SFWC 2018: Getting Book Reviews

Here’s a topic every indie author—and probably traditionally published author, unless they’re already a big name—wants the scoop on: how to get more book reviews. This panel consisted of Stephanie Chandler and Isabella Michon and was moderated by marketing guru Penny Sansevieri.

Isabella stated up front that book marketing is “all about exposure and getting media attention.” She pointed to the Midwest Book Review as a good place to submit for that exposure. Also BookTalk. Giveaways are a good way to get your books under people’s noses, too (though now Goodreads charges for that). And if you do a blog tour, or if a blog posts a review of your book, you should always thank them and ask if they’ll also please publish on Amazon or Goodreads.

Stephanie agreed that you shouldn’t be afraid of giving your book away. She quoted Seth Godin: “Your problem is not piracy, your problem is obscurity.”

She mentioned software called Book Review Targeter that helps authors find Amazon reviewers for their books. She said to get in the habit of asking, even from big-name authors. “Find bloggers who speak to your audience.” Joining online groups and enlisting beta readers who will spread the word about your book is also helpful.

Penny gave a startling statistic: approximately 4500 books are published each day now. That’s a huge amount of content, and it’s difficult to be heard over all that noise. She said to put a letter in the back of each book that asks for a review. Turn those beta readers into superfans by giving them early access to material, or even exclusive material. Do the same for newsletter subscribers. Give them reasons to be fans rather than just readers.

95% of books are sold via word-of-mouth.
Fewer than 3% of readers leave reviews.

Isabella then mentioned the paid reviews you can get from elite outlets like Kirkus, or the paid Facebook ads. Those are fine so long as you’re only paying for honest reviews from known channels. Never pay someone to post a review on Amazon. You have to make sure your reviews are legitimate. (In most cases, people advise authors never to pay for a review regardless of the outlet.)

Someone then asked about Amazon pulling reviews if the book was, say, gifted rather than a verified purchase. Penny said that you can post a review, even if the book was not purchased on Amazon, and that pulled reviews usually have more to do with the reviewer than the book or author. Usually, if a review is pulled, many reviews by that particular reviewer are being pulled rather than the book or author being somehow punished.

So how to find fans? Well, social media is a good start, or maybe creating a private Facebook group where that elite content can be posted. People like to feel like they’re part of a club. Penny points out that the level of engagement is more important that the number of total fans. If you have 10,000 fans who don’t do anything, well . . . How much more valuable are 10 fans who are eager to spread the word about you and your book?

Timing is a final consideration. Major outlets will want your book well ahead of publication. But Amazon reviewers don’t care when the book was published. And readers seldom stop to look at whether the review is recent or not.

As for pre-orders, they’re great, but better to keep the time short. One to two weeks works best. And make sure you have fans and readers ready to post their reviews right away.

What do you think of these tips? Have you tried any? What has worked for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

SFWC 2018: Building a Bestselling Author Platform

I mentioned in a previous post that I had the opportunity for a brief one-on-one with Rusty Shelton. (He’s a former Longhorn like me.) After that meeting, I also attended his talk on building an author platform.

Many fiction authors will say they don’t need a platform, that platform is for nonfiction. It’s true that nonfiction authors must prove themselves differently than fiction authors, but everyone needs some kind of platform. In short, we all need an audience/readership.

According to Rusty, there are three chief pieces of real estate in the media world: rented, earned, and owned.

Rented Media includes anything you buy an audience for. That is, when you pay for an ad, you’re paying for access to someone else’s audience. You control the content—what people see and hear about you and your book—but someone else holds the audience. Even if you aren’t paying outright, Twitter followers and Facebook page Likes aren’t actually yours. That real estate—those sites—belong to someone else. Those readers aren’t yours, but you’re hoping that you can sell to them and make them yours.

Earned Media is the world of PR. This is where you get book reviews and do interviews. You’re not paying for it (usually), but you’re exploiting that opportunity. In this case, however, you don’t control the content. You don’t get to say how the interview or review is written up. And the real estate still isn’t yours; it belongs to the newspaper or blog or reviews site where it’s posted.

Owned Media is the goal. This is your site, your home turf. You control the content, and the audience is yours. They’re coming to you, not through some other outlet.

So what you want is for the rented and earned media to drive the audience to your site and mailing list. You want to convert them.

Rusty explained it by using a stadium as an example. (Texas Memorial Stadium, in fact.) Imagine a stadium divided in half. One one side sits the VIPs. On the other side are people just here to see the game. Maybe they’re not big sports fans yet. And then there are people milling around outside the stadium not even sure they want to go in.

VIPs = your established customers
Spectators = those who are checking you out but haven’t committed yet
Loiterers = people who don’t even know you exist

The big problem with many authors is that they want to take people from outside the stadium and immediately stick them in the VIP section. And that’s a hard sell. In fact, you shouldn’t be trying to sell these people anything. Instead, give them a free ticket and encourage them to just step inside and check things out.

That’s right, give them something—a reason to stay, and a reason to come back.

You need to make readers aware of you and your product. And then you need to convert that awareness not immediately to a sale but simply to attention. Get their attention and hold it. Else they’ll wander into the stadium, look around and think there’s nothing for them there, and wander back out again.

Think about your website. If someone were to stumble across it, or even deliberately click the link from somewhere, what first impression does it give? Do you immediately get a sense of the brand? You are a brand. And in the absence of meeting you personally, your site stands for YOU.

If you’ve won awards, showcase that on your site. You have mere seconds to capture and keep someone’s attention, so be sure your site does that. Differentiate yourself from everything else out there. And update consistently. But don’t make your content all about you and what you think. Deliver other content, maybe from daily headlines that pertain to your work. Rusty called this “newsjacking.” However, don’t be unprofessional or too controversial because that will turn your readers off.

Another idea is to interview others. Not just writers but, again, experts that are tangential to your work. Maybe a local undertaker if you’re writing a book that features a mortician. Yes, you’re a writer and you want to stay in your hole. But you’re also a brand, and that means you’ll have to go out there and show your face once in a while.

If you don’t want to do interviews, offer others guest post spots. Again, not just other writers, but professionals in various fields that relate to what you’re writing about.

And as so many others pointed out over the course of the conference: if at all possible, own your name as your website.

I hope this gave you a new way of thinking about how to reach readers and build a fan base. I definitely got a lot out of it! If you have anything to add, feel free to speak up in the comments!

The PR Conundrum

So at recent writing conferences this year, I heard this a lot: “You need a publicist!”

Basically, with all the books being published and self-published, it’s becoming almost impossible to rise above the noise. So you hire a publicist to help you get noticed.

Makes sense. The only problem (for me, at least) is… It’s really expensive. And while I believe in investing in my career, and that you have to sometimes put money in to get more out, a [good] publicist is something I can’t afford. (I can’t afford a bad one, either, but for different reasons.)

So here is my chief issue with publicists: if you can afford one, you probably don’t need one, and if you can’t afford one, you probably do need one.

Sigh.

Any of my fellow authors use a publicist? If so, were you satisfied with the experience?

WDC16 #12

I didn’t take notes during David Baldacci’s keynote. It was lively and fun, mostly a collection of anecdotes designed to remind us to persevere when rejected and do write for the love of it, and from a place of passion rather than because we’re going to be millionaires if we just hit the trends right. Then there was a cocktail reception, and I and a couple other ladies I’d met went out for Japanese ramen at just the best place.

So that was Saturday. On Sunday I was flying home, but I still had time for a couple more sessions before I needed to check out of the hotel and grab a cab to JFK. The first session I attended was Creating Book Buzz on a Shoestring Budget by Kristen Harnisch. She is a hybrid author, the term in this instance being used to say she is published by She Writes in the U.S. but by traditional publishers overseas.

Harnisch’s first rule: Before you publish, be sure your book is well written, edited, and has a fabulous cover. Seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? But I get the sense a lot of people rush to publish after finishing just a draft. They want to be done. It’s a marathon, writing, not a sprint. The draft is just the first leg. Getting feedback, revising, and editing are all part of the race.

And we all know covers sell books. We say not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do. Remember what the Princeton study said? One-tenth of a second. We form our first impressions that fast, at that first impression comes from the cover of a book, not the flap or the first line.

Harnisch then said you need to consider (and do) a few things:

  • What’s unique about your book? You should know what makes it different from the rest of the genre.
  • Set goals for your book, have a budget and a timeframe for publicizing.
  • Decide whether you want and/or can afford a publicist.
  • Create a tip sheet, press kit, and press release.
  • Leverage your contacts. All of them, no matter how seemingly small.
  • Grow opportunities with libraries, book clubs, schools and colleges.
  • Pitch ideas to blogs, magazines, newspapers, conferences.
  • Market authentically to connect with readers in a lasting way.
  • Use social media to reach more readers.

So what’s unique about your book? What characters, settings, or themes does it use? Did you do any special research? Are you drawing from life experience? Use this information to develop presentations and blog posts.

As for goals, of course you need to be realistic. How many books do you want to sell in a year? (My goal is to sell 2 books per day, or about 700 in a year. I’m staying modest for now.) Keep in mind that 90% of traditionally published authors do not earn out their advances.

Have a budget for your marketing. Set some money aside and remember there are costs for mailing things, traveling to events, and professional author photos. After the big push, you may still want to allot a monthly sum to ongoing promo efforts.

Harnisch says to start promotions 4-6 months before your publication date.

Now, do you need a publicist? I felt like at this conference everyone was basically telling me the answer to that question is “yes,” but alas, I can’t afford it! Guess I’m fated to languish. Harnisch noted that publicists can develop your press kit, send out galleys and ARCs, arrange blog tours and online coverage, set up events, pitch to media outlets so you get more attention, and consult for social media—basically take a bunch of stuff off the author’s plate. But she also noted it can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 (or more!) for a 6-month campaign.

If you’re setting up a signing or event, Harnisch recommends asking the bookstore or venue for suggestions on where to send the press release. And she also encourages you to create a one-sheet for promotion as well.

What about leveraging your contacts? Harnisch notes people are usually excited to be able to say they know a real-life author. (I feel like this is less impressive now that pretty much anyone can publish a book, but okay.) She says to:

  • Be specific about what you need from your friends, family, and support group
  • Seek opportunities where you shop, worship, eat, work out, get your hair done, etc.
  • Look for themed clubs that might be related to your book
  • Rotary clubs might have speaking opportunities
  • Tap fellow authors for interviews and guest posts (blog swaps)
  • Join the mailing lists for various organizations and get involved—you may get ideas for events and venues this way, too
  • Cross market with another person or organization—Harnisch’s book is about vintners so she cross marketed with a winery

Where can you find opportunities?

  • Libraries—you won’t get sales but you will get word of mouth
  • Book clubs—remember you can Skype or FaceTime with clubs that are farther away
  • Your schools and alma maters, or your kids’ schools if appropriate
  • Have friends host events
  • Set up a booth at fairs and festivals, and donate for silent auctions

Harnisch went on to suggest you enter writing contests and do Goodreads giveaways (before the book is released). She reminded us that it’s a slow and steady process, that you see results over time not all at once (usually). Which goes back to the marathon metaphor. Even once the book is out, you’re not done running. And on top of launching one book, we’re told to keep producing. So now you’re running two races at once! Bottom line: writing is hard work. Gone are the days of being only a writer. We must be marketers too now. No sense fighting or bemoaning it, however. Deep breaths. Pace yourself.

WDC16 #6

The Friday sessions were over, and I took my overstuffed head up to my room to freshen up before going in search of dinner. On the way back down, I ran into author/presenter Steven James in the elevator. I asked him how the conference was going, and he gave me a curious look. It was then I realized I was no longer wearing my badge. I told him I was done for the night; he admitted he’d hidden for a good part of the day himself, only appearing for his panels, and was now on the way down to the mixer. As we were chatting, another attendee got into the elevator and immediately began gushing when she saw Mr. James. Wow, I thought, I hope someone is that excited to see me one day.

I mentioned to Mr. James that I myself would be doing a couple panels in October. “My first time on the other side of the table,” I said. He was happy to give some advice. “Be funny,” he told me. “The audience wants the interaction, so entertain them.” Sure enough, I heard from other conference goers later in the weekend that Mr. James had been so funny on his panels.

He left to brave the crowds, and I went out to buy a hairbrush (because I’d forgotten to pack mine) and a burrito from a local food cart. Was a really good dinner. I ate it in my room while watching lightning play over Central Park.

Okay, but you’re here for more tidbits from the sessions, right. Well I started Saturday with Fauzia Burke, who spoke on Three Ways to Build a Successful Author Platform. She’s the founder of FSB Associates, which funnily enough is one of the companies that sometimes sends me books to review.

First off, Ms. Burke noted you need to know where your audience is online. For example, when considering my YA fantasy Manifesting Destiny, I need to figure out where readers of YA fantasy are hanging out online. Which blogs do they frequent? Which social media platforms do they use? (I suspect this is one reason it’s been so difficult to get The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller off the ground; those readers aren’t really hanging out on Twitter.)

Ms. Burke also did a nice job of defining author platform, which sounds much scarier than it is. She says, “It’s a way of showing a publisher or agent that you can bring readers to your book.” So yes, those numbers of Likes and Followers are important. However, every publisher and agent has a different idea of how many are enough, and even if you don’t have many, if you write a great book they’re not necessarily going to turn it down just because you aren’t on Snapchat.

Here, then, is Fauzia Burke’s Formula for Success:

Design + Engagement + Visibility = Book Marketing Success

And you have to do it in that order! So let’s break it down.

Design

This is how we represent ourselves without words. Authors are word people, so this can be tricky for them. But a Princeton study showed that people take only 1/10th of a second to form a first impression about something or someone, and there are no words involved in that! Your author photo, your book jacket, your website all need to make a great first impression.

Engagement

This is about being likable online and building trust with potential readers. According to Burke, likable people do these things:

  • Ask questions
  • Are honest
  • Don’t seek attention
  • Are consistent
  • Smile

One thing I heard repeatedly over the weekend is that you need to be genuine online. People can always sniff out when you’re being fake. Now that doesn’t mean spew acid when you’re having a bad day, but it’s important to come across as human.

Quality is more important than quantity, too. If you post every hour but it’s all junk, no one will want to follow you. If you only post a couple times a week but it’s quality information or very entertaining, you’ll win a lot of readers.

“Seek connection, not attention,” one attendee noted. There is a difference! You’re not a one-person show, even if you feel like the limelight is on you. You’re more a moderator or a nexus, a place where things and people come together. It’s a conversation, not a lecture.

As for consistency, the key is not to disappear between book releases. You can’t just pop up to demand that people buy your book and then disappear again. You shouldn’t be demanding that people buy your book in any case. Be a regular presence and maintain a posting schedule for your blog and newsletter. You may post more frequently around a book launch, but don’t inundate either.

In short, a smaller community that is active and engaged is way more valuable than a bunch of empty Likes and Follows that don’t actually connect.

Visibility

  • Blogs
  • Publicity/Advertising
  • Distribution
  • Events

You need to begin building your platform the moment you have an idea for a book. But if you already have books out, never fear. You can still build on that.

Start a blog before the book is out. Your blog will actually be a writing sample of sorts, proving to readers that you know how to write and showcasing your style. Posts of 700–1000 words are shown to be most effective. And don’t just post on your personal site; try to get clips and essays posted elsewhere, too. That will help drive readers to your page as they discover you in various other places.

The publicity and advertising steps up in the months prior to book release. Spread the word! And continue to do so once the book is out.

Distribution and events are for when the book is out as well. Figure out what works and focus on those things. Re-assess your efforts every three months so they don’t grow stale.

At this point the Q&A began. Someone asked about writing under various pen names for different genres. Burke advises against it. She says it quickly becomes too much for any one person to keep up with. “It’s amazing that you’re able to do so many different things! Embrace it!”

And regarding keeping up with social media, Burke says to pick the one or two things you can consistently do. In other words, don’t start a blog if you know you can’t keep up with it. Same for Tumblr, Instagram, etc.

Someone asked how often you should post to your site or blog. Burke says once every couple weeks, or more importantly, when you have something to say. It may not be exact, though readers do like knowing when to check in. But it’s natural to have times when you’ll have more posts than others. So long as you do have posts often enough to make it worthwhile for the readers. Otherwise they’ll stop visiting your site.

I’m relieved to hear I haven’t made a huge mistake by putting my name on books of a variety of genres! And I need to reconsider my fallow Tumblr and patchy Instagram. What about you? Do you have wayward social media accounts? Where do you most like to connect with readers and authors?

WDC16 #3

After Porter Anderson’s session (see previous post), we had a lunch break. This time I met up with a group of mystery and thriller writers. We managed not to discuss gruesome ways to kill characters while eating. It was fun.

Then I went to a panel titled Take Your Book Publicity to the Next Level. The panelists were Susan Shapiro, Joseph Alexiou, Jill Bialosky, Ryan Harbage, Naomi Rosenblatt, Victoria Chow, and Renée Watson.

You can see I’m focusing on marketing and publicity for this conference. That’s where my goals lie. I have several books out now, am a hybrid author in the sense of having some self-published work and some books published by small presses, and I feel a little behind on the publicity end of things. I know I should have gotten started sooner or done more somehow, but it’s all about figuring out where to put one’s energies. I hoped this panel would help.

Mostly I took away this idea that I should somehow get my work or some essays published in the New York Times. Yeah, okay, that might be easy for these guys, but what about us “little people”?

Well, we were told it’s important that a writer know his or her audience and have ideas about how to reach and market to them. That makes sense.

The panel members reiterated the point that all our tweets and Facebook posts should not be “buy my book!” This seems pretty obvious to me, but considering how many tweets I see that are “buy my book!”, I guess this still needs to be said. Instead, we should find other content, or write related content, that we know our readers will be interested in. Link to an article or write essays and blog posts. We were told to build our platform—our public image—by having “clips” online that agents and publishers could find when they look us up.

Themed parties and events were suggested (for book launches).

We were encouraged to exploit group memberships: alumni associations, religious organizations, anywhere we can spread word. Renée Watson writes middle grade and YA, so she visits schools and reaches out to educators; she said when she books a visit, her publisher then looks around the same area and finds other outlets for her to visit so that she ends up doing a mini-tour.

Publishers big and small are looking for writers who can differentiate themselves and stand out, who they know will take on some of the marketing effort by building a readership. Authors should be touting what they can do for the agent or publisher, what they bring to the table (besides a great book). [At the same time, with so many publishing options available, authors should also be sure their publishers are bringing something to the table that earns their percentage.]

During Q&A, someone asked how much time they should be devoting to all this marketing and social media. The answer was to get writing done, and other important things, and maybe give an hour or so a day to social media work.

Again we were advised to get publicists (if we can afford them), but also reminded it’s a gamble—having a publicist is no guarantee of sales or profits, so you don’t know for sure you’ll get that money back.

A final question was, “What do you [publishers, agents] want out of publishing a book? Besides money?” The answers were: “Readers,” (which I feel is tangentially related to money), and something more amorphous . . . Not quite “good publicity” but perhaps “a good reflection on us and our brand.”

Do you, as a writer, feel you can give that to an agent or publisher? Do you already have a platform/readership you can bring them?

Writer’s Digest 2016

I’m currently attending the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York. It’s been a full day of meeting fellow authors and hearing inspiring speakers. I plan to transcribe notes from the sessions I’ve attended so that you, my readers and possibly authors yourselves, can get a taste of it all.

The morning started (too early for me, given that I’m now on the East Coast and used to West Coast time) with me getting up and dressed and going down to meet complete strangers for breakfast. We’re fortunate and grateful that Writer’s Digest had the foresight to create a Facebook group for attendees so we could “meet” prior to, well, meeting. So that we could get a jump on networking and bonding and, instead of being a bunch of awkward people walking around avoiding one another, we could be awkward in a collective. Yay?

Yes, yay. I breakfasted with other YA writers and we had a nice game of pass-the-business-cards. I’ve got so many people to add to my Twitter and Facebook now! And I’m hoping at least a few will stumble over here to this blog, too. If so, hi guys!

Then sessions began and it was time to get down to business. I started off with Emily Liebert‘s How to be Your Own Best Publicist.

  1. Start publicizing before your book is out. Lay the groundwork, build those networks. Already be participating in groups, blogs, whatever so that when your book does arrive, people know and are familiar with your name from having seen it other places.
  2. Even if your publisher gives you a publicist to work with, remember that the publisher’s publicist has other authors to promote. You’re going to need to do stuff above and beyond what the publicist does.
  3. Hire a publicist if you have the money. And of course vet them first. Interview them, make sure you’re a good match. Get referrals if you happen to know any other authors who have used publicity agencies.
  4. Even if you do hire a publicist, you’re going to need to do stuff. Stay on top of things. This isn’t about getting to be lazy while someone else does the legwork. This is a partnership.
  5. Make a list of everyone you know. Friends, family, the person who grooms your dog. Everyone. Then draft an email asking them to please spread the word about your book. Include pre-written Twitter and Facebook posts that they can cut and paste. Make it easy for them and they’re more likely to do it. Send the email on the day your book comes out.
  6. You have to amp your signal. It has to go beyond your circle of friends. And you can’t just be posting “buy my book” messages. If you do that, it becomes Internet white noise. Instead, post things that make you real to readers. Things they can identify with so they feel connected to you. Post about your family, Instagram your breakfast, whatever.
  7. Giveaways. Nuff said.
  8. Offer the first chapter of your book online.
  9. Post articles that relate or connect to your book in some way.
  10. About signings: The days of the grand book tours are over. Unless you’re already a celebrity or bestselling author, people don’t go. Instead throw book parties. Events with food and drink draw more people. And pick places you have a connection to, or that are somehow connected to your book: the town you grew up in, the town you live in now, the place your book is set. And if a bookstore invites you (wow!) be sure to ask them how they promote their events. Especially if you don’t have a connection to the place, you don’t want to be left sitting there with no one attending.
  11. Jump at every opportunity (book signings aside). You’re never “too good” for something. Offer to write blog posts, and be the smiling, accommodating author they want to come back to for more later. That’s how you get repeat opportunities.
  12. Form strategic partnerships. Liebert teamed up with a nail polish company when promoting one of her books. The mid-sized company created three polishes and named them after the three main characters in her book. It was good publicity for her and them. That’s key: making sure there’s something in it for them, too.

During the Q&A came the inevitable question of, “What if my book is already out? Is it too late?” Well, you can still ask friends to spread the word. And remember that new books are a chance to promote your backlist as well.

Liebert suggested hiring a publicist 5 months prior to your book release and expect to keep them 1-2 months after the book is out.

It’s food for thought. Not all of this may apply to, say, indie authors who don’t have the luxury of recruiting a publicist, or people published by smaller presses who don’t have a 5-month lead time. But I’m sure some of these can be adapted to shortened schedules. You can always ask friends to spread the word about your book, and you can always be writing guest posts and essays and articles. Always be sowing seeds is how I look at it.

What do you think? Do you have any other tips on publicizing your book?

San Francisco Writers Conference: Day 2 (Part Two)

Picking up where I left off earlier: the next session I attended was about publicity and “discoverability.” Since we didn’t go over the definition, I’m not 100% what “discoverability” is, but if I had to guess, I’d say it has to do with you being easy to find via an online search. Basically, an online presence. Now the talk really slanted toward nonfiction authors with a lot about helping journalists when they need an expert on a topic, but I think much can be applied to fiction writers as well.

Rusty Shelton was the speaker. He pointed out what a lot of speakers have during this weekend: we now have fewer journalists covering as much or more information than ever before. And they need constant content. So if you think of yourself, your blog or website, as a micromedia outlet . . . What kind of magazine would you be? Hopefully not all ads! You want to provide useful content, the kinds of articles people will want to read. Then you can get regular “subscribers,” people who will read your site regularly. Curate content too—guest authors and interviews, etc. I know a lot of bloggers already do this, especially in the form of blog tours, but you should be doing it all the time, even when you don’t (or someone else doesn’t) have anything to sell at the moment. You don’t want every call to action on your site to be, “Buy my book!” That gets old fast.

Don’t call the media; give them a reason to call you. Sign up for HARO and volunteer when there’s something you’re an “expert” on. (Hey, if anyone needs Sherlock Holmes commentary, I’m their gal!) Even if you’re a romance writer (and this is something Stephanie Chandler said in a later talk), you can use things like holidays as a springboard: “Top 10 Ways to be More Romantic.” Because romance writers should know, right?

The key comes in finding something in or about your book that makes people want to share it, that causes them to interact with and personalize the content. Does your book make people want to create a list of 1,000 things to be grateful for? Then the readers will share that list and there is more visibility for your book.

You should also be very aware of your Google search results. What pops up if you Google yourself? You want to make sure any old blogs, embarrassing YouTube videos, etc. are NOT at the top (and preferably not there at all).

The following session by Stephanie Chandler about publicity via more traditional outlets (radio, newspapers, magazines) reiterated much of what Shelton said. Some additional considerations: When writing a press release, don’t just make it about a new book coming out. New books come out all the time. It’s not news. Hook with the press release title and make sure the first paragraph contains all the journalistic elements: who, what, where, when, how, why. Give them a reason to care.

Pitch to Internet radio stations. Add a media/press page to your site so journalists (and bloggers, reviewers, potential interviewers) can easily find your bio, contact info, and a list of your credits. And Stephanie said one other interesting thing: If you are self-publishing with a big box company (Amazon, CreateSpace), put your own publishing logo on the book. It looks more professional.

That’s it for tonight. Tomorrow I have a guest excerpt from Christine Rains as part of her Dragonslayer blog tour, plus I’ll go over Guy Kawasaki’s keynote talk and tell you what the fiction editors had to say (but as a teaser: not as keen on self-publishing as a lot of the other speakers have been).

San Francisco Writers Conference: Day 2 (Part One)

I was up very late last night (long after I published the previous article) at a “pitchathon” wherein Michael Larsen and Katherine Sands worked to help authors refine their book pitches. I didn’t pitch, but hearing all the feedback on everyone else’s pitches helped me whittle mine down a bit. I was very, very lucky when I ran into Mr. Larsen this morning and he remembered me (maybe there IS something to that adage about success being 90% showing up) and invited me to sit at his table for breakfast and try out my pitch for The K-Pro on him. Aside from it being a bit long, it was pretty solid, and I’ve used it a couple times today to pretty good effect. The consensus seems to be that it’s a unique premise for a book, and there’s probably a market for it, though whether it’s fantasy or paranormal women’s fiction remains in question. It could go either way.

My first session this morning was about blog tours. Stephanie Chandler (who’s just fantastic, really knows her stuff), Tara Gonzalez, and Pam van Hylckama Vlieg were the panelists, and the key thing they pointed out was: How do you choose what you read? More often than not: recommendations. And besides getting them from friends and family, you find those recommendations on blogs, review sites and the like. So the goal really becomes getting bloggers and reviewers to recommend your book.

Ideally, these bloggers will have regular readers and credibility when it comes to their suggestions. Meanwhile, you can use Google or Technorati to search for bloggers who cover your topic or genre. Don’t only aim for the highest hits because they’ll also be the most difficult to get to read or review your work; so long as a site looks legit, you should query them too, so you have a better chance at wider coverage.

And querying these bloggers is similar to querying an agent: be polite, etc. It helps if they already know you as someone who comments on their site or follows and retweets them on Twitter. However, never put them on the spot by requesting a review in a public forum; always send a private, personal e-mail. And while it’s okay to ask that they post about your book within a particular period (“the next two weeks”), you should never say it has to be a specific day.

This all seems like common sense, but it doesn’t hurt to hear it. The keynote address by Guy Kawasaki was next, but I’ll go over that in a separate post because he did a great top 10 list.

I then went to a panel about e-books. Mark Coker from Smashwords, Brian Felsen from BookBaby, and Randy Kuckuck from PublishNext were there. (As an aside, I’m so over intra-capitals in brand names.) These guys posited that the stigma of self-publishing is evaporating, though e-books are sometimes still seen as a “lesser” product because they are not tangible, are harder to lend, and are so comparatively easy to create—they cost little to nothing if someone is keen enough to do it themselves.

I think it’s interesting to pause here and consider independent media as a whole. It happened with music: the artists got sick of the way labels were treating them, of how little of the money they felt they were getting, of the gatekeepers holding them back, and now indie music is huge (Grammy award winning) business. And film: once again the studios stood in the way, but as technology made it easier and less expensive, people began making their own movies. So why not publishing too?

Buying something on a Kindle or iPad or computer is easy, it’s fast, it stimulates that sense of instant gratification. BUT. In order for an author to be successful, he or she still needs to get that book in front of people. If not in physical bookstores than virtual ones.

Best ways to monetize an e-book? Well, as with any book, the content needs to be good. Write a great book. But also put an amazing cover on it. Remember, the cover is your key marketing piece. And price it low. A study Smashwords ran showed that books priced at $2.99 sold 6.2 times more copies than those priced $10 or more. And if one price isn’t working for you, don’t feel bad about changing it to see what does work.

These were the two pre-lunch sessions. Post-lunch sessions will come in a later post.