Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by MaryJanice Davidson
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Well, there might be one or two more things to consider before you quit the day job. Like, about 50,000 books hit the shelves each year, and less than 10% of them get noticed (read: reviewed, prominently placed, etc.). That's not including the several thousand electronic books that come out as well. Think about it: a minimum of 50,000 books came out last year. Can you name more than 50? More than 20?
Another thing to be aware of is the sobering fact that your publisher doesn't want to spend money on you. The bum! He (or she) has an advertising budget, it usually gets set the year before (read: before he even heard of you), and he wants to hang onto every dime of that budget for his Kings, his Grishams, his Roberts and Clancys and Goldsmiths. Worse, if your book is being published through a small press, an electronic publisher, or if you're doing it yourself, the promotion budget is often zero dollars and zero cents.
Now that I've completely demoralized you, I'll wait while you get up, head for the fridge, and have a bonbon or ten to console yourself. Once you come back, I'll tell you how to spread the word about your upcoming release without breaking the bank. Without even bending it!
You're back? Great. Um, there's chocolate on your chin. Anyway, promotion. Starting the buzz. Here goes.
Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
The first thing to do is get a list of the reviewers your publisher will send your book to. Do not send your galleys to anyone on that list. This will irritate your publisher and confuse the reviewer. Instead, put the list aside and concentrate on snagging reviewers your publisher didn't target. Getting a book review is the easiest thing in the world: write the reviewer, type a quick paragraph about your book, and ask for a review. Seven times out of ten, the answer will be an affirmative.
Got an e-book coming out? Good for you! Now there's a market that's getting tougher and tougher to crack. There's a rumor going around that nobody likes to review e-books. This is the biggest lie since "I'm going to give you a shot, but it won't hurt." I've been published in print as well as CD, disc, and download, and there are plenty of reviewers anxious to read e-books. I've never had any trouble. Yes, there are a few "sorry, absolutely no e-books, yech, call us when you've written a real book" sites, but they'll be forced to eat crow within the next ten years, so don't worry about them.
Once you have a reviewer(s) lined up to read your fabulous work, send her (it's usually a her, for some reason) a galley. If you're print-pubbed, your publisher will send you a paper copy of your galley. Before you circle all the spelling errors, take the galley to Kinko's (or smuggle it to the day job) and run off a few copies. Then, when you get a request for your galley, just pop a copy into an envelope, tuck a cover letter in with it, and away it goes. Don't worry about errors; reviewers are well aware that galleys are far from perfect. If you send it Priority Mail, it wings its way to the reviewer in a nifty blue and red envelope, gets there within 72 hours, and costs less than $5.
If you're the author of an e-book, reviewers will either let you e-mail them your manuscript, or you'll make your own galleys, which is no big deal. Just print them out and keep extra copies around. A good rule of thumb is, try to write 2-3 reviewers a week, and try to send out at least two galleys a month to reviewers. It can take a reviewer anywhere from one to six months to get a review to you, so start early.
Once you've gotten some reviews in (a good reviewer will send the review to you as well as your publisher), you can pull some money quotes from them and start peppering your website with them. You can also share the advance reviews with all the e-mail lists you're on. For example, when I started getting great reviews for Love's Prisoner (Secrets 6, Red Sage Publishing), I'd put them on my website, then drop all my lists an e-mail: "Great news! Love's Prisoner just got four stars from Romantic Times Magazine. Check it out at my website!" Do this for every review, to get readers in the habit of checking your website. You can also do quick notes to your lists: "I'm so excited! Affaire de Coeur called Love's Prisoner 'erotica at its best'. It'll be out next December... I'll keep you posted!"
Even if the review is lukewarm, there are ways around that. For example, Romantic Times gave my contemporary romance, Love Lies, a not-so-great three stars. The review went like this: "I really enjoyed the first half of Love Lies, which had a lot of humor and moved along quickly and smoothly. But when Victor basically takes over Ashley's life in the last half, I got very irritated. I also didn't care for the way Ashley felt Victor had certain rights in a relationship she was forced into. To me, this bordered on abuse. In the end Ms. Davidson does carve out a nice romance and I look forward to watching her grow as a writer."
Oh, yeah? Well, so's yer mother. On my website, it's this: "A lot of humor... Davidson (carves) out a nice romance... I look forward to watching her grow as a writer."
There's nothing wrong with editing a review for length, as long as you credit the reviewer and let them know you're posting their words. And regardless of the review, whether you got a rave or you think the reviewer is a sub-literate dumbass, drop a polite note to them. If nothing else, thank them for their time. Romantic Times was underwhelmed by Love Lies, but they're absolutely raving about Love's Prisoner, making me glad I didn't burn my bridges.
So now you've gotten some reviews, and your book will be out in, oh, two or three months. Now's the time to grab that list of reviewers your publisher gave you... you've still got it, right? Contact each reviewer and politely ask if they've received your galley for review.
Now. I love my publishers. All of them. They're super swell and they've helped make my dreams come true (especially Alex Kendall, of Red Sage, and Mary Wolf, of Hard Shell, sorry folks, I absolutely couldn't resist the plug). But they're busy people and they're putting out several dozen books a month, and things slip through the cracks. If you find out your publisher hasn't sent out any of your galleys, you have two options: 1) cry like a baby with heat rash, or 2) matter-of-factly send the reviewer galleys, and pay for the postage yourself. One method will get you a review, and the other will clog your sinuses and alarm your family. You pick.
The next thing to do in order to generate buzz is participate in online chats. Yes, that's chats, plural. Do as many as you can in the months before your book comes out. There are several reasons for this: 1) you're a writer, and writers promote. They might not think so, they might not like to, but they have. To. Promote. Better get used to it. 2) You need to get your name out there, and participating in a chat is a great way to do that. 3) It's fun!
Promoting your chat promotes you, and that also promotes your book, etc., so it's like a rock rolling downhill, except it's nice, not scary.
So! You've got a bunch of great reviews. You've been in three chats in the last month. Your book will be out in six weeks. Now you're going to spend about four bucks and order address labels. You know the kind, they advertise in women's magazines and the TV guide and you find flyers from them in your mailbox all the time: "Eight thousand address labels for $3.99!!!!" or some such thing. Such a bargain, and you're going to do it, except instead of a return address, you're going to order labels like this:
Or, if you don't have a website:
Well, okay, not labels exactly like that (though if you would, I'd be thrilled), but you get the idea. I don't know about you, but I'll check out anybody's website at least once. A lot of people are like that. If you don't have a website, remind me to lecture you into submission, but in the meantime, you can put your publisher's site on the label.
When your labels arrive, all 12,000 of them (or however many you ordered for $9.99), stick them on everything that isn't nailed down: your return envelopes. The envelopes for your bills. Your Christmas cards (Yes, I know it's January... don't pretend you've already sent them out. I know the truth.). Put them on magnets and leave them on strangers' refrigerators. Leave piles of them at conferences. Put several on index cards, and pin an index card to every bulletin board you come across. Put one on your computer monitor at the day job. Decorate your mailbox with them. Give your friends a couple hundred each and beg them to stick them everywhere they can (one of my best friends works in a drugstore, and puts my labels on their sales flyers). Put one on the back of your day job business card. The back of the dog. Who cares? You're limited only by your imagination which, since you're a writer, is a pretty good one. Go crazy, there's plenty more where that came from.
Don't forget to do an electronic address label. Set up your e-mail account so that every e-mail you send has your book title, when it comes out, and a website a would-be customer can visit.
By now you've killed some time and spent a few bucks -- not much -- and your book comes out next week. And you know what? People are e-mailing you, or calling you, or stopping you when they see you, and they're asking when your book comes out, because they want to buy it. They can't really remember where they heard about it... did they read something about it... ? No, something came in the mail... no, they got an e-mail... no, somebody told them about it. Whatever, when's it coming out?
Behold, generated buzz. Now you have to do two things: tell them, and order more address labels.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
MaryJanice Davidson is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling and prolific writer who is published primarily in paranormal romance (including the popular "Undead and..." series, beginning with Undead and Unwed) but also young adult and non-fiction. Her novella, Love's Prisoner (Secrets 6), was the 2000 winner of the Sapphire Award for excellence in Science Fiction Romance. Her day job is Operations Manager at a brokerage firm. In the evenings she slaves over a hot take-out menu for her husband, two children, and dog. Visit her website at http://www.maryjanicedavidson.net/.