Twilight Times Feature

Marketing and self-promotion

by

Astrid Cooper

 
 
Many writers - both unpublished and published - are incredulous of the amount of time and effort I put in to marketing and self-promotion. Often such marketing is to the detriment of my writing.

Self-promotion has never come easy to me. Indeed, I have been ridiculed by several former colleagues for the promotion I have done in the past. It was nothing compared to what I do now.

Many writers believe that once the book is printed their ‘work’ is over and it is time to focus on a new project. This might be true if the writer is a lead title author, where the enormous marketing resources of the publisher are put behind the author’s book. They do not have to pay for advertisements, nor do they have to send out press releases and ‘beg’ for a morsel of media attention.

For the rest of us mere mortals, we have to make sure our books are brought to the attention of as many people as possible. Book sales equate to royalties, but more importantly, book sales - good book sales - will ensure that the publisher will look favorably on more proposals that we submit to them. Book publication time - bookshelf time -- It is sink or swim for the beginner and mid-list author. It is up to us to ensure that we do as much as we possibly can to maximize book sales and publicity.

How can we do this?

Firstly, I have been lucky. But I will qualify ‘lucky’. In this business there is no such thing as ‘luck’. An author who is perceived as being ‘lucky’ has, I believe, laid the groundwork to his/her success years before success knocks on the door. For example, I have co-ordinated the Australian Network for FF&P romance writers for nearly 4 years. I have worked on this network and produce the bi-monthly magazine, often to the detriment of my own personal commitments.

Two and a half years ago I was invited to speak at the national Romance Writers of Australia convention. I gave the first workshop on FF&P romance. There was standing room only. Literally! In the audience I noticed an editor. Why did the Editor choose my workshop? Surely, there would be another one she would rather attend? Swallowing my nerves I gave my presentation.

Later, the editor came to me and said how much she enjoyed the workshop and would I be interested in submitting some FF&P stories to an anthology she was producing. Needless to say I submitted and they have bought three of my short stories, with another one scheduled for release this year. They also are considering a novella for another anthology. Now, if I hadn’t started the network and worked tirelessly on it, without thought of reward, indeed, sometimes begrudging the time I spent on it, I would not have come to the notice of the Editor.

I have other similar experiences. It illustrates my point. We make our own luck by working without thought of reward. We work at something we love; we help others. What goes around comes around. I am living proof of this philosophy.

I have also networked with people because I enjoy communicating. ‘A born networker’ is how one colleague described me. It is true. Over many years I have made friends where I never expected to. I value these friendships. They are the only constant factor in the writing business - a business notoriously transient. I have helped my friends because that is what a friend does.

And when, for me, the chips have been down, these friends have been there for me. We have helped each other; we have passed on names and information. I have been given ‘introductions’ to editors and agents through friends and likewise I have also done the same. If I hear about a market that might suit one friend, I let them know. They do the same for me. We watch out for each other.

Again, if one approaches making friends with the idea of ‘they can be useful’, then nothing will ever come of such a relationship. I have known one person to choose and discard people on the basis of whether they were useful for her career or not. Friends are most important. They cannot be bought or bartered. I have made friends a long time ago and many years down the track I have either been of assistance to them, or they to me, in ways neither of us could have foreseen. Karma. Fate. A universal scheme? Luck? I’ll let you decide.

But the greatest tool a writer has for publicity and self-promotion is the tool at their fingertips. Their computer. If they are on-line, so much the better. The world is at their fingertips. Writers write. They write fiction, they can write press releases. They can make press kits to take to conferences, to meetings. They can use the internet to post about their books; they can do author interviews on the ‘net and they can write articles and do chats - many, many opportunities. I do these things because I ENJOY doing them! I never approach an undertaking with the mercenary attitude: ‘What’s in it for me?’

But all the world is not on-line and most media outlets prefer to see hard copy. This is so for conferences where authors leave their material out for the passer-by.

The press kit and the media release.

A good press kit should contain:

  • An author biography with a photo (glamorous or not. I had my photos taken at a studio. I use a special photo for my press releases and my web site and for every book published).
  • Author publishing credits and author affiliations. Lists of awards or finalist placings for any books.
  • Book reviews and reader comments.
  • Workshops the author has presented, with participant feedback.
  • If possible some front covers of your published works.
  • Maybe some publicity material - such as bookmarks, etc.
  • Business card.

A press kit is individual. The above is what mine usually contains. The contents do vary according to the recipient. I also buy very good quality glossy folders to house my papers. I also print my pages on expensive paper, not plain copy paper. My business cards are ‘basic’. But one day I will be able to buy expensive ones.

Remember to carry business cards with you to any function, whether it’s writing-related or not. You never know who you will meet!

I always keep a supply of press kits on hand (updated as necessary), so that if I should receive a call from someone, I can supply a kit without rummaging through my files.

In a press kit that you are sending out to advertise your latest release, you will also have a ‘media release’ that will hook a member of the media. It should interest them to the extent that they want to interview you.

Your book is on the shelves. By this time you should have arranged media interviews.

How do you arrange them? By preparing a ‘press release’. Something with a hook (like the one-liner you used to sell your book). But it must be something tangible; something that a journalist can work with.

For Shadow’s Embrace I used a marketing media consultant. She and I worked on the releases. I suggested that the press release should have something about ‘vampires terrorizing Adelaide’. We came up with ‘Vampires Hit Adelaide’.

For Crystal Dreams I used the ‘first’ lure. CD was the first fantasy romance published by JB BOOKS and the first of its kind written by an Australian author. The media like ‘firsts’. You have to find an angle that is interesting and newsworthy.

Less is best. Don’t put everything into the press release. Have teasers. If they take the bait, then you can fill them in on the details during the interview. Don’t try to be cute. Don’t lie. Be direct. Be honest. Remember, what goes around comes around.

You may not receive any takers for interviews. It may not be your fault. I have had press releases where nothing has eventuated from my many faxes and phone calls. Sometimes a big name is in town and the press court him/her, rather than 'Ms. Unknown.' Sometimes there are more important news items that take away the space you might have had. It’s a fickle business. You can’t predict. You can only do your best.

You send out faxes and press kits and sometimes copies of your books. You must follow up. Ring the person to whom you sent the kit. If they decide not to run with your story, you can ask why. This takes guts, but it might make the rejection easier to bear if you know that something beyond your control was the cause of the ‘no thanks’.

I have never had anyone be rude to me when refusing an interview. Some have sounded very embarrassed to have to say ‘no’. Some have suggested other contacts. I remember all names (I have a file of contacts.) I also have a file (small!) of media I will never deal with again. I have favourite media people whom I will contact to give an ‘exclusive’.

Again, networking has helped me find these rare gems of people. And after the interview, I always write a letter to the person to thank them for their assistance. Sometimes I send a small gift. This is not grovelling. They have helped me. I appreciate their efforts. I thank them. Courtesy costs nothing!

When I first started sending out press kits and media releases, it was the most difficult thing for me to do - to follow up. I stammered, I stumbled, I sweated, but do it I did. It is a necessary tool that writers must hone. Interviews and media do not come to you (unless you are a mega star). You have to make it happen. ‘If it is to be, it is up to me!’ I learnt this from my Amway selling days. Yes, I used to be an Amway rep, but I learned some valuable lessons about presentation and follow up and going that extra mile that have held me in good stead to this day.

And one day you will send out press kits and releases and be inundated with media courting you. I have had a small taste of this and it is overwhelming.

But, if you cannot do your own kits, and releases, you can employ a media consultant to do it for you. They will also arrange interviews. At a cost.

The TV interview. I have done several over the years. My first was for a ‘Star Trek’ convention I was organizing. The presenters wanted me to dress up in my costume and they asked inane questions; ‘Does Leonard Nimoy have pointed ears?’ In the face of this sort of derision how did I handle it? Well, I refused to wear a costume. I laughed when they asked me the dumb questions. I turned the questions around and talked about my philosophy of ‘Star Trek’ and why it was so relevant to the troubles of the late sixties.

The tone of the interview changed. The journalists and I discussed deeper issues and they commented after the interview that they had no idea that ‘trekkers’ had such deep-seated beliefs. Score one to trekdom!

My next TV interview was secured through a press release I sent out for the launch of Crystal Dreams. I gained some expert advice from a former journalist and media consultant. I thought carefully about what to wear. I am not a ‘formal’ person, so a suit would not sit well on me. I am a fantasy/SF romance author.

I chose something a little flamboyant, but nothing that would detract from what I had to say. The focus of any interview is what one has to say! I met the interviewer a few minutes before we went to air. The studio was relaxed and the people friendly. This helps. I also arrived in plenty of time, so that the studio personnel knew I was there. Not too early - they get agitated about what to do with you! Not too late because they go into a flap thinking you are a ‘no show’. I think around ten minutes before time is okay.

Anyway, the interview went well. I established a rapport with the interviewer. We talked about my book, and my next books. He was fascinated to learn of the premise of my next book and asked me to come back when it was published. "Please!" He added after the taping was over.

But, alas the fickle finger of fate saw to it that this man and his show were axed. I lost a valuable contact. This happens all the time!

I have had some interviews from hell. One was most upsetting and prompted my then editor to write a stern letter to the chief of staff. I need not go into details, but I have learned from this incident.

You are in control of the interview. If you are asked a question that you do not care to answer, then you can twist the question around to something more palatable. In this particular instance, the photographer attached to the journalist took me on a whirlwind of photo sessions.

On the beach. Walking on the jetty. Lying on the floor. I made numerous clothes changes, to suit the theme of the shoot. He asked to take photos of me lying on my bed reading an erotic novel (where else does one read such????!)

I should have firmly said no. Green as I was then, I was too scared to say no, in case I offended.

By the time the photographer left my house my neat and tidy rooms were cluttered with props and clothing. They used a photo I specifically asked they NOT use. The photographer at the time said that he would not. A lesson, here. Nothing is off the record.

Now, when I have an interview arranged, I try and find out what sort of questions, what sort of line/angle they will be pursuing. I prepare comments beforehand. And when the photographer suggests a shoot that I am not comfortable with I will gently say that I prefer not to do it that way. The photographer worth his salt will not pursue something that the client does not wish.

YOU are in charge. I learned this valuable lesson the hard way! And this particular journalist used my real name and gave out the suburb where I lived and that I was a widow. I had some strange phone calls that persisted for a week. Then other news diverted these ‘ghouls’.

You need to protect your privacy. If you are not happy with the way an interview went, then I suggest you make notes of what happened. But it is probably best not to exact retribution - put it down to experience.

But from this interview from hell I reaped a reward. A national woman’s magazine read about me and contacted me for an extensive interview. The journalist was wonderful and we conducted the interview on the phone over some days. She read back her notes to me and then sent me her final article for my approval. The photo shoot was a dream!

We need to become savvy about media and publicity. It is an important tool. Without it we have no hope of getting recognition for ourselves, our career and our books.

Even multi-selling, award-winning authors have to spend time on marketing and promotions. The sooner you start to prepare yourself for this, the better.

Astrid Cooper

 
 

Crystal Dreams - Sapphire Award (USA) finalist for best SF romance of 1998.

                     -- finalist for ‘Most Romantic Book of the Year’ - Romance Writers of Australia.

Shadow’s Embrace - Sapphire Award (USA) finalist for best SF romance of 1998.

Crystal Dreams is the only romance novel to ever reach the best-seller list for Adelaide, South Australia bookstore, Dymocks. It reached # 6 for the week ending 12/27/97 and re-appeared at # 9 in February, 1998. (The book was in competition with mainstream novelists Grisham, etc.)

Astrid’s romantic erotica short stories contained in various anthologies have reached # 1 and # 2 best-seller listings also at Dymocks. The publisher has recognized Astrid’s achievement as ‘single-handededly’ working with publicity to achieve their first # 1 best-seller anthology.

 
 

Read Astrid's article on FF&P market and Vampires 

 

 


Author Bio

Ever since Astrid Cooper could hold a pencil she has written science fiction, fantasy, historical and romance stories. Active in SF and fantasy fandom since 1978, she has edited and published over 100 fanzines.

She is published in novellas, short stories, non-fiction and writes for science fiction, fantasy, romance and historical magazines.

Astrid has organised six science fiction/fantasy conventions and has written plays and has acted in several theatrical presentations. In her 'spare time' she is a free-lance editor.

She presents workshops at national Romance Writers conferences and is a reader for national competitions. She is facilitating a series of 'Writing Commercial Fiction'; workshops and has just completed a highly successful workshop in rural South Australia.

Astrid is co-ordinator of the Australian Network of Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal Romance Writers and editor of 'Realms Beyond' the bi-monthly newsletter of the network. She has given numerous television and radio interviews in relation to science fiction/fantasy and her writing activities.

Her hobbies include: her cats, gardening, ceramics, historical needlework and costuming, reading, publishing fanzines and collecting 'anything' Egyptian.

Visit Astrid's author site

 


 
 
Publishing credits:
June, 1997: "Birthday Surprise"(contemporary erotica - anthology: Love Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me.
August, 1997: "Star-Crossed" (SF erotica) and "Dream Lover"(paranormal erotica) anthology: BedTime Stories Volume III. publisher: AMS Ironbark, Queensland, Australia.
December, 1997: Crystal Dreams a fantasy romance novel which hit the #6 spot on the best-seller list in Adelaide for week ending 27/12/97 (publisher: JB BOOKS, Australia).
January, 1998: "Night's Kiss" (vampire erotica) anthology: Sugar and Spice (Publisher: Virgin Publishing Ltd., UK).
September, 1998: "Shadow's Embrace" dark fantasy romance novel. publisher: JB BOOKS, Australia.

Both books -- Crystal Dreams and Shadow's Embrace are available in the US and can be ordered direct from the publisher - the books won't be in bookshops. JB BOOKS is setting up a US based office.
For more information view the publisher's web site: JB BOOKS.

 

 


 

Copyright © 1999 Astrid Cooper. All rights reserved.
 
This page last updated 4-24-99.

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