Pub Rants

Category: Marketing & Promotion

No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?

STATUS: I spent the day on the phone. Literally. Like four hours straight. I thought I would lose my voice at the end there.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TURNING JAPANESE by The Vapors

Authors that spark controversy get noticed. Just recently one of my YA authors asked me how she could have her novel banned. Banned books get noticed and she’d love to be on a banned books list.

I must have looked a little flummoxed by the question because I never thought of it that way before but she’s right. Banned books get attention.

I said she just needed to use the word “scrotum” in her work.

And no, I’m not going to explain the joke because I know many of my commenters can help you out with that. But here’s the truth. Authors don’t set out to write a book that’s going to be banned. They start by writing a book that embraces an honest or essential truth (which can then offend a segment of the population). As you can probably tell, I’m not one for banning books.

But I like the idea of authors garnering attention for their books. Have you ever heard of the phrase, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity?”

For example, right now there’s a controversy unfolding regarding my author Marianne Mancusi and her promotional partner Liz Maverick and the costumes they chose to wear at their RWA signings. They basically dressed like the futuristic characters in their books forDorchester’s new Shomi line (MOONGAZER and WIRED).

I personally think they could give Alicia Silverstone in the movie CLUELESS a run for her money. Cute is the word that comes to mind for me. Here’s a pic if you want to see for yourself.

But boy, aren’t they just the talk of the town. Check out the discussion going on at Smart Bitches. And if you are of the mind that being in the limelight keeps your books in the forefront of readers’ minds, then this isn’t a bad thing at all.

I guess the real question is whether publicity (controversial or not) translates into sales.

A Case For A Cover Change

STATUS: Feeling jubilant. A cover issue crisis has been solved!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ORDINARY WORLD by Duran Duran

I can’t possibly compete with Jeff Kleinman’s superb magnum opus on Bella Stander’s blog about when you hate your cover (which I think should be mandatory reading for all writers) but I do want to add one last thing that you can add to the list.

Most authors focus, with emotion, on the aspect they hate most. Maybe the cover looks cheap, doesn’t accurately reflect the story, or what have you. These arguments don’t really carry much weight because sales/marketing/art department are looking at other aspects such as will the cover pop while on a shelf or riser stand.

The most effective argument for a cover change almost always revolves around whether the cover effectively targets the core audience for the book. If you can make a substantial case that it doesn’t, you have a good chance to win the argument (and if the B&N buyer hates the cover for the same reasons you do and tells the editor so, that helps a lot too.)

I’ve won every cover argument sans one. Thank goodness the author has forgiven me for that. I can’t even tell the publisher “I told you so” because the book did very well—even with that cover. Which is good but I hate when that happens.

Public Service Message Take Two

STATUS: I’m off to RWA in Dallas tomorrow so it’s hard to say when I’ll be able to blog. I’ll do my best.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? U CAN’T TOUCH THIS by M.C. Hammer

This is for all soon-to-be published or already published authors.

When you receive the brand-spanking new cover art and you hate it, don’t go with your first impulse of wanting to pick up the phone to call your editor. Trust me, an author’s worst moment is seeing cover art they hate and this is not the time to have a conversation with your editor when emotions are running high. Don’t do it. Call your agent instead. We are trained to handle it.

Okay, maybe not trained to handle an emotional distraught client but it’s better for us to hear the emotional outpouring first.

For an author, a bad cover feels personal—like it’s a reflection (and not a good one) on all their hard work. It’s not uncommon for a client to burst into tears at the thought of the general populace associating such a horrible cover with his/her project.

For an agent, cover art is business. It’s just another issue that needs to be handled dispassionately and professionally. We know how to couch the feedback in terms that won’t get the editor defensive and will allow him/her to approach the art director in a reasonable way that might generate results—such as getting the cover changed.

And ultimately, that’s the bottom line objective.

The Internet, Baby!

STATUS: I may have finally caught up with all my post-BEA stuff. That just leaves everything else that hasn’t had attention for more than a week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THIS IS IT by Kenny Loggins

The problem with publicity is that sometimes, you can have all the promo in the world (and spend big bucks) and it doesn’t move books. The New York Times, usually once a year, runs an article that profiles two “big” books with similar marketing/promotion budgets and wonder why it worked for one book but not the other. Unfortunately, even the NYT doesn’t have the answer.
So, do you spend money to promote? Sometimes the advance isn’t enough to make a huge investment in that aspect if the publication. So where do conscientious writers go to get the word out?

Yep, you guessed it. The internet. Cost-wise, it can be most cost-efficient and effective (although how effective is up for grabs).

Here’s what Kelly Parra has been up to for her debut GRAFFITI GIRL:

YA Fresh blog, where I spotlight other YA authors and promote teen fiction.
Result: Continuous support and interest by other YA authors, readers, and librarians.

-Interview authors of all genres in my “Words of an Author” column on Publishers Marketplace. Result: reaching Author/writer/reader visitors interested in author back stories to publication and their new releases.

Special Graffiti Girl promotion:

Myspace page.

Result: I’ve connected with several graffiti and teen artists from the US and other countries, and gain teen artist interest daily. Also communicated with musician Mark Pickerel who wrote and sang the “Graffiti Girl” song with Bloodshot Records. We garner interest from linking to each other’s pages.

-A new urban art style Kelly Parra website redesign.

-I’ve had giveaway contests for Graffiti themed products and an Ultimate Art Pack giveaway.
-A flash fiction contest with a graffiti theme in order to win a Graffiti Girl ARC.
-Virtual blog tour with Karin Gillespie’s Girlfriends’ Cyber Circuit, consisting of over 20 published authors’ websites and blogs.
– Interviews on Graffiti Girl with Teen Reviewer/Reader sites.

All resulted in new visitors to my website and potential interest in Graffiti Girl.

Jana’s Best Promo Tool

STATUS: It’s already 6 p.m. and I’m ready to head home. I did lots of phone conferences today. All good stuff but when you take several hours to do that, it doesn’t let you tackle the piles of paperwork (and if you ask me why our ‘paper-free’ office has piles of paper, I might have to strangle you).

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CLEANING WINDOWS by Van Morrison

So here’s a different tactic. We’ve been talking about public appearance stuff for the last two days and this one puts a different spin on the whole promotion thing.

Jana DeLeon is the author of RUMBLE ON THE BAYOU that came out last year. She says that her best promo tool was a “before release” item.

She sent Dorchester (her publisher) these alligator bottle opener necklaces. Now this makes sense when you see her cover.

The sales force loved them, got excited, asked for more, and then took them on all their sales calls to the buyers.

Their enthusiasm translated to higher book orders for the initial sell-in and Jana ended up with a higher initial print run then what tends to be normal for a debut.

I’d say that’s putting an alligator to good work—and she didn’t even have to speak in public!

Now her next novel is called UNLUCKY. I’m thinking broken compact mirrors aren’t the way to go…

How Would You Describe A Dream Client?

STATUS: Starting negotiations tomorrow with S&S for clause 20—their Out of Print clause. This should be fun. The latest “official” word is that they are now willing to include revenue threshold language in the clause. And as reported on Publishers Lunch, rumor has it that S&S might reconsider their stance on sales thresholds after BEA. All I can say is that I’m willing to forgive and forget (well, sort of forget) if they reconsider.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BABY BE MINE by Michael Jackson

As promised, I’m talking about creative promotion on my blog this week and how would I describe a dream client? In two words: Jennifer O’Connell.

From day one of her career (even when she was a debut author with her first book BACHELORETTE #1 back in 2003), Jennifer has been a promotion machine. She has always taken this aspect of the job very seriously.

Case in point. Authors often create booksignings and hope fans show up. Jennifer establishes relationships with booksellers and then creates events where books might just happened to be signed.

Lastest example: her fun and savvy event on Martha’s Vineyard at the Edgartown Bookstore.

She gathered several authors from her Judy Blume Antho to come out and throw a party on the front porch of the bookstore.

Here they are, from left to right:
Megan McCafferty, Kayla Perrin, Megan Crane, Laura Caldwell and Jennifer O’Connell

These gals generated so much pre-event buzz, Plum TV decided to come out and interview them for their live Morning, Noon, and Night show. As Jennifer says, creating ‘events’ gives the press something to talk about vs. announcing a book signing. It gets people to go to see what all the excitement is about. At this event, even the people who didn’t know what we were doing stopped by to talk with us because they wanted to know why there was a crowd, and ultimately they got sucked into the crowd and became interested in the book and what we were doing.

Here’s Megan and Jennifer doing the interview for Plum TV on the beach in Vineyard Haven.

But Jennifer doesn’t stop there. She inspires her minions (otherwise known as her fellow writers in the anthology) to work their magic as well.

Diane Peterfreund has spotlighted the anthology on her blog and website. This week it was included in The Knight Agency e-Newsletter (since several Knight clients are included in the antho) and Laura Caldwell is going on the air with WGN Radio in Chicago tomorrow, June 6th, at 6:10 p.m (central time). If you want to listen in online, click here.

The best promotion is all about creating word of mouth. Even though there is no way to force people to start talking about a book with their friends, you can do lots of things to help make that happen.

Who knows. Maybe it was all this that got People Magazine interested (June 11, 2007 issue).

That’s why she’s one of my dream clients.

How Would You Describe Your Client From Hell?

STATUS: How is it possible for this many things to pile up after only being out of the office for one week? Truly, my piles of “need attention right now” is astounding.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I WANT YOU TO WANT ME the remake by Letters From Cleo

One thing I spent two seconds on this morning is updating our entry for the Jeff Herman Guide to Literary Agents (which I’m thinking of just deleting anyway). If you can’t find me via the internet, I’m not sure I want you as a client.

In fact, that’s one of the questions on the entry survey: How would I describe a client from hell.

Well, let me tell you. A client from hell (and I actually don’t have any) would be a person who is not internet or tech savvy and has no intention of becoming so. When I first launched my agency in 2002, I had one client who met this description and I will never do that again. Communicating with the person was just too time consuming. Luckily, this client had a book that was a one-off (meaning it was just a one time thing and doesn’t plan to do more.)

So now let me describe a dream client by giving some examples (and I might do a couple this week because darn it, my clients are savvy and I love them for it). Also, it’s worth sharing some of the stuff they are doing because you blog readers can benefit from it. They are creative and some of their creativity might spark a promo idea for you.

First up, a new client for me: Marianne Mancusi

She and another fellow author Liz Maverick both write for the just launched SHOMI line at Dorchester (WIRED and MOONGAZER). They call themselves The Rebels of Romance (which is a great promo hook by the way) and when they can, they cross-promote their titles together. In fact, they have done such a good job, Dorchester decided to feature them in their booth at Book Expo this year. Here is Mari, in costume, getting ready for the signing.

Being the savvy gals that they are, Liz and Marianne did a youtube piece because they are all about the viral video marketing these days. (Now granted, Mari has a background in this since she is a former TV Producer but anyone can get savvy on this tech; it’s not complicated). The idea was to create a funny video that can spread the word about their new books without being obnoxious self promoters.

Check out their video on youtube here.

But then they didn’t stop there. They got Media Bistro to post it on their blog Galley Cat (and now they want to interview the two Rebels of Romance). In addition to targeting media and other blogs with it, they sent the link to sales/marketing at Dorchester who in turn sent it to all their book buyers. The Borders buyer even wrote Liz and Mari to tell them she loved it (and Borders do include things like that on their e-newsletters that go out to hundreds of thousands of people).

Not a bad return on some photos and a couple of hours of editing.

That is worth getting tech savvy for I think, and it makes Mari one of my dream clients.

What’s In A Speech?

STATUS: It looks like I’m finally going to go to bed before midnight tonight. First time all week. Yes!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Not listening to my shuffle at the moment.

When asked in surveys about what people fear most, they reply with the following (and in this order):

1. Public Speaking
2. Death

Says a lot about what goes bump in the night for some folks but I realized something important tonight when I was at the Association of Booksellers for Children’s dinner at the Copacabana. After all, I had to think some deep thoughts between the cookies and the final dessert.

Public speaking at a forum full of booksellers, and it doing it well, can be a huge endearment to the people who will soon be hand-selling your book to the public.

An uninspiring speaker makes the audience feel the same way about the book. A remarkable, interesting, funny, self-deprecating, and completely charming author speaker makes the audience want to run out and buy that book right now.

That’s exactly what I felt (as well as several people around me) after hearing two terrific speeches from Markus Zusak (author of THE BOOK THIEF) and Watt Key (ALABAMA MOON). We didn’t need to know the plot of either novel. If the book was only half as wonderful as the stories they told to that packed room, we would be satisfied.

That is the power of speech. And dare I suggest that such an ability is one more element that distinguishes a bestselling author from the rest of the crowd in today’s market? (Makes you wonder if a reclusive Salinger-like author could make it in today’s publishing climate and I really have no answer for that.) What I do know is that words are even more powerful when spoken well.

And I know it seems like you need to add yet another item to the long list of what makes a successful author, I don’t think you can ignore this aspect even if the thought of public speaking leaves you quaking in your shoes. I’d get comfortable with it just in case you find yourself in the enviable position of being in a room full of hundreds of booksellers. You don’t want to lose that opportunity.

On Publishing—Michael Cader Style

STATUS: Tired and ready for bed. Pardon any typos. I’ll proofread and fix tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME by Jewel

Today I was at the Backspace conference—which was a blast. Michael Cader of Publishers Marketplace did the keynote and I have to say that I felt like leaping out of my chair at several points in the speech just to say “Amen” but thought that might sound too much like a revival meeting.

Let’s just say he was singing my song. Preaching to the choir. Well, you get the picture.

So here are some of my notes on some of the great points he made today (and these are just quick paraphrases since I wrote in shorthand and even I can’t read my own handwriting sometimes).

The keynote was entitled “Things No one Understands About Publishing, and the Internet, Featuring the Most Important Thing No One Ever Tells Authors, and The Most Important Thing Publishers Don’t Know.”

In short, Mr. Cader discussed what he felt where principles that the publishing world has been reluctant to embrace because of being entrenched in the old way of doing things.

1. Even if you never self-publish, have no intention to, and pursue traditional publishing venues, go forward and market your book as if it was self published and getting the marketing and the distribution was all on you.

2. You know your material and you know your readership and how best to reach them. Don’t think of readers as only a dollar sign (as in they are there to buy your book and that’s there only purpose). What is important to you as a reader? Answer that question. You have to think about what’s going to grab attention. What’s compelling? What’s passionate about your work? What ignites reader imagination? That’s how you sell your book.

3. You can create readership outside of your book. Internet is the great equalizer. Readers don’t want to be told what to get excited about and it drives marketers crazy. Word of mouth is simply readers talking about what they are passionate about and that’s the most trusted way to create buzz about a book. (And ultimately, that does lead to dollar signs). But that’s not the trade publishing model. They always begin a book campaign by thinking about how to get readers to part with their money rather than how to give readers what content they have to have. Blogs work because they are intimate and personal. Corporate blogs don’t because they can’t capture that authentic and personal feel because it’s about marketing and the bottom line.

4. If you want readers, what do you give away for free? There is the idea that if you give away too much for free, readers won’t buy the printed copy but that hasn’t proven to be true.

5. Genuine interest drives bloggers and they know when they are being marketed to and thus they ignore you. When you participate in the blog world, it’s because you have a genuine interest to make connections—not unlike how we develop relationships with people. It’s non-marketing.

6. Publishing often has it backward. They keep a big book a secret until the release day and then there is a big publicity push. But that’s not how the internet works effectively. The internet is a slow build. Buzz over time. People talking about what interests them about a topic or a book. The internet values what’s old, what can be found in a search, what is repeated over time.

Linked In

STATUS: Off to the conference.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? POSSESSION by Sarah McLachlan

My agent friends and I often laugh about how “in-the-know” some of our clients are.

In fact, it happened this morning. So many published authors are on chat loops, the minute even a hint of a rumor (regarding a line, or an editor, or whatever) gets whispered, it’s out in the loops in a flash and all the authors know about it—lots of times even before the agents do.

And I love that my clients immediately call or email me so I can track down or confirm the scoop. Now sometimes the rumors are wrong but a lot of times, where there is smoke there is indeed fire.

This always startles the editors but I’m not sure why. They must know that authors love talking with each other and there are many many venues in which to do so.

So I just have to say that if you are a published author and you aren’t linked in, you might want to get there. All you have to do is ask the other writers in your genre where they get their news and sign up for that loop (although some are invitation only).

You too can then be linked in. It bears an eerie resemblance to Radar Love mentioned in the song by Golden Earring.