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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Launch Week a.k.a. Who Needs Fingernails?

The time has come. My book-baby is going out into the world.

Remember when you were a little kid and you rode your bike around the block for the first time? Did you look back and see the look on your parents' faces? A mixture of pride and worry furrowed their brows.

I'm wearing that expression now. The training wheels are off and The Troubles is about to start peddling like mad on its own. Well, not completely on its own. After all, I'm a good parent, if a bit helicopter-ish in my devotion. The lessons of looking both ways, wearing helmets and elbow pads have been implemented in the form of critical beta feedback, manuscript reviews, and incisive editing. Orange safety vests of terrific cover design don the exterior. Hard won lessons of life and craft fill the interior.

Handlebar streamers of marketing make my baby a little more eye-catching. Launch events are as follows:

Newspaper Announcements: Poughkeepsie Journal
Stiletto Gang Blog Interview, guest of Marilyn Meredith (May 19)
Hartford Book Examiner, guest of John Valeri (May 19)
Femmes Fatales, guest of Hank Phillippi Ryan (June 2)
Jungle Reds, guest of Hank Phillippi Ryan (TBD) (My earlier Jungle Reds post as a guest of Hallie Ephron is here.)
New England Mobile Book Fair Meet and Greet (June 20)
Writers Who Kill, Blog post, guest of E. B. Davis (September 12)

Book Launch and Reading at Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, MA (May 29)

...and several private book talks lined up, too!

Like they say in real estate: Location. Location. Location.
Sharing the front page with Ms. Peters and bestsellers is terrific!
So, if you see my book-baby out in the world, be kind. Drop me a note to let me know how she's doing. I'm always happy to chat.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Me, Myself, and I" or "Fully Staffed, Indie Style"

I decided to become an independent author when I realized I was a "Type A" personality in a "Type B" industry.

Type A personalities (for those whipper-snappers who were just being born when the phrase was coming of age) are characterized by a "Let's get this done NOW" attitude. Type B folks, however, are markedly more mellow with a "Chill dude. It'll get done" world view. (Don't know which one you are? Take a test here.) Industries embody these traits, too. Think 'high tech' versus 'government.' Hmm, better make that 'indie' versus 'traditional' publishing.

Okay, so I'm genetically wired to jump into the deep end. I'm not good at waiting for something to happen, like waiting for a response from an agent or publisher (which can take months! Really?). I'll bet if I were to do a survey, I'd find that the world of indie authors is heavily populated with Type A's and traditionally published authors as Type B.

But it takes more than genes or impatience to make an indie. It takes mad skills . . .and I'm not just talking about writing . . . or marketing. In between the end zone dance of completing your final draft and collecting the cash from your first sale, there is a whole world of publishing skills an indie needs to become an expert in. One reason many people hesitate in becoming an independently published author is traditionally published authors have teams of people dedicated to bringing their work to life. See above where it says "impatient" and "take on more than they can handle"? Type A's believe in creating, or becoming, their own team. Type B's, however, may feel more comfortable working inside a pre-established structure.

Their team begins with agents who provide feedback and suggestions to tweak your work and performs the painstaking process of finding the right publisher. Inside that publisher, skill sets buzz like bees. Editors run the spectrum from line editors and grammar cops to developmental editors to sharpen characters and plots with precision. Valuable insight is gathered on what resonates with the reader and what doesn't. The manuscript is worked, vetted, and sculpted.

Interior designers are used to format the text and chapters of your books to enhance the overall reading experience. Their experience addresses whether the chapters should be numbered or a simple graphic should be used. What graphic would look good? How about a do-dad in between POV or scene shifts? What font looks best? What color paper? Next up are the experts on cover design. Not just front covers, back covers, too. French folds, anyone? Let's see what the designers and production folks say about feasibility on that, right after they run it by the budget guys. What about inside flap content? Do you want images here, too? No worries, photographers and artists will generate some ideas and the team will decide what to use based upon what marketing research says. Oh, right. Let's get our PR guys rolling to garner some early reviews and begin positioning the book in front of the book's target audience. Great! Ready to go? Just upload your epub, mobi, and correctly sized and formatted pdf to your carefully chosen distributor.

You get the idea.

Each task has a learning curve and requires hours, and sometimes weeks, of time. As I approach the launch date of my second novel, I marvel at all I've accomplished on my own and, being a perfectionist, sigh heavily at all I've could have done but didn't have the brainspace or time to do. Regardless of what type of personality I have, I am acutely aware that I am a mere human and there is only one of me.

Like any major corporation, the indie can outsource any one of the tasks. Hiring for each step is an expensive proposition but it doesn't eliminate key facts: An indie is CEO of their book. All decisions are the fault (or the triumph) of the CEO.

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So, I am President, Chairperson and CEO. EVP Marketing. Chief Business Officer. Chief Operating, Financial and any other Officer. Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. The Supreme Commander. Queen. Khaleesi.

. . . or simply indie author.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A2R Marketing: Book Launch and Blurbs

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During the publishing process, there are occasions when the author has some down time. When the book is with beta readers or is in the hands of the editor, the author has a few weeks where he or she can focus on marketing.

Often overlooked is the tool of blurbs for covers or early reviews. You can write a blurb yourself (a how-to post is here) or it can be from someone else. Blurbs can be a one-paragraph review or as short as one sentence and can be found on back covers (most often), front (usually in their shortest form of a few key words), or the first pages just before the title page. Using blurbs on the book's Amazon page or other marketing materials helps define your work to potential readers. I'm going to focus on those written for your book by someone else.

For an emerging author, these endorsements can be gold. Blurbs help with:
  1. Branding. If you are publishing a mystery, having an endorsement of an established author with several mysteries under his belt will help readers recognize you as a mystery author.
  2. Loyalty. Genre readers tend to be loyal to certain authors. The biggest hurdle is getting someone to sample your writing if they have never heard of you. Receiving an endorsement from a known entity breaks the ice by saying, "A writer you love, loves this writer." Placing their confidence in you is easier.
  3. Leverage. Name recognition of the person providing the blurb expands the base of those people who could find you.
  4. Legitimacy: If you are an indie and have traditionally published authors behind you, you are one step ahead of the pack.  
Established authors use blurbs as part of their marketing push. It gives them marketing copy that is a lot more interesting than "BUY MY BOOK!" In fact, the pros just float the blurb without saying much more than than. They trust the reader's intelligence enough to know that they'll figure out how to get the book when it's released. A good blurb draws the reader to the book.

Most blurbs come from other authors, but often overlooked are experts in the fields your book touches upon. (I've written more about blurbs here.) As I've gone through the process of soliciting blurbs for my upcoming novel, I've done some things really well and have sucked at others. Here's what I did well:

  1. I noted what authors wrote in my genre (thrillers/suspense) and geographic area (Boston/Ireland).
  2. I made a list of authors that I know personally or have met via social media.
  3. I figured out how to reach them directly via email.
  4. I had a cover image ready to be sent along with the request.
  5. I wrote a pitch that told about me, my book, and my marketing plan.
    • No one wants to back a dud. I told them what my marketing efforts have been and what my plans are for more - this book is part of a series, I have a growing fan base, and am actively engaged in growing this base. 
Here's what I did wrong.
  1. I did not leave enough time for most authors to read my work. (I gave 3 to 4 weeks. I should have allotted 6 to 8.)
  2. I did not reach out to more authors. (I'll admit to being shy.)
  3. I was still working on my ARC during the blurb process. They were not reading a finished product and even minor tweaks were disruptive. Lesson learned. 
  4. I targeted an author outside of my genre. (I write thrillers. She writes cozies. My violence and sex is 'on the page,' hers is 'off the page.' She needs to be true to her core readers to protect her brand. Remember, it's a two-way street.)
  5. I targeted authors in the midst of their own book launches. Again, this was a time/timing issue.
If you decide to go for blurbs and early reviews, know that you will receive declines. Folks will decline for many reasons - timing, wrong genre, publisher's policy, agent won't let them, etc. It's all part of it. Be gracious. Just by asking you have expanded your sphere and proved your dedication to your career.

At the end of the process, I received some wonderful blurbs from authors I greatly admire and respect. (I'll write more on that soon.) I learned a great deal, too

More on A2R (Author to Reader) Marketing can be found here.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A2R Marketing: Book Launch, Part '3-F'

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For most authors, launching a book often begins with three big "F's."

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Facebook

I'll add one more: Favicon*.

You know your goals and you want to start this conversation now. You've made a choice that you're writing for more than the pure love of the written word and that you want to reach as many people as possible. Your big toe is dipping into the social marketing river.

You're not selling used cars and not offering a free set of Ginsu knives and a Last Supper tablecloth with every late-night purchase. Marketing is not synonymous with hammering. It's synonymous with conversing.

Learning about the tools, techniques, sites, blogs, and people that populate the social marketing space is a HUGE undertaking. It's easy to become overwhelmed. You have to focus your efforts so you don't feel like you're chasing your tail all day long.

If you are a beginner in the world of marketing (remember, this is a conversation we're starting, not a media blast), you already have the beginnings of a platform. The first segment of your marketing plan contains the 3F Softstart: Friends, Family, and Facebook.
  1. Friends: Chances are your friends have already read your work in its various stages of undress. They've seen your poem or short story in the daylight and have gently told you that its dimply butt is not pretty. So, you went back and worked on its shape and tone. They know about you. They know about your work. They will support you and tell more friends. Ask if they will host a book group for you. 
  2. Family: After a few more deep breaths, roll your work out to mom, dad, and that sister that doesn't have a kind word to say about anything. If you're smart, you'll listen very critically to their comments. Much will be good, solid advice. Much of it will be crap. This is the beginning of where you need your backbone and the clear message of what you are trying to say in your work. If you take everyone's advice and change your work or your message to suit their opinion, you will end up with poo on a page and a muddy image. Go to your mountaintop, think about what you were trying to convey and focus in on that message. Putting yourself "out there" is hard, hard work. If you are not firm in your message, you will be weakened by criticism and tempted to morph into something you are not.
  3. Facebook: With the click of a "Post", you will reach a few hundred of your friends and friends of friends. If you're like most people, this is on-the-job-training for social media. Use this stage for a few items.
    • Readership Feedback and Identification - See who your work resonates with. Who is commenting? What are they saying? Are there any points in common with the folks who like or don't like the work? This is the beginning of knowing who your audience is. Knowing who your audience is will help you answer the question, "How do I reach my core audience in the most effective and efficient way?"
    • Vetting - Is your message the right one for you and your work? Are you reaching who you want to reach? If not, take a step back and figure out why.
    • Launchpad for Your Message - Facebook has a wealth of tools out there for the emerging author and small business person. Click around and learn the difference between "Likes", "Groups" and "Subscribe". This is where your social marketing voyage really begins.
(There is a difference to remaining firm to your message and adapting to the marketplace. Think of it this way: You have a party-neutral book and a message about what it takes to be a woman in politics. You're meeting someone for the first time and the conversation turns to the upcoming election. You see their expression change when you mention Michelle Obama. This is not the time to blabber on about all the things Hilary has done well or poorly. Take the time to figure out where you agree and build your conversation back up from there. Adapt your message to your audience and find out how to hone your message so you will be heard, not tuned out.)

Think of Facebook as a social media with water wings. Its population of friends and family will keep you afloat while you learn the skills of leveraging your network into greater influence.

Essential tools for this phase:

  1. Succinct summary of your work that also answers the question, "Why this work is worth your time."
  2. Image of your book cover. (Yes. Even before the book is complete, invest in a cover. Social media loves images. Associating your work with a cover image encourages awareness and sharing.)
  3. Decent headshot of you. Please resist the temptation of cropping a headshot from your nephew's wedding two years ago. Candid shots are great, but nothing beats a professional picture.

*Never in a million years did I think I would need to know what a favicon was. Short for favorites icon, it's also known as a page icon or an urlicon and is an icon associated with a particular website or webpage. Take a look at the tab for this page. See that shamrock? Yup. It's a favicon and is part of a cohesive image branding of me and my book. Did you think Irish? I'll bet you did. Consider yourself educated.

A2R Marketing: Book Launch, Part 2

Having certain core concepts down pat is essential for marketing your written work. Knowing your one sentence grab, audience, goal, tools, and budget allows you to take control of promotion. Marketing is about proactively reaching out to readers.

If you're lucky enough to be able to hire a someone, congratulations, but you still need to bring a clear sense of who you are and what you want to accomplish into that relationship or you risk wasting those dollars. By having a clear sense of identity for you and your book and knowing your goals will maximize the return on your investment.

The most frequent questions I receive are "When do I start marketing?" and "What are my first steps?"

The first question is easy. Start marketing even before you have a book or other written work published.

I don't care whether you are a traditionally published author, indie, or hybrid, you need to establish a presence to allow readers to find you. The biggest mistake I see is authors waiting for their book to be published before they start their marketing efforts. The reason for this is two-fold.

  1. New authors hide behind their books and think no one will be interested in them. Wrong! Readers are interested in the person behind the words. They have a deeper reading experience when they know a little bit about the author. Interesting people write interesting books. Readers are smart. They seek out voices that make them think. 
  2. New authors fear they only have one book in them. If you're reading this blog, you are more than a one trick pony. You are more than one book. You have a voice, a unique world perspective and a backbone. Use them.
And here's a dirty little secret: If you are seeking a publisher, a digital footprint matters. Twitter followers, blog subscribers, and Facebook likes say "This author is a good bet because she has reduced my financial risk by having a foundation of followers I can now leverage into book sales." The same is true for readers. Having more people interested in you reduces the risk to the reader by saying "Many people find this person interesting. The investment of my time here is a good bet." The earlier you begin your marketing efforts, the stronger your platform.

The second question is more difficult to answer. The steps you take to market yourself are dependent upon two factors:

  1. How you view "marketing." If you view marketing as an ongoing shout of "BUY MY BOOK!" you will grow hoarse, your listeners will grow deaf and everyone will become bored. 
  2. How much time and effort you will devote to you. Having a plan is worthless if you don't follow it. Creating a realistic and workable plan and sticking to it leads to success. Duh!
Marketing is about captivating the audience. It's about pulling the audience to you with interesting and engaging content. Terrific insights into creating engaging engaging content can be found on Michael Boezi's blog.

Next up? The 3F Soft Start.