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….

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.

Fiction in 2013: The Ugly Truth (and a call for patience)


So I was going to write a post about the sorry state of fiction publishing during this transition period, as we watch the established presses, gatekeeper agents, chain booksellers and respectable book review outlets grind through the death throes of their former heyday — those days soon gone forever when they got to decide what books we should read.

I was going to detail a few of the horrors that one former “mid-list writer” (me) witnessed as she set off on her lonely road to self-publication, and witnesses still as she trudges down the even more harrowing and thorny trail of self-published-book promotion. Several of the appalling sights I’ve seen have contributed to a precipitous decline in my faith in my fellow human beings, such as:

  • New lows for the publishing industry. Traditional publishers have “evolved” from basing their guesses about what books they should publish next year on last year’s bestseller lists, to basing them on the lists of top-selling self-published novels — whose authors they then race to sign. How ironic is that?
  • Sticking fingers in the dam as the ship goes down. Almost all traditional book review outlets, booksellers, awards competitions and funding agencies continue to refuse to review, sell or reward self-published books on principle, no matter what the track record of the author or the quality of the self-published book (why? Because they might have to THINK if they were to become more open? How much easier it must be to simply proceed as they always have done, by accepting only those books published by traditional presses?). This makes book promotion for former mid-list writers very difficult, but it also means that readers who are wise enough not to participate in on-line review forums never hear about self-published books with any literary merit;
  • The Crap. Oh, the Crap. I draw your attention here to the hundreds of thousands of works of so-called fiction that have been released into the marketplace in the past few years by self-published writers who are incompetent, inexperienced, badly edited, and/or merely ignorant or boring, many of whom grow apoplectic and even threatening if anyone suggests that they don’t know how to punctuate, much less how to write (This enormous garbage heap is offered as justification by publishers, booksellers, review outlets, awards organizers and granting agencies for continuing to proceed as they do, and I do not argue that it is a major issue. However, a bit of diligence on the part of these institutions could sort the wheat from the chaff – sorting is not THAT difficult – but who has time to be diligent when your house is crumbling around you?) ;
  • False Positive Reviews. Then we have the proliferation of ridiculously positive, 5-star reviews of the aforementioned Crap now posted to, Goodreads, book-review blogs, and other book-related sites. Most of these patently fluffy reviews have been written by the authors’ well-meaning but inexperienced, uninformed and not widely read friends and relatives. One book-review blogger favourably compared an utterly talentless writer to one with the world-class stature of, let us say, a Jane Austen – a comparison that was then, of course, gleefully quoted by the writer in subsequent promotion. Now, if you were an unaware book buyer and a fan of Jane Austen, would you know to proceed with caution? I don’t think so. (Yep. It’s a zoo out there. Be careful where you step);
  • Books that sell on reputation and gossip rather than content. These are the Honey Boo-Boos of the current literary world. Take, for example, the Fifty Shades series, which has sold an astounding, gut-wrenching, nauseating 68 million copies so far. (Lest anyone accuse me of sour grapes, I have no qualms admitting that I am fifty shades of green over E.L. James’s book sales, but I would never, ever want to be associated with such bad writing, even in exchange for a lot of money. Thank you anyway, Mephistopheles.) As far as I can tell, this phenomenon MUST be due to the lack of literary reviews of the book, for why would anyone spend good money on a totally unerotic, misogynistic, implausible piece of shit? The only possible explanation is that  is that 67.32 million of those 68 million purchasers bought the book by mistake. I’m telling anyone who hasn’t yet made the error: I bought the first book in the series. I read as much as I could stand. I threw it in the garbage. Don’t waste your money. Read Anaïs Nin or someone else who can actually write erotic fiction instead);
  • Review Police: Then we have the packs of on-line sleuths, most of whom hide behind pseudonyms, who apparently have an intense dislike of writers in general and suspect us all of being guilty of the most nefarious crimes, particularly ones pertaining to reviews. (I have personally been the victim of their sordid and senseless attacks when I stupidly ventured onto their forums to point out the errors in their thinking. Like two-year olds, their arguments are not constrained in any way by the need to use logic, and they will therefore win all arguments). Among other things, such individuals believe to the very cores of their Neanderthalean little hearts that if you have received a free copy of a book rather than purchased it, you are incapable of writing an objective review of it. This opinion of course invalidates every review that has ever been published in the New York Times, the Globe and Mail , the London Review of Books, or any other respected review publication: since the beginning of (literate) time, reviewers have not paid for books they have reviewed; they have received the free review copies that have been sent to the publications by the publishers. The “review police” seem to have very little to do with their lives aside from hunting down authors they can report to the Amazon gods for having engineered positive reviews for their own books – or, better yet, of having written such reviews themselves, using false names. Such witch hunts commonly occur on the Amazon Top Reviewers Forum (which is not exclusively about books, but also talks about reviews of toilet plungers and whatnot; here is, however, a charming recent thread that reveals the biases of many of the habitues of the forum) and The Kindle Forum;
  • Overkill Response by Amazon: Last fall, Amazon responded to accusations by these sleuths by deleting thousands of reviews by writers, inflammatory or not. Here are the details, as set out in the New York Times and The Telegraph;
  • Last but not least, it doesn’t help that at least one traditionally published author has admitted to actually doing what we are all being accused of doing: not only has R.J. Ellory written reviews of his own books and posted them under pseudonyms, he has also used fake personae to slag his fellow authors.

So, yeah. It’s a pretty disgusting time to be a fiction fan – as I am, both as a writer and a reader. I remember a bookseller once telling me (about 30 years ago) that she didn’t bother to take ID from book purchasers when they wrote cheques because they were all so honest. The nature of the beast seems to have changed, and I am very sorry to be seeing it.

What I was going to do was to just advise everyone to stay away from fiction–even mine!–until this all shakes down. If you can’t trust what is being published to be good, and you can’t trust the reviews to be honest, much less representative, then what’s the point?

But then I reminded myself that this IS just a transition stage. I reminded myself how far we’ve come in the past four years. I remembered how I’ve noticed that several of the newly published writers I didn’t feel were very good seem to have given up on their dreams to become millionaires from writing the next knock-off Twilight, and stopped plugging their books everywhere. It seems likely that many others who are not “real writers” will follow because this is (as it always has been) a hell of a lot of thankless work.

I thought about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours and reminded myself that I’ve been at this fiction-writing stuff – working at improving my writing – for more than thirty years now. I reminded myself that I finished my (first) half marathon back in the 1990s , and lost 30 lbs last autumn, by keeping on and keeping on–no matter what. Giving up on writing, even for a few months or years, is not an option anyway: I love to write. A writer is who I am.

I told myself that within another few years, there will be a new and much better system, in which the readers will find the good books for themselves from among all the self- and traditionally published books that are released, and then will tell the rest of us about them on book blogs that we will come to trust to point us in the best direction for our own personal reading interests. Within a few years, really good editors will offer to put their imprints on self-published books they’ve edited and liked. There will be awards programs that are open to both kinds of fiction publications. Writers who have established presses and agents will stop dumping and ignoring on principle those of us who are not dragging around similar litters of dependents. (See, for example, this.) We will have book review outlets we can trust to cover ALL good fiction writing, no matter where it comes from, and booksellers who will recognize their new roles as community gathering places for book lovers rather than as gatekeepers.

It will take a few more years for the evolution to shake down properly, but it will happen. And I am optimistic, despite my dismay and discouragement right now, that the world is going to be a better, more open and less expensive place for writers and for readers. And that we will once again be seen as a group as honourable people who are kind and supportive of one another.

So I decided not to write that depressing, bleak, discouraging blog post I had been thinking about after all.

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #1: December 2, 2012

Gold starDemonstrate Your Excellence

If you are the author of a well written, well edited, self-published book, you need to help it get the attention it deserves. There are lots of people who will assume that just because your book is self-published, it must be crap – poorly written drivel featuring lots of typos laid out incompetently on the page.

Since there are, in fact, many “indie” published books fitting that description to a T, it is very difficult for most self-published authors to get their books reviewed by established media. To take advantage of this situation, some book-trade publications (including the erstwhile respectable Kirkus Reviews and Publishers’ Weekly) are now selling reviews for what I consider to be way too much money  ($425?? Are you kidding me? What’s the point? How is even a good review from one of these outlets–and the price doesn’t include any guarantees that the review will be positive–going to improve your sales? You’re still not going to be eligible for most awards competitions, and most established booksellers still aren’t going to stock your books. Furthermore, your average readers couldn’t give a damn about Kirkus Reviews or Publishers’ Weekly–if they even know what they are). As far as I’m concerned you can spend your book-promotion budget, if you have one, much more wisely.

To help get your wheat to stand out from the chaff:

1) Submit your book to every awards program for published books for which it is eligible that you can afford. (Some awards programs are also quite expensive, and may not be worth the investment, especially if there are likely to be so many books submitted that winning becomes a crapshoot: check out the previous years’ winners of these competitions. But don’t dismiss award competitions just because they cost a bit of money: there are certainly administrative costs involved–including, we hope, some payment for the judges.) Don’t overlook local and regional competitions, and those specific to your genre (e.g. western, historical fiction, speculative fiction). Google to find them (“writing competitions self-published books, steam punk” for example). You may not win, but you may be a finalist or semi-finalist, as The Whole Clove Diet was in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition four years ago, or you may not be even a semi-finalist but may still get a great review from a judge that you can then use in promotion (as I recently did from the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards);

2) Look for groups of readers that are giving their stamps of approval to well written, self-published/indie books, and submit a copy of your book for their review. Leaders in this field include the folks at the Book Readers Appreciation Group (B.R.A.G.): their readers evaluate books that are nominated or submitted, and the ones they find to be of sufficient quality receive a B.R.A.G. Medallion and appear as recommendations on their site. Such notice can bring side-benefits aside from the actual selection: not only was The Whole Clove Diet a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree (which is an accolade I can and do use in my promotion and on my website), the news of its status was also tweeted by the B.R.A.G. organizers and mentioned on their Facebook page. Recently the novel was also named a B.R.A.G. Book of the Week, which gave it even more attention.

Aside from B.R.A.G., there are many other sites that are devoted to helping readers sort the worthwhile from the junk in indie/self published books. (I invite you to add your recommendations of such sites as comments to this post for the benefit of other writers.) In a world where agents and publishing houses are no longer the gatekeepers they once were, readers need to help other readers find the best new writers and books around. When they get themselves organized into groups (or become individual book review bloggers), the work they do benefits us not as readers, but as writers too.

12th Annual Weblog Awards (aka The Bloggies)

Coming next week on The Militant Writer: How to promote your published book — an interview with an author whose books are selling like hotcakes! In the meantime. . . 

How to nominate anyone’s blog for The Bloggies. Deadline Jan 15, 2012 (And if you don’t nominate mine, I’ll never know)

THIS Sunday, January 15 10 p.m. EST is the deadline for entries in the 12th Annual Weblog Awards, aka the 2011 Bloggies.

Each entry must include nominations of THREE distinct weblogs. This means that if you enjoyed this blog, and would like to nominate The Militant Writer ( in the “well written” or “topical” category (and in any other categories you might consider appropriate, such as best Canadian, etc. – because each blog can be entered in all appropriate categories), you can also nominate your own blog!!!! And your best friend’s blog!! Or even a blog you just like to read!

Of course, if you don’t have your own blog, or a best friend who blogs, or don’t read blogs, you could nominate one of my other blogs as your second and/or third choices. For example, my recent series of travel posts about India at I Am All Write (e.g., could be nominated for best travel or best writing or best Canadian or whatever. And then there’s my book review blog: That makes three. If you need them.

Here are the Bloggies Rules, reprinted from the Bloggies page

  • Any pages with dated entries that existed at some point during the year 2011 are eligible.
  • Only one nomination ballot and one finalist ballot may be submitted per person.
  • E-mail addresses are required to vote. You must use your own address and confirm the verification e-mail.
  • If you verify a second ballot, your first one will be replaced.
  • In the nomination phase:
    • URLs are required.
    • Your ballot must contain at least three unique nominees.
    • Weblogs may be nominated for multiple categories.
    • Nominees must suit the category they are placed in.
    • Weblogs may win a category over multiple years a maximum of three times.

Here’s the nomination site again: (Scroll down to find the ballot)

Here are my urls, which you will need. Insert the title of the blog (e.g., I’m All Write) on the left side of the box, then press TAB and insert the url. (I’m All Write) (The Militant Writer) (Mary W. Walters: Book Reviews)

It just takes a few minutes. Support a writer! Any writer!