Debut Author Panel Discussion and Q&A discussion

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Wednesday--Promotion

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message 1: by Katrina (new)

Katrina | 49 comments Mod
Yesterday, late in the day, a group member who is also a debut author posted a good question. Jonathan asked: "This question is for all new authors. I'd love to find out some marketing ideas that you new authors have embraced. Do you see one area of marketing that yields the most fruit?"


message 2: by Katrina (new)

Katrina | 49 comments Mod
I posted Jonathan's question from yesterday because my question of the morning was going to be: I find many people are unaware just how much authors are involved in their own promotion, even if they're fortunate enough to be a publishing houses with marketing and promotion departments. Could you share some of the ways you've found to help promote your work?


message 3: by Cleverly (new)

Cleverly | 1 comments I have no idea how this group works. I do want to interrupt and give praise for House of Tomorrow. It was a unique story. Which some use as a fake compliment, but I however can say it was unique and wonderful. Yes, this one is staying on my bookshelf.


message 4: by Peter (new)

Peter (peterbognanni) | 17 comments Katrina wrote: "I posted Jonathan's question from yesterday because my question of the morning was going to be: I find many people are unaware just how much authors are involved in their own promotion, even if th..."

I decided early on that I was basically going to do anything the publisher asked me to do in terms of promotion. No one wants to be the moody difficult author right out of the gate. So, I got on Facebook, started a blog, wrote short pieces for websites, went on the radio, went on the local TV station, talked to book groups, and did every reading I was invited to do. And despite having an amazing publicist, it was a little like having a second job. And after all that, I had little energy left to try out any of my own ideas (i.e. a homemade t-shirt canon for large readings).

It's hard to say in the end what worked and what didn't, which I think is the reason publishers encourage you to do everything. It's a kind of buckshot strategy. Just fire in all directions and hope you hit some readers. Basically anything you can think of to do is probably a good idea (okay maybe not the t-shirt canon), but you can also become a marketing automaton programmed only to talk about your book if you don't watch out. It's good to keep some perspective, and ask your spouse how they're doing once in awhile too.


message 5: by Peter (new)

Peter (peterbognanni) | 17 comments Cleverly wrote: "I have no idea how this group works. I do want to interrupt and give praise for House of Tomorrow. It was a unique story. Which some use as a fake compliment, but I however can say it was unique a..."

Hey thanks, Cleverly! I am not bothered at all by your interruption for some reason.


message 6: by Erica (new)

Erica | 12 comments Peter wrote: "Katrina wrote: "I posted Jonathan's question from yesterday because my question of the morning was going to be: I find many people are unaware just how much authors are involved in their own promo..."

As a marketing person, I feel like your marketing team at your publisher must appreciate your attitude very much, Peter. Those are the authors I like working with the most--the ones who have decided to make promoting their book a priority. And this doesn't mean I do less work--in fact, I probably work the hardest on the books where it feels like the author and I are on the same team, sharing ideas and working together.

It fits in with my general approach to life, which can be summed up as "you never know." I've had authors refuse to do things for certain venues (ie publications or websites) because they weren't "big" enough. But you never know--the person running a "small" blog may someday get a job at the new york times, and they'll remember you fondly and get your next book reviewed.

So my number one advice to authors from marketing: BE NICE. it works.


message 7: by Pilar (new)

Pilar Rivett | 4 comments Hello, I have a question for Peter, if I may.

You mentioned starting your own blog. How soon did it pick up in terms of daily hits and did you have to run any special script to optimise it?

I'm an unpublished author and I have a very simple blog, but I'm not sure what the best way to promote it is...
Pilar

www.pilarrivett.com


message 8: by Emily (new)

Emily Tedrowe | 16 comments Erica wrote: BE NICE


Why Erica, have I told you how lovely you look today?

;)

Yes, that's a joke (although I'm sure you *do* look lovely today!) but the truth is that authors are completely dependent, at least I am, on the great opportunities the publishing company's marketing dept sends our way. I personally really am enjoying the chance to connect with readers more directly, and individually, and seems like the internet (although it can definitely be intimidating to me) is a great way to do that.

Emily


message 9: by Malena (new)

Malena Watrous | 34 comments I think this is an interesting question, partly because publishing and the media and even the ways that people read books have been changing so fast and so regularly over the past few years that I think the answer has become more complex and more mysterious. For reference, I'm 35, which I flatter myself to think isn't *that* old (okay, it's getting up there, but still) and yet when I was in college, most people didn't have email yet, nor did they really in Japan (there was one computer for a whole high school) when I lived there ten years ago. So--things moving fast. At this point, what makes a book "blow up"? It seems a bit mysterious in a lot of cases, especially with ostensibly "quiet" books. People always speculate later: a great cover? Oprah coverage? Both of those things help, for sure. But other books might have these things and not get huge.

Like Katrina, I had the experience of being encouraged, and more than willing, to try everything by the book publicists. I enjoyed many aspects of the book promotion time. True, it took some work on my part, but on the other hand I'd worked on the book for long enough that it seemed silly to object to doing just a little more for the sake of getting it into the hands of readers. I also did a little bit of PR when I was just out of college, so I think I was curious to see if I could apply old skills to my own book.

In terms of what I think worked and didn't:

I think Facebook is useful, because it gets people to your readings. It's nice to be able to put out the word a week or so before a reading, then a reminder on the actual day of. I did a mass-mailing of postcards before the book came out, and I think that was useful too, to get a first wave of acquaintances aware that it was releasing. I think articles that I wrote to go with the book helped, as I said on yesterday's post--I noticed a jump in sales after each one came out. The most dramatic jump, weirdly (to me) happened after I did an interview on AOL Health that was, frankly, more personal than I realized it was going to be. The interview, letters from people who read it, and sales bump that followed made me realize (or, I should say, reinforced what I sort of knew) that people in the US tend to have a greater appetite for nonfiction than fiction. (I get it, it's just not how I feel as a reader, so sometimes I forget). I think that getting the book to book bloggers (the publisher did this, not me) was useful, as were conventional book reviews. I'm not convinced that my blog posts helped that much for how much work they took. I also wasn't good at promoting my blog--for those of us for whom this kind of promotion is new, why would you want to then have two different things to promote at once? I signed up for Twitter and I have to admit that I don't get it. I mean, I sort of get it. But I'm not the kind of person who is constantly online looking at cool sites and articles, so I don't have much of that stuff to "tweet" about, and I don't really want to tweet to the world that I'm eating a banana right now. From my experience, I am also not convinced that bookstore readings are cost or time effective for authors, except in the cities where they live and/or can guarantee to draw a sizable crowd. I thought I wanted the chance to travel and read in different places, but found that the energy of reading in, say, an LA bookstore to 7 people, 3 of whom bought the book, was more draining than invigorating. However, I think doing readings and Q and A's with book clubs--especially over the phone or on Skype, since there's no travel time involved--is fun and helps the book. I also think it's a great idea, if at all possible/relevant, to get your book into the hands of college classes who make up large groups of (mandatory) readers.

Hope this helps. I'm curious to hear if others have had different experiences as to what was effective and what was less so.


message 10: by Katrina (new)

Katrina | 49 comments Mod
Great feedback so far, everyone. I feel very very lucky to have the lovely Erica (who always looks nice by the way...) on my team at Harper. What I love about Harper is that when I say "What else can I do to aid and abet my book in the world?" (which all authors should be asking, in my opinion) they actually give me lots of great ideas! And they listen to my ideas and we work together as a team.


message 11: by Katrina (new)

Katrina | 49 comments Mod
Erica wrote: "So my number one advice to authors from marketing: BE NICE. it works. "

I think this is soooo true. Write thank you notes to anyone who helps you, or spreads the word about your book. And help each other. Word of mouth is what truly keeps a book alive, but as Peter pointed out, you don't want to be a social cad who goes around only marketing yourself everywhere you go.

If you go to a book club or a signing, and you're gracious and fun, those people (even if it was only 3 people...but oh, I so agree how draining that is!) will remember you as gracious and fun and talk about you to others.


message 12: by Sonya (new)

Sonya | 15 comments Ditto to everything so far. The question of "what works" seems to be the million-dollar-question for everyone involved, authors and publishers alike. If there was An Answer, I'm sure someone would bottle it and make a fortune...

A few things I learned along the way:

1) I felt like this first book release was an exercise in "Know Thyself." I am not a terribly extroverted person, so I had to figure out what I could do well, my strengths and limits. Someone said to me early on, "Say yes to everything." Hmm... I can see why that might be a good strategy for some, but it wasn't for me. I learned about a month into it that I should be more strategic about events and travel. (I enjoyed almost all of my readings, but not so much the fifth one in two days; so I wasn't at my best in that case.)

2) The "blog tour" was probably the most effective of all the strategies. My publicist and I sort of naturally divided and conquered: she went after print and traditional media, I connected in the lit-blog world. I was invited to do a slew of guest blogging and interviews at some great sites with good traffic. I think this worked well for me because I could do this from home; and I like being home.

3) Keeping up my own blog was a good thing to do, I think. Not because the traffic is enormous on a regular basis, but because when this or that reviewer or literary-VIP or literature professor or librarian does come along and wants to check out the book, he or she has a place to go and can scroll through and get a feel for you, have a sense for what you're up to and thinking about and writing. These visits can lead to anything or nothing, and that's the random factor, but it's good to be ready, sort of like "keeping in shape" (all it took, for instance, was a single twitter-post by Maud Newton, and all kinds of folk came by.)

4) At the risk of being a killjoy -- and I wonder what my fellow panelists think -- I do think that getting a major print review is, indeed, one of those things that is somewhat driven by who you know, or who your publicist knows. More so than perhaps other aspects of publishing (I don't feel this way about actually getting a book published, for example). My perception is that there is a bit of an inner circle there; without any name recognition or relational connection to start with, it is very very very difficult to get off the reviewer's pile. There are just many many many more review-worthy books than there is review real-estate.

Wrapping up here (sorry so long!)... the other question is, "What is success?" these days in literary publishing/sales. I think the numbers game is changing a bit. Some of you may have read Tony Scott's piece in the NY Times in which he mentioned that Sam Lipsyte's new book sold 7,000 copies. Some people might think, "Wow, that's a lot." Others might think, "That's ALL"? It's all in flux, it seems to me...


message 13: by Katrina (new)

Katrina | 49 comments Mod
Feel free to keep commenting on other marketing and promotional ideas, but I'd like to ask about book clubs now. I've found book clubs to be the key to my books staying alive. Sonya, Malena, Emily, and Peter, do you like to talk to book clubs ? If you've already met with some book clubs, what do you like about the experience? How is it different from a reading/signing in a book store?


message 14: by Peter (new)

Peter (peterbognanni) | 17 comments Pilar wrote: "Hello, I have a question for Peter, if I may.

You mentioned starting your own blog. How soon did it pick up in terms of daily hits and did you have to run any special script to optimise it?

..."


Pilar,

My honest answer is I probably could have done more to promote my blog if I'd had the time. But I did notice when I linked to my blog on Facebook, I would get more hits, and sometimes friends would re-post the link on their pages. I also emailed a lot of people, and checked with other bloggers to see if we could get a mutual-blog-linking thing going. Blogging seems to be symbiotic. Symbi-bloggic? Anyway, those are some basic ideas.

Hope that helps a little!


message 15: by Peter (new)

Peter (peterbognanni) | 17 comments Katrina wrote: "Feel free to keep commenting on other marketing and promotional ideas, but I'd like to ask about book clubs now. I've found book clubs to be the key to my books staying alive. Sonya, Malena, Emily,..."

This answer will be very short.

Love the book clubs.

How could you not? They are a group of people who have all chosen to read your book and discuss it...for fun!

I've had good experiences in person (cookies) and on the phone (compliments on my voice). I'll choose this venue to say shamelessly that I'll do any book club, skype, g-chat, or live. Viva los Book Clubs!


message 16: by Malena (new)

Malena Watrous | 34 comments I'm particularly enjoying this conversation today, and want to remember the different things I'd like to respond to:

"Say yes to everything." I agree that this is not ALWAYS the strategy to take, although it can be tempting, when you're feeling pressure to do whatever you can to promote your book. My friend who had a book out last spring offered this: "When someone asks you to do something, like fly across the country to talk to one small class, for a small amount of money, decide whether you would want to do it TOMORROW. If so, say yes. If not, chances are good that you won't want to do it in three months, either." I think this is good advice because it can be easy to say yes to stuff that's far-ish down the line, and then to realize too late that it's not worth it.

On the small readings/travel question. I definitely agree that one must ALWAYS be gracious and do a great reading, even if it's to a single person in the audience. However, keep in mind when planning readings that if you are not a well known author and you only have 2 friends in, say, Seattle, then chances are good, even at an independent bookstore, that your reading will have maybe 5-10 people attending. If you have to pay for your ticket and hotel out of your own pocket, you might end up being out several hundreds of dollars for an event that might generate $100 at most in book sales, and a tiny bit of publicity. I'm just saying that it can end up costing an author more than he or she stands to gain.

Book blog tours are great. I think book blogs help generate interest among reading groups. I also love the creativity of so many of these terrific book bloggers, who find neat ways to feature authors in interviews and having them do guest blog posts, and providing a way for readers and authors to chat. In a time when everyone is talking about the potential death of the novel, print media, etc..., I find the fact that book blogs and book clubs are thriving and proliferating extremely heartening for the future of good writing and readers.

Book clubs are especially exciting to me. I love the fact, again, that when so many of us are solo most of the day, often glued to computers, people have found this way of socializing through talking about books. I feel honored to be asked to participate in any book club event or discussion.

As per reviewing, I can say as a reviewer that it is very hard to get your book into mainstream print pubs. Most of the time, if I pitch a book by someone who's not well known, I have a hard time getting my pitch accepted. They just have such limited space. So again, it's a good thing that there are so many (and a growing number of) alternative and online sites reviewing books. I especially like The Rumpus right now.


message 17: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Brown | 6 comments Mod
I'm curious how many of you have focused your efforts on your hometown and/or the place where your novel is set? I was talking with an author once and he said he thought you could make more money/gain more readers focusing all of your promotional efforts in one geographic place. For instance, if you wrote a book about Boston, spend all of your time trying to sell books in Boston. Focus on Boston media, Boston bookstores, Boston lit fests, etc. I thought he was kind of nuts, but I do think he was on to something. Some of you have mentioned hometown book signings, and I know from experience that local authors draw bigger crowds than even best-selling authors from other parts of the country (In a previous life, I worked bookstore events). What do you think? Was this author nutty or is there some truth there? Also, if you are focusing on a specific geographical location (hometown or not), can you still use social media to help you? Is there such a thing as the "local internet?" Do you ever do outreach to book bloggers based on where they live rather than what they write about?


message 18: by Katrina (new)

Katrina | 49 comments Mod
I adore book clubs! I attend as many as I can and once I got a bit savvy and discovered Skype, I can now talk to book clubs all over, not just locally (it's more fun for me to see them instead of doing conference calls...although it does mean I can no longer talk to book clubs in my jammies). My cat Joey usually jumps up and gets on camera at some point. I also love recommending other authors when book clubs ask what they should read next. So many clubs are reading the bestseller list that it's a special joy to turn them on to other gems you've discovered. So much of writing happens in solitude that's such a gift to hear readers discuss how the book affected them. Book store events are often about convincing people to buy the book (with an enticing reading, say) but at a book club they've already read it (well...usually) so the questions are more varied and have great depth.


message 19: by Malena (new)

Malena Watrous | 34 comments Patrick wrote: "I'm curious how many of you have focused your efforts on your hometown and/or the place where your novel is set? I was talking with an author once and he said he thought you could make more money/..."

I would say that about 50% of my book promoting energy and readings were local, and the other half branched out elsewhere, but that might be in part because I live in SF, which is a pretty literary city, so there were a lot of opportunities here. I do think cities tend to know their own writers and treat them well. If you're a Chicago writer, for instance, there's a better chance that Chicago readers will take an interest in you and your book, than, say, Mississippi readers. My mother-in-law, who is a writer in Mississippi, had most of her readings clustered in the south, which is where she sold the most books by far. Maybe the answer to this question depends in part on how important regional flavor is to your book. If it's very important, then the marketing and promotion should probably start in that region, with the hopes that the book will outgrow it (as in the case of The Help).


message 20: by Sonya (new)

Sonya | 15 comments Patrick wrote: "I'm curious how many of you have focused your efforts on your hometown and/or the place where your novel is set? I was talking with an author once and he said he thought you could make more money/..."

This might work better for smaller cities? NYC, for example, is "hometown" to so many writers, it doesn't really function as a focal point; probably just creates competition for audiences/readers.


message 21: by Sonya (new)

Sonya | 15 comments Katrina wrote: "Feel free to keep commenting on other marketing and promotional ideas, but I'd like to ask about book clubs now. I've found book clubs to be the key to my books staying alive. Sonya, Malena, Emily,..."

I've enjoyed all the book club visits I've done. The readers are engaged, they're really welcoming and glad to have you, and the discussion is very substantive and personal/personable. At bookstore readings, many of the attendees have not yet read the book, so it's a different dynamic, more performative and promotional, I'd say. I did a library reading where several books clubs came together; that was ideal.

Book club gatherings tend to be almost exclusively female in my experience. Just an observation. I wonder if any of you have had different experiences?


message 22: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Brown | 6 comments Mod
Sonya wrote: "This might work better for smaller cities? NYC, for example, is "hometown" to so many writers, it doesn't really function as a focal point; probably just creates competition for audiences/readers. "

I think that's probably true, though believe it or not, I think LA has this strong "home field advantage."


message 23: by Emily (new)

Emily Tedrowe | 16 comments Peter wrote: "Katrina wrote: "Feel free to keep commenting on other marketing and promotional ideas, but I'd like to ask about book clubs now. I've found book clubs to be the key to my books staying alive. Sonya..."

I'm here to add my short but true quote on book clubs: I LOVE book clubs! In theory, that is. My novel just released two weeks ago so I'm very much at the beginning stage of things...however, from all my writer friends (and from what seems to be the take here so far), interacting with book clubs is a pretty wonderful gig. If given the chance, I would jump at meeting/Skype-ing/etc with a book club. Sounds like a very cool way to get thoughtful readers' comments on your book. And if cookies are involved, so much the better!

Emily

Ps: sorry for being a bit quiet today...I just flew to NYC for a couple of book events on the east coast. Glad to be here!


message 24: by Katrina (new)

Katrina | 49 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "If given the chance, I would jump at meeting/Skype-ing/etc with a book club. Sounds like a very cool way to get thoughtful readers' comments on your book. And if cookies are involved, so much the better!"

Yep on the cookies! And, Emily, since your wonderful book has so much FOOD and cooking in it, be prepared for this wonderful wonderful thing about bookclubs: they love to prepare food from the book. I've counted my blessings many times that my last novel's main character was a chef and the book opened and closed with a chocolate-raspberry cake. Many bookclubs requested that recipe (on my website now under FAQ) and then served my own cake to me! It doesn't get much better than that!

You set the bar pretty high with your character Avery and his amazing cooking! I would do just about anything to be invited to the bookclub that re-created his Thanksgiving feast in COMMUTERS. :-)

No worries on being quiet today. Say hello to my favorite city for me!


message 25: by Katrina (new)

Katrina | 49 comments Mod
Thanks again, all, for a another great day of discussion.


message 26: by Ty (new)

Ty Roth | 3 comments Malena wrote: "I think this is an interesting question, partly because publishing and the media and even the ways that people read books have been changing so fast and so regularly over the past few years that I ..."

Wow, Malena! Your advice and your description of your experience is the kind of levelheaded information I've been looking for. Thanks!


message 27: by Erica (new)

Erica | 12 comments Katrina wrote: "Great feedback so far, everyone. I feel very very lucky to have the lovely Erica (who always looks nice by the way...) on my team at Harper. What I love about Harper is that when I say "What else c..."

you guys can feel free to keep complimenting me.


message 28: by Katrina (new)

Katrina | 49 comments Mod
NerdGirl wrote: "As a blogger who writes book reviews, I can tell you I've seen every sort of marketing technique thrown my way. For those of you who'd like to know what the "little guy" thinks, here is my brutall..."

Wow! This is valuable information and I appreciate this insight. Thank you!


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