Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pimpin' Your Book: Your questions answered
(The first in an occasional series)

Oh, gosh, I promised y'all a blog post tonight, didn't I? Okay, then!

So I waded through your questions about book publicity and marketing (most of them excellent questions, by the way) and have pulled out a couple of short ones to answer this evening, as it's late and I just got home from work and there's a tuna sandwich waiting for me (if Stinkyboy doesn't get there first).
Q: I am hoping to self-publish my first book. How do I go about spreading word about my book to review critics and convince them to review my book? I can't find info about this anywhere on the internet.


No, seriously? No book reviewer is going to review a self-published book. They just don't have the time or space. Something that may be helpful to know is that many book reviewers and producers develop the same kind of professional relationship with a book publicist that an agent and editor develop with one another, a professional relationship based on mutual trust and years of solid book recommendations. A really good publicist knows how to match a book with a producer or reviewer based on that book reviewer's or producer's interests and taste. A newspaper book critic (if there are any left) who may have only one column a month in which to fit four science fiction or fantasy titles is not going to waste those precious column inches on a self-published book from an unknown author. Even if you hire a freelance publicist to do a big mailing, your book is gonna end up in the recycling bin. Don't waste your postage.

Now, local media may be another matter entirely. Occasionally a local celebrity or public figure will write a book geared toward a specific local interest. In that case, the author may garner some interest from local media if s/he's willing to do a lot of legwork, follow-up phone calls, and self-pimping. And sometimes a self-published book has a very specialized built-in audience. An example of this might be a book on the history of dressage that is sold only at horse shows. These kind of self-published books can do very well if the author is willing to so his or her own sales.

But book reviews? Not gonna happen. Sorry!

Q: Okay hopefully this is not too out there. I get a lot of inspiration from music and find myself compiling a playlist for each project. (They come in really handy when the muse takes a powder.) I've often wondered if it would be possible to incorporate something like this into marketing a book, or if it would just be a big hairy mess of copyright issues.

A: Actually, there are authors who've included lists of songs in the backs of their books. There are no copyright issues for merely listing a song title. Problems arise when you want to use the actual song recording or lyrics from the song; bad idea unless the song is public domain. You'll always need to secure permissions for using song lyrics in a book - and guess what? That's the author's responsibility, not the publisher's.

Occasionally authors have proposed including a CD of their favorite songs with the book packaging. If you'd like to to stay on the good side of your editor, DON'T SUGGEST THIS! This is right up there with "Do you think you can get me on Oprah?" and "When will I hit the New York Times bestseller list?" on the list of Big Enormous Kick-Me-I'm-So-Stupid Author Questions.

If you really want to be creative with music, do what New York Times bestselling YA author Frank Beddor did with his series The Looking Glass Wars (a funtastic re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland - well worth reading!). Frank (who was also the producer of There's Something About Mary, by the way) hired a local Los Angeles band to create and record original music as a soundtrack to his novel. He then made the music available as a free download at the book's website. All of this was the author's idea, and done at the author's expense, but his publisher made excellent use of Frank's innovative marketing ideas when they promoted the book.
Okay, that's all for this evening. More tomorrow! And please feel free to keep sending in questions.


Barbara said...

On the music issue, iTunes has a feature where you can create a playlist and make it public. I have seen several authors use this to create playlists for their books that people can then download through iTunes if they wish.

John Joseph Adams said...

Neal Stephenson just did that "soundtrack with the novel" thing with his new book, Anathem. It appears that it was all recorded specifically as a soundtrack (i.e. original), though I don't know whose pockets the money for it came out of. :)

There's also a blog called

slf said...

Thanks much, Colleen. (And Barbara and John Joseph!)

S.M.D. said...

Don't take this as being rude, because I don't mean to be, but I have reviewed self-published books before and have some more in my list. I'm not super famous though.
My only rule regarding self-pubbed stuff is that the writer understands that I am not going to pull punches and be nice, especially not to a self-pubbed author. If a book is crap, I'll say so. And I have (I didn't like it, because it makes me feel sort of bad, but it was necessary). I've read a couple very good self-pubbed books, one of which should have been snatched by a real press and makes me wonder why the author didn't try to go that route. And I've read one really horrible one that never should have been printed. That's pretty good, if you think about it, but I also am very selective on what self-pubbed stuff I will take and I don't get contacted by self-pubbed authors very often (which is probably a good thing...I won't "buy" self-pubbed books due to the fact that I don't feel like fishing through them just to find one that is written well...I'd rather rifle through books looking for something entertaining rather than worrying about spelling/grammar).

I do agree with you that larger reviewers (like for newspapers or magazines/journals who have a limited amount of space in which to publish) will probably almost NEVER pick up a self-pubbed book. Period. That's true, unless you happen to have the most amazing awesome book ever made and manage to trick that reviewer into looking at it. The chances of that happening? Slim to none. 99.9% of all self-published books are crap. And there's good reason: the authors are either not good enough, are not mature enough as writers yet, or didn't put enough time into editing, or didn't edit at all. The number one problem with self-published books is that people think they are their own best editor, and that is a load of horse crap. Even published, successful authors know better (a lot of the really big names in SF/F still go to crit groups of some sort or have a group of "first readers" simply because they know that most of us are not able to see all our faults right off the bat).

Tez Miller said...

You left tuna unattended with a kitteh on the loose?! ;-)

Have a lovely day! :-)

JKB said...

Okay, here's one, Colleen.

Can you give us a list of, say, the 12 Most Stupidest Questions you could evar ask your Editor?

I'll be taking notes. ;)

Heidi the Hick said...

I'd like to know more about securing permissions for song lyrics.

Anonymous said...

Colleen, my self-published books have been reviewed. In Strange Horizons, in Asimov's, in Washington Blade. It does happen.

Anonymous said...

I love the Writers and their Soundtracks blog...and not just because I got interviewed on them :)

Another good service is MixWit, which lets you put a soundtrack to anything online for people to listen to. Could be a good promotional tool, if leveraged right.

I'm excited about getting the Church CD that's going to come with The Wyrm Publishing's special release of Jeff V's Shriek: An Afterward.

debra said...

Thanks, Colleen. This information is very helpful for new authors. I would also like to hear what you believe are the top 5 things an author can do to help publicize their books.

If you want to do readings/signing sessions at your local bookstore, how much time do you need to give your publicist to make sure those extra copies of the book will be at the bookstore?

pseudosu said...

I too am interested in lyric permissions. How does one go about that -- contact the artist?

My story practically takes place to a soundtrack. I'll for sure include it in the back of the book and on the website. But I want some lyric snipets included. "Fair use" talks about the amount used, like if it's really small it may be ok, but it's intentionally vague.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

hi Colleen, thanks for being honest and for answering my question. That was helpful but it's made me feel pessimistic. Damn.

Editor @ the "Dew" said...

LaGringa - thank you for that response regarding getting book reviewers to review un-agented, self-published books. As you know, I have an online magazine that published book reviews and while I actually have reviewed books that are self-published (the Dew has a very narrow window of acceptable books so I do branch out now and again) my issue that I would like to share is that I CANNOT help someone get published.

I have experienced some angry writers in my time that expect I should be able to pass along their writings to my "friends in the know" and have Knopf Publishing beating down their door that week.

Reviewers received already contracted books from publishing houses and their publicity firms. I say thank you and let them know when the review is up. Other than that, there is no contact.

Editor @ the "Dew" said...

Oh yah, just so you know as I re-read my post.... I NEVER proofread my own stuff - I really should learn to do that. :)

Wendie O said...

I wrote several biographies of musicians for children and young adults -- and suggested to the publisher that they sell them along with a CD of that performer playing the music they are famous for. I thought it would be a win-win for both the book publisher and the music publisher, since these biographies were about musicians long dead. (Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong) Teachers and librarians would have loved having the whole package. Students could hear what the book was talking about.

But the publisher wouldn't do it. Too bad. I still think it was a good idea. -wendieO

clindsay said...

Wendie -

The problems with your idea are:

You would need to secure all of the rights and pay for usage beforehand. Remember, the publisher has nothing to do with this unless they are buying a packaged book, and in that case, the book packager does all the work.

Not all the songs you want to use will be repped by the same music publishers, so this in and of itself could be an arduous task.

Adding a CD to a book raises the cost of the book by anywhere from $1 to $2, depending upon the production issues involved (ie, how will the Cd be secured to the book, is there shrink wrapping involved, will there be a special pocket in the back of the book, etc).

This means fewer books printed and sold overall because in general the initial estimated order will be smaller. Also, a book with CD takes up just a little more room on the shelf, so fewer are re-ordered.

Just something to consider.

Montana Barn Cat said...

Sadly, you are correct about about self-published books. I wish it were otherwise, but it is not. Of course, I am more in the non-fic galaxy but self-pub books are generally that way for a reason. Fiction or non-fiction-- a good editor is required, no matter how good your story is. If s/he can't see it through to publication you are in the dumper.