If the recent Southern California Writers Conference wasn’t an eye opener for the 300 attendees, then I don’t know what it’s going to take to wake us up. Given the sea change in the publishing world just in the past six months — a change rivaled in speed and effect only by the local gas pump — it behooves everyone who writes and loves to read to quickly catch up to two simple truths:
1) We and our Facebook friends are our own greatest promoters; and
2) There are many ways to write books and find your readers — and for readers to find their new favorite writers.
At the final day of a wonderful, lively conference steeped with equal parts of “polish your work to the finest shine” and “learn everything you can about promoting yourself and your books,” I had the distinct pleasure of sitting on the “e-NDEPENDENCE” panel with “Wine Lovers Mysteries” series author Michele Scott, BackMyBook.com co-founder GK Parish-Philip, author Gayle Carline (Freezer Burn), e-publishing expert Linton Robinson and memoirist Hyla Molander, who has helped popularize Scribd.com with her personal success (33,000 reads) using it as a promotional tool for her forthcoming memoir, Drop Dead Life: A Pregnant Widow’s Heartfelt and Often Comic Journey about Death, Birth and Rebirth. Internet strategist Jeremy Lee James of AuthorsEdge.com and WriteClickHosting.com was our moderator.
I pitched in with comments from my magazine editing days, as well as my book writing, editing, promoting, PR and platform-building background. However, within 10 minutes of the discussion’s beginning, I also found myself doing something else — taking notes of the others’ comments. The world of publishing is changing so fast that, I realized, the hearty crowd who stayed for the Sunday afternoon discussion were literally hearing the latest breakthroughs, insights and strategies for gaining advantage — not only as writers, but as readers.
I will spend the next two blogs discussing the proceedings from this amazing 75-minute panel discussion. Here are a few topics for starters:
• Writers are Topical Experts: Hyla Molander suggested that all writers join up with Help A Reporter Out (HARO), a website accessed by journalists worldwide to find sources and experts to aid in their stories. I jumped in and explained how, if writers do our research properly and gain command of our subjects, all writers are experts by the time they’re finished with their books. Also, while they’re writing their books. And given the incestuous nature of journalism, reporters love to talk to authors. It’s easy sourcing for them, and they know they will get good information — and quotes. In return, the writer further builds the all-important platform of exposure by getting his/her name in print — as an expert. The wise author will insist on getting the book title included in the article. Help a reporter. Be a source. Be an expert. Help sell your book in an easy, serviceful way.
• Read at Your Local Bookstore—Independent or Otherwise: So many authors are afraid to read their work publicly. They believe it’s the province of poets. WRONG. How can you meet your audience otherwise? A hint: Unless you’re a bestselling author, your publisher is not going to help. It’s up to you. Independent bookstores and libraries are a perfect place to start. Tell them who you are, show them your book (or a manuscript, if it’s in production), and set up a reading. That simple. Then go to Barnes & Noble. The common misperception about B&N is that it’s a behemoth chain (true) accessible only on a national level (false). Ask for the Community Resource Manager (CRM) at your local Barnes & Noble. While B&N brings in the big guns, they also have plenty of nights each week when they appreciate readers. Better yet, join with other local authors and read together. That gives B&N more incentive to book you — more authors, more potential sales. And blast your Facebook, Twitter and e-mail lists with announcements.
Now for the all-important Part Two: DO NOT FORGET YOUR DIGITAL CAMERA! Take pictures of the promotion, and of your books lining B&N shelves. This will get you future readings at bookstores outside your hometown. Take it from me — I still use a single photo of all my books filling a B&N bookshelf in Indiana to get readings when I’m so inclined. Nothing sells you better than a picture of your books for sale.
• Cross-Pollinated Blogging: Every time I see Linton Robinson at a conference, I know it’s going to be good. This guy thinks so far outside the box that I sometimes find myself wondering why he doesn’t write sci-fi instead of hilarious self-published books for tourist and resident gringos on Mexican slang that sell 100,000 copies — I mean, book trailers as phone apps? He threw that concept at me last year, and I chuckled. Guess what, folks? It’s happening.
So when Lin started to talk about blogging, I was all ears. He suggested that writers not only compose their own blogs, but guest write for blogs related to their core subjects — an increasingly common practice that also enables readers to follow their favorite authors. Nothing new there. Then, Lin being Lin, he took the leap into the void: post an announcement of your forthcoming blog on the blog owner’s Facebook page, or the blog’s fan or group page — and let the people in that community spread the word virally. You never know who’s reading, but you’re going to find out how many are reading. I did that with my recent blog on Maidu speaker Farrell Cunningham, and my average readership for the 48-hour period after posting a blog spiked by 600 percent. Build that readership — and readers, surf the blogs. You’ll see all kinds of great material written by your favorite authors that will not appear in their books!
• BE GOOD. I’ll end part one of my e-NDEPENDENCE Panel review with the words of BackMyBook.com co-founder GK Parish-Philip, who knows a thing or two about building Internet products; he’s the man responsible for the success of the MP3 music download format. “Writers often have a problem with promotion, because they’re creative and focused on the art of creating books,” GK said. “But now, in these times when we have to come up with new ideas for promoting, the line between promotion and art gets finer and finer.”
Then he added, “But there is one thing that matters more than anything, whether you write or promote — Be Good.”
(NEXT: I will discuss the art of promoting yourself with reckless abandon, who wins with Internet promotion, when a publicist can help, re-selling rights for previously posted materials, how to negotiate e-rights, making social media ROCK for you, and the world of the 21st century writer-entrepreneur. On second thought, maybe we’re talking about two more blogs.)
The Hummingbird Review SOARS with Issue #3
Hanging Out at the Tucson Festival of Books