Monday, March 31, 2008

How Elizabeth Gilbert Sold One Million Copies of Her Book

I had the great O-MI-GOD kind of privilege yesterday to hear the New York Times Best Selling author, Elizabeth Gilbert speak at UCSB as part of their phenomenal Arts & Lectures series.

In case you were recently hijacked and forced to live in absolute seclusion for the last year (not like that's a bad thing), you might have missed hearing about the incredible success of Liz Gilbert's memoir entitled Eat, Pray, Love that has been on the Bestseller List for 60 weeks. Wow. Yeah, that's what I think, too.

She lectured for about a half an hour about writing process, which I loved, and then turned it over to the audience for questions. This always makes me a little anxious because people can ask the corniest, most embarrassing things. And for some reason, I feel completely responsible for every inane thing that might come out of a fellow audience member's mouth. Like I'm the room monitor and Liz might hold it against me if someone says something truly stupid.

But the audience behaved itself quite nicely-- save for the guy that asked for her phone number. My favorite question to her was about intention vs. impact. A man asked her what the "size" of her intention was when she started her book. Did it match the impact? I knew that she had sold the book proposal for her memoir before she made the trip to the "I" countries-- Italy, India, Indonesia. She'd spent her advance money traveling and supporting herself for the year.

Her answer surprised a lot of us. She said she wrote that book for one reader-- her friend, Darcy, who was going through a hard time. Liz thought Darcy would benefit from hearing what she had learned about living. She said, the book could actually start out "Dear Darcy" and end "Love, Liz". She credited her younger sister, Catherine Murdock Gilbert, a young adult author, who had given her this sage writing advice. Write to one reader.

Know exactly who you are writing to, and stay with them. If you are focused on just one person, it will help you to know what to leave in and what to keep out. For example, Liz started to ask herself at some point in the book if she needed to explain yoga, then remembered that Darcy wouldn't need that. She moved right on.

In addition to "one reader" being strong writing guidance, it is powerful marketing advice as well. Liz Gilbert could have put the intention and pressure on herself to write a bestseller. But, she didn't. She wrote the best book she could to help a friend, and in doing so, wrote from an authentic place inside of herself. That naked, honest voice attracted ONE MILLION readers.

I was inspired by Robin's post last week about the Butterfly Effect and I think this dovetails with that. Yes, for god's sake, we all want to be phenomenally successful, great writers and strong promoters of our work. But there is enormous power in doing one thing-- one butterfly flapping their wing. One author speaking to one reader.

I also loved that in the middle of her lecture, Liz Gilbert took a moment to promote her sister's work. There will probably be a significant spike in the sales of Dairy Queen while she is on tour.
But her celebrity aside, that was one writer talking up one book. That's how it gets done.

The power on ONE. Take heart, friends--

Mary Hershey

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Butterfly Effect

Sometimes the idea of marketing or promoting our book can be overwhelming, for oh-so-many-reasons. One of the most daunting factors can be sheer logistics: how can I, one simple author who only knows 103 people, 115 tops, ever have enough influence to generate the necessary sales numbers?

Well, the good news is that you don’t. All you have to do is take a look at Mary’s list of what Random House is doing for the launch of Ten Lucky Things That Have Happened To Me Since I’ve Been Hit By Lightning. Clearly she is not alone in this venture.

But even with as big a team as Random House, successful book marketing can feel hopeless. One image I cling to when thinking about marketing that brings me great comfort is The Butterfly Effect.

It's the one about how if a butterfly in China beats his wings, it can cause a tornado in Nebraska. Or something like that. It’s one of the terms used in describing chaos theory, which for the most part goes way over my head, but this image stuck.

It’s the same concept behind viral marketing…letting small, germ-like marketing bits invade the atmosphere and hope that the mutating, random nature of life helps them “infect” something. (Okay, so now do you see why I prefer the imagery that comes with The Butterfly Effect?)

It's like dropping a small pebble in a pond and watching the waves ripple outward for hours. Small steps can equal large results.

And that's what I so dearly love about the butterfly image. That the simple, delicate act of merely flapping one’s wings, when combined with the random nature of Life, has the ability to generate powerful results halfway around the world. And I think this is ultimately why I believe that doing some marketing, even if it feels hopeless, is better than doing none. You never know when a flap of your wing will generate something wonderful.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Could it Be???

Was that the sound of our meter turning over to 15,000 hits?

Yeah, baby! Congrats to Shari Green who called it first! Sheri will be receiving a copy of the 2008 Golden Kite Winner HOME OF THE BRAVE, by Katherine Applegate. Lucky, lucky girl! And, we think we're even going to be able to hook her up with a signed bookplate from the author.

I'm experiencing some serious MFS (Marketing Fatigue Syndrome), so I taking a brief mental holiday from it all to share some interesting research about introverts and extraverts from Dr. Marti Olsen Laney's great book entitled THE INTROVERT ADVANTAGE.

1. Extraverts do better in grade school and on exams, but introverts do better in college and in graduate school.

2. Extraverts adapt more quickly to time-zone changes than introverts.

3. Extraverts prefer nonsense humor and introverts prefer humor that resolves something or is incongruent.

4. In a test of memory tasks, the introverts performed better than the extraverts, regardless of whether they received positive, negative or no feedback. The extravert's performance was improved by receiving positive feedback.

5. In a study on pain, extraverts complained more about pain but seemed to have a higher tolerence than introverts.

In one of my favorite lines from her book, Dr. Laney describes her thought process as an introvert-- "I found my thoughts were like lost airline baggage; they arrived some time later."

I so get that! I always feel like such a lughead in my writer's group because it takes me about three and half hours to come up with any helpful critical analysis when people share their manuscripts.

Hope you all are enjoying the first days of Spring-- growth, promise, all things new! Thanks for being part of our community. We love having you with us!

Mary Hershey

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Color is My Platform?

A marketing term that’s been making the rounds in publishing lately is platform. Many people claim writers ought to have one. Problem is, many writers don’t have a clue as to what a platform even is. So I thought I’d clarify that for any of you who are wondering…

One of the terms that platform is most easily confused with is branding, but the two are significantly different. Branding relates to the nature of your work itself, while the term platform is concerned with whether or not you have a "platform" from which to sell your work.

The term originated with non fiction and referred to whether or not the author had the appropriate credentials, degrees, and job experience to effectively be able to market their book. For example, a wedding consultant writing wedding planners, rather than just Suzy Q who loves weddings. Or a practicing psychologist writing a self-help book, rather than a lay person who'd been through a lot of psychotherapy. Their professional standing gave them the "platform" from which to sell their work. They could make the rounds on talk shows and radio as experts, and that expertise then in turn pointed people to their non fiction books. Also, they could then promote their books in their professional life, seminars, conferences, etc. Additionally, as the non fiction field became more and more crowded, a distinctly unique angle became a necessary part of that platform.

Eventually, it leaked over into fiction, but in fairly narrow instances. I would venture to say that the vast majority of fiction writers don’t have a platform. It only works in very specific situations; an ex green beret writing about secret ops or a practicing lawyer writing legal thrillers. That experience as a lawyer or green beret gives the author a certain perceived authority to write those books, and that “authority” status gives them a platform where they can use their credentials to promote their book.

Clear as mud, right? Well, the good news is, if you write fiction, you most likely don’t have to worry about it, so I officially give you permission to let it go…

And in other news, SVP is rapidly approaching our 15,000 visitor! Whooppee!! To celebrate, we’re having another contest. The first person to call it after the meter turns over to 15,000 will win a copy of the 2008 Golden Kite Fiction Award winner HOME OF THE BRAVE by Katherine Applegate-- a stunning read.

ps: An annoying side note - we've had to institute word verification for the comments in order to prevent the recent spate of spam. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Marketing Round-up & Apologies to Lady Luck

Well, I feel like a total eejit this St. Patrick's Day-- I just accidentally deleted Robin's post from last Thursday that she did on Lady Luck. It was a marvelous entry about the role luck plays in this interesting publishing game in which we ponder and play. I am going to send a prayer up to the computer goddesses that she has a copy of it on somewhere so we can put it back up. At the very least, I want to re-post her links to a blog by an cool fantasy writer named Justine. I loved one of the comments a reader made about a formula she swears by-- "right manuscript, right editor, right day".

I think that is so true, and while that seems seeped in luck, it is also seeped in some careful planning. For instance, it was my great luck to have gotten a chance to drive Random House editor Wendy Lamb to her hotel once after a SCBWI conference. I was the only volunteer left-- still sweeping-- and she needed a ride. I nearly fainted. Me? Drive HER?? Omigod. I'd just heard her speak and I was beyond impressed with her talent, her list, her credentials.

Now if during the ride she'd turned to me and said, "Gee, I bet you're a writer! While we have a few minutes together, do you happen to have a manuscript with you that I can read?"-- that would have been some great luck!! As is was, I actually had a ms. sitting in her New York office that had been carefully targeted to her, knowing the kinds of books that she liked to publish. So it was planning, intention and then some marvelous serendipity that we ended up in the same car one sunny afternoon. (And, yet another reason that I think it is so important to do volunteer work! Can you spell K-A-R-M-A?)

When it came time for her to make a decision about my manuscript, I was someone she'd met and could put a face with. She knew I could sweep, drive and use my turn signal. ;-) We are now working on book number three together and I hope there are many more to come. I feel extremely lucky about that. She is simply the best.

I've recently gotten my marketing round-up letter from her office that lists all the things they will be doing to to promote my new book TEN LUCKY THINGS. . . Many of the items on the list have ocurred already, and some will be happening shortly. These include:

SOLICITATION: Sending out galleys in the sales kits, and featuring the book in the seasonal frontlist catalog.

PUBLICITY: Catalog mailing to 500 national media contacts, press releases and finished book mailings to 200 national review media contacts, listing in Pubisher's Weekly seasonal announcements, galley mailing to long-lead consumer publications and review journals, pitch letter and finished book mailing to local media, local bookstore appearance requests.

SCHOOL & LIBRARY: Advance galleys and finished book sents to 400 plus librarians/educators, submission for awards, book displayed at national conventions.

ON-LINE: Featured on Kids@Random and Librarians@Random

ADVERTISING: Included in some national consumer print advertising, and SLF Announcement issue.

So, with just about four months left until my title is released, that is what the publisher has planned, done and/or in the works. Can I tell you how thrilled I am not to have to be doing any of those large mailings myself? Postage and labor aside, it is a huge undertaking and would require much research on my part to pull all those contacts together. I am feeling very fortunate and appreciative.

Next step is to talk with the RH publicist for my book, and I will keep you posted on that front.

Erin go braugh, friends--

Mary Hershey

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lady Luck

Yep. That's her there, trying to per into that crystal ball. You'd be surprised how in demand she is. Publishers, editors, sales teams, and publicists all court her relentlessly.

You see, they know the simple truth: publishing isn't a science. In fact, it can be so elusive and nebulous sometimes that it hardly even qualifies as an art, although there are many artistic people involved. Publishing success nearly always requires a big fat dose of luck And as we all know, luck doesn't appear on demand.

Justine Larbalestier, a terrific YA fantasy author who's blog is one of my daily treats, has an excellent post up that reminded me that no matter what we or the publisher do, luck--good or bad--always plays a big role. Just something to keep in mind as we try to prioritize our time among our daily lives, writing, and promoting our work.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go polish up my crystal ball...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ms. Viola on Book Tours and Book Trailers

Darling Violets and Vinnies--

At last-- I'm back! Your devoted Ms. Viola reporting in. I've barely been able to get a peep in edgewise with Mary and Robin being such blog hogs lately. For two Shrinking Violets, those birds do blather on, don't they! I had to play the teensiest trick on them to get some air time today. I called them both early this morning and rambled on and on about absolutely nothing for nearly thirty minutes. You could literally hear their Introvert Warning Systems (IWS) going off-- Danger! Danger! Your battery is nearly depleted! They both have scurried off to their respective little forests to recharge.

But, I just couldn't wait to tell you that I've just discovered a marvelous new on-line service for those of you promoting your books. All right, who was that I just heard run screaming from the room? Come back, lovey, this won't hurt a bit. La promessa!

Book Tour offers a free site for you to list your upcoming "touring" events. Now I want you all to go check it out. I had Mary Hershey register this morning, so you can see how hers looks. I'll be after Ms. La Fevers later today. If you are pre-published, do-do-do bookmark this site, so you can use it in the future! If you are published, sign up today, or I will call you on the phone and chat you into a coma.

The second thing I want to talk about is book trailers. Perfetta! An idea whose time has come. This is fabulous promotional tool for you to use! Splendid for introverts. You can make your own, or you hire a student to do it for you. If any of you know someone (or are someone) that likes to do this, please share! I'm linking to one of our own Violet's book trailers-- take a peek at Terry Pierce's book trailer. And, another one that I love is from children's author Mary Hanson for her hysterical book How to Save Your Tail.

As part of Mary Hershey's pre-launch homework, I'm having her make one of these. She will be able to post it on her website, and her blog. Her editor can link it over at Random House's site where teachers, librarian's, and parents will be able to have easy access to it. There are probably other venues that we will discover as well. But let's keep that between us for now, shall we? Don't want to put the poor darling under the table again today.

Oooh, best dash! I hear some tromping from the forest. Vi on the fly!

La pace,
Ms. Viola

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Surprisingly, It DOES Get Easier…

At work today I was talking to a coworker. I had taught a workshop last Saturday and would be coming in late tomorrow because I was doing a school visit in the morning. My coworker looked at me, jaw agape, and said, “Oh my God, I could never do that. Never. I would be a nervous wreck for a full week before I even had to speak. And then I would just stutter with nerves.”

And as I listened to her, I realized she was describing me, four years ago.

Four years ago, the mere idea of speaking in front of more than two people who weren’t related filled me with dread. My palms grew all sweaty, my throat dry, and my voice got shaky with nerves. Sometimes, I even couldn’t breathe—literally—while attempting public speaking and had to come to a complete stop and gasp down some oxygen, because my lungs constricted.

But lately I’ve noticed something, and it really hit me over the head last Saturday. I was barely nervous at all anymore. In fact, I don’t even think what I was feeling could be called nerves, more like anticipation, looking forward to getting the workshop ball rolling, as it were.

Sure, I was wondering if I had too much material or not enough, or if I had enough copies of the handouts or had provided enough examples—but no, lung-clenching, throat constricting, oh-my-god-I-can’t-breathe case of nerves. The whole public speaking part of it wasn’t even an issue.

Somewhere along the way, I got used to the act of public speaking. And while there will always be some situations that are more comfortable than others, I now have some success to draw upon.

That's not to say I'll always be fine with every public speaking occasion in the future. Hardly. This was only a group of about thirty, and I was talking about writing, not me or being an author. Put me in front of a group of 200 adults? Yeah, I'll probably continue to be a little nervous. But now that I have proof that I can acclimate to these sorts of situations, it makes it just that much more worthwhile to push myself a little bit in that direction. Mary even has a name for these sorts of goals, push goals? Stretch goals? Can't remember...

Anyway, that’s what I’d like to share with any of you Violets with a similar dread of public speaking: you really and truly can become accustomed to it through practice. And this is coming from someone who swore they would never be able to. I never set out to get used to it, but I kept plugging away at a few speaking opportunities, letting my love of connecting with a room full of kids or sharing craft elements with fellow writers overcome my fear of speaking in front of groups. And Voila! It did in fact get easier…

And trust me, if it can get easier for me, it can for you too...

Monday, March 3, 2008

And The Winner Is....

Before we announce the winner, I have to say Mary and I were thrilled with all the entries we got in the last Milestone Monday Contest. Yeay! I think we may have set a new record here at SVP.

There were so very many cool things to celebrate, too! Hoo-ray!

And now, before the suspense kills you, the winner of our drawing and the brand new owner of their very own copy of Donna Gephart's As if Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President! is...

Julie Bowe!!!

Congratulations, Julie! Please send Mary your mailing information at and she'll get that right out to you!

And once again, welcome to all the newcomers. We hope you stick around awhile!