Friday Guest Blog – Marketing yourself by David B Coe

davidbcoeFor today’s guest blog I’m very happy to present my good friend David B Coe. David is a trad published author (through Tor) and shares here his thoughts about marketing a novel, however it’s published.

Hi. I’m David B. Coe, an American fantasy author. I’ve published ten novels, including the LonTobyn Chronicle (a trilogy), Winds of the Forelands (five books), and Blood of the Southlands (another planned trilogy — the first two are out). My most recent book, which came out in January, is called The Horsemen’s Gambit.

I met Alan in 2006 at the Magic Casements Book Festival in Sydney. My family and I were living in Australia at the time (Woonona, along the Illawarra Coast) and I had been invited to be a presenter at the festival. Alan and I hit it off immediately and have been friends since. I’m grateful to him for inviting me to guest blog today.

As a writer, my primary task is to be creative, to turn out new novels. My goals are a) to make my novels as exciting and readable and compelling as I possibly can, and b) to complete them as quickly as I can without undermining a). But while that’s my primary task, it’s not my only one. I’m also a businessman. I have to understand the publishing industry and do what I can, in tandem with my agent, to keep my career on an upward trajectory. And I have to market myself. I have to find, maintain, and expand my reading audience.

I am what Americans refer to as a midlist author, which basically means that I don’t sell enough books to be considered a bestseller or a big name, but I do have a modest, loyal readership and sales numbers that are good enough that I can continue to sell books. Being a midlist author is not something I take for granted. I know of many writers — all of them talented and deserving — who would love to be in my position. But I also know lots of midlist authors — and I’m one of them — who would like to make the jump to A-list status. One of the reasons is that the big name authors are the ones who get the big publicity budgets, the signing tours, the splashy advertisements in journals and magazines.

If you think about it, the system is backwards. Those authors who are already well-known, who already sell like gangbusters, get the big advertising money, while those of us who need more exposure, get very little. This means that though my books are put out by a big New York publisher (Tor Books) with a large publicity department, the vast majority of my advertising is done by yours truly. Small press and self-published authors are not the only ones who need to self-promote aggressively in order to get noticed. In fact, it’s the celebrity authors who DON’T have to do that stuff who are the exceptions.

So what does Tor do to promote my books? And what sorts of things do I have to do on my own behalf? Well, Tor prints out advanced reader copies of my books and sends them to reviewers all over the world. This gets my work noticed by U.S. publications like Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist, to name just a few. They also take out advertisements in trade periodicals, Locus being the most prominent. And, when I have book signings or convention appearances planned, Tor might send press packets and posters, or buy advertisements in convention programs. All of these things are helpful, and I’m grateful for everything Tor does for me.

But I do pretty much everything else. I arrange my own signings, convention appearances, festival appearances, and media interviews. To the extent that I ever do a booksigning tour, I make all the arrangements myself, and I bear all of the costs. I maintain my website (www.davidbcoe.com) where I have information about all my books and appearances, sample chapters from every novel I’ve published, contests through which visitors can win free books, and other stuff designed to generate and maintain interest in me and my work. I maintain a couple of individual blogs and also share a couple of group blog sites. I do guestblogging [waves at Alan]. Most of all, I go into bookstores and introduce myself to the staff, show them where my books are on their shelves, let them see the face behind the name written on the book jacket. I offer to sign stock (my books — they don’t like it when I sign other people’s novels. . .) and I ask if they’re hosting signings. But even if they’re not, I’ll chat with them for a while and answer any questions they have about my work. Because they’re the people who will be selling the vast majority of my books.

At times I have printed out postcards or bookmarks and distributed them at area bookstores or sent them to specialty bookstores throughout the States. Tor has helped me with the graphics for these printings, and I have prevailed upon them (with help from my editor) to reimburse me for some of the expense. But all of this — the online activity, the signings, the printed material — happens on my initiative.

Again, let me make clear that I am not complaining. That’s not the point of my post. Rather it’s to show that no matter who you are or what kind of publisher you write for, you have to be prepared to promote yourself. It’s not that Tor doesn’t do enough for its writers; the professionals in Tor’s publicity department work hard and don’t get paid nearly enough. But Tor has many authors and limited resources, and the same can be said of every other publishing house in New York, and London, and Sydney.

The bottom line is this: Magazine advertisements are great. Booksigning tours can be lots of fun. But ultimately they don’t sell books. Word of mouth does. I can do myself more good by visiting bookstores and speaking to the store staff about my work than I can with any advertisement no matter how well placed. I want to get people talking about my books. I want to make certain that the next person who walks into a local outlet of Barnes & Noble or Angus & Robertson and asks a store employee to recommend a fantasy novel will hear in response, “Oh, yeah! You need to read The Horsemen’s Gambit by David B. Coe!” If I can do that, I’ll do fine. I might even make it onto that A-list I mentioned before.

David B Coe is the Crawford Award-winning author of ten fantasy novels.
Recently released: The Horseman’s Gambit (Tor Books, December 2009) – Book 2 of Blood of the Southlands.

Please visit the web site: http://www.DavidBCoe.com

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8 thoughts on “Friday Guest Blog – Marketing yourself by David B Coe

  1. This is a really interesting article, and verifies my own experience as an indie publisher. But what I am curious about is your experience with reviews?

    Recently, there was a piece in a Bookseller&Publisher journal that spoke about marketing books in terms of marketing wines. That is, without a good review (preferably several), then you won’t get the sales. Of course, the author tours, signings, workshops, and so on, then support the reviews and build a grassroots fanbase – backed up by your presence online.

    I’d be interested to hear your take on this ‘marketing structure’, for want of a better word.

    cheers
    Leticia

  2. Thanks for the comment, Leticia. Reviews are one area where having a traditional publishing house gives authors like me a significant but not insurmountable advantage. Most big publishers will send review copies (referred to as ARCs — Advanced Reader Copies) to all the important periodicals and websites that might be willing to review a book. In the States this means magazines like Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, Locus, and many others. ARCs are, in essence, bound versions of the galleys that we authors have to proof read before the book goes to press. That’s why they’re also referred to as Uncorrected Proofs, because the reviewers get the books with all the typos still in there. They’re fairly expensive to print and mail, so this is a great service the publishing house offers — in many ways the most important one from a publicity standpoint, aside from commissioning the jacket art….

    I say that this advantage is not insurmountable for the indie writer because one thing he or she can do is bite the bullet in terms of cost and mail out copies of his/her book to potential reviewers as soon as they’re available. Now there is some distance between getting the book into the hands of a reviewer and actually getting that reviewer to write and publish a review. But it’s not impossible, and it all starts with the packaging of the book and the supporting material. Make it look as professional as possible. If you can prime the pump, as it were, perhaps with a blurb from an already-established writer included in the cover letter, that might help.

    Reviews are important, particularly for institutional sales — libraries and such — and for alerting bookstores to the fact that your book has hit the market. Which brings us back to the idea of handselling your book to bookstore staff.

  3. I have to agree with David there. My books (indie published) have had some great reviews, but that’s because I’ve taken the hit and sent out free copies to reviewers. Some reviewers these days are also happy to review an e-book and read it on their iPhone, Kindle or whatever, so costs can be saved there.

    Getting in touch with reviewers and building a relationship with them is just like the bookstore relationship that David was talking about in his post.

  4. Even bad reviews can result in book sales and world of mouth. My first book (self-pubbed) not only earned a hideous review from an online romance site, but also received an excellent review from one of the top romance magazines. It went on to win an award. (Color me confused.) After the “F” review from the online review site (they rated books from “A” to “F”) my sales quadrupled since readers couldn’t really believe it was that bad. It became a household joke that I should submit my other books to this online magazine if nothing more than to boost sales. GRIN.

    David is absolutely right — it is vital to cultivate relationships with reviewers. I ensure my reviewers get a personal note and an ARC of all my new books before anyone else. It doesn’t guarantee a good review, but it does show that I appreciate them.

  5. Just seconding Jana’s comment here. Everyone wants good reviews. But shot of that I’d rather have a bad review, even in a prominent periodical — especially in a prominent periodical — than no review at all. File that under the heading of “There’s no such thing as bad publicity….”

  6. Great article…love to read positive reinforcement.

    Another way to market and promote yourself and your book, is to have the book professionally reviewed. The concept is easy – to get a book review authors and publishers list new books, and five of our qualified reviewers review them. Each reviewer will post the book review on at least ten different online sites giving you maximum exposure for your new book! It really is that simple.

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