Michelle Moran is the acclaimed and bestselling author of NEFERTITI, published by Crown in 2007, and THE HERETIC QUEEN, which just came out last month. She will be stopping by as time allows to answer questions.
Thanks so much to Michelle for putting together these incredible posts!
Get A Professional Website
Right around the time your final book cover appears, you should have a website up and running (or close to it). I don’t mean a free, do-it-yourself website, but a real, professional-looking site with a photo of you that wasn’t taken in the 1980s. When readers go surfing for author websites, they are looking for more information about you, your books, and what’s coming next. If you really feel like going all out, create a page that’s just for Bloggers, or a page that’s just for Book Clubs, where readers and reviewers can contact you to set up talks, guest posts, Q&As, etc. This way, your website isn’t just providing readers with great information, it’s also actively working for you.
Start A Blog
On a similar note, if you’re going to begin a blog, make sure there’s constantly changing content which will keep people coming back day after day. If you’re not sure where to start, check out what other authors are already doing. A great example of a blog which revolves around a particular theme is historical fiction author C.W. Gortner’s Historical Boys, and a wonderful example of a more eclectic approach is historical romance author Deanna Raybourn’s Blog A Go-Go. What I really can’t recommend is starting a blog in which the posts are all about your book, your promotional activities, and where you can next be seen on tour. Who in the world is going to want to come back day after day to read that? Besides, news of that sort should be featured on your website under a “News” section (unless you find it easier to update a blog versus your website. In which case, make it clear you are not writing a blog, but an author-news page). Of course, if your blog has a theme or interesting content other than your promotional activities, it doesn’t hurt to slip in a post every now and again about your own books.
Get To Know Reviewers
There are hundreds upon hundreds of reviewers out there, many of whom would gladly review your book if given the opportunity (and a free one). Every author receives copies of their own book after publication, and the day these arrive at my house are the same day they leave, signed to several dozen reviewers I’ve met online. Along with signed copies, I also ask the reviewers if they would like a guest post on a particular topic of their choosing (or a generic one), a Q&A of their own making (or, again, a generic one), and whether they’d like two free books to give away on their site. I do this until my books run out. This doesn’t mean you should expect a good review (after all, you want the reviewers to be honest, otherwise their readers won’t trust them), but you can expect “free” publicity. Book bloggers are some of the friendliest people in the world. They are also incredibly kind, and an email asking if they’d like a book to review is almost always answered with a yes (assuming you actually read their blog and know that it’s the right blog to review your book).
Look to the newspapers
Writing an op-ed piece for a newspaper is a fantastic way of creating a little extra buzz for your book. Historical fiction author Robin Maxwell has contributed several pieces to the Huffington Post, many of which mention the subject of her previous books and all of which come with a bio. If you don’t think you have anything to say which would warrant an entire column in a major newspaper, start thinking in terms of historical metaphors and similes. In one of Robin’s columns, she compares Hillary Clinton to Anne Boleyn, the subject of her debut novel. By writing this piece, she increased awareness of her work and added a publishing credit to her already long list. Visibility never hurts (well… unless you’re getting caught for plagiarizing). Just take a look at the hoopla surrounding Sherry Jones’ novel The Jewel of Medina about the prophet Mohammed’s nine year old wife. What began with an outraged reviewer and subsequent cancellation of her book turned into a publicity juggernaut and windfall for her. Almost any publicity is good publicity. If you don’t believe that, just take a peek at James Frey’s Amazon numbers three years after the publication of A Million Little Pieces, which caused Oprah to cry – and not in a good way. Of course, Amazon purchases count for a very small percentage of a book’s overall sales, but nevertheless, the point remains. Publicity is your friend, and when it comes for free, it’s your BFF.
Consider Hiring an Outside Publicist
While every author wants publicity, the in-house publicist who has been assigned to you is busy. In fact, she’s more than busy, she’s overwhelmed and probably spread too thin. She has many books to tend to, some of which may have been written by larger and more successful authors than you. Even if you’re not at the bottom of the totem pole, you’re still not going to be receiving weekly emails updating you on where books are being sent, and you’re almost certainly not going to be getting phone calls asking which publicity ideas are your favorite and whether they should be implemented this week or next. The fact that your in-house publicist can’t do all of this for you isn’t personal, it’s simply business. She is already doing everything she can to help your career and is probably even going out of her way to follow up on leads that may or may not go anywhere (unless you’ve acted like a jerk, in which case she’s not going out of her way. With so many authors to juggle, who needs high-maintenance whiners?). Given all of this, it is possible that you may want to look into hiring an outside publicist, assuming that you’re given the okay by your house.
The time to hire an outside publicist is a year before your book comes out. This will give the new publicist time to read your work, come up with a marketing and publicity plan, and hopefully begin implementing some of the more complicated plans long before your in-house publicist is even allowed to start working on your book (which is about three to five months before publication). A publicist is paid in a variety of ways. Some charge by the project, others work at an hourly rate (expect a quote of $50-$150/hr), while still others work month by month and will expect you to commit to a minimum number of hours for a minimum number of months. Usually, the minimum number of months is three, which is really a very short time for a good publicist to put together and implement a fantastic plan.
How do you know if a publicist is going to be worth it, since most will cost at least $10,000? Look at her list of past and current clients, then feel free to email them and ask their opinions. However, keep in mind that no one can guarantee a review in the NYT, and anyone who tells you differently probably has a side business selling used watches out of their trench-coat. Instead, what a good publicist can do for you is guarantee exposure. I happened to be at RWA in San Francisco while I was looking for a publicist, and after hearing bestselling author Debbie Macomber praise her publicist Nancy Berland, I had a meeting with a Borders Book Buyer who also recommended Nancy (out of the blue). Thinking that this was surely some sort of a sign, I did some research on my own, then decided to hire Nancy to help publicize (and market) my third book, Cleopatra’s Daughter. The book comes out a year from the time of writing (September 2009) which makes this the perfect time to start planning a campaign.
Consider Doing Some of Your Own Marketing
Once the first chunk of your advance comes through (it’s often sent in thirds: the first third upon signing, the second upon acceptance of the edited manuscript, and the last third upon publication) you may want to set aside a percentage for marketing. This can be anywhere from $500 to a whopping $150,000. If $150,000 sounds like an eye-popping amount, it certainly is, but some of the really big authors do set aside those kind of dollars for their outside publicists to market their work (or brand, in their case). For most authors, however, a few thousand dollars is more than enough, and once those dollars are set aside, the difficult job of deciding where to spend that money begins. Marketing can be done almost anywhere, and when I was looking into marketing my debut novel, I checked out every possibility, from radio commercials to display panels on public phone booths (yes, all five remaining ones). I even checked out billboards and theatre advertising.
The conclusion I came to was that online marketing gets the biggest bang for your buck. You’ve heard it before, and probably ad nauseum, but the internet is the future (and the present) of advertising. When Perez Hilton can charge $18,000 for a week’s worth of advertising on his site and have so many ads they are stacked one on top of the other, you bet there’s money to be made online. And he doesn’t make that money without good reason. Whether or not you like his site, 49 million viewers a week check in, and that’s a lot of eyeballs on your ad if you decide to buy a spot there. Ads like his can be purchased at blogads.com, or you can forget the hassle of doing it yourself and go through MJ Rose, who also offers her fantastic Author Buzz service to new authors which I can highly, highly recommend (in fact, if money is tight and you can do only one thing for your book, this might be what you want to purchase). MJ gets special rates on blogs like Perez, and her own blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype, has wonderful information on book marketing.
When choosing where to advertise, consider your book’s target audience. I don’t just mean male or female, old or young. I mean what do your readers do with their spare time? Are they gardeners or café dwellers? Do they own cats or dogs? When considering this for my debut novel on ancient Egypt, cat-lovers sprang to mind, and of all of my ads, the ones on cat-related sites have done the best. I also saw significant click-thrus on romance sites, even though my books aren’t romance. And don’t be afraid to call up or email places like the NYT or CNN to ask for their advertising rates. But before you do, be familiar with the lingo, because some of the bigger sites, like USA Today, will quote you prices in terms of CPM (cost per mille, which is Latin for a thousand) and ask what your ideal flight date is (a date which should correspond with your co-op).
When looking into places to advertise, some authors will consider radio ads, but my guess is that if you’re going to do radio, you need to already be a brand. Since there’s nothing for the listener to see, they must decide to purchase or not purchase the book based on a name. King is a brand. Patterson is a brand. For an author who isn’t widely known, visual is probably better. I think radio is a reminder to readers that a new [insert brand name] has come out, whereas TV commercials can flash the book cover of an unknown author and see a bigger movement in sales. I would need to ask my marketing department to back me up on this, but that’s my gut feeling.
Of course, an author can choose not to do any marketing at all. For my first novel, I set aside a part of my advance for it. But for my second novel, I did very little. Instead, my publishing house was willing to do most of the extra marketing (which I had done previously) on their own budget, and this is where knowing the difference between marketing and publicity (and meeting the people who work in these departments) comes in. Once you’ve done some of your own advertising and you know firsthand what works, you’re in a much stronger position to email your marketing department and ask if they would like to foot the bill for a particular ad. Sometimes it will be a yes, sometimes it will be a no, but it’s much more likely to be a “yes” if you can prove it’s worked in the past.
Yet even with my publishing house paying for more ads, when my third novel comes out next year, I will be back to doing my own marketing. This isn’t because my house will be doing less (Crown is wonderfully supportive, and any author who lands there is lucky in the extreme). It’s because I believe that pitching-in is a good business decision. Moreover, the one who pays the bill is the one who has the control over the look and layout of the ads, of where the online ads should be linked, and which dates the ads should run. Being in control is rather nice, and I’ve discovered that although I’m definitively a Type B personality in everyday life, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I morph pretty furiously into a Type A when it comes to business decisions. Not only that, it’s a matter of already having done the hard work. Since I took the time find out which online sites worked best for my first novel (and which designers could be counted on to produce something eye-catching in a timely fashion), purchasing an ad here and there no longer takes the time that it used to.
Create A Book Trailer
Books trailers come in many shapes and sizes, and by this I mean anything from home-made movies to studio-productions. A book trailer can be made for any type of novel, from nonfiction (see The Dangerous Book For Boys) to adult fiction (see The Judas Strain) to YA (see Rumors). If you decide to make a trailer for your book, the first thing you’ll need to consider is your budget. If you’re doing something produced at home, well then, no worries, but if you want to have photos with professional voiceover and copyrighted music, you’ll be looking at spending at least $800. For something more upscale an author can hire a company like Expanded Books which made C.W. Gortner’s trailer for his novel The Last Queen. And for a trailer made by an actual director who will use green-screen, hire actors, rent costumes, rustle up props and have an on-set stylist, you’re looking at $5000 or so. I found the director I hired to shoot my book trailer for Cleopatra’s Daughter on GalleyCat. Brady Hall was punctual, charming, enthusiastic, and best of all, open to any and all ideas. From concept to finished product, it took about a month.
Once your book trailer is finished, however, an author needs to start thinking about unique ways of utilizing it. Will you be playing it in theatres, using it for commercials, navigating the right channels to display it on B&N.com, or will you simply be posting it on YouTube and hoping for the best? Publishers rarely pay for book trailers themselves, since there’s no way of knowing whether or not they work. Of course, you can always incorporate the trailer into an online ad and study the click-thus versus a static or flash ad. Then, armed with these numbers, perhaps your publisher may be more willing to pay for the next one. If not, an author must look at those numbers him/herself and determine whether the cost is worth it.
Get The Inside Scoop
Getting the inside scoop means knowing which options are available to your publishing house for promoting and marketing your book. By becoming familiar with these various options, you can be in the position of mentioning them to your editor or marketing contact as possibilities. Why wouldn’t your publishing house simply act on these options versus waiting for you to bring them up? Because many of them are expensive, require extra time, and are only done for the books that are being given a huge marketing push.
The White Box, Red Box Program is something your publishing house can choose to participate in if they so desire. It is run through Indie Bound, which will send red and white colored boxes to all of the independent bookstores on their list. In the boxes are things like ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies – like galleys), tear-off shelf-talkers (paper displays which sit on the shelf and draw the reader’s attention to a particular book), easel-back signs, posters, postcards, bookmarks and more. Each of these items come with a different price tag. In 2005, for example, sending a shelf-talker each to the nine hundred stores cost $50, while bookmarks cost $350. If you send these items to a bookstore on your own, the chances are that they will end up in the garbage (and cost a pretty penny to produce and mail). That is what makes WBRB so useful.
The White Box, Red Box program, however, isn’t the only way of sending out these promotional items. Shelf-talkers can also be shipped to the big chains, like B&N and Borders. Getting them made will require the permission of your marketing department, just as floor displays (which go under co-op), require your marketing department’s approval. You’ve seen these cardboard stands in B&N featuring twelve of an author’s most recent books. They are quite pricey to make and ship, but if your publishing house hasn’t mentioned them, ask anyway. The answer will probably be no, but it’s worth a shot! And a firm “not possible” this time around just might turn into a “let’s see what we can do” for the next book.
That means leave negativity alone. One would think this goes without saying, but a quick skim of Dear Author can tell you that many authors suffer from badreviewaphobia. This is the abnormal fear, and possibly even the uncontrollable rage, over a poor review, be it on Amazon, in a newspaper, or anywhere else. Take it as a fact that there will be readers who dislike your book. Forget dislike. There will be reviewers who loathe your book entirely (and maybe even you, as well). Justified or not, it is exceptionally foolish of an author to get into an online debate with a reviewer who doesn’t like your book. Worse still is the author who sneakily asks a friend to go online and bash the reviewer. Take my word on this: you will be found out. In one way or another, even if no one can prove it, this will be discovered and readers will not trust your reviews or your books after this. So don’t do it. Aside from the fact that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, it is just poor form (and possibly karma – the jury is still out on this) to go after someone who is simply posting a review of how the book made them feel. There is no pleasing everyone, and if you got into publishing to be universally applauded, you are in the wrong business. Even if the reviewer completely got the name of your narrator wrong and is erroneous on several other points, let other readers point that out. If no one does, take a big old sip of that refreshing drink called Suckitup. You will face worse things in your career. Of course, you can insist that correcting a reviewer is simply standing up for your own work and that speaking out is your responsibility. Well… okay. But if you find readers making snarky comments about you on blogs over it, don’t say I didn’t I warn you. And if you think defending your reputation by going onto web forums or blogs in the guise of an anonymous poster (or more obvious, a new poster) is going to help sort things out, well then… there’s just no helping some people.
Think Outside the “Box”
Lastly, don’t be afraid to try new ways of publicity and marketing, even if you’ve never heard of anyone else doing it before. This is what a great publicist will do for you, and what you want to do for yourself. There are so many ways of promoting a book that aren’t widely used, and many of them are free. You can host a cyber-launch party for yourself, which is what Elle Newmark did with her self-published novel now entitled The Book of Unholy Mischief. The cyber party began on Tuesday, and one week later she was signing a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster for seven figures. Or perhaps you want to set up your own virtual blog tour, which also comes “free” and is a great way of spreading the word about a book. Research, explore, and above all, save a little of that advance money in case any of the more expensive ideas appeal to you. No one can make your book a bestseller, but you can certainly give it the best chance possible by being proactive.