Being a Successful Author — Magic or Work?

My guest blogger today is Sia McKye, a marketing/publicity expert. This is the follow-up to McKye’s article, “Getting Published: No Magic Wands or Treasure Maps.” KcKye writes:

As an author, nothing can be quite as exciting as receiving word you’ve sold your book and it’s going to be published.  You are over the moon and flying high.  Maybe even dreaming of the NYT Best Sellers List. Finally, you’re getting validation for all your work and hours of writing.  Everyone you know hears about it.  You’re discussing galleys, Arc covers, the artwork, blurbs, and author endorsements on your cover. Tossing terms around like Pub dates, Arc mailings, targeted print campaigns, web promotions and Reviews, library marketing, and author events.  Your book finally hits Barnes & Noble and you find yourself going in just to look at a book with your name on it. You take pictures.  You start being obsessed with Amazon figures on your book’s placement of the day or week.  You’ve got it made, right?

Keep in mind that just having your book in print doesn’t mean it will automatically sell-books don’t sell themselves, even if they are listed on Amazon–or on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. As a friend of mine recently reminded me:  “Over 195,000 new novels are published by traditional publishers in the U.S. every year. Of those, 70% sell fewer than 500 copies.”

Here’s another reason to aggressively market yourself and your books and the importance in building a reader base. 

Debuting authors are lucky enough to get a first print run of 10,000 for their book, depending upon the genre and your publisher’s confidence in your work (some can be as high as 20,000). You might think 10,000 is a big number until you start calculating book stores and Amazon.  It’s really a small run and it’s not going to hit the best sellers list with that number. If they sell only 500 copies or less, then the publisher eats the cost of having the other 9500 shipped back to them, at full cost, and made into pulp.  Publishers are not happy when this happens, but they have a contract with you, maybe for a three-book deal. Maybe they’ll recoup their losses on the second book?  If they don’t will they take another three books from you?  Or drop you like a hot potato?  Can you see where active promotion and publicity is vital? 

On the other hand, you’ve worked your butt off with marketing and promotion. You’ve built up name recognition on the Internet through Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, and Gather, MySpace and other social networks.  You’ve worked hard at blogging and building presence and attracting your consumers-readers.  You started this long before your book was even sold.  You continued even after your book was sold. You’ve written book reviews on books similar to yours, written anything and everything related to your books and also to you as a person.  You’ve made yourself a personality, with likes, dislikes, and interests.  In other words you’ve become a real person to your readers.  They see you share the same interests as they do, you chat with them. You build characters in your books; surely it isn’t that hard to project yourself to your readers?

Because your potential readers like you and have gotten to know you somewhat, they do name-dropping about their “good friend, the author.” 

“Oh yeah, I know Anna Campbell and she just released TEMPT THE DEVIL.  Highlanders, honey, you have to look for it.”

“I just read the best suspense/thriller recently, A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE, by my friend Pat Bertram.  We’re talking danger and a story of ordinary people becoming extraordinary to survive.  You’ve got to order it.”

“My good friend Judi Fennell wrote this cool series about sexy mermen and a kingdom under the sea. The first book is called IN OVER HER HEAD, you gotta read it!”

“Toni Blake is just the nicest person evah.  She writes some real sizzlers, we’re talkin’ hot and sexy.  She has a new one coming out called ONE RECKLESS SUMMER…”

It’s that simple and any debuting or popular author’s name can be slipped in there.  Why? Because you’ve worked hard to be assessable and real to your readers. Because once you knew your release date, you started building anticipation for your book. So now, your book is released and sells through at 80%, or 8000 books.  Your publisher is very happy and is patting him or herself for their ability to find talented writers.  They decide a second print run is good business. Because you’ve built a buzz you probably will do well on the second run. Your publisher decides for your next book (for a debuting author that can be as soon as two-three months later) to start out with a first print run of 25,000 and a much larger presence on the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble and more pressure for the staff to push your book.

By the way, to hit the NYT best sellers list?  The book needs a first print run of at least 35,000.  Maybe Nora Roberts or Christine Feehan may get that type of run, but look at all the time they invested in marketing and promoting themselves and their books.  As a debuting author, you’re not going to get that with a first run.

This type of marketing/promotion also works for POD authors.  True, you don’t have to deal with print runs and costly returns, but if your books are in bookstores, the return cost are still a bite and one you as the author have to foot.  It’s smart business; again it’s your business, to have these books sell through.  You want to be successful and to do that you need a solid reader base as much as, or perhaps even more than, a traditionally published author.  Collecting dust is not the image of your books you want in the bookstore management’s eyes or your own, especially if you want them to continue to carry your books.  Shelf space is not a guarantee of sales any more than having a book with your name on it is. 

Stirring up publicity and marketing of yourself as an author and promoting your book, is many times, the least favorite task for an author. The point is if you want to be a success as an author then it’s going to take hard work. A third of your time is spent in writing the story and the rest is spent in selling it to a publisher and then promoting the book and yourself as an author. Building that all important reader base. It’s a necessary part of business.   

Writing is a business. The author is the proprietor of that business. Products have to be promoted to be a success. It’s as simple as that. Once we realize that, we put ourselves in the right mindset to be a success.

There are no magic wands, treasure maps of shortcuts, or guarantees to be a successful author or being published.

Just a dream and a lot of hard work.

TK Kenyon Talks About Book Marketing For the Introvert

This is a reprint of an article by TK Kenyon, author of the book Rabid, and is used with her permission. Kenyon writes:

Writing, especially fiction writing, is a tough business to get into and a tougher one to stay in. Generally, neither authors nor publishers make a significant profit until an author’s fifth novel is published. Most of the time, the majority of the meager money that publishers put into publicizing books goes toward review copies and the usually unproductive author tour. How many books do first-time authors sell? Over 195,000 new novels are published by traditional publishers in the U.S. every year. Of those, 70% sell fewer than 500 copies. Yikes.

To be in the other 30% of authors, you must seize every promotional advantage you can, especially by using the web and other new media. My first novel, Rabid, sold out of its first print run of 10,000 copies in under two months and is currently chewing through its second print run, which is better than average.

To sell your book, (1) inform people that you and the novel exist, (2) interest readers enough to buy your book, and (3) build a relationship to keep them coming back for more.

For all this, the Internet is the perfect medium.

Inform

To announce your presence to the world, first you blog. Before your book is published, start your own blog or blogs on subjects related to your book, especially controversial themes or subjects that people want to know more about on an easy, free blog host like Blogger/Blogspot, Livejournal, or Xanga. Join blogs. Be a guest blogger. Trade blog posts with other bloggers. Many small blogs and blogger networks, including those that you start or join and co-op blogs, allow you to write one blog post and then cross-post to them all, which means far more bang for your time and typing buck. Some blog networks also feed into search engine news services, which is an added publicity bonus.

Personally, I have a science blog, Science for Non-Majors (general science essays including genetic engineering of food animals, opinions about recent research in autism and Alzheimer’s Disease, and why snot is slimy,) and participate regularly in co-op blogs like Criminal Minds at Work (for authors of crime novels, as Rabid has both a murder and a trial in it,) and The Write Type, plus one at my publisher’s website, and blogger networks Bloggernews.net and Opednews.com.

Writing guest articles for newsletters, print, e-magazines, and other blogs is one of the best ways to reach new readers. Articles for big blogs and e-magazines, such as this one or Bookslut, are generally exclusive. Don’t cross-post these, though you can link to the post from your other blogs with a teaser about the article. Query blogs via email with a paragraph about the topic of your article and why you should write it. Find popular places to post by using tools like Technorati or PageRank on the Google Toolbar, which is also an indication of popularity — a higher number is better. Statsaholic and Alexa are other sources for traffic information that you can utilize.

If you have the time to commit to writing several articles per week for only one site, About is competitive but lucrative. Blogcritics is an excellent site, though less remunerative.

Literary journals, especially e-journals, are excellent places to publicize. Excise self-contained nuggets out of your novel and submit them. You can also write stand-alone prequels, sequels, or exquels to your novel. Lists of literary journals, such as this one at Poets & Writers, abound.

Social networking sites are also great places to up your profile ante. Wikipedia has a good but incomplete list.

A page at MySpace.com is the minimum. You can cross-post your blog essays on MySpace blogs, too. Add friends, join groups, and aim for 1000 friends as your first goal, then 5000, then 10,000.

Goodreads is a must-visit social networking site for authors. It’s similar to MySpace except that it’s geared toward bibliophiles — a target-rich audience. Add friends, join groups, and post book reviews.

Gather is a community of writers and is another great place to make friends and turn them into readers by cross-posting your blogs and essays.

Once your book is added to Amazon, enroll in the AmazonConnect authors’ program. You can post blogs, announce book tour dates, and connect with people who have purchased your books in the past. Your posts show up on your book’s page.

Forums and newsgroups are the great underground for authors. Make a list of topics, especially controversial ones, in your novel, and search YahooGroups, GoogleGroups, and search engines for “forum” plus your topic. Post to the introductory thread with details about your book, then respond to other people’s posts, and cross-post any topically related blog posts as thread starters. Include your book’s title in your sig file, but don’t actually advertise your book as that will likely just get you branded as a spammer. As long as your posts are on topic, helpful, thoughtful, and informative, people will visit your signature links. Forums are good places to enjoy yourself while “working.” Caveat: trolls lurk under these cyberbridges, avoid getting involved in any flame wars.

Where to get ideas for blog essays: news items (write an opinion piece, not necessarily contrary, and link back to the source article), forum posts (on a discussion thread, when you write a long answer to a post, copy/paste your answer, tidy it up, and post it on your blogs), your characters (write short stories about them, which you can then submit to literary journals, or do “interviews” with them, which is always an amusing exercise), or questions that people ask you about your book.

Interest

After you inform people that you and your book exists, give them more information. Seventy percent of readers who are thinking of buying a book by a new author search the Internet before they buy.

The first thing you should do when you sign your book contract, if you haven’t already, is buy your name as a web domain address. You might want to buy the dot-net and dot-org versions as well as the dot-com, because if you don’t, someone else will.

So what do you put on your web site? First and foremost and as always, content is king. Readers want to know more about you, your book, subjects in your book, writing your book, excerpts from your novel or other short stories, and your characters. Don’t just slap up a couple sales pages.

For example, my own website, TKKenyon.com, includes a bio about my scientific work (virology and neuroscience) as well as fiction writing, essays on the craft of fiction writing, and about subjects that are themes in my novel, and more about the characters in my first novel, Rabid. Most people want to know more about two of them: Dante the tormented Jesuit Catholic priest, and Leila the wild graduate student.

Republish essays that you hold the e-rights to on your website. Link to others and to your blogs. Include a few pictures of yourself but nothing that will overly interest a stalker. Write content for the site that includes important key words and optimize your pages for search engines, which includes naming pages using commonly searched words that are also subjects of the essay and ensuring that the links between pages work. Add content frequently. Include a way to email you (important for building an email list, see below,) and a way to purchase your book immediately. To do that, join an affiliate program, such as from Amazon.com, BN.com, or Powells.com.

Build

After you’ve found someone and sold them your novel, sell them the next one by building a relationship with them. As any MBA will tell you, the easiest customer is the repeat customer. To do this, build an email list.

Anyone who emails you, write them back and add them to your emailing list. When you start out, you can do mass emailings to your friends, but as you get bigger you should have an opt-in email list. You can collect email addresses from people at bookstore signings if you buy a little $2 bag of truffles and have a drawing, no purchase required. (Note: if you require the purchase of your book to enter the raffle, your contest falls under state lottery and gambling laws, and you don’t want that.) Send out at least a couple newsletters each year and make sure there is a way for people to remove themselves from the newsletter so you are in compliance with anti-spam laws. Definitely make use of your email distribution list to announce the pre-sale and sale of your next book.

AmazonConnect, mentioned above, is a great way to contact people who have bought your book from Amazon.com. In addition, AmazonShorts is a program where you can post short stories about your novel’s characters, or other short stories, 2000-10,000 words in length, and sell them on the cheap. While it will not provide retirement income, it is another way to introduce new people to your writing or update them on the further adventures of your charaters.

On your website, add an address where your readers can send you snail mail (like a PO Box, not your street address) and send you a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Then, send them a personalized, signed bookplate to stick in their book. Use large, 2″x3″ or larger, printer-label stickers, and write a quick note and sign them.

So that’s how to use the Internet to rise above the fray: find readers, give them information, and build relationships with them. In-store book signings sell only a few books and publishers may or may not allocate much in the way of publicity funds and manpower to first-time authors. Your own efforts on the Internet can make a dramatic difference in whether or not your novel succeeds.