Posts Tagged ‘book promotion’

How to Organize Your Own Book Tour

June 2, 2013

LENNERTZToday we are going to talk about how  authors can organize their own book tour. We’re speaking with book marketing maven, Carl Lennertz.

Carl has worked with Random House, Knopf, and HarperCollins, as well helping independent bookstores through the American Booksellers Association. He is now Executive  Director of World Book Night U.S.; more on that in a moment. Over time, he has helped organize over a thousand author tours.

Andy: Carl, when my clients prepare a marketing plan for their book proposal, they usually have something in there about their willingness to go on an 8 city publisher organized book tour. I have to tell them that this is probably unrealistic these days unless you are a very big celebrity. When I owned Cody’s, we had touring authors every night. What’s happened?

Carl:  Cost. Hotels, airfare, gas; they all went way up in price. At the same time  authors and agents didn’t have the right frame of mind about them. It all became about selling stacks of books and making ‘the list’ – which was a recipe for disaster. I’ll come back to this, but author events are NOT about selling  large numbers  of books at reading events; they are ALL about making relationships with the booksellers and reaching a few new readers each time.

Andy: I always thought  publishers in these hard times encourage authors to organize their own book tours, right?  But some of my clients have tried to do this and have gotten flack from their publishers. Why is that?

Carl: No, please don’t. The publisher is on the hook for hundreds of  dollars in promo money owed to the store for an event, AND there is no guarantee the books will arrive in time if not coordinated with the publisher. There’s a better way; read on.

 Andy: I’m all ears, Carl.

Carl: Let me suggest something different, something I call a muffin and coffee tour. Get in your car (yes, book sales and book buzz can be built locally/regionally), and just visit some stores. Do this before publication date, if you can, with some galleys from the publisher. If you’re doing this  after publication, do NOT stroll in and ask to sign your books. Just introduce yourself and state specifically that you are NOT there to sign books (this lowers bookseller stress significantly). Instead, walk in with some locally made cookies or muffins, or even ground coffee (and yes, I’ve known authors who put images of their book cover on the coffee bag!) Just say you wanted to thank the booksellers for their hard work…and then let it flow from there. The owner or manager may or may not be free to greet you, but let serendipity reign. You might get the part-time info desk person with attitude, or your new best friend. Then walk the store. Enjoy yourself; you’re a booklover, right? Half the time, they will find you and say, hey, we have 2 of your books; would you sign them? And you will, and thank them profusely.

Andy: As a former bookseller, I can vouch for that. Cookies make a difference.  It didn’t happen all that often, but when it did, I never forgot that author or that book. I remember whenever Meredith Maran had a new book out, she kept coming into the store with homemade cookies. And by the way, she also bought books on consignment from us whenever she did a reading and sold them for us at her readings. In return we promised to report the sales to Bookscan. You better believe that everyone in the store knew about Meredith and her book.

But still, my authors want readings! What do they do?

Carl: Now, say you DO actually get a reading booked. Rule # 1: It’s not about the reading; it’s about the things that happen because you go there, especially making a bookseller friend who will hand sell your book afterwards. Expect 0 people  to come to the reading and be surprised. If it’s 1 person, give the reading of your life. Don’t read for more than 10 minutes; talk about the book, how you came to write it; be funny, and take questions. And feel like the luckiest person in the world. Do you know how many authors want to be in your shoes at that moment?

Andy: Carl, again I can speak from experience as a bookseller. Cody’s had over 5000 author readings during the time that I owned it. Particularly with debut fiction but sometimes with National Book Award winners, we’d get 10 or 20 people in the audience and sell 5 books. Of course, if you are a local author, you could pull in all of your friends and contacts. And they’d buy books for sure. But I digress. Let’s assume you have scheduled a tour at your own expense. How do you collaborate with the publisher to make that experience successful?

Carl: The publisher will get books there, if you keep them advised. And send along press materials. And please, pick tour cities based on where the book is set, where you have friends, where you may have lived at one time or gone to college. And let the publicist know if any friends now work in the media in the area. Disgorge every connection you can think of. (I got the front arts page of the St. Louis paper for my lil’ book because I’d lived there years ago and was friendly with the booksellers there.)

Still – and I love publicists; they are genuinely helpful but overworked people – it still falls to you to work your social media before and after the event. To visit other stores in the area (with muffins), depending on time and geography. And, dear god, send a written thank you note afterwards.

Andy: Do you have any other wisdom to impart?

Carl: The key is still managing expectations: yours, that is, and appreciating the hard work of the booksellers in each store. Meet them, talk, be generous. Don’t mention some other website while there. And most important, work your social media before and after the event. Praise the store on Twitter and Facebook, and yes, broken record, mention other authors’ works to the bookseller, to those in attendance, and on FB, etc. It’s not all about you or that day; it’s about all those who can help sell your book for many moons to come if you build up a reservoir of good will. Take the long view. Praise others.

 Andy: You are director of World Book Night. Can you tell us a little about this event.

Carl: It’s a volunteer, grass roots effort to hand out a half million books in the US all one day: April 23, Shakespeare’s birthday. It started in the UK 3 years ago, and we just finished our second year here. 25,000 volunteers applied online via essay, telling us where they would go to find light or non-readers. We did it all by social media: ourselves, indie booksellers, librarians, and publishers, and it was extraordinary. We got books to shelters, underfunded schools, food pantries, and hundreds of other locations. Don’t take my word for it: check out our FB page of testimonials and our YouTube 52 second videos. There is also a book list, FAQ’s, notes about process and materials at our website – and you can sign up for a newsletter so you can here when to apply to be a giver next year:

 World Book Night books are chosen by a panel of independent booksellers, Barnes and Noble buyers,  and librarians in two rounds of voting, working off a  long list of paperbacks drawn from IndieBound picks, BN Discover picks, ALA prize winners, Pulitzers, ReadingGroupGuides.com favorite picks and Above the Treeline top category sellers.  The previous year’s givers also vote, and there are no publisher nominations for the title selection. The voting gets down to 50 books and I choose the final 30 in order to insure balances in gender, ethnicity, subject matter, age group, and geography, as well as a literary and commercial balance. We also want at least several indie press books in there, as well as books in Spanish.

Andy: Carl, thank you so much for sharing this with us. And keep doing that good work with World Book Night.

 

My Stern Lecture to a Client

February 7, 2013

Sometimes I can’t sell a book to a publisher. Actually, a lot of times I can’t. Even after doing this job for 5 years and getting an estimated 5000 rejection letters explaining why the editor turned me down; even after my rigid filtering process where I reject at least 500 unsolicited author queries for every one that I decide to represent; even when I have become so smitten with a project that I am convinced the publisher will offer a seven figure advance and Spielberg will be on the phone next day begging me to make a movie deal; I still have projects I can’t sell. All agents do. Even the coveted celebrity New York agents who have daily lunches with the coveted celebrity executive editors. Whenever any agent is representing an unknown author, taking a risk, trying to sell a book based on the merits of the project, not just on the author’s celebrity status, there will be rejections.

And when I do sell a book, sometimes for a lot of money, it is usually after I have received 30 rejections from other editors saying: “it’s a really great book, but I just didn’t fall in love with it”, or “it’s competing with another one of our titles”, or “the author has too modest a platform”.

And authors can be even less realistic than I am. After all, they look at the bookstore shelves and see a lot of dreck. They read lots of literary novels that are all well crafted but have a feeling of being sort of the same. They see some really horrible exploitative celebrity memoirs. Really crappy social analysis by gas bag political pundits. And some of these book deals really are getting seven figure advances.

So now what I do just before I submit the project to the publisher is give my client this stern lecture:

“Today I am sending out your book. I believe in it. Otherwise I wouldn’t have worked with you for 4 months polishing the proposal, refining the concept, and (in my humble opinion) making it perfect.

“But you must be realistic. It’s hard to get books published these days. You should hope for the best but expect the worst. I have experience in these matters and will make sure that your book gets to the right editor at the right imprint. I don’t just send books to the same 10 editors and then give up on it. I will send it to all major and not so major publishers who would have an interest in your book. If I can’t sell this book, you can be assured that all avenues have been explored.

“If I can’t find a publisher, it doesn’t mean that your book isn’t good. Sometimes, most times, the decision to publish a book comes down to issues of marketing, not quality or aesthetics.

“But even though your book is good, there are also a lot of other good projects going around. Editors may look at 10 proposals a week or 300 fiction manuscripts a year. Most of them have been heavily vetted by agents. And most of them are publishable. In other words, there is lots of competition.

“You have asked me several times how much your advance will be. I won’t venture a guess on that because my estimates have been wrong so often. Sometimes I expect $20,000 and get an advance for $100,000. Sometimes I get an advance for $7,000, even from the big publishers. Times are tough for publishers just like for the rest of us. The big ones are owned by multimedia conglomerates who are putting a lot of pressure on the publishers to make a lot of money. So publishers have become skittish about big advances. As an agent, I probably can get a publisher to sweeten the deal a little. But publishers base advances on their calculation of sales. They always have a figure in their head of the maximum they will pay. My job is to find out what that figure is and try to find other ways of sweetening the deal when they won’t budge on the advance. I’m an agent, and I don’t have secret alchemical wisdom. I can’t turn lead into gold.

“Don’t expect your publisher to spend a lot of time and energy promoting your book. All those full page ads in The New York Times usually are focused on a very few name brand authors. The publisher really expects you to do the heavy lifting and to promote your own book. They used to send a lot of authors around on 7 city tours. They don’t any more. I have never met an author, no matter how successful, who was satisfied that their publisher promoted their book well. You might ask yourself what kind of added value you get from having a commercial publisher as opposed to self-publishing. It’s a reasonable question to ask. But the answer is complicated.

“I know you would give a great interview on Oprah, Fresh Air, or The Daily Show. And a lot of publishers will make contacts to these and other “A” list venues. But competition for this is fierce and these shows have their own criteria that are often hard to fathom. Again, hope for the best but expect the worst.

“And then there is the Big Enchilada, the Holy Grail. I mean the call from Spielberg. Even though your novel would make a great movie or a tv series, it might not happen. There are a lot of “option” deals for books. Most of them are for very little money, and most of them never go beyond the option. Just like Oprah, movie producers have their own calculations that are not easy to comprehend. Does the book have the kind of 3 act structure that producers want. Will the character in your novel fit with a star who could attract financing? Would the subject of the book require so much resources for production that the film couldn’t make money? Has the producer gone into drug rehab and become unavailable for an indeterminate amount of time? Hope for the best, expect the worst.

“So now I’m sending out the book. Let’s cross our fingers and hope for that seven figure deal. But….remember my #1 rule: be realistic.”

Rayme Waters Talks About Promoting Her Novel, The Angels’ Share

September 17, 2012

Rayme Waters

Today we are interviewing my client, novelist Rayme Waters, whose new book, The Angels’ Share was published by Winter Goose Press this August. The novel is the story of Cinnamon Monday, a girl born into the 1970’s Northern California counterculture. Her family, originally owners of a great Nob Hill hotel, have suffered a reversal of fortune. Her parents are hippies without reliable income and have fallen into drug and alcohol dependence. After nearly dying of meth addiction, Cinnamon finds work at a small Sonoma County winery and rebuilds her life through her  own resilience and  courage.

When I decided to represent Rayme, I read her manuscript at the request of a mutual friend (not in the writing world) who asked me  to do him a favor and take a look. I could tell by the end of the first page that Rayme had talent and that I really wanted to work with her.

The publisher, Winter Goose, is small, so most of the work in promoting  The Angels’ Share is going to fall on the author. By the way, this is no less true with authors published by large houses. The single most common complaint I hear from published authors is that the publisher didn’t do anything to promote the book.

Today I want to talk to Rayme about her experience and wisdom in promoting her literary novel.

Andy: Rayme, when I first finished reading The  Angels’ Share,  I was sure that you must have been a recovering meth addict. The scenes  describing Cinnamon’s addiction were utterly convincing. When we finally met, it was clear that you just weren’t that kind of girl. How on earth were you able to describe the experience with such verisimilitude?

Rayme: Before the explosion of vineyards, the two main crops in Sonoma County were apples and marijuana. However, when I was in high school in the 1980s, meth—speed is what we called it—was suddenly everywhere. Meth was cheap and took the edge off rural boredom. Girls thought it would make them skinny. Although I was more a wallflower at the drug party, I watched childhood friends take Cinnamon’s path. In a way, The Angels’ Share honors the memories of these friendships and wishes  those friends a happy ending.

Andy: Let’s talk about how you, as a first time published novelist, have gone about promoting your book.  I know you have been pretty relentless about it. What are the first steps?

Rayme: This is my first rodeo and I am certainly learning as I go. That being said, there are some marketing strategies that I’ve employed: create marketing materials that have your basic information displayed pleasingly and professionally, have an “elevator” pitch ready and deliver it with enthusiasm, and work your network—find out who reads, or who would be willing to read your book, then ask them to buy it. Then, if they love it, ask them to recommend it to other readers they know. You have to really ride that fine line between being assertive and aggressive—it’s tough.

Andy: Ok. Stop. “Elevator Pitch”. I hear that word a lot at writer’s conferences and by people in film. What’s an elevator pitch? Why do you need it? And tell us the elevator pitch for Angel’s Share.

Rayme: Elevator pitch is slang for a two to three sentence description of a novel. Everyone  will ask you and you never know who might be able to help you find an agent, be a popular book blogger or be the decider for their next book club pick.

I describe The Angels’ Share as the story of a young woman rebuilding her life while working at a small Sonoma County winery. With elements of a mystery and a love story, the novel is a great pick for book clubs.

A reader said I should pitch The Angels’ Share as Breaking Bad meets Jane Eyre. I think that’s great, and if I’m ever in an elevator with a Hollywood producer I’d add that in.

Andy: Everybody says that an author has to have their own website. Yours is pretty stunning. Can you tell us what goes into making a good site and what features are most effective?

Rayme: I really wanted something that didn’t have a “template-y” look to it, so I went to a pro. Ilsa Brink, was willing to do the design work to make my website unique. She’s fantastic and had already done websites for many other writers. It is good to post early reviews or advance praise on your website because you can point people to it when you let them know the book is for sale.

Andy: Can you tell us what one can expect to pay for this kind of professionally produced site?

Rayme: I saw offers on Etsy.com to design a very simple website for three hundred dollars but if you go with a lot of custom design work and content creation I’d say you are looking at closer to two thousand. I provided much of the content for mine and the price fell somewhere in the middle.

Andy: What has been your experience with social media? Are you active on Facebook? Twitter? Goodreads? What else?

Rayme: This was a huge topic of conversation at AWP (Association of Writing Professionals) this year in Chicago. Social media can help expand your potential audience, but really how many more books do you sell by Tweeting three times a day? No one can say. My advice would be to do as much social media as you can stand. I have a Twitter account and a fan page on Facebook. I could do more, but just these two outlets keep me as distracted as I want to be from my writing.

Andy: What about writers conferences? Have you gone to any? Are they worth it? What should a writer expect to get out of one?

Rayme: I have been to Sewanee, Tin House and the John Milton Writers’ Conference. They were excellent networking opportunities and most of the advance praise and university speaking invites I’ve gotten so far came out of the contacts I made at these three conferences. One regret I have is that I didn’t go to more of them and make more connections before the novel came out. I highly recommend them.

Andy: Give me a few more details. What is the value of networking opportunities?  Other than networking, what kind of concrete and useful information to you walk away with?

Rayme: While you can certainly make connections online, when you meet someone in person the bond is so much stronger. At conferences, I met editors of literary journals who I could send stories to directly, agents who wanted to see my work and my workshop leader at Sewanee, Diane Johnson, gave advance praise on my novel. I could have emailed all of these people and asked for the same opportunities, but because they had met me I had a much better chance of success.

After meeting people, the next best thing to come out of writing conferences was advice on improving my craft. This came sometimes through critique I received in workshop, but more often in the lectures and panel discussions. It was also very affirming to meet other writers who were in my same situation or a little ahead of me in the process. Stories they told of their own tenacity were encouraging.

Andy: Rayme, thanks so much for sharing with us.  The Angels’ Share is available for purchase in either paperback or e-book edition. Check out Rayme’s public appearances coming up.


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