Friday, December 18, 2009

the (book promotion) gods must be crazy

A few days ago, INTERN had the distinct pleasure/terror of conversing for the first time with one of the book-promotion people her publisher has hired to handle her book. It felt rather like the initial "try-out" montage in a kids' sports movie: clumsy INTERN with bottle-thick glasses and a mouthguard fumbling passes from the hot-shot coach who (for baroque reasons of her own) has been sent to train the junior league. Here is what INTERN learned about book promotion during that very intense hour:

1. "Every day you're not on Facebook, I die a little inside."

Not a direct quote from the Book Promoter, but close enough. Everyone knows Facebook is essential for establishing an online presence...but did you know that not using Facebook causes physical pain to your book publicist? Every day?

2. "If you don't add 20-30 friends a day on Facebook, this puppy will die."

Direct quote, accompanied by telepathic burst of ailing-puppy images.

3. "Stick to your game plan."

Apparently, lots of authors make a marketing plan, then freak out after two months and want to try a new strategy. This is a no-no. How can all those little marketing seedlings you planted grow up and bear bananas if you keep uprooting them to plant tomatoes? However, INTERN can see how it would tempting to try new strategies if the first plan doesn't seem to be working. Book Promoter might have a hard time reining INTERN in on this one.

4. "Your book ain't worth shizzle! You are your real product!"

Apparently, book promoters have cottoned on to the fact that for writers (at least for unknown, small-time writers like INTERN who, let's face it, are not going to sell a million copies of their first book), selling an extra hundred copies of their book here and there is only going to translate to an extra couple hundred bucks of royalty money. Selling books is (in *most* cases) not a viable way of making a living. Therefore, when it comes to $$, INTERN's book promoter encourages writers to think of increased book sales as a side-benefit of publicity—the real financial gain is in increased business to a writer's other business ventures, whatever they may be.

Selling lots of books is (obviously) good for many things besides money: it raises your chances of getting a better offer on your next book, it makes you feel good because your love-child is getting out into the world, and, yes, it raises your stock as a consultant/public speaker/freelance goat herder/writer-in-residence/whatever.

5. "Give something away for free. But not too much."

It's generally worth it to post free articles about your subject on your author website and guest post on relevant blogs, as long as you don't give away so much that readers don't feel like they need to buy your book anymore. Prize pack giveaways are also A Good Thing, as long as your prize pack doesn't only consist of your book (a book by itself is not considered exciting enough a prize to stimulate a contest—you need to throw in something classy like a mug or some razor blades. Yeah! That'll get those readers riled up!)

6. "Bribe Ethically."

Here's a new term (new to INTERN, at least): Ethical Bribe. That's the term for when you lure people into signing up for your e-newsletter by promising a tasty reward: "If you sign up for my Celtic Fairytales newsletter, a leprechaun will give you a hot stone massage." That sort of thing. INTERN is not sure where the "ethical" part comes in, but she is working on it.

INTERN is getting too jittery from the coffee she just drank to continue this list, so the rest will have to wait for another post. Oh, but one more thing: some good news! After a series of interviews (like, six), most of them confusing and surrealist, INTERN is set to intern at this venerable publisher starting in February. She will be dividing her time between the editorial and publicity/marketing departments, so she will (conveniently enough!) learn lots more about book promotion in the months before her book comes out. Sneaky, no?


  1. My future "book promotion people" will love me. I'm already on it!

  2. Is it considered ethical because you're both getting something out of it, and it's relatively harmless to both sides? lol.

    I've never understood the whole Facebook is the only way to launch something idea. I've never seen my friend become a fan of some random person or company I've never heard of and then run over to see what it's all about. Never. And it's never driven me to spend a dime on merchandise. Of course, you can't beat word of mouth, so I guess it does serve a purpose.

    What? No Twitter? You shouldn't be posting minute by minute tweets about how awesome you're book is and giving away "extras" if you get so many followers?

  3. Hurray for the Intern! I'm thrilled you got the job.

    The promotion stuff is pretty depressing, though. Let us know how it works.

  4. see, here's where your local fanbase here in INTERNReaderville would come in so handy. from your "where do you work" entry you saw that you have a diverse readership with at least a sizable percentage having something to do with the publishing/writing industry.

    why be so coy with us? why not let us in on the details? ask us for concrete suggestions?

    the only thing we're likely to have in common is that we enjoy reading your entries and want you and your book to succeed! let us help!

    c'mon! it'll be fun! (i promise)

  5. Congrats on your first meeting, and thanks for sharing the insights.

    I'm not sure if you've ever blogged on best books about the business, but here's one you'd both enjoy and appreciate a great deal: The Forest for the Trees, by Betsy Lerner.

    She outlines her own foray into working for publishers as a young woman, and then rounds up with the best overview on what happens before and after one's book comes out.

  6. I,, too, am confused by the term ethical bribe. Is that not an oxymoron?

  7. Congrats on the internship! Or should that be a question mark?

    So what do you think would have happened in your meeting if you didn't have The Intern? Or do you have another site for your authorliness, thereby able to guest comment on other blogs (and have people know you)?

  8. Cleverness, INTERN! :) Smooth move getting the new internship right where all the good info is. Hooray!

  9. Yet you seem to have gotten about 17 times as much time with your publicist as the average bear. This cannot be a bad thing! You had me at: "hired by my publisher..."


  10. You know, I really don't like the idea of being the product - or the brand. I don't have 'star quality'. People who meet me forget who I was within five minutes. Hell, I forget myself if I don't keep checking in the mirror! As a product, I'm a no-name plastic wall hook, not an iPod.

    Maybe I could compete on price? I'm a hell of a lot cheaper than Cory Doctorow.

  11. Oh, congratulations on the job, by the way. Glad to hear you're still in the biz.

  12. Excellent inside look - thanks! And a HUGE CONGRATS!!!

    What 'side business ventures' do you plan to undertake to gain $$?

  13. Does your promotional plan involve revealing your name? So, you know, we can buy your book? ;)

  14. So if you're supposed to add 20-30 friends on Facebook every day, why don't you have a link to your facebook profile on your blog? Or is it there, but I missed it?


    I might as well give up my desire for publication now.

  16. Remember the Chia Pet and The Clapper? I feel the same way about stuff advertised on FB. Once it's been FB promoted, it's got "white trash" all over it's packaging.

    I see it pop up in the corner of my FB page, and I go "Urg! Which of my trashy relatives wants me to be a fan of THAT?"

    Maybe it's just me.

  17. No worries, madam Intern. Blogs were the thing to do in '07, FB the thing in '08, Twitter the thing in '09. Be happy with any advice your publicist offers, they tend to live in high speed sound bites. Make an effort to comply but it is your choice how much effort.

    Know THE BOOK is the thing and your are the awesomeness as its creator.

    No matter how fast technology moves, story still takes time to create and can't be done in 140 characters.

  18. fivecats: you're right! INTERN will probably take that suggestion eventually and stop all this paranoid anonymous nonsense :)

    it's just...INTERN can't have her anonymous cake and eat it too. it's either stay anonymous and keep book details secret, or disclose book details and give up the anonymous escapades that make life so much fun!

    *internal conflict ensues*

    One thing INTERN could do is endeavour to be less annoying and post about said secret book less frequently :)

  19. Ethical Bribes... husbands and wives live like this all the time!

    Yup, re: anonymous thingy... you've seen mine, let me see yours!

    Haste yee back ;-)

  20. You are very sneaky! Good job on the internship.

    I wouldn't know what I would do in your situation, INTERN. You have a lot of fans here, so good base, but it'd be kind of a bummer to know who you are at the same time. Dig?

    *is confused*

  21. Promotion, publicity, markteting, advertising, the four corners of buzz, Buzz, BUZZ, all about getting into the hearts and minds of consumers desires.

    Publicists don't miss a trick; ethical? Caveat emptor. Sneaky? Manipulative, yes. Do we allow ourselves to persuaded for out own good or against our better judgment?

    I suspect Publicist has requested a personal contact list for e-mail and postcard circulars. Lest we forget calling cards for handing out at meet-and-greets, with contact information, one set for industry hot-and-tots and one set for audience accesses.

  22. Leprechaun hot stone massages? Free razor blades so I can shave my back while reading, in order to avoid repulsing my amorous leprechaun masseur? I AM SO INTO THIS CONTEST!!!!

    this post made me laugh. Aloud. I loved it thank you!

  23. INTERN, I don't envy your quandary! Seriously, you're one of my favorite anonymous bloggers -- and yes, anonymity is part of your charm.... but I want to buy your book! And I don't think that Facebook friends matter all that much with promotion. I ignore 4/5 of my Facebook friends. Sorry, puppy!

    And congrats on the new internship!

  24. Jessica Marcantel: INTERN totally digs. INTERN minus anonymity = no more INTERN. INTERN thinks she'd rather be INTERN than let readers buy her (totally non-INTERN related) book.

    Tis hard to win!

  25. Waw, this is depressing... But I know it's true :( For a long time I thought writing was about words, storylines, tension, characters and that kind of stuff... How wrong can anyone be :(

  26. INTERN...
    If you call yourself INTERN, you are still INTERN, whether or not you're Anon! Please come into the sunlight... no mystique will you forfeit, says Yoda!

    Haste yee back ;-)

  27. I confess that even to someone who spends a helluva a lot of time getting her own book/brand/dinner menu out there, this conversation made me break out in a rash. Facebook is like a pair of designer jeans. The size and style that looked awesome on the size 0 six foot tall model is likely going to make you look stupid and pudgy.

    We should all buy promo pants that fit us.

  28. 20 or 30 new friends/day! Holy crap! My tail shakes and a little wee comes out if I get one new friend request.

  29. "Intern is getting to jittery"

    Shouldn't it be too jittery?

  30. My publisher's publicist worked from home and once, during one of our "meetings", she had to STOP EVERYTHING because her kid wanted to know if there were any cucumbers (he was making a sandwich). It's hard enough being a first-time author without having your book's publicist put you on hold for lunchmeat garnish. No wonder I have to read your blog to find out how publicists are supposed to REALLY work. Thanks!

  31. Good for you, chica. Following your blog and career with interest.

  32. I say stay Anon. Much more fun that way. And I agree with commenter above. Facebook is probably useless. I skip all my friends' posts plugging their various shows, books, posts, blah blah blah, and only read the real updates.

  33. Yes, success is measured but 20-30 new Facebook friends a day! I better go collect friends!

  34. Why not begin recommending books and then sneak yours in eventually? That way you let us know about your book without totally giving away your identity. Would that work?

  35. Methinks Intern needs two internet personas - one "real" one not linked to this one. Sad that the two can never meet, but there really is no way to reveal your name and continue posting in the same manner (just in case someone from work realized who was dishing dirt on the choice of snacks for big publishers meeting, etc).

    Will take more time, and energy, but that would be the way to go. Split personalities, all the way.

    Good luck, and many congrats on your new job!

  36. So...does the company where you'll be interning know about your forthcoming book?

  37. Hey Intern: Congrats on the new internship! Wonderful for you and fun for us. We look forward to yet more funny and insightful blogging.

    As it happens, I know of your book. I agree that it is in your interest to keep it on the down-low. Simply because it's a unique kinda book.

    Imagine all the books we your fans will buy in our attempts to find yours!

  38. "I ignore 4/5 of my Facebook friends."

    Oh, that's real nice. Remind me not to buy any books from you!

  39. Thing about Fb is, the max friends you can have is only 5,000. Fans are unlimited, though.

    Twitter followers: no limit.

    MySpace: unlimited.

    So Fb friends have an artificial cap that is kind of a downer.

    Also, it's not the sheer numbers of contacts, but how easily you can get them to do something for you. If you ask your Fb friends to go to a blog and leave a comment, how many of them will actually do it? It's not about amassing static contacts, it's about commanding active eyeballs.

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