Get Yer Hot Fresh Books!

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Earlier this week, I had lunch with a writer friend.  The conversation turned, as writer-lunch-conversations are wont to do, to promotion — what each of us does to promote our work, and what we should be doing.  My views on promotion have changed considerably, so I thought I’d share them here, and we can hash out what we thinks works and what doesn’t work.

I promoted my first novel, The Glasswrights’ Apprentice, with a self-financed book tour.  I traveled up and down the West Coast, stopping at a dozen bookstores (Borders, B&N, and independents) for readings and signings.  I spent weeks scheduling the visits, phoning community relation managers, begging for a calendar slot.  In addition to the West Coast tour, I visited my hometown (Minneapolis) for a reading, and I hosted a reading in my then-town (D.C.)  I hosted a book launch party at the law firm where I worked.  I actually launched my career at World Fantasy in Providence, and I attended Worldcon in Chicago.  I spent thousands of dollars on airfare and hotels, and on gas money.   (I conducted the West Coast tour in my best friend’s purple Camaro — and *man* that thing ate gas!)  I also burned through three weeks of vacation from my day-job, which did not cost me money, but it cost me time and sanity.  Apprentice won an award from Barnes & Noble for “best first spec fic novel” (not phrased that way officially, but that’s what it was), and the book appeared on Locus’s bestseller list.  I signed a new contract for three more books within a month of Apprentice’s launch.

I promoted the rest of the Glasswright series and my stand-alone fantasy novel in more restrained ways.  I always scheduled local readings, and I tried to schedule events in Minneapolis. (After the first two books, though, those events were very hard to come by…)  I created handmade bookmarks.  I printed up business cards.  I attended cons as day-job and finances permitted.  I tried some crazy things — sending chapters of Glasswright books to every glass artist I could find in America, for example.  (Not a single response from that…)  I maintained a website and started a blog over at LiveJournal.

When I switched sub-genres and publishers, I followed similar models — lots of printed materials, as many personal appearances as I could afford, begging bookstores to let me do readings, signing stock in every store I visited.  I printed up ribbons for con-goers to attach to their nametags.  I eventually converted my website to WordPress and managed my blog from there.  I added in Facebook.  I created a mailing list and sent out quarterly newsletters, using Vertical Response.  I ran contests on my blog, giving away free copies of my books, in exchange for email addresses to feed the newsletter.  I spoke at book groups, in person, and by Skype.  Each year, I spent a couple of thousand dollars (mostly on travel to cons, some on paper goods).

When I emerged as Morgan Keyes, writing the traditional fantasy, middle-grade Darkbeast series, I maintained all *those* methods of promoting, and I added in school visits.  Once again, I was emailing friends, begging teachers and administrators, scrapping with local bookstores so that I could speak to middle grade classes.  I went on a mini-tour to North Carolina (all paid for out of my own pocket), and I visited a dozen classes around my local community.  I structured a blog tour, with more than three dozen stops, each with a unique post about some aspect of my novel.

Throughout all of this, I received minimal help from my publishers.  For each book, I developed a marketing and promotion plan, and I approached my editor and my assigned publicist to ask for help.  Over the years, I received three large foam-core book covers, a number of professionally-designed and -printed bookmarks, and, um…  Well, I also received “co-op money” (the money publishers pay to place print books on tables at the front of chain bookstores).  And for Darkbeast, my publicist mailed out prize copies for all my contests (usually, after a few reminders).  Oh, and for Darkbeast, S&S did a truly wonderful thing — they invited me to the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, where I attended a cocktail party and gave away a couple hundred copies of Darkbeast to actual booksellers, getting the chance to chat with them and explain the book to them.

Now, it may sound like I’m complaining, but really, I’m not.  I know that as a midlist author, my publishers gave me exactly the same support as they gave other midlist authors.  That’s the way the game is played — bestselling authors get the vast majority of publisher support.

But I *am* saying that I spent a lot of my own money.  And a ton of my own time.  And an indescribable amount of my own energy.  And I don’t know that I have a lot to show for it.

Bottom line:  I strongly believe that the best promotion I can provide is writing a really good book.  Especially writing my *next* really good book — getting new material out there for readers to discover.

Sure, I’m going to continue keeping my website up to date, including writing blog posts.  And I’ll keep in touch with people on Facebook.  And I’ll even send out a newsletter, when I have big things to report.  I’ll keep business cards on me at all times, because that’s what a professional person does.

But the rest of it?  The travel, the begging, the constant bouncing from city to city, on my own dime?

It’s time to take a break.  It’s time to write the next book.

So?  How about you?  What promotion have you done for your own work?  What promotion have you responded to from other authors?  Where do you stand on the battlefield of the great promotion wars?  :-)

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15 comments to Get Yer Hot Fresh Books!

  • Mindy, your PR career sounds like my early PR career. It was horrible. Back in the beginning, the hubby *and dogs* and I traveled 5 days a week, 3 months out of the year, in my station wagon, sleeping in cheap hotels I would now never enter, (now that bed begs have returned to infest the mostly-civilized world). I wrote on the road in legal pads and transposed when the trip was over. I left fliers in other writers’ books, talked my poor head off to booksellers, managers, radio people, and my career *still* went in the toilet when the publisher (a Harlequin mystery imprint) slated a book to to into the romance section. It was a total waste of time and money and energy.

    Then we bought an RV. It was easier. A lot easier. To travel. But by then I was already burned out.

    With Blood Trade, I am doing a total of 2 signings and a blog tour set up by my PR person and me. I paid for a book trailer. I paid for a website re-vamp (koff-koff). That’s it. My street team is doing the rest. And without them I’d be nowhere.

  • Yedra

    Mindy, I don’t have a book, so I don’t need PR & can’t help you there, but I do have kids who will be approaching middle grade soon and I know that author visits to schools are so exciting for the kids. Have you considered doing webinars instead of in person visits to schools?

    Many school systems can accommodate a video conference call with two way video and it would give you the opportunity to reach a lot of kids for very little money, and far less of your time. There are several options out there for hosting webinars, some quite inexpensive. Just a thought.

  • I did a self-financed book tour for Thieftaker and had some very good events. I also did an extensive blog tour. To be honest, I’m still on the fence about THIEVES’ QUARRY and how hard a push to do. The blog stuff is a no-brainer — it’s time, but I can give time, since I’m going to make my May 1 deadline, and my next one after that is nearly a year away. But the self-financed signing tour? Not sure I can afford it. Not sure it’s worth the time away from writing, and from my family. I really hate this aspect of my job . . .

  • Book publication is an insane business where those who get promoted and publicized most are precisely those who need it least.

  • I’m self-published, in ebook form only, and it’s rough out there! There is NO publisher to turn to, and while many self-published books are well written, there are also a lot that are badly written, unedited, and not even well formatted. Trying to stand out from the crowd is a bit like being a salmon and trying to swim upstream after they’ve gone and damned up the river.

    So far, the best promotion I have found is that my first ebook was Book 1 of a 2-book series. I made the first book free everywhere else, and then Amazon price-matched and made it free on the Kindle. That has proven to be a godsend!

    Even “free” isn’t as powerful a promotional tool as it once was, because there are too many authors using it. Lots of people never read their free books. Still, that would be my advice to writers starting out: 1) Write a good book that provides enough resolution that the reader doesn’t feel cheated, but leave enough loose ends that they want to find out what happens next. 2) DON’T publish Book 1 until Book 2 is ready to go, because you have no established base to check back for the book, and no way to notify readers when it’s ready. Book 2 needs to be for sale when readers finish Book 1.

  • Faith – I’d love to hear more about your street team — how you set it up, how you keep it going, how many people are on it, how (if?) you compensate them. I tried to set up something formal and it went *nowhere*, but perhaps I took some bad approaches!

    Yedra – I’ve done a couple of classroom video-conferences; they certainly help to save on travel time and cost. The big barrier, though, is finding teachers who will make time for outside visits. The vast majority of teachers I’ve spoken to say that they can’t break classroom protocol and scheduling — there are tests to be taken and outside demands to be met. Sigh. (Some of my richest memories from elementary school are from outside visitors’ contributions!)

    David – Yep, I, too, hate this part. Especially the never knowing what aspect of what we did generated success! It must be especially difficult for you at this juncture, having seen so much success with THIEFTAKER, trying to measure next steps to repeat that!

    Wolf – Amen!

    Carmen – Yep, the calculus for self-pub is different. Unless your name is Dan Brown, publishers are *very* reluctant to make earlier books free. Alas, I’ve heard from several self-pubbed authors that the value of free has declined dramatically in the past year — sell through on other books just isn’t generated the way it was in the early days… (And yes, without other books, free doesn’t make sense for anyone!)

  • Carmen – That’s pretty much my thought as well. I’m writing my entire fantasy trilogy before it goes out anywhere. I’ll be doing all edits and revisions on the first two, so that by the time book 1 is hopefully published, book 2 will be ready to send, and I’ll be done on book 3 personal revisions by that time.

    And as far as free and 99 cents goes on Amazon and self-pub, I have some opinions on that. But the gist is. Respect the work and others will too. Write the best darn thing you can, edit the pen-monkey poop out of it, make sure it’s polished the best you can get it, send it to other eyes, listen, fix, then put it out there for a price that represents what you think the quality of the writing should reflect. Sure, there are people always looking for the freebie or the cheap pickup, and you can always have two-day sales to satisfy them, but there are also people out there who will look for confidence in the work and pay a higher price.

  • deborahblake

    Yoinks! Well, I hope an author can be a success without a major self-financed book tour, because frankly, I don’t have the money for one (and I’m not much of a traveler). I know a few of my author friends (like Jeri Smith-Ready) have very successful street teams, but I’m not quite sure how that works.

    I do the blog/Facebook/Twitter/Newsletter thing with occasional giveaways thrown in. Beyond that, I’m not sure WHAT to do.

  • Mindy, we should chat. Some genres work well with street teams, some don’t. Erotica is the best genre for street teams, but Urban Fantasy, and strong kick-butt heroins work well too. I’d think YA would be a good match, for a team, but I have no numbers to say for sure. Mine worked well and fast. And I had way better results than I expected.

  • Razziecat

    Wolf makes an excellent point. To expand on that thought: It seems to me that if a publisher wants to have MORE best-selling authors, they should be pushing the midlist authors much harder than they do. Promotion sells! Stephen King doesn’t need the support, but someone a level or two below him does. The more support those midlist authors get, the more likely they are to become best-selling authors.

  • Whoever is keeping the Future Topics list… please add a definition of “Street Team.”

  • Daniel — I’m intrigued by your writing all three volumes before pitching the first. My advice has always been that if you’re pursuing traditional publication, you should only write the first book — that way, if it doesn’t sell, you aren’t stuck with two additional books you can’t place. I hadn’t really concentrated on how self-pub changes that — if you can’t sell traditionally, you’re ready to go with self pub… (I have reservations about never-traditionally-published authors going self-pub but that’s a whole other post or ten…)

    Deborah — (Most of) the time and money I poured into promotion was spent early on. The publishing world has changed since then, and my personal financial world has changed since then (with two major upheavals — going from the fat cat law firm life to the librarian life to the writing full time…)

    Faith — We will chat :-) (Middle grade street teams are largely non-starters, because the younger kids don’t have the sort of unfettered time and access necessary to make the team work…)

    Razziecat — Authors have been bemoaning this point for decades! The numbers seem to make a clear case — buy *one* less multi-million-dollar possible bestseller (which also might tank) and provide thousands of dollars of support for every other author in your stable, hoping that at least one becomes a breakout bestseller. *NO* traditional publisher has ever done this (possibly because they can’t gauge what makes a bestseller any more than we can!)

    Lyn — A street team is a group of uber-fans who promote an author’s work, typically through social media. They generally work for free (but might get some promotional trinkets for their labor); they often get access to books or extra writing material early and/or for free. The idea evolved with musical bands and has been used successfully by some writers. You know, writers like Faith. Who will hopefully provide more information for us at a future point in time!

  • Well, the first reason is that there’s no way I’d be able to just drop it and never finish the story arc. That’d be the main reason I’m doing them all at the same time. I have to get the story worm out of my head. And if I do that I may as well polish them. And if I do that I may as well work to get them out there, even if it means negotiating a point or two within a contract, through an agent or otherwise. And if they do want the second book, it’s ready to go, which, barring any editing changes to book 1, you may have a few extra revisions to do in book 2, but that’s doable with some planning ahead of time by writing down whatever plot changes you had to make and keeping those in mind when going over the next book. Also means that it shaves some time off how long it takes to at least get the next book to the publisher, since it’s already written. Of course, it helps to be able to write fast, to crank out the first draft in 10 weeks or so (give or take) each. I had to stop for a bit to get other things finalized, but the first two first drafts are finished and awaiting revisions. If I had burned through and hadn’t had other things come up, I probably could have had at least the first two revised and ready for beta or editor help and the third in revision in around 50 weeks, give or take.

    For e-self-pub, it makes perfect sense. In most cases in traditional pub, you’re looking at a year at least for a second or third to come out, sometimes two, for slower writers. Writing the entire trilogy and getting at least the first or the first two revised, edited, and polished, lets you put them out there at any pace you want, meaning you don’t have to lose momentum. And from all I’ve read, the more you have out there at the jump and the quicker you can put quality work out, the more likely you can garner notice in the self-pub market. I think someone mentioned that three ebooks (and I would personally say, maybe a few short stories) seems the best start number for an author just breaking in. Not saying that’s all you need to do, you gotta do the legwork and put yourself out there, and expect a slow start as you build momentum, but being able to be more prolific would help, I would think. But I’m not a self-pub guru, I’ve just been reading and weighing and have some ideas that may or may not work and I may eventually give them a shot. It’d be a good experiment.

    And yes, I agree, it’s much harder for new authors to gain a following, especially if they haven’t thought it through, especially if they live in a writing vacuum and just expect to toss a book on the net and wait for money to fall from the sky, but it’s not impossible if you network ahead of time. I know a lot of artists and writers, as well as gamer friends, locally and nationally (and a couple internationally), who would be willing to spread word if I ended up going the self-pub route. Some of those artists are some of the best I’ve seen and might be willing to do my covers for some kick-back and exposure as well. Some others go to a decent amount of Cons and may be willing to share space or at least set some cards out there. I’ve even got a brother that would work up my website and help me with any screen printed promos, business cards, bookmarks, etc, I may want to have available. A street team, if you will, before the fact. 😉

    Still, I’m not quite at the point of heading self-pub. D.J. will want to show the trilogy to the place that has the other work first before trying elsewhere. No telling what the future holds. :)

  • Daniel – Bottom line, your last sentence is by far the most important! It looks as if you’re continuing to monitor all your options, and that is a very good thing!