*Gasp!* I. Am. Blogging. I’m actually blogging since, well, forever. The question is this: who's still reading this blog? If you are one of the few who've stuck with me, I am so sorry about the absence. Blame readergirlz. Blame synopsis-hell (but yay! I just sent it in to my editor & agent!). Blame...my writer-in-residency (why did I think it was a good idea to guide an entire school of K-6th graders in writing their own novellas????). *sigh*
But back to BookSmart.
So two (yes, T-W-O!) critically-acclaimed writer-friends told me recently that some of their books are OSI—out-of-stock indefinitely. Translation: their publisher won’t print more of their books.
The kicker, of course, is that after the OSI decision had been made, my writer-buddies were told that they had needed to sell a minimum of 500 copies a year to be kept in print. Never mind that if they had been told earlier—say, six months ago—they might have been able to do something about their sales figures! Never mind awards. Never mind starred reviews.
Okay, rather than be the Literary CSI who determines What Went Wrong, I’d rather focus on What Can Be Done.
So how the heck do you keep marketing a book that’s been in print for years so your book doesn’t go OSI?
- Comb through your novel for any potential hooks you may have missed the first marketing-go-round.
For instance, one of my aforementioned friends is quite TALL, and the novel she wrote featured a quite TALL girl whose very TALLNESS was a monumental problem. While this may sound inordinately stupid, in addition to other groups, I suggested she outreach to organizations for the Very Tall: communities, stores/boutiques, support groups. Stop scoffing. It worked. She and her novel were featured on the front page of quite a few of these (active) websites, and since then, new (TALL) readers have contacted her about her novel.
- Research and reach out to national organizations whose staff, boards and members might be interested in your book. Literature can be a powerful bridge, linking people’s hearts and minds to causes. That’s why I’m positive many organizations would love to know about novels. So let’s say you wrote a book about an endangered species. You might want to contact every large endangered species/animal rights organization with these ideas: (Note, you bet this strategy even applies to fantasy novels where the endangered animal, say, could be a dragon.)
Let the group know you’ve written a novel that inspires young people to speak out for endangered animals. Offer to write an article for their newsletter, talking about why this kind of activism is important to you. Be willing to chat with their members at a designated time on an online forum, such as your own blog. You could answer questions about the novel. Link to their website, and ask for a link to yours.
Semi-happy unending for one of my OSI-ed friends. She wrote to her editor, outlining a short-term marketing plan for the novel on the chopping block and received a stay of execution. Cross your fingers. Better yet, go buy a book from your favorite, but overlooked, author.
- Current Mood: contemplative
ALA Midwinter was thrilling, and a shout out to Kirby Larson for her Newbery Honor, celebrating Hattie Big Sky. If you want the inside scoop on Kirby's savvy launch marketing, make sure to check out BookSmart's September 27, 2006 interview with her, Building Buzz for New Books!
Speaking of buzz for new books, I shared an interview with Girls, Inc. with Audrey D. Brashich, author of All Made Up: A Girl's Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty. She is a media sensation, being a former teen model, not to mention highly articulate, a true intellectual, and a passionate proponent of girls' self-esteem. She and her book have been featured prominently on CNN, CBS and NBC TV, as well as in USA Today and the Chicago Tribune.
BookSmart: What are the top 3 best things you did to launch your book?Audrey: In the beginning, I found third party credibility very important. Like it was hard to be an author doing self promotion. I worked with both an event booker (who works mostly to get authors to schools, conferences etc) and an independent publicist who did media outreach. Once I had some events under my belt and some great clips... I've found it much easier to contact places on my own now. They are INFINITELY more responsive! So I'd say investing in someone to help you get the word out is key. In-house publicists are busy and overwhelmed. Plus their strategy is just to promote a fall or spring list. An indie person can help attach your work to current event hooks, or spin things in a more cutting-edge way. And it's nice to have someone else talk you up. It's easier for them to say "This is THE book you have to read" than for an author to say that....
BookSmart: What would you do differently?
Audrey: Get more educated about writers conferences, library associations etc. to pitch myself as a speaker for those events. Really make up a game plan with a 6 month lead time (ie, to get into Holiday Gift lists, etc., you've got to be planning at the start of the fall...)
BookSmart: You have a great newsletter. What program do you use? How was it helped you marketing wise? And then...costs...how much?Audrey: To be honest, I don't find my newsletter easy to use at all. I'm constantly amazed that I actually get into people's in boxes. My web hosting package is somewhere around $150 for the year, including my site, newsletter tools, database tools, etc. Overall, the newsletter is totally worth it. It's a great way to keep in touch with supporters and get on the radar of new people (because some always forward it to someone else who then emails me).
- Current Mood: jubilant
Please note: I don’t mean to be preachy, but it is Martin Luther King Junior’s Day…and I have a dream.
Yes, I have a dream. I have a dream that every writer will give back to the world, not just with our words but with our actions.
Today, I want to give a shout out to writers who put serious action behind their words. Authors like James Patterson who is giving away $500,000 for literacy with his PageTurner Awards, and Dave Eggers who started 826 National to help kids 6-18 with writing, and Isabel Allende who created a foundation that helps literacy, women empowerment & peace. There are countless other writers doing amazing philanthropy, I’m sure. So a heartfelt thanks to all of them.
The wonderful part about this dream is that you can be at any part of your writing career—on the cusp, breaking out, or at the top, like James, Dave and Isabel.
Say publication is a dream itself for you. Guess what? Your skills are in demand: read aloud to kids at a public school. Lend your writing skills to a non-profit organization; pen an article or two for them. If you’re in any of the cities where 826 National, volunteer there. All of us can give some time to our local SCBWI chapter. They are always looking for great, cheerful, can-do, will-do volunteers, and what they do to bond and promote our writing community is priceless. Or, heck, all of us have time to write a fan letter to our favorite overlooked authors—perhaps your best friend in your critique group who just got her umpteenth rejection letter. The bottom line is: let’s add goodness to our world.
If you have published a book, celebrate and honor it with a philanthropic act. It can be as simple as releasing a few copies of your book in unexpected places: leaving it in a hospital lobby or at a park (preferably during nice, dry weather) for that right someone to happen on it, right day, right time. Perhaps it’s donating as many copies as you can possibly afford to First Book.
But I think there’s a bigger opportunity to do more good with your work. Obviously, there was a reason why you wrote what you did, explored the theme that you chose (or that chose you): depression, body image, abandonment, friendship, peace. Perhaps your YA novel is about an alcoholic father, an abusive mother, a friend with anorexia. Maybe your middle grade novel is a fantasy featuring an orphaned boy...
As we all know, virtually every issue has a corresponding non-profit. And those non-profit organizations are looking for ways to connect people to their cause, to educate the world about their issue, and to get their organization in the news. Literature—from picture books to novels—are the best bridges to do just that--they impassion and illustrate and educate.
Think about it: a soon-to-be-published book is a news hook that they could potentially use to highlight their organization and raise awareness about their mission. So be brave. Do your research. Find wonderful non-profit organizations that map to your book's purpose. Ask around to see if anyone you know has worked at the organization (six degrees really does work). Contact the organization (the VP of communication is a good place to start). Send them your ARC. Ask them if there is a way for you to work together to promote—not your book (that’s icky and self-serving), but their group!
Trust me. You words will help so many more people by aligning with a philanthropic group. Your books will help the kids who you imagined as you typed at three in the morning. The ones who haunted you when you thought you'd just toss your manuscript because, gosh, who really cares... But they were there. They always are: our readers who need our words.
So to my writer-buddies who asked me: What's YOUR New Year's Resolution? I tell them: it's actually my career resolution. As soon as I got my first contract, I promised myself to tie every book I publish with something philanthropic.
Let’s start a movement! Sara Zarr and Debbi Florence and Janet Lee Carey and Dia Calhoun and Lorie Ann Grover are all getting on the philanthropic wagon. Join us! And if you've already been leading the charge, we salute you!
(And if you want more info about this, let me know. I could blog for months about this.)
- Current Mood: grateful
Happy New Year, everyone! I actually love making resolutions…probably because I try not to be too hard on myself if I fall a little short. Trying is the operative word. And I’m always inspired when friends (like Debbi Florence) actually fulfill every last resolution that they make. I guess my personal philosophy is every little bit that I do to chip away at my resolutions helps me become a better person, a better mom, a better spouse, a better friend…and a better marketer.
Yes, a better marketer! (You didn’t think I’d actually write something for this blog that wasn’t tied into marketing somehow, did you?)
So while you’re ruminating about your 2007 writing goals, give some thought to your marketing goals this year.
Consider these career-delving questions:
- What is the gift you are giving to your readers (future or existing) with your work?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years as a writer? 10 years? (Are you scaling the bestseller lists? Are you writing the best work you possibly can, lists and accolades be damned? Are your readers clamoring for more of your work?)
- What is the one thing that you are most afraid of doing in terms of book promotions? (Is it public speaking? Is it talking to booksellers? Is it chatting up your book because you feel that’s icky?)
And then think about what you can do that feels good and right to you that can help you achieve those career goals. For instance, could you take a public speaking class? Could you start a database of your fans? Could you clear out a week to visit all your local booksellers?
Really, for every 3 writing goals you have, try to make 1 marketing goal. Have fun!
- Current Mood: enthralled
Greetings from Windstorm 2006 in the
So a few days ago, before fir trees started toppling onto power lines, I interviewed the lovely and booksmart Diane Duthweiler, former news producer-turned-part-time author-escort. If
Here are Diane’s Top 10 Tips to make the most of your time at bookstores and media stops…
- Remember that the book tour is all about creating buzz. The truth is, book tours can be hard on the ego. As Diane says, “Even well-known authors can sometimes have only one or two people in the audience.” (Justina’s commentary: I can’t underscore this enough! There will be some events where I felt like a rock star, and then others where a dirty kitchen sponge would have been more welcome than me.) So just keep repeating that this is all about the buzz, all about the buzz.
- At bookstores, always make sure to meet the Community Relations Manager and bookstore manager. Talk to the rest of the staff; engage them in conversation. Diane’s favorite conversation starter for shy authors: “Where do you put my book?” Time and time again, Diane has seen booksellers pushing a book hard simply because the author introduced herself and connected with them.
- THANK the manager and staff for selling your book!
- At bookstore events, keep your reading short. Aim for 5-15 minutes max. And leave lots of time for questions.
- Humor works well in bookstore events.
- As you hop between events, Diane encourages you to take the time to analyze what went well, what didn’t. And fix it for the next event.
- As you plan your tour, consider non-traditional venues. According to Diane, one of the most successful book events she’s seen was held at a knitting shop for a detective story that had some knitting references. Niche marketing is very successful.
- If you are doing media interviews, always, always, always ask your author escort about the format of the show. Publicists may not know regional media, but the author escorts do. They’ll let you know about the hosts, the types of questions you’ll be asked, and most importantly, they can give you tips about how to place your body and face depending on the camera angles. (Justina's commentary: Oh, boy, this is super important as we know once we’ve seen ourselves on air.)
- Always arrive camera-ready. Bring your own make-up for touch-ups, and powder if you don’t want a shiny face. (Justina’s commentary: And who wants to be known as the author with a shiny face?)
- Mine your connections. Diane says, “Instead of leaving it to the publicist, make sure to make the call to the reporter who interviewed you for your last book.” Of course, she adds, you’ll want to run this through your publicist to make sure that they aren’t also contacting that reporter.
I tried to talk Diane into starting an author workshop where she could tour first-time authors to different bookstores and work with them on their presentation skills. Don’t you think this would be helpful?
(Have I mentioned how thrilled I am to be in a warm home with power on?!)
- Current Mood: relieved
Are book tours really worth it, a writer-buddy of mine wanted to know. And if they are, what do you do if your publisher doesn’t send you out on a multi-city one, complete with a publicist and media escorts awaiting you at every stop?
To be honest, whether book tours are “worth it” depends on your definition, objectives and where you are in your career. Personally, I think a book tour’s primary objective is to get you out there to meet booksellers, librarians, and readers and to generate buzz for you and your book—rather than simply straight book sales.
Since book tours can be expensive, there are ways that you can conduct your own Do-It-Yourself Book Tour if you don’t happen to have publisher support—yet. There are tales about an author piling into an RV and touring the entire country. That makes me tired just thinking about it. I'd rather be writing. But here are a few topline thoughts...
Start locally, build nationally. Visit all the major bookstores in your local area and introduce yourself to the book buyer, store manager, and community relations manager. They’re busy, and won’t be able to spend more than a few minutes with you. Be pleasant and succinct: what your book is about and who you consider the ideal reader. Bring your book in case they don't stock it. Hand out bookmarks, if you have them. And by all means, follow up with a thank you note. If you’re shy, grab a published writer-buddy and go with him/her to make the local bookstore rounds. And whatever you do, support these booksellers. Attend their events. (You should do this anyway to see how other authors do presentations.)
Buddy up on your book tour. Last May, acclaimed poet Janet Wong and wonderful children’s book author/illustrator Grace Lin took me on my inaugural book tour, which we named Hi-YAH! We hit the east coast one week (
Leverage your own travel plans. If you’re traveling anyway—for business or pleasure—add in a few bookstore. Word has it that bookstores ideally like 8 weeks advance notice to arrange an event. But if the bookstore isn’t up for throwing an event for you, I am an advocate for a “drive-by signing”—where you call ahead and ask the bookseller to pull your stock so that you can sign your books. You can schedule this a day ahead.
Hire a media escort. If you’re in a major metropolis area (Chicago, SF, LA,
Even better, travel with a writer-buddy, and share the cost of the media escort. This is what I did with Janet Carey when we were at the SCBWI National meeting in LA. In hindsight, we could have asked one other author to go with us; there was room in the car. We covered at least TWICE as many bookstores as we would have been able to visit left to ourselves, and were brought to the right bookstores for our books.
If you do hire a media escort, create a 1 page “fact sheet” with your book cover, ISBN, and any accolades it’s received to date. I gave away those along with buttons made from www.buttonarcade.com and bookmarks to every bookseller I met.
- Current Mood: rejuvenated
I saw a few bloggers talking about Dia Calhoun’s party in October for her new YA fantasy, AVIELLE OF RHIA. Well, believe it or not, great launch parties don’t have to be budget-breakers to get people’s attention. For the last 6 years, I’ve done pro bono consulting for non-profit groups, ranging from one of the world’s leading cancer research centers to itty bitty start-ups like one helping families with terminally ill babies. So with my 9 other partners, we’ve done a lot of consulting on fundraising auctions.
Here’s what I learned about creating functions that will celebrate the people who supported you while you toiled at your computer, announce your book to the world, and won’t break your budget:
Tip 1: Use electronic invites. Everybody probably already knows about this website, but I highly recommend www.evite.com. The electronic invitations are beautiful and easy to customize with your book cover. Even better, the website makes it super easy to track RSVPs—especially when you’re managing a huge guest list. Also, there’s an option for guests to forward the evite on to others, if you wanted your event to be as big as possible.
Tip 2: Pick a theme based on your book and stick with it. Once you’ve arrived at a theme, you’ll build everything around that (food, music, decorations, etc.). For instance, for my launch party, I picked an east-west motif since my book features a mixed race teen. Dia played up the medieval aspect of her novel.
Tip 3: Have plenty of food and drinks. The nibbles don’t have to be elaborate, just plentiful and bite-sized. Those ubiquitous crudite and cheese platters are always good. And always offer something sweet. I tried to tie my food into my east-west theme and had skewers and spring rolls. And then I served mochi ice cream for dessert.
Tip 4. If music be the food of love, play on. Definitely have tunes in the background. A girlfriend of mine created a playlist for me, music inspired by my book. We cut the music when I was speaking, and then amped it back up afterwards for the signing portion.
Tip 5. Podcast away. I invited a podcaster, Art Spencer of www.bookvoyages.com to podcast my book launch. He was super easy to work with. That way, the book launch was available on the web for anyone who wants to hear you read from the book. And I had him interview a few teens who had read the ARC beforehand. If you don't know of a local podcaster, check with a high school's journalism class. Potentially someone from there will cover your event.
Tip 6. Plan a handful of activities to give everyone something fun to do. Dia held a scavenger hunt in the store where she planted a book around the store. The winner won an autographed collection of all her books. I held a mini Math Olympiad at my party with math problems that one of my friends, Al Lippert (hubby of the wonderful author and storyteller Meg Lippert), created and managed. I found a website that sold gigantic, one-pounder fortune cookies dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with sugar the same color as my book cover. That became the prize AND centerpiece decoration. As well, since a fortune-teller opens my book, one of my friends, Jilly Eddy, a lipsologist, offered to do two hours of lip print reading for me. So think fun and different.
Tip 7: Decorate a la your book. Whatever your book is about, you can find some creative way to decorate the party venue. For instance, I hung vividly colored Chinese lanterns around the bookstore. For someone who wrote a book about a basketball player, they might bring in one of those mobile basketball hoops (and create a book display around it).
Also, for those who feel like channeling their inner Martha, I printed tiny versions of my book cover and glued them onto votive candle holders. Then I sprinkled black azuki beans around the candles for a hip eastern look.
Tip 8: Remember the party favors. I think it’s nice for guests to leave with something, and I’m not just talking about our books. One of my designing friends created bookmarks for me as a gift. So to jazz them up so they looked like a party favor, I went to www.buttonarcade.com and ordered 3 button designs, one with my book title, one with Hi-YAH!, and one with Kung Fu Kick Ass Club. All I had to do was clip the buttons onto the bookmark. Voila! A present.
Tip 9: Make sure you have someone take lots of pictures. Be sure to get a photo of yourself with the bookstore owner and some guests. For sure send it in to Publishers Weekly.
Tip 10: Enjoy yourself and thank all your friends! The book party was like a wedding. So just make sure to eat beforehand, toast your friends and family whose support you’ve leaned upon as your book emerged sentence-by-sentence, and enjoy yourself.
- Current Mood: grateful
Yes, Virginia and writer-buddies, there is a Santa Claus, and his name is Kent Brown, publisher of Boyds Mill Press.
Over the weekend, I was at NCTE in Nashville, signing at the Charlesbridge booth, when Kent "Santa" Brown wandered by and spotted me as the newbie author that I am. Before I knew it, he had hand-sold a dozen of my picture books: "Come on, folks! These are going fast!" I swear, I have never seen my books move so quickly off a table. But back to my new hero, Mr. Brown, who, with a twinkle in his eyes, gave me some great advice. So I thought I'd pass it on to you for your next conference:
Name tag: You know those ugly conference badges? Mr. Brown told me to tie mine higher around my neck so that when I sat, people could actually see my name and make the connection that I was the author. Doesn't that make so much sense?
Selling books: Mr. Brown then quizzed me. And I failed. Big Time.
Quiz: Let's say someone asks you how much your book is?
The right answer: Oh, gosh, I'm not sure; I'm just the author. But my publisher who happens to be sitting next to me here can tell you.
So I signed a few more books, and by the time I had a chance to look up to to tell Mr. Brown thank you, like magic, he had disappeared.
One More Fun & Easy Conference Tip:
I had the incredible privilege of presenting with Sarah Dessen of the amazing JUST LISTEN, THIS LULLABY, AND TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER fame. What a great woman and awe-inspiring writer--not to mention incredible speaker who exudes warmth, fun and smarts. Anyway, her publisher created a flyer with that listed all the times that she was signing at their booth during the conference. And the woman who introduced her distributed the flyer to everyone at our session! Now, that's a brilliant tactic and easy enough for any of us to do, too!
- Current Mood: silly
Okay, maybe not 101 uses for your Advanced Readers Copies, but here are some ways to maximize the marketing power of your ARCs.
I have to say, getting my ARC was sort of like seeing my kids’ ultrasounds in vitro: it’s almost a book, but needs a little more cooking before it’s ready for the bookshelves. From a marketing perspective, ARCs are one of the best tools we authors have to help our publishers build buzz.
How many ARCs you get from your publisher largely depends on how many you or your agent have negotiated in your contract. My super-agent negotiated quite a few for me.
The fact is, ARCs, amazingly, are more expensive to print than hardcover final copies. So I can understand how budget-conscious publishers need to be. Still, what happens if, say, you’re like one Newbery winner whose publisher very, very reluctantly gave her the big whopping 7 ARCs or another couple writer-buddies who only received 5?
ü Create your list of absolutely stellar “influentials”—all the people who will talk up your book IF they truly, madly, deeply love it. This doesn’t include your mom and dad and best friends—unless, of course, they are major booksellers or professional publicists. These are people who influence the reading habits of others and who you personally know—librarians who are published and respected, booksellers who drop off chocolate to your house when you’re sick (really—one does for me. Here’s a shout out for Chauni at All for Kids Books!!). Alternatively, they could be subject experts about whatever you’ve written about—and having their endorsement could translate into book buzz.
ü Count up your contacts and if you truly believe that they are stellar and will help build buzz for your book, then I’d recommend emailing the names ever so humbly to your editor. That way, your publisher can see if those names are already on their database and can judge the quality of your contacts for themselves. You can always ask if your publisher would consider sending to your influentials list. The worst thing that could possibly happen is to be told: No, sorry. (Well, you could also feel immensely foolish, but you'll feel worse and wimpy if you don't even try...EVER SO HUMBLY!!!!)
Once you’ve got your ARCs in your hot little hands, here’s what you could do:
ü Personalize the ARCs, of course, with your autograph.
ü Include a handwritten, personal note about the book and why you’re sending it to the recipient. You can encourage a dialog about your book, if you so chose, by making sure they had your email.
ü Channel your inner Martha and make the ARC look like a present. I mean, who doesn't love getting a present in the mail? It's simple: tie a ribbon that's color-coordinated with your book cover around the ARC. Then you can tuck the personalized note under the ribbon. This does not have to expensive at all and you do NOT have to include anything other than your note--no cute little but budget-eating trash and trinkets necessary. I must confess that I'm a Tuesday Morning junkie--a closeout retailer--and found my very cute, matching ribbon and notes there for something like a total of $20 for my entire mailing. I got so many comments about the "packaging" from my recipients who actually opened the package and then took the time to read the book and then to email me about it. So there you have it.
- Current Mood: touched
So I was curious about how to make my website work better for me. After all, I've got one! So I asked my web designer, Susan Giordano, who understands branding better than almost anyone I know. Aside from becoming a buddy of mine, she is a partner in GKD (Giordano Kearfott Design). GKD is a small, highly focused team of designers, writers and developers working with individuals and businesses who are launching a new product, service or moving their business in a new direction.
Question: So, Susan, based on your experience designing websites, what makes for a compelling, effective website?
Susan's Answer: First and foremost: Content. Content. Content. Make it interesting, useful or entertaining (choose any combination). Then change it on a regular basis.
Second: Personality is the differentiator between your site and that competitor site just a click away. And the design of the site is an instant personality broadcast. Your personality is your brand, so make it accurate, consistent and unique to you.
Third. Make it easy for people to get to know your site. Simple, clear navigation and quick loading pages are two sure bets.
Question: What are the best ways to promote a website?
Susan's Answer: I'm a firm believer in PR. I've seen sites gain an audience through smart online and offline PR efforts. Second utilizing well known SEO (search engine optimization techniques) will help your site show up in the search results and drive new (and sometimes unexpected) site visitors.
My former online marketer at Little, Brown, the amazing and sorely missed Miss Emilie, agreed with updating our author websites regularly. Here's what she said: "Have a news section where you can post little updates about the latest happenings related to you and the book. Have a press section so you can link to all the wonderful press features. If you’re touring, include the schedule on your site so your fans can meet you. And make sure to include a contact section. You can either include a generic mailbox for them to email you at or you can create a form on the page so they can fill in the fields from their browser window and send you messages. This makes the whole process seem a little more personal which is key for your fans. It doesn’t have to be all business either, include some fun facts, personal stories about the writing process or experiences you want them to know about. This makes it more personal which fans appreciate."
So...as soon as I translate "search engine optimzation techniques" into language that technological doofus brains like myself can understand, I'll post that. But then again, cleaning out my refrigerator somehow seems more appealing! Ho hum. I better go update my website.
- Current Mood: cheerful