• December 7, 2011

    A bit more on branding (and a special offer!)


    One more thought on branding yourself as an author: A brand isn't just a slogan. I once met a beginning writer who had business cards printed with the words, "The Queen of Suspense." Unfortunately, she was unpublished, so from a writing standpoint she wasn't really the queen of anything (except maybe "self-confidence"). Words that like are just a slogan, but a brand is a reflection of who you are. Experience among readers trumps slogans. We've all had experience with the novels of Stephen King, so our experience tells us he is the "King of Horror." We've all been exposed to the novels of John Grisham, so our experience tells us he is the "King of Legal Thrillers." Those series of perceptions have built up enough to let us grasp the brand each author has. 

    That's why it's often difficult for a beginning author to "brand" herself. She doesn't know herself, doesn't know her voice, doesn't know what she'll be known for. It's hard to brand something that isn't yet fully formed. (Though it's not necessarily a bad thing… at least you'd be making an effort.) Again, if a brand offers a promise to readers, many beginning authors simply aren't ready to make a promise yet. That's okay… what DO you know about yourself and your work that you can sell? If it's your first novel, and it happens to be an Amish romance, what's good about the book? What's unique about it? What do potential readers need to know? What will they like about it? If the core of marketing is to figure out where your audience is and stand in front of them, what do you want to SAY when you get there? 
    Your brand has to be honest, of course. It needs to reflect you — who you are and what you have to say. If you're not yet sure, it may not be time to
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  • December 6, 2011

    More on Step One: The Value of Branding


    My brother has worked in the auto industry for years. He's a parts & service manager for a dealership, but he used to be a car salesman. One day he explained to me the importance of auto salesmen driving around in the cars they sell… "Imagine the sales guy hasn't ever driven the car. One day, a couple approaches him on the lot. 'Is this a good model?'  He assures them it is — it's got great safety features, gets good gas mileage, is known to be dependable. 'Have you driven it around?' Um… no… uh… How do you sell a car you've never driven? 
    By the same token, how do you market and sell your book if you don't know the strengths? Your brand as an author reveals who you are and why you're unique. It offers an image to potential readers so that they get to know you. More than that, a strong brand creates trust with buyers because they've had good experiences with it in the past. (I trust Starbucks coffee no matter where it's on sale, because I've had good experiences with it in the past. When I travel, I know I'll get a good cup of coffee if I get a cup of Starbucks.) 
    In many ways, that trust begins to feel like a relationship to a reader. If you trust a Stephen King novel (or Jodi Picoult, or Michael Connelly, or whoever), you get to feel as though you KNOW the author. Sitting down with one of their books is like sitting down with an old friend. You may not actually know the author, but you're familiar enough with the brand that it feels like you do. And in that feeling of relationship, you develop an attachment to the author… which means you're going to choose their book over some other author's book. You're also willing to pay more for your favorite

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  • December 5, 2011

    Step One in Marketing Your Book



    If you were to take a class in marketing, the first thing they'd tell you is that you have to KNOW YOUR PRODUCT. Since you're writing books, that means you have to know yourself and your manuscripts. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you do a good job with? What comes to mind when people see your book?
    Look at it this way… If I say to you, "Mercedes," what comes to mind? (Quality? Luxury? Expense?) Now if I say to you, "Toyota," what comes to mind? (Dependability? Value? Middle-of-the-road-working cars?) And if I say to you, "Yugo," what comes to mind? (Junk? Breakdowns? El-cheapo?)
    You see, each of those auto manufacturers have a brand, and that brand sticks in your head. In fact, you might have solid impressions of those three car brands, even if you've never owned any of them. Why? Because the auto manufacturers have spent a lot of time thinking about the brand, how they want to shape it and express it. And you've had a number of exposures to those brands through TV commercials, reviews, articles, online discussion groups, and word of mouth from people you trust. With all those inputs, you have some sense of what the "brand" of each car is.
    Your books also have a brand. One marketing guru has said that every brand offers a promise – so Mercedes promises luxury, Toyota promises dependability, and Yugo promised the cheapest car on the market. Now put that to work with your writing career… What promise do you offer your readers? What can they expect every time they come into contact with your words? I mean, for years if you saw a John Grisham book, you had an expectation of his brand (exciting, clean legal thriller). When you see a James Patterson novel, or a Debbie Macomber novel, or a Nicholas Sparks novel, you have
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  • December 4, 2011


    Okay, so it's the weekend, and we're taking a break from business so I can watch my beloved Oregon Ducks beat UCLA and get their ticket punched to the Rose Bowl. But I thought this would be a great time to mention that I've written a book, entitled 40 Ways to Get Closer to God. Yes, it's one of the spiritual/religious books — sort of my journey for how I wanted to feel more in touch with the Creator. If you're interested, you can read all about it here:

    You can find the book here: http://tinyurl.com/83ch5y2

    By the way, I should mention that several visitors to the blog said they purchased a copy, so thanks to Ramona Richards, Patti Jo Moore, Don Reavis, and Candace Pope (four of my oldest and dearest friends in the business)… :o)


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  • December 2, 2011

    So who does the marketing?


    I had two people write to me last night, upset with yesterday's post. One of them asked, "Why are you slamming publishers?"

    Hey, I'm not. I love publishers — love working with them, love doing good books. My point isn't to criticize publishers; it's to help authors understand how marketing works. And the fact is, while your publisher obviously believes in your book (otherwise they wouldn't spend the tens of thousands it costs to bring it to market), they simply don't have the time, money, or personnel to do a ton of marketing on every title they release. So an author MUST be willing to take on his or her own marketing and do the necessary work to get the word out. 

    You see, many authors tend to think that they just have to turn in their manuscript, and it's the publishers job to market and sell the book. Wrong! It's the publisher job to sharpen the book, make it as good as can be, get it out there and make it available, and help the author get the word out. But… who knows the message of the book best, the author or the publisher? Who is the most committed to it, the author or the publisher? Who has the most enthusiasm, the author or the publisher? Who has the most at stake on any one title, the author or the publisher? (Hint: The correct answer is "the author.") So I'm trying to help authors wake up to the fact that the publisher will do what they can, but the author needs to take charge of their marketing, do the hard work, and let people hear about the book. Besides, there's no sure-fire formula — no single thing you can do that will guarantee a bestseller. I've seen great book marketing campaigns (complete with print ads, TV appearances, book signings, reviews, and major media hits) go nowhere. There's no magic bullet
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  • December 1, 2011

    Where does the marketing money go?


    Bob wrote to ask, "If publishers aren't going to spend much marketing my book, in what areas DO they allocate most of their marketing dollars?"

    They're going to provide review copies to some media outlets and reviewers. They're going to include you in the catalog. They're going to assign it to a publicist who will maybe let some media know about the book. But I suppose the answer to the question of "where does the marketing money go" is probably, "It goes toward bestselling books — so if you're not already a bestselling author, you won't see much. "

    Look, one of the little secrets of marketing is that there's basically ONE marketing plan, and it's used for nearly everybody's book. It's true — sometimes I think some publishers take the same plan and just keep changing the cover page before passing the document around to authors. Maybe there are only a handful of copies of the same plan, and publishers share them… So if you're hoping to see your marketing plan, your publisher is probably waiting for the people at another house to get done with it and send it to them.

    Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration. But here's the plan I keep seeing: "We're going to send a half-dozen copies to some magazines you don't read. Then we're going to send another half-dozen to some TV shows you don't watch — the ones where the people all have great hair and talk a lot. We'll have a handful of copies to use as giveaways on various blogs. Then we might send out review copies, if we deem your book reviewable, and ask if you can provide us with friends who love you and are sure to say something nice. Next, we're going to try and set you up to do a blog tour, so the same 300 people can see you on different sites. If you're

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  • November 30, 2011

    Aren't they supposed to market my book for me?


    Dana wrote to ask, "How much of marketing a book is the publisher's department, and how much is the author's responsibility? It seems like publishers used to do more marketing."

     It's funny, but authors tend to think there was this perfect situation in days of yore, in which the hard-working writer turned in her manuscript, then sat back and watched the publisher market her book to the masses. Um… I've worked in publishing for a few decades now, and I don't know that scenario was ever true. In my view, the first part of the perfect marketing situation is this: The publisher likes the book, gets excited about it, and really markets it hard. I don't see that happen a lot — sometimes, but not a lot. I mean, I'll often see an editor get excited, and I often see hardworking publicists trying to make things happen, but to have the entire company get behind something is fairly rare. The publishing industry has become much more of a celebrity-driven/bestseller-driven industry than it used to be, and publishers spend the bulk of their marketing time working on books they know are going to be winners. Publishing is an 80/20 business (that is, 80% of the profits come from 20% of the books), so publishers tend to go the safe route, pushing the new book from last year's bestselling author, or focusing on the books by people with big author platforms. That's just good business, so that particular plan doesn't bother me one bit.

    When Publishers Weekly did their year-end report on last year's nonfiction bestsellers, I found it fascinating that seven of their top fifteen authors have huge built-in marketing platforms. (That list included Bill O'Reilly, Chelsea Handler, and others who have TV shows or serve as television commentators.) That says something about the importance of an author having a platform. But don't miss the second part of what I consider the

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  • November 29, 2011

    When My Publisher Does Nothing


    Continuing with questions about marketing, Dave wrote to ask, "What should you do if your publisher doesn't have adequate resources for marketing and promotion?"

    Um…okay, here's a suggestion to all authors and wannabe authors: Before inking that deal, ask some questions and find out what sort of marketing effort your publisher is going to make on your behalf. I'd say about half the books released every year have zero marketing efforts planned for them. So ask some basic questions: What are some of the things you're planning to do in order to sell books? How have you promoted similar titles in the past? Will there be ads? Will you be sending out review copies? Will radio talk show hosts be contacted? Will you use postcards or bookmarks or shelf-talkers? Do you plan signings or a broadcast fax or in-store promotions? Will you to doing extensive web promotion? Do you expect me to walk around Central Park with a sandwich board?

    I won't bore you with sob stories, but it's hard to find an author who is satisfied with the marketing their publisher did for them. I suppose they're out there, but they are rare. Many authors feel they were promised the moon, then handed something considerably less. At the same time, it can be hard to find a good freelance publicist. They are out there, but they're busy — a professional who has the contacts and know-how to actually help an author get the word out. It's why some authors will swear by one publicist or another — they had a good experience, and they want to duplicate it on their next book.

    So if you're working with a publisher who apparently doesn't have the resources to support your book, you've got a choice to make: Do I let this book die because the publisher doesn't want to get behind it, or do I decide to promote it myself? 

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  • November 28, 2011

    Thinking about Marketing Your Book


    Once again, I'm inviting people to send in questions about writing and publishing, and we'll try to offer a bit of wisdom. Recently Bobbi wrote to me to tell me I've been too hard on marketing types in the past, and to ask, "What sort of marketing would you suggest to an author? And what sort of marketing would you most like to see?"

    First, I'd suggest an author decide to take control of marketing for their own book. Put aside that old fashioned notion that the publisher is going to market your book for you, and start learning what you can do to help get the word out. Second, I'd suggest some field research — who is the audience for your book? What's the best way to reach them? (If the answers are "everybody" and "beats me," you're screwed.) Third, I'd start checking out the creative ideas people are using on the web. Internet book sales equaled the sales at brick-and-mortar stores last year for the first time in publishing history at most of the major publishing houses. It's the place to buy books. That means it's probably time you took a fresh look at your web site, your online videos, your blog, and anything else that sounds vaguely connected to Al Gore's invention.

    As for what I'd like to see? I can think of dozens, but here's two… Many publishers have forgotten about radio. But it's on all the time in our culture. People don't like noise, so they have their radios on at work, in the car, in the kitchen. And it's FREE to listen. It's also cheap to advertise. I'd like to see more publishers figure out how to effectively promote their books via radio. A second area is one that authors could work harder at: articles. There are newspapers, magazines, and e-zines all over the world, and they're all looking for content. A magazine

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  • November 23, 2011


    Want to do some good this holiday season? Click over to this fundraiser and help a mom of four beat stage four lymphoma by participating in the raffle! Tickets are only $5 each, and as you can see, there are LOADS of prizes, which will be raffled off starting the 25th. And don't forget to sign up to receive email notifications so you know when your favorite prize packages are being raffled off!

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