The publishing business isn’t what it used to be. Major newspapers are ditching their book review sections, independent bookstores are closing up shop at every turn, and many of the bookstores that do remain are drastically cutting back on poorly-attended author events. Alas, fellow self-promoter, if your fantasy of success includes the traditional measures of literary fame—hoards of fans seeking autographs, a front-page review in the stand-alone section of the Washington Post’s Book World—you’re living in the wrong century.
The good news is, if you’re reading this column, you probably write erotica and we smut-writers never had a chance at such mainstream “success” anyway. The even better news is, if you’re reading this column, you’re likely doing most of your promotion on your own and the bane of the traditional publishing industry—the Internet—is actually the independent promoter’s very best friend.
When I first started my book promotion odyssey, most people told me “the Internet is the way to go.” Not that I doubted them, but I had no idea what they were talking about because my vision of being a “real” author still involved a review in The New York Times and standing-room only at my local indie bookstore author event. But after trying out various methods of getting the word out about my book, I have to add my voice to the chorus: for promoters on a budget, the Internet does indeed provide endless venues for free or low-cost promotion in terms of money. You will pay generously in time, however, as much as you’re willing to give it, but the connections you make and the skills you develop generally make for a good investment.
Another huge advantage of Internet promotion is that authors are no longer shackled to the cruelly tiny “window of opportunity” that used to bury good books by new writers before the ink had dried on their pages. In the old days, publicists and bookstores had to plan a media blitz well in advance and gave a debut book several weeks at most to catch on with buyers. If it didn’t, whether the fault was a bad book or lazy publicity, the copies were remaindered or returned and the book was dead forever. Not so in the Internet Age. With Amazon and ebooks, whatever their drawbacks, your book will be available in perpetuity and you can continue to promote the product for as long as you have the interest.
In this month’s “Shameless Self-Promotion,” I’m going to discuss some of the basic ways you can use the Internet to expose your book to potential readers through review sites and blogs. While my face-to-face experiences like parties, readings, book fairs and radio shows were often more satisfying to my old-fashioned fantasy of what it means to be a “real” writer, I’m certain I sold more actual books through my online activities.
Last month I mentioned the importance of book reviews for your press kit. [“Publicists, Press Kits and Other P-words“] Pithy excerpts from good reviews are also useful for press releases, cover letters, bookmarks and any other written promotional materials. Of course, the first challenge here is to get your book reviewed at all. If you’re an author of a mainstream book put out by a major or well-regarded small publisher, your publicist will still send out advance review copies (ARC) to the traditional elite review organizations: Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Library Journal. But with a few exceptions like Best American Erotica, these places do not review erotica or genre fiction at all.
The only widely distributed book review magazine that will review erotica is Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine, but for less-than-blockbuster authors, they do require you purchase an ad in the magazine in exchange for a review. I paid about $160 to be part of a five-person group advertisement (Amorous Woman RT Book Review) plus postage, printing and handling for the ARC. If you can pool resources in this way, it’s not a budget-breaker. You will be assured a review in the erotica section, although there’s no guarantee it will be a positive one, but especially for erotic romance writers, four stars or above is a useful endorsement. However, the other major fee-based review programs, Kirkus Discoveries and Foreword Magazine, charge $300 and are generally regarded as a paid advertisement and not worth the money.
So where does a budget-minded erotica author turn for third-party review? The first place to look is print and online journals in our genre. Of course ERWA reviews erotica as does Erotica Revealed, Clean Sheets, The Erotic Woman and Black Heart Magazine among others that come to mind. In the UK, print venues include UK Forum and Scarlet Magazine’s “Juicy Bits” feature (technically an excerpt rather than a review, but good exposure to an erotica-friendly audience).
A very good way to assemble your list of potential reviewers is to research listings on other author’s websites who’ve published similar books. This would include erotica, any specific subgenre, and any theme that sets your book apart, in my case, Japan. Make a note of where your colleague got reviewed and the name of the reviewer, if applicable. One general reviewer I’d recommend is the Midwest Book Review, which gives special consideration to self-published books. To my great surprise, when I was being turned down left and right by review sites—I’d estimate I got one review for every three queries—MBR gave me a respectful and very quotable review that “got” my novel. They’re a class act and definitely worth a try.
Some book promotion chat groups share lists of reviewers. I found one such helpful list in the files of Kim’s Crew which I discovered through a post on Publishing and Promoting Yahoo Group. I’m sure there are many other such resources out there. The only limit is your time and patience.
Once you have your list of online reviewers, visit each website and decide if the quality and focus is a good fit for your book. Most make it easy to find their guidelines for submitting a book for review. Follow them conscientiously to make a good impression. If there are no guidelines posted, simply email query first with a brief, professional note including the publication information on your sell sheet, your irresistible book blurb and bio and a polite inquiry as to whether they accept pdf or prefer a hard copy. Pdf’s are of course the only option for ebooks and generally preferable for authors with limited print review copies. I’ve posted a sample of my cover letter on ERWA’s blog.
If you are reviewed, be sure to send a thank you note or email—although it’s your call if the review is more of a hatchet job! Reviewers are people, too, and they might be more willing to take a look at your next book if you’re appreciative of their time. Be sure to keep a complete copy of every review in your files because sometimes websites disappear and good reviews are lost. Also, when you post a review on your website or blog, it’s common courtesy to post only a teaser and encourage readers to click over to the review site. Many reviewers will repost on Amazon, so be sure to ask politely.
Speaking of Amazon, it is a good idea to encourage friends, colleagues, people who buy from your website and any reader who drops you a line of appreciation about your book to post a brief review on Amazon for you. Reassure them it doesn’t have to be a time-consuming effort, and a few lively sentences will work fine, unless they like writing detailed reviews—it’s nice to have some of those, too. Recently I’ve also had modest success in getting a review nibble by soliciting reviews on the Amazon Top Reviewers discussion board. While the “professional” review window is generally restricted to a few months after the book’s release, thanks to Amazon and blogs, reader reviews have no time limit. In fact, just the other day when I googled myself, which is less about ego than good business for a writer, I discovered a fresh online review of Amorous Woman.
Indeed, perhaps the most promising and open-ended use of the Internet for book promotion is blogs. The possibilities are endless but three basic blog tools I’ve used are: maintaining my own blog, which I link to from my website; appearing as a guest blogger or interview guest on another blog; and arranging an informal blog tour.
Okay, I promised I’d be honest about my book promotion experiences and the truth is I have a love-hate relationship with my blog. I truly love connecting with other writers, sharing good news or publishing industry information and discussing topics of interest with people who live across the country or an ocean. The downside is, like every promotional activity, blogging takes time away from my new writing. If you find a better way to balance the two, please email me immediately and I’ll post it on my blog!
It’s up to you whether you post frequently or just once a week, but some sort of regular update is necessary to keep visitors coming back, which is the point of any promotional tool. Also be sure to feature your book cover at the top of your blog’s sidebar along with purchase links to make it easy for browsers to get a copy.
While a personal blog is an excellent way to maintain a fresh Internet presence, my most successful promotion involved reaching out to other bloggers and exposing my name and my book to a new audience. Like securing reviews, this also requires a lot a research and a willingness to ask favors of friends and colleagues. Often one appearance leads to another. For example, an interview I did at Lust Bites, which is sadly no longer active, resulted in a number of friendships with other erotica writers who later hosted me on their blogs. “Literary” writers I met through the Zoetrope online writers workshop pointed me to other opportunities like Odd Shelf, where an author is invited to come up with a reading list on a topic of her special interest. I chose Japan’s “floating world,” and whether it was related or not, my Amazon numbers did show a modest burst of sales around the time the column went up.
As you research possible blogs for guest appearances—again other writers being a prime resource—you want to focus on blogs that generally appeal to your “ideal” sophisticated erotica-friendly reader (I discuss this in more detail in my April column “Websites, Blog-sites and the All-Mighty Reader“, but keep an open mind. Thus Christian or YA blogs are off-limits, but a literary blog that doesn’t mind a little edginess might be just fine. You may also want to check the blog’s traffic using Alex. Chances are you won’t be in the running for an appearance on a top blog anyway, but it is an interesting data point. A guest appearance may involve anything from an interview with you or the main character in your book to a short article on a theme in your novel, in my case love hotels. Including a teasing excerpt from your novel and providing a free copy as a giveaway (even if it’s a pdf) is always a good idea. Everyone loves free stuff! Remember to treat your guest appearance as you would an invitation to a home—be as charming and entertaining as you can (easier for me online than in person), answer any blog comments on your post conscientiously and send a thank you note to your host afterwards.
Blog tours are a fairly popular way to promote a new book and there are actually people who will take a few hundred dollars of your money to arrange one for you. But my experience shows a penny-pinching self-promoter can organize one on her own. Mine was not the classic tour involving a stop at one new blog per day for anywhere from a week to a month. That may be the ideal for a media blast or an anthology with a long list of contributors, but I wasn’t able to manage that in terms of timing. I took more of a take-it-as-it-comes approach, so that my “blog tour” is really a casual collection of the guest appearances I describe above over a period of several months.
Well, this month’s Shameless Self-Promotion was definitely more of a lengthy nuts-and-bolts discussion than previous columns, but I hope it provided some useful strategies. Help yourself to another cup of coffee and a cookie, and if you have any questions or suggestions on reviews or blogging to promote, don’t hesitate to email me or drop by my blog.
Be sure to check out this month’s ERWA blog interview with shamelessly successful self-promoter Jeremy Edwards.
Next month, I’ll discuss other ways to make use of the Internet including author resources like Red Room and Booktour.com, writing articles, seeking out interview opportunities in online journals, and other creative ways to get your name into cyberspace.
Shameless Self-Promotion Points for July
ONE: No matter where you are in the book promotion process, if you have a new, old or future book to promote, keep an ongoing list of journals, websites and bloggers who do book reviews. If the timing is right for your project—and in many cases it’s never too late—query the reviewer about reviewing your book with a brief, irresistible note, which includes publication information, a short blurb and bio and an offer to forward a hard copy or pdf.
TWO: Start a blog or refocus an existing one for promotional purposes, including featuring your book prominently in the sidebar. Research blogs which interview authors and approach friends and colleagues about hosting you for an interview or contest. Consider providing a free copy of your book as a prize to blogs that do giveaways although if you’re running low, a podcast of an excerpt or another more modest prize is fine.
Donna George Storey
“Shameless Self-Promotion” © 2009 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written.