Creating More Book Buzz by Joyce DiPastena (Guest Blog)

Joyce DiPastena is very active online and does a lot of “buzz marketing” of her books. She has graciously agreed to share some of her tips with us. Thanks, Joyce!

Some while back, LDS Publisher invited me to write a guest blog sharing some of the ways I have marketed my books online. First, I’d like to thank her for this opportunity and recommend that you begin by reading, if you haven’t already, her own blog on Creating the Buzz. I will try not to cover too much of the same ground.

As suggested by LDS Publisher’s blog title, marketing really begins with what’s called “buzz”. I have heard it said that a potential reader needs to read or hear the title of a book a minimum of ten times before he or she will consider buying a book by an unfamiliar author. Creating buzz is how we get the name of our books out there, so that eventually a potential buyer will begin to think, “I’m hearing and reading a lot about this book lately. Maybe it’s time I check it out!”

Here are some of the ideas I have used for creating “buzz” for my medieval novels, Loyalty’s Web and Illuminations of the Heart:

Create and maintain a website. Websites are more static than blogs and, in my opinion, not as much fun, but they are an important centralized source of information and will often be the first place a reader looks to learn more about you and your books.

Create and maintain a blog. Blogs are a lot more flexible, and in my opinion, much more fun than websites. Blogs are a good place to record random and not so random thoughts about your writing or anything in your life or the world that happens to strike your fancy. They’re good places to make announcements about your books, do interviews with other authors, write book reviews, and hold contests for copies of your books or other people’s books. Blogs are pretty much limited only by your imagination.

Celebrate the “milestones” of your book by holding contests. Hold a contest when you sign your book contract. (I gave away a box of Mrs. Cavanaugh’s chocolates when I signed mine.) Hold a contest to celebrate the unveiling of your cover art. (I gave away a framed print of a medieval-themed painting to celebrate the new “medieval” cover art for Loyalty’s Web.) Hold a contest to celebrate your book becoming available for pre-order or order on or Amazon. (I gave away gift certificates to both online bookstores towards the purchase of copies of Loyalty’s Web…and the winners were honest with their win and bought copies of my book. And at least one of those buys resulted in both a new fan and now a very good friend.)

Make up your own milestones and celebrate them with your potential readers!

NOTE: When holding a contest, ask a question about your book that forces the entrants to read your cover blurb or the first chapter of your book (posted on your website or blog) to find the answer, then have them email the answer to you to enter. That way, entrants might be intrigued enough by your book to buy a copy, even if they don’t win your contest.

Advertise your contests everywhere you can…on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and LDS Publisher. Do the same when your book gets a good review. Even if people don’t enter your contests, just seeing you post about it creates a sense that “things are going on with your book”. I had a woman email me, saying she’d been following the progress of Illuminations of the Heart on Facebook (through my status updates), and offered to review a copy for her review blog, Library of Clean Reads and if she liked it (which she did), recommend it to her reading group. So you never know who might be watching those status updates of yours!

By the way, never refer to your book as “my book” when you advertise or blog about it. Always refer to it by its title. Remember, your goal is to get people familiar with the TITLE of your book, not merely the fact that you’ve written one.

Donate copies of your book for giveaways on other people’s blogs, and be willing to return the favor. Be satisfied with small turnouts for your contests. Another recent personal example: I held an online “book release party” on my blog for Illuminations of the Heart, where I gave away a small, “illumination” themed prize every hour for eight hours. I only had a very small handful of people actually enter my hourly contests. But one of the women who won a prize subsequently went out and bought a copy of Illuminations of the Heart. She liked it so much, she not only posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but FIVE other book review sites that she found online. So again, you just never know…seemingly small turnouts may result in very large results! And again, the advertising will still catch people’s eyes.

Be observant. Look at what other people are doing to promote their books, then copy or adapt their ideas to your own needs. Remember ideas, like titles, are not copyrightable.

Here are some important links that can help you create “buzz” for your books:

Good luck and happy buzzing!

I’d just add a couple of things: make your book titles links to more information about the book or to where you can buy it; and always provide links to your website and blog when you do a guest blog somewhere. 🙂

See what Joyce has done to create buzz about her books at her website and her blog.

Writing Your Book Club Questions

I’ve seen some book websites (and sometimes published books) with kits for book clubs—everything from discussion questions to activities to refreshment ideas. What makes for a “good” book club kit?

Having book club questions as part of the printed book is becoming very popular. You’re more likely to find/need to provide these questions for women’s books and Middle Grade/YAs. Discussion questions depend on the type of book and should be more than just a book content trivia quiz.

Personally, I like questions that relate things that happen in the book to the reader’s real life.

From a book club perspective, get some ideas HERE and HERE and HERE. You’ll want to customize them for your book.

As far as a book club kit, the more you provide, the better. You could do themed party ideas and provide suggestions for anything from decorations and invitations, to games and other activities, to refreshments and door prize ideas—your imagination is the limit.

Is this necessary? No. But as someone who attends a couple of book clubs and often finds them tedious, it is lots of fun to turn it into a party. (Which I do when it’s my turn to host.)

Creating the Buzz

My first novel was just released and I’d like to get some buzz going (my publisher doesn’t do much) but I don’t know where to start? Any ideas? Can you give me some step-by-step suggestions?

If I had a new novel coming out, I’d start with the free/cheap stuff first. I also would have started a few months ago, but that’s okay. You can still do all these things now.

  • Set up a blog or website with info about yourself and your book.
    (Good examples: Josi S. Kilpack [love the visually attractive details on her books; her site probably cost money, but you can do similar things with content for cheap] and the “Crusty Old Broads” who wrote The Company of Good Women series [good info on books, authors & upcoming events, visually attractive] )
  • Use the LDS Publisher sites to their full advantage. Take a look at what I do here and send me the needed info:

    —Send me info about your book, so I can post it HERE.

    —Send me info about yourself, so I can post it HERE.

    —Send me a review copy so one of my reviewers can post it HERE.

    —If you have book signings or other appearances set up, send me the info so I can post it HERE.

    —Offer to sponsor either the LDS Publisher blog or the LDS Fiction/Fiction Review blogs.

    —Start commenting on the blogs to get your name recognized (if you have a Blogger blog, your comments will auto link back to your profile, where you will have links to your website and/or blog about your book.)

  • Do the same things above at other sites and forums that allow it.
  • Offer to speak at schools, book clubs, libraries, etc. on a topic related to your book.
  • Tell everyone you know how excited you are about your new book.

Now for the things that cost a little more money.

  • Make business cards with the cover of your book on one side and your contact info on the other (including your website/blog URLs).
  • Make postcards with the same info and send them out to announce book signings and other events. Be sure to include URLs to where the book can be purchased online.

Readers, what am I forgetting? Feel free to share what you’ve done, with links to where you did it.

LDSToolbar & Sustain This

I’m having a little trouble getting back into the post-vacation groove. I apologize. Hopefully, I will be caught up and back on track by Tuesday (taking Labor Day off).

As I was reading through the e-mails sent to LDSP while I was gone, I found one inviting me to participate in LDSToolbar. I added it to my browser and it seems to be working great. It’s really kind of cool because it links specifically to LDS sites—including LDS publishers (well, one so far) and to yours truly.

LDSToolbar is not real good with the instructions. Fortunately, when I clicked on the Install Toolbar icon, everything worked just fine.

There was also a link from there to—which works sort of like digg and kirtsy. You vote on blogs and other sites that you think are extra cool. I tried to add the code to this blog but the instructions either weren’t correct or Blogger just didn’t like me at the moment because I kept getting an error message. (If any of you have been able to install this on your Blogger blog, send me details.)

So, what do these two things have to do with being an LDS author? MORE EXPOSURE!

It’s all about name recognition, getting yourself out there and getting noticed. These are just two more avenues to help you do that.

Non-Bookstore Book Signings

I’m taking a break from our hornet’s nest discussion because I can’t really say anything more until I’ve read the book. Although I have a copy in my hot little hands, I don’t know if I’ll be able to read it right away because LDS BOOKSELLERS IS NEXT WEEK AND I’M GOING CRAZY!! So I’m moving on for now but you’re welcome to continue the discussion.

Very interesting discussion at your blog. (Cool, isn’t it? We got 176 unique visitors yesterday. That’s a steller day here at the blog.)

Here’s a hypothetical situation:
Suppose a new, unknown author wants to promote his/her book and asks to do a book signing, only to find that bookstores don’t want new, unknown authors to do book signings. In order to become more well-known it would seem that this author would need to do book signings, yet the stores only want well-known authors. Isn’t this a catch-22? How would said author overcome this obstacle?

Bookstores aren’t the only places you can do signings. Public libraries will often do signings. You have to bring your own books and usually agree to donate a portion of the profits. Sometimes it works better if you can get several authors to come talk about literacy or something, and then do a signing afterward. Also try senior centers, schools, other community fairs and events, book clubs, business or service clubs, etc.

Or offer to do a launch party at the bookstore. If you can guarantee to have a certain number of friends and family show up to your party, planning to purchase at least one book (whether yours or someone else’s), they might be willing to work with you. Of course, you have to be able to actually get those people to show up, to buy a book, and to tell the cashier that they came because of YOU.

You can also do virtual booksignings. This doesn’t get quite as much notice from the bookstores because people don’t go into the bookstore to buy the books. But you can have people buy the book by a certain date from you and then sign the copy to them. If you can show that when you did a virtual signing you had 100 people order books from you, that would get the bookstore interested.

Authors, other ideas? What have you done to get a bookstore to have a signing for you?

Platforms for Novels

A platform for a non-fiction title makes sense, but is there such a thing as a platform for a novel?

Yes, although it’s sometimes harder to define. A platform is a topic or area of expertise that is used to market your book. Instead of just saying, “Go buy my book because it doesn’t stink,” you can talk about a topic of interest to everyone (or lots of people) that is dealt with in your book. It gives you a toe in the door to radio and TV interviews, newspaper coverage, school visits, and other public appearances that simply hawking your books for sale doesn’t allow.

A few examples off the top of my head:

  • Josi Kilpack established a platform for her book, Sheep’s Clothing, researching and discussing how to keep your children safe from online predators. This was something she could talk about that would hook people into reading her book. It was a way to get media interest. When she was on Good Things Utah, most of the interview was spent on safety issues, and then, “oh by the way, I’ve written a book that deals with this topic…” Josi is doing the same thing with her upcoming book, Her Good Name, with a platform on stolen identities.
  • Julie Coulter Bellon’s new book, All’s Fair, is set in Iraq. Her platform is supporting our troops. She’s promoting a charity drive to send care packages to our military men and women.
  • J. Scott Savage’s Farworld: Water Keep, has the platform of finding the magic within yourself. Another could be overcoming disabilities. Either of these platforms will get him speaking engagements in schools and youth organizations.

Many other LDS books have good solid platforms. If you’re an author, please feel free to post info about your book and your platform in the comments section.

Author Promo

After publication, what’s the most important thing an author can do to market his book?

1) Establish an internet presence that includes book cover, blurb, links to online stores, author photo and author bio. Keeping that presence fresh and new with contests, blot or whatever, also helps.

2) Get business cards with your book cover on it and give it to everyone you meet. Tell EVERYONE you know when the book is released.

3) Do public appearances—book signings, book clubs, school visits, firesides, workshops, etc.

More on Author Promotion

If an author wanted to get word of mouth out about their book, like you mentioned, what are some ways they can do that, without reflecting negatively on their publisher, who may or may not have tried to promote the book?

Although it may be more difficult for you, as the author, you can do pretty much the same type of marketing and promotion that a publisher can do—depending on how much time and money you want to put into it. I have lots of posts that deal with this. Click on the labels “Marketing” and “Promotion” to read what I’ve said about it in the past. But here’s a quick list (in no particular order):

Virtual book tours—find bloggers you like/know and ask if they’ll participate. This will cost you a copy of your book per blogger.

Brick and mortar book tours/signings/launch parties—get to know your local bookstore managers and see if they’ll allow you to do this. If they’re not interested, contact your local library. When you travel for personal reasons, call the bookstores in the area, see if they carry your book, ask if they’d like to do a signing. Or do a drive-by, go in and ask if they’d like you to just quickly sign the copies of your books on their shelves. (Take stickers that say “Autographed Copy” and put them on the books.)

TV, Radio, Newspaper interviews—contact your local places, send press releases, see if you can get on the local interest shows.

Get your book on Amazon, even if you have to list it and sell it yourself.

Establish an Internet presence with website(s) and/or blog(s), join reader forums, hold contests to give away copies of your book, etc.

Keep in contact with your publisher to let them know what you’re doing. Hopefully they will be positive and supportive.

And for all of those who insist a publisher should be doing all of this—well, yes, in a perfect world. But we’re talking about a less than perfect situation here. Yes, you will have to promote your on book aggressively and yes, you will have to spend your own money doing so. This is a pain but if it’s your current reality, you either bite the bullet and do it or you let your book fail. Your call.

The Value of Author Promotion

In your experience, do you believe an author’s involvement in promotion makes a difference in sales?


Author involvement = sales. The more an author is involved, the more books I’ll sell. An author can reach people on a human interest level. A publisher can’t do that.

Everyone has a circle of influence—a group of people that take an interest in them as a person—family, friends, neighbors. When an author lets these people know they’ve published—via e-mail, blog, personal conversation—it raises an awareness of and interest in the book. This translates into book sales. The people within your circle of influence also have a circle of influence. They will tell their friends about you and your book. This translates into book sales. This is the minimum level of promotion that I expect and attempt to demand from my authors.

From there, the more community involvement, speaking engagements, blogging, etc. that an author does to promote their book, the more they become real to readers. The stronger the connection between the author and the potential reader, the more likely that reader is to buy the book.

Does an author’s involvement in promoting his/her book influence you when you consider publishing another one of his/her books? Does lack of involvement in promotion affect your decision?

Yes. Other publishers may feel differently about this.

During the submission process, I will have at least one conversation with an author about promotion and what I expect from them. I have, once or twice, accepted a “borderline” book because of the enthusiasm the author had and the promotion they had already started to do and/or were willing to do.

I have what I think is a perfect example of how author promotion influences book sales. I accepted a book by an author who made it clear that the promotion they did would be limited. The book was wonderful—absolutely blew my socks off. There was nothing like it in the market, it filled a real need, and the book practically sold itself. In the beginning, the author did regular speaking engagements and book signings and the book became one of my best sellers. When the author stopped doing public appearances, the book continued to sell well enough, but not at the same level. It gradually dropped by about one-third and continues to hold steady. When the author does do a speaking engagement, book sales in that area almost double for about a month, then go back down.

I accepted a second book from this author. It is a wonderful book, but written in a different style and format than their first one. It doesn’t sell itself. I can always tell when the author has made a public appearance (which they do once, maybe twice a year) because sales immediately soar on this book, then drop again within a few weeks to almost nothing.

Will I accept a third book from this author? This is one of those really, really tough questions. If I think it will sell itself, like the first book did, I probably will. But if it’s more like the second one, no.

The sad thing is, if another author submitted a book of the same quality as this author’s second one, and they were willing to promote it, I’d take it in a heartbeat.

The Bare Necessities of an Internet Presence

Yesterday, Jeff Savage addressed the topic of blogging over on Six LDS Writers and a Frog. Go read it. I agree with him.

For those of you too lazy to click the link, he made the point that if you’re an author and you don’t want to blog, don’t feel like you have to do it. For as much as I’ve pushed blogging here on this site, you may be surprised that I agree with that statement. Here’s why: If blogging is a chore to you, it will come out in your presentation and will not serve you in your quest to build your fan base. Same thing goes for social networking, virtual tours, etc., etc.

However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), in the world we live in, the Internet is a powerful source of information and many readers go there first in their search for new books to read. In my opinion, every author NEEDS an Internet presence. This presence can be a website, a blog or an author bio page on your publisher’s site.

For beginning authors, whose publishers may not offer bio pages (or whose bio pages are substandard in design and info) and who may not have the skills or funds to set up a website, free blogs are a simple solution. You don’t have to blog on a blog—you can make one that is more like a static website, if you want. (WordPress, with it’s easy tabs and pages, works a little better for this.) If you don’t make regular changes to it, it may not show up very high when someone Googles you, but it will exist and they will be able to find it.

Your internet presence, however you choose to establish it, should have as a minimum the following:

  • Welcome message—a pleasant message welcoming the visitor to the site.
  • Book Info—containing an image of the cover, title, a short blurb, other pertinent information, and a LINK to where it can be purchased online. It can be as simple as what is posted over on the LDS Fiction blog. You need info on every book you’ve published.
  • New Release/Coming Soon—same as the book info, but this needs to be in a distinct area (like at the top or on its own tab) so that it stands out from the others.
  • Author Bio—containing a short, professional bio on yourself with a nice photo. Nice meaning that it’s crisp and clear and that you look like an author someone would like to meet.

Blog Book Tours

Do you think a blog book tour is a good idea?


On a virtual/blog book tour, an author “visits” a different blog/website each day for several weeks. It’s best to have it coincide with the release of your book, but any time in the first three months would be okay. Here’s how you do it:

  • Tell your publisher that you want to do this. They may have some good ideas or be willing to provide comp copies of the book or offer prizes for contests.
  • Research various blogs that you feel would be a good match for your book. Look for blogs that talk about books in your genre and that get a fair amount of traffic. Determining traffic is sometimes difficult but a good indication of a blog’s popularity is the number of comments on their posts. The more comments, the more traffic. (But take a peek at the comments to make sure they’re made by individuals, and not a conversation between the blogger and one reader.)
  • Contact the bloggers 6 weeks ahead of the tour to see if they’re willing to participate. Get a tentative commitment from them but give them an out if they don’t like your book.
  • Send the bloggers a copy of your book. (You publisher may or may not be willing to supply the books. If they won’t, then you must. It’s hard to do a good virtual visit if the blogger hasn’t read your book.)
  • Contact the bloggers two to three weeks later to see how they liked your book and to set a date for visiting their blog. Make it clear that this is a serious promotional tour and you will be doing cross-promotion on your blog, so they will need to commit to posting your visit on their assigned date. (If they didn’t like your book, this would be the time to exclude them from your tour.)
  • Discuss possibilities with the blogger and decide what you will “do” during your visit to their site. Ideas: book review by blogger, blogger interviews you or one of your characters, you write a guest post for their blog, contests with prizes (your book) for their readers, online chat or live web-conferencing, real-time discussion board, recorded telephone or video interview, or anything else you and the blogger can come up with that will provide interesting content for them and positive exposure for you. (Some of these can/must be done ahead of time. Schedule them with enough lead time that they will be finished and ready by post date.)
  • Schedule the dates of the different events to provide a variety of activities for groupies readers who follow you from site to site. For example, if three bloggers want to do interviews, spread them several days apart. Also, try to arrange for some variety in the questions they ask you.
  • List the dates and places of your visits with links on your blog and/or website (example here). If a blog, put them in the sidebar, in a static post at the top of your posts, or on a tab or link where it’s easy to find and won’t get lost among all your other posts. Start announcing your tour dates and stops 2 to 4 weeks ahead of the tour.
  • Encourage the blogger to advertise your visit (with links to your blog/website) in their sidebar two weeks ahead time.
  • Post on your blog about each visit the day before you go, talk positively about the blogger you’ll be visiting, and describe what you’ll be doing with excitement and energy. Provide links to the blog.
  • The day of the visit, go to the blog and provide the interaction you have agreed upon with the blogger. Put your best self forward—be positive, friendly, supportive, kind, and all that other stuff. If it’s not a real-time activity, leave a comment on the post thanking the blogger.
  • Post positively about the visit the day after. (Even if it was a horrible experience, put a positive spin on it.) Thank the blogger in your post and provide another link to them.
  • Send a personal thank you to each blogger after you visit them.
  • When the tour is over, assess the results. You may not immediately see a jump in book sales, but you should see an increase in your blog/website hits. Make a note of the bloggers who were the easiest to work with and who provided the most hits back to your blog. You’ll want to work with them again in the future.

Readers—If you’ve done a virtual book tour, let us know how it went. What did you do that worked really well? What didn’t work so well? What would you do differently? Feel free to post links in your comments.

P.S. While I was googling “virtual book tours”, I found the Book Tour site. If you’re doing a real-life tour, you can list your events here. When someone visits the site, it lists the events in their area. Cool.

How Much Should an Author Spend to Promote Their Book?

Do you think it’s a good idea for an author to send copies of his/her book out to reviewers (in addition to those that the publisher may contact) to help create a buzz about the book? How much should an author spend to promote his/her book?

An author should definitely be willing to invest in the promotion of his/her book. Whether that investment is put into review copies, a launch party, postcards or whatever depends on what the publisher is doing. Coordinate your efforts—know what they are doing and let them know what you are doing—so that you work together, not against each other.

If writing is a career for you, or you want it to be, you need to look at this as a business investment. If you were opening a burger shop, you’d expect to invest in that. Your books are your burgers. Expect to invest in them.

How much you invest depends on what you can afford, whether it’s your first book or tenth, what your publisher is doing, and if you get/how big your advance is. I can’t tell you how much to spend, but this is what I would do if it were my first book in the LDS market.

If I got an advance, I’d take my family out to dinner then spend the rest of that advance on marketing the book. If I didn’t get an advance, I’d look at what I could personally afford and make a marketing plan/budget. I’d be willing to spend up to 75% of the royalties I could reasonably expect to earn. For example, if my royalty was $1 per book and my publisher was doing an initial print run of 2,000, I’d probably spend between $500 and $1,000 on marketing. If the book sold through in the first 6 months, I’d increase my budget. If the marketing is done well, I’ll earn this back in royalties.

This is what I’d do:

  • I’d buy the two books mentioned in this post and study them. I’d also surf the Internet to see what other authors are doing. Then I’d choosing at least a dozen ideas that appealed to me and that would bring me the best return on my investment
  • Two websites (URL my name and URL title of my book); they wouldn’t be fancy, but they’d look professional and have newsletter sign-ups and online sales capabilities (or a link to Amazon). There are several inexpensive and/or free hosting sites, templates, and shopping carts out there. You can do this for under $100.
  • Business cards, postcards and bookmarks—whatever my publisher didn’t supply. My goal would be to personally give out 500 business cards and 500 bookmarks in the first 30 days after release. I’d also mail the postcards to everyone I know.
  • Internet campaign/promo with prizes (copies of my book)—Use something like Constant Contact to send out regular newsletters, promos, contest announcements, etc.
  • Get my book listed on
  • Set up speaking engagements for my target audience and give away at least one free book per event
  • Give comp copies of my book to anyone who contributed to it in any way whatsoever; two comp copies to family and friends who you mentioned in the Acknowledgments (one for them to keep, one for them to give away). Also give each of them a handful of bookmarks and ask them to give those to their friends. Their excitement will help spread the word.

If this were my second or third book, I’d estimate what I’d earn in advances and royalties (based on sales of book one) and spend 1/3 to 1/2 of that on marketing. I’m still investing most of my earnings back into the business of being an author. Hopefully, I would also be able to upgrade some of my equipment and pay for expenses involved in writing future books.

By the time my fourth book came out, I’d start keeping most of the book earnings as income. I’d have a good idea of what types of promotions worked best for me, gave me the largest return for my investment, and concentrate on those promos, spending about 10% of my advance/expected royalties on marketing (min. $500), over and above what my publisher was doing.

Author Branding and Platforms

So many publicity/marketing sites talk about the importance of branding yourself and having a platform. First, can you define brands and platforms, and second, are they important to you and your colleagues in making a decision as to who will get a contract and who won’t? Are brands and platforms significant in the LDS marketplace?

Branding yourself as an author means that you have created a body of work in a coherent style, theme and/or genre. It needs to be easily recognizable and easy to summarize. People who buy your books understand what they’re going to get. Your brand begins with the first book you publish. If it’s a romance, you’re branded a romance writer; if historical, that’s your brand. If you want to build your brand, you will stick to that genre.

This is particularly important for a national market. If you write outside your perceived brand, it can sometimes cause problems. (John Grisham’s Christmas book upset many readers; Anne McCaffery’s romances were counterproductive to her sci-fi/fantasy brand.) To get around this, many very famous, well-branded authors will use a different pen name when they write in a new genre. (Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb; Stephen King/Richard Bachman/John Swithen; Robert Jordan/Regan O’Neal/Jackson O’Reily.)

There aren’t a lot of LDS writers with a strong brand, simply because there aren’t many with a large, coherent body of work. Anita Stansfield is branded—like her books or hate them, you know what you’re going to get. Jack Weyland is another, as is Rachel Nunes. However, if any of these authors started writing in a different style or genre, they’d have to recreate their brand.

Now, that said, you don’t have to stay pigeon-holed in the first genre you start writing in. Many authors successfully write in a variety of genres, with or without a pen name. However, you, your agent, publicist, publisher need to work together to make a genre change thoughtfully—to minimize reader disappointment and to incorporate the new genre into your evolving brand.

There are actually two uses of the word “platform” as it applies to writing. The first refers to your message, your credentials. This applies more to non-fiction than to fiction. Think of it like a political platform. Maybe a therapist writes frequently about depression—that’s their platform.

The other use of the word “platform” refers to the machinery behind marketing your book(s). What methods do you use to get the word out about your book? This would include a website, maybe a blog, publishing related articles for periodicals, a newsletter, public appearances, your agent/editor or publicist.

Are branding and a platform necessary in the LDS market? Well, they happen automatically, whether you’re aware of them or not, so I say, use them consciously to promote your writing career.

Does a brand and platform determine who gets a contract and who doesn’t? Not directly. Good writing determines a contract. But on the other hand, good writing with a unique story line or style, brings with it the seeds of branding. Also, all things being equal, in a pinch the author who has a good marketing plan (platform) may be published ahead of the author who has not given it any thought.

However, branding and platform are not where you put your energy—at least not in the beginning. Your first concern is to WRITE A GOOD STORY. After that is done, then start thinking about branding and platform.

Here are a few links that talk about branding and platform in more depth:

The Basics of Author Branding

Are Books Bound by Their Brand?
Your Personal Brand

How to Build a Writing Platform
The Truth about Author Platforms
Build an Author’s Platform

E-books for Christmas

I’m writing a Christmas story, that I am going to give out to friends for Christmas gifts. I am not a published author yet. I’ve thought about possibly putting it as an online e-book, but don’t know if it costs money to do. That way, if they enjoyed it, they could show it to other friends and family. I guess my question is what is your opinion of e-books? I plan on going the regular route of publishing companies when I finish my novel. But for short stories to share with others, what would be the best way to share – besides giving them a file or printout of the story?

I wouldn’t make an e-book out of something you planned to publish in the future without the permission, guidance, help of your publisher/agent. But an e-book is a great way to distribute a story you’d like to share with family and friends.

You need to create the file—which is often a pdf file (my preference because you can make it look pretty) or some type of generic text file (easier for you; but ugly). You also need a delivery method—which could be as simple as sending it through e-mail.

If you want a fancy delivery service where you can post the file and let people come download it at their convenience, you’ll need some type of website and server capabilities to do that. You could create a Yahoo group and post it in the Files section. That is free.

Or if you want something more complex, you’ll need to get that info from somewhere else. I’m not involved in that part of our company. (We do very few e-books.) For a really spectacular example of doing this, see what Marnie Pehrson has done. I have no idea how she did it so I can’t really help you with the specifics.

Anyone with experience on this want to chime in?

Self-Promotion: Easier Said…

It has come to my attention that we need another discussion on self-promotion because some of you (and YOU know who you are) are not very good at it.

I understand that it is hard to go around tooting your own horn. You don’t want to be so over the top that your friends and family run screaming each time they see you coming. But there are some simple and very easy ways to self-promote that are very rarely offensive. Here are a few (in no particular order).

  1. Donate copies of your book to your local libraries. If you write for children or teens, donate copies to the local schools. If you’re up to it, offer to do a book reading or a class on becoming an author, etc.
  2. Offer your books as prizes in community events, blog contests, etc.
  3. Join some of the online social networking groups and/or blog rolls; submit posts and/or articles to online communities. There are a gob: MySpace, Facebook, Cre8buzz, Digg, Sk-rt, Helium, BlogHer, Digg, BlogCatalog, Stumble, Squidoo, etc. The purpose of this is to get people to come to you blog or website where they will see a tastefully posted image and description of your book on the sidebar/webpage.
  4. Join writing and book review forums and comment on a regular (weekly) basis. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Select the ones where you feel you fit in. Use a signature in these forums that links to info on your book(s).
  5. Join local networking groups, like Chamber of Commerce, service clubs, book clubs, writers groups, etc. Select ones that give you the opportunity to spotlight yourself and your books, or that provide networking social events.
  6. Offer to donate reading copies of your book(s) to book clubs.
  7. Create a simple e-mail signature with a link to info about your book(s). You don’t want this to be 10 lines long, two or three at the most.

These take minimal effort to set up and maintain yet they put and keep your name and your book in the public eye.

Do you have a simple, effective promotional idea? Please share in the comments section.

For some other good ideas on promotion, read here and here and here.

Pen Names

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a pen name?

A pen name has one purpose: to hide or screen your identity from your reader.

There are several legitimate reasons to do that, the most common one is when an established author wants to write in a new genre. I talk about that here.

Some authors just have an issue with using their real name–either they are afraid no one will like their book and they don’t want to be embarassed later, or they are afraid they’ll be the next J.K. Rowling and want to protect their privacy. Sometimes the subject matter of the book is such that they need to protect their identity (for example, if it’s a memoir about something that’s socially unacceptable, or where you could get sued if people knew you wrote the book). Or maybe they don’t like their real name. Or maybe the publisher doesn’t like their real name. Whatever.

The disadvantage is that your friends, neighbors, old boyfriends, the teacher who said you’d never write worth anything, will never know it’s you when your book ends up on the NYT Best Seller list.

It might also create some issues if you’re out there promoting your book and people recognize you, but usually only if you’re already well known. For example, if Hilary (she’s a first-name celebrity now, right?) used a pen name to write about politics. That could be a problem.

A similar problem is that some readers will feel cheated if they find out you’re not using your real name. This is more of an issue with non-fiction where you’re presenting yourself as an expert in the area you’re writing about. They wonder if they can trust what you’re saying.

If you want to use a pen name, talk to your agent/publisher about it. Discuss the pros and cons with them and then make a decision. Personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal either way, but I do like to see authors use their real names when possible because I think if they’ve gone to all the trouble to write a good book, they deserve all the credit and perks that come with that.

Promotional Expectations

What should an author expect from a publisher in the way of promotion?

In addition to what I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I made a few suggestions here and here.

What’s the best way to promote a book?

Depends on the book, the genre, the target audience. There are a few suggestions in the links above. But in addition to this, brainstorm. Look at what others are doing and adapt them to your situation. But don’t be a Nathan Newauthor. DISCUSS the possibilities with your publisher and TOGETHER decide what will work best.

More on Promotion

Doesn’t promotion/marketing fall mainly to the author, especially in the LDS market? [I added “marketing” to this question, because they’re so closely related.]

No, it doesn’t. Yes, an author has to do a lot of promotion for their book but it is an error in thinking that the author does the majority of the promotion for their book.

Your publisher is going to concentrate on marketing your book to the bookstores, to get it in the stores and on the shelves. A lot of this promotion is very “behind the scenes” to the author. It includes schmoozing, developing industry relationships, phone calls, mailings, e-mailings, faxes, catalogs, order forms, shelf liners, in-store posters, promotional discounts, convention booths, sometimes personal visits to the stores, etc., etc., etc. It also includes things like the cover design and layout of your book, to make it attractive to the buyer, pre-market research, and all sorts of stuff that takes time and costs money–90% of which you, the author, will not see happening. We’re honestly not just sitting there twiddling our thumbs. We have a monetary investment in your book that we want to recoup and to build upon.

The author promotes mainly to the reader via book signings, television and radio shows, newspaper reviews, press releases, bookmarks, business cards, websites, blogs, post cards, firesides, buttons, t-shirts, and whatever else you can think of. (Some of which the publisher will provide, or assist you in creating; all of which you should run past them.)

Dollar for dollar, I know I’ve outspent every single one of my authors in marketing and promoting their books.

Now, for a few other questions. I am going to give you MY answers, as in, OUR company policy. Your publisher may have a different policy and/or attitude. When in doubt, ask them.

Is it acceptable to blog about or announce on your website, an upcoming (6 months or so from now) book release?

Yes. It’s fine to blog about your challenges and rewards of your work in progress, to post about it as you move through the submission and acceptance process, where it’s at in printing and marketing. That’s great. It creates a buzz and an expectation; it also personalizes it to your blog readers. They’ll be more likely to buy your book if they’ve shared your journey.

Don’t post content because 1) it will likely change; 2) if the reader doesn’t care for your first draft, they won’t be drawn to read the finished book.

Also, do not post negative things, like “Gee, my stupid publisher blah, blah, blah” or “I hate my book cover…” All of that puts a negative spin on your book and decreases interest.

Is it acceptable to continue to blog about the book release?

Yes, see above.

Do most publishers provide bookmarks or other promotional items if the author asks for such?

We do—up to a certain amount and under certain conditions. If the author wants more or different items, then we negotiate it on an item by item basis.

Bottom line: an author should obtain permission for all promotion, including blogs?

You shouldn’t have to clear every single blog post with your publisher. We don’t have time for that and we wouldn’t be publishing you if we didn’t have some faith in your writing abilities. However, I really liked Josi’s suggestions about a marketing plan. If you make a quick outline of what you intend to do, include blogging on that list. Then if your publisher has a problem with it, they can contact you to discuss it.

The Horrible Story of Nathan Newauthor

On the subject of marketing and promotion, I’m saddened to hear that some publishers don’t get back to their authors in a timely manner concerning promotional events. Sometimes it’s beyond their control and a matter of bad timing, but if it’s a regular occurrence, that’s really unfortunate. And as an author, you may feel hamstrung in your efforts because there is probably a clause in your contract somewhere that says you have to have all promotional pieces and marketing efforts approved by your publisher.

There is a reason for that clause as illustrated in this story about Nathan Newauthor. Nathan is a soon-to-be-published new author whose book is currently at the press. In his enthusiasm and inexperience and without permission and approval from the publisher, Nathan decides to get very creative with his marketing ideas. Having read a book on guerilla marketing for writers and being encouraged to push the envelope by friends and family (who know very little about the publishing industry), Nathan creates and hand distributes a promotional piece at an event with nearly 1,000 attendees that are HIS TARGET AUDIENCE.

Wa-hoo! Those orders ought to start rolling in.

Here’s what Nathan doesn’t understand.

  1. Although he and his mother thought it looked quite attractive, his marketing piece was very unprofessionally done. It looked like it had been copied at Kinko’s and hand-cut and assembled. Which it had been. Now, let’s think for a minute. Does an ugly promotional piece encourage or discourage someone to go purchase a product? Do the people he gave promo to know that Nathan lovingly slaved for hours to create this? Do they give him an A for effort? No. They think the publisher did it–and if that’s the best the publisher can do, why would they think the “real” book would be any better? Nathan most likely just lost 800 of the 1,000 people in his target audience.

    If Nathan’s publisher had been involved, the promo would have been professionally designed, using appropriate fontage and color and white space and all that other graphic design mumbo-jumbo that most people poo-poo, but which has an actual, measurable impact on the buyer.

  2. Nathan spent way too much money on the project, so he decided to just do a few in color and the rest in black and white. Color says, these people know what they’re doing; black and white says, these people are working out of their garage on a shoe-string budget.

    Had Nathan’s publisher created the piece, it would have been in color and printed at a much lower price. Because we have connections.

  3. Nathan thought it would be great to get advance notice out for his book. Good in theory. But if you market too soon, you lose momentum. Since his release is over a month away, it’s too soon to market to the end customer.

    Nathan also thinks people will pre-order his book. No, they won’t because his name is not J.K. Rowling. They’ll go to the bookstore or website, decide to wait to get the book when it’s available, and then FORGET about it.

    Publishers understand this. We time our advance notice.

  4. Nathan didn’t know (because he didn’t bother to ask) and the publisher hadn’t told him (because it clearly states in the contract that Nathan has to approve all marketing efforts and since he didn’t, the publisher had no way of knowing he was planning something like this) is that there was trouble at the printer and his books are going to be delayed by several weeks past his scheduled release date.

    Publishers know that release dates can be tentative and they plan accordingly. New authors believe the release date is carved in stone.

  5. Nathan thought it would be a great thing to let all the people at this event know about his upcoming release. What he didn’t know is that the event coordinators have a very strict policy against distributing promotional pieces at said event. In fact, if a publisher does that, they are very often asked never to return.

    If Nathan had asked his publisher, the publisher could have prevented this serious faux pas.

  6. Nathan thought he was doing his publisher a favor because the event coordinators are one of the publisher’s largest bulk buyers. But they don’t like what he did. They are not happy. If they are severely unhappy, not only will they NOT buy Nathan’s book, but they may also stop buying other books from this publisher. Nathan thinks he was only promoting himself and his book, but in reality, since the publisher’s name was all over the marketing piece, he was also indirectly representing the publisher, and by default, all of their other products as well.

    Again, the publisher could have prevented Nathan from not only shooting himself in the foot, but also from shooting the feet of the publisher and their other authors.

  7. Nathan thinks marketing and promotion is all fun and games, and that anything goes. As long as he’s paying for it, what’s the harm? What he doesn’t realize is that he’s created a situation that could cause a lot of potential harm, for himself, for his book, for the publisher and for every other author the publisher represents.

    Because the event coordinators are a major buyer of the publisher’s products, the publisher has to keep them happy. This is especially important in a small market like ours, where there are only so many distribution channels.

    If the buyer is ticked, and the publisher blows it off, they lose credibility with the buyer. If the buyer is really ticked, the publisher may have to choose between Nathan Newauthor’s not-yet-released book and placating the buyer. Since Nathan’s book is one teeny part of the publisher’s product line, and the buyer is a huge part of the publisher’s income, what do you think the publisher is going to do? The choice could literally be between dropping the author like a hot potato or going out of business.

    Worst case scenario: the publisher decides Nathan’s mistake puts them in a high-risk situation, cancels the contract with Nathan, destroys the book, and sues Nathan for loss and damages due to breach of contract.

    Best case scenario: the publisher gives Nathan a harsh talking to, holds the release of the book until everything is smoothed over with the big buyer, and is now very reluctant to consider future projects with Nathan.

Point of the story: Just because an author doesn’t understand why a publisher has a certain policy or clause in their contract, it doesn’t mean there’s not a very good reason for it. When an author disregards that, they are asking for trouble.

Another point of the story [for those of you who still don’t quite understand this concept yet]: Yes, for the publisher, the bottom line IS ABOUT THE MONEY. If we don’t make money, we won’t be publishers for very long.

One last point: If this is too restrictive for you, then you are free to self-publish. No one is preventing you. But if you choose the traditional publishing route, you have to be willing to play by the publisher’s rules.

P.S. This is not a fictional story. It is based on true events, but the names and a few small particulars have been changed to protect the… well, you know.

P.P. S. Fortunately for Nathan, the publisher was able to smooth things over with the buyer and he got the best case scenario.

Odds & Ends

How will the prospective readers “visit” talk shows and radio shows? On the television and radio, I suppose, but those would probably be local stations in Salt Lake City and would therefore exclude anybody living outside broadcasting range.

Turn it into a podcast (easy to do) and post it to author’s & publisher’s websites and anywhere else we can get it.

I don’t know what a “jump drive” is.

Also called “thumb drive,” it’s a small portable storage device that plugs into your computer via the USB port.

you said you’d provide all the buyers with this jump drive thing, right? So if somebody bought it off the internet, it would be included in the package? Or could they have the possibility of asking you, the author, for the promo piece once they can prove to you that they’ve bought the book? They could answer a question or forward their e-mail ordering form, or whatever, and then you’d send the jump drive in the mail?

If I did this, which I wouldn’t because it would be way to expensive, I’d put a mail-in “proof of purchase” form on one of the back pages of the book that they’d have to photocopy and mail in with a copy of their sales receipt.

Coming in a little late as usual, but I’ve seen the expression “sticky post” on several blogs. What’s a “sticky post?”

On a forum, it’s a way of creating the discussion category that keeps it at the top of the list. It’s an option you select when you create that category. As for a regular blog…? Not sure. Anyone else know?

Blogging 101—Extra questions

I have a blog site, but no one reads it. How do I attract an audience?

Read this post and all the comments.

Do you think it’s better to have a separate blog from your website or blog within your website? Or does it matter?

Whichever is easiest for you. But if your blog is separate from your website, make sure it has links back to your website that are obvious and easy to find.

Is there an advantage to blogging with others (i.e. Writers in Heels, Six LDS Writers and a Frog, etc.)?

Yes! More exposure. Their readers will read you on the group blog. If they like you, they’ll also start visiting your personal blog.

How do I [insert technical stuff here]?

With all the technical questions I’m getting, I’m starting to think maybe I should dump this blog and start one on blogging, etc. Oh, wait. That would make me a geek–a fate that should be avoided no matter what the cost. (sigh) Here are a few of the resource sites that I use:
Blogging Basics 101
Blogger Tips & Tricks
The Real Blogger Status

I’m fascinated that so many people can find time to not only write books/articles/stories, but also find the time to write consistently interesting and helpful blogs.

Priorities. It is Your Job as an author to promote yourself and your work.

I feel like I have nothing of interest to blog about. There are so many talented authors with so much more experience, why would anyone want to read something I’ve written on a blog? How can I offer anything of value to readers?

I’m sort of shocked by this question. The whole point of being a writer is that you have something burning inside, something to say. If you don’t have anything to say, then your novel won’t have much to offer either. If this is truly, truly how you feel, and not just a moment of discouragement, you shouldn’t be looking at writing as a career choice.

That’s all I have about blogs. On to the next question…

Blogging 101—Driving Readers to Your Site

I may not get all the blogging terminology correct here because I’m new to blogging myself. Also, I am not a geek—at least, not on Wednesdays. But you’ll be able to get the general concept behind these ideas.

The most important thing about having a blog is to get your name and writing style noticed. If people recognize your name on the cover of a book, they’re more likely to buy it. Also, because repeat visitors to your blog like you, when you announce your book, they’ll be very likely to run out and buy it. Or at least check it out from the library.

The blogging community is one of your biggest assets when it comes to driving traffic to your own blog site. Here are some ideas:

  1. Find bloggers you like and ask them to trade links with you. You put their link in your sidebar; they’ll put your link in their sidebar.
  2. Comment on blogs. Lots of them. And don’t do it anonymously! When you leave a comment, readers can click on your name to go to your profile and from there, they can click on your blog. That’s too many clicks for me, so I also suggest…
  3. Create a signature with a link to your blog and post it at the bottom of every comment you leave.
  4. Join blogging communities. There are gobs of things out there you can join. Some are referral blogs (what are these things called?) which are basically lists of blogs that focus on a particular topic or area, or whose writers fit a certain profile—like which Josi so graciously told us about in her wise use of the comments section on this blog. Some blogs sponsor short term programs, like a book club or something, and will let you sign up and participate. Join as many of these as you can. Post comments to all the other member’s sites. (Please post your favorite blog communities in the comments section.)
  5. Join forums. There are gobs and gobs of online forums. Join them. Post comments. Use your signature with a link back to your blog. (Please post your favorite forums in the comments section.)
  6. Personal e-mail—use your signature here too. Every personal e-mail that you send out should have a link back to your blog. Your friends want to know about your blog. They like you. They’ll support you.

All of these ideas (and many others that I hope readers will suggest in the comments section of this post) will get people to visit your blog. Keeping them as regular readers is another thing altogether.

The most important factor in building a regular readership for your blog is GOOD WRITING! Interesting, unique, entertaining, informative.

Blogging 101—Settings, Part 3

Before I start on today’s list, I forgot a setting from yesterday. It’s under “Publishing.” Send Pings—Yes. This notifies the web crawlers that you’ve added new stuff to your blog. The more often you add stuff, the higher you move in the search engines.

Template: If you are new to blogging, stick with a standard template. Find something you like, something simple and clean. Some templates let you adjust more fonts and colors than others. Edit HTML only if you know what you’re doing. (Save your code first.)

Links: In your sidebar, link to your website and any other blogs you participate in. You can also link to blogs of friends and other authors and often they will agree to link to you as well.

Labels: This feature works like an index. It lets you create topic categories. It invites visitors to read all your posts on a particular topic. If you’re doing a personal/slice of life blog, limit your labels to a dozen; long lists are just…too long. Post them in your sidebar. (My list is too long, but I don’t care. I’m not doing this for promotional reasons but to make it easy for you to read about particular topics.)

Pictures: Use pictures in your posts and in your sidebar as much as you can. Pictures invite people to read your blog. Some people do a “Picture of the Day/Week” which they change daily/weekly. This keeps your site active and invites the web crawlers. (See note on Pings above.)

Other pictures that are a must on your sidebar are:

  • a profile image—an attractive photo of yourself, or at least a cute icon.
  • covers of your books—WITH LINKS to where they can be purchased.
  • icons for any programs/rings/circles/whatever that you are a member of (discussed in more detail tomorrow)

Archive: There are several ways you can set your archive. Some are space savers and you may be tempted to use them. Don’t. Use the hierachical method because it shows your Post Titles in the sidebar, at a glance. Like the title of your book, the titles of your posts are important. They should stimulate curiosity, interest, invite readers.

Hit Counter: There are several free hit counters out there. I recommend adding one early on. This helps you track visits to your site so you can know if what you’re doing is effective. You can have it be invisible or you can display it on your blog (as I do; scroll down to bottom of my sidebar). Set it to count unique visitors, not page loads. Set the interval to 24 hours.

Blogging 101—Settings, Part 2

I’m using Blogger as my resource for the order in which I talk about settings. I am only discussing the ones that directly effect using your blog as a marketing tool for your writing. In Blogger, many of these settings have a question mark beside them that you can click on for more info. If you use a blog host other than Blogger, it probably has similar settings, but they might call them something else.

Add your Blog to our listings?
Yes, you want to do this. A reader may find you by browsing Bloggers list.

Show Email Post links? Yes. This allows readers to easily e-mail your blog to their friends, making it more likely for them to come read other posts on your site. (If you’re worried about someone stealing your stuff, put a copyright notice at the top and/or bottom of every post.)

Show # posts/days:
Set this to at least 7. Visitors to your blog are a lot more likely to scroll down to read additional posts than they are to click a link.

Convert line breaks: Yes. This helps keep your post from running all together. In fact, do a double return at the end of each paragraph. This makes it nice and clean and easy to read.

Yes. Invite comments to your blog. People like to share their opinions. In fact, one of the best things that can happen is when your readers start a conversation between themselves in your comments section. That means they’re coming back, over and over again.

Who Can Comment? Unless you’re having a real problem with vicious posters, set this to allow everyone the ability to comment. You want to invite participation on your blog, not exclude people.

Backlinks: This allows people to link back to your blog from their blog. You very definitely want this; it increases your sphere of influence. Readers are much more likely to find your blog through a backlink than they are by simply surfing the Internet.

Show comments in a popup window? Yes. If a reader has to keep clicking to return to the main page, they will stop.

Enable comment moderation? Again, unless you are having trouble with vicious or nasty posters, this is not necessary. People want to see their comments posted immediately, not wait several days for you to check your e-mail, notice there’s a comment waiting, and approve it.

Show word verification for comments? Start your blog with this turned off. It’s annoying to have to type this stuff in and some people will not go to the trouble. If you start having problems with spammers, then you can turn it on.

Show profile images on comments? Yes. It’s fun to see the photos or icons that people use to represent themselves.

ARCHIVING Enable Post Pages? Post Pages give each of your posts their own unique web page, in addition to appearing on your blog’s front page.* YES! This makes it much easier for people to include links to a specific post on your blog within their blog. You want this.
*quoted from Blogger

You want people to subscribe to a feed from your site. This makes it much easier for them to see when you’ve added something new and they are much more likely to come back when you do.

Also, it lets people put your site feed on their blog, for example, in the sidebar. That allows visitors to their blog to see the title and/or first sentence of your newest post. This is a good thing.

I have three more posts about blogging and then I’m done. Tomorrow I’ll do Settings, Part 3, and talk about templates. Next I’ll talk about driving readers to your site. Last I’ll answer the questions I’ve received that don’t fall into these categories.