Friday, May 05, 2006

Self-Promotion for the Unpublished

When you're dreaming of the day you get The Call, do you ever think of how you're going to promote yourself and your book when the time comes? Few publishers are going to spend any promotional money on a first-time writer, so for most of us, pushing ourselves and our books is going to be up to us.

Scary thought, huh?

But relax--that's what today's blog entry is about. In my day job, I work for an advertising agency, so I know a little bit about what it takes to create top-of-mind awareness for yourself and, when you sell, for your book. So here are a few of the steps you should take BEFORE you sell so you'll be better prepared for the day you get The Call.


1) JOIN A WRITING GROUP

If you're writing romance and you're not a member of Romance Writers of America, you're missing out on an invaluable resource. Unpubs are full members of the organization, they have voting rights and can attend all but a few workshops at the national conference.

When you join RWA, you also have the opportunity to join local chapters such as Southern Magic, which provide even more opportunity for networking, education and friendships.
You can also join other specialty chapters, such as Kiss of Death (for mystery/suspense writers) or Scriptscene for people who want to write screenplays. These specialty chapters help you hone your skills in specific areas.

But how does that help promote you? Because one of the best ways to sell yourself and your book is to let people know you're out there. Make friends for the sake of friendship, not to sell yourself, of course. But remember, friends are more likely to buy your books--and recommend your books to others--than strangers would be.

2) FIND YOUR NICHE AND BURROW IN

I figured out early on that I wanted to write category-length romances. I may write bigger books eventually, but I love to read category books, and I love to write them. So when I figured that out, I knew there was one place I needed to be online--eHarlequin.com. Harlequin/Silhouette is the only big category-length publishing house out there at the moment. So I started hanging out on the eHarlequin community boards.

I made friends. I commiserated over rejections and accepted condolences when rejections came my way. I posted advice, encouragement, good news and bad news. I didn't do it just to sell myself, but by becoming part of a community, I built a group of friends who WANT to buy my book and want me to be a success. I want the same for them. And we all benefit from it.

Make friends. Expand your world.

3) CREATE A WEB PRESENCE

I had a website before I was published. I wanted to have a web presence up and running before I sold so that I'd be prepared. When The Call finally came, I was ready. I changed some of the content to reflect my change in status, but I didn't have to scramble for a domain name or a web design. I was ready.

Websites aren't that hard to build. If you have high speed internet service through your cable provider or phone provider, you may already have access to web space to build your site that's included in your monthly internet fee.

Microsoft Front Page is an easy-to-use html-based web design program for people who work on P.C.s. The cost is around $200 if you buy directly from Microsoft; some places have it for less. Other programs are available that have more bells and whistles, but if you haven't sold, you probably don't need to splurge on a lot of bells and whistles. Save that for when you sell.

Even cheaper option for the unpublished: blogs. Weblogs can be had for free; I use Blogger for my blog, Spinsters and Lunatics. Romance Magicians is also a Blogger blog. It's very user friendly, doesn't have too many glitches in my experience, and it's a great way to build a group of people interested in seeing you sell. Other blog servers are also available. Do a little research and see which one works best for you.

Put your blog URL on your signature line in e-mail and on web community board posts. Talk about your blog entries if they pertain to ongoing discussions. Post your good news and your bad news on blogs. But remember--what you write is available to EVERYONE, including agents and editors. So be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot with what you write. Save your heavy-duty venting for private places and situations.

4) CONSIDERING PUTTING YOUR WORK UNDER SCRUTINY

Yes, I'm talking about contests. I know a lot of people don't find contests worth the money spent. Judges are subjective and some don't know how to give constructive criticism. You spend a lot of money with nothing to show for it. Sometimes you get bad feedback or no feedback and end up frustrated and demoralized.

Well, here's how I see it. You're trying to sell a book, right? You spend a lot of money to mail out submissions. For your efforts, you may get nothing back but a form letter telling you they're not interested. You end up frustrated and demoralized.

If you can't hack that treatment from a contest, you probably can't hack it from an editor or an agent. So suck it up and decide if you're in this business to sell or if you're just piddling. If you're in it to sell, contests can be a useful tool, especially if you're savvy about how you approach them.

a) Pick the contests with a certain amount of prestige; it's harder to final, but it means more if you do.

b) Pick contests where the final judge is an editor who can buy your book or an agent you think you'd like to work with. If you final, the editor is going to read your work. Sometimes those editors ask to see a full. And sometimes, you don't have to win to get a request.

c) Pick contests with good reputations for quality judges.

But how do contests relate to self-promotion? When you enter contests, someone reads your work. Judges are also readers, and if a judge likes your story, she may want to read more. She may scour the contest announcement sites or the Romance Writers Report to see if you've sold yet. She may find your name listed in the finals of other contests. She may make note of other titles you've written. The more you final, the more likely she'll be to remember your name when you finally get The Call.

I keep track of several prolific contest finalists, hoping for the day they sell. Stacy Lynn Reimer, Mary Fechter, Victoria Wasserman, Tanya Taliese Holmes, Tawny Weber--those are all names of people who consistently final in contests and whose work I hope to buy as soon as it becomes available. And I know them almost exclusively through their contest finals.


One final word of advice about self-promotion: be kind. People aren't going to care how good your book is if they have a reason not to like you. Treat people online and in person with kindness, forebearance, politeness and genuine respect. Don't try to fake it. Don't pursue friendships and relationships for what you can get out of them. Go the extra distance to be kind to others, not because you think it'll get you something but because you genuinely want to give something back to others.

What are some of the ways you promote yourself and your writing? If you're published, how have your self-promotional activities changed since your unpublished days?

2 comments:

Carla Swafford said...

All so true, Paula. Plus if you have the funds available and enjoy traveling, I suggest going to conferences. If you go with a friend, fine, but be sure to mingle with others at the conference. Staying in a little bunch of friends will not give you the contacts and friendships that are just around the corner.

Two examples: (1) Last year in Ft. Lauderdale, I flew with Kelley St. John to the conference. Newly published, she planned to attend different workshops than I did. She was also presenting a workshop. So I was on my own, but enjoyed every minute. During the conference’s meals, I sat beside two editors and an agent. Not all at the same time, mind you. And before I left the conference, I had requests for a full and three partials. That was with only one scheduled appointment at the conference.

To me, just as important, I made at least one new friend, Evangeline Anderson. She writes wonderful erotica romance. Check out her website at http://www.evangelineanderson.com.

(2) This year I traveled to Jacksonville (are you noticing a Florida trend?), and met with two agents and an editors. BTW, I had finaled in the First Coast Romance Writers’ The Beacon contest. Always helpful to make sure everyone knows your name - plus I’m a big ham and love the positive attention. During a prior conference, I had met one of the agent through another author, so I got a hug. I’m a sucker for hugs. Then through another author in my chapter, I had met the other agent (and another hug - though I may have broken her back in my excitement to see her - sorry, Caren). The one of the best parts to me was that I personally like these agents. The best part was that I left the conference with a request for full and two partials.

AND, I won a twenty-five page critique with author Jaid Black. For those that don’t know, Jaid Black is Tina M. Engler. She’s the founder if Ellora’s Cave. For those that don’t know Ellora’s Cave. Shame on you. You’re missing out on some great stories. http://www.ellorascave.com

Presently, I’m waiting for four editors and two agents to let me know how they feel. Along with a final in the Smoky Mountain Romance Writers’ Lauries, and two other contests. Oh, yeah, and the critique from Jaid Black. How cool is all that?

In Jacksonville, I also made several friends - Hi, Karen, Ellen and Catherine.

Hopefully, people will remember my name in a good positive way.

Deborah Matthews said...

Published authors never agree on what promotion works. Some believe going to conferences helps get your name out there, while others don't feel it's worth it. The Stephanie Bond article in this month's newsletter is a good example. You have to weigh it against the time it takes away from your writing.

A lot of authors spend money on bookmarks. Last November at the Southern Magic Readers Luncheon I did an informal survey at my table. One lady who reads a lot (Towanda) said she threw the paper stuff away and it had never made her buy a book she wouln't have. Another lady said she kept everything and it had made her buy a book she might not have.

This afternoon when I got home from the HOD Readers' Luncheon, all the paper stuff went in the trash. Yes, I saved the candy, pens & emery boards, but they won't make me buy a book.

So, it's all a crap shoot.