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Marketing Advice from Best-Selling Author Fred Van Lente

Posted by Cynthia on April 10, 2017
Fred Van Lente has been a professional writer for eleven years, and his comics and graphic novels have earned him #1 spots on the New York Times bestseller lists, numerous awards, and have been the basis for feature films. This July, Quirk Books is releasing Van Lente’s debut novel, Ten Dead Comedians, which early Goodreads reviews have described as “an entertaining homage to Agatha Christie...but with a cutting edge and a lot of hilarious happenings.”

Before his publicity campaign hits overdrive, he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his marketing campaign on Goodreads.

What has been your favorite thing to explore on Goodreads?

I really like being able to organize my books into different shelves so my readers have more of an insight into the writing process. I write a lot of non-fiction too, so hopefully it's interesting for readers to see things like the works that went into Ryan Dunlavey's and my upcoming Action Presidents OGN series from HarperCollins.

Your Ask the Author answers are hilarious. What’s your approach to responding to questions, and how do you generate new ones?

Ha! Thanks. They are a lot of fun. I did a few self-generated by Goodreads, and that I think encouraged other users to ask. The rest are all from Goodreads users themselves. I just try to be short and to the point and as funny as possible... kind of like my regular writing style, I guess!

What has been the most effective marketing strategy for getting the word out about your book?


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The bulk of marketing, really, is just telling people the product exists—it's informative in nature. Too many writers, it seems to me, think of marketing as "getting people to want to buy", and in my experience that's the wrong concentration. The marketer isn't in the desire-creation business, the author is. You need to create books people want to read, and, you know, that comes in the what-book-should-I-write stage and a lot of your battle's already won or lost before the book actually comes out. The book's either something that people want at that particular historical moment, or it isn't. It's an uphill battle to generate interest out of thin air. So the best marketing materials, I've found, are the work itself—advance copies and ARCs. Goodreads obviously has a couple of programs that are great for that.

That said, for my debut novel, Ten Dead Comedians, the marketing team at Quirk Books has had all sorts of amazing ideas, including running a Clue-like competition at signings and events like Book Con, and as a promotional giveaway-slash-leave-behind, they created great coasters promoting the book. Ten Dead Comedians, is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery involving stand-up comics, so the coasters are meant to invoke a comedy club with a two-drink minimum. So they have both that informative aspect—here is the book, here is what it's about—but they also convey a spirit of fun and excitement around the novel, hopefully encouraging that interest to buy. So it's the best of both worlds, marketing-wise! Can't wait to start handing these out in a couple of weeks.

How has your activity on Goodreads changed since becoming an author vs. using it as a reader?

I am lucky enough to have been a professional writer for eleven years, mostly in the comics and graphic novel field, so I was already a pro by the time I started using Goodreads. But for years I used it just as a fan of books myself. Now that the debut novel is coming out I decided to really upgrade my author profile on the site. I have a Goodreads blog now that updates via RSS feed both to my own web site and my Amazon author's page, so it's been very useful to me as I embark on this new and pretty awesome stage of my career.

You share how you format a comics script. How has writing and publishing a novel been a different experience?

Comics are a weekly rush to the printer on every level—for the writer, for the artist, for the production team, for the sales force. It's a grind that chews out a lot of people and spits them out. So I am very happy, with a novel, to take nearly a year on a single work, and then work with the team at Quirk Books to bring the book to market over a period of months. It's the difference between crash-landing a jumbo jet and steering a cruise ship out of port. One is much less stressful! But then, I've pretty much been doing comics exclusively for almost a decade, so I guess I am probably biased... (laughs)

Have questions for the author? Leave them in the comments below! Fred Van Lente will be responding to questions from authors on Tuesday, April 18.

Missed your chance to ask him a question? Ask him on his profile page and be sure to follow him to see all his activity!

Next: Five Things Writers Need to Know Before Publishing Their First Book

You might also like: Marketing Advice from Author Gail Carriger

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Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

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message 1: by Anna (new)

Anna Patterson With your experience, have your ever made a list of what not to write about in comics,such as "politics" ?
Thanks,
Anna Patterson


message 2: by Damyanti (new)

Damyanti Biswas When you started writing the novel, did you have an audience in mind?


message 3: by Angela (new)

Angela Meredith Chicken/egg question re genre/subject matter: Was your initial inspiration the attraction of writing an entertaining homage to Agatha Christie - or the subject matter of the book ie writing about the world of stand ups (presumably dying on their feet)?


message 4: by Eric (new)

Eric Beaty What's your approach to writing a novel: Are you a pantser or a plotter? Any suggestions for either?


message 5: by Jason (new)

Jason Boggs Hi. What in your opinion is more important - character or story development? (it's tempting to say equally I know)
For example - In western culture it's traditionally about story, yet in eastern cultures the character's inward journey seems to take precedence.

Thanks.
The Devil's Dragon
Jason F Boggs


message 6: by Fred (new)

Fred Lente Anna wrote: "With your experience, have your ever made a list of what not to write about in comics,such as "politics" ?
Thanks,
Anna Patterson"


Nah, Anna, I mean, at heart I am a satirist, and although I have my own political bent of course, I feel like I make fun of everyone equally, as I think Ten Dead Comedians proves. Everything is fair game for comedy so long as it's funny, and funny, of course, is very subjective, but the sort of person who gets outraged or bent out of shape when their own personal political opinions aren't properly catered to is not really the sort of person who should be reading my work ... and I don't particularly want them as a reader, frankly. ;)

Thanks for the question!


message 7: by Fred (new)

Fred Lente D. wrote: "When you started writing the novel, did you have an audience in mind?"

Does "Anyone Who Will Buy It" count? ;)

I love mystery, I love comedy, so there was no reason in my mind people couldn't love both equally, so I guess I was writing for people like me.

I mean, obviously Ten Dead Comedians very much in the vein of Golden Age of Mystery works like And Then There Were None but through the modern sensibilities of comedy, so there's a lot of, you know, curse words and sex bits and things I wasn't sure how the traditional "Cozy" (as they call such mysteries in the biz) reader would react to such thing, but I've been pleasantly surprised almost all the initial reactions have been extremely positive, which is terrific.

Thanks for posting, D.!


message 8: by Fred (new)

Fred Lente Angela wrote: "Chicken/egg question re genre/subject matter: Was your initial inspiration the attraction of writing an entertaining homage to Agatha Christie - or the subject matter of the book ie writing about t..."

Hey Angela, I think Quirk was initially looking for a genre mashup of the type they've had success with in the past like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. I know the publisher, Jason Rekulak, is a huge comedy fan and we had one scene in the book conceived exactly the same way without consulting each other -- it involves a prop comic, trust me, you'll know it when you see it. So like chicken/egg, it is nearly impossible to separate the two.

Thanks for asking, Angela!


message 9: by Fred (last edited Apr 18, 2017 12:16PM) (new)

Fred Lente Eric wrote: "What's your approach to writing a novel: Are you a pantser or a plotter? Any suggestions for either?"

Eric, I don't know your hip writing terms!!! What's a "pantser"? Let me try and google this...

Ah, okay. I got it.

I am a pantser (as in "by the seat of your pants") by inclination but a plotter by necessity. I spent my whole 20s never finishing anything and I find that without having at least some kind of an outline, however loose, I kind of get lost in the weed very easily and don't come out again. I have successfully finished things without an outline, but that's only about 10%.

But within the framework of being a plotter I am definitely a pantser, hopping around and writing scenes and sections completely out of order. Kind of like jazz music -- you have the base melody of a song but then you riff around that improvisationally, only occasionally retreating back to the spine.

Thanks for teaching me some fancy new lingo, Eric!


message 10: by Fred (new)

Fred Lente Jason wrote: "Hi. What in your opinion is more important - character or story development? (it's tempting to say equally I know)
For example - In western culture it's traditionally about story, yet in eastern cu..."


That's interesting, I think in the Eastern example you cite, story and character development is the same thing; and I think it's more genres that place greater emphasis on plots (mysteries, thrillers, romances in their way) than character.

But if you'll forgive this cop-out, I was asked this on my aforementioned Ask the Author page and I'll just cut and paste my reply, because it's still what I think:

What do you prioritize more, how you spend your life, or your continued existence as a living being?

The story is the whole ball of wax, the plot, the theme, the emotional beats, which is expressed through characters' journeys.

None of these things can be considered separate from story.

This is where the phrase "Kill Your Darlings" comes from: If something is hurting the story, you change it, or cut it. There is no other option.

So you question is more like, what do you tend to prioritize, your heartbeat or that half-eaten bag of Skittles over there? ;)


Thanks for your question, Jason!


message 11: by Eric (last edited Apr 18, 2017 04:47PM) (new)

Eric Beaty Fred wrote: "Eric wrote: "What's your approach to writing a novel: Are you a pantser or a plotter? Any suggestions for either?"

Eric, I don't know your hip writing terms!!! What's a "pantser"? Let me try and g..."


You're very welcome for the lingo lesson, Jason. Those terms are more known in the Indie Author circles as far as I know.

I like your analogy about improvising. I'm a musician myself (guitarist) and know exactly what you mean. I can't believe I never thought of this myself with my own writing.

When you think of the process in this new light, it's not wrong by any means to go off on a tangent as long as you make your way back to the song (in this case, the story) that people have paid their hard earned money to listen to (read).

Thanks for that insight, for the great link you provided in the answer to my question (it's a great article if you haven't read the entire thing), and for kindly answering all our questions here on GR. (That's Goodreads...just so you won't have to Google it, lol!)


message 12: by Angela (new)

Angela Meredith So it seems as though, happily, your current publisher is your target reader! You seem to have a very good relationship, but how much would you change your work or adapt your style, if asked to do so, just to get your work published... if, for example, your publisher did not like that scene you agreed on? And how much should a writer change their work, if asked?


message 13: by Fred (new)

Fred Lente Angela wrote: "So it seems as though, happily, your current publisher is your target reader! You seem to have a very good relationship, but how much would you change your work or adapt your style, if asked to do ..."

I wouldn't, Angela -- not at this stage of my career, at any rate. It's one thing if you're trying to get published for the first time. But at a certain point to survive in this business you have to trust your own instincts, or you're just not going to get anywhere. If you try and overthink every submission I think that just leads to bad writing and in the long run that's not good for anybody.

If Quirk hadn't like my work, I would have just moved on to another job, and another book. That's just what you have to do.


message 14: by Angela (new)

Angela Meredith Fred wrote: "Angela wrote: "So it seems as though, happily, your current publisher is your target reader! You seem to have a very good relationship, but how much would you change your work or adapt your style, ..."

Thanks for taking time to respond.


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