Tuesday, September 15, 2009


By Writer X

Welcome to the 21st Century

It used to be that an agent sold your book to a publisher and then said publisher would arrange a smattering of book signings, depending on the strength of your name and the marketing budget for your book. While that is still the case for some writers, that’s a time period I like to call The Dark Ages.

Book signings have almost become passé. And that’s not to say that book signings are no longer a way to promote books, it’s just that there are now so many more tools in a writer’s (particularly a debut author’s) arsenal.

Book promotion and marketing are tough nuts for a lot of writers because, I think, most of us are introverts at heart. Who else wouldn’t mind being holed up in a room for months at a time listening to imaginary voices inside their heads besides writers? And lunatics in straitjackets? While writers might be skilled with the written word, many of us become bumbling idiots when forced to speak before large groups of people. Still, as my mom always said, “If you want to dance, you got to pay the fiddler.”

Marketing is a necessary evil. It’s part of the business of being a writer, and writing is a business. If you don’t market yourself and your books, your books run the risk of collecting dust on bookstore shelves. Not a pleasant thought if you’d like to make writing your long-term career goal.

So, what can you do to market yourself and your books, especially if you’re a new author? Fortunately, there are a ton of things.

First, don’t underestimate Al Gore’s Internet. You can begin marketing yourself even before you sell your first book. If you want to become a published author, start thinking like one. For starters, a blog is almost a necessity, as long as you update it regularly. My suggestion is to keep the focus on writing and less about the fancy dinner you cooked the previous night. A professionally created web site can wait until after you make your first sale if you can’t afford one. Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook can be helpful too but, again, think like a published writer. So, those photos of you doing bong hits on Spring Break in Vegas might not be appropriate if, for example, you’re trying to become a children’s writer. As an aside, if you don’t think that potential agents and publishers are doing Google searches about you before they take you on as an author, think again.

Second, investigate opportunities where you can become a guest blogger on other sites. Example: If you’re writing a non-fiction book about parenting skills, find a web site where you can share (usually gratis) your expertise.

Third, yes, even Twitter can be a helpful marketing tool. Some writers have “tweeted” lines from their books to entice readers to buy them. Some have even tweeted their entire books!

Post a professionally done “book trailer” to YouTube. This is like the visual, virtual equivalent of your book jacket and can cost several thousand dollars to do well. You may have even seen these types of book trailers on amazon.com. They can be effective in creating buzz as long as you have a plan (e.g. through your blog, web site) to draw people to it. It’s all about the buzz. Remember that you will have anywhere from 18 months to two years before your book hits the shelf, if you sign with one of the larger, traditional publishers. Less time to market, usually, with a smaller publisher.

If you have relationships with other published authors, it’s always wonderful when you can entice them to read your book and hopefully blurb about it on their web sites and blogs before and after the release date of your published book.

Finally, there’s always an old-fashioned book signing. Keep in mind that as a debut author you will most likely need to market yourself—over and above what your publisher plans to do—particularly to your local libraries and bookstores. This can be easier with independent bookstores than it is with the chains, although certainly nothing is impossible. Get to know your bookstores and the people who manage them. You might even meet some interesting people in the process.

So, if you think that your only job as a writer is to write the dang masterpiece, you’re in for a shock. And don’t forget to dust off your Marketing 101 hat and practice your public speaking skills.

Note to all Commentarama Readers: If there’s something in particular you’d like to see in the Writing Series, just ask. If I can write about it, I will. Leave a comment after this post, email Commentarama, or email me directly at writerx@cox.net with your suggestions. I don’t bite and I’m fairly nice. Mostly.


LL said...

Isn't the definition of "author", a writer with a friend in the publishing business?

Writer X said...

LL, I've learned that the definition of "author" is a writer with a parent in the publishing business. A parent who owns a publishing company is infinitely better. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, Thanks! Very interesting article. I figured it was a lot different than what I'd see in the movies -- imagine that!

In the movies, they always seem to set up book signings in a dozen cities around the country and the author goes city by city, signing books.

I had never thought about putting together a book trailer. What do they normally look like?

Writer X said...

Andrew, you're welcome!

Don't get me wrong: Book signings still happen. If you're a big-time author like Dan Brown, as an example, book signings and a few interviews might be all you have to do. But when you're not Dan Brown, you've got to try harder and be a little more creative. And determined.

Regarding book trailers, they're usually no more than a couple of minutes long. They look like beefed up PowerPoint presentations, frankly, complete with music and images. If you go to amazon.com, look up your favorite author, there's a good chance you'll see a book trailer promoting his/her latest book.

AndrewPrice said...

Ah. I thought maybe used actors and the such. I see the occasional television ad for books, but I find them strangely not enticing. They all seem to follow the same pattern. Voice over says "read the new book by ____, author of _____" while there is smoke on the screen -- which clears to show the book. Kind of cheesy.

How common, if you know, is it to try to do something controversial to generate sales? It seems like there's nothing like an angry group of something-or-other to generate publicity for you. . . and it's really easy to set those people off.

Do publishers/authors seek that out, try to avoid it, not care?

Writer X said...

Andrew, the ones I've seen on TV are very cheesey, sort of the B-Book Trailer version of what's out there. Nancy Grace, as an example, had a TV book trailer (her mystery has become a bestseller, BTW). It looked like something my little neice could put together. Yet, she's sold a ton of books, probably some (or most) on the strength of her name. But she and her publisher could afford the ad time on a major news channel.

I think it is very common for an author to do or say something controversial to sell books. Whether or not it's intentional might be another story. No one would ever admit to doing anything intentional. I've seen it done with memoirs lately. Think James Frey and A MILLION LITTLE LIES. The only problem is that an author has to think long-term: Is it worth it to say something controversial to sell one book? What happens when your next one comes out if you've pissed off your entire potential audience? Still, controversy can sell books, no doubt about it.

MegaTroll said...

Another great article Writer X! I've read that a lot of people who are self-publishing are getting their books sold through Amazon and I figured there was something they do to advertise, because otherwise, how do you find them?

I know that several of the guys who have sports websites will publish a book and then advertise it through their own blogs.

Writer X said...

Mega, thanks!

The great thing about amazon.com is just about any author can sell through them--those who self-publish or those who publish through traditional publishers. Although I personally love walking into bookstores, there will probably come a day when they'll no longer be necessary, thanks to places like amazon.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, A cynic (and I'm just guessing because I don't know any :-)) might say you could plan a whole career being controversial. First you do something to annoy a huge market. Then you have an epiphany and repent. Suddenly, you've got two huge books. I would think that would be enough to jump start a career?

In biographies, I know that controversy always sells -- especially in the "tell alls" and in the political biographies. One thing you see all the time in political books is people changing sides right before getting their new (other-sided) book published.

In terms of ideas for future columns, how about giving us your take on the "conventions" of various genres? Maybe what they are now or how they've changed?

Anonymous said...

I love your posts. What does your publisher do while you're doing this?

Writer X said...

Andrew, it worked for James Frey, although appearing on Oprah didn't hurt either. Not sure if their subsequent feud helped, although I don't really follow him all that much. He lost me when it was revealed his book was mostly a bunch of bunk. I think he lost a lot of his audience, too.

I'm not a fan of political biographies. It always seems that they contain two pages of something fairly interesting and then 400 pages of dullsville. The buzz on those books is always about the two pages--e.g. Teddy Kennedy's latest book and whether he finally came clean on Mary Jo Koepechne, courageous man that he was. Not. As an aside, his publisher is going to have to sell truckloads of his book to make back the six (or was it seven?) figure advance they paid him AND make a profit.

Writer X said...

Anonymous, thank you. Hopefully they're considering buying my latest manuscript. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, speaking of controversy, I just saw that Dan Brown has now written about the Free Masons. LOL!

P.S. I never did see how publishers made money on these huge advances to politicians. I just don't see the sales they would need?

Writer X said...

Andrew, Dan Brown's THE LOST SYMBOL comes out today, as a matter of fact. I'm probably one of only two people on the planet who fell asleep reading THE DAVINCI CODE and the movie. Free Masons, though? I wasn't aware. THE LOST SYMBOL has a first printing of 5 million copies. That is in the words of Donald Trume: UUUUGE.

Most publishers aren't doing very well right now, partly due to the economy and partly due to making the wrong decisions on what books to buy, IMO. Regarding those political biographies, they have to sell A LOT of books to make a profit.

AndrewPrice said...

It will be interesting to see if this works for him. With the Da Vinci Code (I agree, boring movie, never read the book), he at least had an enemy -- Churches, which went out and protested and made a big stink.

Most of the Free Masons I know (and I've met a ton) really don't care one way or another what people say about them.

So I don't think he'll get the controversy he may need to sell that many books.

Writer X said...

Interesting. I'll have to check out the book jacket next time I'm at the bookstore.

StanH said...

WriterX, you are business of one. Great advice for any kind of endeavor, sell, sell, sell!

Cronickain said...

Thanks for the comments WriterX. Andrew you are correct, Masons do not care what people say about them. WriterX what is hot right now in the publishing world?

Unknown said...

WriterX: I get irritated by minor authors whose publishers make the author's name part of the title(like "Danielle Steele's XXXXX"). It got so silly that Hollywood, of course, picked it up. So when they did their modernized version of the tale of Verona, it became "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet." I don't think Bill needed the help.

Writer X said...

Stan, so true. You have to depend on me, myself, and I! And a few million readers never hurts either.

Writer X said...

ArmChairGeneral, you are very welcome. Right now, it's all about Dan Brown. His book just came out today.

In other genres, Young Adult currently sells very well, although that's because you have young adults (12-18) and women buying YA. Romance ALWAYS sells well and there are lots of offshoots. Don't laugh but Amish Romance is currently the latest hot trend in Romance. Sadly, I do not write Amish Romance.

I've also heard from publicists that Mysteries are not selling as well as they have in the past, but I'm not sure I buy that completely. A good mystery will always find a loyal audience.

Memoirs still seem to be hot, especially if there is a celebrity connection.

If someone has a well-known name, their books will sell big, at least the first printing, regardless of the genre.

Writer X said...

LawHawk, too funny. That is a cheesey sales gimmick but it does seem to work, especially for Danielle Steele. I think she's the most successful romance writer out there. I think I've read one Danielle Steele book in my entire life. They do the same thing for Nora Robert's books and her Lifetime channel movies.

I think Bill would be turning in his grave if he knew how he was commercialized...

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I think you've said that before, about Amish Romance. I am absolutely flabbergasted. I don't understand how this got started or who is buying it? Clearly, I am not the target audience.

Writer X said...

Andrew, no clue either. I'll see what I can find out. So, I'm guessing I shouldn't get you Amish Romance for your birthday?? Darn. I'll have to think of something else.

AndrewPrice said...

No thanks, think I'll pass.

Cronickain said...

"Don't laugh but Amish Romance is currently the latest hot trend in Romance. Sadly, I do not write Amish Romance."

How can I not laugh at this?

I am working on a mystery myself. I cannot tell you what it is because then it wouldn't be a mystery.

Writer X said...

Don't worry ArmChairGeneral. You wouldn't be the first. Good luck with your book!

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