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.

Selling Your Book to Readers — Part I

Today I am honored to have as a guest blogger Seymour Garte, PhD.  Dr. Garte is Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences of the Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, and a member of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute in Pittsburgh PA.  He is also the author of  Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of the Planet. Dr. Garte writes:

You’re still jumping up and down, the phone doesn’t stop ringing. Your agent has sold your book! After all the work writing, editing, rewriting, editing again, entering contests, sending queries, finally landing an agent, suffering through rejections, and being almost sold, the time has come. Your book is going to be published. You made it!!!

Well, actually, not really. Of course being published is wonderful. Only a small fraction of people who write get published. But that is a small fraction of a very, very large number. At any given time there are about 5 million books in press. So a lot of books are getting published. And now that you have joined the ranks of the elite, you are about to come face to face with an issue you might not have thought about much before. How to get your book sold. Not to an agent, not to a publisher, but to readers. Lots of readers. Readers who will buy your book.

Some people don’t care a lot about selling their book. The joy of seeing their baby on the store shelves is enough. But most writers like the idea of other people, strangers even, reading their words. And the phrases “best seller” “New York Times” “Oprah” etc. have a magical ring for most writers. Fame, glory and wealth are really bad reasons to want to be a writer, but . . . hey, if it happens, groovy.

So how do we sell our books to the public? There are two major players in getting a book sold, the publisher and the author. The author’s role is always crucial. Even well known, famous, best selling authors must spend lots of time and energy selling their books. And if you are not famous, and this is a first book, you will find yourself wishing for the easy relaxed days, when all you were thinking about was writing, editing, querying, and submitting.

The first thing to understand is that all attempts to sell a book come under one of two headings — marketing and publicity. Marketing is defined as anything that costs money, like advertising. Most publishers spend very little if any money on marketing new, first author books, so don’t count on a full page ad in the New York Times for your first book. The extent of the publisher’s investment in paid advertising will depend on how successful the publisher thinks the book will be. Since selling a book is expensive, publishers will only invest an amount of money they think they will get back. Of course this is often a self fulfilling prophesy, since the more publishers spend, the more books will be sold, but that does not always follow.

Publicity refers to free advertising, and this is where you will be spending all of your efforts. Publicity includes book reviews, interviews, book signings and readings, blogging, other online discussion of the book, web sites, and if you are lucky, news items or talk shows.

You will not be doing this alone. Publishers hire publicists, generally young, highly overworked people, who will be in charge of all the possible ways to get your book noticed. The first job of the publicist, which starts well before publication is getting the book reviewed. Many writers don’t realize that the vast majority of books are not reviewed. Getting anyone to agree to review a book is a major coup. Then if the review is good, that’s just gravy.

This timing of the review process is very important. No one will review a book published longer than 3 to 6 months ago. And it takes time for reviewers to read the book. This means that review copies need to be sent out to potential reviewers months before the publication date, so that the review can be out around the time of publication. Sometimes the publicist will send out galleys instead of a review copy, if the book has not actually been printed yet.

The period of two months before to three months after publication will be a whirlwind for you as an author. You will experience considerable pressure to complete galley proofing, and getting endorsement blurbs in, so that the book is ready for the press, and so that copies can be sent to reviewers. Delays in the printing and reviewing schedule are bad, because the publisher has already promised to ship printed books to Amazon, and the major bookstores, who could already have gotten advanced orders, and a delay means that they have to tell their customers to wait, which they hate to do. And publishers hate to get booksellers upset at them. All of which means your editor, your publicist and the marketing and sales departments will be calling and emailing you until you get it done. And I mean constantly.

So clear your schedule starting two months before publication. And while you’re at it, keep it clear for the 3 to 6 months also, because as your release date approaches, you are about to really get to work.  You will get to know your publicist very well during this period. I had on average about 15 emails a day from my publicist at the peak, and was on the phone with her at least twice a day. I could not imagine her life, since she was actually working on 10 books simultaneously.

So what does the publicist do, and what do you need to do to get your book sold? Selling Your Book to Readers — Part II discusses this for a non-fiction book based on my own experience, and on talking to publicists and others in the bizz.

Also by Dr. Seymour Garte:
Where We Stand on Selling Non-Fiction vs. Fiction
Selling Your Book to Readers — Part II

Book Marketing: Writing Book Reviews

One way to get attention for your book is to review other authors’ books. The secret is not to treat them like competition, but to be honest and enthusiastic. Show your love of books and writing, and at the end, be sure to put a brief bio of yourself along with the names of your books. This last is not shameless promotion; it shows your authority, why you are the person best qualified to write the review. Once you’ve written the review, post it wherever and whenever you can — on your blog, on Amazon, on Gather, on book sites such as LibraryThing and GoodReads — and submitting them to ezines and review sites and publications.

Here is a checklist of topics to cover in the review (You do not need to cover all of them. They are meant simply as a guide.):

1. Give the basic book information. 

  • What is the title, the author’s name, where it can be purchased, ISBN number.

2. Write a few sentences about the plot. 

  • What is the story about?
  • Who are the main characters?
  • What do they want?
  • Who will stop these character from attaining their desires, and why?
  • Are the characters believable?

3. Evaluate the book. 

  • What is the writer’s style: formal, informal, witty, charming?
  • Was the writing clear, original, concise, forceful, fluid?
  • Who are the intended readers?

4. If you wish, discuss the author’s use of story elements. 

  • How is the story introduced? What is the hook?
  • How are conflict, climax, and conclusion handled?
  • Is there a tone or an atmosphere, and how is it evoked?
  • What is the setting, and does it affect the story and characters?
  • Are the characters flat or three dimensional?
  • Does character development occur?
  • How effective is the dialogue?
  • Is there a subplot and if so, how is it related to the main plot?
  • What are the major themes? How are they revealed?

5. Tell how the book affected you. 

  • Did you like the book?
  • Did it keep your interest?
  • Could you relate to the characters?
  • Who was your favorite character?
  • What was your favorite part of the book?
  • What was your least favorite part?
  • Would you recommend this book? 

Notes on Book Promotion

I was typing out a list of notes for book promotion to use for future articles, when I decided to go ahead and publish the notes. Perhaps they will give you some ideas.

1. Establish yourself as an expert in writing forums, but make sure you give “expert” advice. Too many people are giving writing tips when they should be taking them.

2. Go beyond writing groups to promote your books online. Look for blogs that deal with your topics and comment on them. Admittedly, it’s hard to find topics in novels, play every angle. And be cool — don’t push your book. That just gets you labled a comment spammer.

3. Decide who might be interested in your book. Find a unique angle in your story that might interest a targeted group of people. One woman used “women who loved football” as her hook.

4. Instead of a booksigning, have an event. Give a talk, address writing groups, bill your booksigning as a “coming-out” party.

5. Review other authors’ books and post the review in as many places as possible. After the review, include a brief bio or yourself, and include links to your work.

6. To see if you can set up a booksigning or event at Barnes and Noble, call to get the name of the events co-ordinator. Some Barnes and Nobles have group events for authors from independent publishers.

7. Have a cyber launch party for your book. Set up a group on Yahoo, Facebook, your blog, and invite all your connections. It helps to have a friend who will feed you questions if the party is slow.

8. Look beyond bookstores for your booksigning/event. Is your book regional? Perhaps the historic society or tourist shops would be interested. Does your character golf or fish? Check out golf shops and fishing shacks.

9. Carry your book with you. If someone asks to see your ID, show them your picture on the cover.

10. Do a literacy promotion like: “Kids who see their parents read are more likely to become readers. If you don’t know what to read, I have a book . . . ”

Okay, the tenth suggestion is a bit off-the-wall, but book promotion is about being creative and coming up with off-the-wall ideas. One of them might actually work.

Book Marketing on the Internet: Sites for Writers

A. F. Stewart is a writer of fantasy stories and poetry. Stewart has been writing for several years, periodically interrupted by those pesky events called life. Stewart has three published books: one volume of poetry, a short story collection and a non-fiction booklet about action movies. All are currently available at Lulu.com. Stewart graciously shares what she has learned about book marketing sites: 

A comparison of the three social sites I have joined (Squidoo is not included, because we all know it is just wonderful), and list the most useful aspects I’ve found:

1- MySpace:

THE GOOD:
-Lets you categorize both your page and your blog posts under a writing category.
-Comes with a blog that can be used for promotion or posting online writing, or both.
-Fairly easy to post links, banners, widgets and other promotional tools to your page.
-Excellent place to connect with other writers, editors, writing services, etc. Just beware of scams(that is a hazard on any social networking site).
-Easy to find new friends and contacts, and groups; their search is excellent.
-Easy to maintain, without annoyance.
THE BAD:
-Spam mail. My advice just delete it.
-Occasional glitches in the profile editor.
-They have had problems with profile hacking (although I have never had a problem)

2- Gather.com:

THE GOOD:
-Easy set up and has a nice profile page.
-Promotes publishing articles, pictures, videos, and your articles get on Google.
-Excellent network of authors, unpublished writers, and writers who are dabbling. You can give and get useful feedback and advice.
-Great place to establish a list of articles, and get a voice on the internet, or do a little shameless promotion.
-Great writing groups you can join.
THE BAD:
-sporadic glitches in the article editor, and in other features.
-occasional lack of interest in articles. My advice: Use the spotlight feature for your post.
-A limited help section.

3- Facebook:

THE GOOD:
-If you are an author you can (if fact should) create a fan page as well as your profile page. On the fan page you should post links to your books and sites, add widgets, and interact with your fans. You can also send out updates when you add to your fan page.
– Many writing groups to join, or create your own.
THE BAD:
-Annoying applications
-Not easy to find new friends, or preview profiles.
-Glitches galore
-Cannot realistically post articles or stories.

I also recommend joining Twitter, Stumble, and the bookmark site Del.icio.us.

SITES SPECIFICALLY FOR WRITERS: 

A list of websites designed to showcase authors and writers

Here is a list of good sites where writers and authors can publish profiles, samples of their work, and their books.

1- AuthorsDen :
An excellent place to put your author profile and post books; it gets you a link on Google.
Features both a free subscription and a paid upgraded subscription. The free subscription is limited, but not overly and the paid upgrade has three levels; the Bronze being quite reasonable at $40/yr.

2- WritersCafe.org: A wonderful site for writers to post their books, writing samples and their profile. They encourage feedback between their members, and it’s free to join.

3- WritersNet: It’s free to join, and you can post a profile and your books. The site also lists editors, agents, publishers and writing resources.

4- Nothing Binding: It’s free to join, and you get a personal profile page. There are also writer’s groups you can join, and media add-ons you can purchase.

5- Ebooks Cafe: It’s free to join. It allows you to post a short profile and your books to the site.

6- Self Publishers Place: A relatively new site where self published authors can post their book information. Free to use, and there is a writers discussion forum.

Review Sites 

A list of book review sites. Many list independently or small press published books, and some offer promotional or editing services.

Rebecca’s Reads
A book review and publicity service serving the reading audience, authors, publishers, publicists and buyers/sellers.
The Compulsive Reader
Reviews of books by some of the hottest writers working today, exclusive author interviews, literary news and criticism.
The Midwest Book Review
The Midwest Book Review is an organization of volunteers committed to promoting literacy, library usage, and small press publishing. The Midwest Book Review gives priority consideration to small press publishers, self-published authors, and academic presses.
The Muse Book Reviews
The Muse Book Reviews reviews a variety of books and accepts books from self-published authors, traditional or POD published authors.
Armchair Interviews
Features book reviews and author interviews, with helpful articles and links.
Bitten by Books
A site featuring paranormal fiction. Has reviews, interviews, contests, etc.
Welcome to Scribe & Quill ~ The site for all writers!
Writer’s resource that includes articles for writers, writing courses, book reviews and news and information for writers of all genres.
Reader Views
Book reviews of all genres. Also provide editing and publicity services, literary awards, contests and book giveaway.
New Mystery Reader Magazine
Introducing a new mystery magazine featuring information on new mystery releases. Includes mystery book reviews of new mystery releases, mystery short stories, and recommendations.
Road to Romance
Romantic and Women’s Fiction: For Readers and Writers of Romantic and Women’s Fiction Books
BookLoons
Your corner bookstore in the global village with book reviews across genres, columns and contests, and sections for teen books and children’s books.