Category Archives: book publicity

How will readers ever find your book?

It may well be that you don’t have enough time for a career as a book author, and writing is really just a hobby, a side gig, or a form of therapy for you. No problem. In that case, you don’t need a literary agent, or more correctly, the literary agent doesn’t need you. If you want to make money as an author, on the other hand, then your books must be discoverable. Readers won’t come to you. You’ll need to find ways to get on their radar. You’ll need to become an author whose books are recommended by one reader to another. That’s how books and their authors become bestsellers.

Let’s say your book was published in 2013. More than 300,000 new titles were traditionally published in the U.S. in 2013. In the same year in the U.S., more than 1,000,000 new titles were non-traditionally published, a figure that includes self-published books. How many of those books did you read? How many can you name? How many of the authors can you name? How would a stranger have ever found your book among the 1,300,000?

browsing books

(FreeImages.com/Nick Manning)


When you’re browsing in a bookstore, how many books do you leaf through before selecting one to buy? What attracts you? What makes you put a book down and choose another? Do you typically search for new titles from authors who are known to you? Do you like to read what your friends are reading? Your book is evaluated in the same ways.

If your book’s page on Amazon lacks a compelling description and any customer reviews, and the Amazon customer who happens to come across it has never heard of you, and you have no online presence to give the prospective buyer any information, then why would you expect the person to pay for your book instead of the latest from Clive Cussler or one of the titles longlisted for the Man Booker or the novel everyone at the hair salon is discussing?

If you know anything about online booksellers and social media, then you know it requires effort to capitalize on the exposure they can offer books and authors. It takes time and technical ability to maintain multiple online profiles and learn to write compelling sales copy. Working at it every day for three years might get you up to speed, provided you already possess some basic social skills. There are no shortcuts. Thousands of writers are there ahead of you.

Don’t know where to start with self-promotion? You can join the crowd of writers who remained clueless. You’ll know them. They’re the ones you’ve never heard of.

Everything you want and need to know about book marketing and self-promotion has been debated at length online, where you can find vast amounts of information on author platforms. Start with Jane Friedman’s excellent blog. I’ve gathered links to “Publicity tips for book authors.” Good advice comes from Joel Friedlander, Joanna Penn, and Penny Sansevieri. Self-published authors are generous with recommendations. Don’t assume that marketing strategies for traditionally published authors should differ from strategies for self-published authors. The main addition is the need to coordinate marketing and publicity efforts with a publisher or publicist, if there is one.

Learning about the business of selling books is doable if you want a career as an author and are willing to work hard for it. No one will mind if you prefer to remain a hobbyist. Just don’t make the mistake of asking me or a book publisher to donate time and money to support your hobby.

Authors and humility

mask

(Photograph courtesy of Marc Garrido i Puig)

There’s nothing inherently wrong with fashioning your public image the way you want to be perceived as an author, but onlookers are discerning. They know instinctively, often without being able to explain why they know, when someone’s posturing. Americans, especially, are incredibly alert for any hints of pretentiousness and sometimes go overboard by openly demanding self-effacement, which we equate with graciousness. One result is the defensive tactic so well known to authors: the humblebrag.

The only way to avoid jumping straight into harm’s way is to learn how to get outside yourself and view your own public image through the eyes of readers, followers, colleagues, and friends. Silently noticing what other authors do wrong and right can help. Friends and family aren’t likely to give you honest criticism, because they all love you and fear ruining their relationships with you.

We’re living in a moment when genuineness, transparency, and humility are valued more than poise and sophistication, but cultural preferences eventually will change. They always do.

Fear of exposure

I can’t count the times I’ve seen some great writing online but haven’t been able to reach the author, because the person’s email address wasn’t listed anywhere. A writer who wants to turn professional needs to provide some very straightforward biographical and contact information on his or her primary website. The writer’s most effective business card is the site used as a hub for the person’s online identity and writing-related activities.

For the sake of being taken seriously, a writer’s professional email address should use the writer’s professional name or business name. It’s possible to set up multiple email addresses for different purposes and direct all the email for those addresses to a single email inbox. Instructions for accomplishing this will vary depending on the email application being used.

It’s silly for a new author to make it difficult for a book reviewer, reporter, or event organizer to get in touch, yet many writers seem purposefully aloof online. They haven’t make the transition into the public sphere, where their potential readers might be found. Ridiculously, some of them are the same writers who, cloaked with anonymity, blame everyone but themselves for their failures at getting published, soliciting reviews, selling their books, and generating income. (Of course, being publicly obnoxious will have the same self-defeating results. Have they already realized something about themselves that’s better left hidden?)

Concerns about privacy are no small thing, but the ability of an author to attract publicity has a direct affect on the discoverability and sales of the author’s book. A book publisher can’t compensate for an author’s inability to connect to readers, or for the author’s inaccessibility to reporters, book critics, bloggers, librarians, producers, and event organizers who would help make those connections. Privacy has always been a tradeoff for fame.

peeking

(Photo courtesy of Ned Horton, Horton Web Design, Nashville, TN)

Writers who take the initiative gain an advantage

It’s difficult for new writers to comprehend that having a literary agent doesn’t mean the end of all rejections. When I’m able to persuade an acquiring editor to read a manuscript, the writer continues to face considerable competition. At the major U.S. publishing houses, each acquiring editor opts to read perhaps fifty or more manuscripts per year and selects from them maybe five or fewer that are published.

Lately, when manuscripts of equal quality are being evaluated, one factor that tends to tip the scales in favor of an acquisition is the author’s ability to help promote the title before and after it’s published. Publishers aren’t impressed with earnest promises; before investing, they look at what an author already has done to become familiar and interesting to readers.

Six years ago, when I started my agency, consideration of an author’s platform wasn’t as prevalent among publishers, but aspiring authors were learning how to use social media to their advantage. Now that a good percentage of creative writers are entrepreneurial, many editors view the absence of a platform (or the lack of an established readership, or name recognition, or whatever you choose to call it) as an additional reason to disqualify a manuscript and move on to those that have more potential to be profitable.

Some writers simply aren’t good at self-promotion, and it’s not something anyone can do for them. On the other hand, when a publicist at a publishing house and an author are able to collaborate easily—when they’re on the same page, so to speak, and the publicist doesn’t need to do much explaining—a successful book marketing campaign is far more likely.

Some writers excel at self-promotion, but their manuscripts aren’t superlative. What then? Is it easier and more cost-effective to fix an imperfect manuscript or to teach a writer how to make connections with readers? The jury’s still out on that question. I suspect that by the time I’m reading a query from an aspiring author, the individual already has reached his or her peak performance in both arenas and won’t be able to show much improvement. In other words, earnest promises don’t impress me. Evidence of self-initiative does.

Walt Whitman

(Detail of the entrance to the Detroit Public Library)

Still can’t stop talking about it: Get Known Before the Book Deal

Day 19: I sincerely wish I could stop talking about it. I wish writers who send me queries had read Christina Katz’s Get Known Before the Book Deal and implemented the strategies she outlines in the book. I wish I didn’t need to tell so many prospective clients to back up and learn exactly what publishers and readers expect of them in 2014. I wish I were a fairy godmother with the power to transmit knowledge, skills, and business sense with the flick of a glitter-spangled wand. I’m weary of repeating myself. I’m whining today.

GET KNOWN BEFORE THE BOOK DEAL by Christina KatzHowever, there is good news! There’s an upside of my frustration, which I assure you is shared by at least a few other agents, as well as book editors and publishers, not to mention successful authors who frequently are asked how they got so lucky. The bright side is that the unbelievably small percentage of writers who apply—that is, put into practice rather than just reading—Christina Katz’s advice can achieve an enormous advantage over the larger number of writers who don’t.

Think about that. Did you just feel the power shifting?

Christina doesn’t promise instant results, and she doesn’t say it’s easy when it’s not. No one ever truly masters self-promotion in a turbulent market, and the mere attempt takes a lot of time. More hard work is exactly what average writers or wannabes will not confront. They believe they should be finished with the work part when they put the last words on the last pages of their manuscripts. They’re ready for the cake, punch, and applause precisely when the going really gets tough. C’mon. Take advantage of their mistakes.

Writers need to exploit every possible asset in order to stand out among thousands of contenders and to get their books noticed among the incredible quantity of titles now frictionlessly available to readers. Those readers easily can choose similar content in other media, often at less expense. Writers who are aware of their competition, respect readers, perfect their manuscripts, consider their art a career, and demonstrate their ability to engage their intended audience, well…

We know who they are.

Full disclosure

Christina Katz is my friend, but I recommend her book because the advice in it is so good. Chuck Sambuchino wrote a similar manual called Create Your Writer Platform, but then I must admit that Chuck’s a friend, too. There’s also Amanda Luedeke’s ebook, The Extroverted Writer: An Author’s Guide to Marketing and Building a Platform. I’ve met Amanda. I like and respect her. She’s a dynamo. Several other books cover this very topic, and some of these resources are likely to be available at the nearest library. By the way, my old neighbor Bob Robertson-Boyd developed the WorldCat interface that shows the closest library where a copy of a particular book can be borrowed.

Musical accompaniment

Believe it or not, I do have a heart. It gets crumpled a lot, to the tune of “The Laugh of Recognition.” Over the Rhine are some of my favorite musicians.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Dusting off the popular list of book reviewers

The month of March was a slog, weather-wise, which motivated me to take care of boring chores like fixing the broken links on my list of Book reviewers on the Web. It and a few other posts on this old blog get lots of page views. I imagine readers nagging me to update it periodically.

Book reviewers on the webOne visitor mentioned that my book reviewers list was confusing or disorganized, so to improve navigation I’ve added a table of contents linking directly to each section, or type, of reviewers. If you use the Book reviewers on the Web list often, please let me know how I might make it more user-friendly.

As penance for channeling so many pitches to the reviewers on my list, let me urge anyone who’s planning to ask for a book to be reviewed to study each review outlet’s guidelines before submitting. Ignorance is no excuse for spam.

For anyone who’s never written a pitch to a media outlet, Rick Frishman gives excellent, clear directions in Advanced Review Copies of A Book Being Published at the book marketing blog Beneath the Cover.

Lastly, for those who aren’t do-it-yourselfers, I offer a long and random list of publicists who can be hired to do the work.

Penny Sansevieri: “Why having a platform may be the only way to sell books”

Penny Sansevieri
Yesterday, I linked you to a blogpost written by a publisher who explained what he’d learned about selling the books he’s been publishing for 35 years.

Today, with book authors in mind, I’d like to recommend a Huffington Post article written by publicist Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts, who says that “in order to gain any kind of attention for your book, you’re going to have to have a platform.” I agree. Take a look at Sansevieri’s description of the basic components of an author platform and trust her when she says, “Without it, yours may be the best book that no one has ever read.”

Christina KatzMy friend Christina Katz, author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, has been a trailblazer on the topic of author platforms. I’m glad I met her before I started my agency, so I could learn what to expect of my clients and how to prepare them for their books’ publication.

A few months after I established my business, a young editor at HarperCollins told me he would not look at the work of a writer who hadn’t already established an online presence. In the years since, other acquiring editors have followed suit. They’ve found the author platform requirement a quick and dirty, not to mention objective and reasonable, means of eliminating quite a few manuscripts from consideration.

These days, I can’t consider taking on a new client who hasn’t demonstrated a capability for self-promotion, online and IRL. I still use the terms online and IRL for clarity, but I no longer perceive a distinction. To me, they’re one and the same.

I once thought I’d be able to teach every new client the platform development techniques I’ve learned from Christina Katz, Penny Sansevieri, and other book marketing experts. Instead, I found that it’s impractical to try to instill the motivation to make time, the competitive drive, the emotional stamina, and the willingness to learn, all of which are required of a writer who needs to build a readership. When I’m considering whether to work with a writer, I need proof of those characteristics.