Book Marketing 101 by Bobby Ozuna

Bobby Ozuna is a public speaker,  internet talk show host, co-founder to the READ3Zero foundation for kids, host to blog talk radio’s The Indie Author Show, and the author of Proud Souls. I am pleased that Bobby has allowed me to post this information about book marketing. Bobby says:

By demand and an earnest desire to help the many people who appear lost when it comes to the most effective way to brand or market themselves, I thought I would offer some tips for consideration when working to develop a place for your business, organization or art–outside of the actual product. This is what’s called brand-building.

A vast majority of my work involves authorship, but these tips can be applied to any business venture. If you wish to sale a product, then you have to learn to think beyond the product. It’s not good enough to say (using books as an example) [that] “I wrote a book and now everyone should buy it.” Like any successful business, you have to first consider the consumer. People spend money everyday, on something or many things–some of which are true desires to possess (needs) and others are simply purchases based on a good sale to their desire to own something else (wants).

Here are some things to consider when establishing a brand or marketability within your respective field. I use book publishing or authorship as an example here, but you should truly consider aspects of these examples when working to sell your product, contrary to what that may be.

1. Establishing a Web Presence

What does your website signify and is it created and written (and re-worked on a continual basis) to help search engines (potential customers) find you? How much time do you spend learning about the best ways to optimize (SEO) your website and online presence?

In today’s fast moving society of high-tech gadgetry it isn’t enough for an author to be content with simply “having a book on Amazon” (or any other online retail store). It is not acceptable either for an author to say, “I don’t know how to do this stuff” or worse “I can’t learn it.” Whether you chose to publish independently or had little or no choice to see your work in print, if you plan on making a dent in today’s book buying consumer base, then you will have to learn how to establish (at the very least) a web presence that builds on your credibility of your book(s) subject material. If you aren’t interested in building a website or quite possibly, can’t afford a good web developer/designer, there are many free tools you can utilize. Something after all, is better than nothing at all. Personally, I am a fan of blogs and all their optimization (SEO) functionalities to help you gather customers based on your sites material. Establishing a web presence is easy but maintaining the data and staying current is the hard part, because it requires continual effort. I have listed some points to consider as you design and refine your marketing plan.

Questions you might ask yourself when evaluating your present website and/or blog, including any social networking media you might incorporate.

What does my website signify? What does it say about me as a person or literary professional? Are you utilizing every social networking site for fun, or to help establish your place in relation to your artwork? For instance, many people use Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and a blog. (These are are great places to start building your online/web presence…hint, hint.) BUT, if you skim through these sites of your fellow author and publisher (and of course, your own material), you might find they are spending an ample of amount of time discussing the weather or their favorite sports game and rarely, if ever, discussing their book’s subject material. If you have a MySpace, Facebook, etc., you want to incorporate links to your storefront, images of your book cover and of course, summations of every blog post for people to navigate to and read. That leads us to one of the most important aspects of developing your web presence: Becoming the expert!

Becoming the Expert:
A major part of branding and marketing your book publishing business is solidifying your expertise within your book’s genre or field. Article writing is by far the best way to get this done. If you have a blog (if you don’t go get one now!) or website, you want to start working on a plan to contribute at least (at the very least) two articles per week about your book’s subject matter. You can use these articles as a means to discuss or share quotations from your book and also interview other people, share tips & tricks or help develop others. These people you help are potential book buyers! If people trust your information, then they will surely trust your book. The more consistent you are with refining and defining your online presence, the greater chance of exposure and of course, possibilities for selling your business’s product: YOUR BOOK!

Branding Tip:
Most of us wrote a book, then worked to develop our credibility for the information. Pretend instead, you were the subject matter expert already who HAPPENED to write a book. If you approach  marketing from this perspective, it will help shed light on new methods for marketing your businesses credibility (you) and your book’s material (book) and ultimately, give way for people (followers) to trust you enough to purchase your product (sales).

2.  Marketability

How are you trying to sell your work and have you determined your actual market? Trying to sell book products to people who don’t read or (let’s say) other authors who are competing against you? Are you working to establish an online presence that is catchy (building on wants) of those who fall into your customer base?

If I said the word marketing and then listed some random words, such as: soda, car & shoe, it would be relatively easy to guess what words or businesses came to your mind when you heard me say them. For soda, you might have considered Coke or Pepsi. For car you may have thought of Ford or Chevy and lastly, for shoe, the odds are pretty good you thought of Nike or at the very least, the Nike swoosh symbol. This is what’s called Top-Of-Mind marketing and branding. Top-of-Mind, being, the very first word(s) or business models that comes to your mind when a list of words are mentioned. When a business is working to focus its attention on a certain customer base or “corner of the market” it is imperative they understand just who their customers are and work within their niche to build an effective marketing plan to target that audience.

As an example, I work for Texas based children’s author (Melissa M. Williams/Iggy the Iguana) but my own work of fiction (Proud Souls) would never be considered for marketing to the same audience. Why? Well, (if it wasn’t obvious) my material is written for adults NOT children. I don’t even tell children much about my book, apart from saying, I’m a writer too! It sounds like a relatively simple thing to do, but if at the end of the day, the name of the game is sales, then why would I spend my time (or waste my time depending upon how you measure the quality and cost of your time) talking about, sharing or trying to sale a product to a consumer base that won’t purchase my product(s)?

This installment deals with marketability or your ability to market a product effectively to a particular customer base. Take these points into consideration and these suggestions as you work (and rework and rewrite) to develop your marketing strategy.

a.) Know your customers:

If you write for children, then you need to be in front of children. You need to create a product that doesn’t always fit WHAT YOU THINK is the best product for a child (or children) but what they like. Get out there and ask them. Meet with kids, conduct author visits, and school presentations and ask them what they think of your product. They are after all your entire customer base. If your book is niche, or based on events or circumstances for adults, then find the people who will identify with it the most, and get their perspective. You can offer books for free, to generate a buzz, get some reviews, offer free readings, etc. 

b.) Appeal to your audience

You don’t want to create a cover that is too adult for children anymore than you want to create a cover that is too childish for adults. Look at other books in your genre and get a feel for cover styles. If you aren’t sure, ask yourself the next time  you are in a bookstore. If I read this genre and I walk down that genre’s aisle, what books pop out and grab my attention? Is it a bold title on the spine? Is it an image? Is it dark? Light? The cover design should correlate with your book’s theme, that after all is an old trick of playwriters from ages ago.

c.)  Streamline your visual aids

When you think of shoe, you most likely think of Nike. When you think of Nike, you most likely think of the swoosh sign. This isn’t a coincidence but targeted, planned and effective results of good marketing. If you have a profile picture, it should be the SAME one you use on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and your website. If you have a cover design image on the Internet, it should be the same as well, everywhere. Your business logo on your blog or website should match what’s on your book cover, etc. The idea is to brand one cover design, with one business logo and one author profile picture. That way, when someone sees you on Twitter they may recognize you from Facebook. If they find you posting comments on a book blog, they will recognize you from MySpace, etc. Your job is to make sure people know what you look like, what you wrote, and what your book cover looks like…without thinking twice!

d.) Learn to be convincing–and believe it!
Does one shoe make you run faster than another? Does one energy drink truly make you a better athlete? Does one laptop or personal computer help you work any better than the other? No, no and no…but…the sales and marketing staff at each of these organizations will work to make you believe otherwise. That is the power of a good marketing campaign. If your book deals with overcoming loss (non-fiction) and you have been through devastating loss and rejuvination, then YOU ARE THE EXPERT! You after all, have written a book about the subject! Get out there on blogs, guest blogs, radio shows, Facebook, MySpace, support groups, etc. and remind the people how YOUR information and knowlegde helped save your life…and how it can save theirs too! Period.

e.) Become the expert

I can’t stress this point enough. I read once that if you work at anything (consistently) for five years, you become the subject matter expert. Trust me, it may seem like you’re not at times and because of a lack of sales, you may not feel like the expert, but you are! The little things you learned and forgot you learned along the way are the very things someone else is looking for. Why not be the one who feeds them continuous content to help them get where you are? By posting articles, podcasts, interviews, etc., on a continuous (continous) basis, you are allowing people a chance to trust you and with that trust and learning, will come sales–if you have a product–and what better product to sum up your knowledge than a book?

f.) If I like you–I will like your product

Someone told me once that we write because it is our gift and we work hard at it so the world will fall in love with our work. We blog–or utilize any social networking website–so people will fall in love with us. If you want to sale books you must believe in them. If you want to sale books you must be your books biggest and greatest advocate and NOT sit around waiting on someone else to love it or promote it or believe in it more than you! If you want to sale books, then you have to learn to be personable enough that people LIKE you enough to give your art (your work, your product) a chance. Remember who you were when you were just starting out…how much you loved talking about your book…without query letters, sales pitches, guidelines, etc…? That person could inspire the world without any formal effort. Don’t let the formalities destroy the beauty in your heart…to share with the world what is in your soul.

3.  Credibility

Do you write articles, teach classes, offer lectures, that solidify your expertise within your market? Are you available to help others learn how to do what you are (working) to accomplish? To help others with a serving spirit, doesn’t hinder your ability to make money, but rather opens more doors for opportunity by helping others along the way.

4. Consistency

How often are you working online to develop a TOM (top of mind) marketing presence. As an example, when people think car company, do they think Chevy or Ford? When they think (for example) of your product line, art, book genre, etc., do they think of you or your works title? What have you done to help establish that want, based on your businesses product. Your product is not only your item for sale, but YOU!

5. Time

If you are writing a book or trying to sale a book to make money only, people can see right through that. And that, makes you no different than the hundreds of thousands of other authors on the market. What makes you (YOUR BUSINESS) different than the next? What do you offer a community, a market, consumers, etc that truly makes your business worth investing in–and ultimately–buying your product? I read once that anything you do for five years [you] become the expert at. All of this work takes TIME, but if you believe in your product, if you believe in your passion, etc., then time is in your favor, not working against you.

These are a few of the various points to consider when working to write your marketing plan, develop a marketing model and lastly, create your web model (links to) your various websites.

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Help Other Writers be More Visible

Anne Lyken-Garner, today’s guest,  is a writer and blogger. You can find her writing blog here:  A Blogger’s Books. Also check out: How to Spend Less by Anne Lyken-Garner. Anne says:

Most writers write about their books on their blogs, or share their links on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and StumbleUpon. These could be extremely helpful mediums through which we could promote ourselves and our work. 

The problem is, we can’t do it on our own. Spamming is terribly prevalent on the Internet and as soon as you’re recognised or noted for being one, the impact you make and the links you share – helpful or not – get painted with the brush of suspicion. 

The way to overcome this as writers is to help each other to become more visible. None of us could be a powerful member on all the social media sites. However, we each have our following or our fan base on our own little patch on the net. If we all helped each other in our own small corner, this could be a good thing for all of us. There are several ways in which we could increase each other’s visibility, but some of them can be slightly complicated. Here are four very easy ones which most of us have the ability to do. 

Follow blogs 

Most of us have blogs. Following other writers’ blogs shows their visitors that they’ve got a solid community. Your stamp of approval makes it easier for browsers looking for writing information to decide to follow them too. More readers mean more new visitors. Visitors translate into more authority for their blogs when the search engines send out their crawlers. A blog that has more authority and ranking is good for all involved because it means your tiny picture on the ‘follow’ panel is exposed to more traffic.

Furthermore, you will be able to see their new updates on your blog’s dashboard. 

Link to other writers’ posts 

If you find something interesting on your fellow writer’s site, link to it in one of your posts. Obviously this is to be done responsibly with the appropriate credits etc. This sort of exposure introduces your colleague to your readers and helps them to discover something new and interesting. Your job as a blogger/writer is to impart knowledge. Give your readers something good, worthwhile and different. They will love you for it.

Linking to other sites also increases their weight and authority where Google is concerned. Many bloggers won’t do this for nothing, but I do. My purpose for writing and blogging is not just for personal gain. I will link freely to sites and articles with the appropriate credits, if I think something is worth sharing. My readers are worth it. 

Tweet their posts 

Most of the writers on the Internet have now got twitter accounts. Tweet good posts now and then and help other writers to be visible on Twitter. There are thousands of other writers there. This has a two-fold purpose: not only will you be known for tweeting quality links on writing, but your colleague will gain some traffic from the link you shared. People notice when you’ve tweeted their work, and this ‘favour’ will come back to you triple-fold. 

Stumble their posts 

In my opinion, StumbleUpon is probably the best social media site to drive traffic to your blog. Some submissions don’t always make a big splash, but when they do, they’re huge. If you’re a member of StumbleUpon and you pay attention to what others are submitting, lending your support to their interests, your stumbles will soon get the attention of other users on the site. 

Use your networking skills not only to build up your own fan base, but to help other writers along in their journeys too. In an age where Literary Agents and Publishers are holding back on marketing their authors’ work, we have to turn to each other to get where we want to be.

How to Set Up a Blog Book Tour and Why You Should

Alan Baxter is an optimistic cynic and dark speculative fiction author, based on the South Coast of New South Wales, Australia. His writing is primarily based in the magical, the spiritual, the religious and the arcane with tendencies towards horror, depravity and battles between light and dark. Baxter says:

A blog book tour is a great way to generate buzz about you and your book. It’s essentially free, it generates a lot of hits on your site and others, and it creates an ongoing interest in your work. As a result of a blog tour, your books and name will gain exposure to potentially thousands of new readers. And all it really costs is time and effort on your part.

Any author, however they’re published, needs media attention. The new media of blogging and social networking is a great tool to use to your advantage. Working with other people, cross posting on a variety of media, gives you a saturation coverage for a period of time that can have excellent ongoing results.

So what is it? A blog book tour is essentially taking your books out on the virtual road, in much the same way that authors would traditionally tour the country, visiting various bookstores promoting their work. In this case, an author visits a different blog every day where they engage in various activities (interviews, guest posts, reviews and so on) and make themselves and their books known to the audience of that particular blog. There’s great cross-promotion as the writer’s audience gets exposed to a variety of blogs they might not have discovered otherwise (which is good for the blog owner) and that blog’s existing audience learns about the author and his or her work.

I currently have two novels out, RealmShift and MageSign, and it was these two books that I recently took on a blog book tour. My books are available in print and ebook format and I also have a novella available as a free ebook, Ghost Of The Black: A ‘Verse Full Of Scum. By taking my two novels on the virtual road, I opened up my both those novels, my free novella and my other work featured on my website to a wide audience that may never have heard of me or my writing before. It also helped to increase exposure to my indie press, Blade Red Press. Building an author platform online is essential for indie authors and a blog book tour like this is a great way to expand that platform.

It helps to offer something special. I really wanted to make an aspect of this tour something attractive — a special offer for people following along. It’s difficult with the print editions of my books through Amazon or places like that to make any changes in the short term. However, all my books are available as ebooks in a variety of places including Smashwords.com. With Smashwords there’s an excellent degree of control for the author/publisher. With any title you have there it’s possible to generate vouchers to vary the cost of your books however you please. So that means that I was able to set up a voucher code that was made available to anyone following the tour, valid only for the duration of the tour. If those people then came to Smashwords to buy RealmShift or MageSign they could enter that code and the books only cost them $1 each, instead of the usual $3.50. Giving very cheap or free content has proven itself many times over as an excellent way of generating interest in new work and it also gives people an added reason to check out the blog tour.

As for how successful a blog book tour can be, it depends on how much work an author puts in? With anything in this game it’s all about how much work you do. It’s also about working smart. If you get involved with a variety of blogs, with a widely varying audience, and you ask those people to promote the tour for you, then a lot of publicity can be generated. You can also make sure that you and those others involved cross-media promote with things like Twitter, Facebook and so on, to attract as many potential readers as possible.

To set up a blog book tour you firstly need, of course, a quality product to promote. Then it’s a case of contacting the owners of blogs that you think are relevant to you and your book. For me it was based on blogs that I read a lot or that are owned by other indies I’ve met or that had a fan base interested in the kind of writing I do, which is speculative fiction. There were also some blogs of friends and one blog that I’m an active contributor to. I contacted them all, asked if they’d get involved and asked what sort of thing they could host for me. I explained how the extra traffic could be a boon for them and then, if they agreed, we worked together to decide what I would do there.

It’s important to have variety. If you just go to a different blog every day and say, “Check out my book!” you’re going to bore people pretty quickly. It was essential in my mind to create something that people would want to follow every day, to see something new each time. The best explanation is to show the itinerary of the tour I did in July. I ended up with a ten-day tour that looked like this:

Day one: Guest post: Dark Fantasy – What is it exactly? – Monday 20th July at The Creative Penn. This is a blog all about indie authorship, but Jo is hosting a blog from me about the genre of my writing. It’s something new for her readers and hopefully interesting for everyone.

Day Two: Interviewed by Leticia Supple – Tues 21st July at Brascoe Books Blog. Brascoe Books is an small press in South Australia, so Leticia interviewed me about the nature of going it alone, the process of editing and so on.

Day Three: Guest post: Writing a good fight scene – Wed 22nd July at David Wood Online. David is another indie author – he writes action adventure novels with a speculative edge. As I’m often complimented on writing convincing fight scenes (my “day job” is as a kung fu instructor) he asked me to write about writing fight scenes.

Day Four: Interviewed by April Hamiltion – Thurs 23rd July at Publetariat. Publetariat is a hub site for indie authors, telling them all they need to know about self-publishing and indie publishing, from print to ebooks to just about everything. This is the site I’m a contributor to already, so April interviewed me about my experiences.

Day Five: Guest post: Demons and where to find them – Friday 24th July at Joan De La Haye’s blog. Joan writes in a similar genre to me and has a fascination with demons. She always has a Demon Friday post where she writes about a different demon every week. In this case, she gave the Friday over to me and I wrote about demons in general. Again, this is something different for her readers as well as being something interesting for those following the tour.

Day Six: Wily Writers published my short story “Stand Off” (featuring Isiah, the protagonist from RealmShift and MageSign) as both text and podcast – Sat 25th July. This was a great result for me, to get a story published and podcasted alone is a great result. To have it key in with the tour so nicely was fantastic.

Day Seven: Ruthie reviews MageSign – Sun 26th at Ruthie’s Book Reviews. This one was a bit of a risk. Ruthie agreed to review the second book, MageSign, and post the review to coincide with her day of the tour. It worked out as she loved the book and gave it 4/5 stars!

Day Eight: Pat Bertram interviews Isiah, the protagonist from RealmShift and MageSign – Mon 27th July at Pat Bertram Introduces. Pat often hosts interviews with the characters from books, which is a great idea. This was a fun one to do.

Day Nine: Guest post: Indie authors and the future – Tues 28th July at Musings Of An Aussie Writer. Brenton is another Aussie author and he asked me to talk about the nature of indie publishing and how I see things progressing as time passes.

Day Ten: Guest post: The inspiration for RealmShift and MageSign, what they’re about and what’s next – Wed 29th July at The Furnace. The last day here is me talking directly about the books, which is the first time on the tour that I’ve done that, and also talking about my future projects.

As you can see, I tried to build an interesting and varied experience for everyone involved to enjoy. Hopefully, with ongoing and interesting content like this, plenty of people will follow your tour, comment on those blog posts and generate lots of discussion and interaction. It will hopefully interest people enough that it also generates a few sales. Mine certainly did.

It was hard work and took a lot of co-ordination with other people to pull it off. It meant keeping in touch with those blog owners, putting together a lot of content for them to host and sending out a lot of reminders to make sure everything went smoothly. But it was worth it. I saw a definite spike in sales of both print and electronic editions of my books during the tour and I’ve hopefully piqued enough peoples’ interest that they’ll remember me and maybe buy my books in the future.

(Incidentally, if you’re interested in any of the articles listed above, they’re still available to read. Another advantage of a blog tour. You can find direct links to all those blog book tour posts, along with a wrap up of some sales and web-hit stats from the tour, here: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/2009/08/02/blog-book-tour-wrap-stats.html )

The Magic of Social Networking

Writing a book was hard. Editing it was harder, and finding a publisher even harder. Waiting for it to be released after acceptance was murderous, and now promoting the book is . . .

Ha! Bet you thought I was going to say it was hardest of all — most authors find promoting to be an arduous task, but not me. I enjoy it. What’s not to like? I get to meet wonderful people and have wonderful conversations. I get to write articles about anything I want and post them all over the internet. I get to . . . well, those two points are enough. Or should be. My books are still so new that they haven’t developed momentum, but I do believe that social networking is an incredible tool for book promotion.

Goethe wrote, “What you can do, or dream you can, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” So, gather a bit of boldness and begin. Join sites like Facebook and Goodreads. Add friends. Take the time to get to know people by commenting on your new friends’ content, by sharing with links to some of your new friend’s articles and content. And bit by bit the magic happens.

Let me share some of the magic that has happened to me.

I had the honor of hosting Michael Palmer’s very first guest appearance on a blog. How magical is that?

I had the privilege of meeting Bruce DeSilva, the writing coach for Associated Press, who introduced me (virtually speaking) to his wonderful wife, the poet Patricia Smith. Or is it his wife, the wonderful poet Patricia Smith? Either way, a remarkable experience.

I managed to impress award-winning ad exec Marshall Karp with the way I promoted his stop at Bertram’s Blog during his blog tour. Still don’t know how I did that. I just thought I was having fun.

Through one of my Facebook discussion groups, I met Rita Schiano, who is going to interview me live on her blogtalkradio show, Talk To Me  . . . Conversations with Creative, Unconventional People. Being a bit nervous, since I have not spoken before a group of people in decades, I posted articles asking for advice on both Gather and Facebook, and I received the most wonderful tips and suggestions. So if I screw up, it’s my own fault. (One bit of advice I got is to not talk longer than 2 minutes at a time, but it’s probably the one suggestion I won’t be able to follow. I do tend to rhapsodize about social networking. As if you haven’t figured out already.)

Am I bragging? Maybe, but the truth is, I am honored to have met these people and to have shared a moment of their lives. But it would never have happened if I hadn’t created a presence on Facebook and various other social networking sites.

The key to social networking is to be social. Spamming people with mass emails is not social. Nor is setting up a profile and expecting it to run itself. You need to add friends and take time to get to know them. Update your status frequently and include interesting links so your new friends seek you out. Reward those who post great content by leaving a comment or participating in their discussions. You need to take an interest in them. It’s up to you. You can treat book promotion as an arduous task, or you can be bold, give a bit of yourself, and perhaps create magic.

The Book Promotion Puzzle

Writing means many things to many people. It is like a mythic journey into self, other lands, other minds. It is like archeology, like exorcising demons, like channeling, like performance, like a faucet. It is like having an adventure. It is uniquely human, and it brings out the divine in us. It is breathing, a compulsion, a necessity, a reason for living, an obsession, a fun pastime. It is exhilarating and frustrating. It is liberating. And it is like comfort food, chocolate, and cherries. It is like magic.

Because of this mystic connection to their words, other writers don’t seem to understand why I can stop writing to promote my newly published books. For me, writing is like the world’s longest crossword puzzle, one that takes a year to complete. I like playing with words, finding their rhythm, and getting them to behave the way I want. I like being able to take those words and create ideas, characters, and emotions. Amazing when you think about it, how we can juggle twenty-six symbols in different ways to create words, sentences, paragraphs, worlds. And what one person writes, another can read.

The puzzle of promotion is every bit as intriguing to me as the puzzle of putting a novel together. We are told that to promote ourselves we need to blog, to social network, to participate in discussion forums, to create a presence on the Internet. But these things don’t work. At least not by themselves. How do I know this? If they worked, most authors would be successful enough to quit their day jobs, yet very few writers ever reach that pinnacle. Sure, some authors don’t promote because they prefer to spend their time writing, some are satisfied with what they have achieved, a few are lazy, but most authors are out there promoting themselves every single day with varying results.

I am successful enough at creating my online persona that, moving from site to site, I meet people who recognize my name. I am not subtle about promoting myself, nor am I annoying (at least I hope not). I don’t force my books down people’s throats — I want readers to feel as if they discovered my books, because that will give them a stake in their success.

Despite all my efforts, I feel as if I am missing an important piece of the puzzle, the key piece that makes sense of the whole. What should I/could I be doing that will translate name familiarity (meager though it might be) into sales? How can I go from where I am to where I need to be?

All things take time to come to fruition, so perhaps time is the missing key to the puzzle. Unfortunately, time is one puzzle no one has ever figured out. Which brings me back to that missing piece.

I do know that promotion is as personal as writing. We need to write the book that only we can write. We need to promote in a way that only we can promote. So, how do we find that? I don’t know. Some people are lucky enough to find the key at the beginning. Others are smart enough or knowledgeable enough to figure it out. Me? I will have to find the missing piece the same way I fill holes in my stories: experimentation. Try everything I can and hope I can stumble upon the solution.

(This article was originally published on Vince Gotera’s blog, The Man With the Blue Guitar.

Negative Reviews: Are They Really Negative?

I am the administrator of the Suspense/Thriller Writers group on Facebook. Our discussion this week was about negative reviews, and Marshall Karp left a comment that I wanted to pass along because I thought you’d find it as helpful as I did.

Marshall Karp, the author of Flipping Out, is an award winning former advertising executive, a playwright, a screenwriter, and a novelist. He has also written, produced, and executive produced TV shows for all the major networks. Karp says: 

Picture this: I walk into a room and 99 people applaud wildly. One guy is just mumbling “here comes that asshole.” Guess who I pay the most attention to? What is it about the negative reviews that seem to always get a writer’s attention?

For years I wrote TV commercials just because they were never reviewed. When I finally wrote a play and then moved on to TV sitcoms, I thought of my negative reviews as Public Shame. As for my great reviews — I just figured I fooled another critic.

I’ve come a long way. These days, I only take a few negative reviews seriously. They come from people I respect, and I try to learn from them. But most of my really negative reviews are downright laughable, so I refuse to take them seriously.

In fact I can now get a lot of mileage — and a lot of laughs — out of my negative reviews. I read them to my audience at book signings. One guy on Amazon gave me one star for my new book FLIPPING OUT. Reason: foul language and sexual references. I write murder mysteries — what are the cops supposed to say — oh fudge?  So I check his profile. He got my latest book free from the Amazon Vine program. Normally he reads Christian Romance and Church Insight. When I tell the story my audience is laughing and I’m quietly blessing this guy for being such a judgmental ass.

Another guy gives me 2 stars for THE RABBIT FACTORY. He too claims not to be much of a mystery reader. I check his other reviews. He gave 5 stars to a Scooby Doo Chia Pet planter, and 4 stars for a Shrek Chia Pet planter. I tell my audience I don’t understand how Scooby can get 5 stars and Shrek only gets 4, but even so, this dude still thinks the Shrek planter is twice as good as my book. All this gets a lot of laughs and a lot of empathy from my audience. And it doesn’t hurt that the reviewer called himself (or herself) Church of the Flaming Sword.

Audiences appreciate a writer who doesn’t take himself too seriously. So reading your negative reviews out loud can go a long way to making people feel good about you. One more thing — I always tell my audience that if they really like my book, don’t just tell me. Tell everyone else.  Post a glowing review on BN.com, amazon, goodreads or any one of a hundred other book sites. I tell them it helps offset the reviews I get from all those Flaming Swords and other Flaming Assholes.

Bottom line — I have learned to make the most of my negative reviews — I even work them to my advantage. It’s those damn raves that always wind up throwing me for a loop.

Thanks for a great topic. See you on Facebook.

Never Be Afraid to Ask

Ian O’Neill, the one-time advertising copywriter turned award winning freelance journalist, is the author of Endo, a mystery/suspense novel set in Ontario, Canada. Ian has written for newspaper, magazine, radio, television and once wrote a dirty limerick on a dusty car but didn’t sign it. Ian writes:

The more technology enters our lives the more we’re able to live at arm’s length – the arm being enormously, freakishly long at times. It means communicating without, in many cases, having to look people in the eyes (their actual eyes, not a webcam version of them). Surprisingly, there are writers harboring a trepidation about not only coming face-to-face with other humans, but simply making requests even at a comfortable, technologically-created distance.

My father may not have had a tremendous amount of formal education but his teachings have stayed with me. One little nugget of knowledge he imparted has served me well in the writing world and stands to help a lot of authors better market their books.

Never be afraid to ask. This is the translated version from my father’s thick Scottish brogue which in it’s original form was, “You’ll never get the jail for asking.” At least not in this part of the world.

Dad was definitely on to something.

Considering the plethora of ways to communicate, some authors still find it difficult to ask for things. Is it in our nature? Is it in a writer’s DNA? Are you Canadian? Factoring in the percentage of writers who are simply shy or nervous about communicating to anyone, you’re left with those not wanting to be perceived as pushy or have anyone thinking they have a big ego.

 Authors with small publishers shoulder the bulk of their book’s promotion burden. This is where many writers vacillate in getting attention for their work. We know so many ways to get the word out. There are hundreds, if not thousands of sites like this one listing ways to promo your work. The problem is the writer has to approach a bookstore owner/manager, a site’s administrator, even their own publisher to get that opportunity.

So, to what kinds of questions am I referring? Questions that, when asked, can promote you and your work and can help sell books. That’s the dirtiest four letter word in any author’s vocabulary – sell.

Putting together a blog tour is difficult if you can’t approach bloggers with a request to participate on their site. This seems like a simple task, but our perceptions of what others think of us gets in the way of what is potentially very good for us. Maybe it’s how you approach people that will make the difference. Always be professional and polite when dealing with anyone — reader, blogger, fellow authors, anyone. This applies to any situation, whether communicating from a distance or in person. Never use net speak; always use proper spelling and grammar. No one wants to see LOL or U or smiley faces. Save those for your casual communications.

What about a book launch? You’ve considered it and are laying the groundwork for a killer launch. Your book has gardening as a key component so you think having an outdoor launch at a local botanical garden is a good idea. Now all you have to do is ask. Get up the gumption to call, e-mail or go in person to find out if what you want is possible. I can’t tell you the number of author’s I’ve spoken to who’ve mentioned plans like these then dropped them a week later. The amount of work and dollars involved may have contributed to their change of mind but many have admitted the interaction intimidation factor.

 What other options does the writer have at their P.R. disposal?

Book signings are a great way to get your name out there. This is a difficult task to accomplish whether you’ve got a publisher setting these up for you or you have to organize one yourself. The biggest challenge is approaching the bookstore with the idea. You’ve made a list of stores including that great indie place you’ve shop at for years. Take a deep breath and ask if they do signings. Then work out any of the details necessary to make it a success. How much advertising will the store do to promote the event? Will they supply all the books? What can they provide for shoppers in the way of refreshments? Get a list of questions down on paper before you even ask if they are willing to do a signing. If it helps, read them over a dozen times out loud to familiarize yourself with them before hand or read them right off the paper. 

Ever venture into a bookstore and see a lonely author sitting at a table, books stacked beside them, pen at the ready but no one is lining up? It’s not uncommon and there are a few things to remember if you are that solo artist. Looking at people and smiling is the first step in breaking down any awkwardness and that usual imaginary barrier that surrounds the table. When someone does approach you, put a book in their hands. We choose books in several ways, not the least of which is by reading the cover copy. Having the book in hand allows for this to happen and it increases the chance of a sale. One book sold opens the possibility for dozens more to sell.

Conventions are a fantastic place to meet readers, potential readers and fellow authors. Again, those bearing the marketing load must take the initiative and ask to be included. It can be daunting but in my experience cons are one of the most receptive at communicating with and including new authors. Find out what booksellers will be attending and staffing a booth in the sales room and ask to have your book among their convention inventory. Bring books with you to your panels and put it in the hand of conventioneers in hopes of sparking their interest.

One of the best selling features of a book is reader reviews. Whether you have a website, blog, Twitter, Facebook or use a mailing list, connect with readers and ask them to give you a positive review. You’d be surprised at how receptive readers are to this especially when you explain that they can be part of your success. It will make readers feel connected to you giving them a more personal stake in the situation.

Worrying that people will see you as egotistical becomes irrelevant when you realize that if you don’t talk about your book, who will? Ask questions and get the ball rolling.

What we’re really talking about here is initiative. Once you establish a course of action you need to be able to approach those involved or in charge and ask for what you need.

The result of writing this post is twofold; I get to impart some knowledge that could help other writers and I get my name and book title mentioned to an established audience. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t asked. Remember, in the end the absolutely worst thing that can happen is someone says no. As writers, that is a common word and by now, holds little weight. We hear it, absorb it and move on to find a yes.