Cross posted from my personal journal.
And so I come to the end of my little blogging brainstorm here—promo and sales, along with answering a few reader questions. And then I'm taking a little blogging break for a few days. I'll be posting all my writing blogs, etc., on my site soon, by the way, so people will have access to them later on. I'm glad these posts helped some of you--I sure as hell wish I'd had access to info like this (direct from the author's mouth) when I was starting out. I read about the business, about marketing, but there's nothing like experience to give you the down and dirty.
Once you get a contract, that means the publisher is going to take out big ads in the magazines, get you on Oprah, and make sure they do everything possible to recoup their advance money by promoting you. Right?
Um…once again, nope. UNLESS…they gave you a damned good advance. Most of the time, new authors are tossed to the waves to sink or swim. Those who sink, disappear quietly after a few books. Those who can swim, may have a chance of rising in the business.
First, you have to understand the concept of sell-through. As I mentioned in Part 2—about Advances—sell-through is the percentage of books that sell out of a print run. A print run is the number of books they print at one go. Not all books get the same print runs. The print runs for my mysteries were fairly low—12-20K. The print runs for my urban fantasies…well…I'm not supposed to name numbers but we're talking a hell of a lot more.
You want your book to go to multiple print runs—this doesn't mean that every single book in the prior one sold, by the way—there will be some returns where the cover was stripped (if you're paperback), there will be some books that were returned by readers to the store—those aren't re-sold.
But overall, going into multiple print runs is a Very Good Thing. (For example, Witchling's well into its 5th or 6th printing—I'm not quite sure, and Changeling is either in 2nd or 3rd, and Darkling, I think is in 2nd). Each successive print run won't usually be the same as the first—which most of the time will be the biggest.
Okay, so let's say your book has a print run of 20,000 copies. A good sell through—in today's market—will be around 12-15K. A great sell through is 15K+. A lousy sell-through and your next contract probably won't be much better than your first, if you get one at all. So what can you do to ensure that sell-through? What promotional tools work? That all depends on your audience…and your budget.
First, the publisher's likely to suggest that you work your butt off promoting. The simple reality is that publishers seldom pay for huge ads in magazines and newspapers for newbie authors.
"Do I need a publicist?" you might be asking. That's a really good question. A good publicist can work wonders, but they will also be expensive. A bad publicist will rip you off royal and probably cause more harm than good. And sometimes it's hard to know up front just who is who. So if you decide to hire one, ask for references and check them out thoroughly. You could end up with a 10K bill for what you could have done free.
Next--determine your audience. Are they a tech-oriented audience? Do they hang out on the net? More and more readers are doing so—and so the internet is a great promo place. However, it's not the be-all and end-all.
I asked my publicist what the top four, relatively inexpensive promo activities I could do and here's what she told me, in order:
- A good website that you keep up to date
- MySpace—get yourself a MySpace page
- A blog
- Live Journal—get yourself an LJ account.
I have all of the above, though I'm currently working on a wordpress blog for my site because Blogger was giving me problems. I have to say, MySpace has been one of the hands-down best places where readers have found me.
I mirror my blog onto MS and LJ because there are people at each online community who won't cross over to the others. It's a lot of work, yes, but it pays off, especially if you write books that have a tech-savvy audience (don't discount anybody—your grandma probably gets online now, and chances are she doesn't just use email).
Just be careful what you blog about—blogging about drunken binges may seem funny, but your publisher or agent might see that (yes, they do peek), and think you aren't the most stable person to work with. Or you may have a strong faction of readers who don't like drunken debacles and it makes you look unprofessional.
Once you are in the public eye, consider that anything you slap up on the net is there forever because somebody somewhere will see it, even if you take it down three hours later. And they may save a copy and show it around. So think before you blog. Think about what image you want to project.
As a new author, you might be thinking about book signings and tours? Aren't they the be-all and end-all of promoting?
Again, no. Be aware that most book signings are usually scantily attended. You'll be lucky if more than 15 people show up, even when you're a bestselling author. The biggest crowd I ever saw at a signing was for Sherrilyn Kenyon—the line snaked out the door and went on for over an hour. I sat there, staring, thinking, "WOW."
So don't make the mistake of scheduling dozens of signings—most of that time is best used writing.
However, you do want to carefully cultivate a relationship with several bookstores around the area (and via email/snail mail).
Genuinely forge a professional friendship with an indie bookstore owner or a bookseller at a chain store and they will handsell your work like hotcakes. Handselling work means that the clerk/owner recommends your work, in the indie stores they may keep it right up front where customers see it when they first come in, it means that they take an interest in your career and they do what they can to boost it. I have forged a friendship with a local indie bookstore who will sell signed copies of my work via the mail, so if people want a signed book they can order it through the store, I drop in to sign it (they also have signed copies in stock), and bingo! I've also forged a good relationship with personnel at a local chain store and I always try to give them priority in book signings.
When you do a book signing—follow some simple rules. Be professional. Show up on time. Show up sober (think I'm joking? No—I've heard a few horror stories from bookstore owners about drunken or rude loud-mouthed authors). Don't play the diva, don't insist on being waited on hand-and-foot, don't blame the bookstore owner for the lack of attendees unless it's like my Signing From Hell that I had years ago, which I'll discuss in a later blog.
Now, I hate my picture taken (I have photo-phobia pretty bad), so I politely demure, but I'm always nice to the readers who make a special trip to see me and get their books signed. I figure if they took the time and trouble to come to my signing, I'm damned well going to be grateful and polite.
I sign books from my backlist, I sign books the reader bought used, hell—my favorite signing story was at a nonfiction signing. A man came up carrying a copy of Embracing the Moon, the book was falling apart in his hands and he held it together with a rubber band. It was highlighted all the way through, notes scribbled all over the margins. Howie—the man—was very shy and could barely speak loud enough to ask me to sign it. I'm not a huggy-type person, but I saw how much he loved that book and I offered him a hug and he walked away with a huge smile on his face. I felt humbled by how much my work meant to him.
Sometimes, if you do reach that uber-popular state (ie: Sherrilyn Kenyon, Laurell Hamilton, Janet Evanovich, etc.), you may not be able to sign more than the current book at each signing—but until then, be flexible.
I also find that I prefer signings where I'm giving a talk or discussion, and I love signings where other authors are signing with me (as long as they're polite). Those seem to have the best draw and hey, it's more fun with a couple people to talk to while you're sitting there.
Most publishers won't pay for your book tours until you reach a certain stage in your career, so if you choose to fund one yourself, make certain to hit key areas that seem to have a wide readership and save all those receipts.
Magazine Ads: I never used to spring for them because they can be so damned expensive. It's hard to tell if they actually work, but like most of the promotion you do, you'll never quite know what's doing the trick and what isn't. I now take out a few ads—Romance Sells, in RWR, in Romantic Times Magazine when I can afford it. If you decide to go this route, pinpoint magazines likely to reach your audience. And ask your publisher if they'll design the ad for you for free—my publisher will design ads for its authors for some magazines and it saves me the fee of having somebody at the magazine do the layout.
Blog Ads: One thing my publisher tried with Changeling—and again with Darkling—is buying an ad on Blog Ads for my books. Did it help? Well, traffic to my site while those ads were up spiked in HUGE amounts. Almost ten times the usual daily average traffic showed up on my site stats. Again, they're expensive, but if I had a great promo budget—I'd think about it.
Postcards, Bookmarks, Etc: People have varying experiences with these, but I love them. Especially postcards—if you have great cover art, they're a good investment. What do you do with them once you have them? Think: networking. Get on some of the professional writers loops. Ask if anybody's going to any conventions and if so, would they be willing to take a stack of your postcards for the Goodie Tables. I send out thousands of postcards this way each year. Every time I hear of a conference asking for promo items, I send them a stack of postcards and bookmarks. Spring for good quality cards, too. Don't go the cheapie route unless you absolutely cannot help it.
Also, if you write romance, paranormal romance, or anything akin to it—Romantic Times Magazine offers a special service. They have a list of 700 indie bookstores and if you send them 700 postcards, they'll include them in a special mailing, so the bookstore owner gets a look at your new release coming out. Send them out so they'll be in the issue either a month before, or the month of your book release. RT charges under $120 for this service, and that's a whole lot better than postage and time to hunt down all those bookstore names yourself.
I also leave stacks of postcards with the booksellers I've befriended for them to hand out.
Joining internet forums, etc., can be helpful too—just watch what you say, remember that a lot of people can be really nasty on the net—especially if you're doing something they want to be doing.
Join writers discussion groups, make friends with other authors—networking goes a long way. Don't say something about another author or editors, publishers, or agents unless you're willing for it to get back to them and potentially rebound on your own career. Publishing is an incestuous world and it's easy to put your foot in your mouth. If you don't have time to blog consistently, join—or form—a blogging group.
Conventions and conferences are another venue for gaining readers, for making yourself known, and for building your reputation. Offer to do workshops and to speak at writing groups. Just make sure you know what you're talking about.
The big problem with promotion is that it's hard to know what works and what doesn't, so you should approach it with a multi-faceted plan. Begin your promo plans the day you have a confirmed title, if not before.
Have that website ready to go before the ARCs come out.
Do your best to meet other authors but be assured—most authors who've been around for awhile can tell when you only want to know them for what they can do for you. Don't try to pull off the buddy-buddy routine unless you genuinely want to know them. Otherwise, keep it on a professional peer-relationship basis.
And show a little respect for the veterans of the business—as with every career, those who've been around the block a lot of times are a goldmine of information and advice. And they've earned their stripes by staying alive in an industry that can eat you up and toss you out on your ass if you don't perform well.
There are also a number of books about book promotion. Read them all and listen for what resonates. If you aren't good at public speaking, then presenting a workshop may not be your best bet. If you aren't tech-savvy, hire somebody to help you build your website.
(Oh, and one little tidbit of personal advice? Remove the music from your MySpace page. Readers who come looking for you may—like me—be listening to their own music on their computer and the minute a second song blares over the top, I'm outta there. Or they may be at work, not supposed to be on the net, and when Monster Rock comes blaring out of their cubicle, that may be the last time they ever venture to your page).
Okay, there's a LOT more about promo that other authors can chime in on—so please do so, in the comments thread.
Promo is vital because A) if your books don't sell, kiss your career goodbye, B) writers want to be read—we write to communicate and without an audience, we might as well be talking to the mirror, and C) there's a vast and interesting world out there, and your readers are part of it.
The woman who wrote me my very first email fan letter (and my second actual fan letter—I got on the net in March 1998, the month my second book came out) went on to become a friend of mine and we still write to each other.
Several other dear friends started out as my readers—and a lot of my acquaintances started out as my readers. You never know who's going to be following the trail of cyber-crumbs to your computer's doorstep.
(And as a caveat—be careful. There are some wacky and deranged people out there. I had a cyberstalker some years back—it's scary stuff, so use your common sense when talking to people on the net or revealing anything about yourself that might be too personal...also, it can eat up your writing time to get into too many penpal like relationships--you have to say "no" sometimes).
Now, as I promised, I'm answering a few reader questions this time around:
Question: What's an options clause?
Answer: Options clause: the publisher has first option to read your next submission before you approach any other publishers (the contract should stipulate if it's only book length or if it includes other lengths like novellas). If they make an offer and you don't take it, you can't sell it for less than what they offer to anybody else. There's a definite time frame that should be put on options clauses--30 to 45 days usually. If they don't make an offer in that time, or say they don't want it, you're free to take the work somewhere else.
Question: What happens when you come across a book, in print, that is filled with typos? Where does the fault lie? With the editor? The writer? The copyeditor?
Answer: The truth is that it's a combination. The author, by the end of writing the book and reading through it umpteen times, can no longer see the words. Seriously—by the time page proofs come around, it's hell on earth to try and find the typos. My mind--and eyes--slide right over them. So the proofreader at the publishing house is supposed to find them—in both copyedits and page proofs. Doesn't always happen. (And as far as grammatical errors—remember, this may be the writer's style. I use sentence fragments. A lot. My characters think and talk that way. Fiction is not the same as nonfiction, where grammatical license is less acceptable).
As a writer, I do send notes to my editor when typos are pointed out, for future printings. It's up to the publisher to make the change after that. I have no problem with people politely pointing them out to me, though I do cringe when it happens. It's embarrassing.
Question: after the story is written, how do u get it out there?
Answer: This is a subject for yet another blog. I suggest you look on my website at my Recommended Reading List for aspiring writers—go to the library and start reading a number of those books. They can tell you quicker than I can at this point. There's a lot of information on the net on various writer's forums about this subject, too. I'll be posting a page with links to all my blog posts about writing, too.
Question: Hello Ms. Galenorn, this may have already come up, but could you post a top ten-esque list of your favorite novels in the paranormal/romance genre?
Answer: Actually, I haven't done a specific list. Okay, here goes, and I think you might be surprised when you see what I list. They aren't all romances, nor are they necessarily urban fantasy, which I do love. The paranormal aspects are sometimes hinted at—as in Rebecca and Jane Eyre, other times are full blown fantasy. I don't tend to read a lot of romance, to be honest, at least not without other elements involved:
1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (which is also my second favorite book)
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
3. Little, Big by John Crowley
4. Red Branch by Morgan Llewellyn
5. The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
6. The Mummy by Anne Rice
7. Stormqueen by Marion Zimmer Bradley
8. Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
9. Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart
10. A Kiss of Twilight by Laurell K. Hamilton
These are not all on my favorite books of all time list, but they are the favorites with both fantastical/paranormal/gothic elements along with some sort of romantic element.
That's all for now,