Monthly Archives: July 2009
This month’s Shameless Self-Promotion examines creative uses of the Internet for book promotion. Speaking of examinations, I’m very pleased to welcome Sue Thurman, a writer who promotes her work as a freelance journalist with the Arizona Examiner. Sue has graciously agreed to share her experiences writing for Examiner.com and other suggestions for book promotion. Sue is the author of the children’s book Maybe We Are Flamingos and contributor to Inside Scoop: Articles about Acting and Writing by Hollywood Insiders, winner of the EPPIE award in non-fiction anthologies and an honorable mention in Foreward Magazine’s Book of the Year Awards.
Shameless Self-Promotion: What have you found to be the most effective ways to promote your books?
Sue Thurman: Prior to joining the Examiner family, I don’t think I’d found the most effective way. When an author signs with a small publisher that doesn’t offer any marketing, it’s difficult to find the best avenue. Good reviews are great, however it doesn’t always transfer into sales if you don’t already have an established audience. With my YA novel currently in progress, I’m building my audience first. A good book trailer is a very effective tool and mine was done by Kim Chatel of Blazing Trailers.
SSP: The most enjoyable?
Personal appearances to autograph books, or just meet people.
SSP: The least effective ways or biggest challenges?
Trying to get into the major chains when with a small publisher.
SSP: What has been the most surprising thing about the experience of book promotion?
I’ve learned from other authors that virtual book tours aren’t very effective.
SSP: Tell us more about your experience with the Examiner.com.
The Examiner that I write for is looking for writers all over the country. The requirement is 3-4 articles per week on a dedicated web page in their network. They provide the template, there is no cost and you do make a tiny bit of money based on how many hits you get per month.
They are doing a special referral program and if anyone is interested, send an email to: safari at safarisue dot com, and I will give you the information to sign up.
You can view my page at http://www.examiner.com/x-2174-Arizona-Family-Examiner
If you don’t see a category you like, you can suggest one and there are a wide variety of people and interests. It’s fun and since I started in January, now people are asking me to cover stories. Some of the writers have gotten national attention and appeared on several network shows. The exposure is incredible and the network is getting millions of hits per month.
SSP: How did you get started writing for the Examiner?
Depending on what I write about and I do a variety of things, the research varies. The articles don’t have to be long, so time can be pretty short. However the research takes longer, but again that depends on the subject.
We include links in articles too. I do an editorial calendar for each month so I know what local things are happening. Right now I’m seeing which articles my audience likes. So far, the top ones have been UFOs, ghosts, on the movie sets with local productions, and everything related to Twilight.
SSP: How much time do you spend and how many articles per week?
Sometimes an hour to write and post a story. Other times longer.
SSP: Do you think it’s gotten your name out there? Any sense it is leading to sales or other useful benefits?
Yes. Since joining Examiner, now people are contacting me for stories and reviews. Therefore when my next book comes out, I’ll promote it on my Examiner page, which is part of a large network that’s growing everyday.
SSP: You mentioned that you are writing a YA novel–how do you see the Examiner experience helping that?
I’m working on a YA book that will target the same audience as the Twilight series. This time I’m building the audience before the book is even submitted to an agent.
Thank you so much, Sue, for sharing your experiences with us.
I’m astounded sometimes by writers who will only write one thing and one thing only: straight erotica, mysteries, science fiction, horror – you name it: their flute has only one note. They might play that one note very, very well but often they neglect the rest of the scale. Not to go on about myself, but my own moderate accomplishments as a writer are the direct result of my accepting a challenge or two. I never thought I could write erotica – until I did. I never thought I could write gay erotica, until I did – and so forth. Who knows what you might be great at? You won’t know until you try.
A writer is nothing but pure potential, but only if that potential is utilized. If you only like writing straight erotica, try gay or lesbian. The same goes if you’re queer – try writing something, anything, that you’d never in a million years think of doing. Maybe the story will suck, and that certainly does happen, but maybe it’ll be a wonderful story or teach you something about your craft.
Challenge yourself. If you don’t like a certain genre, like Romance, then write what your version of a romance story would be like. You don’t like Westerns? Well, write one anyway – the Western you’d like to read. Of course like a lot of these imagination games you don’t have to sit down and actually write a Western novel. Instead just take some time to visualize it: the characters, setting, some plot points, a scene or two. How would you open it? Maybe a tumbleweed blowing down a dusty street, perhaps a brass and black iron locomotive plowing through High Sierra snow? Or what about the classic Man With No Name staring down a posse of rabid outlaws? Who knows, you might be the best Western – or mystery, science fiction, gay, lesbian, straight etc. – writer there ever was, or maybe you’ll just learn something about people, about writing. Either way, you’re flexing, increasing the range of your work.
This flexibility isn’t just good in abstract. Cruise around Erotica Reader’s and Writer’s here and look at the books being published, the calls for submissions, and so forth. If you only like to write stories that one are particular style, flavor, or orientation, you’ll notice you have a very, very limited number of places that would look at your work. But if you can write anything, then everywhere is a potential market. Write one thing and that’s exactly how many places will want to look at what you do. Write everything and you could sell anywhere.
In other words: try! If you don’t try, you won’t know if you’re any good. Some writers only do what they know and like because they don’t want to face rejection, or feel they’d have to restart their ‘careers’ if they change the one thing they do well. I don’t believe any of that. If you can’t handle rejection then writing is not the life for you. Getting punched in the genitals by a rejection slip is part of the business, something we all have to deal with. As far as a writer’s ‘career’ goes, no one knows what shape that’ll take, what’ll happen in the future. Planning a job path in writing is like trying to roll snake eyes twelve times in a row – the intent might be there but the results are completely chaotic. In the same way a simple little story can turn out to be the best thing you’re ever written, an unexpected experiment can end up being a total artistic change.
Playing with new themes, genres, and styles is fun. Experiment on the page, in your mind, and who knows what’ll pop up? Next time you go to the movies, try and imagine what the trailer to your movie would be like, or write (in your mind or even on the page) a sequel to this summer’s blockbuster. Go to the bookstore and pick up something at random, read the back cover, and then spend a fun couple of hours imagining how you’d write it. What style would you use? What kind of characters? What settings? Even sit down and write some of it: a page, or even just a paragraph or two. It might suck, but that’s the risk you always take trying something new – but it also could open a door to something wonderful.
Yep, I’m a tad nervous about offering my services as a writer of customized erotica, but I’m also incredibly excited about it. Who knows what’ll happen, what kind of story ideas might come my way, and stories I may write? After all, I’ll never know unless I try, unless I flex my wings.
Book promotion is a daunting task for a beginner, but fortunately there are generous veterans of the process like Brenna Lyons who are willing to help guide us in the first shaky steps of our journey. Brenna is a prolific, best-selling author of sci-fi and erotic romance including the Renegade series, the Night Warriors series and the Kegin series. She lectures frequently on book promotion at conferences, and her discussions on the topic are without a doubt some of the most useful and well-organized materials I’ve consulted. I’m thrilled that Brenna has agreed to an interview in conjunction with this month’s Shameless Self-Promotion column on creative uses of the Internet for book promotion.
Shameless Self-Promotion: I know you especially enjoy promoting your books as a featured author in chat rooms. What are the benefits of this form of promotion?
Brenna Lyons: All marketing is selling you first and then the books. Readers want a piece of you, personally. Even more than talking to them on mailing lists (and a less stressful environment than talking to them face-to-face), chat rooms allow the readers to get a real-time idea of what it’s like to talk to you. No long, thought-out replies as you have in e-mail, for instance. It’s more intimate and more real.
SSP: How do you arrange to be featured in a chat room? Any places that are especially friendly to erotica writers?
There are a lot of places that are friendly, but I find it’s easier to join promotion groups like IWOFA (Infinite Worlds of Fantasy Authors) or your publisher in group chats to start. Once you’ve done some “buddy chats,” built up a name with the readers there, gotten comfortable with the situation, go back and ask those venues if they ever do single author chats. Another benefit to belonging to promo groups is that they will sometimes post opportunities for single promo.
Now, if you do a single, it’s easier to do it with several books under your belt. An hour is a long time to talk about one book. If all you’ve got is one, it might be better to do a buddy chat with a friend who is of a similar genre and temperament…or one of you is the nurturer in chat and the other needs coaxing. You never want to get into a position where you have one quiet chatter and one overbearing chatter that doesn’t coax the former out. It’s unsatisfying for the quiet chatter and for the readers in attendance.
SSP: Are there ways a beginner can prepare for a chat?
In addition to doing buddy chats to start? Sure.
Pick venues that are to your comfort level. Some chat rooms are moderated or have a strict stand-in-line-and-wait-your-turn policy about asking the author questions and/or have rules about what questions are too personal to ask. Others are no holds barred and fast-moving. I prefer the latter, but not every author does. Ask around and attend someone else’s chat in the prospective room to see how theirs runs.
Go in prepared. If you cannot type quickly, have a DOC or RTF file open with things like your blurbs in it. Most chat sites allow a small amount of copy and paste instead of typing, so break the blurbs down into a sentence or two per “copy line.” If you get flustered, have Post-It Notes around your desk with pertinent facts on them. Since so many people ask me for things like my current resume or how many releases I have in the next quarter, I tend to count it before chats and use a Post-It to keep the up-to-date numbers on hand.
Relax. Keep in mind that the readers aren’t there to jump on you. They are interested in you and/or your work. They are looking to buy new authors. They WANT to like you. So, try not to get too nervous.
Typos are expected. In fact, we jokingly call them “chatroomese,” and that’s spoken in all chats. No one expects your typing to be perfect in a chat room.
And don’t forget to promote your chat! On your site, Facebook, blog, MySpace, lists that allow a promo post for such things (but remember that it’s considered rude to promote a chat at review site A’s chat room at review site B’s list). You’ll find that there is a core readership that routinely makes all a certain chat room’s chats, but you may draw in new readers, and they like that.
SSP: Any advice on mistakes to avoid while discussing your work in a chat room?
I already said to familiarize yourself with the chat room etiquette of the room you’re in. Keep your responses to the room level. If it’s a staid room with taboo topics, don’t be too over the top. If it’s no-holds barred, you don’t have to go full bore, but you don’t have to worry about it either.
These people want to know you, but they are not your confidants. Think about a cocktail party with strangers. There are just some things you don’t want or need to tell them.
SSP: Can you tell us about one or two other favorite ways to promote your books?
One of the best (and most enjoyable) promos I do would be either free reads or writing stories for the byline (or for charity anthologies). It also tends to give me a good return on investment.
I also enjoy making banner ads (animated GIFs) and book videos. That’s my down time…an enjoyable sideline to writing.
SSP: Do you have any general words of advice for a newbie promoter?
Like anything else in book marketing, everything you do will appeal to a certain percentage of the readership. You can’t just do one thing. You want a wide variety of them, and then you want to net them together so you (for instance) use good reviews on your blog, in your signature line, your mailing list, etc.
Should chats be all you do? Of course not! That’s one facet of marketing. All told, there should be several subdivisions of online marketing…
ONLINE PRESENCE- author web site, MySpace, Facebook, Amazon Author Central, Red Room Authors, Manic Readers page, TRS page, Ning, author newsletter or newsletter list, etc.
BLOGS- Blogger, LiveJournal, Amazon, Ning, MySpace, etc.
MINI-BLOGS- Twitter, Google Wave, Facebook, etc.
GROUPS- Yahoo or Google groups, and don’t forget your tag line…not just reader loops but also author loops…don’t heavy sell it; talk about whatever they are talking about
FORUMS- depending on your genre
CHATS- I think we’ve covered that. Grinning…
INTERVIEWS- not just print ones online but also internet radio and so forth…don’t forget to use these other places…all promotion should be a web of overlapping and interlocking efforts
REVIEWS- it’s not enough to have them…use them with your other efforts
CROSS-LINKING- with other authors, publishers, on sites that keep lists of certain genres and book content
BANNER ADS- not just pay ones on review sites but also free ones on all of your online presence (blogs, pages, etc.) and cross-banner with other authors
PROMO/NETWORKING GROUPS- places like IWOFA, BroadUniverse, and Bookwormbags
CONTESTS- not just on your own site but also group contests with places like IWOFA
SPOTLIGHTS- often held for several hours or all day on Yahoo or Google groups…or for a week or month on review sites…which means having representative blurbs and excerpts, which rank high in the online return on investment scale
FREE READS- at least for short periods of time and/or short stories that tie to existing worlds you write in
WRITING SHORT STORIES/ARTICLES for magazines or charity anthologies (for the byline) and anthologies (for small payment and exposure of the byline)…small investment from you and big returns
And so forth. For the best return, authors should choose at least one or two of the possible promo types in as many of these SUBDIVISIONS as he/she is comfortable with and then make them work together in a promo web.
In addition, though online marketing has double the return (in general) that physical promo does, a little physical promo is always a good idea.
ADS- online and in magazines…get into group ads, when possible, but don’t overdo it, since research shows you need to repeat ads in the same venue upwards of 6-10 times to get the best return from it, and few people can afford that
PROMO CDS- especially if you can get into group ones with a low overhead
WEARING/CARRYING YOUR OWN PROMO GEAR- bumper stickers, t-shirts, carry the book, keychains…carry extras of small things with you…carry business cards with you
STREET TEAMS- wearing/carrying your promo gear and passing it out, wherever they are
CARD CULT- this is a fun one and very inexpensive
SIGNED BOOKPLATES- enough said…these are very popular with some readers
DODADS- pens, pins, etc. Pens are a good choice, because people are less likely to throw them away. Some people do collect signed paper promos, but they are more likely to be trashed than pens are; if people don’t keep them, they pass them along, and that’s good. Be sure to have a catchy tag line on them. Use them in group efforts like Bookwormbags. BUT…don’t just leave them places or stuff them in bills or whatever, willy nilly. Pens are about the only promo that does well when left in places where people use pens (signing checks, making out bank deposits, etc.) Most left-behind promo gets trashed.
ALL promo is cumulative. What you do, combined with what they do, combined with what other authors with the publisher do that brings people to the publisher site, benefits you…and vice versa. So, don’t be shy about passing along recommended reads of other books/authors with your publisher. Don’t be shy about passing along special events the publisher is doing, even if they don’t directly seem to benefit you. Don’t be shy about teaching the other authors how to market, if you know more than they do.
I could go on and on, but the full class I teach on this is 30 pages of notes.
SSP: Thank you so much, Brenna, for this wealth of helpful information! You can read more advice from Brenna at Broadsheet or attend one of her talks at your next writer’s conference.
Approximately two years ago, the mega-publisher Random House acquired Virgin Books, including its celebrated erotica imprints Black Lace and Nexus. Roughly two weeks ago, Random House announced that they planned to shut down both lines. For many of us in the erotica reading and writing community, this is extremely sad though not completely unexpected news.
Speaking from a personal perspective, Black Lace is responsible for my ten year career as an erotica author. It’s not only the fact that Black Lace published my first novel, Raw Silk. I would never have written the book in the first place if I hadn’t picked up a copy of Portia da Costa’s Black Lace title Gemini Heat from the bookshelf of my hotel in Instanbul. Gemini Heat (which I’ve recently learned was Portia’s first novel) overwhelmed me with its sensuality, imagination, diversity and intelligence. To put it more crudely, it was possibly the hottest thing I’d ever read, far surpassing the Pauline Reage and A. N. Roquelaure titles that had been my touchstones up to that point.
My first reaction was “Wow!” My second was, “I’ll bet I could write something like that…”
Erotic fiction for women, by women. Back in 1993, when Black Lace launched, this was an original, even radical concept. Before the Best Women’s Erotica series, before Susie Bright’s Best American Erotica, there was Black Lace: carefully crafted, meticulously edited, classy stories about women and sex with three dimensional characters and non-trivial plots. Rich, delicious, graphic, transgressive—erotic fantasies that you could enjoy at both an intellectual and a physical level.
Some people, including members of the ERWA Writers list, have a long-standing gripe with Black Lace’s women-only policy, which they view as discriminatory. I do not plan to reignite that debate here. As a marketing ploy, however, the policy was effective, at least initially. Since 1993, Black Lace has published over 250 titles and sold more than three million books. Paper books, mind you.
Black Lace helped establish the mainstream market for erotica. Black Lace didn’t exactly make erotica respectable—that might be a contradiction, even counter-productive—but it provided a steady diet of erotic content that aroused without insulting the reader’s intelligence.
Markets evolve, however. It is a truism at this point that the publishing industry has changed dramatically in the last half decade, and is continuing to do so. The rise of e-publishing and Print-On-Demand pose challenges to traditional publishing concerns. Meanwhile, the erotica market has matured and diversified. Black Lace was a pioneer, but in recent years seems to have been involved in a game of me-too, jumping on the popular bandwagons of paranormal romance and softer core erotic chick lit. When I saw that that the 15th Anniversary reissue of Gemini Heat was being pushed as erotic romance, I just sighed. I had this sinking feeling that the end was near.
Still, I am personally saddened by what I see as Random House’s short-sighted decision. I realized while working on this post that in addition to bringing out my first novel, Black Lace also printed my first erotic short story, “Glass House”, which I wrote and submitted to the Storytime list a few weeks after joining ERWA in 1999. Actually, Black Lace rejected more of my work than it accepted (including my second and third novels) but I do not hold that against them. In fact, it might be considered as a mark of their discriminating tastes!
When I was waiting for Raw Silk to come out, I fantasized about going to London to participate in a book release party that Virgin Books would throw. I saw myself drinking champagne and hobnobbing with all the other erotica authors, imagining them as a glamorous, sexy lot. I wondered about what costume I should wear to fit in. Leather mini-skirt and high-heeled boots? The red cocktail dress with the plunging neckline? Maybe I’d actually meet Portia da Costa! I pictured her as tall, curvy, and dramatic, rather like one of her heroines.
If Portia’s reading this now (we’ve become good cyber-friends, though so far we haven’t met in the flesh), I know she’s laughing. How little I knew about the prosaic, penny-pinching world of publishing!
Now, in fact, there will be a party, though it’s a bit late. The Black Lace editor, Adam Neville, has announced a wake in early August, to mourn the passing of Black Lace and Nexus. The image at the top of this post was part of his invitation.
Alas, I can’t attend this gathering—I’m even further from London now than I was in 1999. I’ll raise my glass, though, to toast sixteen years of lust-filled, literate sex, and observe a moment of silence. Requiescat in Pace.
Visit Lisabet’s Fantasy Factory: http://www.lisabetsarai.com
This month’s Streetwalker comes from a suggestion by the wonderful Adrienne here at ERA. When I asked her for some possible topics to cover she gave me: “How about plot ideas, how to keep works fresh and unique and advice on where to look for plot/character inspiration?” If anyone else has any ideas for columns, by the way, please feel free to zap them to me and I’ll consider them.
Now I’ve sort of touched on keeping an eye out for story ideas before, but it bears exploring a bit more. Keeping your work fresh is more than a little important for any writer, especially for smut authors.
For me, stories are everywhere – and to be honest I don’t think I’m special. It’s all a matter of keeping your eyes open, but most importantly PLAYING with the world around you.
It should be obvious that in order to write about the world you need to know something about it, but what a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that sitting in a coffee shop, scribbling away in a notebook while you ponder the imponderables of human nature isn’t likely to yield anything usable. Getting your hands dirty, though, will.
By that I mean really exploring yourself as well as other people. Look at who you are, why you do what you do – both emotionally as well as sexually. The same goes for the people around you. Spend some time really thinking about them, their motivations, their pleasures, or what experiences they may have had.
Dig deep — ponder their reactions as well as your own. Sharpen your perceptions. Why do they say what they say? What do people admire? Why? What do they despise? Why? That last question should almost always be in your mind – directed outward as well as inward: why? This depth of understanding, or just powerful examination, is a great tool for developing both stories as well as characters.
Along with studying the world, pay attention to good work no matter where you find it. A lot of writing teachers tell students to get intimate with the classics – which I agree with, but also think it’s equally important to recognize great writing even when it’s on the back of a cereal box. Read a lot, see a lot of movies, watch a lot of TV – and pay attention when something good, or great, comes along. Don’t dismiss anything until you’ve tried it, at least for a little while. Examples? Romance novels, comic books, documentaries, sitcoms, cartoon shows, old radio shows, pulps, westerns, and so forth. There’s gold all around you, if you dig around enough
Not for the fun – playing. Look at that guy sitting over there, the one by the window: Heavy, messy hair, chewing with his mouth open – easy to peg him as lonely, creepy, or even seriously perverse. Easy is a shortcut, easy is dull, easy is lazy. Instead try seeing him as something completely different than your initial assessment. Maybe his mind is lovely and musical. Perhaps his touch is gentle and loving. Who knows, maybe he’s a sex magnet – with more boyfriends/girlfriends than he knows what to do with.
Say you’ve stumbled on a particularly good book, show, series, or whatever. Great, bravo, applause – now write something like it. Who cares that the show will never, ever look at your story, or that the medium is long dead (like radio drama). Do it anyway. Have fun – PLAY! Get into the habit of automatically either writing your own version or fixing what you see as a flaw in the original. If you’re reading a book, stop halfway through and finish it in your mind – and then when you do finally turn that last page was your version better? If not then what did the author do that you didn’t?
I love coming attractions, the trailers for movies. Watching them, I always make up my own movie based on what I’ve seen. Sometimes it’s better – at least I think so – sometimes not, then I look at what the director did better than I did when the flick finally comes out.
Playing and watching, studying, that’s the ticket. If you keep your mind sharp, notice details, and examine yourself and the world around you as well as challenging and playing with story ideas, then writing a story for a very specific Call for Submission or for some other strange project will be easy and your story will be original and fresh.