How To Make Your Marketing Plan as Much Fun as a Glitter Hula Hoop Dance Party

It’s no secret that publishing houses’ promotional budgets have shrunk, making it necessary for authors to act as their own publicists. Hell, when I was a mid-level marketer for an academic publisher five years ago, I was often frustrated by the limitations placed upon me when it came to promoting my authors. What I was able to do then is very similar to what most publishers are limited to now:

  • sending out review copies and press kits to a select group of media outlets
  • writing copy for forthcoming catalogs
  • if the timing was right, sending copies of the book to BEA, or to relevant professional conferences
  • and maybe — just maybe – sending out direct mail pieces focused on the book

It’s not much. But I don’t see these limitations as reason to abandon the traditional publishing model entirely.

Sure, there are some things I prefer to simply self-publish (such as my starter kit) but, when it comes to my memoir, I want someone else to shoulder the burden of line editing, typesetting, design, printing, and sales. I want my book to have a chance of getting reviewed in Publishers Weekly, or of appearing on library and/or bookstore shelves. I want the support of a major publisher behind me, and of an editor who believes in my work, so that I can reach even more readers. I want to be part of a publishing house whose backlist I admire.

Goddammit. I want to flip through the pages of a book with my name on the cover, inhale deeply, and feel that I’m a part of the industry that made me love reading (and new-book-smell) in the first place.

And besides, I don’t think that this new practice of authors shouldering the promotional burden is necessarily a bad thing.

This morning, I sent the final draft of my proposal along to my agent. She had already expressed the opinion that it was good to go, but I wanted to take one more pass at my promotional plan. I had just finished reading Guerrilla Marketing for Writers, and my head was swirling with even more ideas for promoting my book in new and creative ways. In fact, as I was adding these new ideas to my proposal, I was… well, I was downright gleeful. I was having fun.

This could be due to some severe mental deficiency. I don’t know. I used to go to therapy a lot.

But it seems to me that learning to be one’s own best publicist has a myriad of benefits:

1. Drawing up a promotional plan pushes authors toward new heights of creativity.

2. Sending out press releases, contacting media peeps, and appearing in public, on television, or on the radio forces (introvert) authors to face their fear of the spotlight.

3. Masterminding and executing that promotional plan makes authors better business-people. (And if you’re going to write books for a living, you’d best treat the whole affair like a business… not a hobby.)

4. In learning to talk themselves up, authors learn more about their own value.

5. Finding professional organizations, nonprofits, party planners, niche bookstores, and others to collaborate with on events and other forms of publicity plugs authors more firmly into the industry they were so eager to write about in the first place.

But most important of all, taking the wheel of your own promotional plan — whether you self-publish or go the traditional publishing route — connects you to your readers in a way that may not have been possible if you’d written your book, sent it off to your editor, and left it at that*. (*Not that that is easy.)

Connecting to your readers in this more personal, hands-on way helps you make them readers for life.

As I wrapped up the fourth draft of my promotional plan this morning — beefing it up with even more opportunities for content marketing, digital campaigning, and event planning — I felt excited for what might come next.

For all I know, what comes next might entail being summarily rejected by every publisher on the face of the planet, and being denounced as the crappiest, most self-indulgent, and most misguidedly optimistic writer ever.

But maybe — just maybe – I’ll get a book deal.

In which case I’ll get the chance to actually execute my promotional plan.

Cue the glitter hula hoops and the PULP disco party!

p.s. I folded down almost every single page of Guerrilla Marketing for Writers. Pick it up for you’re looking for ideas on how to marketing your own book.

Related: How An Author Can Be Her Own Best Publicist, How to Keep Up the Momentum During the Holidays,  How to Market the Crap Out of Yourself

How an Author Can Be Her Own Own Best Publicist

Blogging buddy and author Brette Sember has about about 40 titles to her name at this point, a number that often serves to make me feel like a lazy-ass bum. Like, what have I been doing all these years!? Her output has been so extensive that her published books fill one and a half shelves on her office bookcase.

She published her first book when she was home on maternity leave from her law practice in 1998. A publisher called and asked if she was interested in writing a book about how to file for divorce in New York. She never looked back. Now, she’s spending time promoting her latest book — The Muffin Tin Cookbook, due out in April — and she’s finding the publicity process wildly different from what it was just 14 years ago. Lucky for us, she’s willing to share what it’s like to be your own best publicist.

1. You’ve written a slew of books, in a variety of subject areas. Considering how labor-intensive book development can be, what has drawn you to these longer-form projects, and how the hell do you maintain such an impressive output?

I love books. I love reading them and I love writing them. I’ve done my share of magazine work and it’s not my favorite process. A book is my vision (with input from my editor). I’m just suited to writing long-form and I enjoy being able to have the time and space to explore things. My mom is also an author, so I guess it is in my blood.

I have some books I wrote which were renamed in later editions, so that makes my numbers look higher. I also have some books where publishers took my old books and repackaged parts of them as new titles to be more targeted or specific. I co-author a lot of books, which means I’m not writing the entire thing on my own. Writing books is my full-time job, so I do have time to devote a lot of energy and thought to what I do. Most of all though, I just love what I do.

2. Over the years, we’ve seen book publishers’ marketing and publicity budgets shrink, forcing authors to shoulder more of the promotional responsibility. What was your experience like in this area with the first few books you published, and how has it shifted over the years?

This has changed a lot in the 14 years I’ve been doing this. In the beginning, my publicists set things up for me and I did the interviews. Period. I started to do some online moving and shaking very early on, though, and was successful at getting my books reviewed or mentioned on early blogs. Now, of course, the burden is almost entirely on the author. I rely on publicists to mail out the review copies I get requests for and that’s about it. It’s hard because as an author you have to wear so many hats and they might not all come naturally. Just because you’re good at writing doesn’t mean you’re good at publicity, so I think this places a heavy burden on many authors. And it’s not like you can just hire your own publicist — you’re looking at a commitment of about $10,000 to do that. So most authors are left trying to get this done themselves, in and around their other writing work.

3. Considering the necessity of self-promotion, what do you see as the main benefits of going through a traditional publisher?

I do self-publish several titles myself as Kindles and Nooks and I love the freedom it gives me to write what I want and get it out there immediately. I still love print books, though, and for long projects that require a lot of my time and a lot of investment in research or recipe development, I like to get an advance to defray those costs. I’m not interested in storing 2,000 books in my garage to sell or distribute myself and I’m just not interested in formatting a book or doing anything of the print functions myself. For now, I’m playing both sides of the field and will as long as I see a benefit.

4. What have been some of the most effective ways you’ve found of self-promoting your books? Have you tried anything off-beat that perhaps a publishing house wouldn’t have come up with on its own?

I’ve had a lot of success with bloggers for many years, and publishers are now hot on this but weren’t for a long time. I make my own flyers for my books with color photos on them. Publishers send out these dry text emails or press releases. I put together a PDF with photos, color text and formatting that makes it fun to look at. I’ve also had a lot of success getting coverage in regional parenting magazines, which I’ve worked with for years and years as a writer and maintain a database of. They’re really receptive because they need content and if you can provide a free article that also promotes your book, they are happy to run it. I also have to tell you that my mom took my last cookbook, The Parchment Paper Cookbook, to the hair salon for the stylist. He has it on a side table and has told tons of people about it. Sometimes word of mouth is more valuable than you would think.

5. Finally, I can imagine that by the time your book comes out, you’re sick to death of it. Can you speak to this a bit, and also explain how you maintain your enthusiasm for the book so you can promote it in the most effective way possible?

People don’t realize you’ve lived with a book for a year or even two by the time it hits the shelves. You start with the proposal — trying to get a publisher interested. Then you write the book. Then you go through edits and copyediting and proofing. I also do the indexes for my own books, so that is another journey through the book. Then you start publicity before the book is out, trying to line up reviews, guest posts, etc. By the time there is actually a book for sale, it’s old news to the author! But it’s new to everyone else, so you have to kind of shake yourself up and try to look at it through the readers’ eyes and get excited about it all over again. And it is exciting to actually hold it in your hands after the long process. And it’s exciting when people tell you they like it, so that energizes you anew.

Related: 12 Ways to Market an Ebook, Wearing Different Hats

(photo via)

How To Find The Literary Agent of Your Dreams

(image via the talented Justin Lowery)

Back in November, I shared with you the checklist I used to put together my own book proposal. It contained all the building blocks I’d become familiar with when working as an editorial assistant for an academic book publisher, plus a few other tips I’d picked up over the years from former writing professors and how-to books.

I can only assume that, by this point, you have an amazing, solid book proposal ready to go, and are already daydreaming about the book advance and lit parties in your future. Not so fast. While academic publishers — and some small presses — accept unsolicited book proposals and manuscripts, most traditional book publishers won’t look at your work unless it comes to them via a literary agent.

I can hear you grumbling already. What the what!? Another barrier to publication? But believe me. You’ll only benefit from the help an agent can provide. Not only are they the gatekeepers to big-name publishers, but they have their fingers on the pulse of the literary marketplace, can help you strengthen your proposal, have relationships with editors (and intimate knowledge of their preferences) that allow them to target the best possible publishers for your book, and can also negotiate a helluva book contract (a process during which many of us would be completely out of our element).

Yes please to all of that.

So how do you go about finding one?

Read the acknowledgments pages of your favorite books. I’ve been working on a prescriptive memoir about being a sex writer with sexual dysfunction. In order to pinpoint agents who might be interested in such a book, I thought back to all the sex-related books, prescriptive nonfiction books, and irreverent memoirs I’d read and loved. I figured anyone who’d represent those authors might possibly be into me, too. Luckily, most authors thank their agents in the acknowledgments section of their book. So when drawing up a list of possible agents to query, I flipped to the backs of My Year with Eleanor, Yoga Bitch, Project: Happily Ever After, Mating in Captivity, Introvert Power, and other such books. I also took note of which agents had landed their authors deals with Seal Press, a small publishing house I especially admired.

Flip through agent directories. In a bit of fortuitous timing, I received a review copy of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents 2012 back in November. I loved it because, in gathering information from agencies, Herman had asked for info like: hobbies and personal interests; subjects and categories they liked to agent; the most effective way for writers to grab their attention; favorite books, movies, and TV shows; the most common mistakes writers make when pitching; etc. Not only did this help me better craft my queries, but this info allowed me to see these agents not just as agents… but as people.

Several months later, I received Chuck Sambuchino’s 2012 Guide to Literary Agents as a Christmas present. This particular directory made it clear which agencies were more open to new writers and which weren’t.

I also paid attention to info on geographic location, and only targeted the agents who were based in NY or NJ. I wanted the option of meeting up with my future agent in person.

And both books also contained additional content on crafting query letters, putting together a nonfiction book proposal, how to make the most of a writer’s conference, copyright basics, and more.

Visit agency websites. After I’d flipped through acknowledgments pages and agency directories, I visited the websites of the agents on my list. This gave me even more information on whether they were accepting proposals at the time, how they preferred to receive queries, and how long it typically took them to respond (so I knew when to follow up).

Send a query letter first. Then I started sending out my first wave of query letters. You may be eager to mail out your full proposal right off the bat (especially after you spent so much time putting it together) but, for the most part, agents prefer to receive a brief query letter first. This is because they’re just inundated with queries and proposals, and don’t have the time to read through them all. If they’re intrigued by your query letter and interested in reading more, they’ll request your full proposal.

Other options. Of course, there are other ways to familiarize yourself with the agents out there. I read this mediabistro list of the Best Literary Agents on Twitter, and followed the ones who seemed the most interesting. (I even referenced a specific tweet in one of my query letters.) Other authors register for Publishers Lunch – through which they can read book industry news, receive alerts about new book transactions, and search a database to see which agents are representing which books — or subscribe to Publishers Weekly. Some authors make agent connections at conferences (and some conferences host sessions in which you can sign up to query agents in person).

In the end, it took me about three (excruciating) months to find my literary agent, using the steps above. Those three months included five rejections from agencies not interested in seeing my full proposal; three requests for a full proposal, followed by three very pleasant and constructive rejections; and two howling vortexes of silence.

Actually, I didn’t even directly query the woman who eventually offered me representation. I queried her colleague after becoming enamored of a memoir she’d represented. She loved my proposal but worried she was too much of a prude to give it the best possible chance in this tough publishing market. So she passed it along to her colleague and the stars aligned.

When my agent first emailed me, I paused to do a happy dance to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” Then, in my response email to the aforementioned agent, I admitted to doing a happy dance to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” When she responded by asking if we were separated at birth, I knew it was all going to work out.

I know there’s still no guarantee I’ll get an offer from a book publisher. But at this moment, I’m far closer to the authorial dreams I’ve been nursing since the age of 5 than I’ve ever been before.

Having an agent? It can certainly help you beat the odds.

Related: Selling Your First Book: A Checklist of Book Proposal Essentials, How To Increase Your Chances of Landing That Book Deal, Breakneck Book Report: Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk, and Writing, Spill It: How Do You Handle Rejection as a Writer?