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Friday, December 5, 2008

A Writer's Journey: From Author to Book Promoter

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

Joanna's note: I find Marta to be one of the most savvy book promoters in the known universe, so I've asked her to share some of her wisdom here. Consider it an early holiday present! Enjoy! Oh, and you might want to make sure you're following this blog through your RSS feed or whatever so you don't miss a posting by this incredible talent.

Whether we have taken formal writing courses or went the self-help route, the need to create is what nudged us forward and to heck with the sacrifices and rejections we’ve endured on the road to getting published. The problem is, during the years we studied plot and character development, imagery and all the other critical components of fiction writing, most of us neglected to consider one of the most important pieces of the puzzle—book promotions.

One misconception about book promotion is that the publisher will handle all of it. The fact is, campaigns will vary from one publisher to another, but regardless of the size of the publishing house, the bulk of the responsibility will fall squarely on the author’s shoulders.

The narrowest definition of the role of a publisher is that they make information available for public view. A reputable publisher will assign an editor to work with the author and provide copyediting, graphic design, and will initiate production – printing. In some cases the publisher will make the book available in print and in electronic media. They will also secure the legal rights of the author and purchase the ISBN.

Several months before a novel is released, the publisher will send out advanced review copies (ARC) and will continue to submit the book for reviews throughout the contracted period of time. Most publishers will spotlight their authors on their website, they may promote their books at key events that attract book sellers, will seek out interview opportunities, will submit the books to writing contests, and will make them available to the public via online bookstores such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million and other traditional bookstores. The publisher may also sell the international rights to the book (have the book translated) and assist with film rights if it comes to that.

These are the building blocks to a book’s success in today’s market, but they don’t address the issue of book promotion. That’s where you, the author, come in and take charge and the best place to start is by developing an Internet presence.

Imagine yourself standing in the middle of a 5-circle bull’s eye.

1) That inner circle is you; who you are, your experiences, and what you know. It also includes your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Anyone you come in contact with on a regular basis.

2) The next circle includes potential readers within your community who you may know, but with whom you’re not in contact with on a regular basis. It also includes people who don’t know about you or your book. The hometown advantage is on your side though. With word of mouth endorsements from those within your inner circle, local press about your book, and book signings or other events, you have a good chance to reach a portion of the population.

3) The third circle from the center includes individuals you have contact with on a professional basis. These are more than likely other authors; members of author groups and organizations where you self-promote on a regular basis.

4) The fourth circle includes people who have bought your book.

5) The outer fifth circle represents potential readers in a global market. That’s your goal -- to take your promotional campaign from your inner circle to the outer circle. The only way to get there is by having an Internet presence. It will draw readers, but more important, the publishing world demands it. The good news is that the Internet provides authors with unlimited ways to promote their books and most offer free or low cost options.

Ironically, the key to a successful promotions campaign is not to discuss your book. Instead, allow potential readers to get to know you. Through your communications, readers will acquire an interest in you and your books. Post a variety of information about yourself and your writing on several sites. Take every opportunity to expand your network of contacts. Cross promote with other authors so you can all benefit by reaching new readers on each other’s blogs. Eventually, you will gain a following. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Develop a brand identity. What makes you, you? What is it about your writing that sets you apart from other authors? Can you tie your writing to a charitable cause? What are you known for outside your writer’s life? Does your expertise have any connection with your writing? Pinpoint what it is about your story that readers seem to identify with and develop it. For an example of this, check out the Nero Wolfe website: Include that branding in all your communications, printed material, the design of your website, blogs, etc.
Think about your strength(s) as a writer. Are you particularly good at writing dialogue, plot development, or characterization? If so, write a “how-to” article about it.
Write a piece about your writing journey; where you’ve been, what you’re doing, and where you’re going.

What’s the story behind the story? I’m always fascinated to learn the origin of story ideas.

Develop a boilerplate and tack it to the end of every article you write and add it to your e-mail signature so readers and e-mail recipients will have easy access to your website and a way to learn more about you. Here’s my boilerplate:
Marta Stephens, author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK).THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008), SILENCED CRY (2007)Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Send queries to interviewers and ask if they would be willing to send you some questions and post the interview on their site. Not sure where to find interviewers? Study fellow authors’ websites and make a note of who has interviewed them then contact those sites. Ask fellow authors if they would be willing to interview you and post it on their website, blog, or a social network you have in common. Some review sites offer interviews as well. Make sure you read and follow the sites’ submission guidelines before you contact them.

Study the interview questions you’ve received. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to write entire articles based on your responses to some of the more thought-provoking questions. Don’t stop there though. If you read an interesting interview, consider how you would answer one of the more difficult questions and develop your answer into an article.

Post links on your website to the articles you’ve written, your interviews, and reviews you’ve received that are published on other blogs or sites.

Consider the various sites you belong to. Develop an announcement about your published works mentioned above to post on these sites as well but be sure to tweak your post to fit your readership in each group.

The consequences of becoming a public figure is something most writers don’t fully consider when choosing this career path. Whether on the Internet or in person, how an author breaks out of his or her shyness will of course depend on their comfort level. But at some point the author will need to break out of that shell if he or she expects to sell books.

Regardless of your goals; to reach that small target audience within the two inner circles of your bull’s eye or to connect with a global market, make yourself accessible to the public. Remember that no one knows your story and characters better than you so who better to promote them? If you love what you do, it will show and your enthusiasm will spark a desire and spread like wildfire.

Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK).THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008), SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book


A. F. Stewart said...

Some great ideas. I especially like the the thought of writing an article from interview questions.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marta, you know how much I love your mysteries - they are superb. But you brought me back to an old love by reminding me about Nero Wolfe. Rex Stout was a wonderful writer, and his characters took me through many a tumultuous teenage year!! Thanks for a wonderful article.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Marta is simply one of the best and brightest. I'm so glad she decided to share!

Marta Stephens said...

Hi A. F. I've written more articles in the past few years than I can shake a stick at. Sometimes, when faced with a deadline, I worry that I won't hit on a topic others will find worth reading. It seems that there's always something going on to spark an idea, but when nothing comes, I turn to interview questions. There have been some excellent ones that have made me stop and think about what or how I do things.

Hi Aaron. Ah yes, Nero Wolfe Love him. Did you go to the site? Notice there's a question about which beer Nero drank? Does that remind you of anything from "The Devil Can Wait?" LOL

Joanna, the pleasure is all mine. I'm really thrilled to be here. :)