The Night Bazaar is delighted to welcome Carol Berg! Carol is the author of a host of acclaimed fantasy novels, including the Rai-Kirah trilogy, the Bridge of D’Arnath quartet, the Lighthouse Duet, and the standalone novel Song of the Beast. She has won the Geffen Award, the Prism Award, multiple Colorado Book AWards, and the 2009 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. Her current series, the Novels of the Collegia Magica, launched in January 2010 with the release of The Spirit Lens. The second novel, The Soul Mirror, released this month.
Someone asked me the other day what I would change about my writing career, now that I am an even dozen books in. I considered the question carefully, and half a second later replied, “Get better advice about marketing.” Yes, authors nowadays have to do lots of legwork to publicize their books. Publisher budgets are tight. Big names get big money, while the rest of us might get a poster, or a mention in our publisher’s or agent’s blog. Maybe only a midnight tweet.
Unfortunately the people I asked about what to do to prepare for a release had few answers and no data to back up their declarations.
“Try a blog. That seems to be hot.”
(Do you notice a pattern here?) I’m not even going to go into the after-publication realm of “set up booksignings.” Ask any author to estimate how many books were sold at booksignings to people who would NOT have bought the book anyway. Very, very, very few. The main advantage of booksignings is meeting booksellers. Now THEY are your friends.
Here are the things I do to prepare for a book release. I believe them helpful in, 1 – raising awareness in people I know are interested, and 2 – raising awareness in people “out there” who might be interested.
A website, yes. I update my site early on to include information about the forthcoming book. (My agent warned me early on about the unpleasant connotations of “upcoming” books.) I include copy – something like the back copy. As the book develops, I put up cover art, news milestones – like when I turn it in, release dates, and so on. I put up maps if I have something done before the release. I make sure my bio is updated. I post an excerpt as soon as I have something that will make a good one – often the first chapter. I always link to it rather than posting it on the main page, because some readers hate any spoiler and don’t want to read excerpts.
Bookmarks/postcards, yes. When I get cover art, I make small, medium, and large digital versions to use on the website. And then, I either get someone to use a high-res version of the cover and my words to make a bookmark (a friend did this for me for a while) or I devise a nifty, enticing paragraph, some review quotes or blurbs if I have them, and get a postcard printed with cover art on the front and my nifty info on the back – easy to do at online printshops. I want something to hand out at conventions, workshops, or to anyone who says, “What kind of books do you write?” I don’t stick them in my electric bill, as I’ve often heard advised. Maybe I would be a bigger seller if I had… But now, of couse, I pay my electric bill online. So much for that avenue.
Some writers create calendars, pens, buttons, or other kinds of gimme items. No one has ever proven to me that those work better than a card. I have never bought a book because someone gave me a pen. I do like a reminder that this person has a book coming out, and if I can read a paragraph on the back of the card or bookmark that tells me what the book is about, I am much more inclined to buy it. You can’t put a paragraph of copy on a pen or a button.
I have been known to mail 10-12 postcards or bookmarks to a list of bookstores, names either provided by my current readers or from information I’ve gathered online about specialty stores dealing in fantasy and science fiction. I’ve heard from some booksellers that they like these. I’ve heard from others that they throw them out, because they are inundated with such things.
Networking, yes. I ramp up my convention/workshop schedule. You can meet other writers at conventions, workshops, library, bookstore, or other multi-author events. They will lead you to or invite you to professional discussion lists – Novelists Inc, or sfnovelists, for example – where you can learn from other writers what works and what doesn’t. (Hint: No one knows.) Those of us in genre fiction have a great opportunity in that we have many convention opportunities, some very inexpensive. Fantasy/sf conventions. Romance writers’ conventions. Mystery conventions. These are places to meet other writers – who are always readers, too, and to meet readers who are always on the lookout for new writers. I was terrified of conventions at first, but now they’re some of my favorite things to do. I have learned tons by listening. And I’ve been introduced to opportunities by meeting other writers. I still hear from readers who heard me on the “My First Novel” panel at the Chicago WorldCon in 2000, six weeks after my first book came out. Often they have bought every one of my books and convinced others to do so.
There are certainly many place online to establish a presence as an writer, and then announce that you have a book coming out. Some are more useful than others. For women writers of speculative fiction, check out broaduniverse.org. Broaduniverse supports women writers of speculative fiction. They sponsor rapidfire readings at many sf/fantasy conventions. You can participate in these before your book is published. They put out a yearly catalog – online and paper – of new books by BU members. I know this has drawn readers.
Things that drive me crazy and persuade me not to buy a book:
The sound of desperation, like someone on Facebook who asks me weekly to “Like” their book page. Constant updates on someone’s “blog tour” or, even worse, announcements on writers group lists of “what I’m blogging about today.” If everyone takes the same blogging class, we will die suffocating under messages about blogs. Don’t drive away readers before they hatch.
I heard a speaker, experienced in the realms of editing, publishing, and publicity, say to pick two things out of all the lists of ideas people throw at you – two things that are not too obnoxious and don’t stress you unduly from your writing – and do those. And then ignore all other suggestions. That’s probably good advice.
The most universal advice I’ve heard? Write another book, better than the last. And don’t stress too much about the release of the last one. Well, ok, I’m better at the first than the last. Good luck to all!