Neil Gaiman's tools of marketing

Manuscript update: Wrote a first draft of my query letter in the wee hours of this morning before I dragged myself to bed. It’s not great, but a good start. A better version and the synopsis will be written next week.

I just finished reading through a New Yorker feature about Neil Gaiman and was struck by how adept he is at marketing.

As an as yet unpublished novelist, I’ve read numerous times about how the industry has changed in recent years and the author must take on the promotion of a book if it is to succeed. My author friend Gwen Cooper knew that when both of her two books were published, and her efforts helped her second book, Homer’s Odyssey, debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Not that the publishing houses don’t also promote the books, but nowadays, an author’s promotional work is what will propel a book above and beyond.

But, I must admit that I figured that established writers, such as Neil Gaiman — who, the New Yorker article says, got more attention than Angelina Jolie at Worldcon when they were both there promoting the movie Beowulf — didn’t need to do too much in the way of self-promotion. He’s such a prolific writer in novels, picture books, graphic novels and even screenplays, with two of his printed works adapted into movies (Coraline and Stardust) and five movies listed on IMDb as in development, including an adaptation of his Newbery Medal winning The Graveyard Book from last year. He has such a following that fans wear buttons saying “squeeee,” meaning the scream they give when they see him, according to the New Yorker article. And yet, Gaiman is still actively promoting his books beyond the usual book signing tours and readings the publishing house sets up.

For example:

  • Gaiman was one of the first writers to have a blog, which now counts about 1.4 million readers.
  • He has a Twitter feed, which he posts to a dozen times a day. And, apparently, even people in his employment, including his handy man and his assistant, tweet.
  • For The Graveyard Book, Gaiman read each of the book’s eight chapters at eight different book readings, videotaped them and posted them to his blog. According to the New Yorker, whenever sales of the book began to slide, Gaiman would tweet that the videos were available on his blog and sales of the book would quickly rise back up.

This is what the already established writers do to maintain their success. When our debut novels are published, we’ll have to do much more. So, watch what the big cats are doing, soak it in, and get ready. One day, you’ll be doing all this and more, much more.

Write On!

Book promotion tips

Here’s my fourth and last blog post with notes from the North Texas SCBWI conference. (See why I rave about conferences? If nothing else, they give you lots of fodder to write about on your blog. 🙂 )

Illustrator Melonie Hope Greenberg gave a presentation on marketing with some very useful tips. Melonie has illustrated a number of picture books, and had a circuitous journey to get there, as she reinvented herself time and again.

The biggest take away I got from Melonie’s presentation is how much work it can take to promote your book and make it a success. Melonie showed her boxes of index cards filled with contacts from the media, bookstores, editors, etc. No only is she constantly promoting her books, but also herself as an illustrator to get future work.

To promote both her artwork and picture books, Melonie regularly sends postcards to contacts to keep her top of mind. And a lot of work goes into keeping her contact lists up to date, especially with people moving jobs.

One of Melonie’s best tips, in my opinion, was Google Alerts. (If you haven’t heard of these, Google allows you to set up alerts for specific keywords then will email you links to the top 20 web pages that have those keywords. The top 20 changes constantly as new pages are uploaded or old pages get more traffic, so you can keep the alert going for a while.) I had heard of using Google Alerts to keep track of reviews and other mentions of your name or book. But Melonie said she sets up Google Alerts for her book’s subject matter, and when she’s sent notices about other websites writing about that topic, she sends them a postcard about the book. For example, if she had a book about lighthouses, she would set up a Google Alert for lighthouses, and if, say, she gets an alert about a lighthouse club in Maine, she can send them a postcard about the book to spread the word.

And spreading the word is what it’s all about. Melonie showed that it can be a lot of work, but the pay-off — a successful career as an illustrator or writer — is worth it.

Write On!

Author interview: Elizabeth Fournier

Elizabeth Fournier

Elizabeth Fournier

Today we’re welcoming Elizabeth Fournier to Day By Day Writer. Elizabeth wrote her All Men Are Cremated Equal: My 77 Blind Dates balanced between a day job and new marriage and self-published it. She has quite a colorful working background, as she says on her website: “Elizabeth is currently the voice of the autopsy exhibit in the forensic wing at the United States National Museum of Medicine. You can also see her online as the Video Spokesperson for Chinook Winds Casino Resort. She and her dance partner, Scott, teach Ballroom Dance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Oh, and she’s also a full-time mortician.” Ha! And love the title of that book. Now we know where it comes from.

Writing a novel in between a full-time job, family and the other commitments in one’s life is, to say the least, challenging. (Not to mention tiring — I’m in the same boat.) How did you fit writing into your schedule?

When I wrote All Men Are Cremated Equal: My 77 Blind Dates, I was newly married. After planning a wedding across the country in only five months, I decided I could do anything. So I promptly sat down at the keyboard after our return from New Jersey and cranked out my manuscript.

The conflict between wanting to be with my new husband and wanting to write was tricky. It was a long, hot summer, and I had to miss out on some great fishing and hikes, but I managed to never miss a tasty barbecue! I was so lucky to have a supportively fabulous husband so I could take that time and do my work at home.

The editing portion of my manuscript took place at my funeral home. My parlour is located on acreage in the country in a remodeled goat barn. It is peaceful, and my mind feels untroubled there. I can stare out the window and see deer, green grass and lots of beautiful trees and plants. It’s Heavenly!

How long did it take to write and revise your memoir ready for publication?

All Men Are Cremated Equal: My 77 Blind Dates

I finished my first draft in a month. Seriously, I did. The book started from a series of e-mails I sent to my beloved father. I would tell him about a date and then e-mail him the not so great events of the date when arriving home. He loved being a part of my quest to find true love as much as I loved having him along for the self-deprecating ride.

The first draft was 77 chapters, one chapter for the 77 individual dates. I thought it was fresh and brilliant! None of the literary agents I sent it to could see that point of view. I quickly decided that a redo was inevitable.

With enthusiasm quashed, I got back to the keyboard and enlisted help from a wonderful storyboard editor down Hollywood way named Michele Gendelman. She had worked (among many things) on a few episodes for The Facts of Life. The show’s glamour character, Blair Warner, was the end-all for me in my youth, so I knew I was in capable hands.

Michelle encouraged me to break up the manuscript into larger chapters, add dialogue and most of all, have fun. Sound advice, and even though she knew dialogue doesn’t easily appear out of the sky, I opened my heart, and it all poured out with ease.

As I had revisions revised and revisited, it all tightened up into a nice story. The original manuscript was twice as long. While preparing the final version, I was most concerned with being extremely honest without violating the privacy of my wonderful friends — and blind dates!

Did you always plan to self-publish or did you go the traditional route first? And how did you decide to self-publish?

After I had a pretty decent version, I obtained an agent rather quickly. I got the phone call while pregnant and drying my clothes at the Laundromat. I could hardly hear her over the whizzing noise of the vast dryers, so I had to move the conversation to the funeral van waiting in the parking lot. My husband found me collapsed in the back on the gurney after my exhaustive, joyful shrieking.

That joy turned to immediate frustration when my newly acquired agent’s e-mail updates would list proposals sent out to various editors, only to find curtly generic “thanks, but no thanks” notes received back. I thought that publishers would read the synopsis and opening chapters to see if I had a feel for language and an aptitude for telling my story. To that extent, I did accomplish something. Although every submission came back with a rejection, it was clear they had enjoyed reading the material. That was the upside.

The downside was that they also said they rarely, if ever, accepted non-fiction manuscripts from some random writer without a platform. After all, I am just a girl from Boring, Oregon, who went on 77 blind dates and just happens to own a keyboard.

What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome in self-publishing?

When my book was released, I was psyched and knew it was a must-have for all bookstores, everywhere.  Ha! I called the corporate offices of Barnes and Noble and learned that even though my book is on their computers, they rarely ever stock self-published books.

I’ve also learned that without bookstores, a book isn’t likely to do well, even with lots of publicity. A huge percentage of people do not buy books online. I am available through Amazon and I am distributed through Ingram, so I am essentially available at any bookstore or website, but I really had my heart set on waltzing into a Borders one day and seeing a huge cardboard cut-out of my lovely cover.

This all does not mean bookstores will stock my book. There are so many hurdles in doing it yourself, including getting book reviews and noticed by the book industry papers, such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, ForeWord and Booklist. I haven’t overcome all the hurdles yet.

How are you promoting the book?

Work, work, work! It is a job which never sleeps. Thank God for the Internet and e-mail. I can solicit, query, chat, blog, post, research, etc. 24 hours a day. I solicit websites, send out queries to radio stations, I chat with other authors of my genre, I blog on a few sites, I post connect with others, and I research more ways to promote myself. I put myself out there, and it has paid off.

I have hit up trade publications, anything about dating, blind dating, local and community papers, have done readings at local places, am for sale at random local places and pretty much hand out my book cover magnets to all I speak with.

I have a wonderful publicist (Abby Kraus PR) who finds interesting and valuable leads. She’s great! I definitely recommend hiring a publicist — they just have many, many more contacts than an average author can find scouring the Internet.

What advice would you give to other writers considering self-publishing?

I’d read somewhere about advertising that it takes seven times for a person to see a new product before it registers. Thus, how do you show your book to people seven times? Get the word out there. Solicit, query, chat, blog, post, research!

A talent you need as a writer is the ability to write a good short query via email. You need to understand how to get the attention of harried editors, agents, reviewers, and more people.

One trick about press releases, by the way, is to come up with a headline that does NOT mention the title of your book or your name. After all, if people see either, will they be compelled to read your release? Probably not. This forces you to find the news for your headline.

Writing a good book, compared to a bad one, involves one thing — work. And a great, quality book cover is critical.

Great advice!

Check out Elizabeth’s website, and if you don’t see her book in your local Barnes & Noble, ask them why.

And follow Elizabeth on the rest of her blog tour:

May 18: TV Boyfriends

May 21: Annette Fix’s blog

May 22: Kristin Bair O’Keefe

May 26: Wedding Skulls

June 2: Nice Shoes! and Other Life Observations

June 5: Fatal Foodies

June 8: Sybil Baker’s blog

June 11: Misadventures With Andi

June 15: Modern Single Momma

Write On!

Don't be nervous

With my focus now on the Sir Newton books, I started making publicity calls for Sir Newton’s Color Me Hawai’i, which launched earlier this year. I’m late in doing promotions (you really want a nice big push when the book first appears in stores – but the beginning of this year was crazy, with a move to a different state, buying a house, etc.), but I figure better late than never.

I sent out review copies and press releases a few weeks ago, and I have to admit, I really hoped that would be it. Every paper would respond. I’d get requests for interviews, and lots of books would sell.

Of course, it didn’t work that way. I still had to do follow up calls.

As a journalist (my day job), I get calls from publicists a lot. Now, I know why. When I called the publications I had sent press packets to, they couldn’t remember the book. So I had to remind them.

The strange thing was, even though I was calling my peers, even though I get calls like this all day, I was nervous about making them myself.

Why is it that, as writers, we find it so difficult to say, “Look at what I made. Isn’t it great?” Many writers spend hours and hours tapping away on their computers, writing short stories, plays, novels, but that’s as far as they get. They never send them to agents, publishers or contests, don’t even show their friends or read their work at critique groups. Many people don’t even get to the writing part–they can’t get past “that’s a good idea”.

But we should be proud of what we do. We shouldn’t create in a vacuum. There’s nothing wrong with writing just for yourself, after all, that’s what journaling is. But, some things are written to be shared, and they should be. (Of course, I’m not advocating sending work out to an agent or publisher until it’s ready, and that’s where the critique groups come in.)

And even though we would love everyone to say, “Wow, that is great,” they won’t. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Without criticism — the right kind, the constructive not mean kind — we won’t grow.

So, there’s nothing to be nervous about with putting our work out to other writers, good writers, more experienced writers, and saying, “Hey, look at my work. I’d love it if you could read it.” Just like, once something is ready, there’s nothing to be nervous about sending it to agents, etc., and saying, “Hey, look at my work. I think it’s worthy of being published.” And, when you’ve published something, there’s nothing to be nervous about when calling a publicist and saying, “Hey, look at my work. I think it’s good enough to be written about.”

Doesn’t mean we won’t still be nervous. But if we don’t jump, we won’t get far.

So how did my calls go? Well, I only had time for a few. But a features editor at one paper found the book in a pile on her desk and said she would get it in Sunday’s paper, and a features editor at another paper said she couldn’t find the book, but if I send her one (I had sent it to her assistant originally, but she was out sick), she would put it in her paper. I sent the copy off today. Success! They weren’t monsters. They didn’t bite my head off. And they didn’t have to know that my insides were turning.

What makes you nervous in your area of the writing world?

Write On!