Alert to Writers Using Facebook for Marketing

Facebook is no longer as free and open as you may think.

Did you know that the average post you do on Facebook now reaches only 12%–14% of your friends?

The FB marketing director defended this, saying, “There are pieces of content you create that are interesting, and there’s some that are not.” Per their Oct. 3 announcement: Facebook will now “allow” users to pay $7 to make their posts “more visible” in friends’ News Feeds.

(Later in this post, I’ll note several things you can do to deal with this.)

It’s true. As of October, Facebook is offering you the “opportunity” to “Promote” any given post. What this means: per post . . . you pay $7, and they’ll push that specific post higher in your Friends news feeds.

The dark underbelly: to make this more compelling, they are cutting off, through a magical algorithm called EdgeRank, many of our friends’ posts, so they never appear in our News Feed!

How bad is it now? For instance, a page I run for Crickhollow Books has 452 Likes. But a recent post (announcing a new book just released) was seen by only 7 people. (That’s less than 2%.) The Facebook message says bluntly: “7 people saw this post.”

It should say, “Pay up, dude, if you want to see your Post alive on your Friends news feeds!”

Other pages I work with are seeing similar wretched results, and this is confirmed by other social-media experts and publicists who are interested in how Facebook can help writers and other creatives to connect with fans, friends, and followers.

In my experience, the current spread of a given post ranges from a paltry 2% up to 50% (for a photo posted on a church FB page). The average post I do is seen by about 15% of those who Liked the page. No longer do I see any example of any post that reaches 100% of those who Liked that page, via News Feeds. (Yes, they could choose to go directly to a person’s Timeline page and see that person’s entire posts. But most people still think they’re seeing everything on their News Feed, subject only to older posts dropping farther down & out of sight.)

Check it out yourself. Go to your Facebook News Feed & check the posts at the top. Note the time of posting. When I recently checked my feed, the top 3 posts said “3 minutes ago”, “28 minutes ago”, and “51 minutes ago”. Those aren’t the 3 most recent posts! They were chosen, somehow, by Facebook to share with me; they also put them at the top of my feed. As you go down, you’ll see entries likely aren’t in chronological order. Facebook is ordering them. (Likely, most didn’t pay anything; FB is using “EdgeRank” to calculate how important they think each post is to you, based on your past activity on FB.)

Why is it happening now?

In my opinion (and others), it’s connected to Facebook’s need to make a bigger profit, after their dismal IPO stock offering. But, in typical FB fashion, they’re rolling it out in a way that is confusing, a bit stealthy, and poorly designed for customer friendliness. Most people don’t even know it’s happening.

Here’s the best detailed article I found, on Mashable, about the problems with Facebook’s Promoted Posts (with a few excepts below):
“Facebook is rigged: Why Personal Promoted Posts are Bad for Users,” by Matt Silverman

The average user’s News Feed is not chronological. It is determined by an algorithm called EdgeRank, which selects things that are, theoretically, most relevant to you.

. . . Essentially, the network is [now, more than ever] “hiding” your updates from friends, and then turning around to say, “Hey, if you want friends to see your updates, you could pay us!”

It’s what economists call artificial scarcity. . . . Facebook status updates are [nominally] free for everyone to post and consume. But when EdgeRank makes them scarce for some people [in their visibility] and not for others, it creates an artificial market. . . . Facebook is rigging the game and then asking users to pay to level the playing field.

What you can do?

1. Make EdgeRank (somewhat) go away. Encourage your friends to do the same.

According to that same Mashable article:

[Y]ou can make EdgeRank go away. A tiny text link at the top of your News Feed allows you to sort updates by “Top Stories” or “Most Recent.” If you want to see everything that your Facebook friends and brand pages have posted in chronological order, you always have the option.

Facebook doesn’t call much attention to this wonderful feature because it makes promoted posts less valuable.

UPDATE [from Mashable]: Facebook has informed us that some posts may still be omitted form your News Feed even when sorting by “Most Recent.”

The tiny link you’re looking for is labelled “Sort” – it is just below & to the right of the “What’s on your mind?” box. I just switched mine to “Most Recent” – it mostly (with curious exceptions) now orders posts by chronological order.

2. Use more photos.

I’ve seen reports that certain kinds of posts do much better. One analysis suggested that photos get 6 times more views.

This is born out by my own small data set, from the half-dozenn pages I manage actively.

Links, however, don’t seem to affect the ranking that much.

3. Consider establishing a social-media base elsewhere.

I’ll be looking more at Google+ (their emerging social media network). Also, I’m shifting most of my core writing back to my blog.

If you don’t already, you should question if Facebook is right for you, considering costs, time wasted, privacy concerns, annoying design . . . vs. the benefits we get from that quirky assemblage of goofy, ironic, inspirational, neo-sincere, etc. posts.

4. Decide if you do want to pay $7 to promote an occasional key post.

If I have a driving interest to make sure everyone in my Friends pool (“Likes”) sees a given post, I’ll test & try to measure the benefit of paying $7 to push a post.

For instance, I’ll post & promote a link to this article on Facebook! Sure, I’m happy to shell out $7 for that.

And I’ll pay to tell Friends I’m moving mostly away from Facebook, and how to follow me if they want to stay in touch and read my social-media posts elsewhere.

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5. Wait & hope that Facebook sees this as a hugely negative thing and drops/changes it.

FB has mostly grown with a “Hey, it’s free” mentality. As they start to charge for it . . . over-charge, and under-explain . . . will they succeed?

I’ll end with an evaluation from the Mashable article:

The very notion of the Social Graph, the data brain that makes Facebook so valuable, is absolutely genius and should be leveraged by marketers to make brand messaging more efficient. Facebook is a free service, and we pay the price of privacy to use it.

But to rig the social conversation and then ask people to buy their way back in? That’s a terrible user experience decision, and it will hurt Facebook in the long run. Power users will see the philosophical flaws here, and average users will be miffed that their wedding photos are invisible to old high school chums unless they pony up the cash.

As someone else said, this is a lot like Facebook peeing in their own pool. Most people don’t yet know this is going on. Once they do, will we all still bother to go to Facebook as often?

I will now and then . . . to read random posts, knowing I’m not seeing a lot of what friends are posting.

But will I go as often, or post as much myself? And once this starts to break down . . . I’m no longer as positive about what the Facebook experience offers me, or you.

Social media marketing for writers in a nutshell is sharing what you do, in an appealing way, staying in touch, and enjoying the diverse conversations and news about highs, lows, and yes, the mundane things about daily life we enjoy sharing with others.

It’s only worth doing if the process is clear & the results are worthwhile.

It just doesn’t matter if you have 50 or 500 or 5,000 “Likes” – if you can’t communicate easily with them.

Simultaneous Submissions (Should I or Shouldn’t I?)

I’ve often heard writers ask whether they should follow a “no simultaneous submissions” policies, as requested by some publishers.

The question of multiple submissions, also call simultaneous submissions, is daunting to an emerging writer.

Here is how the policy is often stated:

Please do not send us work which is also being submitted elsewhere. We do not consider simultaneous submissions. This policy saves our editors from reading work that is not actually available for first North American publication, and it saves authors the embarrassment of having to withdraw a manuscript.

My advice? I recommend that authors do what is in the best interests of the author, and let publishers do what is in their best interests.

It’s a bit of a gray area, I admit; it may depend on how “hot” or timely or truly amazing your work is. You generally want to be respectful, in part to increase your likelihood of acceptance anywhere. Still, in a nutshell, if you feel compelled to violate a publisher’s policy . . . well, you cannot always shape your business model to what is most convenient or efficient for a publisher.

In short, while publishers logically are publisher-centric . . . as an author, you need to be author-centric. Exclusive expectations to review literary work, given the competition of the real world, seems unrealistic, especially if you are submitting work “over the transom” (which means unsolicited).

As an author, your responsibility is to submit good and appropriate work, which gives a publisher a chance to consider it and respond as quickly as they wish to. In this business climate, publishers should know that unbought work can be bought or acquired by a competitor if they don’t move quickly enough.

I’d say publisher legitimately could request a “no simultaneous submissions” policies if:

  1. They acknowledge receipt.
  2. They indicate how long before a response will be given.
  3. They indeed respond to your submission within that time.

If so, their request that authors don’t submit work elsewhere is more reasonable. Still, authors – especially new emerging authors – need to submit and get work published, and they need to pursue this aggressively.

Caveats and exceptions:

1. Don’t submit countless random, machine-gun simultaneous.

I recommend authors be selective. Do good research into likely prospects. Start with the highest-value publishers (or literary agents), those with the greatest pay or highest readership or greatest literary prestige. If it’s a timely item, you might want to send it to a selection of a few prospects. If you don’t hear anything soon, then move onto the next prospects on your list.

2. Do honor explicit requests for an exclusive read.

If a publisher, editor, or agent looks at a brief query and requests more, asking for or expecting an “exclusive look” for a set period of time, I’d likely grant that. I’d confirm the period of time; if one isn’t given, I’d send the requested work but state my acceptable period for an exclusive look, perhaps 3–4 weeks. At that time, I’d nudge, and ask how the review has gone, before withdrawing it from the “exclusive” zone.

3. Avoid irritating good clients.

If you have a working relationship with a publisher, then you have a reason to give that partner in your literary career a first look, probably an exclusive one, at new work. Some book contracts may insist on that. But it’s generally a good way to do business. This would be true also of a literary journal where you’ve seen some past publishing success; you may have an inside track, and so logically want to build a good relationship.

But, if you are an emerging writer without a lot of published credits or existing relationships with agents or publishers . . . and you want to get your work published to launch a fairly new career . . . ask yourself what is the best model for your success? You are exactly the person who needs to get your work onto a lot of editorial desks to be reviewed.

A publisher should know they are in competition for manuscripts, especially when it comes to discovering new talent.

Sure, they’d like an exclusive look. Who wouldn’t?

As a business matter, authors should consider the risk. Ask yourself: what’s the down side? Let’s say one publisher accepts it, and you have to notify others (yes, you should be courteous and do this immediately) that the work was accepted elsewhere and you have to withdraw your submission from further consideration. If they are peeved . . . well, they should have responded sooner if they really wanted to acquire the work.

And you have made the publisher who accepted the work happy; this is the publisher you’ll clearly be working with. You’ve annoyed an editor who thinks he/she “wasted” (possibly) time considering your work, but didn’t move quickly enough. So? It’s only a factor for you and your business if you later want to work with that publisher, and if the same editor is there and maintains a black list. Is there some risk here? Have you possibly burned a bridge? Sure. But I think your outcome, in such a case, is better than having your work sit too long on a single desk.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in playing the literary game fairly. But to me, an exclusive demand for unsolicited work just doesn’t meet my definition of fair to all parties involved.

Further Reading:

Here’s a well-balanced discussion of some issues (Harold Underdown recommends reasonably that you indicate that your submission is a multiple submission): http://www.underdown.org/multiple.htm

Here’s a good author-centric analysis: http://whatdoesnotkillme.com/2009/08/31/simultaneous/

Book Club Discussion Questions – A Great Example from a Mystery Writer

I like to use this blog to share good examples of things that book authors (and/or their publishers) can do to market their books.

I recently ran across this online list of book-club discussion questions, a reader’s guide for a mystery book by Dee Garretson, author of The Gargoyle in the Seine.

What did I like about this particular list?

1. Posting the questions online, she also provided, at the beginning of the page, specifics on how to reach her if you are a member of a book club and wanted her to discuss her book with your group . . . in person or via speakerphone or Skype.

2. I really liked her two-part division of the discussion questions. First, she offers a set that can be used to discuss most mystery books. (E.g., “If a mystery is well-written the reader should suspect a number of characters throughout the story. Which characters did you think committed the crime? Did you guess the culprit before the end?”) After these, she lists specific questions for The Gargoyle in the Seine.

This offers a useful tool for book-club members . . . they might want to use to discuss other books. And it shows a command of the genre that makes me believe she wrote a good, well-structured book and can talk about it knowledgeably to a group of literary fans.

Dee Garretson has had several books for young readers (grades 4th–6th) published by HarperCollins. She decided to self-publish her adult mystery (despite some literary agent interest), and has done a good job of promoting the title with a well-constructed WordPress blog (using the clean lines of the “Twenty Ten” template.)

Kudos!

Virtual Book Presentations for Authors – Using Skype and YouTube

Given the availability of easy-to-use and inexpensive technologies, here are two great ways to present your work personally to far-flung audiences.

1. Skype
Barbara Techel is the author of  Class Act: Sell More Books Through School and Library Author Appearances. You can order this great book on doing school and library presentations for under $10 as an eBook, or it’s available from her as a paperback.

It’s not just for children’s book authors. It’s “the ultimate how-to manual for authors of any title of interest to these audiences, detailing how to spread the positive message they were passionate enough to write about in the first place . . . book speaking gigs and personal appearances, and ultimately, sell more books.”

The tip: Techel has been successfully using Skype to do author events remotely. Here’s an excellent guest post she did about this for the Savvy Book Marketer blog:

Many authors, as well as publishers, have limited budgets for travel. Exploring and being open to the opportunity of Skype will help you reach out to many audiences you may not have been able to before. School and library budgets are not what they used to be also. Skype is a wonderful solution affording them the option to still introducing students to authors.

You should definitely check out Barbara’s ideas for using Skype to offer more accessible and affordable author programs (that don’t require you to spend hours in travel and set-up/waiting time). It’s a free bit of software (and one you’ll find yourself using in many ways).

2. YouTube

The online book trailer posted on YouTube (and the book’s website) is popular (although no one is sure why or how effective it really is).

Maybe the problem is that too many book trailers try to be like dramatic movie trailers. Is that really the right approach for a literary work?

Why not just let us meet the author, briefly? You can use your abundant charm and literary skills to present a bit about yourself, the background that led to writing your book, and a bit about what the book is about (focusing on why it’s so appealing or useful to readers).

Here’s an example of a sophisticated, but simple version of an author presentation featuring Penn Jillette (of the Penn & Teller comedy duo). Clearly, he’s a performer and know how to present himself well. But note: it’s not a complicated format. It interweaves his explanation (via a well-lit, dark-background set) of why he wrote his book about his take on God (“From the larger, louder half of the world-famous magic duo Penn & Teller comes a scathingly funny reinterpretation of The Ten Commandments”), with shots of his book (the product).

For several other approaches:

Here’s an author interview with Rick Riordan about the first book in his Percy Jackson series, The Lightning Thief.

Here’s an author interview with Lois Lowry about her Newberry-winning work, The Giver.

Hopefully, these will help steer you away from the teaser movie-like book trailer and toward the “meet the author” and “let’s share some behind-the-scenes info about writing my book with my readers” approach. It is far more likely to be shared amongst interested readers, as it offers actual content.

How to Attend a Book Launch for a Friend’s New Book

A reader of this blog asked the following excellent question:

Hi,
I’m invited to a book launch party this evening. I believe my friend self-published. I was wondering what the protocol was for such an event? It is being held in her home. Do I purchase the book there? Do I bring a gift? I don’t want to embarrass myself. Help!

Good question. What to do if you don’t know much about the book, how good it is, whether you’ll want to buy it (or not)?

I don’t know if you saw this main post on book launches, it gives the story from the author’s point of view.
http://writershandbook.wordpress.com/2009/03/19/plan-a-great-book-launch-party/

So, how does it work from your side, as a friend? No, you don’t have to bring a gift. (You can offer, if you wish, to bring something helpful like food or drink.)

And, yes, the book will be available for sale. But don’t feel obligated to buy unless you really want to. (That’s a separate decision from attending to support your friend.) There are reasons you may not want to buy: It may not be your cup of tea. It might not be very good in your opinion. You may not have the extra money in your budget.

It does help, however, to be supportive as a friend. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Attend! The more the merrier. It will feel more exciting & positive for the author the more people show up, and to have friends there to talk with. It means you care.
  2. If you know others who might enjoy the book launch, invite them to go with you or tell them where & when it’s happening (if it’s a public event).
  3. Be complimentary & celebratory. If nothing else, congratulate the author on having completed such a major accomplishment. It’s a lot of work to write a book, self-published or not! And you can enjoy the party, and help welcome others and keep the conversation going.
  4. Ask your friend how the idea for the book came about, how it was researched or imagined, how he/she overcame stumbling blocks, about his/her writing process (does he/she write every day, in spurts, what gets the creative juices going, etc.).
  5. You don’t have to buy the book, and you don’t have to stay all evening. Drop in, stay as long as you wish.
  6. Do try to learn more about the book, and share any marketing or review ideas you may have with the author. If there’s promotional literature, take a copy for yourself and for others who might be interested.

Before & after the event, you can help with valuable word-of-mouth publicity:

  1. Share the news! Keep the book in mind; pass on info about it (& share links to the author’s website, blog, etc.). You might note the new book’s release, for instance, on your own Facebook page, if you have one. That passes on the news to your network. If you don’t know enough about it to recommend it, you can still note that a friend published a book; share your congratulations and tell others how to find out more.)
  2. If you know any specific folks interested and want to recommend it, or places to post info, do so! You can mention it to book clubs, local libraries, etc.
  3. If you like the book, take a few minutes to post a review on Amazon, Shelfari, GoodReads, or other online literary communities. Or write a review on your own blog and post a link on Facebook. It really helps to have people like you stating in public that the book is worthy (it’s more credible than that author saying it about their own work!)

Of course, if for any reason you don’t think the book is worthy of simple mention or recommendation (a higher standard), then just hold your tongue, and focus on being a friend and offering sincere congratulations on this huge milestone for your friend. Whether or not it’s good, it’s a major achievement.

Ultimately, any book will sink or swim mostly on its own merits. But you can go to the book-launch party, learn more, share the news, and influence others if you think it’s worthy. A savvy author will know that’s more valuable than you just buying a single copy.

But of course . . . if it’s a decent book, consider buying a copy for yourself, or as a gift for others, or to donate to a local library or a women’s shelter or any worthy place.

If you do any part of this, you’re being a friend. And that’s what it’s really about. You can find books anywhere. Friends are more precious!

Book Launch for Historical Novel, by Hilda Demuth-Lutze

Here is a guest post with more good tips for a great book launch, by author Hilda Demuth-Lutze. Hilda shares details of a successful event (in Valparaiso, Indiana) earlier this spring to launch her historical novel Kingdom of the Birds. Subtitled: Seppel and the Secret of the Wartburg Castle, the book is published by Kirk House of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It’s a wonderful read, ideal especially for young teen boys, with a castle, swordfighting, a mystery, and more . . . all with insight into the early work and writings of Martin Luther.

For good book promotion, note how well Hilda involved a number of local groups: Society for Creative Anachronism, Northwest Indiana Fencing Club, high school musicians, and the Women’s Co-operative of the Immanuel Lutheran church. Remember: it’s not always how big these groups are, but how well connected they are and how you can feature them at your event. If you can get groups like this enthusiastic about your book and the launch, they likely will promote it to their own networks.

A Book Launch for a Historical Novel
by Hilda Demuth-Lutze
author of Kingdom of the Birds:
Seppel and the Secret of the Wartburg Castle

Summary
When I first envisioned the launch party for my historical novel Kingdom of the Birds, which is set in 16th-century Germany, I pictured a Renaissance fair with wandering minstrels, swordsmen, and perhaps even caparisoned horses near a pavilion.

My budget and the vagaries of March weather in Northwest Indiana required me to scale back those plans. However, I found knights and fair ladies and horses and even a castle on the wall of the Immanuel Lutheran School lunchroom in Valparaiso.  That storybook mural became a beautiful backdrop for my book-signing table on a Saturday afternoon.

As a member of Immanuel, I was able to reserve the lunchroom at no cost.  Because I chose to donate my profits for the event to our church-run food pantry, the Immanuel Women’s Co-operative provided all the refreshments.  The Co-op members were thrilled to be involved in a book-signing – and eager to buy books for their grandchildren.

I did not give up the dream of Renaissance entertainment.  With the help of the music department at the high school where I teach, I hired student musicians.  Wearing costumes borrowed from the Chesterton High School madrigal dinner collection, my recorder consort was a feast for the eyes and ears.

A few telephone calls landed a plethora of swordsmen – and a swordswoman. Costumed members of the Northwest Indiana Fencing Club and several reenactors from the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) Shire of Greyhope were pleased to demonstrate fighting moves and chat with guests about the history of their weaponry.

When the hired swordsmen were not staging combat with their steel weapons, children of all ages were thrusting and parrying with foam swords borrowed from the Shakespeare stash at CHS. The five-and-under crowd were among the most enthusiastic swordfighters, much to one mother’s chagrin. “Years of careful parenting undone,” my sister Gretchen told me. My nieces and nephews can’t wait for the next launch party – and neither can I.

BIO
Hilda Demuth-Lutze is a high school English teacher in Chesterton, Indiana. She earned her B.A. from Valparaiso University and M.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University. Hilda lives in a farmhouse near Valparaiso, Indiana, with her husband Mark and their three children. Hilda’s first novel, Plank Road Summer, (Crickhollow Books, 2009) was co-authored with her sister Emily Demuth Ishida.

About Kingdom of the Birds: “Germany 1521: Fourteen year-old Seppel, an unskilled village boy, cannot imagine why his uncle Spalatin, chaplain to the Duke of Saxony, would summon him to faraway Thuringia. A knight and squire escort Seppel to the Wartburg Castle, where Captain von Berlepsch disguises him as a page and instructs him in swordsmanship and horsemanship. In a locked room Seppel meets Sir Georg, the mysterious knight. When Seppel learns the true identity of the prisoner, he realizes that he must keep the secret of the Wartburg Castle or put the entire household at great risk. Knight and page learn much about bravery, truth, and the power of the Word during their time together in the Kingdom of the Birds.”

For more, including photos, of the book launch event for this historical novel, visit the Kingdom of the Birds blog site.

(You’ll find more Writer’s Handbook Blog tips for great book launches here.)

Of Book Launches and Chocolate, by Leona Wisoker

Here is a guest post with excellent tips for a great book launch, by author Leona Wisoker. Leona shares some details of a very successful event (in Williamsburg, VA) to launch her first fantasy novel, Secrets of the Sands, published by Mercury Retrograde Press.

She also showcased several artists, and a massage therapist. One artist had done a preface map for the book, others had done artwork based on the book’s story. The cool thing about involving and highlighting professional friends, artists, literary associates – especially any who had some role in the creation of the book . . . they likely will promote the event to their own networks.

Of Book Launches and Chocolate
by Leona Wisoker
author of Secrets of the Sands (fantasy novel)

Summary
The launch went amazingly well – I had hoped for 20 people, and over 70 showed up. We sold out not only the stock for the launch, but also the stock for RavenCon (a local SF/F convention in Richmond, Virginia, the following weekend). So I had to scramble to get more copies to sell at the convention. Good problem to have!

Over 30 people also came to the after-party (my house). It was a tremendously fun time. I credit much of it to having gotten friendly with the local SF/F community over the past 3–4 years. They knew me from MarsCon and RavenCon, where I had worked as a chair massage therapist and also volunteered when I had time left over. When I expressed surprise at the strong community turnout, someone told me, “Well, you’re one of us. It’s always great to see one of our own ‘make it,’ and we want to support that!” Others just complimented my choice of venue, noting that the chocolate shop was as much a draw as the launch . . . !

[That’s right, the event was held in a specialty chocolate shop, Coco Chocolatier. Now, wouldn’t you show up for that event?? For your book launch, pick a fun place that people want to check out for lots of reasons, including you and your new book!]

The preface map artist was not local, but actually lives in New York; his name is Ari Warner and he came to town just for my book launch. (He also did the map for Larissa Niec’s Shorn, another great book by Mercury Retrograde Press.) Gail Engle is the jewelry artist, and she is local (Newport News), as is the doll artist, Angela Wade. We also had a chair massage therapist at the launch, Cecelia Edic, who lives in Virginia Beach and has been working MarsCon for years (she’s the reason I got in on that gig in the first place, and I was delighted to have her attending my launch). She stayed busy the whole time! Another draw during the launch was my effort to raise money for Heritage Humane Society, the local animal shelter . . . so I had quite a few things going on during those five hours to keep people entertained, which I’d have to say, thinking back, is probably one of the most important things that drew folks in.

Some other things I learned from my first book launch:

  1. Lists are worth their weight in gold. So are Post-Its.
  2. Be specific when asking for help. “Bring a case of Pepsi” is much simpler than “I’m putting you in charge of the sodas.”
  3. Make contacts before your book even gets accepted for publication. Join book groups, writing groups, photography groups, whatever your interests are. Become part of your target communities; give generously of your time and labor. Paradoxically, the best way to get success from this is to sincerely give for the sake of giving, without asking for or expecting any return.
  4. Facebook is your best friend when you need to advertise events on the cheap. This also requires a long build-up of “presence,” however, just as in point #3.
  5. Three hours is more than enough time for a book launch.
  6. Plans made months in advance will all be completely null and void by Launch Day. Make the plans anyway! Just don’t get attached to them. Regard them as good practice.
  7. Always have your launch at an excellent chocolate shop. It makes for a near-guaranteed success (and if the launch is a flop, at least you’ll have chocolate to console yourself with).

Leona Wisoker is the author of the fantasy novel Secrets of the Sands (Book One of Children of the Desert). For more info, visit: http://www.leonawisoker.com. For more on the launch, visit her blog (http://leonawisoker.wordpress.com/2010/04/05/my-first-book-launch/).

“The author creates a lushly visual and highly detailed world of desert tribes, a language of beads, and a unique way of viewing the world. VERDICT: This series opener features an exotic desert culture and strong male and female characters and should appeal to fans of Middle Eastern culture and folktales like the Arabian Nights.”
Library Journal review

Leona has also published short stories and is a reviewer for Green Man Review. She has lived in Florida, Connecticut, Oregon, New Hampshire, Las Vegas, Alaska, California, and Virginia; has experienced the alternate realities of Georgia, North Carolina, New York, Long Island, and Italy; and believes that “home is wherever my coffee cup is filled.” This is currently in Virginia.

(You’ll find more Writer’s Handbook Blog tips for great book launches here.)

Self-Publishing and Indie Bookstores – Not a Good Match, Really

I’ve been trying to work with a local bookstore, to get them to carry a book by a local author. (It happens to be by an indie-press, my own Crickhollow Books, not self-published, but that’s sort of the same thing in the bookstore’s eye.)

The irony: the author is a member of a writing group that has met at that very bookstore for years. Still, the bookstore owner was resistant.

Why? Because the bookstore owner didn’t really know the title, was afraid it might be self-published, and didn’t think she could get the book through Ingram (which she can, in fact, as the book’s catalog sheet indicates.)

The point: if a good indie micro-press has this much trouble, what chance does a self-published author have with local bookstores? Not much. Is there a thorough review and consideration? Probably not.

It’s less a matter of the quality of the book, clearly. It’s more a practical issue: one of the time and trouble it takes to make the decision, vs. the potential reward. Let’s face it. Bookstores, large and small, survive on the sales of the most popular books by very popular authors: Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Sue Grafton, etc.

Then, they sell a good number of new books by major presses, mostly when the titles are new (and so haven’t tapped their audiences). After a few months, those are replaced by other new books by major publishing houses, with entirely fresh sales potential. (By the way, those publishers also often pay for shelf space and premium display, real money that the bookstore gets to keep regardless of how well the book sells.)

In contrast, self-publishing or indie micro-press strategies – going for niche audiences, which are better reached over the Internet, and longer-term involvement in fewer titles – just don’t match up well with bookstore sales goals and the need to be efficient about it, given the stores’ meager margins. (Trust me, bookstore owners are not getting rich.)

I doubt most bookstore owners would disagree. Although they keep a theoretical interest in local authors and regional indie publishing . . . in practice, they have a greater need to set up strong defensive mechanisms to ward off the truly wretched or poorly conceived self-published books, with weak covers, no marketing, priced too high, similar to other better things on the market, etc.

Given the easy access to publishing technology, there’s a glut of poor or mediocre low-budget POD titles. And stores need to fend them off.

Here’s an example of one such policy (note the concern about books priced too high, a real competitive weakness of most self-published POD books):

The policy is from the website of a Missouri indie-bookstore with the charming Twain-ian name, Pudd’nhead Books. (By the way, Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens was a gifted pitchman who knew how to promote his books in advance to potential buyers.)

INFO FOR AUTHORS
Thank you for considering Pudd’nhead Books for placement of your book. Because we are approached several times each week by authors hoping we will sell their books . . . before you leave a copy for review please consider the following:

Technology has made publishing easier, often without traditional professional editing, proofreading, and evaluation of marketing and distribution. Consequently, the number of books we are asked to review continues to rise dramatically.  (. . .) Of principle importance is whether the book will sell in this outlet, with the audience of our customers. We consider the subject, production quality, retail price, and terms, as well as our judgment of the writing and editing.

We regret the need to be so blunt, but we simply don’t have the time to evaluate so many books. We decline many books, including those by well-known and award-winning writers, if they are not a good match for our store. It is never a pleasant task to decline when dealing directly with an author rather than simply reviewing a catalog, but . . . we only accept well less than 1 in 100.

While we are not saying this is the case with your book, many of the books we are asked to try to sell are overpriced compared to similar books, the content is of very limited interest to anyone other than the writer’s friends and family, and/or a lack of editing or even proofreading is obvious. A surprising number of writers acknowledge that they have never paid a similar price for a similar book from an unknown writer and an unknown publisher with no objective reviews, yet expect us to try to sell theirs…

We would love for your book to be the exception. . . . If you want to leave your book for review after considering the above, please carefully read the policies stated on the attached form. . . . If your book is available from Ingram, we will bring it in from them if we decide to carry it. If we decide to carry your book on consignment, we will contact you with the appropriate form.

Thanks for your interest in Pudd’nhead Books, and good luck with your book.

Nikki Furrer, Owner

The ABA (American Booksellers Association.) has been encouraging indie bookstores to set up such policies. They are primarily defensive. Yes, it would be nice if the occasional good micro-title got through. But honestly, if not, it’s not a big problem for the bookstore if they don’t.

Some of these policies are a bit one-sided. One I saw gave the bookstore the right to unilaterally mark-down the price. In theory, that could be to $1, in which case the author would get $.60. In my view, that’s a little extreme to include in a consignment agreement, asking an author to sign it to get their book into the store.

On the other side, indie bookstores aren’t really a great sales venue for the author or micro-publisher, either. There are too many hidden costs for slim possible revenues. Most micro-press sales happen through specialty shops (museum stores, gift shops, etc.) where books are narrowly chosen and displayed face-out. Or through “long tail” avenues like Amazon, where niche books can do quite well, and survive in print for a long, long time.

I love indie bookstores, and spend a lot of time and money in them. I just expect to find mostly a good, smart selection of titles by major publishing houses. That’s their bread-and-butter.

So if you are a self-published author, look at where books like yours are really sold. Through personal networks. Or events, where people get to meet you. A holiday gift fair at your church is as good as a bookstore. And probably, that non-bookstore site will be far more happy to see you!

In the case of that book I mentioned at the beginning (Patton’s Lucky Scout, a World War II memoir of amazing adventures by a scout for General Patton, working mostly behind enemy lines), great local venues are available through VFW posts, military history clubs, extended families of other members of the retirement home where the veteran now lives, etc.

Getting Published with a Small Indie Press – Finding the Right One

[This is Part 4 in a 4-part series, based on an article of mine in The New Writer’s Handbook 2007.]

To this point, I’ve discussed pros and cons in getting published with a small press. Now . . . how to find the right match.

GENERAL ADVICE

Set realistic goals.
Know why you want to be published. To see your work in print? To have control over your work? To become rich or famous? To make a living as a writer? To break in? To make a difference in the world?

Realistic goals will help you decide if you want to work with a particular small press. Make this part of your discussions with a potential publisher.

Be prepared to be a partner in marketing your title.
Can you deliver specific ideas or contacts with specialty magazines, newsletters, conferences, bookstores, interest groups, professional associations? Can you contact some yourself with review copies or PR info? Get on a local radio show or arrange signings near your home or in places you travel to on vacation?

Be prepared to help out with grassroots marketing, from joining key associations to developing a blogsite to mentioning your book to that person sitting next to you at the dentist office.

Plan subsequent work in your subject area.
Perhaps your niche is writing about Japanese zen gardens or Western novels. Your first book may gather good reviews and decent sales. If so, many readers would love to see a another book by you. So would your publisher. (Don’t try to sell multiple works off the bat – a publisher won’t be ready for that, and you might later want to move elsewhere; just make this part of your personal planning and general discussions with a publisher.)

Do your research to find the right publisher.
Finding the right match is like getting married. Don’t jump at the first opportunity if it doesn’t seem ideal. And don’t court a publisher as a one-sided effort; find one that wants you as much as you want them.

THE SEARCH PROCESS

Visit your library.
One major resource is Literary Market Place — the leading directory of the book trade. (It requires a press to publish at least 3 books a year to be listed.) The bible for smaller and edgier presses is the International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses (Dustbooks), also available in your library.

Look for publishers in your immediate locale, state, or region.
Do a web search for book publishers in your area. A local publisher might be more open to your proposal. Why? Because they have existing contacts with regional stores, newspapers, and reviewers that will have some interest in you as a local author.

Check the Independent Book Publishers Association.
Formerly known as Publishers Marketing Association, they have a membership of more than 4,000 small publishers, from microscopic to heavy hitters like Sourcebooks. Look for publishers with awards, good websites, great cover designs, clear niches, etc. Publishers join to get access to IBPA’s marketing programs to libraries and stores, which is good for an author.

Check the Council of Literary Magazines and Publishers.
Because there are dues involved, and member services, and some screening or review process, membership in a professional trade organization tends to be a good starting point in any search.

Join organizations for writers.
Associations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) or the Romance Writers of America (RWA) – or any of the other national organizations for specific types of writers – maintain detailed lists of publishers. Membership gives you access to insider info and interviews, workshops, and valuable networking.

Check the web; check your bookstore.
For nonfiction publishers, search the Web for listings using your subject area, plus key words like press, publishers, or book(s).

Another good method is to scan your library or bookstore shelves for the names of publishers who have published books similar to yours. Bookstores carry more new titles, and so will be more useful than library collections if you want to see what’s being published now.

Examine similar books closely. Do they include illustrations? Charts? Extensive appendices of resources? Make sure your own book proposal includes those.

Publisher websites.
Finally, many publishers have websites with writer guidelines, or you can check annual guides like Writer’s Market that list publishers by category, with summaries of what they publish and how to contact them.

HOW TO CHECK OUT A SMALL PRESS

Study their most recent catalog (print or online).
How do they describe their books? (This will give outstanding hints on what the publishers like and what they think the buyers will like!) How much catalog space do they devote to new books and also to backlist (which your book will become soon after it is released).

A very, very important question: Is this a group of authors and titles you want to be associated with? Will it reflect well on you and boost your prestige? You will be judged by the company you keep.

Do they have a good distributor?
A good distributor has the punch to get a book out to more stores if demand warrants it. Influential ones include National Book Network (Lanham, MD) and Independent Publishers Group (Chicago). There are others that handle varied other distribution needs.

And good distributors are picky; they don’t want to work with fly-by-night presses or ones that publish occasionally or unevenly.

Look for a steady presence in your niche market.
This can be ads in specialty publication or regular booths at important conferences. If you have written a science-fiction novel, for instance, check the magazines – Locus, Asimov’s, etc. – to see who is actively advertising. Would you rather be with a publisher that runs lots of large ads? . . . occasional small ads? . . . a classified listing in the back? . . . or no ads at all? The answer should be clear.

Once you enter discussions with a small press, ask for details on the most similar project.
How many copies did they sell? Over what time period? How did they do that? What kind of mailings, ads, and special activities did they undertake to achieve success? You want to ferret out more than just: “We’ve sold 20,000 copies of our best title.” As the warning phrase says, “Your actual experience might vary.”

Seek some details. Although a press may not share every scrap of info, they should be able to give some sense of what has worked best and why.

Look for genuine chemistry and enthusiasm.
Yes, it’s hard to quantify, but you’ll know it when you see it: a publisher that is truly excited by your work and really wants to do their best to make it a success.

What financial commitment is the publisher making?
What exactly will they commit to a project? A decent advance? Promises to place ads in key publications? Lots of postcards or bookmarks you can mail and hand out? This may not appear in your contract, but you can discuss it and get it planned, written down, and agreed to in advance. The more “skin in the game” a publisher has, the greater their vested interest in making your book succeed.

KEEP YOUR FUTURE OPTIONS OPEN

Like all relationships, while hoping for the best, it’s prudent to be prepared for the worst. You may wish to limit the rights, or the time frame of the contract, or not include subsequent works. If things go well, you can extend the relationship.

As the project moves forward, trust but verify. Keep in touch. Don’t be a pest, but don’t sit on your hands. Ask what’s happening with production, release plans, promotions, and once launched, with sales. Best of all, ask how you can help!

For any author wanting to reach a niche audience, or wanting to break into print to get some good reviews and a sales history, then to seek to move up the ladder, small presses can be a great stepping stone.

Or a match made in heaven.

[Disclaimer: yes, I currently run a small indie press, Crickhollow Books. For more on that effort, visit the Crickhollow Books website.]

Getting Published with a Small Indie Press – The Negatives

[This is Part 3 in a 4-part series, based on an article of mine in The New Writer’s Handbook 2007.]

Let’s look at things that can be real problems in getting a book published with a small independent presses.

Minimal Advances
Small often means just that when it comes to advances. The up-front money handed over to an author before books hit the streets can be microscopic, from virtually nil to a few thousand dollars. Small presses often point out they prefer to put their cash into promotions. However, this creates more risk for the author, who must wait for elusive future royalties, without the guaranteed income of a decent advance.

Lack of Prestige
A small-press label may offer little or no name recognition. Unfortunately, many people assume that a book published by a small press wasn’t good enough to be published by a larger press. You tell people you have been published, but when you tell them by whom, they get a funny look on their faces, different than if you had said Random House.

Small Marketing Budgets
Marketing budgets are rarely big. Smaller presses rely heavily on low-cost promotions: sending review copies, courting word-of-mouth support from niche audiences.

In the bookstore world, a small-press label tips off a buyer that there is probably less money for store placement or co-op efforts or PR campaigns to drive readers quickly into stores. Accordingly, small-press books are less likely to get prime placement—if stocked at all. Too often a small-press book needs to be special-ordered by a bookstore if a customer takes the trouble to request it.

All publishing houses, large and small, rely on authors playing some role in marketing. Authors need to consider the time, money, and effort of developing a author platform (in advance) and then using that platform to fuel sales in the author’s sphere of influence.

The same is true for author-involved marketing that can occur after a book’s release: book launches, author signings, mini-tours, being a speaker or having a booth at a regional trade show or conference. Most of those will only happen if authors do the booking and pay their own way.

For any size of press, authors need to be a partner in marketing a book, but more so with small presses. The good news: small presses will gladly work closely with you. But they may have little cash and a small staff, and this will limit what they can do.

Meager Reserves
Small can mean slow to publish or slow to pay. With fewer titles in a hopper, any setback (on any title, not just yours) can affect the whole line, if the press doesn’t have enough cash reserves. A small press has less likelihood of the occasional bestseller, creating revenues that can cover a lot of overhead and make the whole business profitable.

Small presses, especially the micro-presses, have any number of things that can throw them off stride: illness striking a tiny staff, an owner with personal financial difficulties, a poor decision to expand that isn’t well planned.

Small presses also may be at greater risk from problems occurring elsewhere in the distribution/sales chain. Famous examples: the occasional closings of middlemen distributors, leaving the smallest presses in chaos and with the smallest amount of clout in negotiating a settlement to recover income or inventory.

Of course, authors published by big presses also have horror stories. These include cases of questionable accounting, mysterious deductions, editors leaving abruptly, or projects getting cancelled. They may be more prone to back-office politics or sudden changes in management philosophy, compared to the steady operations of a well-run, focused small press.

And even good-sized publishing houses occasionally go belly-up. But the business or the titles are often acquired by someone else; this creates headaches for an author, but less risk of a total collapse.

All in all, the slimmer resources of a small press are definitely a concern for authors. As with most comparisons of small vs. large, working with a smaller business gets you more attention, bigger clout with that business, and possibly a more informed and interactive relationship. But there are plenty of unavoidable negatives to consider.

[Next in this series: Getting Published with a Small Indie Press: How To Find the Right Press for You]

Disclaimer: yes, I currently run a small indie press, Crickhollow Books. For more on that effort, visit the Crickhollow Books website.

Getting Published with a Small Indie Press – The Positives

[This is Part 2 in a 4-part series, based on an article of mine in The New Writer’s Handbook 2007.]

Let’s look at things that good-quality, small independent presses do well for writers.

Risk-Taking
They often take risks on new or unconventional writers. They look for work with literary or social value, or useful to a specialized niche, rather than demanding a more common denominator (such as being similar to other work already published, or appealing to a very large demographic, or having the elusive compelling author platform already in place). They may read relevant submissions more carefully. And they might consider offbeat submissions, something larger presses seldom do. Sometimes, a small press will stretch itself to reach into a new area if they get a great manuscript, realizing an author might bring new audiences into their fold.

Grassroots Niche Marketing
The better ones do creative publicity, using low-cost, grassroots guerrilla tactics. They seek reviews with small but respected publications, send catalogs to regional or specialty shops, attend professional conferences. They get books adopted for university courses. They try harder and longer to reach specialized audiences, whether organic gardeners or feminist mystery fans or Hispanic-speaking families of the American Southwest or Christian homeschoolers, and often develop long-term relationships with those communities. Their familiarity with a niche audience can in turn provide useful feedback to develop a good book project, with more detailed information about what that audience wants and needs.

Editorial Involvement
A good small press may provide lots of hands-on editorial support to help an author who has a special story to tell or a great concept, even if the manuscript needs a bit of extra work. Large presses can sit back and reject promising but unpolished work, waiting for the ready-to-go, easy-to-sell manuscript. But quality small presses are generally known for their editorial accessibility and hands-on support.

Open to an Author’s Diversity
Small presses might publish work by an established author who wishes to branch out into a new field. Joseph Bruchac’s popular children’s books of Native legends are published by major presses like Harcourt, Philomel, and Dial, but he turned to a small press, Holy Cow! Press of Duluth, Minn., to publish his poetry. Other well-known authors like Ursula K. Le Guin or Jane Yolen have chosen in their illustrious careers to publish an occasional book with a smaller press to get worthwhile work out into the light of day.

Patience
Small presses may shepherd a slow-developing title longer as it reaches for its grassroots readership, which can take time, especially in fields where success may depend on a particular annual conference, a quarterly journal, or a post-publication blurb from an influential person. Tenaciously, they stay on the case, seeking publicity and sales long after big presses would move on to greener pastures. In contrast, large presses are famous for Darwinian tactics: publishing lots of titles, throwing them out to the wolves of the trade, then waiting to see which books do well quickly, fully prepared to pull resources from slow-to-develop titles.

Loyalty
Small presses tend to be loyal to their authors. Once they have invested their slim resources to develop an author and explore niche audiences, they look favorably on subsequent work by that author. They may do this even if a first title had only modest success, to sell more copies of that earlier title as well as to expand their foothold in small markets.

As Susan Vreeland, author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue, summarized her very successful experience getting published with an excellent indie press: “For a first-time author, working with a small publisher can be a boon. A personal relationship with staff members representing all aspects of the publishing process develops quickly. With a small house publishing only a few books each season, individual authors are very important people. I found that the entire staff of MacMurray & Beck got behind Girl in Hyacinth Blue, believed in me, celebrated each good review with me, and was profoundly happy at its success.

[Next in this series: Getting Published with a Small Indie Press: The Negatives]

Disclaimer: yes, I currently run a small indie press, Crickhollow Books. For more on that effort, visit the Crickhollow Books website.

Getting Published with a Small Indie Press – Is It Right for You?

[This is Part 1 in a 4-part series, based on an article of mine in The New Writer’s Handbook 2007.]

Small presses offer opportunities for new or different authors. As we said in the ’60s: small is beautiful. Literary, adventurous, or tightly focused, small presses routinely take chances on new authors who have some thing important to say. And through the democracy of the Internet and guerrilla marketing tactics, they may have a decent shot at financial success, major awards, and media attention with select titles.

Or not.

It can be just the right thing for you. But how do you know?

First, what is a typical small press? “Typical” is not really applicable to this diverse universe. There are thousands of independent presses, as different as cats and dogs and armadillos. They may reflect the personality of a single person working out of a home office. Others have grown into a corporate entities with real offices with potted plants.

Some have been around for decades, others for just a few years. Each year a good number disappear, but many new ones rise to take their place.

A tiny micro-press might publish only one or two books a year. Others might release a dozen or more titles a season. First printings tend to be modest, from a digital Print-on-Demand (POD) approach that only prints books as needed, ranging to runs of 3,000–5,000 copies.

Their editorial goals range from presenting “new voices” to publishing worthwhile books overlooked by big publishers because they didn’t fit somebody’s business plan. Small presses create titles from avocado cookbooks to zoo activity guides, and everything in between.

The name of the game for indie presses: “find the niche.”

In total, these myriad presses are responsible for publishing many of the astounding number of of new titles (more than 100,000 titles each year!) flooding into the American marketplace.

Most prefer the term “independent press” over “small press,” to emphasize their uniqueness. They don’t like to think of their ambitions or literary talents being diminutive in any sense.

However, small press is the term I will use here to focus on the realities of working with most of these publishers: small staff, limited resources.

Given this tremendous diversity, what should you expect when dealing with a small press?

[Next in this series: Getting Published with a Small Indie Press: The Positives]

Disclaimer: yes, I currently run a small indie press, Crickhollow Books. For more on that effort, visit the Crickhollow Books website.