I’ll save you some time — and put you to work!

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This New Yorker article about publishing phenom John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) was tweeted as a way for authors to build audience, but let me save you some time: unless you’re an incurable hipster with your finger on the zeitgeist of emo teens (shorts and argyle socks? Puh-leeze…) it’s not worth the EIGHT pages throughout which the writer drools about Green. The guy has really just been himself, yet gone viral for his quirky, nerd-centric personality that includes many video blogs (vlogs, for those in the know).

Do you have time for all of that, or do you just want to sell books?

Rather than trying to create years of witty, silly vlog postings with your siblings, these steps may help:

1) this post is a GREAT resource, really a checklist, for authors marketing their own work.. because if you don’t it won’t sell. And it doesn’t have to be strictly self-published, trust me, even those with contracts from major publishers have to push their own books

2) Make sure your info is out there, including your Amazon Author page with bio, links to your website (don’t have one? contact me!) and more, then follow instructions on this blog post to get your work publicized by Amazon in other countries

3) consider some of the steps taken by this author to exploit his online presence and boost sales via Amazon, which included a give-away (requires some conversion to a compatible ebook format)

4) here’s a pretty comprehensive list of “to do” for marketing, but I’d focus on #7 (build your email list) and #22 (blog strategically) because both are directed at building audience and, well, we all have to get some sleep sometime!

5) here’s an out-of-the-box idea: consider what Brian Koppelman does on Vine, which he calls 6-second screenwriting lessons. Can you adapt your message to a series of simple, self-created messages that will build audience? I mean, Koppelman’s directives are so straightforward that you find yourself watching one after another, as if you’re getting your secret agent mission for the day (even for those who aren’t aspiring screenwriters). Vine is simple and easy to upload to (for everyone with an iPhone). Add a link to your website or book on your Vine profile and get going. Promote through social media. Because everyone has 6 seconds.

4) personal experience and this source will tell you that building email lists is of vital importance. For example, I’m promoting a book very similar to The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s nonfiction, called Derek’s Gift. Yes, it’s a true story of a teen boy diagnosed with cancer and his girlfriend, who battles cancer after he dies. It’s heart wrenching, particularly reading Derek’s actual diary entry of his last year of life, his senior year of high school. I’ve posted that on Wattpad we’ve reached out to Derek’s friends, teachers and school administrators to get the book into the hands of students — because the coauthor is a teacher who uses Derek’s diary and supplemental information to reach teens navigating the choppy waters of young adulthood: the highs and lows of love and loss. We use the author’s email list to send out updates, sell the book at personal appearances and are networking with grief and bereavement specialists.

So unless you can get a high profile New Yorker writer to gush about you in her own repressed emo-girl way, we all have some work to do!

BookLife: a step forward for indie authors

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Let’s not get into the semantics of what constitutes a “legitimate” book. We all know the current atmosphere for traditional publishing is tough: are they only making deals with celebrities who write children’s books, or with already-established authors? It certainly seems that if your name isn’t Rowling, your pitch to an agent isn’t going to be opened.

Then there’s the absolute explosion in indie-published books. I love the democratization of the process, but at the same time, so many good ones seem to be disappearing into the black hole of anonymity. How do you grow an audience without traditional reviews? Everyone who writes a book wants reviews from outlets like newspapers, but it’s tougher than you know. Newspapers have been shedding writers and losing editorial space for decades. So which books get the attention? Yes, those celebrity children’s books and others of their ilk.

Things are turning around, slowly. Kirkus offers paid reviews for indie books, and I know at least one author who thought the $425 was well worth it for the legitimacy it conveys (as well as the small bump in attention). And now Publishers Weekly has rolled out Book Life, an outlet for indie reviews that’s attached to a well-known industry publication. It also appears to be a way for them to make money off aspiring writers with a catalog of publishing services, but I can’t criticize that, because it appears they demystify the process with easy-to-understand steps for publishing and marketing.

These new outlets are great, but none will take the 4-letter-word “WORK” out of the process. Even the well-established author I work for busts his ass every week to self-promote. So don’t think for a minute that a “legitimate” review is a ticket to stardom of any sort.

Your checklist:

1) keep writing

2) post to your blog, Facebook page and LinkedIn

3) write articles for other publications based on your publishing experience, research, etc

4) make a list of media contacts and call a few every week (yes, CALL.. email is dead!)

5) collect emails and establish a regular newsletter

Goodreads: so many opportunities, so little time

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This spring has been full of challenges as my primary client published 3 new books (and republished one), and another client anticipates publication of his first novel just days from now. Where will I get the most bang for my publicity buck?

A true story very similar to The Fault in Our Stars.

A true story very similar to The Fault in Our Stars.

an imaginative telling of society adrift as a result of climate change

an imaginative telling of society adrift as a result of climate change

I will admit looking into Goodreads as a publicity resource on several occasions, but usually my ADD kicks in and I go after easier hits like newspaper articles instead. But consider this — with 20 million users (last year’s number) the potential is staggering. For the same reason, it’s intimidating. You hear that being too promotional could get you in trouble… and the process for proper usage can’t really be achieved in one hit. We all need a map to find this goldmine of readers, and here are a few directions:

This article helps you get established as a Goodreads contributor if you aren’t already, and tells how to get involved in groups. It suggests introducing yourself as an author and joining this group at a minimum.

This is Goodread’s own road map to getting an author page.

This author suggests doing give-aways on Goodreads to get people interested (every eyeball is important in this business!).

This slideshow provides a ton of data about the possibilities in marketing to Goodreads users: imagine 5,500 people interested in your book before it’s published? Wow! But note some of the data relies on investing in ads, which few part-time authors can afford (I haven’t looked at the cost of ads or sponsoring the newsletter, which is noted on one slide).

the power of including Goodreads in your book marketing plan

the power of including Goodreads in your book marketing plan

Well, I guess I have convinced myself that it’s time to buckle down and really give Goodreads some time and TLC. After all, I enjoy contributing and I love a challenge.

Bluebirds, spring, and launching websites

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It’s the first day of spring, and I couldn’t be happier.

My mood has little to do with breaking winter’s iron grip or even the bluebird I saw on the back porch this morning; I launched a renewed and redesigned website.

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My primary client, an author with a great following and two dozen books under his belt, had used a former coworker as his web administrator for years. Then she disappeared. It seemed like a plot from a mystery, and he was genuinely concerned for her well being. Weeks of trying to reach her by phone, mail, email and through friends were fruitless, and he was on the verge of publishing a new Simon & Schuster book, Rescue of the Bounty, along with a couple other titles. The timing couldn’t have been worse. The plot thickened.

We’re still not sure what happened to her, but were able to convince the Domain Registry to give us administrative access to the account, and I went to work. Whew. His website had fallen out of date and readers were emailing, asking where and when he had appearances scheduled. Stress mounted by the day.

Last night I held my breath as I pointed the nameservers to the new site. This morning, it was alive and kicking again, overhauled and fresh: Elation, joy, exuberance!

A few lessons:
— an updated, working website is not just an option, it’s a necessity
— some web design programs are as easy to use as this blog
— make sure your web designer/administrator puts your name on the account so you can regain control of the content if she/he quits, dies or just flakes out

We’re so relieved to have the site up and running, but I’m already looking at it critically, making a list of things I’d like to tweak … and that online store will be running by the end of the week. There’s no stopping me now.

Look away from your author website

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It’s been SOOOO long since I’ve posted, but not for a lack of topics! I’ve actually started creating websites for new authors — really fun stuff when you’ve got about two year’s creativity bottled up inside because you took a job with a boring company (but I digress).

Oftentimes new authors are so amazed to see a website that’s been created for them — it has their own smiling face looking back at them, for Goodness sakes — that they’re speechless. They’re happy, they feel empowered … then they want to smear that lovely website with all sorts of information and text, making it instantly unreadable.

But that’s just my experience.

So I decided to investigate what successful authors’ websites look like and consider the design elements that may be employed on my client’s behalf. At the least, I hope to illustrate to my clients what the websites of successful authors look like, and my investigation has revealed great variety. And great simplicity.

Gillian Flynn is a relative newcomer, with just a handful of books published, so her site doesn’t try to bowl the reader over with images of book covers, instead it creates a mood centering on her most recent work. Note how other book titles are discreetly in the nav bar above, keeping the entire page uncluttered.

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And I love the essay she’s written inside about women’s outlets for violence that makes me want to read her stuff:” …I think women like to read about murderous mothers and lost little girls because it’s our only mainstream outlet to even begin discussing female violence on a personal level. Female violence is a specific brand of ferocity. It’s invasive … Some of the most disturbing, sick relationships I’ve witnessed are between long-time friends, and especially mothers and daughters. Innuendo, backspin, false encouragement, punishing withdrawal, sexual jealousy, garden-variety jealousy — watching women go to work on each other is a horrific bit of pageantry that can stretch on for years.”

Many major authors focus their websites on their most recent work, like Dennis Lehane whose home page is a simple image of his most recent book cover. It’s interesting, because you have to interact with the site (click on a link or scroll) to get any info. (And it’s out of date, hello??)

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Dan Brown‘s site goes on and on and on — yet in a unified, cryptic design that’s perfect for his genre. Below are two screenshots, the first being your initial view of his site, the second (info about Brown) comes into view when you scroll down. It’s also quite lovely and dark…

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Two sites I really enjoyed were for authors James Patterson and Neil Gaiman, and when I look at them I think “do these guys ever sleep??” because the sites are reflections of their wildly prolific personalities. Patterson has movie reviews on his site alongside DOZENS of book covers. And he has been working on a platform to get kids more involved in reading to boot.

Gaiman is playing the piano on his site, which made me take note of the use of embedded video, a growing trend (yet hopefully more stable than it used to be) … oooh, I better get back to work on my client’s stuff, this really raises the bar.

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This has been a fun little side trip — it’s helpful to get your nose out of your own stuff sometimes and look around for inspiration.

Navigating your route to success

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Oh joy, what great news: most writers only earn about $1,000 per year. But we knew that — and the Guardian article offers hope too, saying that most of us have motives other than financial gain. Better yet, indie- and self-publishing is expected to continue growing, becoming more mainstream each year. In fact, a quarter of US Kindle ebook sales in 2012 were primarily self-published works.

“Fortunately only a minority of respondents listed making money as “extremely important” – around 20% of self-published writers, and about a quarter of traditionally-published authors.” (Guardian)

Few people support themselves by writing and publishing books. But there are ways to maximize your profitability.

librarian keep churning out those titles!

One way is to study what has worked for others. Take a tip or two from this list of successful self-published authors. Most found creative ways to increase their audiences, from giving away ebooks to approaching niche reviewers.

Perhaps you’ll delve into a new initiative this year, like the WEBook program described here. The process sounds intricate, but it could lead to bigger things, particularly while it’s a novelty (everything online seems to get its 15 minutes of overexposure).

My primary publicity client is a midlist author with more than 20 books under his belt, the last several with major publishing houses (which do less publicity than you’d imagine). Generally, once one of his books has been available for a couple years, sales slow to a trickle. But this fall, a 3-year-old title was offered at a discount as an ebook and suddenly sales of that title rebounded, dozens of new reviews were posted to Amazon and many readers took interest in his other books of the same genre. (At the same time, he hasn’t been waiting for lightning to strike, as he’s built a strong platform of speaking engagements, continuing to sell copies of his books himself.)

Few of us will be the next Amanda Hocking, whose book sales went wild after she self-published them as e-books.

Hocking had a backlog of unpublished books when she finally self published. Readers who discovered her were then interested in finding more that she’d written, creating a fan base that boosted sales of everything she published online thereafter. Just as the writers interviewed in this Writer’s Digest article say, continue to focus on your writing even as you’re publishing and marketing your work.

The moral of her story is that she loved writing, honed her craft, kept writing and got creative with the resources that were available when she was repeatedly rejected. Who knew vampire stories set in Minnesota would be so popular?

The Wall Street Journal just published a story about a guy who writes under the name Russell Blake and churns out a book a month. That’s impressive in itself BUT there’s more — he gave away his first ebook to seed interest. His ebook sales are skyrocketing because he stays on Amazon’s list of “recently published” books, month after month. We salute his productivity (and thank him for this insight into sales!).

The takeaway: keep writing, even if it’s not selling now.