Book Promotion

Author Turns to Indiegogo: Buy a Book. Save a Cat.

Last August, I had the opportunity to lead a book publishing workshop with Women Writing for a Change. WWf(a)C is a wonderful organization that provides writing workshops, community, and support to women writers. The publishing workshop was a blast, and I met some incredible people along the way--a group of aspiring authors with a variety of projects and ideas. One attendee of this workshop, Kristen Heimerl, has gone above and beyond in her publishing dream. She wrote a book inspired by her three Norwegian forest cats, crafting a fun, crime-fighting story with illustrations by Irene Bofill Garcia. She is using the book to raise money for homeless and in-need cats and has brought together a community of animal lovers and book lovers to back her cause. She is currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo: Buy a Book. Save a Cat.

Check out Kristen's project here and consider contributing to her cause! It's inspiring to see book lovers and aspiring authors like Kristen create fun and passionate communities, and to see books being used creatively as vehicles of story and goodwill.

And watch her video, below, to learn more about the inspiration behind the project!


Pitching to Media: A Brief List of Author Dos and Don'ts

As many of you probably know by now (I hope!), Orange Frazer has a young reader’s book release in March. We’ve been gearing up for this release for months, and as our resident do-er of publicity and marketing, that means I’ve spent the last several weeks working with Sarah to send out press releases, schedule interviews and appearances, and set up local book signings and author events. All of this involves a lot of pitching—pitching to journalists, to bloggers, to producers, to librarians, to booksellers. If you’re an author, this is either the most exciting portion of your book release publicity, or the most taxing, intimidating, and downright frustrating. While pitching to librarians and booksellers is often more intuitive (because you, as an author, are most likely a lover of books and reading and have probably been in a number of libraries and bookstores), pitching to journalists, reporters, and producers can feel foreign. Unless you spend your spare time chatting with TV producers and scheduling radio programs, you are probably less familiar with how media outlets work. This can make pitching to media intimidating and unsuccessful, but it doesn’t need to be.

A photo of John Paul (Morning Anchor on WHIO-TV) and me at the Cox Media Group office in Dayton, Ohio.

For this post, I thought I would offer just a brief glimpse into some of the dos and don’t of pitching to media. If you have others to offer up or add to this list, please let me know in the comments!

Do Pitch to the decision-maker. Don’t send a press release to the webmaster, copyeditor, or human resources director to get a feature article. Even if their contact info is readily available, it only shows you didn’t do your homework, and oftentimes, your release will get lost in the shuffle.

Don’t Spam five different reporters at the same outlet with your press release. Again, find the decision-maker, and don’t just send your elevator pitch to every email address on the “Contact Us” page.

Do Think about their audience and goals. No journalist/reporter/producer wants to know why it would benefit you to feature or review your book. Why would it benefit them? Does it speak to their audience, help them meet their goals? Know what they’re looking for, and deliver it.

Don’t Assume you are giving them the gift of your book. There is no bigger turn-off than a huge ego and an assumption that your book is the one thing every reporter has been waiting for. Make your pitch intelligent and assertive, but also make it graceful. No one likes to be bullied.

Do Follow up. Emails get lost, or mislabeled, or forgotten. Phone messages end up buried under a mountain of other immediate issues, and sometimes, your pitch will get lost in the mix. It’s okay to follow up once to make sure they received your materials.

Don’t Follow up ten times. If they haven’t responded after a single follow-up, it’s very likely that they are not interested. Move on, and if they get back to you in the future, great—perhaps it just wasn’t the right time.

Do Provide a free copy. Most outlets will want to actually see your book—even to just flip through it, check out the cover, etc. Make sure you’ve budgeted for complimentary copies.

Don’t Assume an Amazon link is enough. Pitching to a media outlet with a purchase link is unprofessional and unproductive. No one is going to spend money to help you get publicity. What do they gain from that? Why should they buy your book, if it might end up that it’s not a good fit for their publication/show?

Do Demonstrate local tie-in. Do you have a book signing in their area, a special event, a school visit? For local and regional publications/shows, these local tie-ins keep their audience engaged, and make your pitch that much more relevant.

Don’t Pitch to irrelevant media sources. Sure, you want to sing the news of your book release from mountaintops, but don’t pitch your Young Adult fantasy book to a trade publication for pre-natal yoga teachers.

Any others to add to the list? Let us know!

Promoting a Book: It’s a Lot More Like Writing Than You Think

Book publishing workshop at Milton-Union Public Library.
Book publishing workshop at Milton-Union Public Library.

As part of Orange Frazer’s educational outreach, I regularly conduct workshops and sessions on book publishing for aspiring authors. Not surprisingly, a number of their questions revolve around book marketing and promotion. Typically, authors will point out that they don’t enjoy marketing, and that they publish books because they enjoy writing. I can empathize with this. I love writing as well, and book promotion and marketing (after the emotional rollercoaster of writing, editing, and publishing a book) can seem that much more exhausting, intimidating, and frankly, boring. But the more I work to promote and market our own books at OFP, the more I recognize that book promotion is not so unlike writing as we often assume it is: the two are, actually, quite similar.

1. Tell a Story Promoting and marketing a book—like writing—is all about telling a story. People buy products because of compelling narratives. For those who watched the Super Bowl on Sunday, this is particularly poignant. Budweiser won our hearts not because it laid out the facts: Budweiser is a cheaper, more cost-effective beer that provides the same taste quality, value, and availability as its more expensive alternatives. I’d guess no one would be running out the door for a Budweiser after that bore of a message. Instead it told us a story: the story of a puppy and a Clydesdale, of friendship, loyalty, companionship, of the potential for dreams to become reality. They told us a story that we wanted to believe, that made us feel good, that appealed not to our needs, but to our wants.

2. Consumers buy based on wants, not needs This strikes at the second crucial part of book promotion and marketing: forget about what people need and start showing them what they want. Oftentimes, marketers will expound on the needs of consumers: show them why they need this product and then why your product is their best available option. This seems like it will be effective; we assume that our target audience makes logical, fact-based decisions about which products to buy. But think of yourself, and you realize that this is hardly ever the case. While we would like to think we buy based solely on need, we almost exclusively buy products based solely on our wants. Right now I need a new clothes iron, but instead, I bought a pair of overpriced yoga socks. Why? I liked the idea of yoga socks, I liked their bright colors (especially in a winter that seems neverending), and I liked how comfy they looked. An iron, while necessary, did not invoke any of these feelings, and so, I essentially forgot about it.

Similarly, people will not buy your book because they need it. They don’t need it. At all. Book buyers are a niche audience, and they are not reading voraciously because their life depends on it. They read books because they want to, because they want to be involved in your story, swept up in it, transformed by it.

So stop thinking about book promotion like a formula, where well-placed ad + reputable book review + in-store displays + radio interview = bestseller. Start thinking about book promotion like your own writing. Tell your readers a story. Will your book sing them to sleep, remind them of their first love, suspend them breathlessly from chapter to chapter, revolutionize their understanding of the past? Marketing, after all, is plot, with all of the characterization and emotional integrity of a well-written book.

Should I Pay for Book Reviews?

Let me start this post by stating: this is not a discussion of whether or not you should pay for a favorable book review, as that is, obviously, unethical. This is a discussion of whether or not indie and self-published authors should pay for reviews from reputable sources (Publishers Weekly and others offer such programs). SONY DSCSelf-published authors still exist in a divided space. Most review publications will specify that books be “traditionally” published, many author fairs explicitly exclude “author-financed” books, and several industry observers have questioned whether or not we should separate books online by their path to publication—traditionally published books in one section, self-published in another.

As an industry, we still don’t know what to do with the hundreds of thousands of self-published titles coming out every year, and our systems for reviewing, featuring, and selling these titles is disjointed at best (and marginalizing at worst).

Book reviews are at the nexus of this issue, as they have long been heralded as the make-or-break moment for an author. A favorable review in the New York Times book review—at one time—could catapult an author to fame, whereas a negative review could leave an author moaning helplessly on his couch for days on end (this is a true story, best left for another time).

Before diving into the question of paid reviews for self-published authors, it’s crucial to notice two trends in the industry as a whole:

1) Review blogs and websites have proliferated, whereas almost every print newspaper in the country has cut its book review section entirely. 2) The book reviewers of yesteryear have lost some of their weight in the book discoverability formula (fewer people read traditional, print book reviews, making them a less significant predictor of a book’s success or failure).

Given these trends, how crucial is it for your self-published book to be reviewed? And, subsequently, should you pay for a review? Here are three things to consider as you make your decision:

1) How often do you read book reviews? Book reviews should target either booksellers and librarians or book consumers in general. You would fall into that second category, so if you, as an aspiring author (and an assumed book reader), aren’t reading book reviews to discover new titles, then you might question whether or not other consumers are. 2) And for the first target audience: what book reviews do your local booksellers and librarians read? Head to your local indie and ask them how they discover new books. Ask the same of the collection development librarian in your community. They probably learn about books from a variety of sources, so take note of which ones they turn to when they are choosing which titles to stock. 3) Certain review sites are aggregated into a bookseller or librarian’s ordering system. For example, Baker & Taylor, the number one book distributor for libraries, pulls the relevant Publishers Weekly and Library Journal reviews for each title into its system. This means that a librarian doesn’t even have to leave her ordering system to read reviews from these sources, making these review sources invaluable. 4) The almighty Amazon. Consider whether or not a traditional book review in a reputable periodical or on a well-read and respected blog will outweigh a hefty number of Amazon reviews. If you are focusing primarily on selling to retailers and librarians, perhaps focus on more traditional review sources (as most indie booksellers won’t care about how many five-star reviews your book has on Amazon). If you’re selling independently, though, and maybe even exclusively online, a thorough—and diverse—stock of Amazon reviews can go a long way. Give free copies of your book to those you think would have an interesting and relevant critique, and ask them to give you an honest and unbiased review on Amazon. A few negative reviews are great—they show a consumer that you didn’t just pay off your friends and family to sing your praises.

At this point, you’re probably realizing that I won’t answer this post’s primary question: should you pay for a book review? I honestly don’t know. I do think, though, that every single book has a unique trajectory, and as such, should be handled and promoted individually. What’s right for your book won’t be right for anyone else in your writer’s group, so think critically about whom you are selling to, what they read and share, and how a review will positively—or negatively—impact your goals.

Paid book review resources for self-published authors:

Publishers Weekly Select

Kirkus Author Services for Indie Authors

Unpaid book review resources for self-published authors:

Book review blogs (this list from Goodreads highlights independent book bloggers):

Library Journal

Finding Book Review Blogs: Think Beyond the Book

This morning I was reading through one of my favorite daily emails, Shelf Awareness Pro (if you have any interest at all in writing, publishing, bookselling, or reading, I suggest that you subscribe). They often sell ads to book publishers to promote books pre-publication (usually so that book reviewers and booksellers can request advance reader copies), and today I noticed that they had included an ad for a book I’ve been following the past few weeks (already on my to-read list): All Russians Love Birch Trees, a novel by Olga Grjasnowa, published by fellow indie publisher, Other Press. The ad scrolled through a few reviews I had already read, a headshot of the author, and the cover, but it was the final blurb that caught my eye. Other Press had included a quote from the Warby Parker blog.


If you aren’t familiar with Warby Parker, it is an online eyeglasses retailer that specializes in vintage-style frames. It’s recently become very popular outside of its original niche audience (confession: I recently bought a pair myself), and the company has done an incredible job partnering with designers, stylists, bloggers, and others in the fashion world to create a hip brand and highly visual blog.

I had no idea that the Warby Parker blog reviewed books, though, and the more I thought about it, the more I loved it. Typically, authors only consider dedicated book review blogs when looking for online love for their books, and publishers often have a list of go-to bloggers for promotion. Reaching outside of the book world into another corner of a vibrant fashion/culture industry is smart. As a reader, it reinforces that this is the kind of book I want to read (I love Warby Parker’s brand and unique style). For a consumer (or bookseller or blogger or reviewer) who may have been on the fence about the book, a blurb like this is a well-timed affirmation that this novel is young, edgy, and transformative.

Also, I would love to see a report on the correlation between book buyers and eyeglasses wearers. My guess is that my fellow book nerds and I buy our fair share of eyewear.