Monday, January 08, 2007

Is the only bad publicity no publicity at all?

If this were Sesame Street, today’s word would be publicity, brought to you by the letter P and the number 300,000,000, which represents the approximate population of the United States—a fraction of which you are trying to reach with your book.

But this is not Sesame Street. There are no puppets and I have a potty mouth not fit for after-school television. This is a place of learning, of trading information, and the biggest topic of conversation for authors other than “How do I get my book published?” seems to be “How do I get people to pay attention to the book I just published?”

And that, my friends, is where publicity comes in.

Publicity, as defined by is:

1.) a.) Information that concerns a person, group, event, or product and that is disseminated through various media to attract public notice. b.) Public interest, notice, or notoriety achieved by the spreading of such information. c.) The act, process, or occupation of disseminating information to gain public interest.
2.) The condition of being public.

Nice and vague, no? The truth is publicity is hard to quantify and define, especially in the book business. What acts as the tipping point to make your book the topic of every bibliophile’s conversation is not what will work for the next author or even your next book. While some methods of reaching the bookselling and book buying public may be successful across the board it is rare that most don’t have to be tweaked in some way. Publicity for a history of the plague should not be approached the same way as publicity for a romance novel. Publicity for a romance novel should not be approached the same way as that for a science fiction novel. Different markets (no matter how many crossover readers they may have) have different requirements, different areas press releases can be sent to, and different overall hooks.

So let’s talk about what works for you as a reader and what doesn’t? Book trailers? Book marks? Websites?

How does that vary from what you do as an author? How do you get out there and promote yourself? What has your publishing company done for you? What have you had to do for yourself? Which seemed to affect your sales more?

And for the booksellers—current or former—out there, what worked for you? Were you a drone when it came to publicity, simply putting the co-opped books out where they were supposed to go without paying attention or did you read the flyers and letters that came through your store? What publicity hooks worked for you: bookmarks, letters, glossies or book articles? What didn’t? How did your own store approach its publicity and those of the authors it showcased?

Everyone is looking for the single answer, the perfect trick to get their book to be on everyone’s to buy list and the truth is that there is no holy, golden key to unlocking the publicity world. All we can do is learn from others’ successes and failures, and identify where the publisher’s publicity job ends and the author’s begins. Using the answers to the questions above I hope to look at where the publicity machine breaks down and how it can be fixed as well as what seems to get the word on through.

Horror stories and once in a lifetime stories accepted, feel free to post anonymously if you don’t want someone knowing why you think so-and-so screwed up big time with some book or another.


canadacole said...

One reader's take:

I live in a very small town with a small library and have a smaller personal book budget. Getting out of my comfort zone and trying something new is scary for me, because I have to be careful with my book purchases or order through the library system...and if you're going to wait a few weeks/months for something, you want it to have been worth the trouble.

The number one way I choose a new book/author? An author I enjoy "personally" recommends it--on the web or in an interview.

Conversely, I don't trust cover blurbs.

Oh, and before the net, it was pretty much hit and miss, because I love romance and most of the librarian recommendations were that I branch out into other genres ;)

Eileen said...

I LOVE you for doing this post. Much appreciated. I'm interested if there are publicity that booksellers find annoying. Other than glitter in the envelope of course.

quiche said...

The only sure thing in publicity right now is Oprah. I'll see a dozen people looking for a book they saw on Oprah the day before versus the two who heard about a title on NPR or in the newspaper.

Our chain sells product placement; certain books get put on the front tables because the publishers paid for that space. It's still no guarantee the books will sell but the odds are better than if the book is placed in section spine out.

Anonymous said...

Blessed be the booksellers, for they can make modest sellers out of no-ad-budget titles they "feel" are great books and place then face up/out in the front of their chain and indie stores. I know because I do it every workday. It's a joy for me to do it, and you're welcome.

Lily said...

I read things recommended by friends the most- the "DID YOU READ THIS???" conversation.

I try to buy poetry volumes from people I know because well- let's face it- there's not much money in that adventure.

I have discovered some obscure but delightful stuff, some of what I read the most are by relatively unknown writers. Which is fine by me.

Robin Brande said...

I pay attention to what my fellow bloggers talk about. It may take seeing a title mentioned five to ten times before I finally break down and buy it, but I've never yet been disappointed.

meleah rebeccah said...

In lieu of it being "DELURKING" week (or so I've heard, over in blog land) You are supposed to comment on blogs you read all the time but never say anything.

I have never commented, so, I wanted to take the time and let you know even though I don't comment, I READ you all the time, and LOVE THIS BLOG! so, um, thanks.

BuffySquirrel said...

I haven't had much success with buying the books my friends and family recommend. Our tastes don't often coincide. The latest disaster got thrown against the wall, unfinished, despite loads of people raving about it online.

Sometimes I just get lucky--like with Sarah Waters' Affinity, which I loved. I got there from buying Fingersmith, remaindered, because I remembered the title from when it was televised, and, well, it was remaindered. I'd paid so much attention to the tv programme that I didn't even know it was a romance...

I think what usually works on me is to have the book mentioned in the blogosphere enough times that its title sticks in my head. If there's an extract available online, so much the better. If I like what I see, I may buy the book. I hate taking chances on books--I've been disappointed so many times. And I'm not a person who can stand in a bookshop reading pages.

I don't read book reviews; I don't take much notice of the front tables; I have a little list of authors whose work I didn't hate. I want to buy more books than I do at present, because I want to read more than I do at present, but I can hardly find any books I like. Sigh. Are they out there, somewhere?

Shanna Swendson said...

I get pretty discouraged as an author trying to promote my books because I know how difficult I am to reach as a reader -- and I read at least 100 books a year, so I'm a pretty heavy reader.

I'd say that about 90 percent of the books I buy or check out of the library, I choose just by browsing. I wander the shelves and front tables, looking for something that catches my eye, and I buy based on the plot description -- is this a story I want to read? The majority of the books I find by browsing, I've never heard of before (at least, not consciously).

I seldom read bestsellers, not because of any "if it's popular, it can't be good" snobbery, but merely because the subject matter of most bestselling novels (usually thrillers and "Oprah pick" type books) doesn't interest me. I have a few auto-buy series, but very few auto-buy authors. If I've read and enjoyed an author's books before, then I'm more likely to at least take a look at later books, but whether or not I buy still depends on whether the plot appeals to me.

I don't read a lot of newspaper or magazine book reviews, mostly because they don't tend to cover the kinds of books I read (mostly genre fiction). I don't subscribe to any book review publications, and I don't visit a lot of online review sites. There are a couple of book-related blogs for the genres I enjoy that include a lot of book news along with reviews, and that's where I may get titles and authors to look up if the plot description intrigues me.

The one bit of publisher marketing activity that has worked on me in a direct, obvious way was when a new series was featured in the publisher's e-mail newsletter. The story description sounded like it was right up my alley, and I knew I wanted to read those books (but since it was my publisher, I cheated and got my editor to send me the first book. I did buy the rest in the series, though). I've also looked for books by authors I've met in person or heard speak if I liked them (and if the books sounded interesting).

Where word of mouth and other marketing activities may work on me is subconsciously. If something is familiar, it jumps out, so having heard of something around the blogosphere or from friends may make me more likely to notice something in a crowded bookstore. I can think of maybe one favorite author I discovered directly via word of mouth. Otherwise, they've all been something I stumbled over in the store or in a library.

It's probably a good thing that I seldom go to a bookstore looking for a specific book because when I do, they almost never have it. I just returned from a book-buying mission empty-handed because the store didn't have any of the list of new releases by established authors that I was looking for. They seem to still be in post-Christmas shock mode, where there are more Sudoku and puzzle books than actual books with words in them on the front tables, so the new releases are shortchanged this month (and joy, my book next year is a January release).

For promo as an author, I work on word of mouth. I blog, I comment in blogs, I participate in things like the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, I speak at writing conferences and science fiction conventions. I think the most effective thing I do is speak. When people hear me speak or meet me for any length of time, they end up buying my books.

Jackie said...

Terrific post.

Publicity and promotion is a freaking nightmare for someone like me, who's painfully shy and tends to babble in public. But that's no excuse, especially when you want to succeed. And if there's one truth out there, it's this: if you want to succeed, very few authors should rely solely on their publisher for promotion and publicity.

I've been networking like crazy, meeting tons of wonderful authors and readers. I have a themed website, and the blog on that website is aimed at cross-promotion: the heroine of my novel interviews characters of other authors. This is done in concert with those authors, is a lot of fun, and helps spread the word about both books.

Little tip: writers should help writers. We're not in competition with each other; it's not a matter of people buying either your book or someone else's--chances are, they will buy (or try) both. BLOG. Visit other blogs. Don't be shy.

I have swag. Pens, post-it notes, phone thongs. (Phone thongs???) I need more swag, because I'll be going to RT, and there will be roughly a zillion readers, editors, and authors there. I always have my pens and business cards with me. I leave the pens at the PO, at restaurants, at the supermarket. You'd be amazed how much buzz a pen can create.

I've been going to my local bookstores and plugging the book. I need to do a lot more of this, but so far, it's landed me a signing, a reading, and a book club book of the month pick.

I contacted my alma maters, resulting in a signing/event to take place at the college bookstore.

I go to conferences.

I talk about other authors' books, ones that I love and help promote.

I guess in a nutshell, it comes down to this:

- Have a website, one with fresh content...and a reason to have people come back to visit your website.

- Have a web presence: blog, visit other blogs, be active in online forums, post comments on other sites.

- Have a local presence: visit your local bookstores and libraries and see about getting readings/signings there.

- Write a terrific follow-up book.

Orhan Kahn said...

A very clever, well-written post. And comments to boot :)

Dawn Firelight said...

Since I have no pithy remarks to add to the already pithy remarks above, I will say only this: clone Oprah. Problem solved.

Mike Eberhart said...

As an author and self-publisher of a specialty book (Gluten-Free Gourmet Desserts) targetting people with Celiac Disease and wheat intolerance, I can certainly say that reaching my target market is quite difficult, especially since I have (thusfar) chosen not to sell through the big places like Amazon, etc.

Most of my sales come by word of mouth or in-person selling. I do sell through retailers like specialty food stores that target gluten-free diets, and have sold books to every retailer I have met with thusfar. But, it is a LOT of work making sales calls, arranging in-person meetings with retailers, and delivering books. And, I have limitted myself quite a bit geographically by making sales first-hand like this.

I have tried to promote my book site through a related blog, and we post free gluten-free recipes on our book site to help attract pre-qualified readers and potential customers. But, it is certainly a slow-go, and Google has yet to even give my book site a non-zero page-ranking, which I just do not understand, especially when there is so much index-SPAM in Google ahead of my site when I do keyword searches that *should* show my book, but do not. So, I do not get very many people just happening across my book thanks to a google-search. I did post the book on Google-Books, which I noticed brings a *few* people to our site. I also post comments on relate forums, which has helped with exposure.

Most of all, it is word of mouth that has led to sales. Most book sales have been to persons that have heard about our book through friends, family, and others that already purchased the book and are pleased with it. Some sales have come through cross-promotions with other persons that sell other product to Celiacs.

I guess I need to contact Oprah if I want more immediate results! :)