words visitors see are these: “I can help you write a more effective funding application” (which is true, by the way). Until I made the change, the first thing they saw were my credentials. But then it hit me that what visitors to my podcast website want to know first is what I can do for them: they can read my credentials later.

So, ask yourself this: what can you say to your prospective readers that will make it almost impossible for them to resist the temptation to learn a little more about your book?

It’s not easy to do this. The text you write needs to be tailored so that it actually reflects the contents of your book (and not in a misleading or inflammatory way, of course ☺),  but it also needs to appeal to your specific audience. It may be worth your while to test the impact of your wording on a few friends and relatives before you post it (and if they are the ones who would read your book even if it were the phone directory and tell you it was brilliant, either ask them to be honest for a change, or find another test audience). No matter what you are writing, putting yourself in the shoes of your readers is the key to being effective.

So. Take a hard look at the latest piece of promotional copy you wrote. Be honest. Is it focused on the needs and interests of the people who are going to read your book? If not, why not?

I’m talking to you. *


Some hot tips from readers:

Thanks to Merna Summers for sending me this link to a book awards program that neither of us had heard of before, the Sharp Writ Awards. The info on the 2013 competition is online.


And thank you to John Aragon for directing me to this article, which discusses the practice of paying to get on bestseller lists: something I didn’t know you could do.



* Well, and to myself, of course. As usual.