January 30, 2011

Writers' Conference Workshop--Publicity

I'm continuing with publishing the notes I took during the most recent San Diego Writers' Conference.  These are what I was able to grab--please be aware that the most benefit is obtained by coming to these conferences, but it's helpful for me to have these notes in one place where I can refer to them.  They are brief and abbreviated.  Okay, enough disclaimers for my transcribed hen-scratching.

The day started with me walking on the treadmill (trying to compensate for all this sitting, and the really good lunch from yesterday).  As I was leaving, I struck up a conversation with the woman behind me, an airline pilot who has been to two other conferences this year: one in Hawaii (can't remember the name), and the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference.  Both, she said, were great.  She was doing the elliptical the entire time, and I was impressed not only with her enthusiasm for her book (I wanted to buy it after talking to her) but also the fact she could keep going on her exercise.  Next in the room was Loretta Barrett, who was so wonderful in the Agents' Workshop on Friday.  We found out during the morning keynote speech this morning that she was instrumental in getting editors and agents from New York to this conference.  I, for one, am really grateful for her efforts, along with the efforts of the organizers.

One of the workshops I attended was one on publicity for the "frugal author," as she put it.  It was great; the notes follow.

Seven Tips for Publicity, by Paula Margulies

Big presses, indie presses, self-publishing
Even if you get advances—save the money—don't spend it all in order to save some for the ideas listed below.  Margulies is a publicist, and will assist authors in the following items.  Judging from her handouts, and the professional tips, I'd have to say that she would be a good one to hire to help sell the book.

Tip #1  Get Your Distribution Lined up Before You Start your Publicity

  •    Ingram, Baker & Taylor (two biggest distributors)—important to try and get one of these--660,000 books printed last year.  The bookstores go to these distributors and put in their order.  If you self-publish, you'll have to find your own distribution: Pathways, etc.
  •     Barnes & Noble, Borders—they have their own ordering systems—you have to work to get them (marketing plan, query letter, copies (1 or 2) of book) to take your book.  B & N has their own number  (BIN (?) number).  Print on Demand (POD)—a lot won't do the publicity.  You want to make sure there are copies.  Get your friends, family out there asking for copies.  Ask your publisher what they'll do for bookstores (percentage off list, return policy—talk them into doing it for you)
  •    Offset run/inventory vs. POD

Work with your publicist.  Do not list your book as Print on Demand (POD)!  List is as an offset run—they print a run, then store the books.  Reassure the bookstores that :"You can order directly from my publisher with a discount, and they take returns."

Tip#2  Have all your Promotional Material Ready Before Making Calls
This is your media kit.
·      Press Release.  An already-written article. Make your press release complete—so the journalist can take it and pop it into their newspaper.  Title of book, ISBN #, author, the five Ws 1H (Who, What, Why. . . ) are in the first paragraph.  The second paragraph is your "sell" paragraph.  This is where you talk about your book and why it sings.  Third paragraph is a quote from yourself—you want it to look like the newspaper has already interviewed you, like they've done the legwork.  Fourth paragraph is a one-paragraph bio—all about you, awards you've won, and so forth, but be succinct.  After that, contact information.  Use your own logo, or art artwork on your press release.  Keep the keywords (for internet free-release sites) in the title of the press release.  Most important document you can use—you can tweak your release to announce your reading event (in the first paragraph).  It's a living document, and you can change it as it goes.
·      Biography.  More than just a paragraph—where you grew up, what you majored in, where you went to school—anything that will give you a connection with the people you are talking to.
·      Professional head shot—either on your book (back cover) on inside flap.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  Use a professional head shot!!  Don't use the amateur digital photo from the backyard on your book—nor the bedroom shot.
·      JPG of the book cover art
·      Website/blogsite devoted to your book—by the title, by the author's name?  No.  One website.  If you plan to write more than one book, then put up an author site, with links to the book sites.  Use SEOs if you want (for hire).  (Podcasts?)
Platform—be aware of what you bring to the table (e.g.: bookstores want the book, radio wants YOU.)  Before your book comes out, you want to establish yourself.

Tip #3  Book Appearances in Cities Where You Know People
·      Hometown, college town, first job, relatives, friends
·      Work your contacts with email, flyers, postcards, blogs, social networking sites, etc.
·      Work your niche! (e.g.: The Help)

Tip #4  Contact the Media After You've Set Up Your Tour
·      Use your booking as selling points with the media
·      Writer news release about each signing/appearance
·      Contact media 2-3 weeks prior to events.  Print press needs three weeks.  Radio/TV is quicker.  You're trying to drive traffic to your event.
·      Sell yourself, as well as your book
·      Six to eight months is your window, so work quickly

Tip #5:  View Every Phone Call As An Opportunity to Get Orders
Ask for event dates. and if they say no, then:
·      Ask if they'll order copies of your book
·      Offer compromises:
·      offer to bring in signed books
·      offer to consignment option
·      offer promotional material
·      If they have copies, offer to stop by and sign them.  (Get some signed-by author stickers.)

Tip #6: Think Outside the Bookstore Box
·      Consider signing at libraries, universities, community colleges, schools, clubs, professional organization, churches, etc. If you teach, make sure your book is in their bookstore.
·      Consider signing at venues related to your book's content
·      Ask friends and family for signing opportunities where they work, go to school, etc.
·      Consider venues where no author has gone before—be creative!

Tip #7: Be Professional With Everyone You Meet
·      Send follow-up and confirmation emails
·      Keep lists of scheduled dates aka "Events Schedule"
·      Send promotional material 2-3 weeks out
·      Contact media 2-3 weeks out
·      Show up on time, professionally dressed—Get a foam core display with an easel back, leave bookmarks, too.
·      Bring back up copies with you
·      Be courteous, even if the answer is "No"
·      Be persistent, but know when to say "Thank you" and move on
·      Send thank you notes afterward—mention managers, assistants, and staff who were helpful.  Emails and hand-written notes.

Bonus Tip:  Go Viral!
·      Optimize your website
·      Register with major search engines
·      Offer incentives, downloads and contests, etc.
·      Respond quickly to website email
·      Make payment process simple and easy
·      Write blog comments and guest blog
·      Puruse features on book review sites
·      Conduct virtual interviews on a number of blogs.

January 29, 2011

Writers' Conference Workshop--Synopsis

The first full day of this Writers' Conference has been instructive.  Apparently there are a multitude of these across the US, and this one--at 27 years running--is one of the longest-running conferences.  It also appears to focus more tightly on the professional development side of life, as witnessed by the workshops I attended today.  I took my computer down to hopefully do some live blogging, but there was no wireless signal in any of the rooms (intentional?), so consider this Taped Blogging.

One class was on writing a good synopsis, taught by Nicholas Croce, president of The Croce Agency.  The notes are as follows.

Formatting each agent will have their own formatting guidelines, and each author will have to find this information—proves to the agent that they did their research.  Check their websites.  If no guidelines, his handout is a safe way to go.  Do your homework.

Chicago Manual of Style is the basic rulebook.

Know your genre, esp. for marketing/bookshelf placement.

Write efficiently—two double-spaced pages is the norm.  Don't leave white space—edit down so you don't have "orphans."  No bullet points—not for fiction.

Handout on his website.

Don't send out to thirty agents at once—they get grumpy.

Look at books similar to yours—look at jacket copy.  What do they highlight?  What hints to the readership can you gain from the jacket?

Start with the hook.  It's the most important.  It's one sentence and should capture the whole book in that one sentence.  It should have the conflict.  It's what everybody down the line will use to pitch that book—editor, sales reps, etc.  Use active voice.  Keep it lively, upbeat.  No cliches.  Vary your sentence length—anything that calls for good and interesting writing. 

Show how your story comes together. The perfect proposal is one that leaves me with no questions.  The agent/author doesn't have to go back to the author with why this story line? or what happened here? Make it comprehensive by including a beginning, middle and end.  The synopsis is meant to inform as well as sell.

Synopsis is a combo of the query letter and the chapter outline.  Write synopsis in the present tense.  Yes, it's difficult to write—sometimes even more challenging than writing a novel.  And the hook is even more challenging than the synopsis.

The conflict in your book really has to be apparent in this.  Every story throughout history has a conflict and a resolution—include this in your synopsis.

Cover letter—three paragraphs.  First paragraph intros novel.  Second paragraph elaborates on novel, what transpires.  Third paragraph about the author, how they plan to market the novel, if previous publications.  Send the query letter by snail mail.

Literary Commercial Fiction—focuses on character, but sells well (something on the order of Three Cups of Tea).  This would be a tough book because the details of this book "are not built for speed," so it would be sold on the writing or the subject of the novel.

January 28, 2011

You Can Cut It With a Knife

The earnestness, that is.
It's so thick around here--all these lovely people hanging off of the words of the agents and editors at this Writing Conference.  It's making my skin crawl, and as usual, I write to figure out why.

I'm at the San Diego Writer's Conference, a tag-a-long to my daughter-in-law who is one of the lovely earnest people seeking a way for her writing to find its way.  We check in, pick up our packets then separate as she is in a different genre than I am.  Hers is easy: Young Adult (YA) Fiction.  And what is mine?  Am I referring to book in the bottom of the drawer, the one that I had placed in Big U's library when I graduated with an MFA?  The one I hope no one will ever find, as it has so many flaws?  Or am I referring to the book that is stuck in my head, like one of those amber-encased insects from a millenia ago, parts of which are written on my hard drive?  I try mainstream fiction.  Nope.  Then I ended up talking with Michael, who has come here before.

He works from 9:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. working at Dunkin' Donuts, putting the glaze and sprinkles on.  He's written 8 novels, has 350+ rejections, and is still working at getting his writing out there.  He was really interesting to talk to.  He looked around the room at the various tables.

"It's like high school," he said.  "The chicklit group--those women all have high heels on.  The literary fiction--the woman all have jewelry on."  He gestured over at the historical fiction table, where no one sat. "I passed by there earlier and everyone had beards.  And over there at the Fantasy table?  Those are like the nerds of high school, only now their imaginary worlds have taken shape."  He was dead-on, but I was getting hungry and left to find some food.

So, why don't I have the earnestness of all these people?  I came because I was curious to see what would happen if I was exposed to the Writing Life again, after being immersed in the Community College Teacher Experience.  As I drove to find dinner, it's that old drumbeat of inner critic: What's wrong with me?  Why don't I want to be a writer?  Where did the fire-in-the-belly go?  Am I too old? (A look around the room tells me no.)  Unanswerable questions.  The creativity urge pulls me to quilting.  I know that world.  I speak that language.  I hardly know what else to say here.  But here I am for two more days.  Stay tuned.