Don’t Treat Your Book Like an Event, it’s a Career

PJDon’t Treat Your Book Like an Event – it’s a career by PJ Nunn

If you’re opening a new store, it’s important to spend a good amount of time, effort, and even dollars planning the best “grand opening” you can plan. Obviously, the success of your venture rests on getting the word out to as many possible customers as you can. Planning a book launch is the same, and a lot of authors – despite the industry shift to faster submission to release times – work hard at that. But there are some who seem to think that A. there’s no need for pre-publication effort, just start when the book is released, or B. once the initial launch is over, they can forget promotion and go back to writing the next book. Try either of those approaches, then look and see where your sales are in 6 – 9 months.

Neither of those is the right answer. You probably knew that, but if I’ve learned anything in my 15 + years of book promotion, it’s that If it goes without saying, you better say it twice!

Even a grand opening with an SRO crowd and out-the-roof sales will not keep a store going if there are no customers three months later. You have to plan a great grand opening, but the next part of the plan involves how do you A. keep customers coming back and B. keep bringing in new customers? It would be nice if those things happened by accident and maybe – once in a long while –   they do, but rarely.

All too often, when I’m contacted by authors about my promotional services at BreakThrough Promotions, I find they want to skip right to the national markets. Nice idea, but again, it doesn’t usually work that way. I never say never, but experience says not likely. I guess it’s kind of like due diligence. It might seem exciting to think you can go straight to the Today Show without ever having been on your local morning show, or to be interviewed on a SiriusXM program or CSPAN Books when you’ve never been on the radio, but again, not likely. Why? First, because if I call them and suggest you as a potential guest, the first thing they want is for me to send them some clips so they can hear or see you on other shows. Hosts really don’t want to be in a situation where their 5-minute interview guest gives every question a one-word answer, or worse, talks non-stop or mumbles or, horror, leaves them with dead air.

Think of promotional campaign planning as juggling, because that’s kind of what it’s like. Plan a great launch, but also have a plan to keep your name in front of an ever-increasing group of potential buyers with targeted efforts that will keep them coming in 1, 2, 3, 6, 9 + months. Trust me, it won’t happen on accident.

If you were starting a new business, you’d need a business plan. If you want a career as an author, you need a business plan. What does your 12 month promotional calendar look like? Got plans?

Print, ebook, or both? By Judy Alter

TroublesigningBack before electronic books turned the publishing world upside down, status for an author of fiction was having a book published in hardcover (between the boards, as we used to say), followed in twelve to eighteen months by a trade paper edition. Today fiction authors, particularly genre fiction, are lucky to get a trade paper or mass market edition. Many small publishers proudly bill themselves as “e-book only” or “primarily an e-book publisher.”

My publisher for my Kelly O’Connell and Blue Plate mysteries tells me the house sells ten e-books for every print copy; consequently, print is low on the priority scale and sometimes doesn’t appear for months after the electronic version.

I may be old school, but I find this a marketing problem. With my first mystery, print followed closely on the heels of the e-book, and I had a huge signing at a local restaurant—sold seventy-five books. Today the gap is several months, and I barely sold twenty-five at the last signing at the same restaurant. Each book that goes out that restaurant door, with a bookmark, is not just a book sold—it’s a chance for effective word-of-mouth advertising if the reader enjoys it, talks about it, shows it to a friend. Today I have an e-book of the newest one, Murder at the Blue Plate Café, but no print, and friends and (ahem!) fans are asking when the print will come. I afraid by the time print appears it will be anticlimactic and they’ll have lost interest.

I’m all for e-books and indeed do most of my reading on an iPad, but there’s something about holding a book in your hands. Of course, I market my e-books as best I can, with guest blogs like this one, on Facebook, Twitter, my own blog, bookmarks scattered across the globe, whatever and wherever, and I’m grateful for the response I’ve gotten. But I’m uncertain how effective I am. I’d feel better with print that I could launch at a signing, show to friends and send to reviewers that I know. I don’t have time to write, follow all the myriad marketing leads we get on Sisters in Crime, and live my life. So I’m not on the various Kindle lists and I have yet to figure out Goodreads, though I make a valiant effort and do post there.

Maybe it’s all ego—authors are famous for that—and I should put ego in the closet and concentrate on business, sales figures and the like. But that’s not why I write. I write so readers will enjoy my stories.

What about you? Do you find print editions important for marketing?

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With Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Judy Alter launches a new cozy mystery series, Blue Plate Café Mysteries. She is also the author of MurderBPlate_JAlter_MD(2)the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, and the forthcoming Danger Comes Home. Her fiction and nonfiction about women of the American West has won numerous awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award from Western Writers of America.

Now retired, she was for years the director of a small academic press. She is the mother of four and the grandmother of seven and lives in Fort Worth, Texas with her Bordoodle, Sophie. Follow her at http://www.judyalter.com, http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com, http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com, https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Judy-Alter-Author/366948676705857?fref=ts, or on Twitter, where she is @judyalter.

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A publicist’s day by PJ Nunn

PJSometimes when I see someone’s tweet, I wonder what their day is like. So when I knew I needed to get a new blog up and quick, I thought maybe that would be a fair topic for me. I’m a lot of things on a given day, but I am never bored. Multi-tasking doesn’t even begin to cover it.

My Master’s degree is in psychology with a side order of criminology. If you went over my resume or CV you’d guess I was at least 100 years old. I’m not. I was a counselor/law enforcement consultant/teacher/administrator for years. Actually I still am those things occasionally. But as it so often does, life intervened, one of my children became seriously ill and I had to change my plans. I needed to work from home, so I turned to writing and did fairly well as a freelance writer, particularly on topics of abnormal psychology/criminology. However, the freelance field was feast or famine and I needed an income that was slightly more dependable than that. So on the basis of a favor for an author friend, BreakThrough Promotions was born and I added “publicist” to my list.

I say all that to let you know that I didn’t get here on a traditional path and my MBA isn’t in business or marketing.  Sometimes, when I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtalk to other PR professionals, I don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.  I used to worry about that but I don’t anymore. First, because I’ve had a few well known publicists call me over the years to find out how I pitched a particular story or client and got coverage that they couldn’t get. Secondly because I’ve learned that my clients don’t care if I know all the catch-phrases. They just care if I can get the job done. And usually I can. So the day I talk about might not fit your publicist (or your day if you’re a publicist) but we can all have our own kinds of days, right?

cup_of_coffeeI’m not a morning person. If you know me well, you can attest that you’ve gotten emails from me that are stamped in the wee hours. I love the night when it’s quiet in my house. My creative juices are flowing at that time. Never expect me to be at my best before nine. Because of that, I work late and I sleep late. I plan to be, and usually am, at my desk by 10 a.m. I scan my emails to see if anything marked URGENT popped in while I was sleeping. If not, I turn to my phone list to see what is on my “immediate” list, then start with the east coast calls. That’s a typical beginning.

If you want the atypical, I probably got wakened at 6 a.m. by a frantic producer who scheduled one of my authors for an interview and early_morning_wake-up_callthey didn’t call OR maybe by a guest booker who wanted to get an early start on the day by returning my phone call from last week. Those guys (nongender specific) don’t keep office hours. Probably they don’t even wear a watch or pay attention to the time on their phones. This is why, as a good publicist, I charge my phone on the nightstand beside my bed and have even been known (on desperate days) to carry it with me to the bathroom. That information should really increase my Klout score. If you call me and I don’t answer my phone, it’s probably because I’m already on it.

If I haven’t been interrupted too many times by miscellaneous calls and urgent (questionable) emails, I might be through that list by 1 or 2 p.m.  Interruptions are inevitable, though, and may include but are not limited to:

  • A quick glance at a rough jpg for a new cover
  • A quick argument with the author that the font for the author’s name is much too small
  • A pause to send a manuscript to an author who’s agreed to do a blurb for a new release coming several months down the road
  • A call from a radio host whose show has been pre-empted by local news wanting to schedule a new date
  • A call from a tv host whose copy of the author’s book has grown legs and walked away and he needs a jpg sent to production so they’ll have something to show during the interview
  • A callback from a journalist I’ve been trying to catch who wanted to let me know he’s decided to go another way with his article, but thanks anyway. Remind me that networking matters.
  • A quick pause to check my Twitter feed and see what I’ve missed
  • Another pause to check my Facebook for the same reason
  • A phone call to interrupt my checking from another host who is concerned he hasn’t received the book I sent last week

I just realized that it’s silly to call these things interruptions. They don’t interrupt my work. They are my work. They interrupt the rhythm. So I go back to the next item on my list and double check my upcoming scheduled events to see if I need to send any confirmation packages out. Once that’s done, I go to my calendar to see which clients are scheduled for particular attention this day. Since I have a good list of clients and they’re at all stages of pre/post release, I make sure everyone gets the appropriate time from me each month, although the amount of followup time can vary from one to another.

I usually spend 3 – 5 hours a day in this zone. I don’t answer the phone unless it’s urgent or I have an appointment, and when I’m working on a particular client, that campaign has my undivided attention. This happens later in the day when things are a lot quieter and I’m really starting to enter that creative place. I pull up the client’s campaign that we’ve laid out and compare it with his or her schedule, then determine which contacts I’ve made for him/her that haven’t confirmed anything yet and what new contacts need to be made.

dallas_morning_news_logoDepending on what I’m trying to accomplish, I’ll need to create a pitch and/or press release that speaks directly to the market. For instance, if I want to get additional newspaper coverage, I either need to arrange an event or take advantage of an event the client is already planning to attend in the area OR I need to find a newsworthy hook that could be turned into an article. Once I’ve decided which of those has the best chance of success, I have to write it because even though I’ll do my best to make the pitch by phone they’ll want a followup email/press release/promo kit/something. Besides, I make a better oral pitch once I’ve written it out.

If I’m pitching an appearance on a television show in a larger market, I have to do more than that. I have to know the show (thus the The-Chew-Logolate night tv viewing that I’ve set to record during the day) and be able to envision my client in a segment on the show. I have to learn who the best segment producer is and find his or her contact info, and I have to write a pitch for the segment, including any other guest experts that might help sell the idea. I used to balk at this, feeling like I was doing my job and theirs too, but if you want to get it done, this is the best way, at least until you have a good relationship with that producer and know how they like to work. If any of you other publicists know better, I’d sure love to hear it!

By the time that part of my day winds down, I’m usually tired but a little reluctant to stop. I think it’s what I enjoy most. I love my clients. I enjoy taking their work and examining it and trying to find ways to get it the attention they want to see. There’s a lot of satisfaction for me in that. Of course I can’t always do what they want, and I’m not always successful at getting what I want to see. But I think the successes are plentiful enough to outnumber the failures. And I remind myself as well as them that rejections in this business are not personal. They just happen.

Late at night, when my house is asleep and I’ve finished watching The Chew or Rachael Ray or Ellen or whatever I’m pitching at the time, I kind of wind down but my mind is always working. Like I said, I’m more creative at night so sometimes ideas I’m not even actively looking for pop up out of nowhere. I make a point to read a little while after I turn off the television, but even after I put down the book, many nights as I’m drifting off to sleep I grab the phone beside my bed and email myself a note with an idea for a pitch so I won’t forget by morning.

RC_fav_smallWhen I started reading Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole novels, I loved the idea of him being World’s Greatest Detective and thought maybe I should aspire to being the World’s Greatest Publicist. I’m not of course, any more than Elvis is, but I share his enthusiasm for my job. I just love what I do. So even on the days when things seem more wrong than right, a publicist’s day – to me – is a good day.

How’s your day?

Are you on the right road?

What did you do for your career today? Every step you take, every choice you make takes you down a particular path. The path you take may look exactly the way you think it should look, but it’s advisable to take a good look at the map. Make sure the path you’re on leads you to the destination you have in mind.

In today’s tumultuous publishing environment, social media is the new avenue of pursuit for marketing success. On the surface, it gives what appears to be almost instant gratification and something that’s relatively hard to come by where promotion is concerned – reasonably measurable results.  But it can also give you unsupported facts and figures that paint a distorted picture sometimes. Here’s an insightful article that talks about the performance anxiety that can cause.

Thousands of authors tweet their titles and post messages on Facebook and beyond, and get good feedback from other authors doing the same. Book reviewers and bloggers chime in and it seems all are making progress in their chosen fields. But when all is said and done, and pencil meets paper, do the numbers add up?  Have you hit your target?

That is certainly a question that needs to be asked and answered if you’re serious about a career as an author. But there’s another question that bears asking – do you even know what your target is?

I often ask authors who seek my help with promotion – what are your goals? Most don’t have a clear cut answer beyond “I’d like to sell more books.” When looking at your goals, make sure they’re measurable. In other words, if asked in question form, is there a definitive answer?

Example:

My goal is to sell more books.

That goal is admirable, but not measurable because it doesn’t tell you how many books.

Better:

My goal is to sell 5,000 books.

Ok, now you have a target you can see.

Even better:

My goal is to sell 5,000 books in the next 6 months.

Great! Now you have the information you need to proceed with significant goal setting. You know how many books you want to sell, and how much time you have to do that. Now you can use that information to guide you in setting short term goals designed to keep you on the path to reach your ultimate goal.

Of course that’s just the beginning and we’ve digressed somewhat from the initial discussion.  But not entirely because those short term goals are where so many get off track. Such as those who put all their eggs in the proverbial basket of social media marketing or any other facet of marketing. Any time all of your promotional efforts are invested in one small area, you’re probably missing a lot of opportunity and not making the wisest and most effective use of your resources.

There are several other areas to which you need to give attention to get the most out of your marketing efforts. These areas don’t replace social media, but they often enhance your social media efforts. They include:

  1. Establishing yourself as an expert. This step is a big one and the one most often overlooked. Many authors are hesitant to promote themselves, but if you want to really sell books, it’s critical. People want to buy books written by someone who is someone. In today’s market more than ever, it’s important for you to be perceived as an expert and not as someone who just tapped out a book on the kitchen

    Tactical consultant, Mike Witzgall

    table between chores (forgive the analogy, I trust you get the drift). But I write fiction, you might say, and I’m not an expert at anything! Then become one. Even the distinction of being a professional writer sets you above the vague someone who writes when time allows.  But almost every fiction writer has particular interests and passions that show up repeatedly in his or her writing. Maybe you did a lot of research for your protagonist’s background or expertise. Maybe you have a passion for geneology or herbal cures or a particular dog breed. It can be anything. But pick one, not several, and go with it. Become known as someone who knows all about that topic. Show up on topic specific blogs and make comments. Write articles for appropriate publications and newsletters, both online and print. Use those articles to schedule radio and television interviews on appropriate programs. Read the article by Brian Jud on pursuit of media here. Design a topic appropriate talk to give at community centers and civic clubs or libraries. Most of these venues will either mention your books in the bio or on the air, or will allow you to sell books after the meeting. Consider joining the local Chamber of Commerce or other civic group. Just remember, the goal of these events is to establish you as an expert and the success is not to be judged by how much it does or doesn’t increase your sales at the time. If you’ll just target one or two of these things each month, you’ll be surprised how quickly they add up and more importantly, how they change the way you think of yourself.

  2. Utilizing niche markets. This goes along with the above, but is listed second because it helps if you first establish yourself as an expert in the chosen field. Then zero in on niche markets that others often overlook. There are literally tens of thousands of industry specific newsletters and groups in this country and most of them are always looking for appropriate material for their publications. Some pay, most don’t, but the compensation comes in the form of the 2 – 3 line bio that first gives you expert credibility and second, mentions the title of your book. Think of it as planting seeds. They don’t grow immediately, but keep planting and sales will come. Be consistent enough and you’ll start getting invitations to speak and write in other related venues without having to seek them out.
  3. Making yourself known in the book industry. This is a tough one. So many who are published by small presses or are self-published   have seemingly given up on finding favor here, but that’s too bad. However difficult it may be, and it has become hard, being favored by local booksellers is worth a lot and you can’t really buy that kind of favor. Whatever your genre, do not forget the independent booksellers. They work very hard in the industry in which we all take part, and they, like many, do it for the love of the book. They’re overworked and underpaid, and generally great folks. Pick 4 or 5 of your favorites to start. Learn the names of the principles. If you can find out, learn their birth dates. Send cards. Put links on your website. Send review copies of your latest title and don’t be offended if they don’t review it or immediately agree to carry it in the store. Be nice. Support them with your own purchases, even if you might save a dollar or two buying elsewhere. I promise you, sooner or later it will pay. And besides that, you’ll make some terrific friends along the way. When a reviewer does review your book, don’t forget to say thank you. You’d be surprised how few do. Join an organization that best fits your writing style and get active. Don’t just join everything and do nothing. There are so many more possibilities that it’s not possible to list them all here, but I think you get the idea.

    Maryelizabeth Hart and Terry Gilman of Mysterious Galaxy

    Maryelizabeth Hart and Terry Gilman of Mysterious Galaxy

Constant blog tours, tweeting, FBing and general online presence may not all be enjoyable – I’m not saying it isn’t work. But I am saying in most cases it’s fairly easy, readily accessible, and usually inside your comfort zone. And that’s fine if you want to be average. If you want to excel, though, you’re going to need to go outside that comfort zone to soar. Continue to do those things – they do reach potential readers. But don’t ONLY do those things. Make a schedule for yourself and include the other items that you know will take you to the results you want most. For things you feel you need to do that just seem impossible, or you know you’re not good at – staff your weakness. Barter with someone who’s better at it than you are. Hire a local student. Or someone like me. Don’t just not do it. You deserve the best efforts for promoting something that takes as much talent and investment as writing a book does.

Oh, one more thing. Don’t forget to schedule time for yourself. As with any career or job, you need to punch out and go home sometimes. Do that. I’m going right now to blow bubbles with my granddaughter. She’ll only be two years old for a little while.  Talk to you soon!

Does Promotion Work for Small Press Authors?

PJ Nunn

I get asked similar questions quite a bit and the topic came up yet again today so I thought I’d take a minute or two and share my thoughts with you here.

If you’re reading this, you already know how competitive it is out there. Getting attention for a single title – whether print or ebook – is like trying to identify a particular grain of sand on an endless beach. Some days it really feels hopeless. How can a little-known, small press or self-published author successfully promote his or her book to the point that there’s a visible increase in sales?

I wish I had an easy answer. If anyone tells you there is one, don’t believe them. First of all, understand that while writers and those within the book industry seem inordinately aware of who the publisher is of any title, readers can rarely tell you who published the book they just read. In fact, in working with broadcast media, they rarely ask me about the publisher. Truth is, they just don’t seem to care. Stores care. Libraries care. Newspapers care. There are ways around that.

So, while there is a negative stereotype against self-published books and small presses within the industry (gasp! Not everyone feels that way, but some do), it doesn’t preclude successful promotion efforts. It can, however, make it seem impossible to have a chance at getting your book on many or any store shelves. There are ways around that, too. And, since these days, nobody’s book is in every store, you have a good chance of getting yours in some stores if you really want that. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

If you’ve heard you’re at a disadvantage because your publisher can’t afford to do much marketing, guess what? NO publisher these days can afford to do much marketing. I work with several large publishers in addition to the small press and self-published authors I represent. In the last five years I’ve seen many in-house publicists laid off while those that remained took on twice and even three times the client load they once had. For the same pay. Yikes! Every one I work with tries really hard to get good attention for their authors, but one person can only do so much, even when I often talk to them still in the office at 6 or 7 pm “just finishing up one more project”.

That said, when books from small presses, or any presses, fail to achieve much recognition these days, it’s usually more a problem of too little promotion or too intense in a short time. Slow and steady is what wins the race these days. Repeat, consistent exposure. Too much too soon can make it feel like you’re getting somewhere, but six weeks after the blitz, will anyone remember you? Have you ever heard a short author interview on the radio during drive time on the way to work and swerved off the highway in search of a bookstore to buy the book you just heard about? I know I haven’t.  But I have tucked the name away in my mind if it sounded interesting, then promptly forgot about it later. UNTIL a few weeks down the road maybe I heard it again on another program. Or saw a review of it in the paper. Or maybe just happened to catch a tweet about it online. If the name keeps popping up, sooner or later I’ll pay attention. And so will somebody else.

Because it’s unlikely that anyone will rush out and buy your book the very first time they see your name or title, it’s hard to gauge the success of a campaign. But in the 14 years I’ve been doing this, it’s invariably the ones who just keep going who ultimately build a following and see sales increase. Granted it doesn’t come overnight or without effort, but if you do it right and keep doing it, it will pay off. The question then is how bad do you want it and how much is it worth?

That can be hard to calculate because it’s almost impossible to judge which promotional effort affected which sales. Still, if you’re diligent, you can estimate your cost and approximately how many books you need to sell to cover it. The main problem is you can still be reaping sales for months after the fact. I suggest that you take time to figure out what you make on the sale of each book so you can determine what your sales goals are for a twelve month period. Or until you estimate your next book will come out. Once you’ve determined a realistic sales goal, make sure your promo budget stays beneath that figure. That way you can plan a campaign that won’t put undue financial strain on you, but will still assist you in getting the job done.

At one time, a few years back, the average lifetime sales of a self-published or small press title was 200 – 500 copies. That’s all. IF the book is trade paper and sells for $14.95, and IF you make a 15% royalty ($2.24 per copy) and IF you sell 500 copies, you’ll gross a whopping $1,120. If your only real promotional expense is postage you’ll turn a profit, but most have a few more expenses than that, even without hiring someone like me. So how can you make that work? Obviously you have to sell quite a few more books. Selling 1500 instead of 500 raises your gross to $3,360. Double that at 3000 and so on. Those are reasonable goals. Of course we’d all love to break that 100,000 mark but it might be best to aim a little lower the first time. Like someone once said, if you aim for heaven and fall a little short, you’ll still have reached the sky!

Once you have that budget established, you can map out a campaign to fit. I always promote the author more than any one title, but I do focus on the latest title, unless there’s a special audience that might be more interested in a previous book for some reason. The goal is to make your name familiar so that ultimately when a reader hears you have a new book out they’ll want to read it, whatever its title is. I’ve found a lot of authors would rather focus entirely on the book and don’t like to feel they’re promoting themselves. And other authors, who don’t mind promoting themselves, sometimes come across as conceited and abrasive. There’s a fine line and it’s important for you to learn how to put yourself out there gracefully. In order to accomplish that, we’d want to target several different markets in a variety of venues. Establish yourself as an expert and a professional so that media hosts want to talk to you, journalists want to interview you and store personnel want to get to know you. Most of all, readers will want to read your book!

Back to books not being in stores – that’s the way of the future at this point. There are so many more books being released each month, and so many fewer stores that it’s difficult to get books on the shelves unless you’re touring. Even then it can be a challenge, because so many stores don’t do signing events anymore and it’s so expensive to travel, but it’s doable. The more reasonable goal for most is to make sure they know about your books and know how to order them. That’s one way radio interviews can be of help.

If at all possible, we contact independent stores in the area when we schedule you for a radio interview and ask them to order in a few copies, then make sure you mention on the air that the book is available at such and such a store. Most stores (particularly independent stores) are happy to get the free mention on the radio, and often they’ll continue to carry your books long after. That’s just one way. It can seem endless thinking you have to do that one store at a time, but book promotion is nothing if not a snowball effect. One event builds on another then another and after a while, you’ve created a good trail. It doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t come quick, but it will come as long as the book is good.

Only one thing is truly a guarantee – if you don’t promote it, you won’t sell many. So stop thinking about reasons why promotion won’t work for you, and start finding ways that it can!