Thursday, October 4, 2012

Promo 101

My British editor asked me to blog about marketing/promo because I’ve been promoting myself as an author since I sold my first fiction short story in 2006. Well, actually, I guess I’ve been plugging my writing even longer because I had a newspaper column for five years and I did a lot of blowing-my-own-horn for that. And, come to think of it, I’ve worked for myself as a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and professional tarot reader for even longer than that, so I guess I do have a lot of experience with self-pimpage. Then there were my early rock singer years . . .

But, for this blog post, I’m going to stick to author promo.

Authors used to believe [back in the dark ages 2-5 years ago] that publishers handled most of the marketing for a book. We believed if one were lucky enough to get a book contract, all the hard work was over. Um, not so much. I think if an author managed to be a best seller, perhaps she/he received more help from the mother ship than mid-listers. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter anymore, because 95% of marketing and promotion now rests firmly on the shoulders of the author. All authors. Not just self-pubbing authors. Especially since the role of bookstores has changed so radically.

Since I’ve been traditionally published, epubbed and self-pubbed, I have first-hand knowledge.

I can tell you it’s a 24/7 job.

The big word these days is Discoverability.

How will readers find your book? Especially in the flooded online market. What can you do to make your book/series stand out?

To begin with, you need the basics: a professional author website and blog.

Let me take a step back and talk about branding. An author’s brand is something distinctive and recognizable – a theme – which identifies the writer across all platforms. I’m a paranormal author, so all my promo includes fangs, full moons, graveyards, ghosts and other spooky elements. A horror writer might surround him/herself with blood, dripping knives, etc.  A romance writer, gorgeous models exposing skin.

Your web site and blog need to reflect the brand you’ve selected for yourself.

I write paranormals, so my website fits with that category ( It’s best if you can blog often, to keep your author name/brand in front of readers’ eyes. The best way to blog is to offer something beneficial to readers, such as information/education, humor, contests, enticing man-chest photos, etc. Even though everyone knows you have a website and a blog in order to sell your books, all promo works best if you use the formula of 10% blatant “buy my book” content, and 90% “I’m a real person” communications.

I recommend you have a quality website built by a professional. The difference between a pro website and a quick-and-dirty one is obvious. A poorly designed website reflects negatively on the author.

In today’s publishing universe, social networking is crucial. At the very least, have an author page on Facebook and a Twitter account. I know. Social networking can be overwhelming. It never ends. And really, who needs to know what you had for breakfast? [I don’t!] But it’s a great way to keep your name recognition growing. The key is to do what you can. If you have hobbies and interests you can share, that’s best. People who simply spam FB and Twitter with “look at me” posts are quickly deleted. If you find you enjoy social networking, you can add Linked In and Pinterest to your activities. Some authors like them, some don’t.

Another important level of online promo is to make sure you have an account at Goodreads. I used to also suggest spending time at Library Thing and Shelfari, but my Virtual Assistant recently informed me that they are no longer beneficial. Spending a lot of time at Goodreads can be a major time-suck, but you’ll connect with readers.

It’s helpful to schedule guest appearances on blogs in your demographic. You can either set them up yourself, or hire a company to arrange a blog tour. This is a great way to introduce yourself to new readers.

Joining all the appropriate writing/author groups – in your community and online – is an excellent way to deepen your name recognition and to give back to other writers. Attending conferences and, when possible, participating on panels and in workshops, will lend you authorial credibility and spread your fame [infamy?] to yet another readership.

Which leads me to another important issue: Genre. Since there are only so many hours in the day, focus your promotional attention on sites and events that cater to your specific genre. It won’t do you a lot of good to attend Romance conferences if there are no romance elements in your work, or to frequent Sci Fi or Horror cons if you don’t write those things. Conferences are expensive. Choose wisely.

And never forget that everything you do in public and online colors your author persona forever. Be professional at all times. Avoid getting drunk in the conference hotel bar and giving your opinion about agents or your last publisher, who gave you the worst cover possible. Karma bites.

I’ve saved the biggest marketing/promo tool for last.


Amazon matters. Doing whatever it takes [for a traditionally published or self-pubbed book] to catch the attention of Amazon’s algorithms can make or break a book. Utilizing the best key words, book description, and cover, as well as gathering as many 4- and 5-star reviews as possible, and driving people to your Amazon author page can increase your Discoverability. If you’ve done everything right and Amazon notices you [with its very mysterious and secret book-noticing formula] it will begin to promote you.

Back in 2010, during the brief time between traditional publishing contracts when I had two novels in my Kismet Knight, Vampire Psychologist novels up as ebooks myself, they became best sellers in one month’s time. That was due entirely to Amazon’s efforts after I managed to select some highly effective key words and tolerable vampire covers. They sent out emails to potential customers for me. They put me on “if you liked this, you’ll like this” lists. They added my books to the pages of well-known paranormal authors. Prior to Amazon making my books best sellers, I had done very little to promote them. I mostly posted on to announce my books and interact with other indie authors. [Kindleboards has nothing to do with Amazon. I don’t participate in the Amazon forums.]

Then, after the novels did well at Amazon, they began to sell on other ebook sites.

But there’s no resting on one’s laurels in the world of Amazon. Promo reality changes moment-to-moment. Marketing that worked yesterday no longer works today, so stay informed. Belong to as many digital publishing email loops as you can.

I was on a panel recently at a local [Denver, Colorado, USA] Mystery Writers of America meeting, talking with a couple of other seasoned authors about the new publishing realities. We all agreed that over the last couple of years [in the USA], ebooks and expanded opportunities for authors have changed everything. Publishing is now a brave new world, and none of us can take anything for granted. Being an author is just as much about marketing and promotion as it is about writing. Whether we like it or not.

Ideally, your publisher will work with you to enhance your promo. You’ll be part of the official team, involved in decisions. If you’re not included, the outcome won’t be as favorable.

One of the best organizations for today’s published authors is Novelists, Inc. []. Even if you can’t come to the USA to attend their excellent conference each October, the information provided on the email loop is worth the price of admission. Right now the hot discussion at NINC is finding help with all the marketing/promo requirements. Virtual Assistants and Author Assistants are the next happening thing.

Even if you have a Virtual/Author Assistant, you’re still in the driver’s seat. Despite the extra work and challenges, I can rightly say it’s a glorious time to be an author!




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