Saturday, July 30, 2005

Writing & Selling VIII

JM wrote in comments: Should I ever get published, I would like to save myself, and those others interested, time and money in the marketing department by not trudging down paths where the investment isn't worth the return.

I suspect JM is a writer after my own heart. So let's tackle this list of questions:

Specifically, what methods work and what methods don't work for marketing your novel, or, by order of increasing effectiveness, what methods have you used to market your novels?

Traditional marketing methods, such as widgets, booksignings, conference appearances, mail-outs and print advertising are the least effective. Newer marketing such as websites, online interviews, articles and weblogs are better and, depending on the quality and appeal involved, can be terrific.

M.J. Rose's theory of getting big time media attention, particularly the kind that thrives on scandal, is likely the best marketing, but it can also be the worst. I tried most of the traditional methods for my first novel, and the newer stuff for the first Darkyn book, but I only kept up a small web site for all the books in between.

In your discussions with your published cronies, what are the similarities and differences in the effectiveness of their marketing efforts when compared to yours?

I don't really have any published cronies. My best friend is an author, but we talk about the creative side of work almost exclusively. I sometimes offer advice upon request, but I rarely if ever talk about my stuff with anyone else.

What methods have other published authors reported to you as successful that you haven't tried yet?

None so far.

How helpful were your publishers in marketing your novels?

My publishers used to take out print ads in the trades, and send out the usual amount of review copies. To my knowledge, that's all the marketing they've ever done for me. Print ads do very little for a book, and you all already know my opinion of reviewers.

What promises did your publishers make to you regarding the marketing of your novels and how many of those promises did they keep?

My publishers never promised me anything on marketing in writing. Of the half-dozen verbal promises that were made, only one was kept. I never believe anything unless it's in writing.

Should I get an agent before circulating my first novel to editors/publishers?

People are going to debate this forever. In today's market, a decent agent** will not take you on without a book offer from a major publisher in hand. I'd recommend nailing an offer first, then go agent-hunting.

What's your take on online critique groups and/or critique groups in general?

They don't work for me, but I know many other writers depend on them and enjoy them. If they help you, great. If they mess with you, dump them.

Assuming you had a day job, how long after you first became published did you quit your day job?

I had retired from business and was a ten-year veteran housewife when I got published. I'm still a housewife, and aside from writing, taking care of the people I love is not something I'm likely to quit doing.

If you haven't already done so, if you could only give us one bit of advice about the business of writing and selling books, what would that be?

Oh, no pressure . . . okay: Somewhere in the midst of all the important marketing, strategizing, planning, researching and obsessing, try to write some books. I know, it's a completely radical idea, but the more you write, the better a writer you become, and the more likely you are to sell.

**Important Contrasting Opinion: Literary agent Miriam Kriss responded with the following in comments: I sold someone out of the slush pile last week to a major publisher and I'd like to think I'm more than decent. Any agent will take you on when there's money on the table, but only an agent who will really fight for you will take you on out of the slush. That being said, if you have an offer in hand, be picky. Find an agent who will really share your vision of your career and your brand and help you build both. Don't panic and take the first person who says yes. The offer won't evaporate if you take a week or so to decide.

You can read more about Ms. Kriss in an interview she did here.

22 comments:

  1. Somewhere in the midst of all the important marketing, strategizing, planning, researching and obsessing, try to write some books.

    The best advice of all, of course. :) Thanks for sharing your insight once again. These discussions are very helpful.

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  2. I sometimes wonder how many writers really understand how powerful word of mouth is for selling books. It's not the ads or major newspaper reviews that sell books. It's the friend that says "you've GOT to read this!". It's the book store clerk that syas "a lot of people are buying this one" or "I've read it and it's good".

    My personal belief, based on absolutely no evidence at all, is that the most effective marketing these days is done on the Web using Web sites and blogs. A lot more people see that than anything else. Just my opinion.

    Re: critique groups. They have done wonders for me in the past, but I really got more from writing critiques than reading them. It's a matter of training your eyes to see the things in your own work that you see in others'.

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  3. About agents. I read on Cynthia Harrison's "A Writer's Life" blog yesterday this quote from an editor's conference workshop she attended:

    The question was: Should I get an agent or a publisher first? Duffy alone said that without a publisher you won't get a good agent. Period.

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  4. Great advice! I didn't get my first agent until I had sold my first novel and had an offer for the next three on the table.

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  5. I echo everything Carter said.

    I would add: from everything I've read, contacts -- the "who you know" factor -- seems to be a big part of getting a decent publisher so you can get a decent agent. (Kind of disheartening for those of us who have yet to make any of those contacts.)

    Is that true in your experience, PBW? Is it really "who you know" that lands you an offer from a reputable publisher? Is there any way to get that type of offer if you *don't* know anyone that well?

    I'm relatively new to reading your blog so if you've already addressed this, whoops, sorry. I'm finding this series very useful and insightful, thank you for running it. :-)

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  6. But how can you sell a novel first if so many publishers don't accept unagented submissions any longer? It's a vicious circle.

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  7. Laura wrote: Is that true in your experience, PBW? Is it really "who you know" that lands you an offer from a reputable publisher?

    I was completely unknown and knew not a soul in publishing when I received my first offer, so that wasn't my experience. I've heard rumors, but I think it's that secret handshake thing that doesn't really exist. All twelve of the editors I know judge writers on the strength of their work, not their social circle.

    Exception: a good reputation and consistent productivity will get you plenty of writer-for-hire work. This comes after you've been published and/or, like Lee Goldberg being a producer on a show for which he now writes novelizations, you've already got some experience with the franchise.

    Gabriele wrote: But how can you sell a novel first if so many publishers don't accept unagented submissions any longer?

    Many don't, but there are still a few who do. Off the top of my head, Tor, Baen, Harlequin and Kensington. Many publishers who won't take unagented subs still accept query letters; check their current guidelines. I know it becomes harder every year to find publishers willing to look at your submissions, but don't give up.

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  8. Lol, my books aren't exactly what Harlequin is looking for, with no HEA and in one case, a dead MC. :)

    But I won't give up. Though I think it makes sense for me to try the UK market first.

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  9. I'm screwed if I have to come up with something to create scandal. As for the publishers, I went to the RT conference this year and every single one said they accepted queries. (Warner, Tor, Harlequin, St. Martin's, Kensington and Pocket) It doesn't hurt to query. The worst they can do is say no thanks.

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  10. Hand me some widgets, I need to feel busy!
    My first book is hitting the shops in 4-5 weeks and I'm at the helpless author stage. I want to do my part towards making it a success, but at the same time I know there's little I can do now that it's printed. Everything is in the hands of the publicity people, book reps, distributors and book sellers.
    I'm in the middle of editing my third book, and am expecting the second back from my editor any moment, but despite all this 'real author work' I still want to do something to help the first one along.
    Does editing your bio on amazon.com listings count as 'useful'? ;-)

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  14. I'm not sure that you can divide book marketing so simply into traditional vs new (or basically as you infer, offline vs online) - a conference appearance for a book in a specialist subject might work wonders, especially if it generated further interest and opportunities for the book / author. There are plenty of ways to be innovative offline and lots of ways to make no impact whatsoever online. The only rule with marketing effectiveness is that innovation usually gets you better results than being a 'me too'.

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  15. "...Somewhere in the midst of all the important marketing, strategizing, planning, researching and obsessing, try to write some books."

    I swear...! If you are GOOD, the NY publishers will ASK for your work, and the agents will find you - Honest! (It happened to me!)

    All the marketing in the frikkin world won't help you if your STORY is not as good as your marketing make you out to be. The READERS decide if you're good enough to buy the second time around - NOT your marketing strategies, or your reviews.


    Morgan Hawke

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  16. It's good to hear, from a primary source rather than a "you can write" guide or the like, that the quality of the writing is still the most important factor in getting it into print. :-) {feels better}

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  17. PBW, for some bizarre reason I'm glad to hear that you have to do just as much footwork with a major publisher. I'm going out of my mind trying to figure out how to market my book, especially since it came out a month early! And since I have a small pub I knew that it was on me to get my name out there.

    Any hints on getting shelf space? That seems to be my biggest problem at this moment. Since my pub is small they cannot afford to buy up space so it is up to me to convince stores to carry my book.

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  18. Hm, some of your books in one hand and a revolver in the other? :)

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  19. Kate Allan wrote: I'm not sure that you can divide book marketing so simply into traditional vs new (or basically as you infer, offline vs online) - a conference appearance for a book in a specialist subject might work wonders, especially if it generated further interest and opportunities for the book / author.

    Do you mean a how-to? (If not, let us know what specialist subject would work wonders. Writers waste a lot of time at cons.)

    Morgan wrote: All the marketing in the frikkin world won't help you if your STORY is not as good as your marketing make you out to be.

    Agreed. In some cases, an over-hyped book that disappoints can actually damage an author's rep and make it harder for them to sell.

    Phoenix wrote: Any hints on getting shelf space? That seems to be my biggest problem at this moment. Since my pub is small they cannot afford to buy up space so it is up to me to convince stores to carry my book.

    It's tough to get chains to order your book, but you can go and meet your local store managers, give them an ARC or free copy and ask them to give it a read and consider ordering your book. You can do the same with independent booksellers who handle your genre (and mail a letter and a copy to any bookseller out of your area.) If you're okay with making personal appearances, offer a free talk and signing as an incentive (or signed bookplates to the out of state sellers.)

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  20. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

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  21. "In today's market, a decent agent will not take you on without a book offer from a major publisher in hand. I'd recommend nailing an offer first, then go agent-hunting."

    Ah, PBW, say it ain't so. I sold someone out of the slush pile last week to a major publisher and I'd like to think I'm more than decent. Any agent will take you on when there's money on the table, but only an agent who will really fight for you will take you on out of the slush.

    That being said, if you have an offer in hand, be picky. Find an agent who will really share your vision of your career and your brand and help you build both. Don't panic and take the first person who says yes. The offer won't evaporate if you take a week or so to decide.

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  22. Miriam Kriss wrote: Ah, PBW, say it ain't so. I sold someone out of the slush pile last week to a major publisher and I'd like to think I'm more than decent.

    I stand corrected and applaud you, Miriam. (Miriam is definitely more than decent and will fight for her clients -- see more about her in an interview here.)

    Now, after I wipe this egg off my face, can I coax you into telling us on average how many writers you take as clients from that slush pile?

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