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Marketing and Publicity Tips (2009)

So you’re a few months away from publishing your debut novel. Your publishing house has suggested that you pitch in to help promote your own work, but you don’t have the first clue as to where you should start. Or perhaps you’ve already published your first book without doing any of your own publicity and marketing and now the hard realization has hit that this time around, without a significant change on your part, your career is going to end as quickly as it began. Now you’re willing to try something – anything. But what works? What doesn’t work? What should you be doing?

Know the Business of Publication
If you think your job as a writer begins and ends with your manuscript, you’re going to be in for some serious disappointments when publication day arrives. Publishing houses purchase books that sell. They’re not charities (alas), they’re businesses. Unless your novel is one of the few to be chosen to be a lead title, you’re going to need to approach its publication not as a writer, but as a business person.

What then is this rarest of anointed ones, the lead title? Every season publishers determine which books will receive their biggest push, and those are the ones that get the most attention, not to mention the most marketing and publicity dollars. Books that are normally chosen for these spots are ones that were purchased for hefty advances (high six and seven figures), or ones that have enormous in-house support. When a book is made lead title, the author may be set up not just on a standard book tour, but on a pre-publication tour as well. This means an author might be flown to several cities to meet and greet buyers. In Bentonville, Arkansas they might meet with Walmart buyers, in Ann Arbor, Michigan they’ll meet the buyers from Borders, in Birmingham, Alabama they might meet with Books-a-Million and in New York, the buyers from Barnes and Noble. That’s not to forget buyers from Costco, Baker & Taylor, Sams Club, Ingram… The list goes on and on, and as you can imagine, this isn’t the sort of treatment that every author will receive. The publicity and marketing departments simply don’t have the time to invest in setting up so many appointments for everyone. But you will know almost immediately if your book is going to be a lead title, because things will start happening quickly. Special luncheons and dinners will be set up so you can meet booksellers. These might take place at conventions like Book Expo America or RWA, or they might take place somewhere in NY or Seattle. Interviews will start coming in early, and you’ll find yourself spending more and more time on planes and less time writing. Again, writing is a business, and part of that business is being savvy, well-spoken, and willing to do what it takes to make your book a success. But if your book isn’t one of the “chosen ones” with a three-page spread in the sales catalog, you needn’t panic. It doesn’t mean your book doomed to failure, especially not if you’re determined to do as much towards its success as possible.

Know the Lingo
Like any business, the publishing industry has its own lingo, and the smart author will learn as much of it as possible, since it can mean the difference between contacting the right person in your house for ad money, and contacting the wrong person and having to pay for the ad yourself. Two of the most important terms you’ll need to know are marketing and publicity.

The marketing department deals with anything related to promotions that can be bought: radio time, print ads, online ads, etc. If you have an idea for an advertisement and would like to see if there’s enough money in your publisher’s budget to purchase it, it’s the marketing department you should contact. If you don’t know who that person is, ask your editor. There are probably two different people in marketing who are helping promote your books: someone who deals exclusively with hardcovers, and another person who deals in paperbacks. Both of these are people you should know, and hopefully have even met on your trip to NY (What trip, you ask? Well, the one you took six months or so after signing your first contract).

The publicity department, by contrast, deals with anything related to promotions that come “free”: online reviews, print reviews, magazine interviews, online interviews, TV interviews, book tours, etc. I put “free” in quotation marks because, let’s face it, none of it really is. Your publicist is investing enormous amounts of time sending out press kits (which are costly), getting galleys in the mail (which are costly), printing up press releases, calling magazines to follow up on possible interviews, double-checking schedules, booking hotel rooms, and much, much more. Not only is she doing all of this for you, but she has many other authors she’s doing it for as well.

If you’re not sure what galleys and press kits are, they are also part of this “publishing lingo” you’ll need to become familiar with. A galley is an early copy of your novel with or without the cover image. The words “Not for Sale” will be printed somewhere on the cover, since the galley is intended only for reviewers. At the galley stage, changes are still being made to the manuscript, which is one of the reasons it’s not for sale. Not all galleys, however, are created equal. Some imprints have a policy of printing theirs with full-color covers, while others use a plain, black and white cover without any image whatsoever. If your book has been chosen as a lead title, it will almost certainly have a full-color cover even if that’s not the house’s general policy. It may even have gold foil on the front, or embossing, both of which are enormously expensive, especially at the galley stage. There’s pretty much nothing you can do if your house prints up plain-looking galleys and you prefer color (and really, who wouldn’t prefer color?). There’s also very little you can do (aside from printing up galleys yourself) if your publishing house only prints a hundred or two hundred review copies.

Like galley covers, not all galley print-runs are equal. A lead title might have anywhere from a thousand to ten thousand galleys printed up for every type of reviewer imaginable, while most other novels will have between a hundred and two hundred. I have known authors who were unhappy with the number of the galleys their houses printed and who went out and printed up their own, then sent them media mail for two or three dollars through the post office to various reviewers they contacted themselves. Now many authors would grumble (perhaps rightly so) about doing this themselves. They don’t want to go through the trouble of asking the publicity department for a list of the places their galleys are being sent to (so they don’t duplicate during their own mailing). They also don’t want to spend the money it would require to print up their own galleys or to send out the ones their publishing house has given to them (a number that can be increased when your agent is drawing up your contract). And they certainly don’t want to waste their writing time by emailing online or print reviewers and asking them if they’d like a copy of their book. But for the authors I’ve known who did this, they felt it was the difference between being a one book wonder and an author signing a contract for her fifth and sixth books.

Now, unless your galley print run is ludicrously small and the galleys are only being sent to a handful of reviewers (a list your publicist may or may not be willing to part with), I wouldn’t personally recommend this approach. But it has been done.

What I would recommend, however, is asking the publicity department whether they’ll be making press kits for your book. Press kits are folders which normally include a press release about your novel, a Q&A, possibly a photograph, and definitely snippets of your best reviews. If the publicity department says yes, then you have nothing to worry about on this front. But be sure to ask them whether their kits include folders. To save money, your publicist might simply be stuffing your press releases etc, into the mailing envelopes your book is going out in. For a more professional look, you may want to offer to purchase some folders of your own, and possibly even four-color stickers of your book cover to go on the front. Two hundred should be more than enough, and you can ship them to your publicist with the stickers already applied (assuming you have gotten her okay beforehand). If this sounds like a lot of work, well… there’s no sugarcoating it. It is. But think of how this work might pay off with a review in the LA Times or the Boston Globe. Book reviewers are inundated with novels, and the piles on their desks reach life-threatening heights. What are they more likely to pull from that pile? Loose papers which have long since been crumpled into oblivion, or a folder?

Co-op space
Before a novel is released, several important decisions will be made ahead of time that will significantly affect the chance of having your book picked up by a customer in a bookstore. One of these decisions is whether or not the publisher will be purchasing co-op space. Co-op means cooperative advertising space that publishers pay for. These are places in bookstores that see high traffic such as end caps, new release tables in the front of the shop, and store windows. It’s a widespread misconception that bookstore employees select the titles they want to feature in the store window or on the aisle tables based on the selections they personally prefer. However, co-op placement is very selective and is also based on how the store projects a particular book will sell. All of this is decided up to six months before publication, so that before a book even hits the shelves its visibility to customers is partly predetermined. This doesn’t mean that books without co-op space won’t sell well, or that books with co-op space are launched into sudden bestseller status. It simply means that when a customer walks into a bookstore, just like when a shopper goes into a grocery store, the product placement before them is never haphazard.

Several months before your book is released, be sure to find out if your house will be purchasing co-op, and if so, for which weeks. Knowing these dates is incredibly important, because this is when you are going to do the most publicity and (if you are spending any money on your own) marketing. You’ll want to work the hardest to promote your book during the two or three weeks when it’s most visible in the stores. For the really big retailers – B&N and Borders – your co-op time may differ, so be sure to ask your editor for specific dates and places.

Cover art
Readers often assume that an author has a significant amount of say in what their cover art looks like. It would seem only reasonable that after toiling for years on a six-hundred-page manuscript that an author would get to choose what face it will present to the world. Just as you wouldn’t take your child to be photographed at a professional studio with their hair standing on end and their pants dirty, it is only logical to assume that a writer would get to “dress up” their child for presentation, choosing the colors and appearance of their cover art with care. The truth of the matter is, however, most writers are only minimally consulted about cover art. At the beginning of the publication process, you might be requested to submit a few words about what you envision the cover art to be. If it’s historical fiction based on a particular character, you might be requested to provide a photograph and asked what accessories and clothes the person would have worn. But besides this, there is very little control you have over your cover. Once you see the colors, layout and image of your cover three to five months into the publication process, it’s possible you’ll be asked your opinion about it, but ultimately it is the bookstores that have the trump card. If a Barnes and Nobles representative dislikes the art, for example, it may go back to the drawing board. But if you dislike your cover art because the protagonist has the wrong hair color or is wearing an historically inaccurate piece, the chances of a cover being changed might only be determined by your clout.

If you should find yourself in this position, take several deep breaths, discuss it with your agent, then have your agent approach your editor. Whenever something upsetting occurs, always discuss it with your agent first, then have the agent speak on your behalf. Emotional people make bad business decisions, and throwing a wobbly on the phone to your editor (however close the two of you have become) ranks highly in the bad-decision category.

Get A Professional Website
Right around the time your final book cover appears, you should have a website up and running (or close to it). I don’t mean a free, do-it-yourself website, but a real, professional-looking site with a photo of you that wasn’t taken in the 1980s. When readers go surfing for author websites, they are looking for more information about you, your books, and what’s coming next. If you really feel like going all out, create a page that’s just for Bloggers, or a page that’s just for Book Clubs, where readers and reviewers can contact you to set up talks, guest posts, Q&As, etc. This way, your website isn’t just providing readers with great information, it’s also actively working for you.

Start A Blog
On a similar note, if you’re going to begin a blog, make sure there’s constantly changing content that will keep people coming back day after day. If you’re not sure where to start, check out the range of what other authors are already doing. Great examples include the literature focused blog of C.W. Gortner at Historical Boys, and historical romance author Deanna Raybourn’s eclectic blog. What I really can’t recommend is starting a blog in which the posts are all about your book, your promotional activities, and where you can next be seen on tour. Who in the world is going to want to come back day after day to read that? Besides, news of that sort should be featured on your website under a “News” section (unless you find it easier to update blogs versus your website. In which case, make it clear you are not writing a blog, but an author-news page). Of course, if your blog has a theme or interesting content other than your promotional activities, it doesn’t hurt to slip in a post every now and again about your own books. But don’t waste your time devoting an entire blog to it. The masses won’t come, and you’ll be blogging in an echo chamber.

Get To Know Reviewers
There are hundreds upon hundreds of reviewers out there, many of whom would gladly review your book if given the opportunity (and a free copy). Every author receives copies of their own book after publication, and the day these arrive at my house is the same day they leave, signed to several dozen reviewers I’ve met online. Along with signed copies, I also ask the reviewers if they would like to guest post on a particular topic of their choosing, a Q&A of their own making, and whether they’d like two free books to give away on their site. I do this until my books run out. This doesn’t mean you should expect a good review (after all, you want the reviewers to be honest, otherwise their readers won’t trust them), but you can expect “free” publicity. Book bloggers are some of the friendliest people in the world. They are also incredibly kind, and an email asking if they’d like a book to review is almost always answered with a yes (assuming you actually read their blog and know that it’s the right blog to review your book).

Look to the newspapers
Writing an op-ed piece for a newspaper is a fantastic way of creating a little extra buzz for your book. Historical fiction author Robin Maxwell has contributed several columns to the Huffington Post, many of which mention the subject of her previous books and all of which come with a bio. If you don’t think you have anything to say which would warrant an entire column in a major newspaper, start thinking in terms of historical metaphors. In one of Robin’s columns, she compares Hillary Clinton to Anne Boleyn, the subject of her debut novel. By writing this piece, she increased awareness of her work and added a publishing credit to her already long list. Visibility never hurts. Just take a look at the hoopla surrounding Sherry Jones’ novel The Jewel of Medina about the prophet Mohammed’s nine-year-old wife. What began with an outraged reviewer and subsequent cancellation of her book turned into a publicity juggernaut. Almost any publicity is good publicity. If you don’t believe that, just take a peek at James Frey’s Amazon numbers three years after the publication of A Million Little Pieces, the faux memoir that caused Oprah to cry – and not in a good way. Of course, Amazon purchases count for a very small percentage of a book’s overall sales, but nevertheless, the point remains. Publicity is your friend, and when it comes for free, it’s your BFF.

Consider Hiring an Outside Publicist
While every author wants publicity, the in-house publicist who has been assigned to you is busy. In fact, she’s more than busy, she’s overwhelmed and probably spread too thin. She has many books to tend to, some of which may have been written by larger and more successful authors than you. Even if you’re not at the bottom of the totem pole, you’re still not going to be receiving weekly emails updating you on where books are being sent, and you’re almost certainly not going to be getting phone calls asking which publicity ideas are your favorites and whether they should be implemented this week or next. The fact that your in-house publicist can’t do all of this for you isn’t personal, it’s simply business. She is already doing everything she can to help your career and is probably even going out of her way to follow up on leads that may or may not go anywhere (unless you’ve acted like a jerk, in which case she’s not going out of her way. With so many authors to juggle, who needs high-maintenance whiners?). Given all of this, it is possible that you may want to look into hiring an outside publicist, assuming that you’re given the okay by your House.
The time to hire an outside publicist is a year before your book comes out. This will give the new publicist time to read your work, come up with a plan, and hopefully begin implementing some of the more elaborate ideas long before your in-house publicist is even allowed to start working on your book (typically three to five months before publication). A publicist is paid in a variety of ways. Some charge by the project, others work at an hourly rate (expect a quote of $50-$150/hr), while still others work month by month and will expect you to commit to a minimum number of hours for a minimum number of months. Usually, the minimum number of months is three, which is really a very short time for a good publicist to put together and implement a fantastic plan.

How do you know if a publicist is going to be worth it, since most will cost at least $10,000? Look at her list of past and current clients, then email them and ask their opinions. However, keep in mind that no one can guarantee a review in the NYT, and anyone who tells you differently probably has a side business selling used watches out of their trench-coat. Instead, what a good publicist can do for you is guarantee exposure. I happened to be at RWA in San Francisco while I was looking for a publicist, and after hearing author Debbie Macomber praise her publicist Nancy Berland, I had a meeting with a Borders Book Buyer, who also recommended Nancy (out of the blue). Thinking that this was surely some sort of a sign, I did some research on my own, then decided to hire Nancy to help publicize (and market) my third book, Cleopatra’s Daughter.


Consider Doing Some of Your Own Marketing
Once the first chunk of your advance comes through (it’s often sent in thirds: the first third upon signing, the second upon acceptance of the edited manuscript, and the last third upon publication) you may want to set aside a percentage for marketing. This can be anywhere from $500 to a whopping $150,000. If $150,000 sounds like an eye-popping amount, it certainly is, but some of the really big authors do set aside those kind of dollars for their outside publicists to market their work (or brand, in their case). For most authors, however, a few thousand dollars is more than enough, and once those dollars are set aside, the difficult job of deciding where to spend that money begins. Marketing can be done almost anywhere, and when I was looking into marketing my debut novel, I checked out every possibility, from radio commercials to phone booths (yes, all five remaining ones). I even checked out billboards and movie theatre advertising.

The conclusion I came to was that online marketing gets the biggest bang for your buck. You’ve heard it before, and probably ad nauseum, but the internet is the future (and present) of advertising. When Perez Hilton can charge $18,000 for a week’s worth of advertising on his site and have so many ads they are stacked one on top of the other, there’s money to be made online. And he doesn’t make that money without good reason. Whether or not you like his site, 49 million viewers a week check in, and that’s a lot of eyeballs on your ad if you decide to buy a spot there. Ads like his can be purchased for enormous discounts through M.J. Rose, who also offers her fantastic Author Buzz service to new authors (in fact, if money is tight and you can do only one thing for your book, this might be it).

When choosing where to advertise, consider your book’s target audience. I don’t just mean male or female, old or young. I mean what do your readers do with their spare time? Are they gardeners or café dwellers? Do they own cats or dogs? When considering this for my debut novel on ancient Egypt, cat lovers sprang to mind, and of all of my ads, the ones on cat-related sites have done the best. I also saw significant click-through on romance sites, even though my books aren’t romance. Don’t be afraid to call up or email places like the NYT or CNN to ask for their advertising rates. But before you do, be familiar with the lingo, because some of the bigger sites, like USA Today, will quote you prices in terms of CPM (cost per mille, which is Latin for a thousand) and ask what your ideal flight date is (a date which should correspond with your co-op).

When looking into places to advertise, some authors will consider radio ads, but my guess is that if you're going to do radio, you need to already be a recognized brand. Since there's nothing for the listener to see, they must decide to purchase or not purchase the book based on a name. King is a brand. Patterson is a brand. For an author who isn't widely known, visual is probably better. I think radio is a reminder to readers that a new [insert brand name] has come out, whereas TV commercials can flash the book cover of an unknown author and see a bigger movement in sales. I would need to ask my marketing department to back me up on this, but that's my gut feeling.

Of course, an author can choose not to do any marketing at all. For my first novel, I set aside a part of my advance for it. But for my second novel, I did very little. Instead, my publishing house was willing to do most of the extra marketing (which I had done previously) on their own budget, and this is where knowing the difference between marketing and publicity (and meeting the people who work in these departments) comes in. Once you’ve done some of your own advertising and you know firsthand what works, you’re in a much stronger position to email your marketing department and ask if they would like to foot the bill for a particular ad. Sometimes it will be a yes, sometimes it will be a no, but it’s much more likely to be a “yes” if you can prove it’s worked in the past.

Yet even with my publishing house paying for more ads, when my third novel comes out next year, I will be back to doing my own marketing. This isn’t because my house will be doing less (Crown is wonderfully supportive, and any author who lands there is lucky indeed). It’s because I believe that pitching-in is a good business decision. Moreover, the one who pays the bill is the one who has the control over the look and layout of the ads, over where the online ads should be linked, and which dates the ads should run. Being in control is rather nice, and I’ve discovered that although I’m a Type B personality in everyday life, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I morph rapidly into a Type A when it comes to business decisions. Not only that, it’s a matter of already having done the hard work. Since I took the time find out which online sites worked best for my first novel (and which designers could be counted on to produce something eye-catching in a timely fashion), purchasing an ad here and there no longer takes the time that it used to.

Create A Book Trailer
Books trailers come in many shapes and sizes, and by this I mean anything from home-made movies to studio productions. A book trailer can be made for any type of novel, from nonfiction (Google the trailer for The Dangerous Book For Boys, for example) to adult fiction (see The Judas Strain) to YA (Rumors). If you decide to make a trailer for your book, the first thing you’ll need to consider is your budget. If you’re doing something produced at home, well then, no worries, but if you want to have photos with professional voiceover and copyrighted music, you’ll be looking at spending at least $800. For something more upscale an author can hire a company like Expanded Books which made CW Gortner’s trailer for his novel The Last Queen. And for a trailer made by an actual director who will use green-screen, hire actors, rent costumes, rustle up props and have an on-set stylist, you’re looking at $5000 or so. I found the director I hired to shoot my book trailer for Cleopatra’s Daughter on GalleyCat (you can see the trailer on CleopatrasDaughter.com). Brady Hall was punctual, charming, enthusiastic, and best of all, open to any and all ideas. From concept to finished product, it took about a month.

Once your book trailer is finished, however, an author needs to start thinking about unique ways of utilizing it. Will you be playing it in theatres, using it for commercials, navigating the right channels to display it on B&N.com, or will you simply be posting it on YouTube and hoping for the best? Publishers rarely pay for book trailers themselves, since there’s no way of knowing whether or not they work. Of course, you can always incorporate the trailer into an online ad and study the click-thus versus a static or flash ad. Then, armed with these numbers, perhaps your publisher will be more willing to pay for the next one. If not, an author must look at those numbers him/herself and determine whether the cost is worth it.

Get The Inside Scoop
Getting the inside scoop means knowing which options are available to your publishing house for promoting and marketing your book. By becoming familiar with these various options, you can be in the position of mentioning them to your editor or marketing contact as possibilities. Why wouldn’t your publishing house simply act on these options versus waiting for you to bring them up? Because many of them are expensive, require extra time, and are only done for the books that are being given a huge marketing push.

The White Box, Red Box program is something your publishing house can choose to participate in if they so desire. It is run through Indie Bound, which will send red and white colored boxes to all of the independent bookstores on their list. In the boxes are things like ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies), tear-off shelf-talkers (paper displays which sit on the shelf and draw the reader’s attention to a particular book), easel-back signs, posters, postcards, bookmarks and more. Each of these items come with a different price tag. In 2005, for example, sending a shelf-talker each to the nine hundred participating stores costs $50, while bookmarks cost $350. If you send these items to a bookstore on your own, the chances are that they will end up in the garbage (and cost a pretty penny to produce and mail). That is what makes WBRB so useful.

The White Box, Red Box program, however, isn’t the only way of sending out these promotional items. Shelf-talkers can also be shipped to the big chains, like B&N and Borders. Getting them made will require the permission of your marketing department, as will floor displays (which go under co-op.) You’ve seen these cardboard stands in B&N, featuring twelve of an author’s most recent books. They are quite pricey to make and ship, but if your publishing house hasn’t mentioned them, ask anyway. The answer will probably be no, but it’s worth a shot! And a firm “not possible” this time around just might turn into a “let’s see what we can do” for the next book.

Stay Positive
One would think that this goes without saying, but a quick skim of DearAuthor.com can tell you that many authors suffer from badreviewaphobia. This is the abnormal fear, and possibly even the uncontrollable rage, over a poor review. Take it as a fact that there will be readers who dislike your book. Forget dislike. There will be reviewers who loathe your book entirely (and maybe even you). Justified or not, it is exceptionally foolish of an author to get into an online debate with a reviewer who doesn’t like your book. Worse still is the author who sneakily asks a friend to go online and bash the reviewer. Take my word on this: you will be found out. In one way or another, even if no one can prove it, this will be discovered and readers will not trust your reviews or your books after this. So don’t do it. Aside from the fact that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, it is just poor form (and possibly karma – the jury is still out on this) to go after someone who is simply posting a review of how the book made them feel. There is no pleasing everyone, and if you got into publishing to be universally applauded, you are in the wrong business. Even if the reviewer completely got the name of your narrator wrong and is erroneous on several other points, let other readers point that out. If no one does, take a big old sip of that refreshing drink called Suck-it-up. You will face worse things in your career. Of course, you can insist that correcting a reviewer is simply standing up for your own work and that speaking out is your responsibility. Well… okay. But if you find readers making snarky comments about you on blogs over it, don’t say I didn’t I warn you. And if you think defending your reputation by going onto web forums or blogs in the guise of an anonymous poster (or more obvious, a new poster) is going to help sort things out, well then… there’s just no helping some people.

Think Outside the “Box”
Lastly, don’t be afraid to try new ways of publicity and marketing, even if you’ve never heard of anyone else doing it before. This is what a great publicist will do for you, and what you want to do for yourself. There are so many ways of promoting a book that aren’t widely used, and many of them are free. You can host a cyber-launch party for yourself, which is what Elle Newmark did with her self-published novel now entitled The Book of Unholy Mischief. The cyber party began on Tuesday, and one week later she was signing a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster for seven figures. Or perhaps you want to set up your own virtual blog tour, which also comes “free” and is a great way of spreading the word about a book. Facebook, Myspace, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari – all of these are virtual avenues you may want to check out. Research, explore, and above all, save a little of that advance money in case any of the more expensive ideas appeal to you. No one thing can vault your book to bestseller status, but you can certainly give it the best chance possible by being proactive.

But why should I do all of this? For:
This reason
And this reason
And this


   
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