Saturday

What Kind of Marketing Does an Author Do?

Yesterday, I mentioned some of the kinds of things that publishers do on the marketing end of the publishing process. Today seems a logical day to discuss the kinds of things that you can (and often should) do to help market your book.

Many first time authors erroneously believe that they shouldn't have to do anything. They figure that they did the work of writing the book, now the publisher can do everything else.

Personally, I think this is flat out daft. Publishing a book is a business. You enter into a partnership with the publisher when you sign your contract. In no other business partnership would a sane person then just hand over all control and power and then hope for the best.

Besides, your book will never be as important to your publisher as it is to you, especially with your first book. Your book is most likely the only one you have coming out that year. Even at the smallest of presses, this is unlikely to be the case. With the big houses, you could be literally one book out of dozens being produced that month, much less over the year. And even at the small houses where your editor may have read the manuscript dozens of times, he/she still has not put in the kind of time, effort, or love that you have. And the house publicist may not have read the book at all. You are the best advocate for your book. You should take this responsibility seriously.

So, here are some things you can do to market your book:
  • Participate in your publisher's marketing efforts.
    If your publisher arranges an interview for you, a book tour, etc. participate if humanly possible. Granted, if they want you to go on an international 9-month book tour for your debut chapter book two weeks after your triplets are born, feel free to say no (after you recover from the shock of the extravagance your publisher had been willing to go to.) But for reasonable requests, try to be accessible. In the past I have worked with at least one author who I later heard from other staffers was completely unwilling to participate in any marketing efforts. The marketing person offered to help set up booksignings, send the author in question postcards to mail out, and other marketing assistance. The author said it would be a waste of time and money because he/she would rather die than have anything to do with the public. This and similar sentiments were not exactly the response we had been hoping for.
  • Build your brand.
    This is the number one thing you should be working towards. You need to create your public persona -- your author brand, if you will. One of the easiest way to build interest in your books is to already have people interested in you. The cheapest way (as in free) to do this is to blog. Since you are reading this, and therefore most likely also blog, congratulations, you are on your way to brand building. This is an excellent venue for telling people all about your book. Other good places are websites, joint blogs, newsletters, and enewsletters, speaking engagements (which can actually generate additional income), panels, and any writing you do for magazines, journals, or their electronic counterparts.
  • Build your mailing list.
    Regardless of where you are in the publishing process, you should be working towards building the most comprehensive mailing list of your life. This should make that wedding invitation list or holiday card mailing (the one you thought impossibly massive) look like a quickly jotted grocery list. Every person you know, your parents know, your spouse knows, or your children know should be on that list. Every business card you receive should be added to it. No one, not your dentist or your kid's preschool teacher, should escape. By the time your first book comes out you should have a list that would make a junkmailer jealous.
  • If your publisher doesn't do it, produce some of your own marketing materials.
    Bookmarks are more likely to be kept if the person receives it directly from the author rather than a random publisher representative. Also, tshirts that authors and their families wear are great advertising. With no design experience at all, you can upload your cover to places like Cafe Press and have a tshirt printed for the same price as a store-bought branded tshirt. On the other hand, as a publisher, printing up several dozen or more tshirts for giveaways is very expensive and does nothing if the people they're given to never wear them. And there's no way to force people to wear them.
This is becoming a phenomenally long post, so I'll stop here. This is a good, brief overview of stuff you can do. If you have questions, let me know, and we can always devote future posts going into greater detail.

And if you're going to be in Austin April 25, one of the break out sessions at the conference I mentioned in earlier posts will specifically deal with online marketing and blogging. I personally believe that these two things are the most important weapons in the marketing arsenal, so I'll be telling you all about them for that hour or so.

Friday

What Kind of Marketing Does a Publisher Do?

The other day I was indirectly asked by an author what kind of promotion does Blooming Tree do vs. what was expected from the author. Now, I am not in charge of the marketing and promotional work over at Blooming Tree and never have been. I can only answer with 100% confidence for CBAY Books. However, what I do at CBAY is similar to what is done at Blooming Tree which is similar to what is done at most other presses (big or small) for a mid-list book.

(The marketing done for a blockbuster or potential blockbuster book is radically different. Most authors never see the kind of marketing dollars that books like the later Harry Potters, Brisingr, Twilight sequels, or even Audrey, Wait! get. So, we're going to discuss the marketing done for normal books with normal authors.)

What the Publisher does:
  • Pitch the books to chains, independent bookstores, and libraries.
    This doesn't guarantee sales to the end consumer, but availability always helps. (In the case of CBAY and Blooming Tree, this will soon be done by our new distributor, National Book Network. However, I can't say with absolute certainty when this transition will take place since the whole process is taking 6-9 times longer than I expected. I will freely admit to feeling frustration over it all.)
  • Produce advance readers for most hardcover books and some paperbacks.
    These readers can then be given to the sales force to be given to potential buyers, sent to reviewers, handed out at trade shows and generally create buzz over a book.
  • Send books to reviewers and award programs.
  • Produce marketing material.
    This can include, but isn't limited to: posters, bookmarks, TIP sheets for the sales force, stickers, postcards, websites, dumps, storytime kits, and any other random promo type item you can think of (pens, tshirts, etc.) I personally think that pretty much all of these items except for TIP sheets and websites are a waste of money, mostly because most promotional items end up in the trash.
  • Have or hire a publicist.
    Most of the large houses have staff publicist. How much time or effort they'll spend on your book depends on the book's budget, the publicist, and your relationship with him/her. Most small presses have to hire a publicist by the project. At CBAY, I will (and have) subsidize a publicist on a book by book basis.
  • Physical book tours for your book.
    First off, these are rare for first time authors unless its a book the publisher is really standing behind. Even then, the tour is going to consist more of trade show dinners and talks rather than bookstore signings. I have never subsidized a book tour, partly because I have never been given a proposal for one, and partly because I know how depressing a poorly attended book event can be. However, I would consider helping an author do one that was geared more around school visits and places where the author possessed truly masterful mailing lists.
These are some of the main highlights of what a publisher plans to do with its marketing dollars. Tomorrow, I'll discuss what the publisher expects the author to be doing.

Wednesday

Interesting New Blog to Look At

I recently found out about a new blog devoted to all you fantasy and science fiction writers. At The Spectacle authors of midgrade and teen speculative fiction chat about their genre. Definitely worth a peek.

Sunday

April Conference in Austin

The official announcements have been made, and the registration has opened up. The conference I am speaking at in Austin can now be signed up for. It is being sponsored through the local Austin SCBWI on April 25, 2009.

I will be speaking at both breakout sessions and doing critiques. Apparently the critique spots are already starting to fill up quickly so if for some reason you are deadset on working with me, you'll want to go ahead and get your registration in. A downloadable copy of the registration packet is available here.

See you all in April!

Friday

Getting by With a Little Help from Your Friends

One of the many things I love about Austin is our strong, active children's writing community.

I'm very lucky to live in a city where we have a concentration of social children's authors. Whether it's panels or meetings hosted by our local SCBWI or the Texas Writer's League, we have many opportunities to get together and share writing war stories.

Just last night I attended a panel on first drafts -- I wasn't on it, I just went to listen to other people discuss the craft. After the panel, the Leitich Smiths (one of the most social writing couples I think I've ever met) rounded up all the children's writers and herded us out for drinks.

(And before I'm bombarded with emails on the evils of drinking and pregnancy, rest assured, I had three glasses of water and chicken nachos. I have witnesses.)

While out, I had the chance to catch up on industry and local gossip, and I was able to meet some newer (to me) members of the writing community. I had a wonderful time just sitting and talking books with all of these people. I'm greatful for the adult, non-baby related conversations I was able to participate in. It was nice to get out of the house and away from the computer, even for a few moments.

I would like to encourage everyone to get out and mingle with your fellow authors. Writing can be a very solitary pursuit -- just you and your keyboard or pad of paper. Interactions like these help you maintain perspective. Having trouble with a first draft? Get Cynthia to tell you all about how she deletes every first draft she ever writes. And I don't mean throws away the hardcopy. No, no. She makes every copy, paper or electronic, disappear. Forever. When your hear the tale, it's both liberating and heartbreaking at the same time.

And best of all, hanging out with your fellow authors is the best networking you can do. You'll find out who's agent is looking at work, what school has the most lucrative school visits, etc. So, get out there and start talking. Break that stereotype of the wan author locked in a dark windowless room working feverishly on a manuscript. You can do that when you get back.

And, if you do happen to be lucky enough to live in Austin, the SCBWI has a meeting tomorrow at BookPeople. See you all there.

Thursday

A Twit Tweets on Twitter (Say that 3 times fast)

I have finally joined the world of Twitter and have officially become a Twit.

(Personally, I feel that many of my friends and family have considered me a twit for years, but since I didn't tweet on Twitter my twitiness was still debatable.)

I have to confess that I've known about Twitter for quite some time, but I'd been reluctant to join in. Perhaps I didn't understand the joy of micro-blogging. Perhaps I thought it pointless and a waste of time. Perhaps I am just getting old and don't catch on to new technologies as quickly. Or it could be a little bit of all of the above.

However, as my time constraints seem to grow at the same rate as my belly, I find it harder and harder to blog even 4 times a week, much less daily. And that brings Twitter and its micro-blogging platform to the rescue. I do think I can manage to type 3 sentences on a regular basis. And if it's as addictive as I hear, I'll soon have tweets coming out the wazoo.

If you go to visit my tweets right this second, they aren't very exciting. However, I'm going to hear the Leitich Smiths (Cynthia and Greg) speak on a panel hosted by the Writer's League of Texas. I think this may give me a chance to show my new twitiness off.

Wednesday

New Year, New Books

This year we'll be putting out 4 books here at CBAY. My editorial assistant has been hard at work trying to get them all copyedited. And I have been working hard to get covers and interiors done.

Now, I feel the need to show off my progress so far. Here are the books releasing in August:

The highly anticipated, at least by me, sequel to last year's Book of Nonsense, The Infinite.

Briefly, this book picks up where the last book left off -- the twins still have to fulfill The Council's mission and destroy the Book of Nonsense. Unfortunately, it's in the hands of the badly burned but still deadly Emmett. What's worse, Rash's ledger of containing lists of words of power have turned up at the dump where someone is wreaking havoc. If the twins work together, they might have a chance. The problem is, they might not actually be working together.

Curious to know more? I'll be posting an excerpt from the book next week.

This is CBAY's debut paperback release, The Secrets of the Cheese Syndicate, by Class of 2k9 debut author, Donna St. Cyr.

In this book, Robert Montasio did not think his day could get any worse until his sister drinks a bizarre soda that causes her to start shrinking. Robert's only hope is a mysterious organization known as the Secret Cheese Syndicate. Unfortunately, they cannot help without a special cheese that has been lost for years. Now, with a tiny little sister in his pocket, Robert has to travel the world to find the Mystic Cheese of Eliki and, perhaps, discover secrets from his family's past.

Thursday

Blogging for Beginners

In April I will be speaking at a conference here in Austin. It won't be publicized for a few more days, so I'm going to be mysterious about it until then.

At the conference I will be doing a session on Online Marketing with an emphasis on blogging. Now because of the way this conference is structured, I anticipate most of my audience to be beginner or even "new to the concept of blogs" bloggers. I thought one interesting way to introduce them to the kid-lit-o-sphere would be to offer them advice from other friendly bloggers.

And that's where you come in. I would love it if everyone would post a friendly piece of general advice for novice bloggers in the comments section of this post. Then, I'll use the advice (with your blog address attached of course) during my presentation. If for some reason you do not want me quoting your advice or would prefer to remain anonymous, please let me know. And then in 10 weeks time when I invariably post my presentation, you'll be able to see what stellar advice all of you offered to the next wave of bloggers.

I think I would like to make this presentation a little more interactive then most, so I'll probably have more questions and want more advice in the future. Just so you know. :)

Tuesday

Amazonian Fulfillment

One of the best markets for a small press is Amazon. It's easy to get our books listed, they take the same discount as a wholesaler but with a much lower return rate, and they are a huge portion of the online book market.

However, recently, I have been feeling a wee bit frustrated with Amazon. One of our books has been constantly showing up as being out of stock. On one hand that means the book has been selling well. On the other hand, it means that current sales are down. People are much less likely to order a book when it shows up as out of stock.

I would love for the book to start showing up as back in stock. But there's nothing I can do about it. Hence, my aggravation.

You see, Amazon works in a very specific manner. Once a week they place an order for books. I send them the books and they show up in stock. The book sells, they order more, etc. and the cycle continues.

My "problem" right now is that one of my books massively outsold the quantity Amazon had on hand. And for some reason, Amazon isn't ordering enough books at any one time to both cover the backordered books and to keep books in stock. So, the book keeps staying listed as out of stock.

Ah, the joys of small business ownership.

Wednesday

Tip of the Week 2/4/09

Tip of the Week: Practice those one sentence pitches.

Remember how way back last summer I talked about pitching? Well, the subject is still important even today.

Just now, I had my assistant start to write up a one-sentence pitch for one of our fall books. It took her about a half hour, and I thought she just might scream in frustration.

One sentence pitches are hard to do. Practice now. You never know when you'll need one.

(And I know I never finished those pitch contest entries. I'm still slowly but surely getting through them. Between the books releases and the First Trimester of Doom, some stuff has gotten really backed up.)

Tuesday

Shirking Notoriety

At the end of April, I will be speaking at a conference here in Austin. It'll be my last appearance while my immediate family consists only of adults, so I'm feeling a bit nostalgic towards it.

Today, I received an email asking for the obligatory bio that every conference presenter needs. Turns out that I dislike talking about myself just as much as I dislike telling random strangers about my books when working in my bookstore. After a few snarky false starts, I managed to type something only moderately sarcastic. Job well done.

But then came the horror, the terror, the hideous request of the email. They wanted a photo.

Now, I am always making my authors have author photos taken. They are very important. Whether they like it or not, authors are the faces of their books. We need pictures of them for press kits, jacket flaps, event posters, websites, etc. I have a headshot for all my published and most of my soon to be published authors on file.

But I am not an author. I am a shadowy, insubstantial being hiding in the background deciding whether the manuscript in my hand will live or die a slow death rotting in the rejection pile. Well, that's a bit melodramatic. Okay, very melodramatic. But my point is that I am not the public aspect of my books. That's the author.

(You could argue, and argue rightly, that I am the public persona of my company and therefore should have been prepared. And yes, you would most certainly be right.)

So, I was completely unprepared for this photo request, mostly because this is the first time a conference has ever asked for one but also because I have generally worked to preserve my anonymity. You may or may not have noticed, but my name, image, or any other identifying characteristic generally do not appear on the web.

However, since I'm about to be outed (so to speak) in this conference's marketing material, let me present to you the Publisher of CBAY Books:

Me

Monday

A True Story

Yesterday while manning my shift at the bookstore, I overheard a conversation between a kid and his father. The boy had grabbed a copy of The Book of Nonsense off of the shelf. In the store, the book has a face out with a staff selection underneath. The boy took the book to his father and proceeded to explain to him how great this book was and to read to him the excerpt on the back of the book.

Needless to say, the dad wasn't real thrilled about buying a hardcover book when he had been expecting his kid to pick out a paperback. But, the boy was adamant. He had to have that particular book. And to show just how serious he was, he offered to put back the graphic novel he had been planning to get as well. That sold the dad, and the book was purchased. (Just to make sure, I checked the sales data later. The book really did leave the store.)

Now, during this whole exchange I have to confess that I didn't say a word. Sometimes if a parent appears to be wavering and it's a book I've read, I'll step in and pitch the book to the parent. Most of the time I can at least give the parent a better idea about the book. Kids are not always coherent when describing why a book is so great. But in this instance I didn't say a thing.

Admittedly, part of this was because I wanted to see what would happen. And a lot of the reason why I didn't intervene was because the parent didn't want to buy a hardcover. It had nothing to do with the book itself. And let me tell you, in general, if a parent doesn't want to buy a hardcover, nothing is going to induce him/her to buy a hardcover. Period. This kid changing his dad's mind was the exception not the norm.

But there was another reason, one I'm much more ashamed of. I didn't go over there for the same reason that despite these books having been out for three months now, I've only started consistently handselling them: I get shy, tongue-tied and embarrassed.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not embarrassed because I think the books are bad or I don't want to associate with them. It's quite the opposite. I get embarrassed because they are MINE. I think I would feel the same way if I was the author of a book. It's ridiculous, especially in my case where no one knows I'm the publisher. Besides, I'm a bookseller, and it's my job to recommend books.

And that I think is my ultimate problem. I'm paid to recommend books to people, so I somehow feel there's a conflict of interest because with the books I publish I also have a financial stake in them. And I'm beginning to realize how silly this is. The books I publish are books I genuinely like. A lot. I'm happy to sing their praises on any blog I'm associated with, so there's no reason why I shouldn't be doing the same with customers in person. If I'm comfortable putting the book on the BookKids Blog, I should be just as comfortable placing it in a customer's hand. And from now on I will.

But all this dithering got me thinking. This cannot just be a phenomenon exclusive to me. Others out there must have been in a similar situation where there was the perfect opportunity to sell one of your books and you funked it. Please feel free to share. After all, misery loves company.

Sunday

Good News for Children's Publishers

As was mentioned in one of the comments for the previous post, the economy has tanked. And as all of you know, the margins in publishing are very small. In fact, unless you have a huge blockbuster, it's hard to make a fortune on a children's book. (Sorry if I'm crushing anyone's dream. You can make a good living as a children's author and/or illustrator, just not a fortune.)

So, as a children's publisher, I was very relieved when a potential book expense was removed -- at least for this year. As of right now, I will not have to get the 4 books I'm putting out lead tested.

You see, as part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), all products produced "primarily for children 12 and under" must have certification that they don't contain more than a certain amount of phthalates and only have a certain amount of lead.

In general, this is a good thing. We don't kids ingesting phthalates (whatever those are) or lead. However, the difficulties were in the certification. Now, when it came to the phthalates, the plant that physically manufactures the product can certify the product, but for lead certification, tests must be performed by an independent third party.

Since my books are printed on recycled paper with vegetable based inks, my printer has assured me that they meet the phthalates and lead requirements. But under the current guidelines, I would still have to spend $500-800 a book to get it lead-free certified. And in an industry with such slim margins, that can make the difference between a book that profits or breaks even and a book that even with a sold out print run generates a loss.

So, you can imagine my relief when the CPSC (the agency overseeing interpretation & implementation of the law) decided to issue a year's stay on the implementation of the certification requirements. The products have to meet the requirements, I just don't have to prove it quite yet.

This is great because beside not having the expense this year, it means that CPSC has more time to determine exactly what needs to be tested. There is some debate that traditional books (hardcover & paperbacks) are not necessarily intended for "primarily for children under 12" but for adults as well and therefore would be exempt anyway. It's all very confusing and difficult, and all children's publishers are sitting around waiting to see what we'll need to do.

If you're curious about the issue, you can visit the CPSC site devoted to this issue.

And in the meantime, rest assured that if your ten year old decides to munch on a copy of The Book of Nonsense or The Emerald Tablet, he should be safe -- at least from phthalates and lead. I can't say what all that paper will do to his digestive tract.