Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What Works?

I believe the main hurdle the publishing industry has to overcome in the upcoming years, perhaps even bigger than embracing technology, is the ability to learn from its successes and mistakes.

This isn't easy. A book is a one-time unreproducible phenomenon, with many factors that ultimately lead to its profitability or lack thereof. There are no controls in the grand publishing experiment--if a book does well, you can't truly understand why, especially since many of those things done to promote that book were done for other books which didn't do well.

So learning is tough to do, especially in a business model that still relies on returns and offset printing.

As authors, we can't do much to fix the industry. But we have the same hurdle to overcome.

As a reader of this blog, you know I believe self-promotion is essential for authors. I report here on my successes, and try to offer practical information about what works and more importantly why it works. Or, why it doesn't work. No effort is wasted if we learn from it, but are we truly learning?

Here are several things I've done on the self-promotion front, and my honest evaluation of if they've worked or not.

1. Visiting Bookstores for Stock Signings

I know this works. Not in every case, but in enough of them to be worthwhile. Booksellers remember me, and they handsell the books. Of course it helps if you have free books to give away to them, and if you keep in touch periodically with emails or thank them by name in your acknowledgements.

What is the percentage of the worthwhile ones? I'd say one out of four.

2. Having a Booklaunch Party

This is certainly fun, and a nice way to kill a few hours with family, friends, and fans, but it never justifies the expense. Sure, you can write it off, but it's a lot of effort for only a few books sold to people who would probably buy them anyway.

3. Having a MySpace Page

I'm still amazed that I had MySpace Friends show up at my booksigings in Italy. MySpace is better than any newsletter or mailing list I've ever used. But it is a time black hole, and you'll spend weeks and weeks gathering up a Friend list before it becomes worthwhile. When it does start to pay off, you can meet hundreds, even thousands, of new readers, but you have to put in the effort to make that happen.

4. Selling Articles and Short Stories

This works better than anything else you can do. Get into as many anthologies, magazines, and webzines as you can. I'm constantly hearing from people who read my short stuff, which leads them to my longer stuff.

5. Giving It Away

This works. In the past few weeks, people have downloaded 600 free copies of Whiskey Sour on my website. Six hundred may not seem like a lot, but the majority of people visiting my website already know who I am, and they've already read Whiskey Sour. So these are brand new readers, which cost me nothing to find. And many of them are later buying the books--I know this, because they email. I've received no less than a hundred emails from folks who have enjoyed the download and then said they were going out to find more of my work.

6. Mass Mailings

Last year, with fellow scribe Julia Spencer-Fleming, I mailed out more than 7000 letters to libraries. This was very expensive, incredibly time-consuming, and while it got me some publicity, and while it introduced many librarians to my series, I didn't see enough results to say it was worth the effort.

That said, I've never bought a book because the author sent me a postcard either. Snail mail is easy to ignore, and I don't recommend it.

7. Conventions and Conferences

I used to be a convention whore, and attend all of them. These days, not so many.

At the start of your career, it's important to attend writing conventions. You meet your peers, and fans, and the occasional reviewer or media person, and you expand your base readership. But after a few years, meeting the same people again and again, going to a convention is more about the fun than about the self-promotion. You'll never sell more than a few dozen books, and unless you're invited and get a free ride (or paid to speak), it's impossible to justify the several hundred to several thousand dollar cost of attending.

After you visit a few conventions, use your promotional time and dollar to travel and visit bookstores instead.

Of course, if you have a free ride, always take it.

8. Libraries, Bookfairs, and Other Speaking Engagements

This is a crapshoot. Sometimes a lot of people show up. Sometimes very few. I do them because I'm still flattered that anyone would want me to speak anywhere, but I go into these believing they're a way to give back to the community rather than to sell books.

Sometimes, I get paid a lot and have a huge turnout. Sometimes, I get paid nothing and have a nice one-on-one with the event organizer. It's about 50/50.

9. Scheduled Booksigings

These are only worthwhile if you're a big enough name already, or if you're planning on staying for four hours and handselling books. If not, expect a humiliating experience where you don't sell many books, which costs you time and your publisher coop money.

10. Newsletters and Mass Emails

I do one a year, and that seems to be enough. It's important to have a newsletter, and to have a space on your website where people sign up for it. But don't bombard them with an email every week. A mass mailing, announcing your latest book, is effective, but I question the effectiveness of any other use.

11. A Blog

Yes, you need a website. But do you need a blog?

This blog gets anywhere from 300 to 1500 unique hits a day, though it averages about 600. When I post more often, the number goes up. But even if I don't post for a week or two, the numbers stay pretty consistent.

This is because my blog contains information that Google regularly searches, so new folks are constantly being directed to old posts. Some of them stay for a while. Some become long term readers. I've sold books, and gotten speaking engagements, because of this blog, so I believe blogs are worthwhile if you have something to offer, like expertise, information, aggregation, or opinion.

That said, go to, get a free tracker, and see if anyone is reading. If not, your efforts are better spent elsewhere.

12. Contests

I used to think contests were important. Now I think it depends on the contest.

I ran a contest of sorts for Dirty Martini, thanking everyone who reviewed it int he acknowledgements of my next book, and sending them free stuff (it's coming, I swear!) and I got many more online reviews than any of my previous books. That was worth it.

I ran a library contest that garnered a few hundred entries. While I love libraries, the only ones entering were folks who already knew who I was, so this really was more of a way to thank libraries than get new libraries to order my books.

I ran a few writing contests, and while many websites mentioned them, the work to read all the entries was exhausting, and I don't think it did anything for my book sales. I won't do another one.

My publisher has run contests on websites, and I haven't seen any dramatic results from them.

Don't think that just because you're running a contest that people will enter, or that you'll get any publicity for it, or that people entering will buy your book. Contests are more of a "thank you" than a self-promotional tool.

13. Free Stuff

I give away a lot of freebies; signed coasters, magazines, books, etc, although these are more goodwill than fan recruitment. But I'll keep doing this, because my core fans should be rewarded, because they're helping to spread brand awareness and name recognition.

To date, I've given away more than 30,000 signed drink coasters. Do these sell books? No. But they are something novel to give to people I meet so they remember who I am, and unlike a bookmark or business card, they're autographed so people might hold onto them.

I consider the money I spend on coasters to be wasted, but well wasted. It always amuses me when I run into someone who talks about the signed coaster they got from me four years ago that they still have on their desk.

If you want to spend a few bucks on bookmarks, pens, postcards, flyers, keychains, etc, know it's going to be at a 100% loss. A good quality business card with your bookcover on it is all you really need.

14. Advertising

As I've said before, I think that modern human beings are immune to advertising. Those who say it helps to reinforce a brand are correct, it does reinforce a brand. But at what cost vs. what benefits?

My publisher has run some big ads for me. I've run some small ones. I believe their money is better spent on ARCs and coop, and my money is better spent on travelling.

This also applies to Internet advertising. How many times in the past week have you clicked on a pop up or a banner ad? Did it lead you to buying the product?

Of course, advertisers admit that a very small percentage of people exposed to any ad rush out and buy the product, but advertising leads to overall branding and product recognition.

To which I can say that I recognize thousands of products, and can even sing ad jingles from my youth, but I still have yet to buy any of them.

Book trailers have been around for a few years, but writers continue to extol their virtues. Yes, you can put it on YouTube and on your website and MySpace page, and it's pretty cool. But is it a few thousand dollars worth of cool?

I don't have any book trailers, so I don't know how many hits they get. I do have a video of me acting like an idiot on my site, and that gets a few hundred hits a month, along with garners me a lot of email. But that cost me $25, not $2500.

Plus, like everything you put on your site, the people who visit are most likely the people who know about you anyway, so who exactly are you recruiting?

If you want to do a book trailer, be sure you tract the hits it gets, track the email responses you get, Google how many people link to it, then post your honest results here so we can learn from them and figure out if they are worth the cost.

15. Your Publisher's Efforts

Your publisher can do more for your book than you ever could. So it's important to coordinate your efforts with them, keep a line of communication open, and always be gracious, thankful, and polite even if you think they suck. You get more flies with honey than with vinegar, and a rep as someone difficult, unappreciative, and unrealistic can follow you forever.

16. Your Outlook

Winners act like winners. This sounds obvious, but the things you say and do in public can give the impression that you're one to watch or you're one to avoid.

Be one to watch in all of your professional relationships. A smile and a "thank you" is a lot more effective than a million dollar advertising campaign.


The goal is to get read. To be read, people must be made aware of your books. You can't make people buy them, or like them, or tell their friends about them.

But, as writers, we can help make the world aware that our books exist. The above are some of the things I've tried.

I measure a successful effort by the amount of time and money it takes versus the result it produces. I have no rigid method for this. A lot of my advance money goes toward self-promotion, and most of my time does.

Hardly anything pays for itself. But many of the above have intangible, unforeseeable benefits. Whatever you do, the rule seems to follow: the more you do, the more you get.

So take a look at your efforts. Look at the time and money you've spent. Then ask yourself:
What has worked for you and why?

Feel free to share your results here.


Anonymous said...

Great post! The one thing that I would add to that list is to put a tag about your book with a link of where to buy it as your email signature.

It's free and people will notice it. I also do book trailers...check it out:

Taryn Simpson

Spy Scribbler said...

About blogging, the constant updating of your site will push your site up in the search rankings, whether you're getting regular blog readers or not.

I don't know if that's a big pro, lol, but it's another thing to stick on the pro/con list.

Jude Hardin said...

I think blogs are fun, and I enjoy them a lot.

But, they're a huge time suck, and I'm not convinced they're a very effective marketing tool.

Does anyone else feel that way?


I've noticed that you and quite a few other authors have cut way down on your posts (and responses to comments) over the past few months. Does it become a dreaded chore after a while? From a marketing standpoint, does posting and responding on a daily/bi-weekly/weekly basis warrant the time and effort it takes?

JA Konrath said...


Believe it or not, The Newbie's Guide to Publishing has been active since May of 2005, so I've been here more than two years, and have posted close to 300 entries and over a thousand responses.

I can't speak for other authors, but I haven't run out of stuff to say yet. However, I've been on a sort of hiatus lately, tending to some non-work related stuff.

I'll continue to post for as long as I have readers. And I've found that a once a week appearance has the same promo effect as appearing a few times a week. In fact, it may be better, because people don't get bored with me. :)

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Joe, and happy belated anniversary.

Hope you keep sharing your thoughts here--at whatever intervals you can manage--for a long time to come.

WayneThomasBatson said...

One of the best thing I've ever done is touring with other authors. I got the idea at a convention in Denver last year when a fellow fantasy author invited me to stop by a signing. He was signing with two other fantasy authors, just an spontaneous event. And I got to thinking: Why not get a bunch of us in the same genre and tour together. Only it wouldn't be just drop ins. Schedule events, promote, advertise, etc.

So Christopher Hopper (White Lion Chronicles), Bryan Davis (Dragons in Our Midst), Sharon Hinck (Sword of Lyric Series), and I toured from Atlanta to New York. Having multiple authors did some amazing things:

1. Our publishers were more interested and willing to support than they would have solo signings.

2. Bookstores were more willing to advertise a multiauthor event.

3. More press picked up on the events (see below).

4. And one of the best things was we were constantly able to cross promote. And that really was the driving force--my fans may not know of Bryan's books. Christopher's fans may have never heard of me. During the tour so many of our fans went home with new authors to read.

The biggest thing by far to come of of the Fantasy Fiction Tour (our tour name) was the press. Because we started promoting the Tour a year in advance, we got tons of press: AP, Reuters, RNS, SRN, etc.

Then, to our utter amazement, The Washington Post did a story on us and put it on the FRONT page.

Then, Fox news picked up on it, and I appeared live on Fox and Friends. It was an incredible opportunity.

So call up your genre author buddies and tour together. What's not to like?

Susan said...

Of course, we've all heard this stump speach before, and I think most of us agree with everything you've said here. You've really started pushing the myspace account a lot in the past year.

Here's my suggestion: start a nationwide grass roots organization for writers.

I've just started a website aimed helping writers get published, get publicity, and build writers groups in their communities.

My search engine optimization person tells me that "How to Publish a Book" receives around 900 searches per day on Google on Yahoo alone (that's 25,000 a month), and that the website should move to the #1 spot on Google within a couple weeks of its launch.

That's nearly a quarter of million searches per year.

So, I'm going to be using search engine optimization to reach a broad audience to give them info, news, and interviews on how to publish a book, how to get a literary agent, and how to market and sell that book when they are done.

I think starting writers groups in 30-50 of the country's largest cities can help suppliment that, and it can generate a body count when touring those cities later on.

Bookmark Stacey's

Mark Terry said...

Although I agree with you--basically--about mass mailings and advertising, I think they both do the same thing. They generate name recognition, which is much of what everything else is about: awareness.

Are they cost effective, etc? Well, it's a hard call. Probably not. But none of it really results in a 1:1 ratio of cost:benefit.

Stacey Cochran said...

Although I agree with you--basically--about mass mailings and advertising, I think they both do the same thing. They generate name recognition, which is much of what everything else is about: awareness.

What you would prefer, though, is to have people coming to you.... not you having to go after them.

The thing with search-engine optimization is that you research a key phrase that people are searching on Google 800-5000 times per day. Then acquire a domain that will make you the #1 site in Google (or Yahoo, etc.) when people search that key phrase.

And if you're really good, you design a site to actually fit with the domain.

Then, you've got a quarter million people per year coming to you, instead of the other way around.

Check it out, you'll see what I mean:

Anonymous said...

It's that easy to have a #1 website? Tell me more!

I've been developing one called

With the right key phrase, the world is my oyster, eh?

JA Konrath said...

I wish you every success, Stacey and Susan, but search engine optimazation is harder than you might think.

A search for how to publish a book on Google results 54 million results. The top hits go to a lot of POD presses, and they keep their top spots by generating major traffic, having hundreds of links going to them, and also using the Google Adwords program.

Using quotes around the phrase reduces your results to 54,000, which is still a lot, because all roads don't lead to you.

If you want to get to be one of the top results on Google, it involves more than a catchy URL. You need metatags, which spiders can crawl and aggregate (I looked at your source code, and while the site is nice, I saw no tags.)

You also need a lot of links going to and from the site, as well as a lot of content. Specific, unique phrases on the site and in your metatags will result in higher search engine placement, but most of these have already been thought of and used.

Again, I wish you luck.

Jude Hardin said...

I don't know much about websites, but it seems like has become fairly popular in a relatively short period. Lots of published and aspiring writers hanging out and shooting the breeze on a variety of subjects.

Good luck, Stacey. I would love to watch your interview videos, but I'm still crawling around on dial-up. :(

I know. I need to join the 21st century. My son reminds me daily.

Stacey Cochran said...

Here's the Title tag I'm using, JA:


You're allowed 60 characters with spacing, and I'm told it's best to repeat your keywords three times (but no more than three!) with several of the most popular variations.

With the meta-tag descriptions you're allowed 200 characters, and I've written pretty solid descriptions using the keywords (still need to revise) as many times as is humanly possibly. In the Meta-tag description, you can repeat 'em as many times as humanly possible and it doesn't count off.

It'll be interesting to see what happens. The site just went Live two days ago, and I'm still tweaking all the Title tags, meta-tags descriptions, and keyword meta-tags.

The "Visitors' Books" page is designed to get people linking to the site. The idea being that I'll post a link to your book at Amazon with thumbnail picture, if you link to

I don't know what'll happen, but I'm excited about it!


Stacey Cochran said...

Incidentally, all of this cost about $21.00

Stacey Cochran said...

Here's the meta-tag description for the home page:

How to Publish a Book is an online community dedicated to helping writers learn about book publishing. We interview authors, editors, book publishers, and literary agents and establish writers groups.

Note how I've used my keywords "publish" and "book" three times (but no more than three!), using different variations. Also the paragraph totals exactly 200 characters (with spacing), which is the limit.

Additionally, you need to write the meta-tag description in a sentence-readable format. If, for example, you just throw: book, books, booked. publish, publisher, published, etc. The search engine spiders mark you as spam and send you to the back of the line.

It really is a fascinating process.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to be a party pooper, but it doesn't look to me like the administrators of have ever truly published a book or even acquired an agent.

PJ Parrish said...

This is a good post, Joe, because you evaluate your efforts for all of us who've followed your progress for the last couple years. I agree with all of them. I have one thing to add for new authors:

HAVE A GOOD WEBSITE! I am shocked at how many experienced authors neglect this most basic thing. It doesn't have to have bells and whistles (videos, contests, downloads etc.). But it has to be easily navigated, clean, with basic information AND good clear downloadable jpegs of YOU and your COVERS.

Why do you need this?
1. For readers who want to find your other books and maybe know more about you. But mainly they need to know about your backlist and other works if you have them. You need a page devoted to this with excerpts and maybe some goodies like links to what inspired your story. And where to buy books, of course.

2. For PR people, librarians, booksellers. They often do their own publicity for your engagements. If they can't get basic bio and pix, they get frustrated. If you make it easy, they will do more for you.

I do our chapter newsletter for MWA and often have to go in search of our speakers' info. I am appalled at how many authors don't have a basic bio and a mug of themselves that I can download. I can only imagine how someone feels who's trying hard to promote their event with you as their speaker.

Jude Hardin said...


I just gave Dirty Martini a little plug over on Crimespace. One of the wuthors over there is working on a thriller where the villain is--get this--behind a food poisoning epidemic. I told her to check you out.

Word-of-mouth is still the best promo going, right?

Nathan Bransford said...

This is such a great post! It should be required reading.

Tom Schreck said...

My book has a basset hound on the cover. In September I'm going to sell it at Woofstock--a bassethound festival in Massachusetts with 300 bassets and their people attending.

Not sure where this fits in.

"On the Ropes"

Jim said...

Another thing authors can do, which I believe to be very effective, it to get book reviews. The more the better. Sure, all publishers send their books to the big 5 or 6 hoping to be in that 3-10% upper cut that gets reviewed, but there are also dozens of very very professional ezines which attract lots of viewers. If your publisher isn't sending your books to them, you as the author should consider doing it.

Kerryn Angell said...

Thanks for the post. You're now added to my google reader subscriptions. :) I found you via Nathan Bransford's blog.

Nick Kelly said...

There are so many parallels between promoting yourself as a writer and as an independent band. Great to get some feedback on what works and what doesn't!


MJRose said...

Why do I have this sixth sense about this blog and always show up when Joe's knocked advertising?

I'm not going to get into the debate again except to give the opposite pov.

Literarlly hundreds of books a year that I've worked on have proved that whether an ad makes a person buy a book or no - smart advertising marketing exposes readers to books that wouldn't necessarily be on their radar.

Ads don't sell books but with 1000 novels published a month, ads do make you recognize/notice a book when you walk in the store you are more likely to pick up a book that you've heard of - even if you don't realize why or where.

JA Konrath said...

Hi MJ! :)

I simply mentioned that I don't believe ads are cost effective. Do they sell books? They probably sell a few. Do they sell books in relation to their cost? I don't believe so.

A print ad, many of which have a very limited shelf life because they appear in disposable media, costs a lot of money, and I don't think the cost justifies the effectiveness.

I spent a few grand mailing out thousands of letters to libraries, which were seen by thousands of librarians. I don't consider that venture cost effective either, even though it most certainly sold some books.

Just about everything has the potential to work. But spending ten thousand to earn three hundred isn't the best use of my money.

Give me coop and reviews over ads any day. Or, even better, write a story or article and get paid for spreading your brand instead of paying them.

Anonymous said...

If you want to get into libraries more and expand your audience to high school and public library patrons, I would suggest you try to attend your states library conference. In my state we have one for school libraries and one for public library people. Attended by librarians and media directors and others. Many times these conferences include author signings and can give you some exposure, might be something to look into.

Enjoying the books, great info as well, appreciate it.

Stacey Cochran said...

It's that easy to have a #1 website? Tell me more!

I've been developing one called

With the right key phrase, the world is my oyster, eh?

"Butt crack" yields zero searches according to, so unfortunately your website sucks.

However, 17,404 searches per day occur for "butt" so you might try

Other popular choices are "big butt" and "bubble butt."


s.w. vaughn said...

I think I wanted to say something about this post, but I'm too tired to remember what it was...

So, I'll just say thanks, and some day maybe I'lll get the chance to test out some of your promotional ideas. :-)

JA Konrath said...

Thanks for the iwebtool link, Stacey. Another good one is

Stacey Cochran said...

Thanks, JA. I'll bookmark the link.

I've been blogging about this whole search-engine optimization marketing experiment on the Lulu forums, and I received a response that's kind'a interesting from a gal named Pam Mosbrucker who is actually teaching a class on the subject of search engine optimization at Idaho State this fall. Pam has written a book on search engine optimization Cyber Gold.

I think you'd find her response interesting. She's confident that will reach #1 in Google for that search phrase.

Her response is interesting.

JA Konrath said...

Stacey, my friend, you're counting chickens too early.

If you search for "howtopublishabook" then your website comes up second, because that's how your URL reads--without spaces between the letters.

But people are going to put spaces between the letters. If searchers put quotes around the phrase "how to publish a book" there are 54,000 hits, and those are listed by the things I mentioned earlier: size of site, traffic, links going to and coming from, and unique metatags.

If you want to improve your hits, it will take more than a URL. You need to make the site larger, saturate the net with roads leading to it, and make some metatags that aren't the same ones everyone else is using.

Much success to you.

Dave Keane said...

Great stuff, Joe!

I write a funny chapter book mystery series (Joe Sherlock: Kid Detective) for kids aged 7 to 10. One thing I discovered pretty fast is that the best promotional and sales tool I have available is school visits.

Imagine, spending a morning speaking in front of three groups of 200 potential buyers at a time--all in my target demo! They're literally a captive audience. And they buy tons of books. And I even get a fee for coming. I'm pretty goofy and I also illustrate my series, so the kids love the "show" and the referrals are pouring in! I even had to get a booking agent. It's a win-win for everyone.

Nothing else comes close for efficiency and effectiveness. I always tell people that almost no other writers can get this kind of gig.

I did start a blog last month ( about reluctant readers and getting kids to read more. Hasn't done much yet--maybe 5 hits a day. But it's early. Seems like it could build over time...and it's a nice "hook."

But it's nothing compared to school visits. I count my blessings every time.

Christine Norris said...

It takes the average person seven times to hear/read/see something before it's committed to memory.

So putting your name and associating it with your book in as many places as possible is key, IMO.

Website, blog, MySpace, reviews (not just big sites or magazines; don't overlook the much trafficked review blogs - you should know who these people are!)participation in forums and lists related to your book/genre, all help in building your brand, and most are free!

Or am I just way off base?

Anonymous said...

Writing a great story works.

Stacey Cochran said...

Yahoo has crawled, and the site is currently ranked #259.

This is incredible for a first-crawl of a website.

I know, JA, you're telling me to not count my chickens before they hatch, and I agree with you.

Nonetheless, this will be a fun one to watch.

Keep in that the 259 ranking is out of 44 million websites, and it is the first crawl of the site.

I'll keep you updated on this.

Meanwhile, bookmark the site, folks:

And, JA, if you link to it on your blog, I'll link to Dirty Martini at Amazon on the Visitors' Book page with a cover image of your book.

Stay cool, people, and have a good week.

Anonymous said...

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing has become one of the first stops in my morning rounds of email, blogs, and headline news. As a new writer the information here is invaluable, not only the blog posts themselves but the comments that follow.

Of course I had to post your post on my blog.

And of course I'm going to have to download Whiskey Sour and then go buy your books!

But you knew that! Great marketing guru that you are.

Stacia D. Kelly said...

Thank you for's given me some great ideas for marketing not only my writing, but in other avenues as well since I have clients I have to take care of as well.

I believe blogs and myspace are a great tool. We are social creatures, even those of us who claim to be anti-social. We love hearing and seeing other people. Blogs and online social networks have just migrated to the digital age for our "people watching" love.

They are, in essence, a wonderful way to connect, when actually used for said purpose.

Stacey Cochran said...

Okay, so I've verified with Google, and yesterday the site showed up on Yahoo rankings.

After the first crawl by Yahoo, it ranked 263rd. Later in the day, it crept up to 253rd position.

Pretty far back in the pack - but considering there are 44 million sites with the search terms on Google, 253 ain't a bad first day ranking.

Then, today, I checked and it now ranks 192nd on Yahoo.

Still too far back to really matter in most people's searches for "how to publish a book" - but that's a leap of nearly 70 spots in just one day.

I don't know where any of this is going, but it sure is an interesting experiment.

Meanwhile, the site has managed to receive about 300 page views in the past week.

Bookmark it, folks. You heard about it here first:

Anonymous said...

"I don't want to be a party pooper, but it doesn't look to me like the administrators of have ever truly published a book or even acquired an agent."

What he said....I’m sorry, but this kind of stuff is infuriating....aspiring writers are a desperate, emotional lot...I’ve been there and almost been taken advantage can you author a site like this when you haven’t really published a book? That’s fine if this is a resource site which directs people to honest-to-God-helpful-information....but if it’s gonna consist of panels of Lulu authors telling a crowd of wide-eyed hopefuls how the biz runs, somebody’s gotta call bullshit.


Jude Hardin said...

Good point, Jim.

There are quite a few websites and blogs where seasoned pros (agents, editors, bestselling authors, etc.) share their insights into the publishing business with no hype or pretense.

I think Stacey is a straight-up guy and all, and I know he tries really hard, and I respect that.

But, I'm wondering about the motivation behind starting such a site with nothing but self-published titles to his credit, and I'm wondering what he expects in return for the time and money spent.

How 'bout it, Stacey? How are you qualified to run this site? What's your motivation? Who is your target audience?

I'm not trying to be mean, but I think those are valid questions.

Anonymous said...

I made the original "party pooper" comment. I agree with Jim that starry-eyed wannabes might get sucked into something here, something that has all the appearance of a scam.

Jude is right, Stacey seems like a straight-up guy. But he sells a CD instructing newbies how to get an agent and publish a book (traditionally as well as through Lulu), yet he's never landed an agent or editor himself. Credentials are sorely lacking.

His new site appears to be marketing gimmick to promote his self-published materials. With so many newbies visiting Joe's blog (by its very nature) I think it's only fair to point these facts out.

Anonymous said...

I think this blog has a promotional ripple effect, something that may be difficult to track or even estimate.

From time to time, I post a link to "A Newbie's Guide" on my LJ blog, and I've seen other writers do the same. Comments usually include at least one reader who vows to purchase your Jack Daniels mysteries. Not only do they enjoy your writing style, but some also consider it a way to say "Thank you" for your helpful and informative posts.

Stacey Cochran said...

Another marketing strategy that seems to work well is the author interview.

I've begun a new television show in Raleigh called The Artist's Craft, an author-interview program, in order to help publicize other writers and to help create a discussion on how to publish a book. One cool thing about the show is that I've managed to figure out how to stream the interviews online.

A lot of these I'll be putting on the website, and I'm framing the interviews with questions from a newbie's perspective (something that a published author might not do).

Here's Part 3 with Anthony and Stoker-nominated author Alexandra Sokoloff:

Watch Part 3 on

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think this info is helpful and is a smart way to reach the audience that is out on the internet searching for this kind of information.

Jude Hardin said...

How to get published:

1) Write a good book

2) Find a good agent

3) Work on your next book while your agent pitches your first one

That's the only way I know of.

If there's a shortcut, or a secret handshake or something, I'd be happy to hear about it. Otherwise, I'll stick with the good old formula until something sells.

Stacey Cochran said...

Jude, those are great, but it's not particularly helpful information.

We all know that you need to write a good book and find a great agent; what most of us don't know is how to achieve those things.

What my site is designed to do is actually discuss with traditionally published authors how they wrote a great book and found their literary agents.

For example, in Part 2 of my interview with Alex, she goes into significant detail about how she made the connections she made after leaving UC Berkeley and was looking for an agent.

She actually tells how that happened, and how she did it.

We talk about the timeline that it took after graduating before she found her film agent. And then how that led to her finding a literary agent.

All of that info is there.

Again, bookmark the site, folks. My goal is to make this the most helpful website to come out this year with regards to talking with traditionally published authors about how to publish a book and how to find the right literary agent for you.

And it's in line with the marketing discussion that JA has laid out for us to talk about here.

Stacey Cochran said...

Okay, I went back and checked to make this even more helpful.

At exactly 3 minutes and 40 seconds into Part 2 of the video interview with Alex, I ask her how she got her first agent.

Terri Garey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terri Garey said...

You mean there are 29,999 other signed coasters out there?!? And I thought mine was special... :(

I'm amazed at how much great information you give away for free, Joe! Every time I do a Google search for some obscure bit of info about the big black hole of publishing, I somehow end up back on your blog or website. Keep it up, and thanks!

Anonymous said...

"Jude, those are great, but it's not particularly helpful information."

No, it isn't helpful information, or pretty, but it's true. I don't think most wannabe writers want to hear what the cold hard truth is: It's a merciless business, and they might not be good enough or hard-wired to break in. Listening to interviews and learning how to write query letters and hearing about the merits of Lulu is all fine and good, but the truth is, getting an agent IS NOT difficult. Agents aren't standing in anybody's way to success. In fact, it's the easiest thing in the world to get an agent. Writing well is what's difficult. And being horrible writers is what's stopping 99% of the unpublished out there.


Christine Norris said...

Oh yeah, then how do you explain The DaVinci Code???


Jude Hardin said...

In fact, it's the easiest thing in the world to get an agent.

I disagree.

Writing well is what's difficult. And being horrible writers is what's stopping 99% of the unpublished out there.

I agree.

You have to write a good, marketable book, and be able to write a stout query letter, for a reputable agent to sign you in the first place.

None of that is easy.

Referrals help, but agents are in business to make money. They don't generally waste time on projects they aren't relatively confident in.

In order to write a good, marketable book (assuming you have some writing talent), you have to read, read, read, and write, write, write.

How-to books and websites might be useful references sometimes, but there is simply no substitute for butt-in-chair time.

That's one of the first things aspiring writers need to realize: There are no shortcuts.

JA Konrath said...

I'd like to chime in that writing a publishable book, and writing a book that's published, are two different things, even though there may be no discernable quality difference between the two.

Yes, we need to write quality work. But that's not often enough.

I'd also like to point out that getting an agent, and getting a good agent, are two different things.

A good agent sells your writing.

Jude Hardin said...

True that, Joe.

Anyone with a computer can publish a book. I have no interest in self-publishing, but my former tennis coach published his tennis manual through for very little money up-front, and now he has a nice paperback for his students and their parents at a reasonable price. I think outfits like Lulu are good for things like that.

And like you said, all agents are not created equal. Anyone can call himself a literary agent, and there are plenty of scam artists out there. The honest ones work strictly on commission, so they don't make a dime until they sell your book. If an agent asks you for a reading fee, or refers you to an editorial service, HUGE RED FLAG. It pays to do plenty of research and be selective before signing with anyone.

Christine Norris said...

There are also a great number of really good small publishers out there that don't require an agent to submit.

You might not get worldwide fame or a chance to quit your day job, but it's another way to go. Both my publishers have bent over backwards for me, and so far done a terrific job.

Stacey Cochran said...

I checked my Yahoo ranking this morning, and leapt to 44th position overnight.

That's 44th out of 44 million sites associated with the phrase "how to publish a book."

Anonymous said...

I noticed Dave Keane's comment on the of school appearance for kids' book authors. I'll second that, emphatically, not from an author's experience, but a parent's.

Of course, teachers always want to raise enthusiasm among students for anything they do, so when a local author came to speak at my kids' school, the teachers hyped it hugely. My kids were practically whipped into a frenzy about the thing -- and it was a local author who had self-published a book!

Not only that, the school actually sent home pre-order forms with every kid, so that the books would be there and signed for every kid on the day of the author's visit!

You think the author did well that day?

Barry Michaels
Saints for Our Times, available Sept. 1

Christine Norris said...

I love doing school visits. My old elementary school got my book in time to sell it at the annual Scholastic book fair. They had plenty of time to read it before I came to talk to the fourth graders,and yes, they had a great time.

They've invited me back next year. I want to do more, it's hard to get in on that circuit if they don't know you. At least it is around here.

Gabrielle said...

Wow, that was really cool. Thanks for posting that; as a newbie beginning to attempt the "Selling of Art" biz, this is incredibly helpful.

Dusk Peterson said...

"If you want to do a book trailer . . . then post your honest results here so we can learn from them and figure out if they are worth the cost."

Oddly enough I was about to post about this at my blog today. The approximate total for a trailer (Turn-of-the-Century Toughs) that I released last November to four video sites and my own Website is 3356 views and 450 downloads. That's only a partial total, not reflecting the downloads at my site, for which I don't have stats.

Page hits are notoriously bad numbers to go by; what is more interesting to me is the number of people who took the trouble to download the trailer.

Links: linked to it for a while in its article on booktrailers, but that's been the only link I've found. Most people are locating it through the (abundant) announcements I posted about it at fiction forums - or, I assume, are stumbling across it through keyword searches or through YouTube's Groups.

I've gotten a little feedback on the trailer, about as much as I usually get for one of my online stories.

As to how many people are finding my fiction through it - that part I'm uncertain of at the moment, partly because I don't have a good domain stats program. But my stats do show that some people come to my site to look at the trailer and then go on to browse through the rest of my site.

The trailer was created by me, incidentally, and it cost me zero dollars to make - it was done with free software, historical art and photos, and music that had a Creative Commons license for reuse. If you hire a really excellent book video producer, then yes, it might be worth the astronomical cost. But if an author has fairly good design sense, I'd encourage them to make a try at creating their own video.

You wrote:

"Plus, like everything you put on your site, the people who visit are most likely the people who know about you anyway . . ."

Actually, no. My stats show that most of my traffic for this trailer is coming to my site from fiction forums where people don't necessarily already know of me. And of course the folks who stumble across me at YouTube et al. have probably never heard of me.

The people I'm trying to recruit through this video are:

1) Readers who already know of me and might or might not check out my new work. They might get special incentive to read my work after they look at the video. It's like having a lively blurb.

2) Readers who don't know of me but might be inclined to pick up a new work of fiction. They might get special incentive . . . (See above.)

3) People who don't usually read fiction but watch videos/TV/film that are in the genres I write in and might find my trailer interesting enough to check out my fiction. Two of the fiction communities whose genres I write in have members who are strongly interested in videos. These folks aren't necessarily reading a lot of fiction, but they might take a look at a story, if a trailer captures their interest.

You also asked, "What has worked for you and why?"

Posting at fiction forums (mostly at LiveJournal). I've got a list of about two hundred of them now, in the various genres I write in. Every time I have a new story, I announce it at the appropriate forums. (And yes, I've kept my eye out to make sure that I don't spam anyone who belongs to more than one of these forums; I have ways of double-checking this.) My domain stats go wild shortly after I announce stories; potential readers pour in.

But in order for this technique to work, you really need to know the fiction communities that run these forums. For example, when I realized that Goths were a potential market for some of my stories - I don't write horror, but I do write stories with a dark atmopsphere - I did my research by visiting Goth Websites, reading Goth discussion boards, and asking fellow writers what they knew about Goths (including one who turned out to be a Goth). If I'd been close enough at the time to them, I would have attended some Goth events. If I hadn't done all this, I wouldn't have had a good sense of which of my stories were likely to appeal to Goths, and how I should describe those stories to Goths. (Plus, I wouldn't have had the fun of learning about a community I'd hitherto known nothing about.)

So I think that becoming part of one or more fiction communities - or at least checking them out as an outsider, as I did with the Goths - is really the key to good marketing. You get to know your readers, and your readers get to know you.

ghunter72 said...

Does all this work if you are considering self publishing. ghunter72

Anonymous said...

As a technical writer working on writing something fun, purely for me, please let me caution everyone out there not to fall prey to people asking for money. I write grants, and not a day goes by that I don't get a call asking about 'that crazy guy off tv's book' and how can the average person get a grant to start a biz or get a free house!

If I can give one bit of business advice (that would pertain to the writing and general business) - if someone has a good idea, they aren't going to be selling it for $29.99 on TV. Or require you to send them $500 to read your book. (or whatever other scams are out there)...

Nothing in life is free, but the cost is often just persistance and hard-work, not a fee-based society (ie: pyramid/get-rich quick scam).

Happy Writing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insight!

Anonymous said...

Nothing in life is free

Except my blog. :)

Anonymous said...

Hello, I just read your blog. A lot of the things you said really made sense. How would self-published authors or those who have signed with non-advanced pay publishers promote their work? Do you have any suggestions that could help or be useful for those authors? Thank you very much!


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