Thursday, January 31, 2008

Don't Just Take Our Word For It...

Gather round children and you will hear, a midnight tale of …well, really good news for introverts. Remember lo those many months ago when I shared with you my favorite piece of marketing advice? Remember?

Well, you don’t have to take my word for it. Donald Maass, founder of Donald Maass Literary Agency and author of the wildly helpful WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL has spoken. And I want to share his answer with you.

First of all, I found this blog entry via a link on Writtenwyrdd’s blog (which is a fabulously informative blog and I highly recommend it, especially for writers of fantasy) to a post on Josephine Damian’s blog, which is, I’m guessing, the cyber equivalent of six degrees of separation. Anywho—Josephine attended one of Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workshops and asked him about the benefits of blogging and other promotional activities. His answer?

You really must go read the entire thing to get the full impact of what he said, but here are a couple of highlights to motivate you to read it.

…here he made his palms and fingers flat, then held his hands a few inches apart and said with the same vehemence of his earlier reply, "It’s what’s between the cover that sell the book." Tender reader, he doesn’t so much say these words but rather hurls them at me.

But wait. It gets better....

To sum up, Donald was willing to concede there were examples, few and far between, where an online presence helped in some small ways, but in terms of significant sales or opportunity, you have to wait until you’ve released 4-5 books for the time and effort spent promoting yourself online to payoff in any way that’s worthwhile, sales-wise.

And don't forget to read the entire comment thread, because she has more gems in there, such as the following:
DM made note of all the promotional bookmarks and postcards being handed out by the romance writers in my group (the group that hosted the workshop), and he says they are a waste of time and money as well.

So check it out. And Josephine promises to have more posts up soon on her encounter with Donald, so you may want to follow along.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Comfort Level Inventory

I haven't even confessed to Robin yet-- well, until now, that against my better judgement, I went ahead and agreed to a particular school visit as part of my pre-launch plan that we both agreed was pushing the limits for this card-carrying introvert.

Remember the Comfort Level Inventory she presented to help us decide what marketing activities work best for us? The categories were:


Then she gave us a long list of activities to consider in the development of our marketing plan. Things like radio interviews, internet interviews, television, postcard mailing, press releases, teaching, message boards, book signings, school classroom visits, school ASSEMBLY visits-- (sound of me choking on that last one). We were to assign the various activities to the categories above. She gave us permission to stay in Feels Comfortable and Could Get Used To It. She's nice that way.

I do a lot of public speaking in my work and while I still get clammy pits, once I get going, I usually enjoy it. I love teaching, especially adults. The only activity that hit the COLD DAY IN HELL was talking to an Assembly of the wee ones.

So, it follows that I went ahead and agreed to do this. Wha-a-a-t?? To very, very many children. Of very, very many ages. (And, just in case their principal is reading this-- Oh, hi! I can't wait! Wheee! It is going to be so much fun! And, um, could you please stop reading now and go to an urgent meeting or something?)

Help! This is a classic example of me trying to be paisley when you'd think I'd learned by now that I'm polka-dotted. Both sides, top and bottom, too. I might as well stick a high voltage energy-sucking cable right to my brain and throw the switch to Total Melt-down Mode.

Stand back, friends, I'm buzzing through a few fingernails here. Hold on while I go get a brown paper bag to help me breathe.

Okay, better. Actually breathing now. Big sigh. You know, I have a wise friend that says "Don't anticipate pain." Same could be said, I suppose, for all sort of things we dread. Don't anticipate chaos, or mayhem, or failure. I've got to stay in present. Hey, maybe by the time the date rolls around, I'll be in jail or something, and I'll have a really good excuse for not showing up. I could just get lucky.

Before I forget, don't forget to vote on whether you like Ms. Viola's *new* look, or like the pre-makeover version. She's waiting, desperate to hear from you. Email me your vote and you'll be entered in the drawing to win a great marketing book called Plug Your Book! by Steve Weber. Last day you can enter is this Thursday, January 31st.

Back to work on Marketing Plan for now. Adding a note on Assembly Day entry to take books, postcards and several brown paper bags.

Later, friends,


Thursday, January 24, 2008

More Marketing Tasks & Facebook

Does the calendar picture look familiar? It should. It's going to be the visual equivalent of Alert! Marketing Tasks Ahead!

So, there are a few other marketing tasks I want to talk about, only because they involve creating or becoming a part of a supportive community, which also involves a long head start time.
  • Visit your local independent bookstore and introduce yourself. Or, if that’s too hard, just visit the store and try to visit it regularly enough so that you become familiar to them. Basically, become a regular.
  • Consider joining online forums or lists or communities. With one huge caveat: Only do this if you are truly interested in what those forums or communities have to offer. There is nothing worse than a drive by marketing plug on a list serv, and that will only get you banned or booed. But sometimes the publication of our first book can be a good time to step out into the world and make new connections. But again, you want to do it well before your pub date so it’s clear that your intentions are to become a contributing member of the group, not just a fly by marketeer.
A couple of other things to think about doing if you haven't done so before is to take our Comfort Level Inventory, then once you have an idea of what's comfortable for you, create a working marketing plan from your strengths.

And lastly, back to our discussion of Facebook. Right after Mary and Miss Vi and I were talking about Facebook, another author I'm on a listserv with posted a very detailed explanation of the ins and outs of Facebook as a tool for authors. With her permission, I am reposting it here.

One of the great perspectives Robyn Schneider brings to this discussion is that in addition to being the author of two YA books, Better Than Yesterday and The Social Climber's Guide to High School, she is also a college student, which is the exact demographic that Facebook was designed for, so she brings a terrific dual perspective to this discussion.

Facebook: A Guide for Authors by Robyn Schneider

I've been getting a steady stream of friends requests lately from authors. I know there have been some discussions on here about "I just got a Facebook! Now what do I do with it?" and "How do I promote my books on Facebook?" so, as a long-time Facebook user (since my sophomore year of college), I thought I'd share some info:

What are the differences between Myspace and Facebook? Basically, Myspace is an open network--you can view mostly anyone's profile, click to see who their friends are, leave comments on someone's wall who you aren't already friends with, join discussions, add people you don't know. Myspace is a place to connect with friends, but it's also a place to meet people you don't know in real life. You don't put personal information, such as full names, class schedules, addresses, phone numbers, on Myspace. It's like a blog--public.

Facebook is a closed network--most student-age users have profiles that are private, or only viewable by people in their school or hometown networks. Because of this, the site is used mostly for keeping in touch with old friends, for sharing photos with friends, for keeping tabs on your friends and classmates, and for daily communication with friends. You cannot leave a comment on someone's page, or most likely even view it, if you aren't already friends. Facebook is not a place where most teens are receptive to "friending" people they don't know, especially adults. Because of the fact that profiles are private except to their friends and network, most students have loads of personal info up: phone numbers, dorm or home addresses, their class schedule, photos they don't want their parents to see. And, MOST IMPORTANTLY, first and last names. You know how myspace profiles can be under internet handles like BookWritur21? Well, Facebook profiles are firsty-lasty plus either home town or school name. Why should a teen allow an unknown adult access to this information? Some teens don't care about having their stuff out there, and will be okay if you request them as a friend, but some do care, and won't.

I know a lot of authors are getting sick of promoting on Myspace because the site is so spammed these days, but most students don't want to be spammed on Facebook--and there's rarely even an opportunity to do so.

Say you want to let teens know about your new book on Facebook--how would you do it? One way is to join open-network groups for teen books and talk about your stuff. Another is to search for teens with certain interests or certain iRead books, and then, without being able to view their profiles, request that they add you as a friend--maybe send a private message first? The second option is where it gets sticky, because if the teen does add you as a friend, you have access to everything on their page that wasn't made public for a reason. Of course, there is a way to friend someone so they can only see a limited version of your profile, but that requires manual settings of what's limited and if you forget to tick the box for limited viewing, as I have on occasion, you've just given a complete stranger your life story. Crap.

So how do I use the two sites? I keep a Myspace profile that's 100% promoting my books. Links to amazon, jacket copy, blurbs, the works. It's like an extra page of my website, nothing that isn't already out there on the web. Teens can friend me without being afraid that I'll know where they go to school or what face they make when they do a shot of tequila at parties. Very few of my "real life" friends are friends of mine of Myspace. I use the site strictly for promotion and connecting with teens publicly.

But I also have Facebook. I'm on a closed network for my college, and although the profile is "clean" enough that I wouldn't be embarrassed if a future employer took a browse, it's also very much filled with private information. Photos of myself and my family. And worse, my wall of comments from friends. Things like, "Are we still on for coffee today at 3PM, the 110th
street Starbucks?" Because, most students don't email each other anymore--they send private messages or wall posts on Facebook, which can be forwarded automatically to their email inbox.

When authors who I don't know "friend" me on Facebook, I add them if I've heard their name before in the blogosphere, because I don't want to be rude, but I also wonder why they're adding me. What's the point? Do they want to go through my photo albums every week?
I'm easy to contact via my website or blog. I doubt they have such a burning desire to challenge me to a game of online scrabble.

However, I love it when teens find and friend me on Facebook. It's so cool. They've already read my books and want to connect. And even though I totally shouldn't let them see all my personal stuff, you can view the profile of anyone who requests to friend you before you make a decision to friend them back. So if they look okay, it's limited profile viewing time for them. I leave a message on their wall saying hey, and that's that.

So what do I recommend? If you want to have a Facebook profile to connect with people who already know you exist--including readers--go for it. But also know that a lot of people prefer Facebook to Myspace so they can avoid self-promoters. And know that if a kid turns down your friend request, it's probably because you might be a friend of their Mom's who can now keep tabs on their private profile, or because, you know, they learned the lesson well not to
let strangers see their business. I can't imagine how you'd get an overwhelmingly positive result trying to promote yourself on Facebook, but if you can prove me wrong, go for it! And then, um, would you mind letting me know how you did it? Because, I have a paperback coming out this August...

Thanks you, Robyn!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ms. Viola's Makeover & More on Timelines

Ciao and happy 2008! Come sta? I've just picked up Mary and Robin's smoke signals and come as quickly as my client's tired little jet could get here. I've been under wraps for weeks-- nearly undercover-- up to my newly tatooed eyebrows with an impossible client. (Without divulging any beans, I am happy to report that Dr. Phil is OFF the case.)

But enough about them! What do you think of my New Year Makeover? Si? No? I've had my lips done-- gawd, no, not botox, but a little shaping and reduction. I was born with enough lip to plump up the entire cast of Desperate Housewives. And, I've gone permanent make-up. Look! I've just rolled out of bed. No fuss, no muss, glamour to go. Do tell me what you think! I love Ms. Viola's New/Old Look! Each of you that reply will have a chance to be entered into a drawing to win a fabulous book called Plug Your Book: Online Book Marketing for Authors, by Steve Weber.

I've just sucked down my third skinny latte and I'm ready to work on Book Launch 2008. Oh, this will be such mad fun! My brain is already starting to spark and smoke.

First off, I do want to point out that even before Mary officially launched her campaign this month, there are some things she's done already to start plowing the proverbial field. She set up a few speaking engagements for the Winter and Spring to give herself venues to start chatting up her new book. Even though she won't have Ten Lucky Things in her little mitts to sign or sell, she can show an ARC and plant some cover and name recognition.

Secondly, as Robin will chat about later, the launching doesn't end on the day your new book comes out the chute. There is a very potent two-month window after your release date. We are going to have Mary busy-busy-busy hot on the Buzz Beat. More on that later. No rest for ze wicked!

And speaking of buzz, here is Mary's Ms. Viola Homework for the week.

1) Set up a Facebook Account

The latest industry research touts that Facebook is climbing up and over MySpace in terms of utility and popularity, and we want to take advantage of every networking opportunity we can. What do you think? Given that the users have to be 13 and up, I still think there are some good arguments for children's writers setting up their accounts. Robin? Mary? Either of you want to chime in here?

Gawd, those crazy Violets-- they are busy toasting each and doing some odd little dance over this being their 100th SVP entry!


Ms. Viola

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Marketing Tasks: Six to Seven Months Out

One of the things to keep in mind is that Mary’s marketing and promotional tasks are designed around the fact that it’s her third book. Perhaps you are looking at promotion for your first book, or perhaps you’re prepublished and being smart and looking ahead. (And good for you if you are! As Mary likes to say, create the frame, then step into it. Don’t wait for it to appear.)

So with this being her third book, there are some marketing frameworks she already has in place that you might not, and I’d like to talk about those.

Some of these tasks could even be done a good twelve months out, but for the sake of tidiness, we’re going to stick to a six to seven month schedule like Mary has for her book.

The first thing you should do is discuss with your publisher what their plans are for the book and what, if anything, they are expecting you to do. Always keep your publisher in the loop, whether it’s through their publicity department or your editor.

It’s also important to remember that different publishing companies have different marketing personalities. Some love and encourage author involvement—the more the better, and others prefer to do it themselves with little or no feedback/input from the author. We can’t stress enough how important it is to discover what your publisher’s marketing personality is!

One of the most critical things your publisher will do for you is mail out ARCs. ARCs is an acronym for advanced reading copies, which are sent out to booksellers and reviewers. DO be sure to check with your publisher to see if they do this. Some smaller publishers might not, or may only do limited mailings, and I’ve heard many industry people say that ARCs are one of the most effective marketing tools out there. So if you publisher isn’t doing many arcs or review copies, you might need to step into the void. (We can talk more about how to do that if enough people are interested. If you want to know more, just leave a comment to that effect and we’ll talk about it in an upcoming post.)

Also, most publishers will have a brochure or flyer for new authors spelling out what exactly they do for each release. Much of this info will be in there.

As for what you the author can do, the general consensus is that the single most important marketing tool is an author’s website. So your first mission, should you choose to accept it, is to begin researching websites so you can put together your own. This can seem hugely daunting, so here are some thoughts to get you started.

*Surf the web. Explore different websites to see what type of look and feel you prefer, what sort of content catches your eye, which designs you find easiest to navigate. Make a note of the designers, which are usually listed at the very bottom of the home or contact page. This will fall into two categories: visual design and content. Make notes on both.

*Another good reason to start this as early as possible is because good designers are often booked well in advance. You’ll need some lead time to fit into their production schedule. The less money you have to spend on a website, the earlier you should begin your searching and visualizing. Good designers who are also cheap are even rarer than hen’s teeth, so step lively there!

*Spend as much as you can on your website. It is your professional presence, just as an office is the physical presence of a lawyer or doctor or accountant, your web site will often be readers’ first introduction to you, so you want it to be as wonderful as possible.

*Here’s a hot, money saving tip I’ve heard from a few different website designers and one that I used. If finances are an issue (and aren’t they always?) a great way to get a lot of bang for your web-designing buck is to consider a template, specifically, a Wordpress template. Wordpress is blogging software, but it is highly sophisticated blogging software that allows for pages and all sorts of regular website features. This saves you money by having much of the architectural programming in place, so you don’t have to spend as much time and money on coding, but instead can focus on the design and content.

For my Theodosia site, I used this template from Template Monster, and had my designer use the artwork from the book as the design elements, so now it looks like this.

In addition to saving you money on the initial designing stage, it’s VERY easy to go in and update the website yourself—really as simple as posting a blog entry, thus saving you money in updating costs.

If, like Mary, you already have a website, consider an updated look or lots of new content to focus on your upcoming release.

But don't relax yet. There's lots more to do! I’ll be back next week with more tasks to accomplish this month.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Book Launch 2008: Begin with the End in Mind

Begin with the end in mind. This is one of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. It's potent, catalytic and essential at the beginning of any journey. Begin with the end in mind. . . How often do we merely begin with just the next step in mind? And rush forward with no real sense of what the big picture will look like. No real sense of the resources we will need, or the amount of energy we need to commit.

As promised in my last post, over the next six months, Robin and I will be breaking down the seemingly unnerving task of bringing a new book into the world-- introvert-style. We are using my new book Ten Lucky Things... as the proverbial guinea pig.

We'll consult industry experts and successful authors who know how to build a buzz. We hope to hear from some of you that have launched titles-- what efforts were well-spent, and what you might not do again, next time down the road? And, we want to hear from the pre-published, too. What ideas do you have?

So, what is the end that I envision? What do I hope to have accomplished by my release date in July?

I visualize myself with a profound sense of satisfaction that I have done all that I can possibly do to assist my editor and publicity dept over the past months. I am rested, excited and optimistic. I have a number of books signings and speaking engagements lined up. The independent booksellers in my area could easily pick me out of a lineup. My website is professional and updated. I have created a press release and I'm not afraid to use it. (This being one of those stretch goals). I have used what I know about my personal style and my skills to create a buzz that that is creative, enticing, and focused. I am confident, excited and ready to see my work in the hands of readers.

Week One Homework:

1. Contact editor and let her know I'm RWA (ready, willing, available) to start. Brainstorm some possible activities for the next few months, e.g., book conferences, ALA.

2. Do some on-line browsing, shopping for reasonable postcards, bookmarks, etc. Play with design. (Ask SVP readers for fave companies!)

More to come!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cross Pollination

As you make your goals for the coming year, it’s easy to get caught up in external goals: finish that manuscript, write more every day, query your list of dream agents. But sometimes the most rewarding goals are more internally directed. One question I often ask myself is how am I going to stretch myself creatively this year?

This can also have the side benefit of feeding you creatively as well, or filling the well, as Julia Cameron calls it. However, pushing ourselves creatively can be tough, it’s hard to know which direction to push or, as a friend of mine says, it’s hard to know what you don’t know yet.

A great solution to this is cross-pollination. I first heard about this concept (although I don’t think she used this exact term) from Jennifer Enderlin of St. Martin’s Press at a talk she was giving to the Orange County Romance Writer’s of America. I was there on my own cross-pollinating jaunt, so I was very happy to hear her endorse the practice.

Cross-pollinating merely consists of expanding your professional and creative horizons beyond your current borders. If you write alone or with only your critique group, consider joining a professional writing organization. Obviously, for children’s writers I would recommend SCBWI. If you already belong to SCBWI, I highly recommend you consider joining an additional writing organization. Their local chapter meetings, newsletters, and national conferences can be hot beds of creative growth. I learned tons from my membership and involvement in the Romance Writer’s of America. (Don’t snigger—or I’ll sic Ms. Viola after you!) The way RWA approaches craft and the industry is very different from how SCBWI does, and it was a lovely balance to what I’d learned already. If you write middle grade or YA mysteries, consider the Mystery Writers of America. Or if you write fantasy for kids, consider Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. There are lots of other great organizations, easily found on the web.

If joining an organization doesn’t appeal to you, then consider branching out in the conferences you attend. Instead of the one you always go to, maybe try one of the national conferences associated with one of the major writers organization listed below, or one of the multi-genred, general writers conferences like the Maui Writer’s Conference, the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference, or the Surrey Writer’s Conference. I’m sure there are others out there, but these are the ones I know off the top of my head.

I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s surprising how seeing the craft of writing through a new pair of eyes or from a fresh angle can open up avenues of creativity you’d never tap otherwise.

Monday, January 7, 2008

T Minus Six Months!

Dear Violets and Vinnies,

Successfully launching a new book isn't rocket science, but we're going to borrow the metaphor all the same. For the next six months we are going to be busy concocting some seriously combustible fuel, drilling the data, running control checks, and charting a specific, detailed course for the launching of a book by a big ol' introvert-- uh, that would be me.

My new book Ten Lucky Things that Have Happened to Me Since I Nearly Got Hit by Lightning(Wendy Lamb Books) will be released the first week of July 2008. We are going to break this seemingly overwhelming process down into manageable weekly tasks and projects for me to do. Along the way, we hope you'll share your ideas, too. No introverts will be harmed during the launching of this book. We promise!

Time to load up our breast pockets with nerdy looking pens and mechanical pencils and grab some java. We're off to the control tower. C'mon along!


Thursday, January 3, 2008

1-2-3 Prioritize!

If you’re anything like me, you get carried away with the New Year’s resolutions. My list has grown to twenty-seven items now, and it’s only January 3! I’m not sure if I’m hoping that by having so many resolutions, some will actually be achieved, or I just become over-stimulated by making lists.

However, I have learned one critical tool in this process: the importance of priorities. I may have twenty-seven things I want to accomplish this coming year, but if I don’t prioritize them, I have a very good chance of ending up with a big fat zero number of things accomplished by the time 2009 rolls around.

A tried and true time management technique is to pick the three most important things you need to accomplish on any given day. The same technique applies equally well to planning your year. What three things do you most want to accomplish this year?

Finish a manuscript?
Find an agent?
Join Toastmasters?
Clean your closets?
Exercise more regularly?

Your list can be as long as your imagination and enthusiasm demands, but once it's complete, pick the three resolutions that are most important to you. Plan on spending the majority of your time and energy on those. In fact, consider challenging yourself to do at least one thing—even one small thing—every day toward achieving one of those three goals. If that’s too overwhelming, then consider committing to doing at least one thing every week. Remember, as that old saying goes, a trip around the world begins with just one step. So does reaching your dreams!