Friday, January 06, 2006

Four Countries

For the pros:

Once you sell a book, your role changes from writer to ambassador. Like a dignitary visiting foreign countries, you must make good impressions on them so they become allies. And like that dignitary, you'll do so through meetings, promises, favors, gifts, and just being a nice person.

These are the countries you must recruit:

1. Your Publisher

Why: If they like you, what you're writing, and what you're doing, they'll do more for you. Generating in-house enthusiasm is important. The sales team will spend more time selling you. The marketing team will work harder and spend more money. The editing team will be more excited to have you as an author.

How: Visit them. An in-person meeting is crucial. Always be upbeat, gracious, and thankful. Correspond with them regularly, through phone and email. Keep them in the loop and let them know what you're doing to promote yourself. Schmooze them.

Example: On my own I've gotten blurbs from over thirty big name authors, appeared in many magazines and newspapers, signed at hundreds of bookstores, gone to dozens of conferences and conventions, handsold several thousand books, always meet my deadlines, always listen to editing suggestions, pitched ideas to them, written my own catalog and back jacket copy, written press releases, won awards, and kept them up to date on everything I'm doing.

2. Booksellers

Why: Your publisher can get your books on the shelves, but booksellers are the ones who get people to buy them. There are over 15,000 bookstores in the USA. If one person at each store sold one of your books every week, you'd be a huge bestseller.

How: Schedule signings at their stores. Do drop-ins. Go to writing conventions and work the book room. Send out personal letters. Email them. Place ads in publications that they read. Buddy up with your publisher to get invited to bookseller conferences and schmooze. Buy them drinks or food.

Example: I've visited over 400 bookstores, and this year will visit 500. I've partied with booksellers, done signings that have lasted for 8 hours, mailed them gifts, named characters after bookstore employees, thanked dozens of booksellers in my acknowledgements, advertised in publications they read, mailed out thousands of letters with signed coasters and bookplates, and kiss their asses when I see them.

3. Librarians

Why: Books are a product, and no product succeeds without branding and name recognition. Libraries are the hub of many communities. They're places to meet, learn, and be entertained. There are over 15,000 libraries in the USA, and if each bought several copies of all of your books, you'd reach millions of readers--readers who will recognize you, talk about you, and buy future books.

How: Schedule talks and events. Send out personal letters. Email them. Place ads in publications that they read. Buddy up with your publisher to get invited to library conferences and schmooze.

Example: Along with Julia Spencer-Fleming, I FINALLY finished sending out 7000 letters to libraries in the USA which include brochures, and interview, and signed coasters. I've attended library conventions, done dozens of speeches and events, and taught classes at libraries.

4. Fans

Why: They buy the books, and like all consumers, they buy what is familiar, what has worked for them before, what they like or think they'll like, and what comforts them. An avid readership of only 100,000 people will buy millions of your books as your career continues.

How: Make yourself accessible. Do signings. Speak at libraries. Attend conventions. Have a decent website, message board, and blog. Return emails. Give out freebies. Hold contests. Send out newsletters. Schmooze them.

Example: I mail out dozens of freebies a month, hold several contests a year, named characters after fans, always answer emails, consistently update my blog and website, have 10,000+ people on my newsletter list, offer advice, attend many signings and conventions, and have partied with many, many fans.

Conclusion: Be prepared to spend a lot of time and money to do all of the traveling, mailing, and schmoozing. Writing a good book is important, but that book must get into the hands of readers, and you're the best person to get that job done.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm... how does a newbie author get blurbs from big-name authors?

JA Konrath said...

"Hmmm... how does a newbie author get blurbs from big-name authors?"

I explain how I did it on my website.

Anonymous said...

Ah! Thanks! Found that bit on your website. I'm curious. What did you do wrong that pissed off some authors? We could all learn from your mistakes. ;)

Stacey Cochran said...

You forgot the Western Hemisphere and the continent of Film Land.

Attend film festivals, folks. Go to screenings by unknown filmmakers. Hand out flyers for your books.

Make it known that you are available, and some unknown kid who's directed a couple deodorant commercials and a single B-movie horror flick his first year out of grad school at USC might make your novel into the next Carrie or Jaws.

Attend film festivals. Make friendly with Hollywood. Particularly, young Hollywood.

It's amazing how many writers miss this one.

Confessions of a Starving Mystery Writer said...

It seems, upon relection, that writing the book is the easy part?

Anonymous said...

ha! Yeah, writing the book's easy compared to selling it.

Good advice as usual, dude.

Unknown said...

It's so odd reading about librarian relationships, after years of hardly going into my local library where the kind old ladies (and well dressed, catholically-silent men) always knew my name, no matter how long I'd been gone.

In my youth I assumed them harmless, and, almost, useless (I was young!)

Thanks for the note... when I get my book out, I'll be sure to bring bagels over there with my novel written out in lox and herring salad.

Anonymous said...

Hello from the country of Librarians. In case any of you doubt Joe's wisdom, let me make this case in point. Just this morning, Joe and Julia's mailing arrived on my desk. It took me a whole 30 seconds to scan the letter and walk it over to my acquisitions clerk with instructions to order hardcover AND CD versions of all titles from both authors. And really, Joe's shameless kissing up ("Librarians are the smartest, nicest and most attractive people on the planet") had very little to do with my purchasing decision.

Food also works wonders with us!

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Four countries, huh? Gaining citizenship could be a bitch.

JA Konrath said...

kbmoore--You are the first to respond to out library mailing!

We sent it out two days ago, and I just got back about 100 envelopes--some with incorrect or incomplete addresses, so that I neglected to put stamps on (oops.)

Since you are the first, I'd also love to ask you some slightly detailed questions about the mailing, if you don't mind.

Are you up for it?


Anonymous said...


You're going to do well in the long run, and here's why. You ARE accessible. You respect your customers. You help them, answer them, and don't insult them even when they insult you. Newbie writers (like me) are customers too, and your support of them will pay dividends. Too many times, a writer gets a contract and feels "graduated" to a higher level. That subtle superiority is deadly to sales.

So now, I'm going to buy Whiskey Sour. One more off the shelves for your efforts!

Anonymous said...


It has been my experience that the things you recommend are not ALWAYS received well with a publisher.

I am with one of the big NYC houses, and my first book is coming out soon.

I have been specifically instructed NOT to contact bookstores, NOT to go to certain events, NOT to bother reviewers and other authors, DON'T hand out chapbooks or other self-made promo items, etc. I don't think they're all that thrilled with my having a website, either. I was told all these things interfere with the publicity department's efforts and can actually harm my reputation and hurt the sales of the book. "It makes you look like an amateur or like a self-published writer," my editor told me.

It was suggested to me in a not so subtle way that authors with the big houses don't always have to do the same thing as authors at lesser publishers, and that my efforts to help were more cute than necessary. Authors like (JA Konrath) HAVE to do these things, but authors at XXXX don't. Apparently, we can just kick back and let The Machine handle it.

I hate to agree or disagree in a public forum like this. Quite frankly, they scared me out of doing almost any self-promotion or even signing my name to a blog. I was thrilled when I got picked up by the publisher, and they have (so far) fullfilled their end of the bargain, but now I'm not so sure. It's not turning out the way I expected.

JA Konrath said...

Hi Anon--

It's your book. Your name is on it. It's your job to sell it.

My publisher is one of the big NYC houses. They gave me a lot of money. And they told me a lot of the saee things yours told you.

I was told not to do signings. I was told to not contact booksellers or libraries or reviewers. I was told that things were being taken care of.

And I went ahead and did the self-promo stuff anyway.

Did my publisher get mad? Not when they saw the results of my efforts. And they quickly got behind me, both with enthusiasm and marketing dollars.

If you haven't already, spend ten minutes on the TIPS pages of my website, and read the essays I've posted about landing a publishing deal, and what happened next.

Don't let your publisher intimidate you. You're trying to make them money, after all. And a lot of what their telling you is to protect you from the disappointments all new writers have to cope with (again, not to sound smarmy, but read my site and this blog to get an idea of what is in store for you.)

You can also email me privately if you want to talk in more detail.

Bottom line: It's your career. Unless you got a 500k advance and your publisher has booked you on all the monring talk shows, you're going to need to self-promote.

Anonymous said...

I'd be happy to share my thoughts about your mailing. I've just sent you an e-mail.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks, kbmoore! And thanks Jason!

Anonymous said...

ya know, it would seem to me that the more you self promote, the more money you can make...I have to agree with JA here. I know with what I do as a day job - mortgage broker - that we get an ample amount of leads from corporate and all I really need to do to make money is to wait on the phone to ring and answer it. I can easily make 80-100K by just sitting here and waiting on my leads. But, I like money too much to just sit and wait on the phone to ring. I wait on the phone to ring and while im waiting I try to figure out who to market myself to so I can make MORE money. It is all about promoting yourself!

Thanks for this post, JA, and for ALL of your posts...I do learn a lot by reading this blog and your site!

Anonymous said...

I seriously WANT to do the self-promotion thing. And I was doing for awhile...

But then I got a call from the editor, who'd received a complaint from the publicist, who'd found out about a chapbook and author intro letter I'd sent out.

I was told to STOP IT. She said it makes the publishing house look bad when their authors are out doing the job of the publicity and marketing department. She made it clear that their authors "don't do that type of thing."

Anyway, I understand what you're saying about getting out there and doing it anyway, but since I was specifically told not to, I seriously wonder if disobeying is wise. What if I fuck things up and the publisher drops me?

Anonymous said...

"She said it makes the publishing house look bad when their authors are out doing the job of the publicity and marketing department. She made it clear that their authors "don't do that type of thing"

I wonder who they think it looks bad to.

JA Konrath said...

If your publisher specifically tells you not to do something, it's important to understand why.

As I mentioned, many new authors are overly enthusuastic when they first get published, and they do a lot of things wrong.

For example, if you were sending out ARCs to reviewers, your publisher might get irked because you're doing the same thing they're doing.

Ditto setting up signings without them knowing, or being so pushy that word gets back to them.

I'm guessing it's just some crossed signals.

I made A LOT of mistakes when I was first published, several of which annoyed my publisher. But we worked through them, and now are one very good terms.

All publishers want their authors to go to conferences, meet booksellers, find fans.

Who did you send the chapbook and author intro to? What exactly did the editor and publicist say to you?

Rather than be cowed, I'd suggest trying to communicate with them. Let them know you're gung-ho about self-promoting. Ask what you can do, or offer them ideas.

Or email if you want ot talk more candidly... unless we already know each other, becuase you remind me of someone.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Thanks for the good advice, Joe. When I get that far, I may re-ask these questions!

Alphabeter said...

Speaking from the OMG *SQUEAL* Fangurl part of me, Joe knows what he's talking about.

Yes, I'd read his first two books (and am rereading them before I get to dive into the third). The second one was recommended, so I picked up the first (I do that) and dove into both.

So I checked out his website. Nice, information, funny.
Next his blog, very funny and helpful.

I made a few comments. He commented back.

I sent a few emails. He emailed BACK.

I entered a few contests and even won one(hence my having a galley of his third novel six months ahead of publication).

And I'm still here.
He didn't take advantage of me by spamming me, making fun of my comments or emails (I soooo gave him plenty of ammunition-and not deliberately!), or going overboard on his blog or site. (Some do that with the "I am published therefore I KNOW" albeit maybe unintentionally.)

I consider myself a big fan of Joe's, but he definitely recruited me by doing all of things he mentions in the Fan section.

I hope I become a better writer for it.

/lips from Joe's rear

Jim said...

I seriously wonder if disobeying is wise. What if I fuck things up and the publisher drops me?

Here's my 2 cents. You want to self-promote, but your publisher has already done the bulk of the "promoting" by editing and printing the book and getting into booksotres. Without that, you'd be nowhere. And they have an investment to protect. As long as you're on their team, be a team player. Find out what they want and then stick to the rules.

JA Konrath said...

"Find out what they want and then stick to the rules."

No. Find out what they want, let them know what you want, and then work together so you both achieve it.

Anonymous said...

Joe, you are SO right on this one. Remember those "Buffy the Teenage Publicist" types who don't know WHAT they want? Remember those publicity types who say "we've got it covered!" because their bosses say "authors will hurt themselves if they do anything other than type?". Well publishers understand many things. IF YOU MAKE THEM MONEY (hello, Janet Evanovich and JA Konrath), they become very flexible. And you don't talk to the intern anymore; you talk to the VP. It's called upward mobility. And I think Joe, authors like you have gotten as many books into independent bookstores as any publisher. And once the indies begin to back you, Manhattan develops an excellent sense of hearing. You build a team, whether the publisher is initially inclined to do so or not. Like the best of marriages, it's a union of equals.

Unknown said...

Hey Joe,

I stopped by the B+N on 5th Ave (brand new, oh so sparkly and clean) here in NYC to pick up all of your books... only to find that they JUST had a paperback version of Whiskey Sour in stock!

But me and the bookseller got into a good conversation and I told him about all that you do and I think he's going to order a bunch of copies of each of the series... and I think he left work to get a Whiskey Sour, as your book title put him in the mood.

Can't wait to take a big gulp of the book!


Jim said...

Find out what they want, let them know what you want, and then work together so you both achieve it.

Joe, I agree with that and didn't mean to imply otherwise. Obviously the publisher and author have to work together to define the boundaries of acceptable self-promotion by the author. However, once thsoe boundaries are established the author would be well advised to stay inside. Becoming a pain in the ass, in any big organization these days, is a downward slope.

Adam Hurtubise said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob Gregory Browne said...

Dear Anonymous. If you're willing, I'd sure love a private email from you to find out who your publisher is.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks Justin!

Lots of good stuff in this thread. For those two people in the world unfamiliar with MJ Rose, she's the #1 Self-Promoter on the planet. She's also a great writer, and her new novel, THE DELILAH COMPLEX, is now out in stores. Buy it.