Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Guest blog: Agent Marlene Stringer talks about author self-promotion.

My colleague agent Marlene Stringer is the founder and managing agent of The Stringer Literary Agency LLC, and loves to see the creative ideas her clients come up with to promote their books. You can follow her Twitter feed here.
What’s the Deal with Book Promotion?

Every so often I’m asked my opinion of book promotion by authors, and a lot of the same ground is covered. Some are intrigued by the idea, and can’t wait to get out there. Others are the exact opposite, and have no desire to participate.

One writer on Twitter recently complained promotion isn’t his job. His job is to write wonderful novels, not go out and shill. He prefers to write, hand his manuscript over to an agent, and his work on that particular book is done. The rest all happens as if by magic – you know, those busy elves at night?

What a life!

If only.

As an agent I see hundreds of queries a month, and a minute percentage of those go on to make it all the way through the gauntlet of the publication process. With the odds of a chance at publishing so small, why wouldn’t a writer who has the opportunity do everything possible in order to assure his book’s success?

I have helped authors put together marketing plans, and coordinate with outside or publishing house publicists. Every author, book and promotion plan is different, and must be comfortable for the particular author in order to succeed. Every author can do something to help a book’s success.

What is promotion about? Promotion is the vehicle(s) you choose to help your book stand out from all the others published in a given month. When readers don’t know a book exists, they can’t buy it! If you choose to see promotion as an evil to be avoided at all costs, so be it. If you see it as a fun opportunity to meet potential readers and booksellers who will help sell your book, that’s great. It can be a positive and enjoyable experience if authors pick what’s right for them. However you see promotion, it is part of the contemporary publishing landscape, and it is here to stay until something better comes along.

There are all sorts of possibilities for book promotion, and if you’ve been around the publishing block for any length of time, you’ve seen them. Websites, book tours, blogs, social networking, television and radio interviews, contests, conventions, postcards, trailers, costumes, you name it, there’s something for every personality type, taste, and budget, and a new idea every day. If you’re not the type to dress up and attend a 19th century gala, you can attend a writers’ conference and sit on a panel. You can choose to do book signings, or speak at local libraries or schools. If you can afford it, you can hire a private publicist to help get the word out. If not, your house publicist is a tremendous resource, and can help you maximize the options you choose.

Publishing doesn’t happen in isolation. It is a group venture. Besides you and your book, your partners include your agent, your editor, your publicist, the sales force, etc. Everyone must do his share of the work to help make a book a success, and promotion is part of that work. However, as the author, this book has your name on it. If it is your goal to be a professional author, defined as one who earns a living from writing, then you’d better help sell the book. Every time a publisher takes on an author, they take a chance. Not just with the advance paid, but by using a slot that might be filled by any number of publication-worthy books. This is the opportunity you’ve waited for, and by assisting in the promotion process, you demonstrate your goal to succeed to the publisher. If your book doesn’t earn out, it will be difficult to prove to the publisher (or any publisher) why you deserve another shot if you haven’t helped sell the last book!

Promotion is not only about the book, it is about the author. It is about branding. Look at the most successful authors on bestseller lists. Some are publishing phenomena, true. Others, however, have built very successful careers over time by writing good books, reaching out to their readers, and employing successful promotion techniques. If you get the chance to be one of them, instead of rejecting it out of hand, decide how you can tailor your strengths into building a promotion plan that works for you.

6 comments:

MattDel said...

Colleen,

This has been kind of bugging me lately after reading all about author self-promotion. If you maintain your own blog, do you mention this in your query letter as part of the writing credits/bio section or do you leave it out?

Or does that really depend on agent preference?

Just a thought.

Mandy said...

Great post from Ms. Stringer!

Who wouldn't want to promote their work? The blogs, websites and social networking are only the first part of branding yourself.

I think an author should be up for whatever it takes to make their name and their work memorable. As a writer, you're in the business of yourself and your story, and you have to sell that product just as effectively as you would a BigMac. I mean, everyone knows McDonald's... right?

JKB said...

Fantastic post, Marlene !!

This goes in with what a few other authors and I have been discussing lately...and you hit all the nails on the head.

Thank you for this!!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

It's been interesting to watch the comments fly at Pubrants over yesterday's Earn Out post. To me, it makes sense to put some of your advance toward marketing. An advance is against sales, not a guarantee. Contributing toward your book's success should bolster sales, making it more possible to earn out.

chadao said...

The late Warren Norwood had been a publisher's rep. When he sold his first book, The Windhover Tapes: An Image of Voices, to Bantam, he took the cover supplied by his publisher, jumped into his pickup truck and headed out visiting wholesalers across the US. This first book sold over 100,000 copies.

elissa said...

I'm very willing to help market my books if I ever get to that point in my career, but I'm curious if anyone has advice or stories about how best to retain some personal privacy. I bring this up because I'm a middle school teacher in a smaller community, and I'm curious about how to be sensitive to the fact that some parents of my students may find my work inappropriate. I'm excited about the idea of doing public appearances but don't want to put my employer in an uncomfortable spot. This is totally premature, since I'm still in the agent-seeking place, but you know...looking ahead with a plan in mind. Thoughts?

(I write YA, by the way, which makes it seem like this issue matters more. If I were writing for an adult audience, I think it wouldn't bother the parents as much.)