Monday, March 31, 2008

Valium for Breakfast

Got back from the VaBook Festival last night and was going to hit the ground running today:
  • Orthopedist appointment at 9:30am to discuss the next fun surgery on my arm (alas, the surgery on Jan 2 isn't going to be the last of the year).
  • Pick up Jenny afterwards at Shylo, "the country club for dogs."
  • Post a gazillion pics and comments about my fabu time at the festival.
  • Send emails to old friends, all the wonderful people who were on my panels and the other wonderful people I met along the way.
Instead, the ground almost hit me at 7:30am, when I bent over (with knees properly bent, I'll have you know) to get something out of the suitcase on the floor, and my lower back went into a screaming spasm. It took me almost 10 minutes to raise myself up by leaning heavily on a nearby chair, and another 5 minutes to creep to the bathroom and down 5mg of Valium (God's gift for spasms; hence my "Valium de Loire" trip to France a few years ago). I very carefully crept back into bed, where I lay immobile on my back with a pillow under my knees and a furry, 14-1/2 lb. vibrating heater on my chest (that would be Max, purring loudly to show how glad he is that I'm home).

After 45 minutes, I thought I'd get dressed and head off to the orthopod. But when I couldn't straighten up after getting my jeans out of a bottom drawer, and the back went into spasms when I attempted to pull up and zip, I knew there was no way I was going anywhere. So I'm seeing the orthopod on Thursday and Jenny is having another day in the "country" (i.e., sere, brown--make that white, as we had snow overnight--windswept plains east of Denver airport).

New plan for today:
  1. Valium
  2. Bed
  3. Read
  4. Sleep
  5. Repeat
Now to heave myself out of my desk chair and work my way down the list.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Grass Is Always Virginia

I took these photos on Wednesday, my first full day back in beautiful Charlottesville, my late (lamented) hometown.

Left, community garden behind the English Inn, where I used to walk Jenny.

Darling Husband and I picked up Joshua Henkin (MATRIMONY) at the airport on Wed., as he was on a panel that evening at VaBook. We gave him the Anti-Brooklyn Experience by taking him to the sumptuous and über-goyische Keswick Hall for lunch.

Josh Henkin at Keswick Hall. At his back is the golf course, designed by Arnold Palmer.

God bless America, springtime, and especially Mr. Jefferson's University (that's UVa to you). The statue of TJ, as the locals call him, can be glimpsed on the far right.

Bella on the Move

Sign at Virginia Gateway Shopping Center, Gainesville, VA

Further to Bella's Back, I espied the above while stopping for lunch along the road between Dulles and Charlottesville on Tues. Like mushrooms after a soaking rain, enormous new shopping centers have sprouted up. Now there are entire "villages" of chain stores and motels where fields and woods had been just 2-1/2 years ago. (Though I have to admit that our lunch at Panera Bread was tasty, well-priced and relaxing. And the iced tea was excellent.)

At the Special CO-VA Literary Ladies Luncheon today, the LL to my left happily told me that she had named her new dog Bella. I told her that, to my knowledge, that makes her dog Bella #5 amongst the canine population in Cville.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Enough with the Easter Bunny

Happy Purim!

Darling Husband prepares to sample a hamantash in Our Gracious Kitchen. The poster in the left corner is a suppressed Tub Shot by Don Herron--a treasured gift from my first wedding.

Me & My Peeps at VaBook Festival - 3/29 & 3/30

Here are programs that I, my current & former clients and buddies are doing. See the Literary Ladies Luncheon blog for listings of programs involving LLLers.

SAT 3/29
10:00am Crime Wave: Scenes of the Crimes

Cara Black (Murder in the Rue de Paradis), Margaret Coel (The Girl with the Braided Hair), Tony Dunbar (Tubby Meets Katrina), and James W. Hall (Hell's Bay).
Moderator: Andy Straka

10:00am Publishing Day: Where Publishing Is Headed
Join Catharine Lynch (Associate Publisher, G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin), Ed Barber (Senior Editor, W.W. Norton) and Virginia Barber (Editor-at-Large, Grove Atlantic) for a discussion of the industry's horizons.

12:00pm Publishing Day: Promoting Like a Pro
What it takes to publicize your book, online and elsewhere, and how to present yourself to media. Bella Stander (Book Promotion 101) with book publicists Lauren Cerand and Kelly Powers (Obie Joe Media).

1:30pm Tantric Practices Workshop
Related Event. Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson will delve into practical techniques for expanding pleasure in intimacy, as well as in everyday life. They will cover two areas: pleasure as spiritual practice, and the chakras and sexuality. $50. To register: email {info at}.

2:00pm Crime Wave: Historical Mysteries
Clare Langley-Hawthorne (Consequences of Sin), David L. Robbins (The Betrayal Game), Tasha Alexender (A Poisoned Season), and Jacqueline Winspear (An Incomplete Revenge).

2:00pm Nice Jewish Boys Gone Wild!
Fiction and memoir with Marc Estrin (The Lamentations of Julius Marantz), A.J. Jacobs (The Year of Living Biblically), Adam Mansbach (The End of the Jews) and Peter Charles Melman (Landsman).
Moderator: Bella Stander

2:00pm Publishing Day: Managing Expectations
Clinical psychologist Susan O’Doherty (Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued) helps examine the goals, motivations, and expectations that come with being an author.
Moderator: Susan Tyler Hitchcock

4:00pm Crime Wave--Life on the Streets with Cops and PIs
James O. Born (Burn Zone), Austin S. Camacho (Blood and Bone), Libby Hellmann (Easy Innocence), Frank Muir (Eye for an Eye) and Andy Straka (Record of Wrongs).

4:00pm Echoes of the Great War
With novelists Nicholas Griffin (Dizzy City), Thomas Mullen (The Last Town on Earth) and Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs mystery series).
Moderator: Bella Stander

4:00pm Publishing Day: Agents' Roundtable
A publishing day discussion with agents Simon Lipskar (Writers' House), Rita Rosenkranz (Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency), and Bill Gladstone (Waterside Productions).

SUN 3/30
There are several excellent programs, but the only one with "my" people is the 11:45am LINKS Celebration Brunch, which Carleen Brice will be attending.

I laid the hard sell about the festival on Walter Mosley after he spoke at the NBCC meeting in NYC last year. Beyond that, I take zero credit for the 4:00pm event, Walter Mosley: A Literary Life.

My Peeps at VaBook Festival - 3/28

Following is a listing of programs that my current & former clients and buddies are doing. See the Literary Ladies Luncheon blog for listings of programs involving LLLers.

FRI 3/28
10:00am African American Revolutionaries
Paul Alkebulan (Survival Pending Revolution: The History of the Black Panther Party), Wesley C. Hogan (Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC's Dream for a New America) and Patrick McGilligan (The Great and Only Oscar Micheaux: The Life of America's First Black Filmmaker).

10:00am Fiction at Work--Novels of the Working Life
Mark Ethridge (Grievances), Saira Rao (Chambermaid) and Malcolm McPherson (Hocus Potus).

2:00pm Families Coming Together: Fiction and Memoir
With novelists Carleen Brice (Orange Mint and Honey) and Emilie Richards (Touching Stars), and memoirist Kim Reid (No Place Safe).
Moderator: Grace Zisk

2:00pm Living on the Edge: Cons and Characters
Michael Sims (Editor of new edition of Arsene Lupin's Gentleman Thief), Nicholas Griffin (Dizzy City) and Dallas Hudgens (Season of Gene) explore clever rogues in tense situations.
Moderator: Jenny Gardiner

2:00pm The Civil War in Fiction
Novels of the Civil War with Nick Taylor (The Disagreement), set in Charlottesville, and Peter Charles Melman (Landsman), set in New Orleans and on the move.

6:00pm Dracula vs. Frankenstein: A Monster Mash of Fact and Fiction
With Paul Bibeau (Sundays with Vlad: From Pennsylvania to Transylvania, One Man's Quest to Live in the World of the Undead) and Susan Tyler Hitchcock (Frankenstein: A Cultural History).

8:00pm Crime Wave: Murder, Murder Everywhere
David Ignatius (Body of Lies), Margaret Coel (The Girl with The Braided Hair), James W. Hall (Hell's Bay) and Jacqueline Winspear (An Incomplete Revenge).

8:00pm Introduction to Tantra
Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson, authors of The Essence of Tantric Sexuality and Tantra for Erotic Empowerment, will discuss key principles of Tantra, an ancient tradition recognizing sexual energy as a source of personal and spiritual enlightenment.

My Peeps at VaBook Festival - 3/26 & 3/27

The Virginia Festival of the Book begins Wednesday, and Tuesday I'm off to beautiful Charlottesville, my late (lamented!) hometown for the festivities. Following is a listing of programs that my current & former clients and buddies are doing. See the Literary Ladies Luncheon blog for listings of programs involving LLLers.

WED 3/26
12:00pm High Gloss: Making the Beautiful Book
With Susan Tyler Hitchcock (Geography of Religion: Where God Lives, Where Pilgrims Walk), Jon Lohman (In Good Keeping: Virginia's Folk Apprenticeships), and Anne B. Barriault and Kay Davidson (Selections from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts).

4:00pm Opening the Vein: Pouring Life into Writing

The Moseley Writers, Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren (Josias, Hold the Book), Deborah Prum (Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines), Fran Cannon Slayton (How to Hop a Moving Train), and Andy Straka (Record of Wrongs), discuss how real life experiences inform fiction and keep writing fresh in a marketing-saturated world.
Moderator: Andy Straka

4:00pm Life As We Know It: Novels of Change and Healing
With Virginia Boyd (One Fell Swoop), Therese Fowler (Souvenir) and Judy Merrill Larsen (All the Numbers).

6:00pm Trying to Get it Right: Fiction About Marriage
Jenny Gardiner (Sleeping with Ward Cleaver), James Collins (Beginner's Greek), and Joshua Henkin (Matrimony) offer fictional perspectives of twenty-first century marriages.
Moderator: Jeanne Siler
* * * * * * * * * * * *

THURS 3/27
12:00pm Race and Place: Memoirs
With Margaret Gibson (The Prodigal Daughter: Reclaiming an Unfinished Childhood), Evans Hopkins (Life After Life: A Story of Rage and Redemption), and Kim Reid (No Place Safe: A Family Memoir).

12:00pm History in These Waters: Pre-Jamestown to the Present
Amy Waters Yarsinske (The Elizabeth River) and Avery Chenoweth (Empires in the Forest: Jamestown and the Beginning of America).

12:00pm Reading Group Choices
Barbara Mead (Reading Group Choices), James Collins (Beginner's Greek), Jill A. Davis (Girl's Poker Night, Ask Again Later), and Therese Fowler (Souvenir).

2:00pm Of Vice and Men: Crime, Money, and Panic in America
Kenneth Ackerman (Young J. Edgar), Steven Harper (Crossing Hoffa: A Teamster's Story), and co-authors Robert F. Bruner and Sean Carr (The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market's Perfect Storm).

2:00pm In Good Keeping: Virginia's Living Traditions
Jon Lohman (author) and Morgan Miller (photographer) will discuss the making of their book, In Good Keeping, on the Virginia Folklife Program. Charles McRaven, a folklife master craftsman (The Stone Primer) will discuss his books.

6:00pm Battles of the Civil War
Jack Hurst (Men of Fire: Grant, Forrest, and the Campaign that Decided the Civil War), John Baldwin (Last Flag Down: The Epic Journey of the Last Confederate Warship), and Marc Leepson (Desperate Engagement).

8:00pm Evil and Sin
With authors Barbara Oakley (Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Enron Rose, Hitler Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend), John Portmann (A History of Sin) and Jennifer Geddes (Evil After Postmodernism).

8:00pm Fiction Favorites
With Adriana Trigiani (The Big Stone Gap series), Homer Hickam (Rocket Boys, Red Helmet), and Jill A. Davis (Ask Again Later, Girl's Poker Night.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pal Joey: Still Wise After All These Years

In New York two weeks ago, I stayed in the gracious Upper West Side apartment of an old (in years, but never elderly!) family friend. She's an actress, and by her desk has a bookshelf full of plays. One title caught my eye: Pal Joey.

Wow! That's the show my father was in when he met my mother. So I pulled out the slim paperback. To my surprise, it wasn't a play but "the book from which the successful Broadway musical was made." The author is John O'Hara, whose Appointment in Samarra resided unread (by me at least) in my stepfather's bookcase for decades.

Turns out that Pal Joey is a collection of fictional letters by the self-proclaimed "poor man's Bing Crosby," most of which ran in The New Yorker in 1939 and 1940. Unlike in the movie version starring Frank Sinatra [Dad was so blacklisted, even his character was cut from it], Joey is an unrepentant womanizing heel through the very end, where he's broke and alone in Chicago.

Given that Chicago is being blasted by a major snowstorm as I write, Joey's assessment [all spelling sic] of the weather there is particularly apt:
Friend Ted:
I don't think I will be able to take it out here much more. In the 1st place it is because you never saw such cold weather until you spent a winter in Chi. I do not mean weather like you have to chop the alcohol before putting it in the radiator of the car. I mean weather that is so cold that the other day this pan handler came up to me and braced me and said I look as if I had a warm heart and I gave him a two-bit piece because if it wasnt for him would not of known I was alive or frozen to death. That has how it has been here in Chi. Maybe that explains some of the pecular actons of many of the inhabintants. Illinois is in a state of suspended animaton and the people live in hibernaton from Oct. to whenever it ever gets warmer. I do not know and hope I am not here long enough to find out. I am merely telling you this in case you ever decide to take a job to spend the winter in Chi and I am not there to stop you at the point of a gun.
And here's Joey on an old song requested by nightclub doorman Sailor Bob, a "punchy stumble bum":
He apprisiated my singing I will say that for him altho always asking why didnt I sing like Oh you beautiful doll which you are too young to remember and so am I but the story I hear is that when the Titanic went down (a ship) people sang it or hummed a couple bars and then said the hell with this and jumped the hell off the boat so they would not have to finish singing it. I do not know that for sure but only base that on hearsay based on a weak moment when I allowed the Sailor to sing it for me one nite.

Inside Scoop: Not for the Faint-Hearted

The following article is by book publicist Meg McAllister of McAllister Rowan Communications. Note her use of "reality" and "realistic." Publicists use those words a lot when it comes to authors, and for good reason. As a publisher wrote me:
Most authors are far too idealistic and have too many silly, time-wasting notions of how this business works. It is best to dispel those notions early, so we save time and angst later. I have little indulgence for author naïveté. If you want to be successful in the publishing business, then know how it works or forego your right to whine about it later.
Book Publicity is Not for Wussies!
For most authors, the reality is that their responsibility to their book does not end with writing it. This can be a real wake-up call. More and more traditional publishers are encouraging (read: demanding) that authors contract with their own publicist “to augment what we will do for the book internally”--which in 7 out of 10 cases is little to nothing!

Due to the rising cost of everything from production to postage, publishers are even scaling back on standard review mailings. Instead, they're opting for email blasts and postcard mailings to solicit interest before sending books out for review. And the general rule is that they take a reactive rather than proactive stance with publicity. They wait for the media to call them; and with mailings, they generally place follow-up calls to about half of the recipient list.

They're not bad publicists; they're just responsible for an enormous volume of books and have very limited funds for each. That’s why, in most cases, your inhouse publicist will welcome an extra pair of hands; it’s a win-win situation for all.

Faced with that reality, as an author, you need to approach the decision of whether to hire a publicist with the same cautious optimism and objective strategy you did when deciding to write your book. If you invested a lot of time, effort, and money to write it, you're going to have to do the same to promote it. You’re making an investment in yourself (and your writing career!--Bella) and on something that will benefit you in the long run. So you should consider the hiring of a publicist in the same manner as you would any other investment--as a savvy consumer.

Here are some tips:

Educate yourself on what to expect.
You’ve found your way to Bella, so congratulations, you’re already way ahead of the game! (I didn't pay her to write that--honest!) Seek the opinions of people like her who’ll offer honesty and objectivity. If you suspect someone is telling you what they think you want to hear, rather than the truth, they probably are. This is not a good thing.

Think performance, not price tag!
You want a publicist with a track record, a reputation, a vision and a price point with which you feel comfortable. As when buying a new car, you should avoid high-priced bells & whistles you don’t need, yet don’t put your life on the line by choosing a clunker just to save a little money.

Talk to other authors.
Get the pros and cons from their point of view. Look for every side of the story: someone who chose the most expensive publicist, someone who chose the cheapest publicist, and someone who went the DIY route.

Talk to more than one publicist/PR firm before making a decision.
While you may end up going with the first one you spoke to, you should “date” around before making a commitment.

Vetting a publicist is a lot like filling any other job.
Don’t just take a publicist’s word for it – we get paid to spin – check references and ask questions about strengths, weakness and work habits.

Be realistic about your publicity budget.
You should have at least $5,000 in the kitty to start with. NEVER consider getting another mortgage on your house or taking a cash advance on your credit card just to pay for PR. If you plan properly and talk to publicity firms about working within your budget, in most cases you can come away with an effective PR effort.

Make the decision to hire a publicist with eyes wide open, and realistic, informed expectations.
Not only will you prove to your publisher that you are committed to helping sell your book, but that you're willing to spend your own money and time to do so. In some cases, if your campaign progresses further than expected, the PR department may be willing to allocate more money and thereby extend it.* Instead of being derided as a publicity wussie, you'll be lauded as a marketing genius.

*This just happened with one of my clients, who after spending lotsa bucks on an ace publicist and superb website, plus snagging terrific blurbs with zero inhouse help, is going from a "local tour" (i.e., signings close to home) to a publisher-sponsored West Coast tour.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lit Life

L-R: Doreen Orion, Kristin Nelson, Kim Reid, me & John Robison

It's true: All writers and publishing people do is hang out in French restaurants, eating frîtes and guzzling wine. Well, every now and then, anyway. Or at least this past Tuesday night in Boulder, where agent Kristin Nelson (Pub Rants) and I trekked to chew the fat (literally) at Brasserie Ten Ten with first-time memoirists Doreen Orion (QUEEN OF THE ROAD, coming in June!), Kim Reid (NO PLACE SAFE) and John Robison (LOOK ME IN THE EYE). John had stayed in town an extra night after doing an event at CU Boulder on Monday with his brother, Augusten Burroughs.

Doreen wrote about our fabu evening in her blog post, A Major Benefit of Being an Author. The subtitle of her book is The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own. Her feet are obscured in the photo above, but she was wearing one of her 200 pairs of shoes, and they were cunning indeed.

And now for the deep-dish dirt:
Kristin is a wine snob, and (GASP!) prefers lemon tart to anything chocolate. Doreen doesn't eat carbs. Kim took home her leftovers. John and I are in the Clean Plate Club and snarfed up everything put in front of us.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Great Advice from a Pro

I just discovered thriller writer JA Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. His most recent post is terrific: Bad Promotion Techniques. Follow his advice!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Reporters Are Not Your Friends

You know how you can vent your raw thoughts and feelings when you're jawing with your friends, and then say, "But don't tell anyone I said that"--and they won't?

News flash: Don't do this with a reporter during an interview.

One would think that Samantha Power, a professor at Harvard's JFK School of Government who won an NBCC award for A PROBLEM FROM HELL: America and the Age of Genocide, would have known this basic fact.

Per an AP story, Power, a foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign, gave an interview to The Scotsman, in which she said about Hillary Clinton: "She is a monster, too — that is off the record — she is stooping to anything." The AP reports:
Though Power immediately attempted to withdraw the remark, the newspaper insisted she had agreed in advance that her interview — part of a book tour — would be conducted on the record.
A spokesman announced that Obama "decries" such characterizations. (But he didn't "denounce and reject" them, so Hillary's really steamed.) And now, per the UK Guardian, Clinton is demanding the resignation of Power, who has released an abject apology. The Guardian quotes NY congresswoman Nita Lowey:
"You really have to wonder how Senator Obama can have a person like that - as bright as she may be - advising him."
Well yeah. How could an adviser on foreign policy and expert on the Balkans--land of inflammatory rhetoric and bloodshed--say something so incendiary and undiplomatic?

Power should have read comment #18 in "If Only I'd Known!":
That these people may be friendly but they are not actually your friends.
Update: Power has resigned, per AP.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Publicity Advice from the Nicest Author on the Bloc

One of the respondents to my Author Publicity Questionnaire was Stephanie Elizondo Griest, author of AROUND THE BLOC: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana and 100 PLACES EVERY WOMAN SHOULD GO. Her second memoir, MEXICAN ENOUGH: My Life Between the Borderlines, is coming in August from Washington Square Press.

Stephanie had such great comments that I'm running them all in one piece.

What's the most effective thing you did to publicize your book?
I committed myself to publicity about six months prior to the release of my first book, and haven’t stopped since. You have to be relentless in this business, and grow the skin of an old rhino.
What's the least effective thing you did?
I’m all about guerrilla marketing, but some campaigns can be a serious waste of time. For instance, I squandered dozens of hours on MeetUp, emailing book clubs. [However, this was very effective for another author; see comment #10 here.] Only one club accepted my offer to call in to their meeting, and set the date while I happened to be traveling in Mexico. Since they assured me a good turnout, I called them from a pay phone in downtown Guadalajara, at considerable expense.

Only two people tuned in: the club president and his girlfriend, and neither had actually read my book--“But we’ve checked it out from the library!” I spent a small fortune answering their questions (“So, like, how can we sneak into Cuba without getting busted?”) and hung up, feeling like a chump.
What would you do differently for your next book?
I sent out so many thousands of publicity emails for AROUND THE BLOC, there was no time to follow-up with any of them, and ensure they were received. Now I am much more focused with my outreach, and persist until I get a response.
What do you wish you'd known about promotion/publicity, but had to find out the hard way?
Having read Jacqueline Deval’s PUBLICIZE YOUR BOOK! and interviewed a number of authors about their experiences with book promotion, I was fairly aware of what was in store for me. About a week after handing in my first manuscript, I had a stiff drink and dove in. Four years later, I’m still at it. In 2007 alone, I traveled to 35 cities! Promotion never really ends: It’s like being a traveling salesman.
Any tips you'd like to pass along to other authors?
Always express your gratitude. Send handwritten thank-you notes to absolutely everyone: reviewers, journalists, the hosts of all your events, conference and festival organizers, bookstore owners, librarians – EVERYONE.

Involve your friends in the promotion process. For both of my book tours, I’ve invited friends on cross-country road trips where we literally sold books out of the trunk of my car. It hasn’t always been a financial success, but we’ve had a blast.

Book promotion can be so many things: exhilarating, shattering, energizing, heart-breaking, invigorating, nerve-wracking. Remember that no matter what happens, you have fulfilled your dream of becoming an author.

Celebrate it. Own it. And above all, promote it.

"If Only I'd Known!"

The penultimate question in my Author Publicity Questionnaire was:
What do you wish you'd known about book promotion/publicity, but had to find out the hard way?
I got back a wide range of responses.
  1. From a nonfiction author:
    Book publicity is a full-time job for the author if done right. (Which is hard to swing if you already have a full-time job to support your writing habit!)

  2. From business writer Cynthia Shapiro:
    I wish I’d known that everything you read about or see on TV about being an author is not the way it happens. I thought all you had to do was write a great book and the publisher would take over and make you a millionaire.

    It was really shocking to discover that the publishers don’t do anything for you. My editor didn’t even edit my first book; my wonderful agent had to do it. I was stunned when my publisher looked blankly back at me and said, "What publicity do you have planned?" "Publicity? I don’t know how to do that, I’m a career expert!"

    I wish I’d known that I’d have to learn how to be a PR professional, a publicist, and a media guru beforehand. I may have still gone through with it, but at least I would have had time to prepare. Now that I’m on the other side of it and I’ve got things in place for my second book, I’m happy that I now have this amazing new skill set that will serve me well throughout my career, but it was definitely trial by fire. Lots of stress, lots of tears, and a LOT of hard work to get where I am today.

    Even though I continue to spend 40-50% of my time UNPAID doing publicity and PR work, I’m now an international bestselling author with my first book translated into seven languages, and a second book that’s launching onto a solid platform (the kind I thought the publisher would be giving me in the first place).

  3. From a novelist published by Signet:
    Publishers, even big publishers, do not generally do publicity for their books, beyond listing them in their catalogs and making the requisite filings with B&N, Amazon, etc. unless they have a large amount of money at stake as a result of paying the author a large advance.

  4. From a self-published novelist:
    Nothing, really. I'd read a dozen books on book marketing and promotion and had an extensive marketing plan. The problem was lack of time.

  5. From a novelist published by Bantam Spectra:
    I thought Bantam would do more, but in hindsight realize that was wishful thinking. I’m midlist if not lower midlist. I’m also a former news reporter so I had a fair amount of experience in promo/publicity.

  6. From a debut novelist with Simon & Schuster:
    Getting a bigger advance means the publisher putting more money toward advertising. [Alas, it ain't necessarily so!] Also, I should have hired a publicist.

  7. From a fiction writer with a small press:
    That you have to follow up on contacts in a systematic way. That if you don't hear from a contact, go on to the next. But on the other hand, be persistent. Do readings in places where you have some local contacts.

  8. From a YA author:
    That you don't see instant results. You've got to do all these things, and hope they each pay off a little--but it's cumulative, and it's slow.

  9. From a brilliant nonfiction writer who attended Book Promotion 101:
    I know this sounds funny, but because I took your workshop, I really haven't been surprised about anything I've encountered.

  10. From an author who got no respect from a small press and the outside publicist it hired:
    That freelancers can also suck. (I'd had a great experience with Meryl Moss previously, and would love to work with her again.)

  11. From a nonfiction author in New England:
    I’ve worked with over half a dozen PR firms in addition to my publisher. I think some of my best money was spent with local PR firms regionally.

  12. From professional speaker Debra Fine:
    Three firms that cost a great deal of money but got lousy results taught me that I know my audience as well as anyone. A publicist that tells you what to do and doesn't solicit your expertise on how to craft the message is not the right type of publicist for me. Until I found a publicist that viewed me as a partner, I did not find success.

  13. From a YA author who presented at book festivals, only to find none of her books:
    The no books at fests thing was AWFUL. I'd even triple-checked with my house to ask them to be sure books were there. From then on, I've checked and double-checked myself.

  14. From brilliant novelist Kathryn Jordan:
    Book Promotion 101 prepared me for what to expect and what to do. I'm glad I took the workshop nearly a year before my book came out so I had time to work on my ideas. I now know firsthand how grueling it is, how much time and money one has to invest, but also how fun and gratifying. Hopefully I'll go at it with the same energy next time. And hopefully I'll get a bigger advance so I can spend the necessary money.

  15. From brilliant travel writer Arline Zatz:
    I learned a tremendous amount from attending Book Promotion 101 and it has helped tremendously. I've vowed to go over the excellent handouts a couple of times a year.

  16. From cookbook author Brian Yarvin:
    Shirts count! At several cookbook events, I was the only author not wearing a shirt with the name of my book on it.

  17. From a debut novelist with a NY house:
    My publicist has been wonderful. The publicist I had prior to her was neglectful, unresponsive and generally a bad time. I'd heard nightmare stories about inhouse publicists, and just presumed she was par for the course. I should have spoken up earlier, as she let quite a few things slip through the cracks (e.g., various long-lead magazines and prominent radio shows had shown interest in my book and nothing ever came to fruition).

    This is a long-winded way of saying that some publicists are great, others are not (like all people in all professions). But to presume that your publisher is going to give you the short shrift is probably not the best attitude. If you serve as your own advocate and give them a little direction, I think they are more than happy to help you out.

  18. From an author with several novels from a renowned publisher:
    That these people may be friendly but they are not actually your friends.

  19. From a nonfiction writing team with a small press:
    Although we knew not to expect much from our publisher, we were not prepared to be misled. In more than one instance, people in the publicity department made promises and failed to deliver. We started to feel like Charlie Brown.

    Hard lesson #1: Don't be too trusting and keep your expectations low, no matter what you're promised.

    Hard lesson #2: Mentions in magazines like Redbook and Jane don't necessarily lead to sales.

Author to Author Advice 3

Still more tips from my Author Publicity Questionnaire.
  1. From a nonfiction team with a small press:
    The really hard work begins six months before your book comes out. Don't be afraid to get out there and promote yourself and your work. No one else cares about it as much as you do.

    Visiting bookstores is also helpful. In many instances when our book was not on the shelf, someone would order it simply because we came into the store, and we sometimes got face-outs just by showing up and signing whatever copies were in stock.

  2. From a mystery author:
    Regional and local efforts, or author-generated national efforts may sell a few hundred copies to as many as a couple of thousand copies. Beyond that, an author must have a large entity, such as a large publisher, behind them to make a big impact; or, if they are lucky and spend two to three hours every day networking online, they may gradually build a bigger audience.

    It's extremely difficult to try to reach a large-scale audience with a novel these days because there are many more novels published than ever before. That doesn't even include all the self-pubbed and vanity press pubbed types, which muddies the water even further. You need a unique hook and a consistent message, and, most important of all, an entertaining novel that people will recommend to their friends and families.

    You also need to know when to say enough is enough so you can get on to writing your next novel--which, truth be known, may be the very best thing any author can do to promote their work. Agents, publishers, booksellers and readers, are all hungry for the next big thing, which explains why sometimes a new, unpublished author is actually better off than a veteran one. The desire for "newness" trumps all.

  3. From a prescriptive nonfiction author:
    There seems to be this conspiracy of silence about what you can/should get paid for giving talks. Authors should be more open about it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Author to Author Advice 2

More tips from my Author Publicity Questionnaire. Some are contradictory--one size doesn't fit all when it comes to book publicity. As I constantly tell authors, you have to figure out what works best for you and your particular book.
  1. Be persistent and don't depend on the publisher to keep your book at the top of their agenda.

  2. Assume the publisher will do nothing and you'll have to do it all yourself. Use your contacts to get to people who can help.

  3. Do as many appearances as you can.

  4. Show up on time and don't leave early.

  5. Meet local booksellers. Also, keep informed and don't pass anything up. I came across a reference to on a writing blog (it might have been yours!) [It was in my newsletter.] I signed up and pretty much instantly forgot about it. A few months later, another local author saw my name and invited me to an event I'd never heard of. I sold a ton of books and now I'm locked into that event for future years. This kind of thing has happened a few times and it's always a surprise, because it came about from something else I thought inconsequential at the time.

  6. From professional speaker Debra Fine:
    Watch the news, keep abreast of what is on the minds of people, what season of the year it is, including holidays and activities and hit the media with how your book is related.

  7. From workshop alum & business writer Cynthia Shapiro:
    You have to run your book like a business. It’s a product in an overwhelming sea of other products and you can’t count on any publisher for help – you have to do it yourself if you want to have any success.

    First: You have to make sure your book is on a new or potentially newsworthy topic--a hook. If it doesn’t have one of its own, the topic can be spun into a newsworthy topic. (I now help authors do this with their books--from sci-fi to romance to nonfiction--so they can learn how to get the media interested in them.)

    Second: You have to read the publicity books, take the seminars, and prepare yourself for full-scale publicity of your new product/book and you as the expert on whatever topic you determine could be your unique hook.

    Third: You have to create a website, get a blog going, and position yourself as a media expert on that hot topic that somehow relates to your book. If you can do that, after a while, the machine will start to work FOR you, not against you. The media will be calling you, not the other way around. Once that happens, your publisher will see you completely differently and things will start to get much easier.

    Fourth: Don’t waste your time with book signings or public appearances across the US. Get your name in a feature in a major newspaper, magazine or on TV, and you’ll see tens of thousands of people Googling you and buying your book. Now that’s a good use of your time!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Author to Author Advice

I decided it was time to update the content of my Book Promotion 101 workshop with fresh information and advice from those in the know. So this afternoon I sent out a publicity questionnaire to the scores of authors I've met and/or corresponded with over the past few years. Responses are flooding in, with many lengthy--and trenchant--comments.

The last question I asked was:
Any tips you'd like to pass along to other authors?

Here are some of the terrific answers I've received:
  1. Know the difference between talking about yourself and talking about your work.

  2. Don't go around antagonizing people. Would you rather be right or shafted?

  3. Keep trying, it's never too late.

  4. Don’t be shy. If you’re not sure what you can do or afford, gang up with other authors in your genre and work group promo. And follow Bella’s advice and blog. [I didn't pay the author to write this--honest!]

  5. Try lots of things and drop the ones that don't work. Have fun.

  6. Bella suggested reading a book, Naked at the Podium. A terrific book and very helpful for readings, the preparation. In terms of appearances, my suggestion is to know how much time you have, and to practice what you are going to read, time it, also practice the introduction (though when you do the actual intro, make it sound conversational). Realize in an appearance that you need to entertain the audience, to read slowly, dramatically.

    Be sure to thank audiences and people who've helped arrange an appearance. After a reading, when audience members ask questions, repeat the question before you answer it. For a radio interview, speak slowly.

    Before any appearance, know how you will describe your book, know the answers to some questions audience members or interviewers are likely to ask. Be prepared. And always bring books, post cards, business cards. Also, talk to friends who are authors and get advice from them. I found people were very generous and helpful, suggested I contact their friends at community centers or Arts clubs or writing centers or book stores. This yielded readings and new audiences for the book.

    I must say, as I fill out this survey, I realize how much work promotion is. The writing seems easy compared to it! The promoting is really a business.

  7. If you can find a national organization that you can work through to help you do speaking events because your book is relevant to their interests, that is very helpful.

  8. Keep your humor intact and be ready to punt. I did a school visit I had all planned out and then when I got there, found out the school was for "different" kids --Aspergers, ADHD, OCD, you name it. I totally had to punt, but honestly had the most fun. Those were some, um, spontaneous kids.

  9. While many writers consider book signings a waste of time (such as at B&N and other bookstores), I do not because the CRM always gets in piles of my books. Even if very few people show up, I act as though I don't mind, and my very gracious thank you to the manager makes her keep inviting me back time and time again.

  10. Follow every lead, every idea. Network. Ask friends to connect you with their friends. My best friend's sister-in-law set up 3 events in western Colorado and gave me her guest room. Ask and you shall receive--some of the time, anyway. Get some fun promotional items you can give as hostess gifts: T-shirts, mugs, etc. These also make good door prizes at casual events.

    Do not calculate how many books you will have to sell to make it worth your while. You'll miss a lot of gigs that way. Also keep email and mailing lists as a leg up for the next book. Something I learned late: Check out for writers' groups and book clubs, and contact them offering to visit. I got two gigs, and several great online articles and interviews from this. Got connected with a great web site: WOW! Women on Writing.

  11. Experience is a much better teacher than I. Having fun is important, because you'll never have another first publishing experience. Don't sweat it too much. You'll screw up no matter what, so work your ass off, control what you can, and hope for the best.

    Also, keep writing during the process. You are an author first. No writing=no product=no need for publicity. Spending all your time working as a publicist takes valuable time away from your job.

  12. There's always someone doing better than you, and always someone doing worse, yet how does that affect your day-to-day writing life? I'm not sure it should--though of course I too wish I had a beach house from my earnings--but I try not to go around comparing myself. Leave that to the social climbers and the Amazon ratings watchers. I don't see how any of that speaks, as the Quakers say, to my condition.

    Just care about what you're doing and writing, and keep caring. Care to the point of indifference to the world's reaction to your work. The world is unfair, and at some level it's beyond your control whether people appreciate what you're doing or not.