Hail Thee, Book Festival Day

img_4619

With my table mate, the irrepressibly talented Amy E. Reichert (l), at Books by the Banks 2016

 

If there’s one occupation I never imagined pursuing again, it was being a salesperson. During high school, in between various food service jobs, I worked a Christmas gig selling office supplies in a mall kiosk, and later sold ladies clothes in a rather grim department store. In college, I was hired by a temp agency to cold-call businesses over the phone to get appointments for the woman who did the actual selling. I was petrified of cold-calling. They gave me a script, which I’m sure had been developed by corporate sales professionals. I hated every moment of those calls. I dreaded going to work, and energetically did every other part of my job that didn’t include cold-calling. They should have fired me, but they didn’t, because I worked hard to make myself otherwise indispensable.

I’m on an extended book tour for The Abandoned Heart all this month, and the early part of November. Tours are a lot of fun. I like to drive, so I don’t mind hopping in the car to do a reading, conference, or festival that’s within a one-and-a-half-day traveling radius. When I started touring almost ten years ago, the norm was single- or two-author bookstore appearances. But there are a lot fewer bookstores these days, and a lot more authors looking for readers.

Enter the book festival. Book festivals are a blast, and a win-win-win (-win) for authors, booksellers, libraries, and charities. They foster a love of books and a love of reading in both adults and children. (If you follow this link, you will disappear down a path leading to pretty much every festival in the known world, and may find yourself imagining that you, too, should definitely be invited to the Blenheim Palace Festival in the U.K. or the exclusive The New Yorker Festival. Ignore the fab photos of the famous actors—you know everyone really will be there to meet the writers!) Book festivals enjoy an economy of scale undreamed of by a single bookstore or library. There’s lots of room for authors and their books, and readers are wonderfully motivated to meet their favorite authors and have their books signed. Plus, a festival is a great opportunity to hang out with other writers.

The flip side is, of course, that you’re cheek-by-jowl with your competition. Friendly competition, but still competition. Writers are there to sell books, and readers are there to buy them.

This past weekend, I was at a table at Cincinnati’s wonderful Books By The Banks Festival, which featured around 150 authors. It was the festival’s tenth anniversary, and I’m not surprised that it continues to thrive. The volunteers are incredibly dedicated, the authors seemed delighted to be there, and it was bustling with readers all day long.

I saw three kinds of authors there: 1) Super-famous authors who had all-day lines; 2) Bored-looking authors who waited—often in vain—for people to come and talk to them; and 3) The rest of us—writers who spent most of the day standing, chatting, laughing and, yes, selling.

I didn’t leave my table often, but as a reader, I found myself pretty overwhelmed. Even though I don’t much read YA or children’s literature, I still buy gifts, so every book was a possibility. And there’s something magical about picking up a book and having it signed—right there—by the author. I still geek out about it.

Something about being face-to-face with readers trying to make a choice between one of my books and another writer’s book reminded me how intimate the relationship between reader and writer is. As writers, we are engaged in a kind of seduction. A tease. Our words must immediately entice a reader—bonus points if a killer cover piques their interest first. During a personal appearance, the writer, rather than the book, has to do most of the talking. That’s what she’s there for: to answer questions, to give the inside scoop, to facilitate the decision without being pushy. It’s a sales transaction, but a delicate one. The buyer is purchasing something with which they will spend long, intimate hours. It’s way more like speed dating than going to the local independent for coffee and a browse. Few readers buy carelessly at book festivals.

I found myself a little annoyed by the bored-seeming authors. I wanted to ask why they even bothered to come. It’s entirely possible that they were shy. After all, most of the 150 authors in attendance got there because they spent many, many hours alone in order to get their books written. But shyness isn’t an excuse. Unless you’re Diana Gabaldon, J.K. Rowling, or Stephen King, you’re going to need to make an effort to sell books. (To be fair, all three of these writers are engaging and interesting people who speak up about their work.)

As difficult as I find it sometimes to come out from beneath my writer-rock, I love connecting with real live readers, and not just the hypothetical ones in my head. The ones in my head frighten me a little. The ones I meet on the road are always friendly and generous, and they renew my energy for writing for them. Truly, salesmanship is the least of it. There are times when I feel a little silly hawking my wares (books), but when I connect with a reader, and I see that spark of joy in their eyes when they slide a book across the table, saying, “Will you sign this for me?” any thought of selling or having sold something slips away. It’s just the two of us, with happiness in between, and I think, “Yes. Yes, this is why I do it.”

 

Have you attended a book festival? How do you feel they compare to individual author events?

 

Laura Benedict’s latest novel is The Abandoned Hearta dark suspense thriller. Learn more about her at laurabenedict.com.

4+

How to Launch a Self-Published Book

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Ah, the book launch. The nerve-wracking bane of the author’s life. Will my baby make it out there in the big, dark, roiling tsunami of content? Will all that love and attention I’ve lavished on my project finally pay off with some actual readers?
In the traditional world it’s getting harder to launch. Publishers are stingy with marketing dollars. Unless a publisher puts some real money behind a title, it’s not likely it will register as more than a sonar blip in the ocean of books. Your single copy is likely to be shelved in a store (remember those?) spine-out. Your publisher has to pay for better placement, and that’s usually reserved for the A-listers.
Book launch parties and bookstore signings can be fun, but are often depressing. All of us who’ve been published traditionally know the feeling of sitting in a bookstore, stacks of our books on the table, watching browsers amble by with a look of pity in their eyes as they go off to find the new Stephen King. We put out bowls of candy and colorful bookmarks, and end up eating both of them ourselves.
In the new world of self-publishing, however, you have control over the launch. So what’s the best way to go about it?
Last week I came out with my newest book, How to Make a Living as a Writer. The launch was a success. The book hit #1 on Amazon’s Writing Skills list and #2 on Small Business.
Let me offer you the simple formula I use.
1. Write the best book you can
No-brainer. Every time out, do your best writing. Study the craft. Keep working at it. By far the biggest factor in a writing career is producing quality. This is the unavoidable law of all business. You can’t sell what consumers don’t like. Ford put a ton of money behind the Edsel, a famous flop named after Henry Ford’s son (even though it sounds like something you take to cure rumblings in the stomach). The public did not like it. So they did not buy it, despite all the fancy ads. Don Draper himself could not sell Edsels.
Thus, if you give your writing 90% of your concentration you’re on absolutely the right marketing track.  
2. Publish your book
I favor having direct accounts with the major retailers. Others opt for a one-stop distributor like Smashwords or Bookbaby. Some use a combination of the two. For example, some go direct with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and then via a distributor for other sites. It’s up to you, of course, but the extra effort to upload directly is not onerous and in return you keep all the profit.
What about going exclusive with Amazon? You can find plenty of debate about that online. If you’re just starting out, however, you need eyeballs on your book. The Kindle Select program is one way to accomplish that. C. J. Lyons, self-publishing megastar, put it this way:
Newer authors with limited readership probably have nothing to lose by granting Amazon exclusivity while they use Select to build their audience. Select becomes a tool to build a presence on the bestseller lists, reviews, and solid sales figures, along with an income before expansion, much in the way that smaller presses can serve as a stepping stone to larger publishers.
One more note: Amazon now offers a pre-order option. I have not used it yet, but will probably try it out soon. (Any of you who’ve had experience with this option, please tells us about it in the comments).

3. Mailing list
The best way to announce a book is to an email list of fans. I’ve been building my list for at least a decade. So my message to you is…start now! Make it easy for people to sign up for your updates on your website. Use one of the services, like Vertical Response, Constant Contact, or MailChimp.
Yes, it’s slow going at first. You have to build a base by producing good book after good book. If it’s your first book, go to your family and friends. Send each person an individualized email. Don’t bcc everyone with a blanket announcement. Shape each email to the person and then ask if they wouldn’t mind spreading the word to their own circle of friends. Offer them a free copy of your book in return for this.
In the back matter of your ebooks have a link to your mailing list form. You want pleased readers to be able to sign up immediately. How do you please readers? See #1, above.
Be smart about your emails. You can’t just send out any old message and hope for the best. You are making a presentation. Every email is a chance to grow fan goodwill or … to have someone hit “unsubscribe.” Write, edit, and re-write those messages. 
I use text only, because I want the message to be personal, not graphics laden. The latter strikes me as too much of a “sales” look.
I make my emails short. People don’t have time to sift through War and Peace. I try to make them fun to read. I’ll include some humor, talk about the book a little, then provide links. I try to stick to only one or two calls for action in an email. One is probably best.
I promise my email list that they will always be the first to know when I have a new book. If you want to see how I do it, feel free to sign up here.
My timing is to send a launch email on the Saturday after the book goes live, because of #4:
4. Blog post
On Sunday, my regular stint here at TKZ, I’ll do a content-heavy post about the book. What I mean by that is it’s not just a sales pitch. I want to make the post about something of value to the audience for the book. The least effective way to sell is to be only about the sale. I want to give people proof that the book is worth buying. You can check out my post on How to Make a Living as a Writer here.
This is, of course, a popular blog, one of Writer’s Digest’s top 101 blogs for writers. The great bloggers here, and those who are now emeritus, have been building the brand for over six years. What if you don’t have a blog, or care to create one?
Then specialize in one social media platform. I chose Twitter. Secondarily, I have a Facebook author page.
5. Twitter and Facebook
So I will make mention of the book on FB And then plan some tweets for the week. During a launch week I’ll stick to a 90/10 ratio of real social interaction and “soft” selling. Normally I’m probably about 95/5 on Twitter. That’s really what social media is for. Build your presence around sharing good content and relational communication.
That’s it. That’s my launch plan. And I don’t have to leave home to do it.
I don’t pay for publicity services, blog tours, banner ads and so on. I’m not against these things if you want to give them a go, but for me the return hasn’t been worth the investment. Concentrating on the five items in this post is the best use of my time.
Down the line, of course, there are the deal-alert services like BookBub, BookGorilla, eBookSoda and the like. But remember your best follow-up action is writing your next book. You need to think in terms of 4 – 5 books that readers love before significant momentum starts to kick in. Keep that in mind and keep writing.

Feel free to share any other ideas you think are effective for a book launch, or marketing in general. What has worked for you, either as an author or a buyer of books? 


0

Giving Good Book Tour

by Michelle Gagnon

In my last post, I mentioned that I was offering a seminar on book events at a writing conference. A few people requested that I post excerpts from what was, if I do say so myself, a brilliant PowerPoint presentation (At least no one fell asleep. Well, the one guy who did wasn’t actually snoring until the very end).

So here are my tips, in a somewhat random order:

The Basics:

Timing is everything, in life and especially in book tours. When planning yours, a few things to bear in mind…

3-6 months before your release date:

  • Contact stores and libraries to set up your tour. There’s a strikingly long lead time for events at some venues, and it’s important to get on their calendar early
  • Partner up (more on this later)
  • Pitch a “theme” event (also, please see below)
  • Convince the booksellers that you’ll be able to draw a crowd, then do your best to fill those seats. Get in touch with the local MWA and SinC chapters of whatever region you’re visiting, and ask nicely if they’d mind posting an announcement about your event. Work those social networks to make sure your followers know that you’ll be coming to their hometown. Call long lost relatives and demand that they show up and buy ten books to make up for that incident in 1992. Whatever it takes.

The week before your book hits shelves:

  • Call a week before to check details. I learned this one the hard way, when my publicist gave me the wrong date for one event, and the wrong time for another. Hell hath no wrath like a bookseller who promoted an event that an author showed up to an hour late. Trust me, checking the details personally in advance can save everyone a lot of tears.
  • Arrive at the venue at least fifteen minutes early to doublecheck the set-up, and (more importantly), to introduce yourself to every bookseller in the store
  • ALWAYS bring extra books. The only times I haven’t also coincided with the times when I packed the place, the bookseller had only stocked a handful of copies, and they rapidly sold out. Times like that, most sellers are happy to buy the books from you on consignment.
  • Remember to bring promotional materials (bookmarks, magnets, pens, etc.) I always tend to remember this one as I’m sitting on a plane, picturing the stack of bookmarks still sitting in a bag by my front door.

Partnering:

I loathe doing a book event by myself, I truly do. Whenever possible, I prefer to share the burden with at least one other author, which has led to some fascinating experiences with a cast of characters ranging from teddy bear aficionados to reformed bank robbers.
Offering an event with one or more other authors has some key benefits:

  • You can interview each other, do a Q & A, or just talk up each others’ books, which tends to be much easier than lauding your own
  • It’s easier to secure a book signing, since booksellers believe (rightly) that two authors are a better draw than one
  • Cross-promotion; your fellow author’s fans learn about your books, and vice versa (and hopefully, they buy copies of both)
  • Worst case scenario, if no one shows up, you have someone to play cards with

Another option to consider: set up an event with more “unconventional” partners. To date, one of my most successful events in terms of sales was at a cocktail party hosted by a friend. She invited me to sell books, a jewelry designer to sell jewelry, and a rep from a kid’s educational toy company to sell toys. And all of us sold out–people came prepared to spend money, and after a few glasses of wine they shopped like mad.

Theme Events:

Booksellers and readers both love novel experiences (no pun intended). If the subject matter of your book naturally lends itself to a theme, fantastic. If not, get creative. Here are some examples:

  • Rhys Bowen hosted “Royal Tea Parties” at bookstores for the release of “Her Royal Spyness.”
  • Kelli Stanley held the release party for her 1930’s era novel “City of Dragons” at a modern day Speakeasy.
  • Heather Graham hosted a séance for “The Séance” release in Salem, Massachusetts.

So if your book involves classic cars, I’d recommend hitting at least as many car shows as bookstores. Same with any craft-related novels–get thee to quilting bees, scrapbooking parties, the works. The teddy bear guy (and no, I’m not making this up, there is a teddy bear guy, and he’s lovely), told me about teddy bear conferences where he’ll set up a table and sell a few thousand books in a single day.

My books don’t tend to have themes, outside of dirty bombs, kidnappings, and terrorists (and those terms don’t naturally lend themselves to mass attendance). At Thrillerfest one year, a group of us were discussing how tough it can be to land events in New York City bookstores.
The following year, we found a way around it– during Tfest, we organized a mass reading at a local Borders with the theme, “Quick Thrills from Out-of-Towners,” asked the extraordinarily gracious Lee Child to serve as our MC, and we managed to pack the place. Creativity can pay off.

In a nutshell, those are my top recommendations. But I’d be curious to hear from both authors and readers: what’s the best book event you ever attended, and what made it so great?

0

The Reality of Book Promotion

Joe Moore’s post yesterday on the effectiveness of book signings made me think about what does and doesn’t work as far as book promotion goes. With each book release, I try new things, ditch what doesn’t work and constantly look for cost effective ways to reach the largest number of readers. For my debut young adult release, I had a marketing strategy to launch IN THE ARMS OF STONE ANGELS that encompassed four pages of a varied promo effort directed at indie stores, libraries, professional organizations, online social media, my mailing list, etc.

Book promotion has changed over the years and the developments are coming even faster as we trend up in the digital world. I have an e-reader now too, which has drastically changed how I buy books and how I hear about novels that interest me. So how does the average author today promote their own book in this evolving business?

This usually translates to online promotion since it’s free (except for the time you put into it). Focusing your marketing and branding efforts online can be an effective means to get the word out to the right people. On my recent summer read tour with fellow Texas YA authors, we had a tour blog set up a couple of months prior to our events that garnered thousands of hits and counting. Old school thinking on group signings is how many books did you sell. New school thinking is about exposure, perception, name recognition and the number of online hits you get before, during, and after the event if it’s promoted effectively online.

A book signing might have ad promo and get people to come see you, but the exposure is greater online where a website’s traffic can be hundreds or thousands of hits a day with the post continuing to get hits even after the book signing event is over. And with a reader already online, they can click on a link and buy your book, or download a sample on their e-reader that might entice them to buy the rest of your novel. This doesn’t mean the book signing is dead. It just means authors have choices on how they spend their time. And some ingenious folks have devised a way for authors to digitally sign a photo taken at the event or their actual e-book. (Here’s one LINK on that.)

Online Marketing I’ve Found Effective:

1.) A professional looking website or blog – Blogs are free if money is tight and you can share the work by putting together a group blog, like TKZ. My website designer – xuni.com – specializes in authors. For great examples of websites with cool navigation, check out her portfolio.

2.) Twitter – Get to know your regional review bloggers. They can be great support.

3.) Other Social Media – I hate Facebook for many reasons, but there are other sites that could be more effective. I’m trying Tumblr now.

4.) Goodreads – If you don’t have an author page here, why not? It’s free and you can link your blog to your Goodreads author page to keep material fresh without much effort. Any Goodreads member is a reader and your target audience.

5.) Amazon Author Central – Did you know that you can update your own author/book page for reviews, book endorsement blurbs, post book trailer videos, etc.? If your brand is important to you, you may want to take control of your author page.

The simple truth is that most authors won’t see a great deal of promotion dollars from their publishers. You’d think that if a house were taking on a new author and book that they would include a certain amount of money geared for promotion, but the reality is that the publisher spends generic dollars on promoting their line of books or other authors’ work and hope readers will notice your book in the process. They rely on the author doing their own promotion. It’s quite conceivable that the average author will spend more to promote their book than their publisher will, especially given that houses are tightening up on advances and other expenses.

So as authors look seriously at self-publishing and e-books, it’s real tempting to cut back on the time consuming and resource depleting efforts to promote that detracts from the time you have to write. Time literally is money in this empowering new future, but having online marketing supports your digital sales. Many might think that simply having your book available for purchase online is enough and that money will roll in. For the average author, this simply isn’t the case. You have to try things to see if they work for you. Traditional houses are watching the self-published authors with solid sales and offering them contracts because they have a readership and a marketing platform that will come along with them. When I first sold, I had no idea how important my own marketing would become. Self-published authors today will know more than I did when I sold, but they will also have to weigh how important it will be for them to sell traditionally if it means giving up control of their copy rights and business decisions.

In my opinion, the number one best thing you can do—whether you get published traditionally or go the self-published route—is to write a good book. And in either case, you’ll need to build a readership, people who like what you do and will come back for more. Online promotion on various fronts is a good way to get the word out in a cost effective manner to tap into a marketplace of the savvy readers we have today.

For discussion, I’d love to hear. How do you find out about books you want to buy these days? And how important is it for you, as a reader, to make a connection with the author either online or in person? What are your favorite ways to do this?

Specifically for authors—aspiring, self-published, or traditionally published—what methods of promotion have you found most helpful? (Yes, aspiring authors should weigh in. Having an online website/blog presence is important for you, too.)

0

Going E

James Scott Bell

Today I announce my first E book exclusive.
Watch Your Back is all new material, a novella and three stories of suspense. Page turning stuff. At least, that’s my claim. For less than a Starbucks latte you can test that claim for yourself. I’d love to hear from you if I’ve done my job.
It’s available for the Kindle and the Nook.
This is all an exciting development for me. While I’m still working under a traditional contract, I see this arena as a way to complement that work. I’ll be growing new readers and giving my current readers more product. What’s not to like about that?
But mostly it’s about the writing. 
See, I always wanted to do one thing, since I was a kid: write stories. Write books. The kind of books I loved to read. Page turners. Twisty plots. Up all night stuff.
I had to work hard to get there, but I did. And I’ve appreciated every moment of the ride.
There were some years I put out two novels in a year (and once or twice with a non-fiction writing book thrown in). But that had to be it, because of publishing schedules, limited shelf space in the stores and so on.
Now I don’t have to wait 18 months for a book see the light, or worry about getting more than spine-out shelf space once it does. I can have a book out there as soon as I think it’s ready. And readers can have it in their hands in seconds.
I always admired the pulp writers of the golden age. The era of Black Mask and Chandler and Hammett and Cornell Woolrich, guys writing fast and furious for a penny a word, providing stories for a voracious public. Turning out some of the greatest examples of American suspense ever written.
I wanted to write in that tradition, and now I can.
It begins here, with Watch Your Back.
In the title novella, hotshot IT guy Cameron Cates seems to have it all. A secure job, a fiancée who loves him and the prospect of a steady life ahead. But then he sees her.  The new woman at work. And like watching a car crash in slow motion, Cam knows he can’t turn away and is powerless to stop what happens next. A tale of lust and greed and corporate America––and what happens to dreams that become all too real.
Fore Play is the story of the world’s top golfer and the trouble that follows his off the course activities. Let’s put it this way: his game will never be the same.
In Rage Road, a nice young couple thinks they’re out for a smooth ride through some lovely country. The truck behind them has a different idea.
Married man Frank Dabney has learned to listen to his wife, Susie. But in Heed the Wife he finds out he may have listened one too many times. 
For Watch Your Back I hired cover designer Jeff Gerke (if you’re interested in his services you can contact him by going here. Tell him I sent you). I had beta readers read and edit the content, and hired out the text formatting.
But the stories are mine and it’s an absolute thrill to be able to share them with you now. There’s more to come.
Is this a golden age for writers or what?
So allow me to consider this a launch party of sorts, for Watch Your Back and my future e-books. I’m just sorry I can’t offer you a glass of wine and some gourmet cheeses. But I’ll hang out here today and read your comments and answer any questions you might want to sling my way.
And thanks for stopping by.
0