Saturday, November 19, 2011

Beyond Writing

I meet many writers who have a story in their heart that they are dying to publish. Most have written the novel, short story or article, queried, sent them out, been rejected . . . You get the picture. Publishing is a tough business if you want to break in to the big name markets, which is why most writers I meet are also venturing into eBooks, small press and self-publishing. However, no matter how your book is published or in what format, you--the author--will need to promote it-unless you are J.K.Rowling. (My daughter informed me that every 30 seconds someone opens a Harry Potter book.) This is the work that goes beyond writing, and for me, it can take up much of my time and effort.

Last week I drove to Kentucky for five days of book promotion. I did two school visits, spoke at The National Middle School conference, and spoke and signed books at the Kentucky Book Fair. Before leaving, I filled book orders, answered fifty student emails (from the eager sixth grade readers I would be visiting)and planned five different talks on top of finishing up teaching responsibilities, packing and getting the 'house' and animals settled so my husband's caretaking job would be easy.

The trip was a success. I didn't get lost, technology worked, books were sold and signed, and students were lots of fun. One school visit was especially rewarding: the sixth graders had read Gabriel's Horses in their class.
They'd written reviews, emailed me, and were totally engaged with the book. They were excited to meet a real author, and I was peppered with questions about Gabriel's story as well as the writing process. The best thing about school visits is getting kids who do not usually go to the library, a book fair or bookstore pumped about reading and writing, and it's a chance for me to interact with real readers.

Because I teach, I keep my away-from-home time to a minimum. Most serious authors spend days and weeks traveling to school visits, book fairs and conferences. Loretta Ellsworth, my tablemate at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort and author of YA (her newest book is Unforgettable, a great teen read)travels over a week every month, but she knows authors who travel to promote half the year. I was exhausted after five days, and I am embarrassed to say that I have not caught up at home and school--I still have books and bags in the trunk of my car! Of course, one of the things that is fun about book fairs is schmoozing with other authors. Loretta and I shared online promotional tips and discussed what worked and didn't work. Both of us agreed that no matter how much and how hard we promote, there is no guarantee that a book will be a success.

Promotion is tough and it's hard to tell what works to sell books. But watching a young reader's eyes light up when she saw one of my American Girl books or hearing a reluctant reader tell me he couldn't put Gabriel's Horses down were huge rewards.

What works for you? What questions do you have about promoting? I'd love to hear from you.

16 comments:

Laura Crum said...

Alison--Well, you know by now that I'm the queen of non-promotion. Most of the promoting I do is through this blog. I hate traveling to book fairs and conferences, signings...etc. I don't like trying to sell myself and my work, and though it is fun to meet folks who are fans of my writing, that fun is outweighed for me by all the hours spent in places I'd rather not be, endlessly talking some variation on "Look at me, look at my book". I did it for a few years when I was starting out--almost twenty years ago now, and I could not see that it was a big help with sales. Other midlist authors that I knew who promoted themselves relentlessly are not being published today, so I'm not sure such promotion can be counted on to work...as you point out in your post. I think each author has to do what works for her/him--in my case that translates to reaping the rewards, or lack thereof, of not promoting myself to speak of. And no, this attitude is not helping me to be a "successful" author. I've just chosen to prioritize other things.

However, in defense of what I do...I'm not paid a lot, but also, I'm not spending a lot. I know authors who mortgaged the house to go on lengthy book signing tours, and I am here to say that did not work out in their favor. So, just a thought from the other side of the fence.

Susan Schreyer said...

I had to laugh about your trunk full of books -- I have a couple boxes in my trunk, too, and have been very glad I did! Promotion is difficult, exhausting and time consuming, I agree. Currently, my favorite method is to do author panels. I am part of a group of local authors who volunteer to go to different venues in our area and speak about our books, writing, whatever. We do bookstores, libraries, senior centers, book clubs -- wherever there are readers who are interested. Sometimes we sell well, other times we just make friends. It's all good. In this current publishing climate all of us -- traditionally published and self published face the same challenges: how to get our books to our audience. It's in our hands now, far more than it has been in the past. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog Things I Learned From My Horse -- http://thingsilearnedfrommyhorse.blogspot.com -- and leaving me the link to yours! I'll be reading regularly!

AareneX said...

I have a million questions, where to begin?!!

First, a comment: I am a teen-services librarian in my "other life", and one of my joys is bringing Real Authors to my local middle- and high-school. As you say, many of the students there are not library regulars, and they are soooooo interested to meet authors. They are always completely engaged, even when they haven't read the books...and when they have, whew, katie-bar-the-door for all the excitement. If you're ever in my area (north of Seattle), let me know, and I'm happy to bring you to meet some of the best kids in the whole world.

Second: I'm almost ready to submit a book proposal for a non-fiction book written for beginning endurance riders. I've done the research, and the market for the book is STRONG. I'm qualified to write it, and I've just lined up a fabulous photographer and a fabulous artist to do the illustrations.

Now I just need to convince a publisher to take us for the ride...eeek! If you've got advice, I'm really, REALLY listening. Self-promotion isn't a problem, as my friends will attest, I *love* to talk about endurance with potential new riders (and readers).

Alison said...

AareneX, I'll start with you since you have a specific need: getting published! You will have to search out presses that specialize in horse books (I doubt you will find an agent for a book this specific--anyone else want to chime in on this?) You may have already done this, but go on Amazon and look at the publishers of every nonfiction horse book and target them with your proposal. Some will want to use their own artists/photographers so beware of that issue. Also make sure your proposal is topnotch: comprehensive, well-written and interesting. Good luck!

Alison said...

Susan,
Thank you for joining us! We have lots of horsey commenters but not so many horse/writer combos so we are glad to have you stop by and chime in with your experiences. I just did a panel for MWA in D.C, but like Laura, I am getting more reluctant to travel, so I am doing more online promotional 'stuff'. It sounds as if you enjoy the company of your writer friends as much as the panels!
I certainly enjoyed your blog, and will add it to our list. I did read that you are part of Sisters in Crime, which I belonged to for a while out here in the East. Good luck with your own writing and promoting--your books look awesome!

Alison said...

Laura,
It's so interesting to read your comment about the writers who did a big promotion push, yet it didn't work out. Even after being in the business since, gulp, 1984, I still don't know the reason some great books do poorly and others (which are written badly) do great. Fortunately, your 'non promotion' has worked just right for you, your books and your lifestyle!

Alison said...

Please chime in to Aarenex's questions. I love that this blog shares their own experiences to help others with both horse and writing issues. And Aarenex, don't hesitate to ask more questions.

PS. If I am in the Seattle area, I'll definitely visit your school. Sex in the Library? Hmmmm.

Angelia Almos/Angie Derek said...

On the topic of publishers, I found the news that Trafalgar acquired Half Halt interesting. http://www.americanhorsepubs.org/news_updates/8210.asp

For AareneX, write up a good book proposal and start sending it out to the horse publishers. If you aren't sure what to include in a book proposal, there are lots of books available with straightforward instructions.

My views fall on Laura's side of promotion. I did a lot of promoting/traveling when I first started and spent more than I made off sales and speaker fees. It's not that you don't get sales when you face to face promote, but I don't know if the financial aspect makes it worth it. Now if you get "other stuff" out of face to face promotions and enjoy it then I say go for it, with a budget. For my nonfiction book, I always noticed a bump in sales from articles and interviews published in the horse magazines. I would say those were the best promotions I ever did for Horse Schools.

I'm doing a little online promo for my novels. I'm on twitter, have facebook fan pages for each pen name, have my own blog, and do guest blogs occasionally, but I try to keep the time spent doing all of it low. I firmly believe the best promotion is the next book. So I feel my time is better spent writing.

Alison said...

Thanks Angela for chiming in. What are your novels and your link to them? Go ahead and self-promote! Also, if you ever want to do a review of one of my horse books, let me know. I then post the review on my FB page and send it to the publisher who tweets about it. Sometimes it gets more traffic to your own blog/FB page. You can find my books at www.alisonhartbooks.com
Voila! More blatant self-promotion!

Thanks for the news on Trafalgar. There's been an epidemic of publishers buying other publishers and then slowly dismantling the acquired one. Let's hope that's not the case here.

I'd love to know how you contacted horse magazines for interviews. Share if you'd like or email me at alison at alisonhartbooksdotcom. Thanks!

Angelia Almos/Angie Derek said...

Alison - I sent each magazine a press release with a picture of the book, the book blurb, an author blurb, and then at the end it said that review copies were available on request, the author was available for interviews and/or could write articles to order on the subject. You can find the magazines either at American Horse Publications web site, but a more extensive list is in the American Horse Council's Horse Industry Directory. Between the two I sent off a ton of press releases. I would say I probably got a 10% response though the majority seemed to be the larger circulation magazines. Go figure. But I also didn't always know when they would put the info in an issue as sometimes I would see the press release in a magazine who had never replied. I also would get replies like a year after I sent out a press release. When I started doing it in early 2000 it was all faxes, but now I only send them to magazines who provide email addresses.

I am curious to see how Trafalgar handles the Half Halt brand. I first wondered if it would be an imprint, but am now thinking they are probably just absorbing the titles into the Trafalgar brand. We shall see what ends up happening.

Oh, and thanks for inviting me to pitch my books. :-) Horse Charmer is a young adult fantasy about a princess who discovers her remarkable gift with horses while on a quest to find out who murdered her father. I also have a steamy paranormal novella, The Beast's Redemption, a Beauty and the Beast retelling under my pen name Angie Derek.

Laura Crum said...

About the horse mags...back in my early days I really sought out articles there and I noticed a real increase in sales when such articles about my books came out. The magazine market is very different now, and I haven't sought such articles in many years, but there were two ways I did it back when.

First, I sent a letter along with a short (three paragraphs) article and a photo (for immediate release) to the appropriate editor of every horse mag I could find or ever heard of. You simply look to see who does book reviews or send to the main editor. I did this as each new book was coming out. I had great results with this approach--many, many mags ran my little piece verbatim. Others did a review, a few had a writer of their own do an article on me. (Remember this was in the 90's--magazines were going strong).

The other thing was that a young writer took an interest in selling articles about me to the horse mags--she sold one to Western Horseman and Cowboys and Indians...very good venues. She got the fees and I got the publicity. My husband often commented that if he had not had a real job, he would have written articles about me and submitted them (and to be frank, the gal that did this wasn't much of a writer). Its easy to say that one could write these articles oneself and use a friend as a "cover" and sort of cut a fat hog. I did not actually do this...not motivated...but it occurred to me that it would be a very effective device.

Magazines are in a very different space now, though. My info/tips are pretty out of date.

Laura Crum said...

Aarene--I really enjoy speaking to kids and have done so many times at our local high schools. I'm also teaching a course at the local community college. I volunteer as an aide in my kid's homeschool group and speak whenever I am asked to at the local libraries. So I'm not quite as anti-social as I may appear. I just don't like to leave family and critters to travel in the interest of self-promotion, and, as I've already said, I haven't seen that sort of promotion change a midlist author to a best seller--at least not very often.

I'd love to help you get your non-fiction book published, but I've only ever published mysteries and all my contacts are in that area...and unfortunately the publishing business is in such chaos that it is hard to say what will happen next. If I were you I would not ignore self publishing through Amazon--especially if you are willing to do a lot of promoting. The big problem for both traditionally published authors and the self published is, as Alison pointed out, getting the word to those who might be interested in your book...in other words, promotion. Oftentimes promotion costs money, and I am with Angie--such money does not often/usually translate into equal revenue coming in. Just something to keep in mind.

Angelia Almos/Angie Derek said...

Hmmm, I wrote a reply and it seems to have disappeared into cyber land. Oh well. I see Laura basically already answered your question. I pretty much did the same. Would send a press release with the book photo, book blurb, author bio, and a statement at the end of the availability of review copies, author happy to do interviews on the subject, and able to write articles to order on the subject. I used American Horse Publications website and the American Horse Council's Horse Industry Directory to find the magazine to send it to.

Grey Horse Matters said...

You certainly had a lot of work promoting the books but it sounds like it was worth it just to interact with the kids and other authors. I think if I weren't so lazy I'd like to write a book but don't think I could do all the promotion it would take to get it off the ground. I give you and other authors a lot of credit for getting out there and doing what it takes to be successful.

AareneX said...

Alison, Laura and all, thanks for the info. Yes, I had seen that Trafalgar has "eaten" Half-Halt Press, and perhaps that is a good thing....hard to say.

And to any authors visiting the greater Seattle area, please contact me if you want to visit a really fun middle school. It's unusual for a school to be so welcoming to a public librarian, yet I'm in the building AT LEAST once each month, often I'm there more, talking to kids and teachers about books, databases, and other library resources. I'm not sure where the modern media gets the idea that kids don't read books, because I find that kids READ and they love to TALK ABOUT WHAT THEY READ.

It does help that I love middle schoolers, probably, and I love talking with them. >g<

Alison said...

Grey Horse, thanks for chiming in!

AareneX, I, too, find kids reading, but when Snooki replaces the Newbery/Caldecott winners on The Today Show, then you know our culture has a problem.

I hope Linda sees your offer because she is on the West coast and has a new book out. I'll give her a heads up.

BTW I hope our comments helped with your publishing journey.