Twitter Tips for Book Authors – Getting Started

“Without leaving the house I know the whole universe.” – Lao-Tzu

This could also be the motto of the social-media platform known as Twitter.

For book authors and other writers who wish to use Twitter, I’ll offer some specific tips below.

And here’s a link to Twitter’s own help center, to walk you through the basics.

But first, a general shout-out for tweeting in general.

To my astonishment, Twitter is surprisingly useful. It’s a well-connected, active group of intelligent users, a place to connect casually with fellow literary types and to be generous about other people’s accomplishments.

It’s also a place where you can, now and then, toot your own horn. But the Golden Rule lesson is the same as for other platforms: what goes around, comes around. Start by sharing other folks’ stuff; they might share yours in turn. Revel in their success; they might revel in yours. Focus at first on sharing and complimenting others. (And if that’s all that happens, think of the karma credits you’ve gained!)

For your own news, Twitter is a place to share bits about your writing: catchy tag-lines, links to reviews, news of signings, conferences you’re attending, etc. Be brief, link to longer posts elsewhere as needed, and be gone.

And it’s a place to develop your literary “brand” (how others perceive you), by sharing ideas, inspirational quotes, and opinions on writerly things important to you.

I admit I’d shunned Twitter for some years to focus on Facebook and blogging, thinking the 140-character count would be a woeful limit.

But I’ve finally taken the plunge into the world of Twitter, and find it enjoyable, idea-rich, and mo’ better connected & filtered than Facebook, in comparison. Who knew?

For emerging writers, it’s a good place to see and learn from what others are doing and getting excited about. It’s easy to find and follow lots of literary professionals: writers, bloggers, librarians, teachers, review magazines. Follow the best writers in your field. And learn to present yourself well, with that same mix of confidence, charm, modesty, and delight in the crazy world of creative people and ideas, as does Neil Gaiman, or Guy Kawasaki or . . .

Over time, others will follow you and learn what you’re doing and what you’re getting excited about.

As with all social media, having an intelligent strategy for posting is what creates followers and true fans.

Here are some tips to get started with Twitter:

1. Retweet lots of good stuff posted by others.

This is a great place to start. Your first 10 or 20 tweets can mostly be retweets. It’s generous. It’s useful to others. And it helps you show up on the radar of those you retweet; they just might notice that you’ve shared their thought-bubbles.

2. Use a tweet style that fits you.

I personally prefer a clean, professional style: a statement, a link, maybe a hashtag (category) or two. Here are a few examples:

Claudia Bedrick of Enchanted Lion Books for children | Harvard Magazine Jan-Feb 2014: harvardmagazine.com/2014
http://harvardmagazine.com/2014/01/picture-book-publisher

Didn’t We Have Fun! is a glorious picture book with jazzy paintings by Hilda Robinson.
http://thebrownbookshelf.com/2013/03/14/book-report-didnt-we-have-fun/
#BlackHistoryMonth

Is Ralph Waldo Emerson still a ghost among us? http://bit.ly/11vtqnW

“Chesterton argued that by changing the rules of the world, fairy tales remind us of the contingency of those rules.”
http://bit.ly/1bC9jcN

3. Use a URL shortening service to keep links short.

Bitly, for instance. Or TinyURL.

These are free websites you can use to shorten a long link (often crucial given the brevity of Twitter).

So if I want to link to my recent book, The Purpose of Fantasy, instead of using the long Amazon direct link:
http://www.amazon.com/Purpose-Fantasy-Readers-Selected-Spiritual/dp/1883953642
I’ve gone to Bitly, entered that long URL, and presto, chango! . . . it created a permanent short URL that redirects to that Amazon page.
The bitly version is so much shorter: http://amzn.to/1bisNmv

I have a place where I record useful Bitly URLs, so I can re-use the ones I already created. Note: Twitter will, on its own, shorten long URLs . . . but the Bitly-type URL can be used outside of Twitter.

4. Hashtags.

Hashtags are essentially categories. It appears in the tweet, and looks like: ##KidLitChat, or #FridayReads. Use of one of these tags (capitalization is helpful but optional) will include your tweet on a webpage that is a mini-Twitter universe of all posts with that hashtag. So if I use a popular hashtag like #amreading or #amwriting, or a genre tag like #fantasy or #mystery or such, my post appears in that sub-flow, where folks interested in tracking a field may go to glean ideas.

For example, if you’re on Twitter, first click on a tab at the top called “Discover,” and search for a hashtag, say: #haiku, or #micropoetry or #writingtips. You’ll see a page with all the posts tagged that way. It’s kind of cool. Like a lot of social-media stuff, it’s only occasionally useful, but it just might attract a new follower who is checking out that hashtag page, or a reviewer looking for certain types of books to review.

You can use hashtags right in your sentence, or you can drop them in at the end of your tweet.

Here’s a great #mystery you don’t want to miss. #amreading.
[Then, add a direct link to a book, to a blog post about a book, a review, etc.]

5. Study others’ tweets.

To get started, study and try to emulate the best of what you see on a couple of common writer hashtags:

For instance, click on this #WriterWednesday hashtag-page and look for posts to emulate:
https://twitter.com/search?q=%23WriterWednesday

Which of those tweets appeal to you? Why? Write your own versions and tweet away.

You can Google the phrase “hashtags for writers” for more ideas. Here’s another list of 10 writer-related hashtags; this great post has good examples of them in actual use.
http://www.publishingtalk.eu/social-media/twitter/10-twitter-hashtags-for-writers/

for example:

Giles Kristian ‏@GilesKristian
My new book arrived today! Always a big moment and you wonder quite how it happened. #amwriting #WriterWednesday

6. Publish similar material often.

You not only can, you probably need to. Unfortunately, people will only see a smidgeon of what you post. So you can probably post the same thing, more or less, with a few variants, several times in a day or over a couple of days. Separate the posts by some interval, say an hour or so; it’s unlikely the same people will see the same post, given the huge flow and how people pop on and off throughout the day.

There are programs that will help you do that from one dashboard, at one time. HootSuite is one. (I recommend, though, waiting till you get a decent sense of how Twitter works before automating any of it.)

I’m posting currently as my indie publishing house, Crickhollow Books (#CrickhollowBks).

You’re welcome to follow me into the Looking-Glass world of Twitter. I’ll share stuff I think is useful, and together we can enjoy discovering literary tidbits, captured in that quirky, fascinating 140-character limit. I think one of the real pleasures is the sense of a large community conversation; it can mean a lot to a solitary writer.

I #amwriting! I #amreading! How about you?

SEO for Writers – Magic Bullet or Hokum?

If you’ve been looking for ways to get noticed on the web, you’ve probably run into the term SEO. It stands for Search Engine Optimization.

So . . . how important is it to understand and use? Is it a real game-changer?

Or is it mostly hocus-pocus, a bit of internet trickery, a fake magic charm, like the “ohwa tagu siam” chant from scout camp, something to trip up the uninitiated?

Perhaps you can tell that I’m not enamored of SEO; at least, I don’t think it’s as valuable as those claiming it’s “essential” make it out to be. Mostly, I just think that writers need to adopt a common-sense approach to being found online. SEO techniques at their core are just that: common sense.

SEO means you do some things on your website or social-media page to encourage search engines (Google, etc.) to point people to you when they search online for something (a term, a topic, a phrase) that they want to know more about.

For me, the techniques of SEO are about 3rd on my list of things to do. First: write good stuff that’s useful, clear, interesting. Second, share it directly with everyone you can, by linking to it on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, email, etc.). This draws the most immediate hits to my posts.

Third, I try to use some basic, common-sense SEO techniques. This does help some people who don’t know me from Adam discover one of my posts . . . if it’s about something they want to learn about. They enter a phrase in a search engine and voilà, they see a link to one of my posts! (Okay, that’s sort of magical.)

For me, the hits I get at first for a new post are mostly from direct connections, people I’ve shared my posts with pretty directly (and their networks, if they re-share it). But as time passes, more of the hits I get for a post are from search-engine referrals.

I’ll give a few quick tips here.

1. In your post, use terms that your audience will use if they’re searching for info on that topic.

This may seem obvious, but like a lot of common sense, it’s sometimes absent.

Personally, I often come close to slipping up. I sometimes realize I’ve drafted a post in which, although I’ve told a good story or touched on an important theme, I’ve nearly missed actually naming the core thematic terms or phrases that it’s all about.

What I do: after I write a post, I go back and think about what terms people might be using when searching for this info.

If I write a post on finding an agent, for instance . . . I might try to incorporate the phrase “how do I get my book published” in the post. That’s a common starting-point question for a lot of writers, which then leads them to want to learn more about how to find a literary agent.

What about similar terms for the same thing? For instance, I used the term “writers” in the title. But what about the word “authors”? And have I used other key terms for the web: web, internet, online?

This simple bit of brainstorming just takes a minute or two; for a writer, it’s similar to identifying a theme in your story or article . . . and naming it.

Then, think about other common terms that real people might often use. Think beyond jargon; think outside of your own mindset . . . into the thought process of a person looking for help with the subject at hand. Someone wanting to read this post, for instance, may not search for “SEO optimization.” They may just search for “how do I get more hits on my author website.”

Whatever you’re writing about, you can be sure there are other things people may call it. If you’re writing about dogs, are you also writing about pets, canines, specific breeds,  animal companions . . . ? Probably yes, yes, yes, and yes. Try not to get locked into one term only; sprinkle some common varieties of terms or phrases in the article.

You can do it. You’re a writer!

2. Look for a narrow, niche-y subset of that core topic.

Let’s face it, the web increasingly has a zillion posts; hundreds, probably thousands, are out there that relate to any given post of yours.

But you might have a good specific little niche that can help you show up on a least a few more searches.

For example, if you search for “fantasy author,” Google returns about 250 million results. That’s a lot. Hard to get noticed.

Search for “fantasy author in Wisconsin” – this yields about 18 million results. Top of the list: the über-popular (& deservedly so) Patrick Rothfuss. But on the first page are some other lesser-known Wisconsin-based writers. They pop up because the online item about them includes the key terms: “fantasy, author, Wisconsin.”

TIP: Include your location (state & town) on a number of your posts. This helps libraries, book festivals, book groups, etc. to find local or state authors. Many states have lists of authors connected to that state; these lists are posted and often include links to author websites, mention titles of books, and so on.

It’s an excellent example of how SEO works: you include the right terms, and people find you online via those terms.

TIP: Include subtitles (or make up subtitles), location, and genres for your books. Why? Because these are rich in important terms. If a book doesn’t have an official subtitle (a lot of fiction doesn’t), I make one up. For instance, when talking about a novel by Sylvia Dickey Smith titled A War of Her Own, I might include a subtitle: A World War II homefront novel set in Orange, Texas in 1943. Or writing about a novel I’ve been working with recently to re-publish in a new edition, Goliath Catfish, I could add a subtitle: An action/adventure historical novel for young readers set in Memphis in the 1940s. Remember to keep noting the topic, setting, genre, etc. somewhere in your post.

A good subtitle (official or not) spells out a set of keywords that are SEO rich; use it and you’ll place a lot of hooks out there on the web, hooks that are likely to draw relevant search-engine attention.

3. Refine & expand your SEO terms.

Of course, for an author, you also want to use all the genre terms for your work. Are you writing dark fantasy, stories about the supernatural, ghost stories, scary stories, speculative fiction . . . ? In fact, a number of similar, nearly interchangeable terms may relate to you and your work. You can’t guess which will be used most often in a web search.

Or can you?

Although you can’t guess which terms will be used, you can go to places online to find what people are looking for when they search.

Search for a (free) “KeyWord Tool.” Put in a term . . . say, “speculative fiction.” A web-tool like Google AdWords Keyword Tool does a quick search and returns a list of terms . . . and tells you how many people used that term in the last month. When I look at the list, I see that “speculative fiction novels” was searched for 210 times.

Hmmm . . . but “horror novels” was searched for 90,000 times in that month. Seems that “horror novels” is a more popular term than “speculative fiction.” If I was writing dark scary fantasy . . . I’d be sure to use the “horror” label.

4. Want to know more?

One book I’ve been recommending to friends and fellow authors is Sexy, Smart, and Search Engine Friendly by Lela Davidson. The subtitle: Get Found Online without Losing Your Mind or Wasting Your Time. In 50 pages, it offers a clear explanation of SEO and how to use it, suitable for us writers . . . and does so in a way that’s fun to read. Your eyes won’t glaze over, and you’ll learn some easy tips and simple-to-use practices.

So . . . give it a whirl. There are plenty more tips and techniques that you’ll learn over time. But you don’t have to be an expert to attract a few more hits on your website or other social media account. Go ahead. Add a little SEO punch to your next post.

And repeat after me . . . “ohwa tagu siam” . . . . for not having used these simple ideas consistently till now.

Discover Your Author’s Brand

Branding is a simple concept. For an author, in a nutshell, it’s what people expect when they hear your name attached to a book (or story).

If you think of the name Mark Twain, or Stephen King, or Toni Morrison, or J.R.R. Tolkien . . . many things likely pop into your head. For me, the name Tolkien conjures up images of a professorial fellow with a pipe, the smile of a raconteur on his face, eager to spin long tales that I suspect I’d like hear, maybe sitting close by in a comfy easy chair by the fireplace in his study, sipping a little sherry and traveling to a far-off imaginary land . . .

This post offers tips to help you think about your brand – how to identify it, strengthen and refine it, and present it to your adoring (right?) fans.

There’s an interesting book I read some years ago that comes to mind to help you think about branding. It’s called Primal Branding, by Patrick Hanlon, a marketing guru who’s worked on famous brands like Absolut, LEGO, IBM, and others. His book equates a strong brand with a culture of belief, one that is similar in many ways to a religious faith.

Before you get illusions of grandeur, let’s look at his points of comparison. Like a religion, Hanlon says, a strong brand has these key elements:

  • Creation story
  • Creed
  • Rituals
  • Icons
  • Sacred words
  • Non-believers
  • Leader

It’s interesting to think in those terms about you and your author’s brand. To translate:

Creation Story

How often have you heard (and significantly, can remember) the “origins of how I got started as a writer” story of one of your famous authors?

This is always a good place to start when telling the story of your brand. What got it going? Why did you feel called to write? Readers like to hear a good story of how you got started. It sets the whole idea of a brand in motion.

Creed

As a writer, what do you believe in most strongly? What fuels your professionalism? What drives your writing? What core principles drive you to write fictional stories or nonfiction texts?

A belief in the power of love? A sense of the frailty of the human condition? Concern for the environment? A desire to help some build a better deck or take better care of their pet? A love of comedy? A love of the beauty of fine literature. An urge to reach out and share a good story to entertain?

These are examples of core things that drive us as writers, but they are not the same for all of us. What drives you to write?

This goes deeper than your “origin” story, into the inner drive that led you to pursue this career. Why struggle to nurse your stories into existence, to persevere despite the headwinds of so many things that conspire against the average writer?

Rituals

How often have writers been asked classic questions about the rituals that drives their lives. In what part of the day do you write? Where? Do you slurp coffee or tea? When you get stuck or just to rest and refresh, do you like to talk a walk in the woods? Go shopping? Play tennis?

Other rituals involve interactions with your fans. Do you post every Wednesday? Will you post if you have an epiphany? Do you post a picture of your writing desk? Your pet who sits by your side as you write?

Do you celebrate each book that’s published in a particular way, and share this event with your fans? Do you post excerpts? Do you celebrate great reviews or fan comments?

The ultimate ritual, that had near-religious overtones, was the midnight gathering of millions of fans worldwide for the release of the later books by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter series.

Why are rituals important to a brand? They are a way for us to come together, you and your fans, in an interaction of some sort. It likely is more muted than a Potter book hitting the shelves, and it’s probably a mix of live and online interactions. It’s the act of sharing not just the published book but also the wider spectrum of what it means to be a writer that helps to create that sense of a bond of togetherness between authors and readers.

Icons

For a writer, this is not usually a logo. You probably don’t have a Starbuck’s mermaid or a Target’s bull’s-eye. (Although on some excellent author websites,  you might see the author’s name treated in a classic logo-like fashion.) But for you, the most important images are your author photo, and possibly the cover of your most popular book.

These images stand for you and your work. (Note to authors: get a great author photo taken. It’s worth its weight in gold.)

Sacred words

This touches on the key phrases that inspire you or the mantras that you chant or the slogans that you pin next to your computer. Take a look at Maya Angelou’s website. What do you see? Besides iconic images of her and the cover of her well-known book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I also see a line from that book: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”

What are the texts that you hold closest to your heart? What are your favorite books that inspire you as a writer? The Elements of Style. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Lord of the Rings. The Cat in the Hat. The Phantom Tollbooth.

Non-believers

As Hanlon says, to have the yin of believers, you need the yang of non-believers. It’s those idiotic folks who don’t agree with us and our literary tastes. The Philistines. You aren’t like everyone, and you don’t want to be. You want to stand for something.

Me? I’m a traditional printed-paper book guy, first and foremost; I don’t really like the e-reader experience with books as electronic files with their easy-to-publish-and-change-and-grab-and-read-and-toss aspects. I don’t like obscure poetry or academic mumbo-jumbo that makes my head hurt (I do like haiku and poems about real places and times of the year).

I don’t agree with self-publishing 95% of the time because it’s done poorly. I don’t really like Helvetica. I don’t like hyped-up ads and overblown promotions; I was taught not to brag, that good work spoke for itself, and cream rose to the top.

Not surprisingly, some of the blog posts I’ve done on things that irritate me (“Kindle, Schmindle”) have been among my most popular. The point: opposition to something else is a powerful uniting factor. It’s part of not being ordinary.

Leader

This is the easy part. For my writer’s brand, that’s me. For your brand, that’s you. This is one point where writers are already on the branding bandwagon; they know that it’s important to have a person who stands for your brand. For Virgin Airlines, it’s Richard Branson. For your writing, it’s you.

But of course, there are things you can do to build up and refine your personal story. What do we know about your first writing project as a kid? About influential people who have helped you become the writer you are, whether a high-school English teacher or a favorite aunt who gave you a copy of . . .

All of those things help us know you better. Learn to tell your story. Learn to shape it, to think about its drama and themes and lovable characters and opening lines . . . just as you would a beloved short story that you’d write and rewrite until it glowed and jumped off the page before sending in to your favorite magazine to be published.

Your Brand is a Culture of Belief

These ways to think about a literary brand might at first seem odd to you. But you can use them to help identify, refine, and present yourself as a writer more clearly to the rest of us.

What’s your brand? If we choose to follow you and your writing, what can we have faith in?

(See also related post on branding for authors: “Build Your Author’s Brand”)

Proper Persistence for Writers – Or How Long Should I Keep Trying To Get Published?

In emerging-writer discussions, I often hear versions of this question: How long do I keep trying if I’m not seeing any results in my pitches to agents or publishing houses?

There are many ways to approach the answer. You can just buy into Winston Churchill’s advice to youngsters: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

Yes, there’s a part of me that appreciates that kind of bulldog stubbornness. I’d definitely want it if, say, I needed to defend Great Britain from invasion from foes.

But in most cases, for writers, the answer is more nuanced. What, to follow Churchill’s words, is the point at which it makes good sense to give in, lick a few wounds, learn from mistakes, and move on?

Yes, I’m familiar with the stories of writers like Madeleine L’Engle, whose wonderful novel, A Wrinkle in Time, saw dozens of rejections. Ditto for Jack London, and for others now considered authors of great literature.

But honestly, that doesn’t really tell you how long you should persist.

Here’s my advice, mostly in the form of questions for you to consider:

1. Are you sure you’re targeting the right agents and publishing houses?

Maybe half the queries I see for Crickhollow Books, the small indie press I run, are not of any interest to me. That suggests (admittedly from a small sample) that half the queries the typical writers send out are going out are going to places with no interest whatsoever. In fact, for most houses, the immediate rejects from slush piles are much worse; the bigger the publisher, the smaller the percentage of pitches they’ll want to ever consider even briefly.

Have you studied your prospects closely and developed an appropriate list? Have you used the directories of agents or editors that have detail on what they are actually looking for? Have you visited their websites and gleaned all you could?

Better targeting is a key step. Develop your best list of 10-12 places, and work through those. If all say no, you might want to try another dozen, especially if you’ve got a broad set of market options (say, for short stories for literary magazines). But if you’re writing in a niche area, after the first 12, the next 12 get less likely. After that . . . you’re starting to get a sense that what you’re writing may not be tickling the fancies of the gatekeepers.

2. Are you moving things along briskly?

Once you query a house, how long do you wait? There’s a big difference in waiting one month versus three. The first timeframe allows you to query 12 in a year. The second, only 4 – which means it will take you 3 years to work through a dozen targets. I’m only pointing out the math; you’ll feel different about your results if you’ve gotten “no”s for your pet project for 30 months year or just for 10 months. (The shorter time to discover what the market interest is will help you decide whether to keep pitching the work to others, to revise that work, or to start another.)

It behooves you to move things along. To be business-like, you’d want to get a sense sooner rather than later if a given project is of interest to your top prospects. A good literary agent is of course very helpful here; they will not only help to find the right targets, but they’ll also have the clout or to get it reviewed sooner and know how to push for an answer (and possibly an answer with real feedback about why the “no”). In a business sense, a “no” is useful information; it tells you to move on to find someone more interested in the work . . . and eventually that maybe your work isn’t of sufficient quality or market interest.

Agents will push for an answer. If it’s no, they want to move on to the next prospect on the list. You should too if you’re representing yourself.

3. Are you meeting agents at writer conferences?

This is one of the best ways to get more individualized attention from a few agents and editors. The professionals that you meet at conferences, assuming you’re a reasonable writer, should be willing to give you serious consideration; that’s why they are there. They’ll listen to your pitches at the conference, and if they ask for a submission, they’ll look a bit more closely at your project when they get back to their home offices. This means that if you’re work is good and marketable, you’re more likely to get a nibble, at least at a request to submit more material.

And if you get rejected here, it might be a sign that your work is lacking something that’s needed.

4. Are you reading outside of the current popular literature in your field?

This is not apparent to many writers, but let’s say you’re writing fantasy, and the reading you do is all bestselling, most hyper-popular stuff. So you read Harry Potter. The problem is that your writing is too likely to be strongly affected by the Harry Potter style. You may write work that seems to echo those stories. And to an editor or agent, work that is too derivative of recent popular work is often less marketable, as a) it’s already done so well by the big names in the first place, and b) lots of other new writers are submitting similar work, hoping to be the next J.K. Rowling.

To get around that, one trick is to read the good stuff that falls outside of your area. Read American national poet laureates, read National Geographic books, read biographies of the most fascinating people in arts or business or science . . . and then go incorporate elements of those into your fantasy novels or whatever you’re writing. Your results may be unique, more different from bestsellers, and this might be the competitive advantage you need.

5. Have you started your next project?

One of my favorite techniques comes from Ray Bradbury, who launched his career by a regimen of starting a story on Monday, and sending it off by Friday. He kept at it, generating a lot of material. This covers more bases – the 6th story or 12th might just happen to be the one that is bought – or it might have led him to success because he just kept getting better as a writer over time.

Look at the writing of a famous one-hit wonder, Margaret Mitchell. Her one novel, Gone with the Wind, was a terrific success. On the other hand, she had long written profiles for the Atlanta Journal of local bon-vivants and grand estates and society events. How much of her ability to capture dramatic characters and places and events was honed by practice, by long observation and writing of several hundred feature articles and news reports, with steady feedback from editors and readers?

In short, maybe it will be the second project, or the 24th, or the . . . that will sell. If you just write one, and it doesn’t sell, and you ask should I give up . . . I’d say you haven’t worked enough yet to develop either your writing skills or the choices in your literary offerings.

In Conclusion

This isn’t a comprehensive answer to the question: How long should I keep trying?

But it is what I’d want to know if you came to me and asked me that question. Maybe it helps to point out some helpful things to focus on.

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.

(To help, if you like this post, add a positive comment. Or sign up for the blog, by entering your email to get notice of future posts.)

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.

How Authors Can Help a Publisher Promote a Book

Of course, if you self-publish, you are both author and publisher. Then you’d also do standard “publisher” marketing tasks:

  • send review copies to key review periodicals, sites, and influential people;
  • design a standard catalog sheet or flyer with key specs, summary, and order/availability details;
  • create any additional sales tools (postcards, shelf cards, etc.);
  • make sure the book is listed in key books-in-print databases and online sellers;
  • create web pages with ways to order the book;
  • create & post extra online enhancements: tables of contents, first chapters, sample material, author interviews, etc.;
  • reach out to and field queries from media;
  • and fill any other needs of a specific marketing plan for that title.

Beyond basic publisher efforts, however, authors can do some specific and helpful marketing activities better than publishers. You have deeper knowledge of your book’s contents. You also have local or personal/professional contacts of your own. You have a long-term motive to promote and push your book (and yourself as the author.) You can choose to tackle things that a publisher doesn’t have the resources (or strategic benefit) to do.

Here are specific things (in 3 sections) that an author can do to help promote a book.

  1. Working with your publisher
  2. Primary things to do on your own
  3. Secondary things to consider

Working with your publisher

You will often get good results by working with your publisher to leverage promotions.

Ask about coop efforts. There are always extra promotional opportunities. If you give them a good pitch for how something can benefit sales (and leverage more effort from you), publishers might be willing arrange to print a batch of bookmarks, or postcards, or a special flyer, if you have opportunities to hand them out at good venues. Publishers might pitch in to share costs of a book-sales table at a local conference, or an ad for a specialty publication. They might fork out money, or arrange items themselves, such as a useful, short how-to video, if you detail how you could use it and how you would help create it. It never hurts to ask, and then come to a joint understanding about the cost, benefit, and creative and production effort involved and who is responsible for what.

Enhancements for online websites. You can create a list of 10 interesting things about your book, or a teacher’s guide with activities, or a book-club guide with questions and behind-the-scenes tidbits about the book. Post them on your own online site(s), and your publisher might also post or help promote them.

Provide a self-interview and a fun-to-read bio. A good, well-written About the Author bio is always interesting, and you might be able to write an extended one for your publisher’s direct use, linking, or social-media fodder. I like the concept of the self-interview because you can cover everything you want. Plus you reveal more of your true personality. (Outside interviews are wonderful, but let’s face it, they often drift a bit off-message.)

Share any good news with your publisher. Be sure to pass on any reviews or testimonials, or info about events you’ll be involved in.

Primary Marketing To Do Yourself

Reviews at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, GoodReads. Round up friends, acquaintances, or colleagues to post reviews on Amazon, GoodReads, etc. Yes, this is legitimate. You’re not telling them what to write, just encouraging them (of course, you’re looking for friends or colleagues who like the book!) It helps if they are scattered about the country.

Send a copy and book info to your alumni magazine. Contact them to let them know you’ve a graduate, have written a book. Send them a copy. Mention that you are willing to furnish more info or do a brief interview. Send them any major reviews or awards. Alumni magazines have an amazing reach across space and time, many also have online versions as well as print magazines, and they reach audiences that are well-educated book-buyers.

Send a copy and/or book info to organizations you belong to. These might be literary, professional, social, etc. Many have websites, newsletters, etc. (If you don’t belong to regional or genre writer groups, etc., this a good reason to join.)

Contact local media with book info. You may have more appeal as an individual, compared to your publisher, when you contact your local NPR affiliate, newspaper, magazines, etc. You’re a local person, can be interviewed, have a circle of local friends, can put a local spin on the news that you’ve been published.

Contact influential people in your field for blurbs. Offer them review copies (your publisher may be willing provide a small batch of copies for your use). Request a very short blurb (just a few descriptive words or sentences is plenty), a brief bit of feedback that you can use to help promote the book (if they deem it worthy). You may have more direct channels to these people, and can talk to them in ways that involve your field or genre.

Contact local bookstores, libraries, clubs, or special-interest groups and offer to do a program. Consider a talk or workshop on a useful subject; this is often a better draw for a lesser-known author than a reading/signing. Think outside the box – not how to promote your book, but what topic involved with your book is most likely to attract an audience.

Maintain & update your online profiles. You already have or could have profiles at Facebook, Amazon’s Author Central, and other online sites. Also, there are often state-by-state listings of authors maintained by various literary organizations, or listings of authors and their works maintained by genre organizations (groups of mystery, romance, science fiction & fantasy, Western, etc. writers.) or other author associations. It’s easiest and most logical for you to find those and make sure your contact information is up-to-date and that any new works you’ve published are correctly cited, with any possible links to sales or informational channels provided.

Secondary Marketing To Do Yourself

These are “secondary” only in that they involve somewhat more effort or more time. But these can really make a difference.

Plan a fun kick-off book launch event. While a launch party is good to do, you can also plan, announce, and host a simple event for things that happen long after a book is released. The promotional visibility on Facebook and other social media is always good, even if it ends up being just a few friends showing up to share a beer or glass of wine or a piece of celebratory cake. Here’s a link to more tips for a good book launch.

Hold a party to celebrate an award. Maybe you missed the chance to do a book launch. Whether you did or not, you might consider a festive event to celebrate a later event: the book getting an award, a mention in a major magazine, a great testimonial from a famous person. If it’s worthy of celebrating, invite others and make it a public party at a favorite locale.

Offer a book giveaway on GoodReads. Three or four copies are sufficient. As author, you can note that these are signed copies. (Maybe your publisher will provide the books, if you promise to do the work to send the books to winners.)

Brainstorm fun and buzz-worthy ideas. Any out-of-the-box creative idea? Do you know creative friends who could help you brainstorm a list of zany, fun, creative, buzz-worthy, ideas? Some of the best viral stuff online comes from the odd idea that proves to be too much fun not to do. (Like any brainstorming session, though, be selective.)

Get involved – and stay involved with your local literary community. Keep in touch with local writer gatherings, events, bookstore readings, etc. Get to know the bookstore owners, librarians, media people, organizational officers, other prominent and active and well-connected authors. Stay in touch, and help them out as you can. Give of your time and share your knowledge and contacts; this will eventually be repaid in kind. Help announce good books by others, review them, post their events on your Facebook page, etc.

Be reasonably active online. Maintain a Facebook presence. Do a blog (steady and persistent) focused on you as a writer and your book and its subject matter/genre. It doesn’t need to be wildly active; just write a post at least once a month. What do you write about? Here’s a link to some things a book author can writer about. Book news, behind-the-scenes tidbits about the book, sources of specific ideas, favorite short excerpts, why you love a given passage or character, how you dealt with a writing challenge . . . Of course, this is the place to mention great reviews, thank people, announce coming appearances, report on how to after those events . . .

Do ongoing web searches in your area of interest. Look for bloggers, media people interested in your topic, regional book events, interest groups, etc.

Good Resources

Book Marketing Planning Spreadsheet
developed by Jenny Blake, author of Life After College.

I use my own version, but this is excellent.

GoodReads – Author Programs

Here’s info on doing book giveaways.

[This post is a work-in-progress, to be expanded.]

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.)