How to Promote Your Book
(Note: I'll soon be doing a major update covering social media promotion)
Writing fiction is very hard and the world couldn't care less whether you succeed or fail. No one, not even your publisher, editor or agent, cares about your books the way you do. They have other books and other authors, and know that every year some will fail (sometimes unexpectedly) and others succeed (equally unexpectedly). But for you, the success of your books is everything, while an early failure may doom your career.
To succeed as a writer you have to be focussed, motivated and capable of getting things done to tight deadlines. You must also understand the business of writing, the promotion of your books by your publisher and yourself, and the long-term development and maintenance of your career. The key to success is managing your career like any other business, and that means writing great books that your readers want more of, but also investing in your writing name by promoting it for the long term.
But how do you promote your novels? An awful lot has been written about book promotion but most is directed at non-fiction. Fiction is much harder to promote, and why should you have to anyway?
PART ONE: SURELY PROMOTION IS THE PUBLISHER'S JOB?
Competition for the book buyer's dollar is ferocious, for there are more books published, and more imported, every year. Australian bookshops will stock more than 200,000 different titles in a year (most non-fiction) the majority of which sell only a few hundred copies. Bookshops in the UK and US will stock several times this figure, while the big online retailers such as Amazon.com list several million titles.
Fiction is only a small part of the total, but most fiction titles sell less than 2,000 copies (in the UK less than 5,000 and in the US, 10,000), and on such books the publisher only makes a tiny profit, or often a loss. Clearly, publishers can't afford to promote the majority of their books. Neither do they want to spend a fortune developing new authors who may move to another publisher once they become successful. Only new authors that the publisher believes are likely to sell a lot of copies in the near future will get significant promotion.
If neither you nor your book fall in this category, you must either promote it yourself or take the significant risk that it'll fail. Fortunately there's no better person to promote your work, for no one knows it the way you do, and as a new author lots of people will be willing to give you a go. But how can you, a novice clutching your shiny first novel, possibly succeed where so many others have failed?
For your first book to have a chance of selling well, you've got to reach a critical mass of readers who, hopefully, will like your work enough to recommend it to others. Most beginners' books that succeed do so because of personal recommendations (ie readers who love it and tell people they know), while failure to gain word-of-mouth referrals is the main reason why other books fail. The chief aim of first-novel promotion, therefore, is to build awareness about you and your book to ensure that you get that critical mass of initial readers. Even then your book can fail if readers simply don't like it enough, but at least you will have given it a chance. Huge amounts of promotion can make almost any book sell well for a while, but that would cost far more than the book would earn back. And if readers don't like your first book, no amount of promotion will induce them to buy the second.
But you've got to do your promotion quickly and effectively, starting at least a month before the book comes out and continuing for at least two months after it appears. After that time (or more quickly in the UK and US), if it's not selling, it'll be removed from the display shelves and after three months bookshops will start returning it. Once that happens, the book is almost certainly doomed.
Even if your first book sells well, you can't stop promoting. Your task will be a bit easier for your second and subsequent books, because some readers have heard of you, but writing careers are built over a long time and many books. For every four days you spend on writing, you should allocate one day for promotion. Promotion is cumulative – sooner or later it will build up to the point where the media and the public becomes interested in you.
Overnight success does happen, but it's almost as rare as winning the lottery and just as unpredictable. If your first book hasn't been a success your task will be much harder, because the trade will see you as a loser. However, assuming you can still get your books published, you may be able to turn your career around by clever and persistent promotion. This article tells how.
But you have to be realistic. Unless you're a marketing genius (and one with money to burn), your own promotional efforts can't turn a flop into a bestseller. How do I know? Because I've tried every single promotional idea I could think of, and then done my best to determine which of them were effective. Most had little impact on their own, though the cumulative effect was a modest increase in sales.
If that's the case, what's the point of going through all the agony of self-promotion (and for many writers, it is agony)? Because you've got to attain that critical mass of readers early on, to give word-of-mouth a chance to get going, and the extra sales you bring in can be all important.
How does word-of-mouth get going? Most readers aren't very influential, so even if they like your book they may not tell many people about it, and may not be persuasive anyway. However a few readers, who are both persuasive and natural communicators, may influence dozens or even, through their networks, hundreds of readers to buy your book. Such people can turn an ordinary seller into a bestseller. Unfortunately you don't know who they are or how to find them, so you've got to try and reach as many readers as possible and hope that some of them are influential.
What is that critical mass of readers? No one knows, and it undoubtedly varies from book to book. If readers absolutely love your book, it may only take a few thousand sales to get the buzz going (in the Australian market), whereas if they only like it a lot, it may take 5,000 sales or more. In the UK 10,000 sales might be required, and in the US 20,000. I suspect the buzz about kids' books spreads more quickly than in the more diverse adult market.
Example. Say the critical mass figure for your book is 5,000 sales. If it has a decent cover, and the sales team gets a good sell-in to the bookshops (say, 5,000 copies) and does a modest amount of promotion, you might expect to sell 3,500 copies. That's OK for your publisher, and if they've paid a typical advance they're making a small profit, so they may not do any more. Unfortunately for you, even if readers really liked your book, you didn't achieve critical mass to get the buzz going, so your sales quickly die off. Your book is likely to go out of print in a year or two and you might find it hard to get the next one published.
But if, by your own clever promotion, you can get that sales figure up towards 5,000 copies, you've given your book a chance of getting the buzz going, where more sales lead to more word-of-mouth, and sometimes a genuine bestseller.
Whatever country you're from, think beyond your local market. Even the US market only represents half of the world market for books in English. SF is a global literature. There are people in every country who could be interested in your books, and the internet gives you the power to reach them.
You can read more about buzz at http://www.inc.com/magazine/19980501/920.html, and in The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell, 2002) You can find out top editor's and publisher's thoughtson promotion at www.bookangst.blogspot.com (November 2004). You can also read what several top agents have to say about promotion at www.computercrowsnest.com/sfnews2/03_april/news0403_1.shtml and http://www.bksp.org/content/view/33/2/.
PART TWO: THE FACTS OF BOOK PROMOTION
This is what you need to know about book sales and promotion before you start:
- Sales and marketing are both very expensive, and most books aren't going to sell enough copies to justify much more than the minimum expenditure (i.e. an entry in the monthly sales catalogue).
- Promotion doesn't increase the size of the market – all it can do is influence people to spend their money on your book rather than someone else's.
- For fiction, the most effective form of promotion is generally in-bookshop, so the first aim is to get as many of your books as possible into the shops, prominently and enticingly displayed. If your publisher can't get bookshops to stock them, the chances of the public buying many are low.
- It takes a lot of work (and money) behind the scenes to get bookshops to stock a new author's book in quantities – this includes good book design, an attention-grabbing cover and blurb, quotes ('puff pieces') from relevant authors, reviewers or celebrities and, if you're lucky, a well-thought-out marketing and promotional campaign to draw the public's attention to the book. If you're really lucky, the publisher might do a limited run of proof copies in the hope that key book buyers will make big orders, and influential reviewers provide flattering quotes, before publication.
- Fiction is much harder to promote than non-fiction, and for every author whose name has been successfully promoted, there are several for whom promotion (sometimes heaps of it) has simply failed to capture the public's imagination.
- Advertising will help if it's properly targeted, but it's very expensive and needs to be repeated a lot to make much difference (the Rule of Seven applies, ie people need to be reminded about seven times before any message sinks in). Word of mouth is king. That's why, when a new movie comes out, by Saturday night everyone in the country knows whether it's hit or a dog. It's the same with your book, though it normally takes months to get word of mouth going. More often it's years and a number of books.
- It's really difficult to promote an author that no one has ever heard of and even if you do get some free publicity, it won't sell many books. For a new author, a feature article in a capital city newspaper would be lucky to sell a hundred books. (The same-sized article about a big name author might sell a thousand copies plus a swag of backlist.) Ditto with radio interviews – it's important to do them, but even if you do twenty or thirty it may only sell a few hundred books. Do them anyway – those sales could be the difference between success and failure, and it all helps in the essential but long term task of building awareness about your writing – the vital recognition factor.
- To become a successful author, you have to establish your name as a brand that the reading public can trust. If they spend twenty bucks on your book, they expect to get their money's worth of entertainment. If they don't, your readers will feel ripped off and tell their friends what a rotten book it was, which will undo a lot of your hard work.
It's hard to know what's going to work and what isn't, and therefore the secret of successful promotion is to do a lot of different things in the hope that some of them will be effective. Your publisher's sales and marketing plan could include a number of the following, if you're lucky, though remember that they all cost money and often serious amounts of it:
SALES TO BOOKSELLERS (by publisher's sales team)
- a featured book in your publishers' sales catalogue and web site, or even a special web site for the author, book or series; sales pitches to: the trade (i.e. book chains) as well as mass market (discount stores, supermarkets, newsagencies and airports), telesales, backlist sales to existing customers as well as book clubs and party-plan customers (i.e. home selling), export sales etc;
- educational sales and marketing.
ADVERTISING (by publisher's marketing group)
- book chain advertising, eg as featured book in book chains' monthly catalogues or special or Christmas catalogues, or even as Book of the Month or Author of the Month (all these on publisher-pays basis);
- consumer advertising (print media, rail posters, competitions etc).
PROMOTION (by publisher and yourself)
- retail promotion (introductory offer price, '3 for 2' or '2 for $30', and other price promotions; book chains' genre promotions);
- point of sale material (posters, dump bins, etc, though it can be hard to get bookshops to take these);
- publicity (typically radio and press interviews, book signings, launches, literary lunches, conference and literary festival appearances, school visits etc. Rarely, TV appearances, though only if you're gorgeous, famous or have a huge deal);
- giveaways for radio and print media competitions; and/or
- mail-out of review copies to list of reviewers (can be 50 or more of these).
PART THREE: DOING IT YOURSELF
If your publisher can't afford to promote your book, you must. You can't sell to bookshops and you can't afford advertising, but you can promote very effectively. After all, no one knows more about your work than you do, and all you have to do is talk enthusiastically about it to people who love books.
Since you weren't expecting publication, the advance should be treated as a windfall and spent promoting your book. Spend it wisely, but quickly. To have a chance of succeeding, your book has to sell that critical mass of copies in the first two months, to ensure that:
- bookshops will be re-ordering and there'll be a positive buzz in the industry, rather than returning with it negative feelings; and
- hopefully, word of mouth from satisfied readers will keep your sales going long after the initial sales period.
Don't leave it too late. You've got to start, at the very latest, two months before the books come out (much earlier in the US) and be ready for your biggest push as soon as they're in the bookshops. And whatever you're planning to do, be sure to keep your editor, publisher, agent and publicist informed. They need to know. It's also an important part of promoting yourself as an energetic author who really wants to push the books they've invested so much in.
You've got to spend money to give your writing career the best chance of success, though in the beginning you'll be spending more than you earn back. Hold your nerve and keep spending. You've always got to be thinking of the long term, not just sales of your next book. Once you've got a backlist, promotion is selling all your books.
Promotion is cumulative. Though it may not seem to be working at the time, it all goes towards building your profile in the eyes of readers, booksellers and the media. One day, as long as you hang in there, it'll pay off.
Hone your public appearance skills, but don't keep pushing your books, or yourself, or you'll seem pushy. Push the story.
And whatever you do, make your promotional materials quality, not on the cheap.
What if you don't have the money for self-promotion? You could cut some of your discretionary spending (eg give up smoking, or drinking, or gambling, or non-essential shopping or travel) for a year, and use the money saved. Can't give up any of those things, even to succeed as a writer? Then maybe you don't want to be a writer badly enough.
You can learn more about writing self-promotion at:
and especially the very long section on promotion in JA Konrath's The Newbies Guide to Publishing, at
which is one of the best articles I've seen.
A lot of articles on promotion assume that writers
are professional hucksters. Most writers aren't slick salesmen
and never can be. See Promotion for Introverts for more:
3.1 Your promotional plan
The first thing to do is to prepare a promotional plan, which sets out all the things you plan to do, how you're going to do them, when they have to be done by, and what they'll cost in money and your own time. It's also helpful to summarise what your publisher's promotional plan is, so you can dovetail your work with theirs and avoid duplication. If your publisher hasn't told you what their plan is, ask.
Your promotional plan should contain the following elements:
- What your publisher is doing, eg some or rarely all of:
- Sales (to get your books into the shops);
- Publicity and public relations (interviews, media and public appearances);
- Give-aways in print media and radio; prizes or competitions;
- Review copies, reading copies and copies submitted for awards;
- Inclusion in bookseller's catalogues;
- Point-of-sale promotion (posters, dump bins etc);
- Price promotions, eg '3-for-2';
- Author tour, etc.
- What you're planning to do, eg some or all of:
- Promoting the book to your publisher's team;
- Design and printing of promotional materials;
- Distributing these to friends/family/personal and business contacts;
- Doing bookshop visits, signings and launches;
- Organising personal appearances, readings etc:
- At festivals and conventions;
- Giving talks to community & business groups, libraries etc;
- Doing school visits (if appropriate for your books).
- Teaching at workshops and seminars, or more formal writing courses.
- Direct marketing:
- Targeted mailouts;
- Leafleting outside bookshops etc;
- Noticeboard poster campaigns.
- Internet marketing:
- Communicating with your fans;
- Website; blog;
- Using email lists; etc
- Getting publicity;
- Author tour;
- Promoting yourself to your publisher as a model author.
You can learn more about promotional plans at:
And general promotion in Jodee Blanco's The Complete Guide to Book Publicity (2004) and in Levinson et al's Guerrilla Marketing for Writers (2001).
3.2 Get coloured handouts printed and distribute them widely
Your first and most important task is to get your bookmarks, postcards and/or other promotional materials designed and printed. Publishers are rarely innovative but you can be. For example, my son is experienced in 3D media and for the first book of my children's fantasy quintet, Runcible Jones: The Gate to Nowhere, I paid him to create four high resolution captioned teaser images, each representing an arresting scene from the book, which I had reproduced at all sizes from postcard up to large poster size. I circulated thousands of copies to friends, contacts, bookshops, schools, libraries and the media. The images were of such high quality that they attracted attention everywhere, as did his 3D animations and the presentation on my website.
If you lack design skills, have someone design your materials for you. Get your handouts printed on card or thick glossy paper so they look good and people will be inclined to keep them for a while. Cheap flyers will be thrown away within minutes and you'll have wasted your money.
You can get thousands of handouts printed for a few hundred dollars at an instant print shop. Many printing chains have cost calculators on the net – simply select your options and they'll tell you what the cost will be. The unit cost goes down dramatically between a few hundred and a few thousand copies, so always order the maximum number you can afford.
They must be in colour and show the front cover of your book. The rest is up to you, but make sure they're well designed (your publisher's design department might do this for you). Many printing firms offer an inexpensive design service.
Hand your bookmarks or postcards out around the office, on the train, whenever you give a talk, and give one to everybody who tries to sell something to you, including shop assistants and the taxi driver on your way to the airport. Always carry some in your bag. If you only give out a few a day, that's a thousand contacts in a year, and people who've met you are far more likely to try your book than strangers.
Give a swag of bookmarks to your friends and relatives, who'll often be only too happy to distribute them at work or socially. It's amazing how many people will go out of their way to promote your books just because they know you. Have some flyers or book covers blown up to A4 or even small poster size (in colour) and get friends and relatives to put them up on work, community, school and university noticeboards. Thousands of people will see them before they're covered up, and they'll stand out there.
Handing out good quality bookmarks or postcards to the general public can also be effective, though you need to target them carefully, eg at conventions or talks, or to customers going into or coming out of large bookshops. Handing out cheap leaflets to people walking down the street, however, will be a waste of time and money.
3.3. Visit Bookshops
The best place to sell fiction is in bookshops. You could write to a few hundred key bookshops, enclosing a simple, one-page letter that tells what kind of a book yours is and sets out, enticingly, why people would want to read it. If you've got some great reviews, include copies, and a handful of your leaflets or bookmarks. Australia has about 1,500 bookshops selling fiction so if you're really energetic you could write to the lot. You can find the addresses at http://www.yellowpages.com.au/ and do a mail merge in your word processor, though if you want to do a big mailing it may be easier to buy a mailing list.
Whenever you travel, drop into every bookshop you can find, say hello and talk about your latest book and how it's selling. Give them copies of any great reviews, or a single page of quotes, tell them about award short-listings, overseas sales or any other worthwhile news, and talk about your next book. Once you've got a few books in print, customers are always asking booksellers when the next one is coming out. Staff love to be able to say, "Well, the author was here last week, seemed like a nice bloke, and he said ...". You'll usually meet the manager and those sales people who love the genre you write in. Sometimes they'll take your picture with them, or get you to autograph their personal copies of your books. Take the time to talk to them. It's great to meet people who love books as much as you do. They also know what books are selling, they're in charge of re-ordering, and customers often ask them for reading recommendations. Hand-selling in bookshops is a vital part of spreading the buzz.
Offer to sign books. Some bookshops may not be interested, especially if it's your first book, though once you have a recognisable name they'll generally be pleased for you to sign some (or occasionally all) of their stock. Signed copies increase sales by 20-30%, staff will put 'signed' stickers on them, and sometimes make a special display. Leave a stack of your bookmarks for staff to slip into the shopping bags of customers who've bought similar books, or be kept on the counter near the cash register.
3.4 Make personal appearances
launches and signings
Book launches and signings can be scarifying for the author if they're not well organised and publicised. It's not uncommon for no one to come. Even when they are well promoted, it's hard to get a lot of people to attend. You'll generally do better in suburbs or country towns than in city bookshops, where customers are used to seeing big names. Your local bookshop may be enthusiastic but one in the CBD won't be unless you're famous, and could want a big fee for hosting a launch as well as a contribution to advertising costs.
Make sure you ask all your friends, relatives and acquaintances to turn up. Don't be too upset if you don't get a lot of people on the night – the shop window and in-store displays will sell books for the week or two they're there, and the bookshop will make a special effort to sell all the books you've signed. I've often done signings where the bookshop has only sold six or eight books at the time, but has subsequently sold another fifty or more.
Always have a swag of handouts to give to passers-by. Consider getting a lapel badge made up with your name and 'author' on it, or a similarly labelled hat, or T-shirt showing your book cover. Bring a small display with copies of great reviews or articles about you, book posters or any other appropriate props you have. If someone talks to you, hand them a copy of your book as you talk, make eye contact and be friendly.
For more, see http://www.writing-world.com/promotion/james.shtml
Select your readings carefully. Make sure they're short (5-10 minutes max), dramatic, about an engaging character that the audience can identify with, and end leaving them wondering what will happen next. And of course, that they're suited to the audience you're reading to – explicit sex, graphic violence or more than the occasional swear word will rarely go down well, and are never appropriate for school audiences.
Rehearse each reading beforehand, several times if you're not a fluent reader. Tell your audience how long each reading is going to be, or else reluctant listeners may feel as though they're in prison with an indefinite sentence. Read dramatically, make eye contact with people in the audience and take note of their reactions to the story.
Give talks to Rotary and other community groups, at old folk's homes, to libraries and businesses. Thousands of organisations are looking for interesting, different or motivational speakers, but whenever you're talking to a general (i.e. non-genre) audience, focus on aspects of your book that they can relate to.
Not everyone can be an inspirational speaker, but everyone can become a competent and interesting one. If you're afraid and/or inexperienced, join Toastmasters or some other public speaking group and speak regularly on a variety of topics. It's surprising how quickly you can become comfortable in front of an audience. If you're experienced but still not very good, consider paying for professional instruction, especially if you're going to be speaking to large, demanding audiences.
Never wing a talk or panel session, no matter how experienced you are. You'll often get away with it, though you won't be at your best, but occasionally you'll freeze up embarrassingly, or talk in clichés rather than making a relevant and thoughtful contribution, or drone on and on without making your points.
So always prepare, and if you're giving a talk, always rehearse it. But don't read your talk unless you're so paralysed by stage fright that you can't do it any other way. A read-out talk is boring, and some people will be irritated that they're getting a speech rather than a conversation with the author.
Prepare the following, at least:
- A series of talking points about the book or books you're there to publicise;
- A couple of relevant anecdotes, preferably light-hearted (not dirty jokes);
- One or two brief excerpts you can read in an emergency (eg if you lose the thread of your talk, or the previous speaker has just made all the points you planned to);
- One or more props you can show to break the ice (eg copies of your book, maps, posters, book covers, etc)
- Give-away copies for the audience at the end of the talk;
- Have plenty of your handouts available for your talks, and make sure everyone gets one.
Register with Lateral Learning, Booked Out and other agencies that book speakers for schools and other functions. School visits can be a terrific way to promote children's or YA books, because the buzz about a good one spreads quickly. School visits can also be a nightmare if they're badly organised, especially if you end up with a huge audience but no teacher there to maintain order. Once an author has to do that, they quickly become one of the enemy and the cause is lost.
You have to expect a certain amount of misbehaviour and develop a strategy to deal with it. The best way is to be an interesting and entertaining speaker. Don't go on and on. After twenty minutes of speech even the best behaved kids will have turned off. You have to give them variety: eg show them stuff, have them do things to participate, read a brief, dramatic story, put on a performance (if you can do that kind of thing), tell anecdotes (especially embarrassing ones), get students to dramatise a short piece of writing, and allow plenty of time for questions.
Writers' Festivals/Book Fairs/ Conventions etc
If you're writing popular fiction, and especially genre fiction, it can be hard to get an invitation for the big writers' festivals (last year the Sydney Writers' Festival had well over a hundred authors speaking, and not one of them was an SF or fantasy author. There were few authors invited from the other genres either, apart from crime). Your publisher can facilitate invitations. Your own networking helps too, as does developing a reputation for being prepared, speaking well and always having something to say.
It's not hard to get on a discussion panel at a genre convention. Simply fill in the membership form, pay the money then contact the organisers with an idea for a talk or panel, or indicate which of their panel topics (on the convention website) are of interest to you. Speaking at writers' and genre conventions is a valuable part of promoting yourself, but don't spend all your budget on it. You need to broaden your reader base, but the same small group of people tend to go to conventions and they'll soon know about you. But by all means go for social reasons, or to further your contacts (see Networking).
And always prepare (as for Talks, above).
For more, see http://www.writing-world.com/promotion/conferences.shtml
writing workshops and seminars
Teaching is a valuable way to promote yourself. Imparting your accumulated wisdom to others can also be very rewarding, and you'll find that you learn as much about your own writing in a week-long workshop as you would in months of analysing it. You can learn more about writing workshops at:
3.6 Direct marketing
Whatever you're writing, there'll be a group of people interested in it. If your heroine does cross-stitch, market to all the shops and clubs that are into needlework. If the book is about dolphins, promote to fishing, diving, boating, marine, environmental and conservation groups. Whatever the organisation or business, you can find all the addresses in Australia from http://www.yellowpages.com.au/ in a few minutes. Clean them up, print the labels from your word processor and you're away.
For children's' or YA books, it can be useful to market directly to public and school libraries, especially if you've got dramatic handouts or a relevant media release.
Never throw away a mailing list or a business card; anyone who knows you is a potential book buyer.
3.7 Internet marketing
[This section dating rapidly. Will be expanded greatly in next edition]
Get yourself a good website. If you can't do the design and webmastering yourself, find a friend or relative who can. Don't spend a fortune. Plenty of people can do the job cheaply. It's not hard to design a good site and you don't need gorgeous graphics. All you need is great content (ie useful information, not advertising) that is clearly and simply organised, and quick to download.
Steer clear of graphics that take forever to download; they're a big turnoff and most people will click past to another site. Assume that many readers don't have high speed access yet. People go to your site for content (ie information), so make sure there's lots of interesting stuff on it, and that it's changed or updated regularly. Have a look at my site www.ian-irvine.com for the range of content that most people are looking for. Other good sites are Robert J Sawyer's (reputedly the biggest author site in the world) www.sfwriter.com, Holly Lisle's www.hollylisle.com/ and Orson Scott Card's www.hatrack.com.
Write some informative, general interest articles for your site (ie not ones that are just about yourself). They'll attract traffic to your site and other sites will link to it. Accelerate the process by letting key interest groups know that your article is up. If they like it they'll tell others and the internet will do the rest. One article on my site, The Truth about Publishing, attracts nearly as much traffic as the rest of the site put together.
Other stuff that will attract visitors back to your site:
- First chapters or samplers from your published books, as well as teasers for what you have coming up next;
- An opt-in newsletter and/or blog (the advantage of the opt-in newsletter is that it tells you how many people are really interested in your work, and you can contact them directly whenever you have a new book coming out);
- Include a page of reader's reviews (but ask permission first and don't use their full names);
- Articles you've written on any aspect of writing or publishing, or any other subject you know a lot about.
- Relevant artwork, photos or videos
- Host a forum.
- Prizes, competitions and give-aways.
Promote your site
Once your site is up, register it with Google. It'll be indexed within a few weeks and picked up in Google searches ever after. There's no need to worry about registering with other search engines and don't pay to be registered with any. Make sure your site contains lots of links, and exchange links with other writers – that way your site will come near the top of the list in a Google search rather than pages down.
Promote your site. Have its address printed in your books, at the bottom of your emails, on your business cards, flyers, bookmarks, letterhead, posters and anything else that you or your publisher produce.
Join relevant internet groups (eg genre writers, special interest groups). Lots of people there may be interested in your work and you can help to promote each other.
Put your email address in your book and on your website. You'll end up getting more junk mail, but spam filters can take care of most of it, and at least you'll be available to your fans. It's a great boost to start the writing day with a letter from someone who's appreciated your work. And then, reply to every email. I often get mail from fans saying that I'm the first writer who's ever replied to them, yet fans are the people who do most to spread the word about your writing. Communicate with them; tell them about your new books, answer all their questions and provide special information for their fan websites.
Monitor the stats for your site regularly. See what content attracts extra visitors and what makes little difference.
Public Networking Sites
Use public networking sites such as MySpace and FaceBook (there are are hundreds of others) to communicate with other writers and fans, and cross-promote your books. Joing genre forums at Google, Yahoo and elsewhere to do the same.
[section needs to be expanded]
Promote your books on video sharing sites (of which there are more than a hundred) such as YouTube. Some authors have had great success with book trailers and I've done three in a variety of styles. Several very different examples are:
My trailer for my Runcible
Jones children's fantasy quintet:
Marianne de Pierres'
trailer for her SF novel Dark Space:
Kate Forsyth's trailer (originally a TV ad) for her children's series The Chain of Charms, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr-MfYOFl0E
For more on web promotion, see
Google the net regularly for internet book promotion ideas, as new ones appear regularly.
3.8 Network, network, network
Networking is vital, not just because it can help to gain reviews, awards, grants, invitations to festivals, new book contracts and a myriad of other opportunities, but also because you need to understand the system, what's happening now and how the industry is changing. And also, not least because writing is a solitary profession and it's great to hang out with other people in the industry.
Get to as many conventions, writers' festivals and book fairs as you can, and then, meet people. Don't hide because you're shy. Keep a running list of contacts in various categories, such as fans, other people or groups who could be interested in your work, other writers, other people in the industry (editors, publishers, agents, booksellers), publicists, media contacts etc.
If you've got a book coming out in the UK or US and the publisher is doing some promotion, go there. No, they won't pay your travel expenses (well, not unless they're planning a huge campaign, which is so laughably unlikely that you shouldn't even dream about it) but they'll buy you lunch and organise promotional activities for you. Meet people at your publisher, agree to every promotional activity they suggest, and take every opportunity to help get your book off to a good start there. It does make a difference.
Order as many giveaway copies as you can from your publisher. You may get a special discount if they're not for resale. Even better, negotiate extra free copies in your next book contract.
Give away copies of your books to influential people and send them off to other writers whose work you like. It all helps to get the word out about yourself. Give reading copies to bookshop staff; donate copies to local schools, colleges and libraries. When you give talks, always take a few spare copies and hand them out to people in the audience afterwards.
3.9 Author tours
A five-city author tour in this country will cost tens of thousands of dollars (travel and accommodation for your and your publicist, time, advertising etc). A 15-20 city tour in the US could cost up to $100,000. These are fantastic sums of money, requiring phenomenal additional sales to pay for them, and are only worth it if major media coverage (ie several print feature articles and state/national TV and radio appearances) can be obtained. This will rarely be the case unless the author is already famous. For beginning writers, no matter how well hyped, book tours are likely to be exercises in public humiliation, with few people turning up for signings, readings and talks, and half of those being budding writers looking for the key to their own success. For more on this topic see Mortification: Writer's Stories of their Public Shame (Ed. Robin Robertson, Harper Perennial, 2003).
Some authors have done their own author tours by organising bookshop appearances and talks in a selection of cities, then going on the road for weeks. This is much less costly, but also less effective because of your lack of profile and advertising of the events. It may or may not be an effective use of your time and money. For more, see 'Are we there yet?' http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/jan99/smith.htm.
The conventional wisdom (see eg www.bookangst.blogspot.com) is that print advertising doesn't do much to attract buyers unless you're already a big name (though it certainly helps to get bookshops to stock your books). People are so deluged with advertising that they simply turn off, which is why the really big advertisers hammer us unceasingly. It's also terrifically expensive so, unless you're independently wealthy and can afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars on advertising, it's not worth you doing it (except, possibly, in genre magazines).
3.11. Promote yourself to your publisher
Even if you do everything listed above, and use the media effectively (see Part Four), it's most unlikely to propel you onto the bestseller lists. The problem is, no matter how hard you promote, you're an amateur trying to do a professional's job without either the contacts or the inside knowledge to do so effectively. Most books that become bestsellers have had major promotion from their publishers beforehand, or as soon as they began to sell well. Publishers have the knowledge and resources to do it professionally. And most bestsellers are by writers who already have a big name, or are a celebrity in another field.
So how can you, a novice, or even an author with a few books published, get your publisher to make a big promotional effort for your next book?
- It has to have some kind of mass appeal, whether it's literary or genre fiction. Niche books, those that are wacky or far from the mainstream, and category (ie pulp) fiction are never going to get major promotion.
- It goes without saying that you have to write the best book you possibly can. Never be satisfied with second best. Your publisher will be irritated if you miss your delivery deadline, but it's far better to produce a great book late than a second-rate one on time.
- Give your publisher everything they need to produce a great book. This includes working cooperatively with your editor on the revisions, but also providing useful, timely input to the designer and cover artist, copy for the blurb, cover quotes, catalogue copy, and by filling in the author questionnaire, etc.
- By having done everything you could to assist your publisher in promoting your previous books.
- By enthusing your publisher's staff about your book. The best start for any book is to have key people at your publisher abuzz with excitement about it. Whenever you visit your publisher, take the opportunity to see as many people as you can. Not just your editor, but also design, production and sales and marketing staff. They're all busy people but if you can talk enthusiastically about your book, and what's great about it, they're more likely to take the time to read it.
- Try to organise a brief meeting with the sales reps. They rarely get to meet authors and it really helps to enthuse them about your book. And besides, they're great people who all love books and, unless this is your first book, they've been selling yours for some time, know lots about you and would love to meet you. They're frantically busy and on the road a lot though, so if they agree to meet you, don't ramble or waste their time. Tell them briefly and clearly what's so different and great about your book, and why it'll appeal to a big audience.
- Even better, if you've got a new series coming out, or a different line of books, ask if you can give a presentation at the annual sales conference. This may be hard to arrange, but if they agree, make yours a knockout presentation that brings out what's so special about your book, something different that they won't forget.
- Above all, be a model author with your publisher, because that really helps when they're deciding where to spend their promotional dollars. The reliable author who really gets stuck into promoting books gets the money, not the one who is a pain, constantly misses deadlines, whines all the time and expects people to do everything for him or her. And make sure you keep your editor and publicist informed of all that you're doing to promote your books – they need to know.
If you do all this, and your sales grow steadily to the point where you're becoming an important author, one day your publisher will decide to spend the big money on you and put together a promotional team with the contacts and the media savvy to lift you into the big league. It may not work, of course – there are no guarantees in publishing – but you'll have done all you can.
PART FOUR: WORKING WITH THE MEDIA
If you energetically carry out the tasks listed in Part Three, it'll probably save your books from failing, but it's unlikely to make them bestsellers. You simply can't contact enough people with your talks, handouts, signings, web site etc, and only a fraction of those you do contact will buy your book. To make a big difference to your sales you've got to leverage your efforts, by using the media to get publicity.
'Publicity is like a trustworthy third party saying good things about you,' (Jessica Hatchigan, How to be Your Own Publicist, McGraw Hill, 2002) and that's why even corporations with mega advertising budgets will also spend a fortune to get good publicity. In a typical newspaper or magazine, half the articles are likely to have been initiated or influenced by publicists, and most of those outside the news pages.
Unfortunately, everyone with a product to sell is trying to get publicity for it. It's hard to get the media's attention and they aren't particularly interested in writers anyway. So how can you get media coverage? You have to learn to think like a publicist – they make their living by knowing what media people want and how to present it to them.
What do the media want? The news media are only interested in news, and as a fiction writer you're unlikely to be newsworthy unless you've done something controversial, or to do with a celebrity, or there's lots of money involved (eg a million dollar advance, a movie deal). These hardly ever apply to beginning writers. However, other sections of the media are looking for items involving real people doing interesting stuff or having noteworthy experiences, so to get publicity all you have to do is find an angle about yourself or your writing.
When your publisher is promoting your book, any media appearances will be organised by a hired or staff publicist, who will write and distribute a media release, send out reading copies of your book to reviewers and key media, and organise interviews and appearances. If there's a big budget, the publicist may escort you to studio interviews or even on a book tour, though book tours are fantastically expensive and only worthwhile for big-selling authors (or ones the publisher wants to get off to a flying start).
Hire your own publicist
If you can afford it, you should consider hiring your own publicist to supplement what your publisher's is doing. This isn't so important in Australia or the UK, but it'll make a big difference in the US. Half the authors on the NY Times bestseller list at any time will have their own publicists, and virtually all of the big name authors. And a lot of big name authors are only big because they invested heavily in their careers at an early stage.
Being your own publicist
If your publisher isn't using a publicist for
your book, and you can't afford to hire one, you'll have to do
it yourself. A number of web sites tell you how, including Cecilia
Tan's Be your own Publicist, at
Here are the Five Golden Rules for getting publicity
(after Kat Smith,
- Put yourself in the media's position. What is it about you or your book that would interest the audience of the newspaper, magazine, radio program or TV show you're approaching?
- No one interviews a book. You have to be an informative, entertaining, articulate or controversial guest.
- Get hold of the resources (ie media guides) required to identify and understand the media that could be interested in you.
- Be relentless. Never give up. Promotion is cumulative and even if the media knock you back for the first few books, if you stick at it, eventually you'll get their attention.
- Know the game. If you give the media the interesting story they're looking for, they'll give you the publicity you need to sell your books.
Media Kits and Media Releases
The first step to getting reviews, feature articles, interviews or guest appearances is to prepare your media kit. If the editors or producers you've approached don't see an entertaining, relevant story or intriguing guest there, they'll immediately lose interest in you. Your media kit promotes you as a writer and everything you've written.
The full kit will only be sent to selected, key media. Present it in a pocket folder with your name and the book's name and publication date on the front. You could glue a colour copy of the book jacket there too. Each page should contain your contact details and your publicist's. Your media kit should be printed in a standard, easy to read font, preferably black on white paper, and contain the following items:
- Your pitch letter addressed to the editor or producer of the show you're targeting, setting out who you are and what you're seeking (review, interview, guest appearance etc). Below that, put a headline (why your idea will interest the show's audience), then brief points on: what your book's about; why it's unique; why it's perfect for this audience; how it ties in with some important current event or issue; and why you're the best person to talk about it.
- Table of contents.
- Media release for the book (see below).
- Author bio (written in third person). In a hundred words or less, it says who you are, what you've done (professional and otherwise), and gives brief details about your writing, including bestsellers, major awards, international success; what your skills, abilities or special talents are; and where you live. Mention TV and radio experience if you have it.
- Author photos, colour and black and white, professionally taken.
- Book info, including title and subtitle, author, publisher's name and contact details, distributor, book's ISBN, number of pages, format, publication date and price.
- Copy of book jacket or cover flat (or colour copy of it).
- FAQ – questions you'd like the media to ask you, so you can explain what the book is about and why someone would want to buy it. Or better, a Q&A session with yourself.
- Critical praise. Quotes from great reviews (and photocopies of key ones), praise from famous authors, prizes and awards or short-listings.
- Previous promotion, in reverse chronological order, including a list of reviews, interviews and media appearances. Availability of radio and/or TV demo tapes.
- The interview schedule for this book to date.
Next, you'll prepare an enticing media release for the book you're promoting now. The media release goes to all targeted media and sets out everything the media need to know about your book in a single page, including:
- Release date.
- Attention-grabbing headline, followed by two or three brief, direct paragraphs that bring out the key features of your book. Pretend you're writing a three-paragraph news story about the book, in the third person. Tailor it to the interests of the target media. What will the media find newsworthy about it? Or what will entertain their readers, viewers or listeners?
- One-paragraph bio of the author, highlighting previous bestsellers, awards, special expertise etc
- Publicist's contact details.
- Book details, including title, series title (if relevant), publisher, price, page count, number of pages and ISBN;
- On a second page, provide a list of questions you'd like to be asked (so in your answers you can get across your key message points).
Reviewer's quotes and award details can be put on a third page, but don't go beyond that. An example media release is included in Part Five. It proved extremely successful in attracting media interest for my eco-thriller The Life Lottery.
For more on how to get good press, even if you're a genre writer that the media wouldn't ordinarily be very interested in, see Robert J Sawyer's article at http://www.sfwriter.com/goodpres.htm. His key points are:
- Define yourself as an important or interesting writer in some way, eg as Australia's top SF writer, or an expert in the field you're writing about.
- Find something about your books that's newsworthy or topical.
- Make your work transcend genre boundaries, so it's relevant to a general audience.
- Write a great media release that highlights these points.
- Begin promoting to the media before the book comes out. If you wait until it's published, by the time any publicity appears there won't be many books available to buy.
- Find a way to overcome the media's prejudices about your genre (by showing your book's general relevance, awards you've received, important reviews, big sales etc).
You should also consider including a Press Room page on your web site, containing the key elements from your media kit, including a recent colour photo, a generic interview, the media release for your current book, author bio, book info, great reviews and a list of key previous appearances.
You can learn more about media kits and media releases at:
Identifying Relevant Media
Contact the SF trade publications such as Locus and
the speciality SF magazines, and send them information and review
copies where appropriate. Also contact the key fanzines and websites
that review and list books, but don't stop there. You also need
to contact the mainstream media. You can find out the contact details,
circulation figures etc for US media in Bacon's
Media Directories, for the UK in Hollis
Media Guide, and Australia in Margaret
Gee's Australian Media Guide. You can find out the contact
details, circulation figures etc for all Australian media in Margaret
Gee's Australian Media Guide, which is updated three times
a year in the print version and daily in the online version (http://www.mediaguide.com.au/).
It's quite expensive for an individual but large libraries should
have it and smaller ones could get it in for you. In the UK, Hollis
Media Guide, http://www.hollis-pr.com/.
In the US, Bacon's Media Directories,
From the media guide you can identify media who could be interested in you or your book. These will include book and magazine literary editors, specialist magazines that your story is relevant to (eg diving magazines if, say, there's a scuba diving theme), and the electronic media. Working without a publicist, you probably won't have much success with the major newspapers, magazines and radio stations unless you write a great media release, but you never know.
The chances of any TV station being interested in a novice or genre writer are remote, though you may be lucky with a local station, especially if you're well known in your community. People in your area will be interested in you simply because you're local. So contact all the media at every place you've ever lived. Providing a few copies of your book as prizes in competitions and giveaways always helps.
It's much easier to get publicity for non-fiction, because the target audience is readily identifiable. The major media outlets are reluctant to interview novelists because they're rarely interesting enough. Only a minority of people read fiction regularly, and most of them read only one genre. Therefore, whether you write crime, thrillers, romance, fantasy or literature, few people in the audience will be interested in your book. On the other hand, radio stations have to fill up their 24 hours each day with a regular supply of guests, and newspapers have pages to fill daily, so as long as you have an interesting story to tell, or can talk about topical issues, they'll often give you a go. And once you do a few good interviews, your publicist can use the vibe to get you others.
Approaching the Media
Your publicist will normally send you a copy of the draft media release for your book, for comment. If you haven't seen it, ask her for a copy well in advance. You'll generally be able to improve it because of your detailed knowledge of your book and its intended audience, but remember that the media get dozens of media releases every day. You've only got 20 seconds to attract their attention.
The media release provides attention-grabbing information about you and the book. By all means use any special attributes you have (eg extreme beauty, unusual experience, interests or job), but don't over-hype or you'll be seen as lightweight or flaky, in which case the publicity you'll get is unlikely to be worth it.
The media release will be distributed at the same time as reading copies are sent to reviewers, ie 2-4 weeks before the official publication date. In the UK and US this may happen much earlier, because coverage in key media is booked months in advance, and bound galleys are often sent out, rather than finished books. If the publisher isn't producing galleys, it can be worthwhile having them made yourself. If you wait until finished books are available, by the time reviews appear there may not be many copies of your books left in the bookshops.
In a good promotional program, your publisher will send the media release to between 50 and 150 media outlets. It'll generally be faxed or emailed, though in some campaigns it'll be posted, perhaps along with some relevant attention-grabbing gimmick. Eg, for my eco-thriller Terminator Gene, set in a grim near future of dramatic climate change, we created a newspaper of the 2030's set with articles about rising seas flooding the Sydney Opera House, England finally winning a cricket series against Australia, etc. But if you do use a gimmick, make sure it's original and well done. Anything cheap, tacky or in bad taste is worse than having none. The same generally applies to cheap give-aways like embossed pens, key rings etc.
Your media release serves a number of functions. Local and regional newspapers, especially from your area, may simply quote from it verbatim, with or without interviewing you. Occasionally the literary editor of a newspaper or magazine may commission a review of your book because of it. Mostly, however, your media release is the tool that gains you interviews.
What you can expect from the media
You'll get local media interviews purely on the basis of your media release, though for major media you'll need to send the full media kit. For national radio and TV you may also need to supply a demo tape, if you have one, but don't send it unless requested.
The mainstay of book promotion is the radio interview. If your press release strikes a chord with the media you might gain: three or four articles in the entertainment/giveaways sections of suburban or regional city papers, none or one or two reviews in important papers or magazines, no TV interviews, but as many as thirty radio interviews. Therefore, most of your energy should go into preparing for radio interviews.
If you're writing genre fiction such as fantasy or romance, however, you'll be lucky to get ten interviews outside your local area, apart from specialist genre programs.and they'll rarely be big ones. The media simply isn't interested.
In most cases the media will simply book interviews with your publicist. However for major radio interviews, or most TV appearances, your publicist will have to convince the producer that you're a reliable performer. She'll do this by citing your appearance history on other relevant programs, and ideally by providing a demo tape compiled from previous interviews. The producer may also want to interview you before accepting you as a guest. It helps to have video footage of you in action (giving a talk, or doing something interesting in the real world) but it has to be at least semi-professional quality (ie, not home video).
Your Media Schedule
Your publicist will prepare a promotional itinerary (or media schedule) once most of your interviews have been booked, and update it when new ones are added or existing ones rescheduled. If you're being your own publicist, you must do your own schedule. It includes your name, the book title, your phone, fax, email and mobile contact details (plus hotel or office contacts if you're travelling) and the publicist's contact details, then lists each interview, starting with the first, its date and time in your local time, the interviewer's and program's name and contact details, the location if a studio interview, and whether it's live or a pre-record. The schedule should also show the local time of the program if in a different time zone. You must double check every detail of the itinerary, even if it's done by a professional publicist, and confirm anything that doesn't look right. Mistakes in date or time are common and can be very embarrassing.
Your media schedule should also list all the media that are still being chased, and those which haven't made up their minds yet.
Print Articles and Reviews
Beginners don't get many reviews. Ten times as many books are published each week than there is space to review them, and most reviews go to well-known authors or celebrities. Furthermore, hardcovers and trade paperbacks get most of the reviews because the media sees these as the publisher saying, 'This is a significant book.' In Australia it's not uncommon for mass market paperbacks to be reviewed in important papers or magazines. In the UK, mass market paperbacks rarely get reviewed in such media. In the US, almost never. Eg, I have nine fantasy novels published in the UK, all selling well and reprinting regularly, yet I've never had a review in any newspaper in Britain.
If you're really newsworthy (ie won a major award, gained/scored a huge advance or, after a number of books your sales are taking off) there's a good chance of getting a feature article in a newspaper or magazine. Sometimes this will come about because a freelance journalist pitches the idea to an editor. More often, the editor will decide that your profile is now sufficient to do an article about you. You may be able to facilitate this by circulating a press release each time you've done something noteworthy, or if something in one of your books resonates with a major national issue. But don't pester them. Several times a year is enough.
Preparing for Interviews
There is a wealth of information on the net about doing interviews. Key addresses are listed at the end of the section. The key points are summarised in Steve Bennett's article, which is reproduced verbatim below. Follow it and you can hardly go wrong.
Think of some anecdotes about yourself or your writing, eg where you got an unusual idea from, or several interesting, funny or embarrassing things that have happened to you. Anecdotes help the public to identify with you. Practice your delivery in front of family or friends, and tailor it to the program you'll be appearing on.
Always take a copy of the media release to the interview, as well as a copy of the book. The interviewer will often read from the media release in introducing you, or from the blurb on the back of the book. Most interviewers won't read the book but many will ask the questions you provided with your media release (or after the interview was booked).
Make a list of the typical questions that interviewers ask, and prepare answers to them. Here are some questions writers are frequently asked:
- Where do you get your ideas from?
- Why did you write this book?
- What point are you trying to get across?
- When did you start writing, and why?
- What's your professional background?
- What do you read?
- Have you won any awards? Or had any movie offers?
- Where have your books been published?
- What inspired you to write this book?
- What advice would you give to beginning writers?
- Are the events or characters based on people you know?
- Do you write every day or just when you feel like it?
- Tell us about your book.
- What, or who, are your main influences?
Tips for Successful Interviews by Steve Bennett, Media
- Create THREE sound bites that capture the essence of your book. You'll need these to make a memorable impression on your audience, and for use during short interviews (noon news, drive-time radio, etc.). Then, identify three to five brief message points that you can use to amplify and explain your sound bites during longer media engagements.
- Avoid jargon and technical language. Use analogies to explain concepts. Simplify your work, but don't patronize or talk down to the host, reporter, or audience.
- Prepare for interviews. Practice your delivery with friends and relatives. Record yourself. If possible, familiarize yourself with the shows you'll be on, and read articles by the reporters who will interview you, in advance.
- Lose the stress. Relax before the interview — breathe from your diaphragm. Flex and relax your muscles. Mentally transfer nervousness to your ankle, elbow, or some place else that's off-camera.
- Connect with the host or reporter. Be a good listener so you can respond appropriately to all questions. Make, and then maintain, eye contact with the interviewer. Build a rapport, one question at a time.
- Turn in a strong performance. Remember that you're there to help the producer or reporter create a compelling and/or entertaining segment, talk show, or article. To that end, show enthusiasm; lean slightly forward in your chair; vary your speech rate and volume; and keep your answers concise.
- Control the interview. If the host asks a question you can't, or don't want to, answer, bridge back to your message points. You might say, "That's interesting, but what's really at issue here is –" or "I can't really address that topic, but I can tell you –"
- Stay cool if the interview gets heated. Even if a host gets combative or argumentative, don't respond in kind. Also, don't repeat the host's negative phrases; that will only call attention to them. Try to seize opportunities to bridge back to your media points or change the subject altogether.
- Don't ever talk "off the record". NOTHING is off the record, and don't ever assume your conversation isn't being recorded. Beware of idle chitchat with reporters. You never know for sure when the camera or microphone is on and you're on the air.
- Plant a seed for the future. After the show, send a thank-you note to the host expressing your appreciation for the interview — you'll stand out as a quality guest and maximize your chance of a return invitation.
Copyright © 1998-2004 Steve Bennett. You may reproduce and distribute this material provided that you cite the source.
Other articles on interviews can be found at:
Doing Radio Interviews
Most radio interviews will be done over the phone, so make sure you have a quiet place to do them where you won't be interrupted. Mobile phones are unreliable and few radio stations will agree to do interviews on one. Major radio programs will generally do the interview in-studio if you're in the same city.
Generally your interviewer will be more interested in you than your book. He'll want to focus on aspects of your work, unusual life experiences, exotic or quirky hobbies, dangerous pursuits, or something topical or controversial about your book. These details must be in your media kit; without them your publicist will find it hard to secure interviews.
Give the interviewer (or your publicist) a brief list of topics that you'd like to talk about, or questions you'd like to be asked, in advance. Many interviewers will use them. Make sure they're:
- relevant to the book you're there to publicise;
- topical, or at least likely to be of interest to the audience;
- not some boring hobby horse or wacky viewpoint of your own (unless wacky is what the show is about).
Prepare answers that will enable you to get across the message points or sound bites you've rehearsed (see Steve Bennett article, above). Keep them in front of you in case you freeze and can't remember them. If the interviewer is wandering off topic, bring the discussion back to the points you want to make about your book. Make sure your talking points are interesting/intriguing/dramatic/humorous or thought provoking, according to the kind of book yours is. Ideally they'll raise questions in the reader or listener's mind, and therefore concern about their outcome, which can only be satisfied by reading your book.
Write down the interviewer's name (it's easy to forget it when stressed, and embarrassing when you do) and use it at least at the beginning or the end of the program. Don't use it all the time – you don't want to sound like the host of a shopping channel.
Many interviewers will tell you their questions in advance. If they don't, ask. Also ask how long the interview is going to be, otherwise you can find it ending abruptly before you've got your key points across. If a lot of your interviews are short or ending abruptly, it may mean that you're not coming across in a way your audience can relate to (ie, you're boring or worse, offensive). Find out and get help to fix it.
On the major stations, interviews will generally run for 5-10 minutes, though you may get longer on a late night talk show. On the smaller city stations, as well as community or local radio, specialist programs, you may get half an hour or more, especially if you've established a rapport with the announcer through previous interviews. If you're getting a lot of long interviews, they like you, hurrah!
Work out plans for 5-minute, 10-minute, and longer interviews, setting out the points you simply must get across. Make your best or most important points first, in case you don't get a chance to later on. Otherwise, you're likely to find that the interview is over and you've said nothing that would arouse the audience's interest in your book.
After you've done a few interviews you'll notice that questions fall into a familiar pattern. Note down the questions you get asked all the time and try to think of a number of ways to answer them, otherwise you may become so bored with giving the same answers over and again that this will come across to the audience.
Be cheerful and animated, rather than flat, boring, loudly opinionated or cranky.
How to get on TV
To get TV interviews you have to learn to think like a producer. Remember, it's not his job to sell books, but to make interesting TV, and you have to find a way to present yourself as a guest whose story will be interesting to the audience of his program. Get experience on smaller TV programs before you try out for the big ones, and ask for a tape of the show before you go on. You'll need it for your media kit.
The following points, modified after 'How to get on Oprah', by Susan Harrow, are relevant to getting on most major TV programs.
- Know the show you're approaching, what its audience likes and who to approach to get on it (you can identify relevant producers from the credits).
- Don't pitch your book, or yourself, unless you have a great story about yourself. Pitch a controversial topic, national issue or problem your book sheds light on. An issue that's relevant to the audience.
- Sell your idea in one page, in a great media release
- Create six dynamic sound bites, of 10-20 seconds each, encapsulating your essential message. Practice with a timer. Use these when you talk to the producer. They should be what you want the audience to remember. And have some visual props for the show.
- Practice the 5-second promo (ie just like the promo used to sell next week's show).
Handling TV Interviews
Even if you're used to doing radio and print interviews, TV interviews can be really confronting. It's not easy to stay calm and focussed, and present your story well, when you're staring down the barrel of a camera under the glare of the studio lights. If you hope to do a lot of TV appearances, I'd suggest you hire a media trainer. She'll interview you in a range of situations then play them back, showing you where you're going wrong and coaching you to fix those problems.
Before you go to the studio, prepare your five message points and three sound bites (see Ten Essential Tips, above) and rehearse until you have them fluently. Take a copy of your book, the media release and the series of questions you've previously given them, that will enable you to get across your key points.
At the studio, ask the producer what the focus of the interview will be and what questions will be asked. Prepare brief answers to them, ideally in ways that will allow you to get across your key points.
Write down the interviewer's name and anything else you have to remember. Practice relaxation and transferring the stress or nervousness to a part of you that's off camera, eg your foot.
In the studio:
- Ignore the cameras, just focus on the interviewer. Maintain eye contact – it's supposed to look like a chat. Be enthusiastic.
- Be clear about your objectives. You want people to remember: your name, the book's title, and enough about it to know they'll find it interesting or enjoyable – your key points.
- Know when to be quiet. Just answer the question clearly, simply and briefly, then stop and wait for the next question. If you're starting to ramble, bring it to an end as smoothly as possible then wait for the next question.
- If you don't want to answer a question, or the interview becomes confrontational, stay calm. Change the subject to one of your message points.
- Remember that the interview isn't over until you've left the studio. Talk afterwards isn't off the record and what you say may be used in the introduction to your interview.
If you do all this, you'll be well on the way to making your books a success, but always remember that successful fiction begins and ends with great storytelling. Or as Donald Maass puts it, 'The secret of success is simple – please your readers on a regular basis.'
An earlier version of this article was published in 2007 in The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction: Volume One, edited by Dave Law and Darin Park, Dragon Moon Press, Alberta, Canada.
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JA Konrath, The Newbies Guide to Publishing, at http://www.jakonrath.com/writers.htm
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Robin Robertson (2003)(Ed). Mortification: Writer's Stories of their Public Shame. Harper Perennial.