How to Sell Your Book, No Matter Who Published It (1)

Introduction, Part I

Like It or Not, You Are Probably Your Own Best Book Promoter

We’d all love to find someone who knows everything there is to know about book promotion and also happens to love our books – preferably even more than we do. Unfortunately, not even publishers offer that kind of service to most of their authors any more, if they ever did: their promotions departments get solidly behind a few books and authors every season, and the rest fall through the cracks.

On the other hand, the Internet is overrun with individuals and companies that want to charge us money to sell our books. They all claim to be experts in social media and every other form of book promotion known to humankind, and if we will just pay them [insert sliding scale] they will tweet and plug and splash and hype the daylights out of our books for [insert number of days or weeks], mostly on Twitter and Facebook. (See my post entitled “Promoting Your Book on Twitter and Facebook is a Waste of Time.“)

Odd One Out 14Since most writers know nothing about book promotion and the very words “social media” strike fear into their hearts, such online offers are tempting. If you are so tempted, I urge you to resist. The very nature of these book promotion companies is a “one size fits all” approach. How many of them are offering to actually read your book, and saying that they will promote it only if they really, really love it? None that I’ve seen.*  And since none of their services are custom-tailored, but are instead intended for the masses, how can they possibly sell your book?

I am amazed that people offer promotion services to authors without any intention whatsoever of actually reading their books. I am almost as surprised that people take them up on such offers. Unless the marketing company not only has some massive, unique experience with online sales that demonstrates impressive results for books like yours, and/or you are doing a blast of some sort and are simply using the company to get the word out, paying them money to do what you can do yourself makes little sense.

Many thousands of readers have downloaded my books for free or have purchased them, thanks to my initiatives alone. You can trust me when I say that anything book promotions outlets and promotions departments can do for your book, you can do better. You know your book more intimately than anyone else ever will. And while all of us wish that someone with a strong background in book promotion who has read our book and loves it would appear out of nowhere and offer their services to us, that isn’t going to happen. Fortunately, doing it ourselves is not that difficult or painful: we just have to suck it up and do it.

I’m going to help you by demystifying the process as I walk you through my strategies step by step. The most important thing you need to do first, in order to make my suggestions succeed for you, is to accept – on a very basic level – that in this new world of writing and publishing, no matter whether your book is a Simon & Schuster release or is coming out on Smashwords thanks to your own efforts, book marketing and promotion is part of your job. Unless your name is already famous for some other reason, or you have connections that most of us don’t have, or you are unusually lucky, the chances of your book being discovered by anyone beyond your immediate circle are less than miniscule. Even “luck” usually needs a nudge from us.

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.

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*If you or your company does this, please let us know in the comments section.

How to sell your book!

You Wrote It? You Sell It!

Announcing my new series!

Ta Dah! 

I have been learning about promoting, marketing and selling books for more than thirty years. And I have learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot about selling traditionally published books (I was editor in chief of a publishing company and have had four books published traditionally) and I’ve learned a lot about selling self-published books (I’ve published three books myself and helped several clients to publish theirs. More than 10,000 copies of my newest novel, Rita Just Wants to Be Thin are in the hands of readers, and that book has about 50 reviews on Amazon. [Happily, at the moment, quite a few of them are positive]). I know ebooks and I know print books. I know fiction and non-fiction.

And now I am writing a book about what I have learned. Whether you are published by a traditional publishing house – major or minor – or are publishing your own book, I have advice for you. Whether you are a well known writer or a neophyte, the tips I am going to offer will contribute to your bottom line.

I am not guaranteeing to turn you into a bestseller (although I can show you how to get onto best-seller lists for a day or two so you can call yourself one), but if you don’t increase your sales based on what is in my upcoming posts, I’ll eat this computer. Virtually. I promise.

You wrote it? You sell it! 

As if we have any choice: even if we’re published by traditional presses, they want us to sell our own books. And if we are self-published, we have no support network at all: we have to do it ourselves, or watch our precious words slide off into obscurity. We may not like it, but we have to do it.

But aside from the fact that we writers are mostly quiet, sometimes even shy individuals who hate making a fuss in public – especially about ourselves –and prefer to stay home where it’s quiet, why not sell our own books? No one knows them as well as we do.

You wrote it? You sell it!  is the title of the series. It will eventually turn into a book by the same name, but you can get the first draft free right here, as I create it. Some of the info I will be sharing with you,  you may have already read in earlier versions on The Militant Writer. But most of the posts are new. And the information is all organized in a new, more accessible way (What to do before you start to sell your book; Creating an online presence; Sales initiatives that cost no money; Sales initiatives that do cost money – what they cost, and whether they are worth it; How to get into bookstores and libraries; Cross-selling; What works and what does not. Etc etc etc. I am leaving no book-promotion stone unturned.)

If I know anything about my Militant Writer readers, you will also find valuable advice in the comments section as well as in the posts.

So stand by. If you don’t already subscribe to this blog, do it now –  look waay up to the top of the right-hand column, and you will see where you can sign up safely and securely – so you’ll get the first installment of the series, and every one after that, on the day it is published.

The first post will appear very early in 2017. In the mean time, stop worrying about promotion and go write.

Happy New Year to one and all!

 

BookBub and Me: 20,000 Downloads, 50 Reviews, and a Month (so far) of Daily Sales

I even made it onto three Amazon e-book bestseller lists

BookBubI’ve never figured that paying a promotions company to market my book was a worthwhile investment of my money, but in the past month I’ve discovered – yet again – that when it comes to promoting books, I’m a neophyte.

After a few writer friends experienced success with a site called BookBub, I decided a few weeks ago that I’d give the company a try with Rita Just Wants to Be Thin. At the time, Rita was languishing at an average of about zero sales per week.

I was prepared to consider the $165 US or so that I thought a BookBub promo was going to cost me  (for “worldwide” distribution of a book in the Women’s Fiction category) as money down the drain, but aside from the money ( ! ? ), I had nothing much to lose. I was curious. I figured it would at the very least provide me with the fodder for a post on this blog. As it has. But I never expected that I’d be writing such an enthusiastic review.

How BookBub Works

Millions of readers from all over the world have signed up at BookBub, and every day those readers are sent an email notification of one-day-only deep discounts on e-books in genres that interest them. Typically, e-books from publishers such as Random House and Penguin that normally sell for $11.95 are offered on BookBub for anywhere from $1.95 to $3.95. The e-books may be available through Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, etc. (Please note that BookBub promotes only electronic books [e-books] – not print books.)

Although BookBub subscribers get one notification per day of books that may interest them, not all readers are sent notifications about all discounted e-books. Notices go out only to those who are interested in that genre, and only to those in the geographic areas selected by the publisher. Books are individually approved by BookBub’s editorial committee before they are scheduled for promotion. Once your book is accepted, you are able to set up your author profile.

The cost to the publisher (me, in this case) of the one-day promotion of a book depends on its genre and the geographic area(s) selected, the choices being 1) USA, 2) International or 3) All. Every few months, BookBub adjusts its prices depending on the popularity of various categories, and on recent sales figures in different regions. There is a list of prices – and typical revenues – on the BookBub’s “partner” site.

Bestseller July 8 amazon.ca

For a few days, I was on Amazon bestseller lists in Canada, the US and Great Britain

(I just checked how much it would have cost to list Rita in the women’s fiction category for All regions today, and the price might have scared me off. It has gone up considerably since I started my BookBub adventure. So if the cost for your book’s category seems too high, wait: maybe it will come down again in a month or so.)

Why I Set My Price at Zero

Since the regular price of the e-book version of Rita is $2.99, and since Amazon won’t let me drop the price below $1.99 without my giving up the benefits of being in the Kindle Select program (which I don’t want to do), and since giving a book away for free on BookBub costs a whole lot less than selling it, I decided that I would offer my book as a giveaway. Amazon allows Kindle Select participants to give their books away for a maximum of five days every quarter.

I was pleased that my book was approved by BookBub right away. I was also pleased that they suggested a less expensive category (Chick Lit) than the one I’d chosen (Women’s Fiction). I don’t consider Rita to be chicklit, but I figured, what the hell: the cost savings was considerable.

I then stood back and waited to see what would happen.

Wow!

I was amazed.

On the day of the giveaway – July 5, 2016  ­­–  19,159 people downloaded Rita for free! The following day, 740 more downloaded it for free (probably an international dateline thing). But more amazingly, on the day after the giveaway, nearly thirty people bought the ebook at its regular price of $2.99. The next day I sold eight copies, and I figured my moment of glory was done. But the day after that, I sold fourteen copies, and the day after that, 18. I’ve been selling e-copies of Rita ever since… at least one or two almost every day, and sometimes more. In addition, hundreds of people have read the book in the Kindle Unlimited library, and I get paid for those readers too.

One of the best results of the BookBub promo is that, since July 5, I have had nearly fifty reviews – most of them positive – on amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and amazon.ca. I even had one review on amazon.au (that reviewer hated the book, but I’m sure the next reader from Australia is going to love it, just to balance things out). I’ve also noticed an uptick on my reviews on GoodReads.

Next?


I was 
hoping to do a promotion of The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid on BookBub but my application was turned down. They say that sometimes they have too many books in a certain category already, and they invite publishers whose books are turned down to try again in four months. So I will do that.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 9.01.27 PMIn the meantime, I’m going to try out a few other book-promotion platforms. Rita will be featured on StoryFinds on September 1, but without a price discount. I don’t expect anything like the BookBub response… but then, what do I know?

In the meantime, I highly recommend that both traditionally published and self-published authors check out BookBub. I’ve made my money back and more – and the reviews the promotion garnered were worth the investment all on their own.

While you’re at it, you might want to sign up at BookBub and StoryFinds to get some great deals on some great books.

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I invite you to share your thoughts on this or any other subject related to writing and publishing – either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

PLEASE NOTE: I will be away from email for one week (until August 24) so I will not be able to approve/post your comments until I return. 

 

I Create my First Video Book Trailer (and Other Book Promo News)

Rita TrailerFirst, an update for those who have been wondering what happened to my call in July for a book “publicist, but not just any publicist.” I am very happy to report that I have found a person who perfectly fits the bill. Her name is Chelsea. In a future post I will explain how we connected, how we are working together, and what we are doing to promote my books.

In the meantime, I have already started to enjoy the benefits of having someone else on board who also has an interest in testing some of the book promotion ideas I’ve been accumulating. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I find it difficult to do direct self-promotion and, as as a result, I’d been avoiding doing the groundwork that was necessary for any real promotion to happen. Once I’d started talking with Chelsea about what we should do first, I needed to get moving on that groundwork… and I did.

The Website

The first thing I needed to do was to revisit my website. Previously, I had different websites for different books, each containing the kinds of materials that would have gone out in a “media package” in a previous era: a profile of the author, an introduction to the book, reviews of the book and of my previous books, photos, etc. Having so many websites was expensive so, when two of the sites came up for renewal, I didn’t renew them. Instead, I amalgamated them into my main website at marywwalters.com. Now, the background info about Rita Just Wants to Be Thin and The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid are sub-pages on my main site that are clickable from the Fiction/Books page.

While I was at it, I asked Chelsea’s opinion of my existing website and, using her input and my own thoughts, I revised and re-energized the entire site. There are still a few pages I want to add or reactivate, but for now I’m happy with what I have.

I think it’s worthwhile to revisit websites every year or so, not just to update them but to rethink them and to re-examine what purposes they serve. The previous incarnation of my website was directed at, among others, prospective clients who might need my editorial services. I am now focusing on my writing, and on getting my books to pay the bills at least in part, so the new version of the website has a different slant.

The Book Trailer

The other thing I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while is to make video trailers to promote my books. I’ve been talking about my options with several experienced video people for several years, and I had the names of some who I thought could do a good job. But then I also needed a video for another initiative I am working on — it’s called Success After 60 — and for that venture, I’m going to be making videos every week or so. I wasn’t going to be able to afford the money – or, even more importantly, the time – to deal with a professional for what were essentially going to be regular video blog posts, or “vlog posts”— most just a few minutes long on a single topic. Besides, I wanted both the trailer and the vlogs to to look amateurish rather than highly professional, because I think they’re more intimate that way.

So since I was making my “Success After 60” video myself, I decided to try making one for Rita Just Wants to be Thin at the same time.

It took me two months to make those two videos. I learned a lot. I hope to be able to make the next one in a day or two, but the whole experience was not only educational. It was also a pain in the ass.

From the faint hope that it may benefit someone else who decides to attempt what I have done, here’s what I learned. (Note: If you find yourself tempted to watch either the Success After 60 video OR the Rita trailer,  and if you find them at all interesting, or learn anything from this blog post, I would be most grateful if you’d “like” them):

The script is key. You want to develop something short and interesting.

My first several attempts at the Rita trailer consisted of my introducing the novel, then reading a passage from it, then encouraging readers to check it out online or buy it from their independent bookseller. The trailer ended up being about 7 to 8 minutes long, and even while I was creating it, I realized that it was boring.

Listening to an author reading from her novel is one thing — I enjoy going to literary readings (I especially enjoy them if the material is interesting and the writer reads well, which isn’t always the case). But unless you are a performance poet, and you have a self-contained passage that only takes a minute to read and doesn’t need to be set up first, save it for those who are already committed to you and your writing.

For most of us, reading from our books is not a good way to promote them on video.

I sent the (boring) video I’d made to Chelsea for her input, and she said a brilliant thing. She said, “Maybe you could make it more like a movie trailer.” At first I was flummoxed. How do you make a book trailer like a movie trailer? – short of filming a scene from the novel, which I was not prepared to do. (Some authors, with deeper pockets than I, have done that — some to great effect.) I also wasn’t about to hire an artist to turn my trailer into a self-contained work of art by manipulating text and images, although I’ve seen some outstanding book trailers where that has been done, such as this one.*

So I thought, What is the underlying principle of movie trailers? I looked at a lot of them, and I realized that what they do is to run snippets of the movie together so you get a sense of the story from the trailer… and that is all they do. Look at any trailer on Rotten Tomatoes, such as this one, and you will see what I mean.

After several days of mulling over how in the world this could be applied to a novel, I finally had an idea while I was working out on the rowing machine (I get my best ideas while exercising). I would read only a sentence or two from various parts of the book, and that way I would give the reader a sense of what the book was like. And the structure I would use would be to introduce the characters and the central conflict of the novel. I’d explain that Rita has a lot of problems, and then tell readers what some of those problems are.

So I threw out the previous scripts and started over. And what you see is the result.

Attitude is also key.

During my first attempts at the book trailer, I looked apologetic. All of my reluctance to shill my own work was obvious in my face and in my voice and in my posture. Since I was feeling like the script I had developed was boring (introducing the book, reading from the book, asking viewers to check out the book), I also felt like viewers were doing me a favour by sticking with me through to the bitter end of the video: and that showed, too.

Once I had developed a script I liked, I was enthusiastic about it, and all of my insecurity disappeared. The new script reminded me that I loved the novel and its characters, and that I thought readers would love them as well. Instead of trying to persuade viewers to hang in there for the video so that they would eventually see why they should buy the book, I was simply sharing my enthusiasm for the book itself. Instead of impersonating a used-car salesman, I was speaking from my heart.

Brevity is Key

The new video is 3.5 minutes long. That length made it easy to record again and again until I was happy with it. The first version had been 7 to 8 minutes. When I didn’t like the ending and the light in the house had changed, I had to start all over again: redo every single clip. Sometimes I had to wait until the next day because I didn’t have another hour to devote to it — which meant starting all over from scratch the next day or whenever I had enough time: showering and blowing my hair dry and putting on makeup and getting into half-decent clothes (rather than my usual “writing clothes”) before I could even start to record the video.

That is one main reason why it took me two months to create a video I liked: I kept having to do it over and over again. When you’re redoing a video, you want it to be short.

Recording the same video over and over again is ultimately a good thing

Despite how I whine about how often I had to re-record the Rita book trailer (and you cannot imagine how many clips I threw out that ended with swear words) due to bloopers, poor timing, the battery in the camera suddenly running out, etc., there were real benefits to being so particular about getting the video to the point where it was as good as I could make it. By the time I did the version you see posted online, I was totally relaxed in front of the camera. All of my apprehension, camera shyness and lack of confidence had gone away. I was me.

The “Technicalities” (for those who are interested)

I used the following apps and objects found around my house to make the video:

Recording the Video Clips

I did my first few attempts at the video just talking to the camera that is built into my MacBook Air (using OS X Yosemite), with the help of an app called Photo Booth. Using that program was fairly easy, but there were disadvantages: I couldn’t get my eyes to look directly at the viewer, which was what I wanted to do in order to make “eye contact.”  No matter what I tried, I appeared to be either looking down or up. Reading from a script made this problem worse, of course, because I had to look at the script and then back at the camera. Another program on my computer, iMovie, offers a teleprompter function, but that didn’t help either because I still had to look down at my computer.

Furthermore, the recording came out reversed even after I processed it (more on the processing below), which meant that when I held the book up, the title was backwards.

So for the next attempts to make the video, I used Arnie’s Canon camera on a tripod. He helped me set it up so that when I sat down in my armchair I was seated in the right place  — my face close enough to the lens to feel personal, but not too close. Then we left the camera and the armchair in the same place for a few days, and I kept making different recordings until I had the ones I was happy with. I would sit in the chair, gather my thoughts, then get up and push “record” on the camera. Then I would sit down and start talking. When I flubbed it, I would get up and stop the recording. Then I’d take a deep breath. Then I would start at the beginning of the sentence or the paragraph before the flub, where it seemed like there would be a good pause that would allow me to cut and patch the clips together later. I gradually learned to pause at the end of paragraphs  every time, and in other places, so that if I had to do a patch, I’d have some elbow room.

Again I had to keep an eye on the lighting and make sure it was consistent. If I needed six clips, and I made Clip 1 at 2 p.m. and Clip 2 at 2:15 p.m. and so on, and then after I finished Clip 6 and started working on them, I discovered I didn’t like Clip 2 and had to redo it,  by then it would be 4 p.m. or later. The sun would have moved across the sky or disappeared behind a cloud, and I’d have a continuity problem. (I preferred natural light to artificial, so I didn’t tape at night. Also, I have a shorter fuse at night, so it wouldn’t have worked anyway.) The longer the video is, the worse this clip-matching problem can become.

To hold the script, which I tried not to simply read but only to refer to, we put up a music stand behind the camera, printed out the script in large type, and clipped two pages to the stand at at a time. If you refer to the Success After 60 video, you will see me reading the script more than I do in the Rita video. I’ve decided there is no way around this — short of buying a real-live tv camera like my son Dan uses on Daily Planet, which has a teleprompter built right into it. Life is too short for some things, and memorizing scripts is one, so I’m living with the fact that you can see me reading the script in my videos. I did, however, read the scripts over many, many times before I felt and sounded natural reading them.

Assembling the Video

After the recording was done, I imported the clips from the camera into PhotoShop on my MacBook Air, and then exported the ones I wanted to work with to a folder on my Desktop. I then opened them in QuickTime (it’s the default on my computer) and started trimming them, using the “View Clips” option and then “Split Clip” command. That way I eliminated the parts at the beginnings and ends of the clips where I had recorded myself sitting down (after starting the recording), and then standing up (to stop the recording). Where there was a flub, I cut that out too and then started the next clip in the appropriate place so that they would match. I didn’t worry about whether they matched exactly.

I didn’t do much editing in the middle of clips at this stage, either (taking out phrases or hesitations), because I found out the hard way that I could throw off the synchronization of sound and video if I did too much editing within clips. Cleaning up places where the sound doesn’t match the video is harder to do after the fact than it is to avoid it in the first place.

Then I uploaded the rough-cut clips to iMovie and followed the instructions (I watched several YouTube videos on how to use iMovie before I did it, and several more during the production process). I lined the clips up, did a bit more editing, added titles, and watched the whole thing in the iMovie library. When I was satisfied (several days after I had started), I uploaded the video from the iMovie Library to the iMovie Theater (this takes an hour or so). Then I uploaded it to YouTube (again, this takes a while. And btw, there is lots of info online about how to do this.) Then I watched it a few times, showed it to a few people, decided it wasn’t right, and started all over again: right from the getting-in-the-shower-and-blowing-my-hair-dry stage.

In all, for the two videos I ultimately created – the Rita book trailer, and the introduction video for Success After 60 – I probably recorded 50 to 75 clips. I threw out most of them. I made about five complete projects in iMovie before I had two I could live with.

I’ve learned a lot in the past two months, and I’m fairly proud of the results. I hope that it will go much faster next time, from scriptwriting to posting.

Going Public: YouTube and Facebook

I have now got two channels on YouTube in addition to my own: one for Mary W. Walters, Author, and one for Success After 60.  (Subscribe to one or both of these channels if you are interested in seeing other videos I’ll be creating in future.) Figuring out how to create channels, upload videos and manage the metadata on YouTube is fairly straightforward. The site is very user friendly. You can also edit the video some more from right inside YouTube.

I have learned that it is much better from a quality point of view to actually upload the videos to your Facebook pages than it is to just post the link to YouTube. (I found this article on the subject interesting.) But aside from Facebook, you don’t need to upload your video anywhere besides YouTube. YouTube gives you all kinds of link codes and one-click options for social media, as well as html text that allows you to embed a direct link to YouTube in your website.

So there you go. More than you wanted to know, I am sure. But maybe it will inspire you to get a video up as well. If I can do it, so can you. Just set aside six weeks.

If you have your own approach to creating and posting videos, please let us know below.

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* I found the examples of great (but expensive-looking) book trailers here.

Book Publicist Wanted: But not just ANY book publicist

Book promotion is a career option with a big future. This is what my ideal book publicist – the book publicist of the future – looks like.

Media technologies conceptI am looking to hire a book publicist, so this post is sort of a job posting. It is also a blueprint and discussion paper for other writers who are looking for really effective people to help them promote their books, and it is a primer on the state of the industry for people starting out in the book-promotion business.

In future (starting now, for some of us), a freelance book publicist will be one of the two truly essential members of an author’s team – the other being (of course) the editor. Soon, great book publicists (like great editors) will only represent the books they love and believe in, and the fact that a specific publicist has taken on your book will act as a credential for the quality of the book itself.

Needless to say, for that to happen, the world is going to need a lot more freelance book publicists than it has right now. Unfortunately most of the ones who are around today – they mainly work for publishers – are just not going to make it past the jump.

I am going to tell you why existing book promotion methods have become ineffective, what does work, and why book promotion is becoming a really exciting and potentially profitable income option for enterprising, creative people who love books.

Why Traditional Book Promotion Doesn’t Work

In the past, book publicists have worked primarily with traditional media (newspapers, radio, television) on behalf of traditional publishers. There are two reasons why this approach is of no use to those of us who are producing quality books independently today – and, in most cases, not to traditionally published authors either.

For self-published authors, traditional outlets are next-to-impossible to crack – no matter how good our books are. Unless our sales suddenly skyrocket as a result of years of dogged hard work, or there is a spontaneous word-of-mouth epidemic, or we engage in some ridiculous public stunt — in other words, unless we become “news” – no one in the traditional print media or the broadcast sectors is going to even look at our books, much less review them, or interview us about anything. To them, we are pariahs.

There are several reasons for our pariah-hood: 1) If traditional media open the doors to one self-published author, kazillions of others will inundate them with their books and demand equal time. At least when media receive books from traditional presses, they can be fairly sure that the books have some merit – no matter how slight it may be. There are no such guarantees with self-published books, many of which are garbage. Who has time to sort the wheat from the chaff? 2) It’s a lot easier to work with the devil you know: publishers’ promotions people and writers’ agents make sure authors and their books arrive on time for interviews, and may even supply book summaries and questions for the interviewers to ask. And if media outlets say “No” to those publicists because they aren’t interested in a book, the publicist doesn’t take it personally. God knows what a self-published author might do if media outlets said “No” to them. To them, it is better to say nothing. 3) Publishers and media people know each other. Many have been friends for decades. To promote a self-published author over a traditionally published one would be like cheating on a spouse. Besides, isn’t it better to go down on the Titanic with your friends than to try to survive alone? 4) Publishers and booksellers buy ads in newspapers and sponsor events. Nobody wants to threaten that (very) thin thread of income.

But perhaps of even more import than the pariah status of self-published authors is the fact that, increasingly, book promotion through traditional media doesn’t work for any author. (Not that it ever was that effective.) People just aren’t reading newspapers and magazines cover to cover they way they used to. TV audiences are no longer captive, either: thanks to PVR/DVR, people only watch the programs that they want to watch. How many people download a book review or author interview from Netflix?

So what does book publicity look like today? Well, aside from the inundations of book promotion by self-published authors on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, we have traditional book-promotion strategies that no longer work – and people who have been trained in those strategies who are no longer useful.

What Book Publicity Must Look Like Now

Those of us who have chosen the freedom of self-publishing over the traditional route need to get creative. We need to think about how our books are going to be received, by whom, and where. We need to think about unusual ways to tell the people who we know are going to love our books that they exist. The routes we need to take to find these people are not the traditional promotional routes. Trying to get reviewed or interviewed in the places where every other writer goes to be reviewed or interviewed just doesn’t work. (Not that it helps traditionally published writers much, either: traditional promotion is like throwing blurbs at blank walls to see what sticks: it’s a one-size-fits-all approach that fits about as well as one-size-fits-all fits anything.)

What we need is a promotional program that is specifically designed for each of our individual books. If I have two books to promote (which I do right now, although several others are waiting in the wings), I need two promotional programs. I need to sit down with my book, think clearly and honestly about its prospective audience (and recognize that it is not for everyone–no book is for everyone), and devise really ingenious ways to find its audiences and tell them about my book. Once I’ve found them, I need to make contact. After that, the quality of my book will do the work for itself. People will love reading it, and they will tell other people, and once the ball is rolling, I’ll be able to turn my attention to one of the other books I want to tell the world about.

In my case, for example, when it comes to the novel Rita Just Wants to Be Thin, I want to reach women everywhere who love reading good fiction and are interested in body-image issues. Men will be interested too, but my primary audience is women. I know how to find these women: I just haven’t had the time to do it. The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid is likely to attract a very different audience. Here, John (my co-author) and I are looking for readers who love to read an unputdownable, thinking-person’s romp. We have a particular focus on those who love Westerns or historical fiction set in the early 1900s, but also on those who have a passing acquaintance with the story of Don Quixote (which includes those attending performances of Man of La Mancha and the opera Don Quichotte), readers of lesbian fiction, and several other groups. I have tons of specific ideas (some ingenious) as to how to reach my audiences for both books.

As authors, we can come up with a lot of great ideas for book publicity ourselves, but such lists are potentially endless and we can’t think of them all. We need creative input. We need help from someone who approaches our book as a reader, rather than a writer. We need to brainstorm ideas, and then focus on the best ones … and then we need to act on them. Consistently.

We can’t do a great job of book promotion on our own—especially when we’re writing the next book at the same time. It’s too time-consuming. It’s also disheartening to us and frowned upon by others. If we do it the wrong way or too often, it can damage sales rather than improving them. We need someone who loves the books we are promoting to help us. And we need to pay them. (And I don’t mean promising them a share of royalties. I mean paying them a reasonable hourly rate that is based on their education, experience, and the ideas and energy they bring to the table.)

Who Is NOT the Publicist I am Looking for

I am not looking for someone who has done a lot of promotion for the books industry, who thinks that he or she knows how to do it and that traditional methods are the way to go. Yes, I am interested in being interviewed on Between the Covers and getting my books reviewed in The New York Times – who wouldn’t be? –  but that’s not likely to happen in the near future (see section on “pariah-hood” above), and it doesn’t matter anyway because such coverage will only reach a tiny part of the audience I want to reach. My audience is a specific segment of the huge huge world of readers, and most of them don’t listen to CBC or read the NYT.

My audience is also international. The new books world breaks down all borders. Therefore I am also not interested in promotions people with a purely Canadian focus.

Publicists who offer to help me create an effective social media strategy incorporating Facebook and Twitter, and to help me build a great website and an attractive blog, are not welcome either. These platforms ONLY sell books for people who are already selling tons of books, and even then they probably don’t –  in and of themselves – sell books. As I’ve explained before, you can’t sell books on Twitter and Facebook.

Finally, I am not looking for former or current literary agents who are trying to earn a few shekels because their traditional paths to riches are closing down (which was the logical future given the state of the industry five years ago, as I described in the first-ever post on this blog: “The Talent Killers: How literary agents are destroying literature, and what publishers can do to stop them.” That was then.)

The Publicist I AM Looking for – Right Now

I am looking for a book promotions person who wants to work with me because he or she has made him- or herself familiar with the range of writing I have done and do, loves my fiction, and wants to work with me to promote my books (specifically Rita and Don Valiente at the outset) in unexpected, fun ways that no one else is using. I want him or her to have an Internet focus and a real-world focus rather than a traditional-media focus.

I am looking for someone who is already interested in the kind of work I am describing. Someone who is just starting out in the field would be ideal. An advanced student in a communications program would be welcome. This is a very part-time gig to start with.

The candidate must be an avid reader of literary as well as popular fiction, and must be creative, energetic and gutsy. Promotion is the really fun part of writing and publishing, and I want to work with someone who gets that. Someone who moves as fast as I do, and thinks as fast as I do. I want someone from whom I can bounce ideas, and who will bounce his or her own ideas back.

I want someone who will see me as a mentor as well as a client and employer. After many years in the books business myself – as former editor in chief of a publishing company, former executive director of a writers’ organization, and an author with more than thirty years of experience, I have been involved with all kinds of traditional books promotion. I know what works and what does not, and I have been intimately involved in the transition to self-publishing (read back through the history of Militant Writer blogs for evidence of that.) I have a wealth of innovative and unusual ideas for my books. To a book publicist who is building up a stable of clients, the ideas I am exploring and want to test are going to be valuable in promoting other people’s books as well.

If you’re in Toronto, that’s great, but it’s not necessary.

This will be a very part-time position at the start, but the hourly rate will be reasonable (you will need to suggest a reasonable rate at some point in our discussions). Just because I want to work with people who have new ideas who also want to learn doesn’t mean that I think that they should work for free.

Those who are interested in helping me promote Rita and Don Valiente should contact me via mary at marywwalters dot com I’ll get back to all emails within a day or two.

To my writer friends: comments and additional thoughts are, as always, sincerely welcomed and appreciated – not only by me, but also by other readers.

 

Greedy Businesses Target Self-Published Authors

Sleazy salesman pointing

It is not difficult or expensive to publish on your own, but a lot of would-be self-publishers dont know that. As a result, whole nests of snake-oil salesmen have hatched to separate unwitting writers from their money. Most of these writers will never make back the money that is being bilked from them, and even those who do are often wasting their hard-earned cash.

As I prepared my presentation on self-publishing for The Writers’ Union of Canada’s cross-Canada professional development workshop, Publishing 2.0: Tips and Traps, I became aware that taking advantage of the naïveté of first-time self-publishing authors (or “indie publishers,” as we are also known) has become a growth industry.

Quite a few of the businesses involved in this field of endeavour used to be legitimate, contributing members of the traditional publishing establishment: printers, literary agents, book publicists and the like. With their incomes from traditional sources now eroded by the same technology that permits anyone and everyone to publish anything and everything, quite a few of these formerly upstanding companies have turned their attention to “helping” unsuspecting authors to get their books published… for a fee.

Many writers who set out to publish their manuscripts independently or to get their out-of-print books back on the market have no idea that it costs almost nothing to make their novels or non-fiction works available for sale as e-books, and that for about $500, they can get a respectable-looking paperback up for sale online. It is upon these unsuspecting souls that the newest incarnations of the film-flam artist have set their sights, offering self-publishing packages that can cost thousands of dollars. and promising little in return that isn’t available for free or at very little cost elsewhere.

These authors are being convinced by ads and on-line pitches that self-publishing is a technically challenging undertaking, requiring expertise. Paying for technological expertise is not, in fact, necessary because self-publishing sites such as Smashwords are extremely user-friendly. Nonetheless, from the beginning to the end of the publishing process, these highway robbers lie in wait — urging offset-printing services, for example, upon writers who ought to be printing on demand instead. (Offset- printed books are ones that are printed in large numbers on huge printing machines machines that are now increasingly sitting idle all over the country in the wake of the move online of so many magazines, books, catalogues and brochures. Print-on-demand (POD) books are printed on much smaller machines, one at a time, when the book is ordered. Single copies of books can be printed immediately, so no extra trees are wasted, and authors have no obligation to buy a certain number of books as part of the self-publishing option — or to warehouse those books in their basements. Today, the difference in quality between offset-printed and POD books is negligible.)

Other self-publishing authors are hoodwinked into paying companies to “promote” their books on social media ­ a strategy that is nearly ineffective unless it is part of an overall marketing plan. And the costs for overall marketing plans themselves  (also available from a host of sources) can be outrageous and unnecessary. (I have just been looking at one company that lists one of its services as “Amazon Optimization” through the creation of “keywords.” If you’ve written the book, you can pick seven words to help readers discover it, as you will be prompted to do by Amazon itself when you post your book there. That is all that “keywords” are. Snake-oil salesmen love to throw technical terms around, but most of them are easy to translate into plain language.)

Still other companies offer book distribution packages that are actually available to everyone at very little cost when they publish books online with Smashwords, Kindle, or other self-publishing outlets. (You can get expanded distribution from Amazon, for example, that includes bookstores, libraries, etc. Your royalties per book are smaller than with direct sales to purchasers, but there’s no need to pay up front.)

We are also seeing increasing numbers of expensive, needless gimmicks such as seals of approval to indicate production quality in published e-books (this one charges $125 per title. How many readers do YOU know who are choosing to buy books because they have a formatting seal of approval?), and costly competitions for awards that very few can win (and who knows whether the winners gain any sales traction from their prizes?).

Who Is Doing This?

Entrepreneurs

While there are some great resources out there — people with editing and publishing backgrounds who are charging reasonable hourly fees for their services — too many book-publishing coaches and self-publishing managers and others who go by similar titles are no more than fly-by-night operators with no significant credentials. They offer to help you get your book edited and up on Amazon for several hundreds or thousand dollars when you can do it very easily for free or at very little cost.

Printing Companies

Dozens of printing companies that were established to print books for real publishers have huge off-set machines now sitting idle. They need you to help them pay the overhead, so they have re-branded themselves as publishers.  In truth, the only traditional publishers they resemble were formerly known as vanity presses. These companies are selling packages of print-only copies of your book (usually no e-books are offered) for $800 or $900 or several thousands of dollars. They do not know much about promotion and the fine print on their websites state that after you’ve paid the big bucks to buy several boxes of offset-printed copies of your book, they will help you build a website (wow!) and put you in touch with a marketing company to help you promote your book (where you will pay additional fees, of course).  One printing company whose site I visited said they would even put you in their catalogue. Now tell me, when was the last time you bought a book because it was listed in a printers catalogue?

If you are selling to a specific, known market (such as the residents of a small town whose history youre writing) you may decide to go with offset printing because the per-item production cost will be lower. But if you are not certain that you are going to sell the books you are required to purchase when you work with a printing company, using offset is a false economy. These printers who are now calling themselves publishers also say they offer editing: I would advise you to ask who the editors are, and to request their references and credentials.

Respectable Book Reviewers

Reviewing outlets such as Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews have established branch services that are charging unwitting self-published authors upwards of $500 for a single review (Im surprised that The New York Times and The Globe and Mail havent jumped onto this bandwagon yet). The idea is that if you get a good review of your self-published book, you can use it to convince booksellers to stock your book. (If you get a poor one, you eat the money you have spent.) The trick is that most booksellers won’t stock your book anyway, because self-published books are nonreturnable.

You can also pay to have your book review included in a variety of in-house publications where publishers, agents etc. can contact you if they are interested. Humpff.

Keep in mind that your average reader doesn’t know the difference between a Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Review and one your aunt Elsie wrote and posted on Amazon. A $500 review is largely a waste of money.

Book publicists

I believe that book publicity will, along with editing, become an area of specialization that self-publishers need in future. But for now, there are a lot of people out there who say they are book publicists who have no actual experience in the field, or access to the media outlets that might promote your book, and they are overcharging for the services they do provide. Keep in mind that it is almost impossible to get noticed if you have written a novel anyway, even if you’re traditionally published; non-fiction writers usually have a better hook for interviews. And even if the book promoter is well known to the media, there is no guarantee that he or she will make any special effort to get your book noticed, no matter what you pay. Remember that if a book publicist has not read your book and fallen in love with it, that person cannot help you.

A few book-promotion companies will tell you that, for a price, they can help you become an Amazon bestseller or even get you onto the New York Times bestseller list. To do this, they use a complex system that involves a whole lot of purchasers, funded by you, all buying your book all across the country all on the same day or in the same week, which drives your numbers up in the right places. But this kind of access to best-seller lists is not sustainable and authors often end up paying more to get on the lists than they earn back in royalties.

You do need a great promotion plan – one size does not fit all — and here a creative and honest book publicist can help a lot. Remember that at this point in time, getting self-published books into bookstores, or onto radio or television, or reviewed in major newspapers or magazines, is nearly impossible… because of the attitudes of the gatekeepers of those organizations. At the same time, social media is an almost useless promotional device. Any book promotion company that wants your money for these kinds of initiatives had better offer you some proof that they can do the impossible.

Literary agents

Well, you know how I feel about most literary agents. The ones I dissed five years ago are largely out of business now or have found new ways to earn their keep from unsuspecting authors. Check their websites for further info.

Publishers

Even some publishers have turned to mining self-publishing authors for a few quick dollars. Some will take your money and publish your book with a slightly different imprint than their other publications (so those on the “inside” of the industry still know you are self-published, and will still lock you out, unread).

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, had harsh words for enterprises of this nature. Writing in the Huffington Post in January, 2014, he said:

The vanity approach to self-publishing, as witnessed by Pearson/Penguin’s acquisition of Author Solutions (operates AuthorHouse, iUniverse, BookTango, Trafford, Xlibris, Palibrio, others…), has shown itself to harm the brands of all traditional publishers. I predicted this last year. The Author Solutions business model is wholly dependent upon making money by selling overpriced services to unwitting authors. Their business model is expensive at best, and unethical at worst. It’s about selling $10,000+ publishing packages to authors who will never earn the money back. The model represents the antithesis of what the best and proudest publishers have always represented. Great publishers invest in their authors. The money flows from reader to retailer to publisher to author, not from author to publisher.

Dont Be a Cash Cow (for anyone but yourself)

The best books are not published for nothing, of course, but most of the work can be done at very little cost. The best places to invest your money are directly with a book editor, a book designer, and a book publicist, each of whom loves your book.

In each of these areas, make sure you are getting your money’s worth. You need someone who knows the business and can provide solid references. You need to check those references. You do not want to be one of a hundred books and authors in a money-making assembly line.

The writing and self-publishing community is unbelievably generous with its knowledge and its skills. Almost everything you need to know about self-publishing is available online for nothing. All you have to do is ask the right questions in the Google box. At the very minimum, check out the publication costs on Smashwords, Amazon, Kindle and Kobo before you hire a consultant. In other words, before you pay good money to anyone to get your book up for sale, find out what the work they are going to do for you is going to cost them. Don’t let yourself be bamboozled.

It has already cost you a lot to write your book  – particularly if you consider the time you spent when you could have been doing other things, like climbing the corporate ladder. Invest what you must to get the best possible book to readers. But don’t waste money until after you attain bestseller status. Then, you will be able to afford it.

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.

Graçias.