It’s hard to believe I’m writing my final installment of “Shameless Self-Promotion.” And what a shameless year it’s been! Back in February, the title of my first column was “Our Journey Begins,” so it only makes sense that in December I will focus on the journey’s end. But really, as you may already suspect, this is a trip with no destination. Self-promotion for a writer can and should continue as long as your work is published and available in some form, even if it’s just to maintain information on your website and your email signature. Nonetheless, the end of the calendar year seems a natural time to take stock of past experiences and look ahead to a new year and possibly a new project. So help yourself to some of my winter solstice cookies (the pecan bars are delicious) and a cup of cocoa and we’ll get started.
Before we wrap up, I’d like to discuss one more aspect of self-promotion that didn’t quite fit into earlier columns: your ability to reach readers through radio interviews.
As I mentioned in my first column, promoting my book was a huge challenge for an introvert like me, but it also took me to wonderful places I never dreamed I’d go. At the top of that list are the five radio and blog radio interviews I gave focusing on themes related to my novel, Amorous Woman. Even if you think you aren’t cut out for this kind of public speaking, I recommend you give it a try. After all, shameless self-promotion is all about surprising yourself with how far you can stretch for your baby novel!
Now exactly how do you go about getting on the radio to talk about your book? I’ll admit I never imagined I’d have a chance to talk about my erotic novel on the radio—even if chatting with Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” has been my fantasy promotion gig since I wrote my very first never-to-be-published short story. And indeed erotica writers face as much prejudice in this area as anywhere else. My first radio interview on Ellen Shehadeh’s “View Point” at KWMR in Point Reyes Station, California was indeed a lucky break. Ellen had previously interviewed a writer friend of mine who was kind enough to introduce us. I prepared an email query with the standard pitch, a brief synopsis, a list of topics I’d be able to discuss and an offer to send a press kit and complimentary copy of the book (see a sample query at the ERWA blog.
In my cover letter I made sure to emphasize I could discuss a broad variety of “serious” topics:
“In interviews I’ve discussed US-Japan cultural stereotypes such as the myths of the submissive geisha and the samurai salaryman, the historical and literary background of the novel, my definitions of erotica versus porn, the paradoxical prejudice against erotica in a consumer environment saturated with sexual messages, and how an academic and self-acknowledged feminist came to “talk back to porn” with a woman-centered exploration of eroticism as a complex element of human experience.”
Pretty serious, isn’t it? Of course, for shows that emphasize entertainment, I made sure to make the topics more humorous (see the second sample on the ERWA blog. Whatever the host’s preferred tone—and it’s a good idea to listen to a sample or two before you query—I think chances of getting on the schedule are higher if you have a wide range of provocative topics to discuss in the spirit of the show.
Crossing my fingers, I sent off my query to Ellen and hoped for the best. Fortunately, she was interested in seeing more. Even more better, after she saw the materials, she decided to sign me up for one of her “View Point” Saturday interviews.
That could have been the end of it, but Ellen made the interview experience so enjoyable, I decided to explore other possibilities. My appearances on “The Dr. Susan Block Show,” Gracie Passette’s “Cult of Gracie Show” and Dr. Dick’s “The Erotic Mind” were all facilitated by personal introductions from other generous writers. By this time I also had a growing list of past credits to show for myself, including links to earlier archived interviews. Only one interview was a result of a “cold call”—my November 2008 appearance on Denny Smithson’s “Cover to Cover” show on KPFA in Berkeley. This time my “in” was that I was a local author, and in general this is probably your best chance to get invited to a radio station to be on the air in the old-fashioned way. I’d recommend researching shows in your area through On The Radio.Net, listening to sample shows on the station that interview authors, then querying the show’s producer preferably by phone. For blog talk radio, check out shows that interview erotica writers, and send off an email with your pitch materials. Sometimes it may take a while to get a response, and in many cases I received no response at all, even when I had a personal introduction. In short, radio interviews are like every other aspect of book promotion—only a small percentage of queries lead to an actual result you can add to your press kit, but every victory is worth the effort.
By the way, some organizations offer to interview you for a fee. In general I avoid paying for any promotion when plenty of free opportunities exist, although other writers have reported positive experiences. As with the paid reviews, many see this situation as a vanity endeavor. Others place it in the same neutral category as an advertisement. So use your own judgment whether this feels like a legitimate way to reach readers. Another organization, Radio-TV Interview Report, offers the service of listing your radio show guest information in their publication that is circulated to thousands of radio show producers. This is probably more useful for nonfiction writers, but is another possible resource for writers with a bigger expense account.
As difficult as it is to schedule an interview, for all but the most out-going, the really tough part is facing the actual Q&A session on the air. Some interviewers will give you a list of questions before the show, which is especially reassuring for newbies. Many, however, prefer to maintain a casual give-and-take atmosphere. I still prepared for these interviews anyway by reviewing the topics I proposed and giving practice answers out loud in a concise way. I also asked if the host wanted me to read an excerpt from my novel and how many minutes they preferred so I could prepare this in advance. Remember that on publicly aired radio stations you are not allowed to use the forbidden words George Carlin listed in his famous routine, so be sure to pick a “cleaner” passage or substitute acceptable words where necessary. (This is not a problem on blog radio—be as dirty as you like!)
For those of you who hate public speaking in general, one advantage of this kind of public speaking is that you aren’t standing in front of a crowd of people staring at you with glittering and curious eyes. The actual physical experience of a radio interview is like chatting with a friendly, articulate person either into a microphone or the telephone. Every host was very good at making me feel at ease and thus tricking me into forgetting that hundreds of people might be tuning in on our “private” conversation!
One more practical suggestion for the actual interview—be as positive and enthusiastic as you can, even if you have to ham it up a bit. After listening to a number of author interviews in my research, I’d say that a genuine passion for the project is far more effective at reaching readers than getting the words just right. If a question does stump you—and a few did me—don’t be afraid to say you’re drawing a blank and do some thinking aloud. Again, the listener is more interested in hearing a fellow human being’s thoughts and opinions than some perfectly rehearsed robot reading from a script. Looking back over all I’ve done to promote Amorous Woman, I have to say the radio interviews were some of the most memorable highlights. Best of all, the kind and eloquent hosts always helped me gain a new perspective on my own work.
Speaking of perspective, as we draw near to the end of the year and this column, the question naturally arises: when do you stop promoting? As mentioned above, as long as your book is for sale somewhere—and here I have to thank Amazon for expanding those possibilities indefinitely—you want to keep information available on your website and blog for readers who might be interested. But after a certain point, a writer needs to ease up on promoting and get back to the writing. In fact, publishing new and exciting work might be the best way to bring attention to your earlier novel.
I have to admit I had a hard time letting go of my duty to Amorous Woman. I knew I was her only real advocate, but giving my novel her best chance to succeed consumed much of my professional time for almost two years. I knew on an intellectual level that it was time to move on to a new project, but it took longer to accept this on an emotional level. I would hazard a guess that every writer will feel when it’s right to let your grown baby take care of herself and begin to nurture your next little one. That said, you will always keep promoting the “brand” that is your writing as long as you are a writer.
Back in February, I asked you to join me in some touchy-feely exercises to get in touch with your dreams and fears about book promotion. Almost a year later, I’d like to invite you to look back at the realities of your experience. In fact, this column was exactly such an exercise for me. Take a moment now to write your own mini “Shameless Self-Promotion” column. What aspects of actual book promotion have surprised you most? Is there anything you’d do differently? Are there strategies you’d definitely try again?
In the meantime, be sure to keep a list of helpful contacts, reviewers, interviewers and so forth who might be willing to support your next book. And remember you can use many of the tools you learned to promote this novel earlier in the process of promoting your next one. Even as you write your next novel, keep ideas for an irresistible pitch in the back of your mind. Jot down sexy ideas for an agent or publisher query. Try out sample pitches on friends to see what gets their eyes gleaming.
Last but not least, give yourself a great big pat on the back or a yoga hug or whatever treat you desire in appreciation for all that you’ve accomplished. Other writers always seem to be doing a better job than you are. Frankly, I’m shocked when people compliment me on doing such a good job promoting my novel, because I myself tend to focus on all the things I didn’t manage to do. But I also know that without question I’ve grown a lot in the process, and I thank you for sharing the experience with me this past year. As I’ve said all along, making connections with other writers has been a richer experience than any advance or royalty check ever could be.
And so with deepest gratitude, I send you all my best wishes for your own enriching journey as a writer and promoter in 2010 and beyond!
Shameless Self-Promotion Points for December
One: Query your local radio station or a blog talk radio erotica show for an opportunity to appear for an interview. Don’t be afraid to show your passion for your project and have fun!
Two: For those of you who’ve been with me on this journey for the past year, it’s time for another touchy-feely exercise. Back in February, I invited you to get in touch with your authorial dreams and demons. Now it’s time to take stock of all you’ve learned and accomplished in your book promotion efforts. What surprised you about the process? What would you do differently next time? Which strategies would you definitely try again? Shameless Self-Promotion is difficult, but it’s made you tougher and wiser and ready to tackle your next promotion project with flair.
At the end of my first column, I promised my readers that if you collected all the Shameless Self-Promotion Points, you’d receive a special Shameless Self-Promotion Badge. Perhaps you were expecting a real badge—with my butt splashed with pink neon on it or your own splashed with the neon color of your choice. Feel free to make your own badge of honor and wear it proudly if you desire, but you probably realize by now that I firmly believe we writer-promoters don’t need no stinkin’ badges! The rewards of Shameless Self-Promotion lie within, so close your eyes, look deep into your heart and commend yourself for all of your courage, hard work, and the many unnatural things you did in the name of promoting your book. You deserve it!
Donna George Storey
December ’09 – January ’10 2009
“Shameless Self-Promotion” © 2009 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written.