Once you become published and have something to sell, it’s time to get out there and let people know you exist. You have a book, and well…it’s time to start marketing.
For many authors, the ugly reality finally hits once you have a book under your belt. The pure joy and sometimes agony (if you don’t love to write) is replaced with the fact that now that you finished the thing, it’s not going to sell itself!
Of course, if you happened to sign with one of the big five, they have built-in marketing machines.
Unless you’ve written the best thing since sliced bread, which is highly unlikely, and folks, rarely does lightning strike, they’re not going to just let you sit back while they do all the work! If you get an advance, which is also, by the way, getting rarer by the day, they’re going to expect you to sink at least a good chunk of that into your own marketing effort.
What this all boils down to is no matter who publishes your work, you, that means YOU are eventually going to have to get out in the trenches and sell your book, whether you like it or not.
Which brings me to…
Probably one of the easiest events to market your book, especially for you wallflowers, is the book festival.
The center of attention isn’t all on you. You aren’t the complete focus of the event.
You’re given a table spot where you can set up your display, sometimes with room for a banner (which you may or may not have to pay for yourself), business cards, bookmarks, publicity sheets and of course, books to sell.
Along with dozens to hundreds of other authors, you get a chance to meet from tens to hundreds to thousands of people.
Now, the hazards of book festivals, especially for wallflowers are the same as I’ve talked about in book signings in the past.
Remember the term I used above? Marketing?
By my definition, marketing means to sell, to go out and seek buyers, to let people know about your book.
If you go to a book festival and sit at your table and knit, or scrunch behind the table and look at your cell phone for the entire time, guess what’s going to happen?
Almost everyone is going to pass you by. Unless you have a super attractive cover, and even then, a lot of people are going to be distracted by everyone around you who are going to be talking to them and telling them about their book!
You have to stand up, engage people, talk to them. Only use the chair to ease your legs once in a while or to make a sale.
Have a candy bowl, or something to attract people to your side of the table.
The whole idea of going to these events is to get out there and tell people about your book. You can’t do that if you don’t make any effort to engage them.
Often, these events are free to you, the author, or at best, they’re a token charge.
Maybe they cost the travel time and a hotel room and meals. It’s the cost of doing business.
Quite often, you may not sell a single book. However, if you talk to people, give them business cards and book marks, that’s spreading the word.
Also, think of this.
Even if you don’t sell a thing, you’re talking to other authors and sometimes, you run across people passing by who may not buy your book, but maybe they want to review it. Sure, they may want a free copy, but if you can get a review posted, why not? Anything to get another review on line helps boost notoriety about your book.
Personally, I’ve done several of these festivals. I sold one book and considered it a success at one. At another, I didn’t sell any but I was able to get the book reviewed. It took a year, but the review was a good one. I consider that one a success and I got invited back to the festival again.
I have another one I’m going to this weekend. I sold one book there last year. Success. Even if I don’t sell a thing this year, if I can network, pass out cards, bookmarks, I’ll consider it a success.
This is another thread inspired by the Genre Writer’s Retreat – Fantasy, Sci-fi, Steam Punk Facebook page, which lately, has provided me with a wealth of subjects thanks to writers and authors asking lots of questions. While I can give short replies, or sometimes only have time to give a quick “like” on the subject, here, I have time to discuss these things in more detail. Many times, they’re subjects I’ve covered before, but maybe not from quite the same angle.
THE QUEST FOR AN AGENT (OR PUBLISHER)
A lot of writers tend to become focused. Okay, sure, when you’re writing a story, you need to be focused on that story at that time. So, now you have it finished (well, mostly). If you are young and naïve, you’re going to drop everything and immediately start looking for an agent.
Just one problem.
Okay, you’ve finished your great masterwork, but what about editing it? What about a sequel? What about other inspiration?
Just because you finished one doesn’t mean progress comes to a screeching halt while you shop around your work to the “receptive” world of publishing.
I think you’ll be in for a rude awakening.
I am, of course, exaggerating most writer’s circumstances, but sometimes, just sometimes, not by as much as you might think. With a lot of writers, they (and maybe you) might be guilty of a variable of that scenario.
How many of you have become so focused on your one thing and never considered the rest of it? Sure, maybe you took the time to get it edited through whatever means and started querying, then spent all your time and energy trying to get it published.
Oh, wait a minute. In all that effort, you forgot one other thing.
Something else to write!
I can tell you right now that I’m not exaggerating about that. As a member of multiple writer’s groups over two decades, well three to be exact, and having attended multiple writer’s conferences (twelve to be exact), I’ve talked to a lot of writers and authors. You’d be shocked at how many of them have done exactly what I’m talking about. They put all their time and energy into that one book. Their reasoning?
“I want to see if I can get this one published first. If I can, then I’ll write something else.”
NEVER PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET
I often cite my extreme quest to get published because I refused to self-publish. It took a looong time. Let me ask you something. If you wrote a single book twenty one (almost twenty-two, now) years ago, before you finally got published, how much inspiration do you think you’d have left by now? How many ideas and fragments of ideas do you think you’d remember after two decades? How many would be obscured by all the frustrations of being rejected?
How practiced would you be at the craft of writing if you’d even bothered to stick with it for more than a year, let alone twenty? I’m guessing most of you wouldn’t have lasted near as long.
Thanks to my two mentors at the time, Carol Davis Luce and Rhondi Vilott Salsitz, I knew I was in for a tough sell. I also knew I loved to write. The other thing was that when I started out, my first novel was never going to see the light of day. The Cave was just my way of seeing if I could complete a novel. Once that was out of the way, I got serious with The Greenhouse.
Sure, I pitched it. I pitched it and I pitched it. I queried it and I queried it. I went through all the same rigamarole as you’re probably going through with your great American novel, but in a more primitive form, using books and mail and very little Internet. Different times. However, while I was doing that, I was either editing it for the second or third time, or, I was in the middle of writing Lusitania Gold.
Folks, I wasn’t about to sit on my ass and wait for the agents and publishers to come banging at my virtual door! Thanks to Carol, Rhondi and anecdotal evidence (brought on by actually reading about querying), I knew it’d be a tough sell. Therefore, since I was brimming with inspiration, I moved on. My writing would not come to a screeching halt just because I had to take time to pitch The Greenhouse or Lusitania Gold or whatever.
SUMMARY – TAKES TIME AND EFFORT
Pitching your work, such as querying agents and publishers takes work, research, time, effort, bla bla bla. It takes inspiration and creativity just like writing does. However, consider that just necessary time away from your calling. It’s something you have to do if you ever want your stories to see the light of day. You have to be skilled at it, you have to be smart about it and most importantly, you need to allot time away from your regular writing for it.
However, you do not stop writing while waiting for an agent or publisher to take the bait.
That’s a great way to get nowhere fast.
Boy, I love the Science Fiction And Fantasy Facebook thread! The people there give me a wealth of inspiration.
Recently, someone started a thread and asked how people felt about having characters versus scenes (or other designs) on their book covers. In this context, they were referring to mainly fantasy and science fiction. I think that particular author is fantasy, if I remember correctly.
I’ve talked about covers before, how important they are, how I personally feel about them, and how they can influence your book sales.
Now, let’s look at both sides of the coin.
BOOK COVERS WITH CHARACTERS
A great artist may be able to bring your character to life. If your main character is very good looking, or is an alien creature or fantastical beast, that image fills in the blanks for the reader. They see that image on the cover and picture him, her or it throughout the story. If, the rest of the artwork accompanying the image fits with that image, you may have a flashy cover that gives the reader a vivid idea of a particular scene in the story. That can be a great way to sell a book.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, not only does the character on the cover not look anything like the main character, but the scene depicted has nothing to do with any scene in the story! Let me repeat that. Ninety-nine percent of the time, not only does the character on the cover not look anything like the main character, but the scene depicted has nothing to do with any scene in the story!
It’s a well-known fact that publishers give their work over to cover artists and it’s up to these artists to “interpret” the story and come up with a cover. So, the artist does just that. They “interpret” their impression of something in the story, which hardly ever corresponds to an actual event in said story. That includes the actual main character. It is usually a composite at best.
The author rarely, if at all, has any input whatsoever, even if given “token” input.
Therefore, though the artwork may be super fantastic, it rarely has anything to do with the actual story. It might be “close enough for guv’mint work,” but if the reader gets the impression that that cover depicts an actual scene in the book, they may read and read and read, searching for that particular scene, only to be disappointed.
How do I know this?
Because I’ve done it countless times! I’ve seen a cover, read the book and come away disappointed.
What about self-published authors? Do they have more control over their artwork?
That’s an interesting question because maybe they do. However, in this case, since they have to fork out all the cash themselves, they have more of a budget and as a result, many many self-published works have a bad rep for less than stellar covers.
Do you want your reader to get the picture of a heroine that looks like Marty Feldman who’s supposed to be a female warrior out of their mind?
WHY FORCE AN IMAGE?
Now, for the other part of the bad, why force an image on your readers? Why force them to see any of your characters as anything other than what you paint as words? If you use words, give them just enough to guide them along. Then, let them fill in their own blanks. Even if you give them minute details, a lot of readers are going to lose interest and fill in their own blanks, anyway. If you force them into some image on the cover, whether good or bad, you take away that freedom.
This hazard comes with a price if your book is adapted to the movies. Once a certain star takes on the role (and this goes for side characters as well), it leaves those faces cemented in the consciousness of the readers. If the stars change from movie to movie, there can be a rebellion of sorts. Some people will stick with the original star, while others with either go with the flow, or once again, fill in the blanks. Guess what’ll happen with your book covers? There’s a pretty good bet the original covers will be replaced with revised artwork with the stars on them.
BOOK COVERS WITHOUT CHARACTERS
Book covers without characters are quite common and are a far safer bet for you as a writer. Without a character (which includes beasts, icky bugs, monsters…whatever), you can now let the words you write drive those descriptions for the reader. You’re no longer at the mercy of an artist you have no control over to drive your impression of what your character (or icky bug) looks like. Now, it’s up to the reader to fill in their own blanks.
What about the artwork, the scene or image?
Now, this is a whole different realm. Especially for fantasy novels, they artwork tends to be more elaborate than other genres. It doesn’t have to be a scene from the book specifically, just the impression of something that could be from the book. Something to attract the eye. After all, that’s the whole point of the cover. To attract the eye.
That’s the way it is with any cover, to attract the eye. No matter the genre, the cover needs to attract the eye. Since this style has no character or figures on it, it’s a scene, a logo, or something along those lines.
Blank covers are the least interesting. Best-selling authors can get away with them better than new authors. They’re the most boring of all.
Random patterns are next.
Then repeated patterns.
Then logos, though they can be quite popular and effective.
The best are scenes of some kind, and should have some relation to the story but don’t need to be a specific one in the book. Then again, if it’s a fantasy story, the scene shouldn’t be from a shopping mall!
They key is the artwork, whatever is used, doesn’t look hokey or amateurish. That screams self-published.
However, that doesn’t mean all self-published books have bad artwork, or that conventionally published books have great artwork. There are self-published books out there that put the big six to shame. It’s a matter of effort and how much money you want to sink into your book, if you self-publish. If conventionally published, it’s all about lucking into a great marketing and art department!
Whichever way you go, keep in mind that if you get conventionally published, you have little control over the artwork so if they decide to put a character on the cover, tough! If self-published, do you really want to cement the main character in the reader’s mind or let them paint their own picture? Most people will anyway.
If you do it for them, they may not like what they see and it may bias them against you or your story. It’s better to leave a little to their imagination.
I’ve talked about reviews before, but it’s time to go into them again, especially since I have a few under my belt.
When it comes to marketing your book, one of the most difficult things to obtain are independent reviews. When you’re a total unknown, one of those brass rings you have to grab for are independent reviews. I’m not talking about “paid” ha ha “independent” reviews. I’m talking about legitimate and honest independent reviews by people you don’t know who actually read the book and either like it or think it sucks. Or…somewhere in-between.
The whole point is to get independent feedback from the real world. You want that feedback, hopefully good, of course, to help sell your book. After all, “word of mouth” is one of the best ways to sell something.
To me, there’s something inherently dishonest about paid reviews. Okay, the “reviewers” can go ahead and say they’re a business and they have to eat. On the other hand, you’re paying them for a supposedly “unbiased” review of your book.
Have you ever actually looked at one of those paid reviews?
I have and it wasn’t pretty.
Does the phrase boiler plate ring a bell?
A couple of them, who I won’t name, were so boiler plate, they almost mimicked a certain blatant paid reviewer I used to rail about on Amazon, one I warned you about that was an obvious fake reviewer. This “lady” if she really existed, used to take the back cover blurb, use that as her review and give the book either four or five stars. That was her review. She had like 100K reviews on Amazon and every one of them was exactly the same format. They were all on books I wasn’t particularly happy with, by the way.
Back to the paid review sites. You go to their submission pages and they’re full of warnings and “no guarantees” and all the usual bla bla bla stuff about how you could be throwing your money away, could lose your book in the slush pile and may never see your review. Or, if you did, it may be up to a year before it ever shows. Also, there would be no guarantee of a good review.
Ahem…once again, go right to the boiler plate. I looked and looked and of all the boiler plates, there might be a single sentence attached to the standard boiler plates that varied to tell the truth about the book. Those single sentences didn’t vary much. So, if the book really sucked, I guess it never made publication and was culled. Those are the ones that got “lost” in the shuffle or never made the “no guarantee” cut.
Only the good reviews or at least the better ones made the cut.
Now, you may ask, what was the boiler plate the review was based on? I can’t give you the exact words without giving the web sites away, but they were all customized to each genre, let’s just say that. If it was fantasy, it was about the beasts and wizardry. If it was western, it was about the boots and cows and so forth. If it was romance, it was about the whatever romance is about. Every review on each genre page was the same except for one sentence that actually applied to the book!
So much for paid reviews.
NON-PAID REVIEWS – INDEPENDENT
These are the gold, especially to the new and struggling writers. Unfortunately, to the new and struggling writer, these non-paid review sites can be just as struggling and unknown as you are and their viewership can be a few to non-existent.
However, you’re more than likely to get a more specific and honest review. The good with the bad?
Obtaining a meatier review on a web site that nobody sees doesn’t get much promotion potential does it?
Who says that review has to sit there in obscurity?
What about you?
There’s always your own publicity machine, however small and limited you might be, starting out the gate. If you’re any kind of marketer, whether you get out there in the trenches, or do everything from a computer, you should at least have a few sources. How about a web site, Facebook page, forums for your genre? All of these present an avenue to trumpet your new review.
How about Twitter as well?
All of these are potential sources to repeat that review, provide a link to it, spread the word. Not only are you helping yourself, but you’re drawing more traffic to that web site. Maybe, just maybe that’ll draw more of an audience to that site and multiply exposure to both of you. The reviewer’s site gets bigger, more prominent, your review becomes more important in the big picture.
Ever think of that?
How about adding that review to a list of reviews for a publicity sheet?
One day, you may want to accumulate all these independent reviews into a consolidated package, maybe to be used for a re-print of the book.
We mustn’t forget the retailer reviews like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Goodreads etc. Of course, you can’t copy them directly, but maybe quote lines. I did a bad review of a monster movie and the produces took one line from my review and used it out of context to tout their movie. I saw that and go what??? If they can get away with it, why not you?
Whether all of your reviews are good or bad, copping the best lines from your reviews may be a thing to do. It may be a bit shady, but you can also go the high road and just pick the best of the best of the best. Keep it true and use it to your best advantage.
Whatever it takes.
Once again, I have to thank the Facebook Genre Writers Retreat Fantasy Sci-Fi Steampunk Etc. page for this inspiration. A discussion came up the other day where a reader asked if she should add a pronunciation section to her book.
Just the idea of needing one in the first place brings up a set of issues that I discussed briefly in the post and want to address here. I’ve alluded to them in past posts, but thanks to that thread, I can now focus solely on this subject.
PURPOSE OF A PRONUNCIATION GUIDE
Just the idea that one is needed indicates that there are enough words sprinkled throughout the book that the reader is going to stumble over them. We’ll get to the stumble part in a moment. This list, if extensive enough to require a list, is either a list of made up, obscure or foreign words that the average reader may or may not want to learn how to pronounce.
For the reader’s convenience, the author, if he or she keeps track and doesn’t miss any of them, lists the entire range of difficult-to-pronounce-correctly words at the back or front of the book. Problem solved. Or is it?
WHY DO IT?
One reason is immersion. An author gets so wrapped up in their world, whether it be fantasy or science fiction, it’s a common reason to come up with these off-the-wall words (or even other genre fiction where real words are used). To make it more realistic, at least from the author’s perspective, liberally sprinkling these words in the text immerses the reader in the author’s world. In the case of historical fiction, or even non-fiction, they may seem necessary for the setting.
Another reason is literary. In literary fiction, it’s all about the words, the description and the word picture. Therefore, the beauty of the words is key. If difficult or unusual to pronounce words are called for, anything is game.
Maybe the author can’t think of simpler names that are pronounceable, or close enough the reader can figure out their own pronunciation. However, there are 26 letters in the English language and almost an infinite number of combinations to create sounds. It’s up to the author’s imagination to create sounds that are palatable to the reader. The simpler, the better.
HAZARDS OF DIFFICULT-TO-PRONOUNCE WORDS
Say you’re reading along, la de da…and you run across a word, Zarda’dla’beck’wa’wa’wadna’sdna’nwda’da’’’. Oh…kay…first of all, what in the world is that? How do you pronounce it? If the author gives no explanation, you pause, figure something out and move on. If there’s a pronunciation guide at the back of the book, you pause, flip to the back, try to figure out how to pronounce it, then continue reading.
Key thing: pause.
The flow of the story’s been interrupted. It’s come a screeching halt because you had to stop to stumble over that weird-ass word!
For most readers, they’re either going to just give up and skip over it or fill in their own blank. Maybe for the totally immersed reader, they may try to go the extra step. Would you?
For me, it’s just a matter of the old Charlie Brown adult speak “Wah wah wah wah.” I make something up and move on. Even if there were a guide in the book, I wouldn’t bother. I don’t care. I’d just fill in my own blank or skip it, anyway.
Now, in a fantasy setting, take a magick user performing a spell. “Zapbraft grella dragsaft!”
In this case, the words are nonsense. The author knows it, the reader knows it. There’s no need for a pronunciation guide because the words just convey a “mysterious spell” that’s purely effect and nothing else. The reader can zip right over them and move on. They’ll never see those word combinations again.
That’s the difference.
When the difficult word is someone’s name or the name of a place that keeps coming up, or it’s the proper name of a process of some kind, it’s a repeated difficult word that’s going to continue to give the reader pause throughout the story.
Not all, but the majority of people like to breeze through a story. When they read, they read for pleasure and entertainment. It’s not like they’re picking up a college textbook. If they have to use a pronunciation guide to read something, it’s more work than pleasure.
To appeal to the widest audience, this is something you have to consider when you build your world. If your story gives your readers a lot of places to pause, the story flow is going to be herky-jerky and many readers may lose interest. Many might consider your story work instead of pleasure. You have to look at all sides.
I’ve talked about descriptions in various forms throughout the lifetime of this web site. Descriptions set the scene and help establish the mood and feel of your story. However, there are limits and that’s what I want to discuss today.
THE LITERARY ANGLE
In literary fiction, it’s all about the words. Action takes a second stage to description, emotion and narrative. People who like literary writing will not blink an eye at page-long descriptions of some object, location or person. It’s all about the wordplay, the depth of feeling and immersion. Words words words.
THE GENRE/ACTION FICTION ANGLE
In this case, the description is just the starting off point. The idea is to give the reader an idea of what it is, then let them fill in their own blanks. Giving too much description slows the pace, bogs down the action. In genre fiction writing, pacing is everything. People want to see the story MOVE!
The good writer strikes a balance between just enough description to give the reader an idea what something looks like, but doesn’t drag on into too much detail as to give the reader significant pause. What does this mean?
Using me as an example, I just don’t tolerate lengthy descriptions. What happens? The author starts out describing say…a room. We get the dimensions. Then he or she goes into details about furniture, then stuff on the furniture, then history about previous occupants, then history of the objects in the room, then the insects crawling around, the history of the insects, their personal stories, wa wa wa wa.
Folks, he/she’s lost me after the first few sentences. What I see is the good old Charlie Brown adult-speak phenomena, “Wah wah wah wah wah.” I skip to the next paragraph.
If the description continues, I skip to the next paragraph. I continue until the author gets back on track.
I cannot be the only reader that does the same thing.
I’ve already filled in my own blanks with my own useless trivial details that have nothing more to do with the plot than the minutiae that the author just described! Believe me, those minutiae have NOTHING to do with the plot!
When an action/genre writer goes literary, they bog down the action.
This is why you keep descriptions to a minimum. I’m not telling you not to describe things. For goodness sakes, do it! However, when you do, get the most bang for your buck and describe what needs to be described. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday used to say (for you young’uns, look up the TV series Dragnet to get that reference).
Give the reader the key details that’re essential to the story, or the key details you want the reader to know and let them fill in their own picture. They’re going to do it anyway, given the first few sentences.
Don’t try to dictate every detail. It doesn’t work.