Pub Rants

Category: Marketing & Promotion

Last week my author Jana DeLeon, who has been digitally self-publishing her backlist titles, hit the USA Today Bestseller list at #98 for the very first time and for the very first novel she ever published: Rumble On The Bayou (originally published in 2007). And the big question is: How did she do that?

It’s a great question. More and more digitally self-published titles are hitting the lists. I’m certainly not a liberty to reveal all the genius marketing ideas Jana has been pursuing but I can tell you one thing that is public knowledge. She’s not doing it alone.

Over two years ago, Jana and 9 other digitally self-publishing authors formed a marketing co-op where they pool ideas, platforms, and resources. Together this group creates aggressive strategies and they’ve seen remarkable results for every member of the co-op.

It gives a whole new meaning to “it takes a village.” I imagine most authors who are digitally publishing tend to go it alone. I’m seeing the real efficacy of marketing in numbers. And I also don’t think grabbing any old person will do. Each member of the group needs to be equally invested and savvy about what it takes to market digital titles.

On a side note, RUMBLE was originally published by the now defunct Dorchester back in the day. I had quite the battle to arm wrestle the rights back when they stopped paying royalties three years  ago. Obviously that was worth doing!

Rumble-#98_UsaToday-BSL

What Are You Looking For?

STATUS: Doing meetings in New York all week.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? I’M A BELIEVER by The Monkees

Good question. What am I looking for?

Because I’m rewriting content for our new website (and the submission guidelines are an integral part of that), this question is definitely on my mind as of late. Not to mention, when I attend a conference, invariably I get asked this question. By now, you’d think I’d have a good answer ready. To be honest, I don’t.

We also have to answer this question on our new website for our submission guidelines. Since Sara’s answer is different than mine, we are tailoring our “what are you looking for” list for our specific agent pages.

By the way, the launch of our new website is a bit delayed. Our web developer lives in New Jersey. Yep, Hurricane Sandy.  He actually emailed me to apologize for the delay as he didn’t have electricity. Holy cow! No need for an apology there. We can wait a few more weeks.

But back to our website submission wish list. When I sat down to evaluate what I’m looking for, I find that I’m not interested in creating a nice, neat little list.

Right now our site says I’m looking for literary fiction with a commercial bent, commercial mainstream, women’s fiction, romance, science fiction, fantasy, young adult and middle grade.

Sure, that’s accurate and true but you know what? That doesn’t quite capture what I’m looking for. I want an intense, well-told story and the “genre” is incidental.

This summer I sold a literary cross-over novel that had a lot of horror elements – BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman.

Look at the list above? Do you see the word “horror” anywhere?

Not exactly. Yet, that story was perfect for me.

My book club is going to read Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL.

That’s totally up my alley. Do you see “thriller” on that above list? Nope. So what I’m looking for is not clearly defined by a neat little list that I can post on our website.

And today I had lunch with an editor from St. Martin’s and a bubble tea with an editor from Random House. (I think the tapioca is still stuck in my teeth…) Both had great previous experience in working at genre imprints earlier in their careers and now, neither is a genre editor per se but both love a big story that has a genre element to it. That’s what they are looking for.

And that’s what I’m looking for.

I have to find a way to say that on my page that outlines my submission guidelines. Not an easy trick. I do know that I don’t plan to post a handy little list because that doesn’t really capture what I’m looking for.

I want a good story well told. How you tell that story doesn’t need to fit in a neat little category.

New Website Going Live On Nov. 12 or Nov. 19

STATUS: I’ll be a much saner person then. Hey, I’m an optimist!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  YOU by Bonnie Raitt

Thanks for all the comments and feedback on FB versus blogging. Quite frankly, I had been sensing that blogging in general was becoming a bit passé. But it sounds like there is still a lot of interest in educational posts being delivered through the longer blog medium. Well, I hear you. I’m still debating on how practical it will be given my overwhelming workload. It’s much easier to throw up some insightful posts on Facebook. But I also get that a lot of folks aren’t on FB and have no interest in joining. And to be honest, I’m too verbose for twitter. *grin*

When I think of our new redesigned website going live, I start bouncing in my seat. It’s amazing. But it’s also good fodder for a blog entry.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned and some tips to share:

1) If you haven’t updated your website in the last 3 to 5 years, it’s time to take a look at your site and evaluate its effectiveness. I know from our site, it wasn’t highlighting all the different ways folks could learn or follow us via social media. Given how much has changed in the last couple years, our site was looking tired, old, and dated. None of that stuff was linked together. That’s not effective.

As an author, you can’t afford for fans to think the same of your site. They expect more. Is it fair, no, but there you have it.

2) Big question you must answer: who is your audience and what do you want them to learn from the site? The answer might be simple and then evolve into something more complex. For example, a simple answer for our site is this: our audience is writers looking for representation who might be interested in our agency.

So our site has to answer some basic questions – like how to submit to us, etc.  Well, that’s obvious.

But our site shouldn’t stop there. Writers who look at our website might also be enthusiastic readers (or at least I hope so!). So our site should also be a non-obtrusive advertisement for our client books in the sense that visitors to our site might also want to buy the books they stumble upon there.

Of course we “knew” that for our original site but we were not exploring the full potential there. The new site is going to be great for that without us coming across as used car sales people (or at least I hope that’s the case!).

So how does this apply to you as a writer? Well, I see any number of writer sites that don’t really answer this question well. How does it appeal to folks who are already fans of your work and then how might it rope in the possible new fan? I honestly don’t see writers doing a lot for that second question. If you’ve seen some good sites that handle it well, include the links in the comments. We can use those examples as learning tools.

3) For our new site, we are adding a “how they came to us” under each client so aspiring writers can literally see who sent us a query (and we found them that way) versus who was a referral or a current client recommend. I imagine including stories like this will keep visitors engaged in our site and may be motivated to click around more and spend more time with us.

As a writer, what have you got that might create that for your visitors? I see so many writer sites that tend to be a plug for the book or books and not much else. If that’s the case for your website, it’s not doing the right job for you.

4) Clean design – I’m a huge proponent of this. I see so many wordpress websites that have good intentions but as a visitor, I’m completely overwhelmed by the amount of links, buttons, images, or what have you. It may just be me but I can actually feel my heart rate speeding up when I’m confronted with too much info on a web page. It’s stressful.

So I can’t wait to show you the new site. And yes, I’m getting back to blogging even though that means more entries to migrate over to the new site. I pity our web designer.

Friday Funnies – Anatomy of Book Cover Design

STATUS: Haven’t had a good video to share in a while. This one is worth the wait.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  DON’T GO by Yaz

Chip Kidd is a legend in this industry. Video is not short but worth every minute of your time. It’s a small glimpse into the brilliance of mind it takes to create a truly amazing cover. And I’ll give you a hint. It’s not about bells and whistles. It’s about text.

As it should be. Enjoy!

Blogging Authors Beware! You Can Get Sued. Roni Loren Guest Blogs

Re-posted with permission from original blog post here.

Sara, our lawyer,and I all helped Roni through the situation but here is the whole story below.  You can no longer say that you haven’t been warned!

Guest Blogger: RONI LOREN

So today I’m forgoing the usual Fill-Me-In Friday post to talk about something that I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while but couldn’t until the situation was wrapped up.

For those of you who are super observant, you may have noticed some changes on my blog over the last few months. Tumblr posts went away. Fiction Groupie disappeared. I deleted most of my Pinterest boards. The Boyfriend of the Week has changed format. And all my previous posts from the past three years–all 700 of them–now have new photos on them.

Why is that? What happened?

Well, you’ve probably figured it out from the title, but it’s because I’ve been involved in a case regarding a photo I used on my blog. Like most of you, I’m a casual blogger and learned my way into blogging by watching others. And one of the things I learned early on was that a post with a photo always looked nicer than one with just text. So I looked at what other people were doing for pictures. And mostly it seemed that everyone was grabbing pics from Google Images and pasting them on their sites. Sometimes with attribution, most of the time without. And when I asked others (or looked at disclaimers on websites and Tumblrs), it seemed that everyone agreed using pics that way was okay under Fair Use standards.

Here is an example of a disclaimer I found on a bigger site (name of blog removed):

THIS BLOG claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please E-mail with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed.

And site after site had the same kind of thing. Just look on Tumblr, that same type of disclaimer is on a ton of them. And I’m thinking–well, that must mean it’s okay because if that weren’t true, sites like Tumblr and Pinterest couldn’t even exist because reposting pics is the whole POINT of those sites. So off I went doing what everyone else does–using pics from Google Images, putting a disclaimer on my site, etc.

Well on one random post, I grabbed one random picture off of google and then a few weeks later I got contacted by the photographer who owned that photo. He sent me a takedown notice, which I responded to immediately because I felt awful that I had unknowingly used a copyrighted pic. The pic was down within minutes. But that wasn’t going to cut it. He wanted compensation for the pic. A significant chunk of money that I couldn’t afford. I’m not going to go into the details but know that it was a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn’t have for a use of a photo I didn’t need.

It wasn’t fun. But the fact of the matter is, I was in the wrong. Unknowingly. But that doesn’t matter. And my guess is that many, many of you are doing the same thing I was doing without realizing it’s a copyright violation. So I wanted to share my experience so that you can learn from my mistake.

Here’s what I learned about Fair Use:

It DOESN’T MATTER…

if you link back to the source and list the photographer’s name
if the picture is not full-sized (only thumbnail size is okay)
if you did it innocently
if your site is non-commercial and you made no money from the use of the photo
if you didn’t claim the photo was yours
if you’ve added commentary in addition to having the pic in the post
if the picture is embedded and not saved on your server
if you have a disclaimer on your site.
if you immediately take down a pic if someone sends you a DMCA notice (you do have to take it down, but it doesn’t absolve you.)

NONE OF THAT releases you from liability. You are violating copyright if you have not gotten express PERMISSION from the copyright holder OR are using pics that are public domain, creative commons, etc. (more on that below.)

I didn’t know better and I had to learn the hard way. So I want to let you all know now so that you don’t have to be a cautionary tale as well.

Plus, beyond not wanting to be sued, most of you who are reading this are writers. Our livelihood depends on the rights to our work. I’ve already had to send my own DMCAs to sites that have pirated my books. So I definitely don’t want to be someone who infringes on someone else’s copyright. A photo is someone else’s art and unless they tell me it’s okay, I don’t have the right to use it.

So what can you do?

1. If you’ve been using images without approval from the internet on your blogs, know that you are probably violating copyright and could be sued for it.

Is the chance high? Probably not. Is it possible? I’m proof that it is. So you may want to consider going through your posts and delete pics that aren’t yours.

2. Search for photos that are approved for use.

  • Creative Commons licensed pics — You can search for photos that are free to use (with some restrictions) through Creative Commons. Usually this means you have to attribute the photo to the owner and link back to their site. (All of my posts now have pics that are under Creative Commons license. And there are actually really great photos available.) Meghan Ward did a fantastic post on the breakdown of creative commons licenses plus listed some other photo sources.)
  • Wikimedia Commons offers free media files anyone can use.
  • Buy a subscription to a stock photo site — This can be pricey up front but then you have access all year. There are also sites that you can pay per pic. (Here is one example of a subscription service. Thanks to Janice Hardy for that suggestion.)
  • Use photos that are in the public domain.

3. Take your own photos and share the love.

Almost all of us have camera phones these days. Instead of just taking photos of our family, think of images you could use on posts. See a stop sign. Snap a picture and save it. Whatever. And if you want to give back and not just take–open up a Flickr account (here’s mine) and list your own images as creative commons so that you can share the love. (You can set it up to where whatever pic you load from you camera is under that license.)

4. Use sites like Pinterest and Tumblr with caution.

I have read way too many terms of service over the last two months. And I’m not a lawyer, so the legalspeak can be confusing and I am NOT giving legal advice. BUT both Pinterest and Tumblr (and most other social sites) say that if you load something into their site (i.e. Pin It or Tumble it) YOU are claiming that YOU have a legal right to that picture. And if the owner of that photo comes after the company, you will be the responsible party. And Pinterest goes so far as to say if you REpin something, you’re saying you have the right to that photo. Yes, if that’s enforced, it would mean that 99% of people on Pinterest are doing something illegal. Will that ever come up? Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m leaning on the paranoid side now. I don’t want to be the test case. And I don’t want to pin something the owner of the photo wouldn’t want pinned.

So pin your own photos, pin things from sites that have a Pin It button (see discussion in comments about the Pin It button, it’s not always a safe bet either.) I pin book covers and movie posters because I figure that it’s advertisement for said movies or books. But other stuff? All those pretty mancandy photos? I’m going to look but not touch.

5. Assume that something is copyrighted until proven otherwise.

That’s your safest bet. If you’re not 100% sure it’s okay to use, don’t. This includes things like celebrity photos. Someone owns those. There are enough free pics out there that you don’t need to risk violating someone’s copyright.

6. Spread the word to your fellow bloggers.

It was KILLING me not to be able to go tell everyone about all of this because I didn’t want anyone else to get into this kind of mess. So if you know someone who is using photos in the wrong way, let them know. I wish someone had told me.

So I know many of you are probably thinking–she’s being paranoid or that the likelihood of this ever happening to you is slim. Well, maybe. But it happened to me. And now that I know better, I’m going to do better (yes, I’m busting out an Oprah quote, forgive me.) And yes, it does kill me a little bit that I can’t go on posting boyfriends of the week and mancandy, but instead I’ll just post links to it so you can see it elsewhere. 🙂

So lesson learned: protect yourself and respect the rights of other artists.

San Diego Comic Con – The Latest Shiny Promotional Venue

STATUS: The problem with summer is that I’d rather not work long hours. Too much sunshine and lovely outdoor weather.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  TONGUE TIED by GroupLove

There is no doubt in my mind that Comic Con in San Diego is the shiny new conference that all writers want to attend. I get it. It’s a blast. Geek Chic. Fandom over great shows like True Blood and Game of Thrones. Honest to goodness movie stars. Fabulous parties (I’m still lamenting that I didn’t get to go to the Entertainment Weekly one.)

What’s not to like? You can even buy some funny, cool, and geek insider T-Shirts.

But is it necessarily the best promotional venue for a writer?

Jury might still be out on that but here’s my thinking. If your book has an obvious connection to the fan base that attends, I’d say yes, it’s a worthwhile promotional venue for an author.

Gail Carriger is a great example. She writes steampunk fantasy and also has a graphic novel equivalent of her popular The Parasol Protectorate series.

Her publisher, Orbit, had a full-size paper cut-out of graphic novel Alexia Tarabotti in their booth. Here I am standing with it. 

And fans even come dressed up as Gail’s characters for her autograph signings.

I can safely say that her fan base is present at this Con in full force.

Same would hold true for Marie Lu and her Legend Trilogy. Since there is a video game in the works below is a sneak peek), she had lots of fans at this event.

As an author, ask yourself. Do fans who love my books love all things geek that can be found at San Diego Comic Con? If the answer is yes, then this shiny venue is a good fit. If it’s not, I wouldn’t recommend it even though it’s the latest “hot” thing.

A Sad But Celebratory Day!

STATUS: Mixed day! I feel like I’m still catching up on emails.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? REALIZE by Colbie Caillat

It had to happen eventually. Today Jamie Ford is not on the New York Times bestseller list–ending our phenomenal run of 130 consecutive weeks on the list. That is two and half years without dropping off.

Wow. Just wow.

Maybe I shouldn’t be having a blog entry announcing this fact but you know what, Jamie? It’s an incredible achievement no matter how I talk about it.

So I raise a glass of champagne to you and your wonderful debut novel: Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter & Sweet.

For us, there has been no bitter.

And I have a feeling that this week isn’t the end and that we will be popping back on in the not-so-distant future.

Cheers!

The Concern Is Perhaps Premature

STATUS: All my Texas blog readers, Kristin Callihan’s FIRELIGHT is going to be included in the romance round-up on Good Morning Texas tomorrow, Wed. May 2. Station WFAA-TV channel 8. It’s the ABC affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth. How cool is that. I wish I could tune in.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DOMINO DANCING by Pet Shop Boys

When I was at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference last week, I had a writer rush up to me in a panic to ask a question. She was incredibly worried that she had not established her social media platform for her novel yet.

If her release date was in 4 weeks, then I would say she had cause to panic.

But given that she hadn’t actually finished writing her work-in-progress (let alone begin querying for her agent search), I found her concern a little premature.

*grin*

I advised her that at this point in her professional career, she should focus on writing the best novel she possibly could. Plenty of time to get the social media cranking while it’s on submission. I personally don’t know any agent who would say no to an author for a project they love just because the publicity platform isn’t there yet.

I can build that with an author. I imagine most agents feel the same.

Can’t Resist Facebook Any Longer

STATUS: I was wondering when the “too good to be true” weather would end and we’d get the smack down. It snowed today. Spring in Colorado.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WISHING YOU WERE HERE by Chicago

Honestly, I’m just not clever enough for Facebook. Or that’s how I feel most of the times. I’ve been on FB for several years just for family and friends. I like it well enough but post sporadically. However, I love reading everybody else’s posts.

But lately, I’ve been having little tidbits of things that I would love to share but the blog doesn’t feel like the right spot to do it. We’ve had an NLA page but I didn’t really pop on it it often enough. I decided it has to be unique to me to give it care an attention. So here we go.

It’s only been up a day or so and I already have 10 likes! I felt a little thrill. 10 likes!

See that’s the power of Facebook. It makes you delighted over such a small thing….

I’ve posted some action pics during the webinar. Can you believe an attendee grabbed some screenshots and sent them to me? So fun. I loved that she did that.

A New NLA Milestone!

STATUS: Having a great afternoon.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YOU CAN CALL ME AL by Paul Simon

I rarely post twice in one day but I can’t resist.

For the week of March 18, Gail Carriger’s TIMELESS is sitting at #17 on the NYT list and at #98 on the USA Today. Definitely worth celebrating.

But what’s really fun?


SOULLESS The Manga graphic novel just hit #2 on the NYT Graphic novel list.

That’s a first for NLA!!