Things Every Author Should Know about Promotion

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The Novelists Inc. Conference this year was dedicated to “Brainstorming on the Beach” about the future of publishing.  I was only there Thursday through Friday, but I took copious notes and thought that a ton of good information was put forth.  I’ve been meaning to transcribe my notes but, of course, a million things piled up while I was away, even for so short a time.

The need to get this month’s blog up for Magic Words spurred me to finally pull those notes together so that those of you who couldn’t attend could still benefit.  These notes came from the first panel, on “Promotional Teamwork – the challenges, the players, the game plan.”  Here’s a handy-dandy reference list of the panelists (descriptions from the program):

Eileen Fallon – Literary Agent
Brian O’Leary – Founder, Magellan Media Partners
Joan Schulhafer – Publishing and Media Consultant
Shannon Aviles – More Than Publicity
Kay Hooper – NYT Bestselling Author
Carolyn Pittis- Senior V.P., Global Author Services, HarperCollins
Linda Parks – Co-owner, Fireside Books and Gifts
Loriana Sacilotta – Ex V.P., Editorial & Global Strategy, Harlequin Enterprises

First, some good rules of thumb that John Schulhafer started out with, though there were many nodding  heads all along the panel.  Rule #1: Don’t be adversarial.   It’s in everyone’s best interest for a book to be successful.  You and your publisher are all in this together.  Rule #2: Don’t call the publisher on details listed in the catalogue, like “Regional signings.”  Things are inflated to make the book sound big and something to which serious attention should be paid.  “Regional signings” might mean the author set up an event at her local bookstore.  Rule #3: When discussing with your publisher the efforts you’ve made with self-promotion, be specific.  Don’t just state that you’ve made up postcards, say where they’ve been sent and how they’re being used, for example.    Rule #4: Don’t create work for your publisher, which is understaffed, like every other business in this economy.  You might not feel that the thing your asking is a burden, but it might not read that way from the other end.  It’s best to approach things from a standpoint of “let’s work together” rather than “here’s what I want you to do for me.”  And if you do want something, you might research you can to make it easy to implement.  Remember that there’s lots of insecurity in the field right now, and the people you’re dealing with might not be comfortable enough to push your agenda and ask the tough questions on our behalf.  Rule #5: Authors should be aware that there are a lot of things publishers do/pay for that they don’t even see.  For example, books don’t automatically get onto the Ingrams and Baker & Taylor monthly listings.  The placement has to be paid for.

I believe Loriana Sacilotta from Harlequin spoke next, mentioning that they put out an author’s handbook for their writers, which provide guidelines for publicity and self-promotion.  They do what they can to educate authors about the promotional process.  (There was a statement later on the panel that, unfortunately, publishers don’t have time to educate each of their authors individually on the subject, though some run on-line seminars and the like from time to time.)

Carolyn Pittis from HarperCollins emphasized collegiality, teamwork, and requests rather than demands.  She had some very interesting things to say about authors, publishers, booksellers and others all being part of “the ecosystem of book publishing” and the research they’ve been doing about marketing and what sells books.  They chart what’s been done and what measurable effect it’s had.  It’s important that when authors ask for things, they make sense versus other things that might be done.  Publishers need to amass background on different strategies.  She later said that a meaningful measurement of value is CPM (cost per thousand reached).  In that sense, a New York Times ad is very expensive.  Considering the number of people who view it and the measurable effect, it’s not a very cost-effective tool.  However, banner ads and other on-line promotion are relatively inexpensive and reach a large number of viewers, so they’re very worthwhile in terms of CPM.  If you can speak to your publisher in business terms, like cost-benefit analysis, you have a better chance of making an effective point.  Use rational arguments and take the emotion out of your equations.

When authors consider self-promotion, they have to decide what their time is worth.  There are a lot of ways to promote, and that means choices have to be made.   If you use social media, you have to do it in a way that’s authentic for you.  In any promotion you do, consider who you’re targetingthe consumer, booksellers, librarians….  It will change your approach.

Brian O’Leary from Magellan Media Partners said something I think we all know – that a publisher will put more money behind a 50,000 copy print run than a 20,000.  It’s simple economics. Publishers don’t do the same things each time and with every book.

Eileen Fallon of the Fallon Literary Agency chimed in here, saying that creativity doesn’t necessarily cost anything, and that the most influence an author has is with the material itself, building a marketing hook into novels, considering whether an interconnected series will help drive sales, turning books in on time so that the most can be made of opportunities.  She also suggested discussing promotion with your agent, because you don’t want to kill yourself doing something your publisher can’t accommodate.  The long and short of her advice, which I found so often overlooked and perfectly true, is that marketing starts at the conception stage of writing and is there all the way from inception to execution.

Kay Hooper, New York Times bestselling author and Eileen’s longtime client, said that you have to pick your battles and use your agent as a buffer.  Even being a NYT bestseller doesn’t mean that you get what you want.  She also said that you have to consider the cost to your creativity in using social networking.  If it interferes with your writing, it’s more hindrance than help.  Kay later talked about etiquette for bookstore signings and your relationships with booksellers.  She says that you’re not just selling your work, but selling yourself.  Don’t behave as if the bookstore is doing you a favor.  Your job, beyond writing a good book, is to be likeable, professional, polite and friendly.  Don’t be a diva.  Keep a smile on your face, even if nothing’s ready for you when you show up.

Linda Parks of Fireside Books and Gifts stressed that authors can really use their independent booksellers and suggests making a contact and developing a relationship.  She recommends not just sending a postcard, but a press kit with a copy of the book.  If the bookseller likes it, they’ll hand sell your work.  Many of the independents do report to lists that are important in the industry and one of the questions asked indicated that independent bookstores account for between 10% and 15% of sales.

Unfortunately, Shannon Aviles of More than Publicity arrived late because of a terrible accident with a showerhead coming down on her, but it would have been very interesting to hear more of what she had to say on marketing and promotion, particularly because she’s a brand specialist.

This is only a fraction of the really fantastic information that came out of the NINC Conference, but my hands are getting tired and my notes far too copious to transcribe in a sitting.  I hope you’ve found this helpful!

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Lucienne Diver is a literary agent of over seventeen years experience.  She’s also the author of the Vamped young adult series.

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10 comments to Things Every Author Should Know about Promotion

  • Good stuff, Lucienne. Thanks. The reminder not to burden our over-stretched publishers is particularly well taken. I have to work on this… As to the shower head accident, I know not what to say.

  • Unicorn

    Thanks Lucienne. I’ll be sure to remember this, when (if?) I get a story published 🙂 For now I’ll work on that marketing hook in my stories.
    Unicorn

  • Great stuff, much appreciated, Lucienne. I hope there will be more in the future.

  • Holy Crap! This was *excellent!* Thank you for this, Lucienne. For me, the most important part is remembering that my pub dose spend money on me. They may not buy me a nationwide radio campaign or try to get me on John Stuwart, but they do purchase shelf space in bookstores, put my work in catalogues, and send out ARCs none of which is cheap. Everything else may be up to me, but books on shelves? That is a huge bonus.

  • Thanks for this, Lucienne. I particularly like the idea of thinking about marketing from the beginning, from the first step of pitching the series through to the actual publication and publicity blitz. As an author I too often find myself compartmentalizing the various aspects of my job. The approach Eileen Fallon suggests makes a tremendous amount of sense.

  • Lucienne – thanks for the summary! (Harlequin’s author education is actually pretty impressive – they have almost-monthly seminars to train people on how to use Twitter, blogs, etc., and the printed materials are well done, especially for someone starting from nothing.)

  • Great post, Lucienne. I’m curious — do other publishers offer a marketing manual? And if not, why not? It seems like a small effort thing to put together (well, maybe not small initially, but afterward, not a big deal), that would have a huge payoff. Especially because for a writer like myself for example, I’ve been building my platform and selling my short stories and even when I get that book deal (fingers-crossed) I’ll always be wondering — what more can I do? What’s the most effective? What does my publisher really want me to do and stay away from? Your post gives a nice broad overview, but to get a manual from the publisher . . . I imagine most writers would be thrilled for such info.

  • Sarah

    Thank you, Lucciene. I admit, stuff like this makes me cringe because self-promotion and salesmanship both scare me. But that’s just all the more reason for me to need this information because none of it comes naturally to me. The info about puffery in ads is especially interesting – if I’d seen “regional signings” in a listing for my book I’d have assumed I had flaked on a book tour and sent the editor a panicky note asking where and when I was supposed to be.

  • Stuart, I believe some other publishers and even agencies offer publicity/promotion manuals or tips. Some hold on-line seminars or teleconferences. Mostly, though, once you’re published you have the advantage of pros you can call or e-mail and ask. No one strategy holds for all books or even all books by a particular author, so brainstorming with those in the know is very valuable.

  • Young_Writer

    Thanks, I’ll store this away for a few years. Great information, and very consise.